Archive for January, 2011

There’s More To Dallas Than Just The Super Bowl!

Thursday, January 27th, 2011

Dallas is home to more than just great Rodeo (photo courtesy of cowtowncoliseum.com)

Cue the theme song! There’s a reason that major sporting events happen in Dallas. Sure the stadiums are great but more importantly, the city is full of Texas-sized hospitality and fun for just about anybody. 

Dallas is a modern city with Ol’ West roots which makes for an eclectic mix of everything from sporting events such as the Super Bowl to the country’s best Rodeo to shopping and entertainment.

DALLAS CULTURE

Whether it’s art appreciation at the amazing Nasher Sculpture Center, taking in the beloved gardens of the Dallas Arboretum, or the largest state fair in the U.S to performing arts, and nature and science at Fair Park, Dallas continues to amaze with the assortment of cultural activities that never get old.

DALLAS SHOPPING

The West Village is a great spot for couples and families (photo courtesy of dallassouthblog.com)

Looking for some geat Dallas shopping? Dallas has more shopping centers per capita than any other city in the U.S.  Here are a few of my favorites.

The West Village - Want a place with bustling cafes, restaurants and lounges that spill onto the streets? This is it.

Southlake Town Square - An open-air shopping mall, here you’ll find 90+ stores and a variety of annual events and entertainment activities.

Daired’s Salon and Spa Pangea – Located in The Village in Fairview, Texas, this is a great place to relax after the weekend’s festivities.

 

DALLAS RESTAURANTS

To say that Dallas has a few good restaurants would be an understatement. Here are a few of my (affordable and delicious) must-haves when I’m in Dallas.

(photo courtesy of chips-burgers.com)

Chip’s Old Fashioned Hamburgers  – Since 1981, this place has the best burgers and laid-back fun.

La Duni – Quattro Leche cake. Need I say more?!

AllGood Café – It is all good at this Deep Ellum breakfast spot!

Campisi’s Restaurant – Open since 1946. Get your Tony Soprano on while enjoying a real Italian meal.

DALLAS HOTELS

Doubletree Dallas Campbell Centre – With an overall guest rating of 4.3/5, this Dallas hotel is just a few miles from several local attractions including Northpark Center and the Frontiers of Flight Museum.

Doubletree Dallas-Richardson - With prices starting at just $89/night, this hotel features complimentary high-speed Internet, and an outdoor pool with a dry sauna.

Hilton Dallas Rockwall – Located by the beautiful Lake Rockwall near shops and boat rides, this hotel is recommended by 94 percent of visitors and features a restaurant, a bar/lounge, and a poolside bar.

Southfork Ranch, the setting of the legendary TV series, Dallas, is located just a few miles from Southfork Hotel (photo courtesy of southfork-ranch.visit-dallas.com)

Southfork Hotel - This 3-star hotel is just $79/night and is located just a few miles from Southfork Ranch, the setting of the legendary TV series, Dallas.

Hilton Arlington – Located in the skyline’s view of Cowboys Stadium, this 3 1/2 star property is five miles from horse racing at the Lone Star Park, and provides complimentary transportation to attractions including Six Flags Over Texas, Arlington Convention Center, Cowboys Stadium, and the Texas Rangers Ballpark.

NEARBY DALLAS

In nearby Grapevine you can walk the urban wine trail. Grapevine mixes urban with the west and a whole lot of grapes. It’s a great day trip from Dallas with a Main Street designed for ambling, an open-air car railroad, wineries, unique shopping, and savory dining.

A stay at the Gaylord Texan Resort is just right for a Texas-size experience!

Take a drive along the Texas Fort Trails and visit historic sites and battlefields while enjoying the scenic ride. The Texas Hill Country is a great side-trip when visiting Dallas and a great escape for the locals. 

Step out of the city and visit Fredericksburg.  This charming town, located just 220 miles from Dallas is in the heart of the Texas Hill Country.  Founded by German Settlers in 1846, the historic town is a fun weekend escape. Stay at the Fredericksburg Inn & Suites for a friendly and comfortable experience.

You can be as busy as you want to be in Dallas with more to do than a single visit allows which is just the excuse you need to come back again for more!

 
 

 

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How We Do It – An Inside Look at Creating SMART and Claymation

Tuesday, January 25th, 2011

It is easy to watch SMART, the red-haired travel character for hotels.com, and think he is effortless to animate and “clay”. His movements seem so natural that it’s hard to believe it takes a three-week process to create his unique attributes.

With the recent buzz around the chance for viewers to join SMART in his commercials through the hotels.com Clay Yourself contest, those hopeful to win their opportunity to star alongside SMART might want to know what to expect.


As such, I spoke with Mike Hill, Vice President, Group Account Director, Y&R Chicago, the advertising firm that created SMART, and wanted to share with you his thoughts on claymation.

SMART is miniature.

On screen, SMART appears life-size, but in reality, he’s only five inches tall and made entirely of clay. By creating a tiny version of the travel expert, the commercial director is able to capture life-like details in his mannerisms.

Stop-Motion Animation

Claymation is a form of stop-motion animation. It stands out on TV because it sets SMART apart from traditional cartoon characters, yet doesn’t place him within the human realm. The director stops between each frame to slightly move the clay figures. Slowly, the commercial is shot with individual frames. Once these individual frames are quickly tied together, their fast movement gives the illusion that the clay figures are moving. Every seamlessly easy arch of SMART’s eyebrow actually takes a pause to manually manipulate the scene.

SMART’s friends

Each new character is designed from a sketch, which is then turned into a clay model. Once we confirm a new commercial’s creative concept, the artists sketches the new clay character to fit the role. This sketch is then transferred into 3D reality by Aardman Animations, the Bristol, England-based company who brings the claymation to life. It takes three weeks to develop a new SMART friend, and each detail is carefully sculpted.

One more thing

Hotels.com is bringing the clay experience outside of the animation studio and into your computers. Through the Clay Yourself experience, anyone can create a digital clay avatar that resembles their physical features. This avatar can then be submitted for an audition to star in the next hotels.com commercial. The Clay Yourself contest ends on February 25th, 2011, which means the winner will be shaped, designed and ready for prime time by April. For more information on how to earn a chance to shine in clay, visit: www.clayyourself.com.

 
 

 

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Spotlight on Dallas: Home of Super Bowl XLV

Tuesday, January 18th, 2011

photo courtesy of superbowl.com

Dallas is ripe and ready for its first time hosting this country’s most-acclaimed sporting event on February 6th. 

This year, the NFL is going to sell tickets for fans to be just outside Cowboys Stadium with access to all the pre-game happenings around the stadium but not actually “inside” the stadium. An announcement has yet to be made as to how you can get that “standing room only” ticket.

But whether you have a ticket or not, you certainly can partake in the many celebrations descending on the Big D in a few weeks. I’ve listed a couple of the events below but you can check here for a complete list of Super Bowl happenings.

1. The NFL Experience begins on January 28th at the Dallas Convention Center. The NFL Experience is the most exciting continuous event surrounding Super Bowl XLV. It boasts an interactive theme park offering participatory games, displays, entertainment attractions, kids’ football clinics, free autograph sessions and the largest football memorabilia show ever. 

2. On Friday, Feb 4th, from 11pm to 2am local time, Coors Light and the Silver Bullet Ranch will take over the world’s largest honky tonk – Billy Bob’s. Trust me, you want to make time to visit this cowboy hangout in the historic Fort Worth Stockyards. Uncle Kracker and The Casey Donahue Band will open up before a special performance by Blake Shelton.

3. Bud Light is all but taking over the Aloft Hotel in Dallas and putting on four nights of events. The Aloft Hotel is a new hotel that has a loft-inspired design and is located in the downtown area, very close to the Dallas Convention Center. You can win a stay at the “Bud Light Hotel” during Super Bowl weekend by entering here.

Sometimes we need an excuse, like the Super Bowl, to set out on a little travel adventure. But make no mistake that the Dallas/Fort Worth Metroplex needs no excuse for a visit! In my next post, I’ll share some great non-football spots to visit in and around Dallas.

 
 

 

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This Week’s Top Vote Getter for Clay Yourself is Announced!

Friday, January 14th, 2011

This week's top vote getter in the "Clay Yourself" contest from hotels.com

Today, hotels.com named the top vote getter this week for Clay Yourself!

Have you made your clay avatar yet? If not, what are you waiting for?!

And remember, make sure to follow hotels.com on Facebook to see the winning images.


 
 

 

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“Clay Yourself” for a Chance to Star in a hotels.com Commercial

Tuesday, January 11th, 2011

Clay Yourself allows you to create a clay avatar and to audition to star in a hotels.com commercial

This week, hotels.com introduced an exciting new microsite called “Clay Yourself” where people can create a personalized digital clay avatar and submit their custom image to the “Star in a hotels.com Commercial” contest for a chance at several great prizes!

Through this fun, interactive site anyone can create a digital clay character that resembles their facial characteristics and captures their personality. These avatars can then be shared through social media sites like Facebook and Twitter.

To “audition” to star in a hotels.com commercial, simply click through the interactive portal and create a digital rendering of yourself. Eight weekly winners, based on the number of votes, will each receive $200 in hotels.com vouchers. One grand prize winner will secure the chance to star in the next hotels.com commercial, slated to air in the spring.

Hotels.com will take the winner’s digital rendition and mold it into an actual clay figurine. The figurine will star along-side the hotels.com spokesperson, Smart, a clay character and the face of hotels.com, in an animated commercial. Additionally, they will win three days and two nights in Los Angeles for a behind-the-scenes look at the commercial’s production.

Make sure to follow hotels.com on Facebook to see the winning clay avatars. The “Clay Yourself” contest concludes on February 25, 2011. Good luck!

 
 

 

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Food for Thought … and for Travel!

Thursday, January 6th, 2011

According to a recent hotels.com survey, 81% of travelers indicated that they try to avoid fast food chains while on vacation (photo courtesy of china.org)

I don’t know about you but I like to eat!  And when I am traveling, I don’t want to have just any meal.  I want to experience the flavor of a city or at the very least, something that I can’t get at home.

Hotels.com recently conducted a survey to find out more about the dining habits of travelers and it seems that I am not alone. In fact, 62% of respondents said that they make a point to try the local cuisine when visiting a destination. 

I know for myself, that I enjoy sampling the regional delights of a new place, and when I am traveling with my children I like to find out about it before I get there so we can learn about the various foods we will be eating during our trip.

The survey also showed that 72% of respondents indicated that they wouldn’t choose a destination solely because of its cuisine but 27.9% said that they would. Actually, food-oriented travel is one of the fastest growing segments of the travel industry with more than 27 million people choosing each year to experience the authentic tastes and traditions of places such as Italy, France and other regions of the world.

Additionally, an impressive 81% of those surveyed indicated that they try to avoid fast food chains while on vacation and opt to sample the local wares. I have to agree with this one. Although I won’t lie to you that on a long bus trip this past summer in Panama we actually stopped at the local McDonalds to grab some food to eat on the bus.  40% of respondents noted that they like it when breakfast is included with their hotel stays. Not only does it help you to save money but it is convenient, as well.

In fact, some of the best culinary experiences can be found within some of our nation’s hotels.  Here are a few favorite hotel restaurants according to TravelSmartBlog.com.

New York City

The eclectic Asia de Cuba located in The Morgans Hotel on Madison Avenue is one of my favorite restaurants. Opt to sit at the community table in the center of the restaurant. It’s a great way to meet locals and visitors alike.

Dallas

Dragonfly at Hotel ZaZa in Dallas is a great spot to see and be seen, not to mention the food is artfully and deliciously prepared.

Las Vegas

In a city that knows entertainment and gastronomy, L’Atelier de Joël Robuchon at the MGM Grand in Las Vegas takes the cake. The French cuisine is très magnifique and the U-shaped bar is a great spot to take it all in!

Denver

Restaurant Kevin Taylor in the Hotel Teatro (which was also named recently in Travel & Leisure’s World’s Best Hotels issue) offers an innovative menu coupled with impeccable service.

Now that I have you salivating, don’t forget these helpful tips for healthy eating while traveling.

 
 

 

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Travel Resolutions for 2011

Tuesday, January 4th, 2011

One of my New Year's resolutions is to take more photos in 2011. Here's a recent photo of my family and me at the Magic Kingdom for Mickey's Magic Christmas Party

Happy New Year! The dawn of another year gives me renewed excitement for the blank calendar just waiting to be filled with new travel adventures. And what a good year it is expected to be!  Travel industry analysts at Phocuswright and experts at AAA (Triple-A) are predicting a return to record highs in travel by 2012, which means we can expect to see more people this year on the roads, in the air, staying in hotels, and seeing the world. So let’s get going! 

It wouldn’t be a new year without resolutions. So, I made a few to get things off on the right travel-planning foot. And I would love to know yours, too. Also, please share YOUR travel resolutions for the New Year by simply adding a comment at the bottom of this post! 

My Travel Resolutions for 2011:

1. Take at least one trip in each of the following categories: experiential, romantic, somewhere you’ve never been, road trip, family and impromptu. 

2. Talk more with locals when visiting a city. It’s one of the best ways to learn more about the place you are visiting and to get some great recommendations that you couldn’t get from the guide book.

3. Smile at and thank the TSA personnel at the many airport security checkpoints I go through. Can you imagine the thousands upon thousands of people who only have a grimace and a complaint? 

4. Share experiences at a particular hotel and/or restaurant through online guest and restaurant reviews such as on hotels.com or Yelp. After all, I benefit so much from the reviews of others when making my decisions, I really should leave that information somewhere other than just my blog.

5. Take better photos. Is it me or is it my camera? I’m going to find out this year!

 
 

 

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