The New Hotel Top 20

The new hotel top 20

By The Hub team

Story by Nicholas DeRenzo | Hemispheres, May 2018

To compile our annual list of the best new hotels in the world, Hemispheres went everywhere, from the beaches of Tulum to the glaciers of Alaska to the palaces of India. We have a tough job, we know, but we managed to narrow it down to our 20 favorites, and no matter what kind of traveler you are, we're sure you'll find a must-stay destination. Bon voyage.

For the solitude seeker

Sheldon Chalet, Alaska

The Sheldon Chalet is definitively this year's coolest new hotel. The five-bedroom family-run luxury lodge opened this February on a rugged nunatak (an exposed rocky point surrounded by ice) 5,800 feet above sea level, surrounded by the remote, 6 million–acre Denali National Park. That location—in an area appropriately called the Don Sheldon Amphitheater—means views of North America's tallest peak and near-perfect conditions for seeing the aurora borealis. Guests arrive by air on a “flightseeing" helicopter tour over the glacier fields and, perhaps to quell any fears that this place qualifies as “roughing it," are met with a glass of Champagne and a selection of fresh Alaskan seafood, such as halibut and king crab, prepared by the chalet's private chef.

Sheldon Chalet in Alaska

For the military history buff

Alila Fort Bishangarh, India

This architectural icon, a 230-year-old blush-pink fortress atop a granite hill in Rajasthan's Aravalli Range, lay in a state of ruin for decades, taken over by bats, snakes, and monkeys. Now, after nearly a decade of work, the Alila Fort Bishangarh is once again fit for a king, with design touches recalling the Mughal and British eras, such as jali lattice window screens, Thikri mirror mosaics, and petal-shaped arches. The 59-suite hotel makes clever use of the fort's many nooks and crannies: You can sleep in the royal residences or the barracks, relax in the library lounge in the former war room, and drink cognac in the turret cigar bar, where soldiers once poured boiling oil on their enemies through the musket slots in the 10-foot-thick walls. And the spa? It's in the old dungeon.

Alila Fort Bishangarh in India

For the New England nostalgic

Sound View; Greenport, New York

Long Island's North Fork is more casually cool than its glitzy neighbor to the south—home of Montauk and the Hamptons—and last August, the 19th-century whaling village of Greenport got a fittingly laid-back yet luxe lodging. In-demand Brooklyn designers Studio Tack kitted out the appropriately named Sound View—the hotel overlooks Long Island Sound—in a spare Modernist New England style that pairs cedar shiplap walls with cork and rubber floors meant to evoke a sandy beach. At James Beard Award–winning chef Galen Zamarra's on-site restaurant, The Halyard, dig into fresh seafood (fluke tacos, roasted scallops) paired with North Fork wines and beers.

View of the water at Sound View in Greenport, New York

For the eco-friendly skier

Valsana Hotel & Appartements Arosa, Switzerland

Skiing is surprisingly tough on nature, but the Valsana, which opened in December in the resort village of Arosa, has found clever ways to combat environmental degradation. The 40-room, nine-suite hotel is nearly carbon-neutral thanks to fair trade–certified toiletries, sustainable building materials, and a state-of-the-art energy recovery system called an “ice battery" (ask a physicist). Playing off this progressive outlook, the Valsana eschews Alpine clichés for millennial-approved thrift-shop design touches, such as vintage turntables and secondhand books in guest rooms and hammocks on balconies. For an updated take on après-ski, hit the lobby's self-service wine dispensers, which are often stocked with vintages from the surrounding Graubünden region.

Pool at the Valsana Hotel & Appartements Arosa in Switzerland.

For the art collector

21C Museum Hotel Nashville, Tennessee

Last May saw the opening of the seventh member of the 21c Museum Hotel chain, which together forms one of the nation's largest multivenue contemporary art institutions. The Nashville location occupies the historic Gray & Dudley Building, which opened in 1900 and lends its name to chef Levon Wallace's lobby restaurant, where diners come face to face with Beth Cavener Stichter's evocative stoneware animal sculptures. In addition to the public gallery spaces, the hotel offers three Artist Suites, curated by painter Sebastiaan Bremer, composer Josephine Wiggs, actor Adrian Grenier, and artist Yung Jake. The chain's most famous pieces, however, remain Cracking Art's army of 4-foot-tall plastic penguins, which come in a different color at each location (Nashville's is teal) and which staffers move around the hotel throughout the day. Pick up a miniature ceramic version at the gift shop.

21C Museum Hotel Nashville, Tennessee

For the adventurous oenophile

Mitchelton Hotel and Day Spa, Australia

The Mitchelton Wine Estate, set among apple orchards and horse farms about 80 miles north of Melbourne, has produced award-winning rieslings and shirazes for five decades. It never ascended to the ranks of destination winery, however, until December, when it opened a design hotel and day spa. The warm, masculine space mixes natural materials both hard (blackened steel, copper) and soft (merino wool, buttery Italian leather). Sample the estate's wines while taking in vineyard views from one of the 58 rooms and suites—or, better yet, from the 180-foot-high observation tower.

Mitchelton Hotel and Day Spa, Australia

For the cocktail connoisseur

Henrietta Hotel, London

The Paris-based Experimental Group is shaking up the hospitality scene with its growing roster of slinky bars and buzzy boltholes. The past year saw the opening of both its second lodge in Paris (Hotel des Grands Boulevards) and its first in London, the 18-room Henrietta Hotel, which debuted last May in side-by-side Victorian townhouses in Covent Garden. Dorothée Meilichzon's understated interiors—all brass accents, mirrored surfaces, and soft curves—call to mind an Art Deco bar cart. Confirm the bed-and-beverage's boozy bona fides in chef Ollie Dabbous's French-accented restaurant, where the cocktail menu was put together by a pair of drink historians, or in your room, which is outfitted with a bedside Experimental Cocktail Club recipe book and a minibar arsenal of 50 ml bottles of craft spirits.

Henrietta Hotel, London

For the au courant countess

Verride Palácio Santa Catarina, Lisbon

If the words “palace hotel" conjure oppressive dark woods and heavy fabrics, the Verride Palácio Santa Catarina—opened in October across from Lisbon's Pharmacy Museum—is just what the doctor ordered. Occupying a hilltop 1750 townhouse once owned by a count, the 19-room hotel is studded with historic touches, including blue and white azulejo tiles, Rococo molding, and hand-painted silk wallpaper. The space transcends Baroque weightiness by employing a palette of crisp white tones—from Celso de Lemos organic cotton linens to Carrara marble accents—bathed in the city's greatest asset: the intense Iberian sunshine.

Verride Pal\u00e1cio Santa Catarina, Lisbon

For the introverted island-hopper

Myconian Kyma; Mykonos, Greece

Mykonos is Greece's undisputed party island (Lindsay Lohan celebrated her 30th here), but the 81-room Myconian Kyma provides a welcome respite for guests who would rather spend time under the Aegean sun than nightclub strobe lights. Opened last May on a rocky hilltop less than 10 minutes on foot from the ouzo-fueled downtown, the stark, whitewashed space is replete with shadowy alcoves for midday napping, as well as a double-level infinity pool that overlooks the sea. Many of the suites come with their own plunge pools or hot tubs, but for the best chance at relaxation, head to the Satori Thalasso Spa, which uses mineral-enriched seawater in many of its treatments.

Myconian Kyma; Mykonos, Greece

For the midwestern modernist

Ace Hotel Chicago, Illinois

The ultra-hip Pacific Northwest–born Ace brand made its Third Coast debut in August in a former cheese factory—très Midwestern—in Chicago's burgeoning West Loop district. The building's aesthetic draws on the sleek industrial style of architect László Moholy-Nagy, who founded the New Bauhaus school here in 1937, with visual references to luminaries like Frank Lloyd Wright, Ludwig Mies van der Rohe, and Josef and Anni Albers. Rooms feature a host of Midwestern-made goods, including blankets from Iowa's Amana Woolen Mill, football-inspired details from Chicago's Horween Leather, and original works by students at the prestigious School of the Art Institute of Chicago. Don't miss the rooftop bar, Waydown, which takes its name from a song by John Prine, the bard of Maywood, Illinois.

Ace Hotel Chicago, Illinois

For the stuffed-to-the-gills gourmand

Hotel Akelarre; San Sebastián, Spain

San Sebastián's culinary reputation precedes it: Basque Country boasts the highest concentration of Michelin stars per capita on the planet. One of the city's trio of three-starred restaurants, Pedro Subijana's Akelarre, opened a 22-room inn this March—the perfect spot for foodies to tuck in after a marathon eight-course tasting menu (with dishes like this squid risotto with butter flower) and a few too many glasses of wine from the 650-label cellar. Done up in a crisp minimalist palette of cream, gray stone, and warm oak slats, the hotel features floor-to-ceiling windows overlooking the Bay of Biscay. Enjoy that view over a room-service breakfast of tortilla española, chorizo, and local charcuterie from the world-class kitchen.

For the hollywood elite

NoMad Los Angeles, California

New York's NoMad Hotel and its Michelin-starred restaurant brought a touch of European elegance to an unloved stretch of Broadway, and now the brand is hoping to recreate that magic in Downtown LA. The Sydell Group filled the 1923 Neoclassical former Bank of Italy headquarters—the lobby bathroom is inside the old vault—with lush, tactile details that would fit right in at the estate of an Old Hollywood mogul: jewel-toned velvet, coffered ceilings, potted palms, even the odd stuffed peacock. Naturally, the on-site restaurants are from chef Daniel Humm and restaurateur Will Guidara, the team behind the original NoMad and Eleven Madison Park, which was named the World's Best Restaurant in 2017.

NoMad Los Angeles, California

For the boho beach bum

Habitas Tulum, Mexico

Guests checking in at Habitas Tulum are asked to burn a bit of copal, a tree resin known as much for its spiritual cleansing properties as for its (perhaps more useful) ability to ward off mosquitoes. Tucked away on a secluded beach not far from Mayan ruins, this off-the-grid retreat contains 32 air-conditioned canvas tents complete with palapa roofs, king-size beds, kilim rugs, and outdoor rain showers. You can follow the property's jungle walking trails, join an Ashtanga yoga class, or borrow a complimentary bike, but this place was really designed for doing nothing, artfully: You're never more than a few feet from hammocks hanging in palm thickets, poolfront beds, or the rope swings swaying in front of the bar.

Habitas Tulum, Mexico

For the bargain hunter

The Hoxton, Paris

The lodging scene in Paris is booming. Reopenings of historic grandes dames like the Hôtel de Crillon and the Hôtel Lutetia have grabbed all the headlines, but for our money the most exciting recent debut is The Hoxton, which burst onto the scene last summer in the startup-filled Second Arrondissement (sometimes called “Silicon Sentier"). Nightly rates start at a cool $120 (less than one-tenth of the Crillon's), but don't expect a no-frills hostel. After all, the 172-room hotel occupies the High Rococo 18th-century townhouse of Louis XV's diplomatic adviser. Even the self-effacingly named Shoebox rooms are decked out in sumptuous detailing, such as decorative molding and herringbone parquet floors. Use all those Euros you've saved at the Rivié all-day brasserie or the Moroccan-themed Jacques' Bar.

The Hoxton, Paris

For the aspiring lumberjack

The Douglas Vancouver, British Columbia

You could see why the Parq Vancouver might have made locals nervous: With its 72,000 square feet of casino space, the $500 million urban resort had the makings of a Vegas-style intrusion. But the developers were savvy enough to build not just a sleek JW Marriott but also an eco-friendly Autograph Collection hotel, the Douglas. The property opened in October as an ode to its namesake, the Pacific Northwest's favorite conifer, which appears throughout public spaces (the check-in area has a 25-foot replica Douglas fir encased in glass) and in the rooms and suites (each of which contains a bottle of Douglas Fir gin from the nearby Yaletown Distillery). The best part is the 30,000-square-foot park that's perched on the resort's sixth floor and is home to 200 native pines and 15,000 local plants.

The Douglas Vancouver, British Columbia

For the antiques collector

Amanyangyun, China

When the construction of a reservoir threatened a collection of Ming and Qing Dynasty structures in the eastern Chinese province of Jiangxi, native son Ma Dadong sprang into action. Over the course of 16 years, the entrepreneur rescued and reassembled historic villas and replanted more than 10,000 camphor trees about an hour southwest of Shanghai, creating the backbone of Aman's fourth Chinese property, Amanyangyun, which opened in January. Guest villas are decorated with centuries-old calligraphic carvings and reliefs, and the 30,500-square-foot spa employs traditional Chinese medicine in its treatments.

Amanyangyun, China

For the urban pioneer

Hotel 50 Bowery, New York City

The Bowery in Lower Manhattan was synonymous with crime and urban decay for more than a century, but two decades of revitalization have made the neighborhood ripe for stylish visitors—and a boutique hotel to serve them. Joie de Vivre's newest New York City outpost, 50 Bowery, opened last May in a 22-story glass tower designed by Hong Kong–born architect Peter Poon. The property, located just across the street from the ornate entrance to the Manhattan Bridge, fully embraces its Chinatown location in everything from its robes (emblazoned with red dragons) to its color scheme (blue and white, à la Chinese porcelain) to its pan-Asian restaurant, Rice & Gold, from Top Chef contestant Dale Talde. In fact, the designers literally mined the area for influences: The Museum of Chinese in America curated an on-site exhibit of the artifacts that were found while excavating the building plot, which was once home to vaudeville theaters, gaming dens, and a German beer hall.

Hotel 50 Bowery, New York City

For the Instagram influencer

The Drifter, New Orleans

Tulane Avenue, at the southern end of Route 61 (the Blues Highway), is home to some seedy motels, one of which has now been revived as the Big Easy's trendiest hotel. Set around a courtyard pool, the 20-room Drifter occupies a '50s motor lodge built in the Googie style, a mid-century look that borrowed shapes from car culture and the Space Race. Expect interiors decked out in Instagram-ready pinks, mint greens, and teals, with eye-catching design touches such as Oaxacan tiles, retro Formica tables, and a wall-size installation by Carlton Scott Sturgill that's covered in roses made from upcycled Ralph Lauren dress shirts. Happy filtering!

The Drifter, New Orleans

For the eager upcycler

Trunk (Hotel), Tokyo

Tokyo's lodging scene skews toward the glossy and corporate, but when the 15-room Trunk (Hotel) opened last May in the Harajuku/Jingumae district (a part of trendy Shibuya), it brought a refreshing dose of local craftiness. The space is filled with creatively eco-conscious details: Rooms are clad in reclaimed wood, staff aprons are made from salvaged deadstock denim, cushions on the terrace were once boat sails, and even the coat hangers are repurposed factory iron remnants. Speaking to its fast-paced, youth-oriented neighborhood, the Trunk also houses a kushiyaki grilled-meat stand and an elevated take on a konbini (convenience store) that sells grab-and-go snacks and gifts, including locally sourced honey.

Trunk (Hotel), Tokyo

For the contemporary kosher-keeper

Alvear Icon Hotel & Residences, Buenos Aires

Since 1932, the Alvear Palace Hotel has stood as one of the most luxurious grandes dames in the New World. The brand added a second property, the Alvear Art Hotel, in 2013, and now it has a third, with the debut last June of the Alvear Icon Hotel & Residences. Set in a jagged glass tower on the banks of the Río de la Plata in the upscale Puerto Madero neighborhood, the hotel features 159 rooms and suites with arabescato marble wall accents and French and Italian fabrics, as well as South America's first fine-dining glatt kosher restaurant, Glitter, and a kosher dairy bar, Milk & Co.

Alvear Icon Hotel & Residences, Buenos Aires

The day off: Washington D.C.

By The Hub team

Story by Ellen Carpenter | Hemispheres, December 2018

Politics, finance, tech, no matter: Deals happen in D.C. at every hour. But if you find yourself on a business trip with a rare free day, consider yourself lucky: The city has never been cooler.

9 a.m.

Wake up in your spacious room at the InterContinental Washington D.C. – The Wharf, with floor-to-ceiling views of sailboats gliding down the Washington Channel, and forget for a moment that the craziness of Capitol Hill is just five miles away. Snap a photo of the waterfall chandelier in the lobby before popping next door for a delicious egg and bacon biscuit sandwich at Dolcezza, the first outpost of the D.C. mini-chain to offer a full breakfast menu.

Photo by Mark DeLong

10 a.m.

Hop a cab to the National Portrait Gallery, where you can take a selfie with Barack Obama (well, Kehinde Wiley's depiction of the 44th president) before viewing an entire exhibit on the art of the selfie, Eye to I: Self-Portraits from 1900 to Today, which features works by James Amos Porter, Elaine de Kooning, and more. Afterward, muse on the concept of identity under the undulating glass ceiling in the gallery's stunning Kogod Courtyard.

Photo provided by the National Portrait Gallery, Smithsonian Institution/gift of Dorothy Porter Wesley

1 p.m.

Take the Metro's Green Line up to U Street for a taste of Little Havana at Colada Shop. The small counter spot dispenses flaky empanadas, decadent Cubanos, and the café's namesake—four shots of espresso commingling with sweet Cuban crema. You know you want one.

3 p.m.

Time to hit the National Mall and work off that caffeine injection. Every winter, the fountain at the National Gallery of Art Sculpture Garden becomes an ice rink, where you can take in Alexander Calder's Cheval Rouge and Louise Bourgeois's Spider while practicing your triple lutz.

Photo by Mandel Ngan/AFP/Getty Images

5 p.m.

Cab over to the Kennedy Center for the free 6 p.m. show at Millennium Stage, offered every single night as part of the cultural hub's Performing Arts for Everyone initiative. Whether it's modern dance, West African blues, or experimental theater, it'll broaden your horizons.

Photo by Teresa Wood

7:30 p.m.

Give in to your carb cravings at the Michelin-starred Tail Up Goat, a relaxed yet polished restaurant in the Adams Morgan neighborhood. Toss back the complimentary shrub (tart!) and then dive into the red fife brioche (topped with chicken liver mousse, blueberry marmalade, and wood sorrel) and goat lasagna with tomato, anchovy, and salsa verde.

9:30 p.m.

Catch a ride to Blagden Alley—a historic area that used to house the stables and workshops behind stately row houses—for a cocktail at Columbia Room, a lounge that has topped every best-of list imaginable. Score a seat in the leather- and mahogany-lined Spirits Library and order a Maryland, made with rye, applejack, and chartreuse. Then get another.

Photo by Karlin Villondo Photography

3 under the radar places to visit in December

By Betsy Mikel

With the end of the year approaching, it's time to utilize those unused vacation days. If you're not traveling for the holidays, take an excursion to one of these under-the-radar destinations. Treat your family to fun in the sun in Florida, kick back on an island in Mexico that takes relaxation seriously, or take advantage of the slow season at a popular Arizona national park.

Isla Holbox, Mexico

For a leisurely vacation to relax on uncrowded beaches

Seeking a destination where you can unplug and sink your toes into the sand while surrounded by natural beauty? Isla Holbox is the spot. This laid-back island sits on the northwest tip of Mexico's Yucatan peninsula. It boasts spectacular beaches with endless turquoise ocean views.

What to do

Pack your flip-flops and beach reads for a seriously laid-back trip to Isla Holbox. Come here to sit on the beach (or in a hammock) while you kick back and relax as you've never relaxed before. Enjoy spectacular beaches without crowds.

Isla Holbox is small — just 26 miles long and one mile wide, with only 2,000 full-time residents. Bright colors and painted murals throughout the area evoke a bohemian vibe. Instead of cars, most people get around by golf cart or bike. (In fact, its taxi cabs are actually golf carts.) Isla Holbox won't give you the lively nightlife of popular tourist destinations like nearby Cancun, but there are plenty of beachside bars serving cocktails, food vendors and restaurants serving fresh Mexican fare.

Go on a wildlife excursion to spot whale sharks, crocodiles or flamingos. Head to the Yum-Balam Nature Reserve to see other exotic animals.

Getting there

The closest airport is Cancun (CUN). From Cancun, head to Chiquila, where you can take the ferry to Isla Holbox.

St. Petersburg, Florida

A family-friendly beach destination for fun in the sun

With award-winning beaches offering 35 miles of sand along Tampa Bay, calm waters and plenty of sun, St. Petersburg is quickly gaining momentum as a warm-weather destination for families. Downtown is home to many shops, restaurants, bars and unique attractions, such as an impressive Salvador Dali museum.

What to do

St. Pete beaches are known for their calm, warm and shallow waters. Add 360 days of sunshine per year and an average temperature of 73 degrees, and it's surprising that this sunny beach city still flies under the radar. Keep it laid back by relaxing on the shore, or bump up the action by parasailing, windsurfing or kiteboarding.

After a day of R&R, head downtown to enjoy the lively St. Petersburg culture and nightlife. There are 35 local craft breweries to choose from and many seafood restaurants ranging from casual fare to upscale. The most extensive collection of Salvador Dali's artwork outside of Europe resides in The Dalí Museum. You can even meet a local celebrity at the Clearwater Marine Aquarium — Winter the dolphin starred in the Dolphin Tale movies and is famous for her prosthetic tail.

Getting there

United offers direct service to Tampa / St. Petersburg (TPA) from many U.S. cities.

Grand Canyon, Arizona

To have one of the most magnificent national parks (almost) to yourself

Though the weather is crisp and the temperature a few degrees chillier, the sun shines all month long at Grand Canyon National Park. Traveling here during the low season means fewer visitors will crowd your panoramic views of one of the world's largest canyons and most magnificent natural wonders.

What to do

From scenic drives to backcountry hiking, visiting in the winter makes for a more tranquil and peaceful adventure. The South Rim remains open all year round. The national park offers many trails to view the Colorado River snaking through snow-dusted temples and buttes. Try to catch at least one sunset or sunrise, and be sure to arrive with enough time to stake out a good vantage point. The visitors center and park website have recommendations for the best spots.

Ride the Grand Canyon Railway and travel back in time. A 64-mile stretch of railroad has been transporting passengers from the South Rim to the small town of Williams, Arizona, since 1901. The historic train has an observation dome car to catch the spectacular scenery and even has Wild West-themed entertainment aboard. Every evening in December, the Grand Canyon Railway transforms into the Polar Express and makes a stop at the North Pole where Santa boards the train to greet everyone.

Getting there

Phoenix Sky Harbor Airport is the closest major international airport to the South Rim. United offers service to Phoenix (PHX) from multiple U.S. cities.

For details and to book your trip, visit united.com or use the United app. Don't forget to share your story on social media with the #MyUnitedJourney hashtag once you arrive.

Evolving our brand design

By The Hub team , December 05, 2018

The United brand is heading in a new direction as we evolve the colors and patterns we use. Where did these new colors come from, exactly? Check out the video below to learn about the research, logic and thoughtfulness that went into this evolution as we took inspiration from the spaces around us, the environments we work in, our heritage, the United globe and much more.

Hemispheres

Three Perfect Days: Riviera Maya

By The Hub team

Story by Jordan Heller | Photography by Lindsay Lauckner Gundlock | Hemispheres, December 2018

There is some dispute as to how Playa del Carmen, the metropolitan heart of the Riviera Maya just 40 miles south of Cancún, got its name. Some say it's after Our Lady of Carmel, the title given to the Blessed Virgin Mary in her role as patroness of the Carmelites. But the more compelling story is the one told by locals.

Search flights

As legend has it, in the 1970s and '80s, when the area first became a destination, tourists traveling by boat from neighboring Cozumel would disembark in Playa—then known as Xaman-Ha—on their way to the ruins of Tulum. A local Maya woman named Carmen would happily invite these travelers into her modest home for a traditional meal of fresh-caught seafood. She may not have had any experience with immaculate conception, but when it comes to Playa, this Carmen is definitely a matron saint. Today, her spirit can be felt throughout the Riviera Maya, which also includes the village of Tulum, the ruins of Cobá, and a number of small Maya communities on the Caribbean side of the Yucatán Peninsula where, if you're lucky, a woman not unlike Carmen will happily invite you into her home for a meal.

Day 1

Exploring a Maya temple, befriending a butler and feasting on cochinita pibil

I eat grasshoppers for breakfast. No, this is not my way of saying I know how to handle a subordinate. I'm literally eating toasted grasshoppers sprinkled onto a dish of huevos rancheros with green tomatillo salsa, hoja santa, and goat cheese. I've just woken up at Playa del Carmen's Rosewood Mayakoba, which is perhaps the most luxurious resort I've ever stayed in (and I'm a travel writer). There's a private heated plunge pool outside my back door looking over a secluded lagoon, a spa Forbes rated one of the best in the world, and Tavo, my personal butler, who is at my beck and call through a Rosewood messaging app.

The sikil-p'aak tomato salad at La Ceiba Garden & Kitchen

A bottle of tequila and some toothpaste?

Certainly, Mr. Heller.

Despite all this luxury, I'm eating bugs—albeit with a Bloody Mary at a beachside restaurant overlooking the Caribbean. The toasted grasshoppers are crunchy (like perfectly burnt popcorn), incredibly delicious, and an appropriately indigenous start to a morning in which I'll be exploring the ruins of an ancient civilization.

After traveling inland to the village of Cobá, I trade my rental car for a “Maya taxi." It's the Yucatán version of a rickshaw—a padded bench fashioned atop the front wheel of a bicycle with a beach umbrella protecting me from the rain. My driver, Gustino, is transporting me through a mile of jungle and more than a millennium back in time, to the Late Classic (AD 550–830) Maya ruin of the Nohoch Mul Pyramid. The dirt path bustles with all manner of tourists riding Maya taxis, pedaling rented beach cruisers, or walking, excitedly talking about the sites of this ancient city in English, Spanish, German, Russian, and who knows what else.

As Gustino struggles to pedal through a particularly rough patch of mud, I ask him what nationality of tourist is the hardest to transport.

The Ixmoja pyramid at Cobá

“The Germans," he says. “It's not that they're overweight. They're just a very sturdy people. Americans are preferred: very easygoing and friendly people. Everybody wants an American fare."

When we arrive at Nohoch Mul, the panoply of tourists is suddenly speaking the same language: speechless. At 138 feet tall, the sheer scale of this temple is rivaled only by the gleaming hotels going up on the coast. But out here in the Cobá jungle, after I break the canopy and reach Nohoch Mul's summit, it's nothing but green as far as the eye can see, under which is apparently some 30 square miles of ancient city, most of it still obscured by the jungle. I'm told that just 5 percent of Cobá has been excavated since the project started in the 1970s.

"Today, if you come early in the morning, you find corn and beans here left by the local Maya, who continue to offer sacrifices to the gods."

“And what did they do with this little platform?" I ask Diego Viadero, my knowledgeable Tours by Locals guide, who's been schooling me on all manner of Maya history.

“Ah, yes," he says. “That's where the rulers would offer sacrifices to the gods, in hopes that they could avoid a collapse of the city."

“You mean like in the movie Apocalypto, where they chopped off the heads?" I ask.

“Just like in Apocalypto," says Viadero, doing his best to hold back an eye-roll. “Today, if you come early in the morning, you'll find corn and beans here left by the local Maya, who continue to offer sacrifices to the gods."

“Do you think it's enough?" I ask, making the comparison to the more (ahem) substantial offerings of yore. Let the eye-rolling commence.

The Rosewood Mayakoba's Sense Spa

Next, Viadero takes me to Nojoch Keej, which is Mayan for El Venado Grande, which is Spanish for “The Big Deer." It's a sanctuary for endangered animals run by a Maya man named Manuel Poot Dzib out of his back yard in the village of Nuevo Durango. Poot Dzib started the sanctuary in 2005, after Hurricane Wilma destroyed the habitats of many local animals. He now looks after bees (which produce honey that's said to have healing qualities), white-tail deer, paca, curassow, and ocellated turkeys, which he aims to repopulate in areas that are protected from hunters. From the looks of these turkeys, I think ocellated must be Mayan for peacock. They're vibrant, multicolored, and beautiful to look at.

"Tavo leaves me to my plunge pool, where I enjoy my cocktail to the sound of a rainbow-billed toucan flapping around the lagoon."

Poot Dzib asks us to stay for lunch, which is great, because I'm starving. “We're having cochinita pibiles muy delicioso," he adds, giving off some of that Carmen spirit.

I breathe a sigh of relief when I learn that cochinita pibil is not Spanish for ocellated turkey. It's achiote-marinated pork that's been cooking with banana leaf in a hole in the ground in Poot Dzib's front yard since 8 this morning.

“They normally only do this for the Day of the Dead or other special occasions," Viadero says as we watch Poot Dzib remove the dirt and corrugated metal covering his subterranean oven.

A home-cooked meal, Maya-style

“We used to cover it with banana leaf instead of metal, but that's a much harder and longer process," says Poot Dzib. “This is more modern."

Modern? I'm not so sure, but I grant Poot Dzib that it's certainly an update. In any event, when put on a handmade tortilla with pickled onions and habanero, this cochinita pibil is definitely mouthwatering.

I say “Taakulak k'iin" (“See ya later" in Mayan) to Poot Dzib and his ocellated turkeys and head back to the Rosewood, where Tavo the butler awaits with that bottle of tequila, plus some fresh lime juice and agave nectar for mixers.

Gracias, Tavo!

Certainly, Mr. Heller.

Tavo leaves me to my plunge pool, where I enjoy my drink to the sound of a rainbow-billed toucan flapping around the lagoon. Just one cocktail, however, as I'm hopping onto my complimentary beach cruiser (every guest gets one) to take a spin around the property, where geckos, iguanas, and even a tarantula skitter into the mangroves as I come rolling down the jungle path.

Appetite sufficiently worked up, I'm off to the Rosewood's La Ceiba Garden & Kitchen, where executive chef Juan Pablo Loza serves a communal dinner of Maya-inspired dishes with a contemporary touch. Seated at a long wooden table with 17 other guests, I ask the chef what he's learned from the local Maya villages, which he visits often to pick up cooking techniques.

“My top lesson from the Maya is less about food than it is about perspective," he says, before recounting a delicious meal he had with one family. “The woman who cooked for me had referred to her neighbor as poor. I found it an odd comment, because the assumption in a Maya village is that nobody is exactly rich. 'Why do you say your neighbor is poor?' I asked. She said because she has no family and no garden. If you don't have a garden, you can't get food from it, and if you don't have a family you have nobody to share it with. For them, having a family and a connection to nature is what it means to be rich."

“And now you have this beautiful garden," I say, pointing to his planters of lemongrass.

“And a family, too," he replies. “Including a daughter named Maya."

And then we feast. There's grilled octopus with black recado and burnt lime vinaigrette, zarandeado-style lobster, roasted plantains, and a k'úum salad of squash, arugula, orange, oregano, and ocosingo cheese, finished off with fresh fruits in guava honey and lemongrass.

Tavo, I'm stuffed! Turn out the light and have a pot of coffee waiting for me in the morning, please.

Certainly, Mr. Heller.

Day 2

Scaling ruins, swimming in cenotes, and taking a turn on the karaoke mic

Gran Cenote

In the small village square outside Tulum National Park, the Voladores de Papantla are performing their ancient fertility ritual, or rain ceremony—named an “intangible cultural heritage" by UNESCO. Five men in traditional bright red pants and flowing white blouses with multicolored adornments sit atop a 90-foot pole. The man in the center taps an adagio beat on a simple drum and blows a gentle bird-like tune on a wooden flute while the other four men tie ropes around their waists. When the musician ups the tempo to allegretto, the other two men fall backward, like scuba divers dropping into water, and slowly descend upside down in a merry-go-round fashion, the spinning top ceding rope like a reel feeding line to a fish. It's absolutely beautiful.

On a path cutting through the mangroves and almond trees on the way to the park entrance, a guide shares a mnemonic device that will be helpful should I run into any venomous coral snakes: “red on yellow, kill a fellow; red on black, friend of Jack." I assume I'm a Jack.

"The water is high and crisp as we float past stalagmites growing ever so slowly out of the cave floor."

Thankfully, there are no snakes to be seen in the ancient Maya city of Tulum, an open patch of manicured lawns and stone ruins protected by walls to the north, west, and south, and an ocean reef to the east. Or so it was protected until around 1500, when the Spanish came ashore. This beachside community, established circa 1200, was populated by a few hundred of Tulum's elite (and the sea turtles that still come ashore to lay their eggs), with thousands of people living outside the walls. It wasn't until the 20th century, when archaeologists began studying the region's various Maya sites, that we began to understand how advanced their civilization was—especially in the area of astronomy. As I walk the city's white gravel paths, I can imagine a well-heeled society covered in jade and obsidian jewelry enjoying the same ocean breeze and studying the same night sky. One glance at the view, and it's clear the Maya knew something about real estate. This plot right here, with a lighthouse perched on the cliff, would go for a boatload of jade and obsidian.

Maya ruins at Tulum

After fortifying my stomach with a few al pastor tacos (don't forget the guacamole) at Tropi Tacos in Tulum Pueblo, I meet back up with Diego Viadero for a drive out to Sistema Sac Actun (White Cave System), one of the world's largest underground cave systems, a 164-mile maze of freshwater flowing through subterranean limestone. This afternoon, we're exploring just one mile of the system. The rain-conjuring Voladores de Papantla must be in top form lately; the water is high and crisp as we float past stalagmites growing ever so slowly (less than 10 centimeters every 1,000 years) out of the cave floor and reaching up toward stalactites hanging like icicles from the cave ceiling. It's like the setting of a science fiction movie, so otherworldly I try to prolong my stay by floating as slowly as the calcium deposits are forming in front of me.

“Be careful," says Viadero, as I get a little too close to a stalagmite that's been a million years in the making. “You wouldn't want to break it."

IK Lab

“I certainly wouldn't want that on my conscience," I agree.

After emerging from a cenote (a natural sinkhole where groundwater is exposed to the sky), I offer an adiós to Viadero and make my way to Tulum's Route 15—the narrow street that cuts through the jungle, parallel to the shore, and is lined with trendy restaurants, bars, and “eco-chic" (their word, not mine) hotels. Twenty years ago, this strip wasn't much, but now there's not a speck of beachfront that isn't occupied by an Instagram-ready boutique property. (The number of rope swings is astounding.) In recent years, Route 15 has played host to Demi Moore, Leonardo DiCaprio, Naomi Watts, Gina Rodriguez, Reese Witherspoon, and, after today, me. I'm staying at Sanará, a stylish wellness hotel that attracts young and hip sunworshippers from around the world who like partying and yoga in equal measure.

A shop on Tulum's Route 15

I check into my beachside room (furnished with my very own yoga mat and dream catcher), flop down on the bed, and open up the “Wellness Menu." On offer are a Pudzyah Mayan Healing that “transforms pain to love at the cellular level … It harmonizes your DNA by applying fractal geometry energy"; a Multivibrational Massage and Chakra Balancing; and a Solar Plexus Healer. I opt for the complimentary “Sound Bath" of light yoga and didgeridoo before balancing out my chakras with a burger, a beer, and some fresh ceviche at Clan Destino.

This laid-back spot is all about the ambience: a wooden deck with chandeliers hanging from the jungle canopy and a cenote smack dab in the middle of the club, should you need refreshing after one too many cervezas. The bar offers a free shot of mezcal for those who take a turn on the karaoke mic (“Suspicious Minds" for me, thank you very much); after accepting my applause and draining my shot, I turn the glass over on the bar and take the plunge.

Day 3

Floating down a canal, swimming in the Caribbean, and eating gelato on the beach

A cabana at Mía

At The Real Coconut, Sanará's beachside restaurant, I dig into a light breakfast of coffee and avocado toast (piled high like Nohoch Mul with a squirt of lime and a sprinkling of red pepper flakes). It's a deliciously healthy start to a morning that's going to include traipsing through the Sian Ka'an biosphere reserve and swimming in Laguna Chunyaxché.

At Sian Ka'an—a protected area of tropical forest, marshes, and lagoons about a 40-minute drive from my hotel—I follow my guide, Joaquin Balam of Community Tours, down the narrow boardwalk of Sendero Muyil, which cuts through a forest of zapote and ficus trees. I'm told there are jaguars, pumas, and howler monkeys about, as well as some 330 species of birds.

“Are those the howler monkeys?" I ask of a muted rumbling in the distance.

"We're floating in the current like a couple of astronauts in space, limbs slowly twirling."

“Oh no," says Balam. “When you hear them, you'll know it."

The closest we get to this array of wildlife, however, is some jaguar claw marks on a ficus tree. By the looks of the marks, I'm happy that we're strolling alone.

Baby back ribs at Mía Restaurant & Beach Club

At the end of the path, we reach the sandy shoreline of Laguna Chunyaxché, a bright body of water that reflects both the green wetlands and the blue sky above. We cross the lagoon by boat, to a shoreline of mangroves and seagrass, and step onto a dock at the entrance to a canal.

“Take your life vest off and wear it like this," Balam says, putting his legs through the arm holes of the vest, as if it were a diaper.

“If you say so."

Balam jumps into the canal and I follow, and I immediately understand the Baby Huey getup. We're floating in the current like a couple of astronauts in space, limbs slowly twirling as our seemingly weightless bodies travel down the canal. Cue the opening horns of the score to 2001: A Space Odyssey.

Back on Route 15, I stop in at Mía Restaurant & Beach Club for baby back ribs rubbed with chili and tamarind, washed down with a glass of Château Gloria St Julien Bordeaux from the restaurant's wine cave—the biggest collection of fine wines in Tulum. It's as decadent as the beachgoers lazing in the sun not far from my table.

Head still swimming in that lovely Château Gloria, I decide to take the rest of my body for a little dip. The Caribbean is bathwater warm and crystal clear—in other words, perfect. I walk out for what seems like half a mile, and the water still only comes up to my waist.

Gelato at Origami

Refreshed and sun-dried, I'm ready to trade in the historical and ecological sights of the last few days for the fashion runway of Route 15. The women wear bikinis and sarongs, the men wear linen shorts and loafers, and everybody wears designer shades, brimmed hats made of straw, and suntans of golden bronze. Origami, a beautifully designed gelato shop, is the perfect place to have a seat and watch the catwalk. I have a Ferrero Rocher and crunch on the hazelnuts drenched in icy chocolate and cream while the fashion models play street chicken with Vespas and the delivery trucks distributing tanks of fresh water to the five-star eateries

If Route 15 is for the well-heeled, then Calle Centauro Sur is for the flip-flop set. It's a strip in the center of town, about two miles inland from the beach, where the more casual tourists and locals congregate. Call it the Brooklyn to Route 15's Manhattan. At Batey—a hip, open-air bar and music venue decorated with paintings of Miles Davis and the Beatles—I take a sidewalk seat and listen to a Mexican Elvis impersonator singing Simple Minds' “Don't You (Forget About Me)." As I sip on a Don Julio Reposado, a patchouli-scented parade of 5 o'clock shadows and hot pink hair dye ambles by.

“Are you going dancing tonight?" a young man in a tank top, cut-off jean shorts, and tattered Chuck Taylors asks a friend sitting at the table next to me.

The bar at Mur Mur, in Tulum

“Are you?"

“I'm dressed and ready to go."

Back on Route 15, the revelers are stepping out as if their outfits are going to be scrutinized by bouncers holding clipboards and manning red velvet ropes. Thankfully, no such velvet ropes exist as I enter Rosa Negra for an indulgent meal of burrata, besugo sashimi with black salt and citrus, soft-shell crab tacos, and Pescadores—a fine craft beer made right here in Riviera Maya.

The food is as comely as the patrons, who are bopping their well-coiffed heads to a drum-and-bass DJ. But before I have a chance to pass judgment on an ambience that may appear a touch too buttoned-up, a live conga player steps in front of the DJ.

A rat-a-tat tat, bop ba-da ba-bop, dup du-duh dup du-dup!

The congas add a touch of that Carmen spirit—their organic vibrations reminding me that despite all the Manolo Blahniks and slinky black dresses, my T-shirt and flip-flops are welcome at the party. I shimmy my shoulders, take a swig of my Pescadores, and nod to the beat as I dig into my tacos.

A rat-a-tat tat, ba dop ba-da ba-dop, dup du-buh dup bu-dup!

Search flights

For Oscar, United's turnaround is a journey

By The Hub team , November 30, 2018

Our CEO, Oscar Munoz, sat down with Texas Inc. to discuss our turnaround strategy, stating it's a journey. Read the full interview here featured on the Houston Chronicle.

Ankit Gupta honored with Crain's 40 under 40 recognition

By Matt Adams , November 29, 2018

Network Planning and Scheduling VP Ankit Gupta can talk airline business for hours without losing steam. Just don't ask him to talk about himself; that's when he clams up. You'd think after being named to this year's prestigious Crain's Chicago Business "40 Under 40" list he'd be a little more inclined to wax poetic about his life and career, but no such luck.

Read more about why editors selected Ankit by visiting the Crain's website here. The full list of this year's honorees can be found here. The 40 Under 40 issue hits newsstands on December 3.

Security and technology in the air

By United Airlines

Podcast produced in partnership with CSIS

This week on the Smart Women, Smart Power Podcast, Beverly Kirk is joined by Linda Jojo, Executive Vice President for Technology and Chief Digital Officer at United Airlines for a conversation on the transformation of technology in the airline industry and more on security in the digital age.

The best National Parks to visit all year round

By Bob Cooper

National parks can be a refuge from the noise and hectic pace of everyday urban and suburban life — America's special places in nature. But during the summer peak season, they can be as busy as cities. Smart travelers visit between November and March when most parks are less crowded and accommodation choices are discounted. These national parks are especially worthwhile to visit and they're all close enough to major airports to make a three-day weekend getaway possible.

Yosemite, California

Fall and winter visitors to Yosemite National Park are treated to autumn leaves in the fall, snow-capped granite landmarks in the winter and replenished waterfalls in the spring. Tent camping can be cold, but hotel rooms in and around Yosemite Valley are widely available and Yosemite's historic lodge, The Majestic Yosemite Hotel (formerly Ahwahnee), hosts two big events in November and December: the Grand Grape Celebration and the Bracebridge Dinner (a recreation of Christmas in Olde England). Airport: Fresno Yosemite International Airport.

Everglades, Florida

Many summer vacationers are among the one million annual visitors to Everglades National Park, but the best time to come is in late-autumn or winter. Southern Florida's temperatures are milder, it's far less humid, hurricane season is over and summer flooding of the prairies has receded — letting you see more fish and reptiles. You can also see more birds in the winter via airboat tours through the Everglades, America's largest tropical wilderness. Not to mention this “river of grass" is also a UNESCO World Heritage Site, International Biosphere Reserve and a wetland of International Importance. Airport: Miami International Airport.

Mammoth Cave, Kentucky

Another world lives beneath Kentucky in the world's largest network of caves known as Mammoth Cave National Park. You will walk beneath massive crystallized formations inside the caverns and may spot one of the eight species of bats that thrive in this environment. The caves are about 54 degrees inside year-round, as if regulated by a thermostat, so they are protected from the hot humid summers and freezing winter nights above them, making them a perfect place to visit any time of the year. Visitors to this southern Kentucky park will also benefit from this climatic predictability while taking any of eight cave tours. While cave tours should be at the top of your list of things to do here, this park also offers hiking, camping, horseback riding, kayaking and more. Airport: Louisville International Airport.

Haleakala, Hawaii

Your visit to Haleakala National Park may include a number of experiences, but witnessing the sunrise or sunsets are a must. Many visitors wake up early to drive to the Summit Visitor Center to view one of the best sunrises. But make sure to plan accordingly because the National Park Service now requires a reservation for vehicles to view the sunrise from the Summit District. Other activities on the 10,023-foot mountain include hiking one of the nine trails, guided horseback rides and bike rentals post-hike to coast most of the way down. An added bonus: Humpback whale watching season stretches from December to March in Maui. Airport: Kahului Airport.

Saguaro, Arizona

Saguaro, a type of giant cacti, serve many functions for desert wildlife — but they don't cast much shade. That's why winter is the best time to hike among them where they populate hillsides by the thousands in Saguaro National Park. The park is split in two, straddling the western and eastern boundaries of Tucson, with 165 miles of hiking trails. The Arizona-Sonora Desert Museum, a museum, zoo and botanical garden, is a must-see attraction on the edge of Saguaro NP West. Airport: Tucson International Airport.

Joshua Tree, California

The namesake of Joshua Tree National Park is an odd-looking tree that fits in well with the weirdly wonderful rock formations adored by photographers in this high desert park. Located between Palm Springs and the L.A. area, the park encompasses two major deserts and a mountain range, offering a profoundly contrasting appearance due to the two varying ecosystems. This park can be explored by car or by foot on one of the 27 hiking trails. A bonus to visiting in the winter is the desert wildflower blooms between February and April. Airport: Palm Springs International Airport.

Biscayne, Florida

Famous lighthouse at Key Biscayne, Miami

Most of Biscayne National Park is on water, not land, so the best way to see its coral reefs (among the world's largest) and the abundance of marine life (highlighted by manatees and sea turtles) is by renting a boat or taking a boat tour. Several marinas are found at the park's edges where you can do just that, as well as rent snorkeling or diving equipment for a closer look underwater, where you'll discover diverse and colorful aquatic life and multiple shipwrecks. Kayaking and fishing in Miami-Dade County are also popular. Airport: Miami International Airport.

If you go

United Airlines flies to airports within a two-hour drive of all of these national parks. MileagePlus® Rewards can help pay for your accommodations. Go to united.com or use the United app to plan your national park getaway.

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