Archive for October, 2010

The Spookiest North American Hotels To Visit This Halloween

Friday, October 29th, 2010

The Stanley Hotel in Estes Park, Colorado was the inspiration behind Stephen King's bestseller, "The Shining."

With Halloween coming up on Sunday, there is still a chance for last minute travelers to book a night at a unique, spooky hotel. 

Below is a list of ‘haunted picks’ that you might want to check out. Each of these hotels offers eerie tales that are supported by guest accounts and hotel staff who have witnessed paranormal activity at the respective property.

Here are the haunted picks:

1. Stanley Hotel (Estes Park, CO) – Erected by inventor F.O. Stanley in 1909, this Georgian- revival hotel inspired Stephen King’s bestseller, “The Shining,” which featured Jack Nicholson in the movie version. The hotel’s resident poltergeist expert offers spooky stories that have been documented at the hotel. Narrations are accompanied by hot chocolate and treats with tales unfolding in the courtyard by the fire pit.

2. The Fairmont Hotel Vancouver – Built in 1939, this enchanted hotel is located in the financial district of downtown Vancouver, British Columbia. Legend has it that the property is often visited by a special ghostly guest, the Lady in Red, who is described as an elegant woman dressed in a red dress who descends down the corridors of the 14th floor. Interested in going to that level of the hotel? Take the elevator at your own risk as it has been known to stop there at random!

3. Hotel Provincial (New Orleans) - Located in the French Quarter, this hotel features elegant antique furnishings and spacious courtyard evoke the charm of old New Orleans. So why is this an ideal hotel for Halloween? In the 1800s, this property was once a hospital for Confederate soldiers and doctors, and there have been reports of them appearing as ghostly figures wandering the corridors and reaching out to guests for help.

4. Le Meridien King Edward (Toronto) – Located in downtown Toronto for over 100 years, this hotel is nearby to the Hockey Hall of Fame, Rogers Centre (Home of baseball’s Toronto Blue Jays), and the CN Tower. Designed with old-world architecture combined with turn of the century appeal, the hotel has been rumored to have had a grand Crystal Ballroom located on the 17th floor. The ballroom has not been in use for many years; however service elevators have also reportedly gone to this floor, even though it has been closed off for quite some time. Guests who stay on the floor below have complained about strange, unexplained noise levels, music and talking. 

5. La Maison Pierre Du Calvet (Montreal) – This property is an ancestral family mansion that was built in 1725.  Just minutes away from the Old Port, the hotel-chateau offers rooms that are decorated with exceptional antique European furnishings. Guests must beware as there have been ghost sightings in some of the rooms. You might be visited by a woman or a man who likes to sit at the edge of your bed while playing cards. 

 
 

 

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A Halloween Hotel Tale: Bedbugs Uncovered

Tuesday, October 26th, 2010

Bed Bugs just used to be something we said as kids, “sleep tight, don’t let the bedbugs bite” but now it’s no laughing matter. Bedbug cases are growing across the U.S. and with new reports of travelers rethinking their plans, I want to take the mask off (Halloween pun intended) of these pests that truly go bump in the night.

What are Bedbugs?

Bedbugs are small parasitic insects that feed primarily on human blood. These insects are not strictly nocturnal but are typically found in beds and other places people rest such as couches. Historically, Bedbugs have been around for thousands of years and were largely eradicated in the 1940s with the development of the modern world but in the last decade the have staged quite a comeback. The bugs themselves are flat, brownish-redish and oval shaped.

How do infestations occur?

The CDC does not have an exact cause but points to increases in international travel, more re-selling of used furniture and a reduction in use of certain pesticides. And not only are they bloodsuckers but they are hitchhikers, too. Attracted to body heat, they congregate in places where they are sure people will be and often travel with their hosts. Essentially, they hitch a ride from one victim to another either on their clothes, in suitcases, and even in pet carriers. 

What do I do if my hotel has Bedbugs?

Bedbugs are definitely giving some hotels bad press these days but it shouldn’t keep you from making those plans for an upcoming holiday getaway. Before booking accommodations, you can read guest reviews online to see if any instances of bedbugs have been reported for a particular hotel.

I recently spoke to Taylor Cole, public relations director for hotels.com, about this topic. She agreed that checking hotel guest reviews is always a good idea especially since feedback from hotel guests about the condition of rooms is often the only way travel consumers can be alerted if there’s a problem. (see example here). There are even dedicated websites such as bedbugregistry.com

It’s also good to remember that a report about one hotel does not mean the issue wasn’t isolated to one room, or that hotel management hasn’t since exterminated the bugs. And while hotels do not always publish their policies regarding bedbug treatment, you can always ask the front desk personnel at check-in to help you rest easier.

How do I know if my hotel room has Bedbugs?

Here is what I do when I first get to my room:

  • I do NOT place clothing or suitcases on the beds. 
  • I use a desk or the folding rack found in most hotels.  Bedbugs don’t like the light, so they’ll be hiding in areas that are usually dark or have very low light.
  • I pull back the bed sheets and check the mattress and box spring, looking specifically along the upper and lower seams and between them. 
  • I also check around and behind the headboard (especially if it’s fabric), and in the corners of the drawers even if I don’t use them.   What am I looking for? Spots on the sheets or mattress that look like tiny black dots and for tiny white eggs (like rice) as well as the little bugs themselves.

What are hotels doing to help?

Here’s the thing – No hotel wants to have a bedbug infestation. And all the attention on the outbreaks is helping to ensure that cleaning crews are more vigilant and attentive to room cleanliness. But bedbugs are transient and move from guest to guest, in and out of the hotels. It would really be impossible for a hotel to guarantee to be bedbug-free. You should report any bites or suspected sightings immediately to the front desk staff and hotel management. Kindly request to have your room changed preferably as far from the infested room as possible. Most hotels are very accommodating and often very alarmed by the discovery and will work quickly to remedy the situation.   

If you spot a bedbug within your luggage when you get back home, wash all your clothes in hot water and dry them on maximum heat to kill any unwanted insect hitchhikers. Steam clean your suitcase, and if you’re feeling truly anxious, encase it in a plastic bag until the next time you need it.

Yes, I itched my way through writing this telling tale but the frightening truth is that with a little reconnaissance and vigilance during your travels you should be creepy-crawly free. Sleep tight!

 
 

 

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5-4-3. Five Cities with Great Four and Three Star Hotels for Less Than $99

Wednesday, October 20th, 2010

Take advantage of hotel deals in cities such as Los Angeles and visit family attractions like Universal Studios (photo courtesy of themeparkcodes.com)

Looking to take a trip in the next few weeks without breaking the bank as you head into the holiday season? Well, there’s good news! There are plenty of discounts on travel and hotel sites such as Hotels.com, where you can find great deals at top rated properties.

 Here are five fall and winter destinations where properties are offering some amazing deals over the next few weeks, so be sure to book fast!

1. SAN FRANCISCO – Take the family on a fun, educational journey to Alcatraz or bring your loved one to a World Series game to root on the San Francisco Giants. The Golden Gate City is home to a variety of attractions for families and couples to enjoy.

Where to stay: Best Western Grosvenor Hotel

Located right by Monster Park (formerly Candlestick Park) and just 10 miles from downtown, this three-star property has deals starting at $60 per night. This property has a 4.0/5.0 hotel review rating, and is recommended by 85 percent of guests.

2. AUSTIN (TX) – Not only is this city the state capital of Texas, it’s also recognized as the Live Music Capital of the World with nearly 200 live music venues and Austin City Limits. With great area attractions such as Austin Lakes, and of course having a plethora of delicious BBQ restaurants with Texas-sized portions, this is a city to check out!

Where to stay: Hotel Allandale
From $81, this three-star hotel offers an indoor and an outdoor pool, fitness facility, restaurant, and a 24-hour business center. It has a hotel review rating of 4.2/5.0 and is recommended by 83 percent of guests. And if you’re looking to spend just a tad over $99, try the beautiful Barton Creek Resort and Spa and take advantage of special discount offers of up to 35% off. Music lovers will enjoy the live piano music Friday and Saturday nights.

3. LOS ANGELES – Catch a glimpse of movie stars and celebrities, watch the world champion LA Lakers in their quest for another NBA title, or enjoy the warm weather as you stroll through Rodeo Drive.

Where to stay: Hollywood Hotel
From $65, this property is located less than five miles from Universal Studios, the Los Angeles Zoo and Griffith Park. This three-star hotel is recommended by 77 percent of guests and has a hotel review rating of 3.6/5.0.

4. NASHVILLE – Have you ever been to the Grand Ole Opry or The Parthenon? What about seeing a Tennessee Titans or Nashville Predators game? Well, now’s your chance!

Where to stay: Millennium Maxwell House  
Located within two miles are the Just minutes from the Country Music Hall of Fame, Gaylord Entertainment Center and Frist Museum, this 3.5 star hotel is available at rates starting at $87. Recommended by 87 percent of guests, this property has a hotel review rating of 4.1/5.0.

5. ST. LOUIS – With the famous Gateway Arch, Six Flags St. Louis, and five casinos, this Midwest destination has activities and events for the entire family to enjoy.

Where to stay: Doubletree Hotel & Conference Center St Louis
Offering a health club, restaurant and lounge, pools and a sauna, this 3.5 star hotel is available at just $68 per night. This hotel has also earned a hotel review rating of 4.5/5.0 and is recommended by 95 percent of guests who have booked and stayed at this location.

Taylor L. Cole, APR, is director of public relations for Hotels.com.
 
 

 

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Six Ideas For An Affordable Family Vacation

Tuesday, October 19th, 2010

Julie and her family live in Canada and are looking for affordable destination advice

Here’s a recent e-mail I received that I wanted to share with the rest of you:

Hi Nicole,

 I came across your website (travelsmartblog.com) while searching Google for advice on traveling with young children. My husband & I are hoping to take our two young boys on a family vacation in January 2012 as a celebration of our anniversary & my husband’s college graduation (finally!). We won’t have a large budget, but do hope to fly somewhere with warm weather as where we live tends to be rather cold in the winter. Where would you recommend traveling to, considering a small budget, two young children and the time of year? We are not experienced travelers but would like to change that in the future. I appreciate any advice you could give me. Thanks for your time! – Julie P.

Julie, your question is a great one and  I wanted all the TSB readers to benefit from the answer on choosing an affordable, family-friendly, warm weather escape (I also discussed this in a video from June) during the winter.

When you are choosing a warm weather destination on a budget the most important things to think about are affordability, the value of your accommodations, and (believe it or not) the typical weather conditions at time of travel.

Affordability is ideal because you are working within a budget and much like ski areas, warm weather destinations are often at a premium in the winter. Planning ahead is key to finding the right place at the right price, so kudos to you for being so on top of your trip coordination. You will save money on airfare if you consider destinations that have a greater number of direct flights from your city or good connections from other U.S. cities. Also avoid popular school vacation weeks when planning your long weekend getaway. Both airfares and hotel prices will be considerably lower.

By value I mean what needs/desires does a hotel need to have to make you happy? Every person may have a different idea of what he deems important which would then dictate the value the resort actually offers. A hotel with a wide variety of amenities, services and family-specific programs would be a high-value resort for you. Look for features such as complimentary breakfasts, kids eat free, children’s pools and programs, and on-site babysitting. Because let’s face it, mom and dad deserve a romantic dinner on this vacation, too. Hotels.com allows you to search by amenity such as family-friendly to find the right accommodations for your trip.

The weather is important to consider as well. Even Florida can get chilly in January so if you want the sun and the sand, you will need to travel a bit more to the south. Most temperatures in the Caribbean and Mexico are on average in the 80s during the day through the month of March. 

Here are a few destinations to consider:

1. Sanibel and Captiva Islands, FL

Sanibel and Captiva are small barrier islands on the southwest coast of Florida that are known worldwide for their seashells. Your best airport access is Ft. Myers, but you could even fly into Orlando and spend a day or two at the theme parks on either end of your trip; as it is only a two and a half hour drive to the coastal retreat. Quaint beachfront cottages and hotels are strewn along the tropical gulf front such as South Seas Island Resort. 

2. Cancun

Cancun knows how to handle visitors and with a newly remodeled airport and tons of flights in and out daily, it makes for an easy winter vacation. There are a variety of family friendly resorts in Cancun including all-inclusive resorts, which are often a nice choice when you need to know your trip costs up front.

3. Roatan, Honduras

A scuba diver’s paradise! I think the island of Roatan is about to explode in popularity so get the jump on everybody else while it is still very reasonable. Not only can you eat well and sleep comfortably on a traveling budget but I experienced some of the best snorkeling ever right off the beaches of Roatan. And the kids love it too with the Roatan Zoo & Island Adventure nearby.

4. Puerto Rico

Leave the passports at home, Puerto Rico may be the easiest destination to get to with direct flights from many airports throughout the U.S. and Canada. The island is steeped in culture and history with old forts peppering the coastline that used to ward off pirates that beckon to today’s visitors. No matter your budget or interests, Puerto Rico has accommodations for even the most discriminating travelers. I find that most hotels are very family-friendly and offer a wealth of complimentary water activities (such as snorkeling and sea kayaking) as well as programs designed to entertain all ages.

5. Aruba

Beautiful family-filled beaches are the norm in Aruba. Even though the island is only six square miles, you can experience diverse topography from rocky cliffs to pristine beaches to desert cactus on the interior of the island. Look for resorts on Eagle Beach and Palm Beach.

6. Cruising

'Cruising' with my kids on a recent family vacation

Bargains abound for cruising (outside of peak holiday weeks) with the introduction of some of the largest and newest ships in the last year alone. Families can take a cruise vacation from three to seven days departing from cities in Florida, Alabama, Louisiana, Texas, and California and visit a wide variety of ports in the Bahamas, Mexico, and the Caribbean. I recently traveled with my three and five year old children aboard the Carnival Legend out of Tampa, FL. An avid cruiser, I was impressed to say the least. The ship wasn’t the newest or the largest but what it lacked in the latest innovations it made up for in the quality of the food, the ports, the cleanliness, the staff and service and of course, the children’s programs. Cruise Critic is a great resource for comparing and choosing your next cruise.

 
 

 

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Five Cities With Can’t Miss Travel Events In October and November

Thursday, October 14th, 2010

New Orleans is home to Voodoo Experience, one of the year's best music and arts festivals in the country

So now that I offered you some tips on how to pack for your next vacation, I figured the next logical step would be to give you some ideas on where to go and what to do! 

1. New Orleans - 3 and 4 star rooms from $67 per night

From Oct. 29-31, one of the most exciting events of the year is the Voodoo Experience. A multi-day music and arts festival, bands such as Weezer, Ozzy Osbourne, this extravaganza has attracted more than 450 artists and close to one million fans over its 10-year tenure. It has also been twice nominated for Pollstar’s Music Festival of the Year.

2. Miami3 and 4 star rooms starting at $46 per night

A great trip for the whole family, Miami offers its Zoo Boo! event on Oct. 30 and 31st. Kids are invited to trick-or-treat in costumes, participate in costume contests, watch special performances, make Halloween crafts, and even get to see wild animals get their Halloween goodies! Music and games with fun prizes will also be available.

Also, just thirty minutes north of the city you may want to checkout the Fort Lauderdale International Boat Show from Oct. 28 to Nov. 1. Nicknamed the”Yachting Capital of the World,” show exhibits range from yacht builders and designers to exotic cars and brokerage yachts. A wide variety of boats and sea vessels will be on display, as well as attractions such as The Blue Wild Dive Show and Hook the Future’s Kids Fishing Clinics.

3. Chicago - 3 and 4 star rooms from $53 per night

There is a TON of fun events happening in the Windy City during October and November. On Oct. 27, rock band Maroon 5 performs at the UIC (University of Illinois-Chicago) Pavillion, and on Oct. 29, superstar singer, Shakira, is live at Allstate Arena.

Oh, and for all you sports fans out there, you may want to purchase tickets now to visit Soldier Field when the Chicago Bears take on division rival Brett Favre and the Minnesota Vikings on Nov. 14.

4. Wine Country/Napa Valley (CA) - Save up to 35 percent

A fun, but pricey ($100 per person) event worth exploring is the Twilight Fright Night at Trefethen Family Vineyards on Oct. 29. A thrilling after experience that begins after the winery closes to the public at 7pm, you’ll walk through the winery with just candlelight eating finger foods, sampling a variety of aged wines, and hearing ghost stories and tales of the winery’s haunted past. 

5. Las Vegas - Hotels from $24 per night

Where to begin?! This city has plenty of shows and attractions every day, but I wanted to highlight a few events to be aware of in case you want to check them out.

  • Music legends Cher and Rod Stewart perform this month and next at Caesars Palace
  • David Copperfield, the most commercially successful magician in history, performs at MGM Grand throughout October and November. 
  • Phantom – The Las Vegas Spectacular. Performing daily at The Venetian, this show is currently in its fifth year on the Strip and was recently  named the “#1 show in Las Vegas” by the Las Vegas Review Journal.

So which cities/events are you going to find yourself visiting? Let me hear your thoughts!

 
 

 

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15 Travel Packing Tips For Suitcases Of All Sizes

Tuesday, October 12th, 2010

photo courtesy of washingtonpost.com

Wondering how to avoid wrinkles in your suitcase or simply how to fit it all in there? Here are a bunch of helpful tips for packing a suitcase whether traveling for business or pleasure.

1. If you are flying, check the baggage fees and weight requirements BEFORE you pack. I always weigh my bag as I’m packing to stay within the usual 50 lb allowance.

2. Wear bulkier items on the plane so you have more room in your bag.

3. Put your name on both the inside and outside of your bag in case your bag is lost; also, a copy of your itinerary or destination contact information inside the bag will make it easier for an airline employee to find you.

4. Pack a day’s worth of clothes in your carry on. If your bags do become lost you won’t be stuck frantically trying to find something to wear.

5. Pack a swimsuit in your carry on, too. If you’re going on a cruise, you’ll be able to hit the pool when everybody else is waiting for their bags to be delivered to their cabins.

6. Pack chronologically. Place the items you will wear first on top (usually pajamas) and leave the last day outfits to the bottom of the bag.

7. Pack things inside of other things. Women’s shoes inside of men’s shoes, jewelry inside a pair of shoes, etc.

8. Get a small laundry bag. I happen to like the one at  http://www.rojeti.com. I hang it in the closet and it’s a great way to keep your room picked up and to separate the clean and dirty clothes.

9. Use plastic baggies. Fill them with anything: jewelry, toiletries that could leak, and your undergarments. For the undergarments, I usually do one bag per traveler. Be sure to squeeze out the extra air. Then at the end of the trip you simply empty them straight into the laundry.

10. Do more with less. Can you get multiple wears out of a pair of pants or skirt paired with different blouses? Can you get away with one pair of shoes? I can’t – but let’s say two! Leave anything that only goes with one other item at home.

11. Hang your clothes up as soon as you can. Save yourself the trouble of ironing and hang your clothes up immediately.  You can always turn the shower on hot and hang the clothes behind the bathroom door to steam away the wrinkles.

12. You will save space and avoid creases by packing pants 1st in the suitcase. Lay them across the length of the suitcase with the waist to one side and the legs hanging over the other side.  Layer the next pair on top with the waist at the opposite side (on top of the previous pair’s legs).  Once pants are in, continue packing clothes on top of them. Fold the legs in on top of your clothes at the end of the packing.

13. Use plastic dry cleaning bags between shirts/blouses and dresses to prevent wrinkling.

14. Always put plastic on top of your clothes before zipping the suitcase shut. It will protect your clothes from shoes that you may want to layer on top. And, if the suitcase gets unexpectedly wet while traveling, it will also keep your clothing dry.

15. Do NOT pack wrapped gifts.  Pack the wrapping paper/gift bag/tissue paper and a baggie with the necessary tape/pen/scissors separately and then wrap the gift upon arrival.  You will either be disappointed because the wrapping was damaged or that TSA opened the gift for inspection purposes. 

 
 

 

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Seven Ways To Find Hotel Deals And Make The Most Out Of Loyalty Programs

Thursday, October 7th, 2010

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Michael Lowery is Senior Director of Strategy & Marketing at Hotels.com

With consumers and business travelers looking for the best deals possible this fall, their best bet is to research what is offered in conjunction with guest-recognition programs. Since brand loyalty is so critical to hotels, many properties have created enticements to join free rewards programs that offer hotel stays and other various benefits in hopes of building a long-term relationship with the traveler.

Here are a few tips on how to find great discounts and get the most out of loyalty programs:

1. Pool Your Points into a small number of rewards programs to maximize the benefits.

2. Keep track of your membership email/membership number, you’ll need it each time you make reservations and some programs now track by email address.

3. The monthly statement and membership site is your best friend for perks – Check frequently in order to quickly find which rewards you may be eligible for.

4. Rewards and promotions may be posted on the Twitter and Facebook accounts of your favorite sites and properties. Look for exclusive deals.

5. Business travelers should look to accumulate points at hotels close to where they often conduct business.

6. Look for loyalty programs that don’t tie you down to a specific hotel chain. This maximizes your flexibility.

7. Carefully examine how long it takes you to get a free stay. This can vary substantially by program.

In addition to these tips, another way to take advantage of great offers can be found at www.welcomerewardschallenge.com/hotels where Hotels.com recently launched its welcomerewards® Challenge. Along with the free night you earn for every 10 nights you complete through Hotels.com, Challenge takers can get free bonus nights at their 15th and 30th nights. That is five free nights!  In addition, Hotels.com is giving away two free FLIP Ultra™ Camcorders every day between now and December 31st.  

 
 

 

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“I Need A Vacation” Sweepstakes Winner Revealed

Tuesday, October 5th, 2010

After several months and hundreds of uploaded photos, Hotels.com recently announced the winner of its “I Need A Vacation” sweepstakes!

Pam M. from just outside Houston, TX showed her best “I Need A Vacation” look in her photo, and as a result, was voted the winner and was presented with a check worth more than $100,000. Although she hasn’t traveled much and has never been outside the U.S., she’s always dreamed of going to Hawaii, Australia and Ireland. Her first trip will either be to Hawaii with her husband or she plans to take her grandchildren to Disney World in Orlando (FL), since they’ve never been there.

A mother of four and a grandmother of five, Pam entered the sweepstakes because her oldest son has been in the U.S. Navy for two years (serving in the Persian Gulf) and she can’t afford to go see him when he’s on-base in Virginia. She learned about the promotion when she searched on Hotels.com for a trip to Mississippi, and decided to enter the sweepstakes. With the support of her son, his friends and her other children who were able to help spread the word, she tallied enough votes to win. What’s more impressive is that she didn’t use Facebook, Twitter or any other social media mechanism to obtain the votes.

Hotels.com Presents The “I Need A Vacation” Sweepstakes Winner With The Prize Check In Houston, TX

 
 

 

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