Archive for October, 2012

Travel Tips in the Wake of SuperStorm Sandy

Wednesday, October 31st, 2012

As a former News gal, I somewhat suspected that Sandy might be all hype but I definitely was wrong. The images coming out of the East Coast show just how important it is to always head the weather warnings to keep us all safe and sound.

For those of us, not directly impacted by Sandy’s wrath, you may find yourself inconvenienced if you are traveling this week. Here are some things to remember:

1. Check your flights and other travel arrangements. Even if you are not flying into NYC or surrounding states, airlines planned ahead and moved their fleet from impacted airports to other airports, like in Denver. These equipment relocations could mean that your flight from Atlanta to Chicago could be using a plane that is normally flying in from New York or Washington. It’s now likely that your plane won’t be arriving in Atlanta. You might end up on a different type of aircraft. Your seat assignment could be different. You might have to fly earlier or later than expected. So don’t assume that you are unaffected by Sandy.

2. It’s easier to get things accomplished from your home or office than at an airport. Follow advice #1 and stay away from the airports unless you know
it’s your turn to get out of town.

3. Hotels all over the country are full – even here in Denver – because people heading to the East Coast cannot return home and folks on the East Coast
cannot leave yet. Call ahead and make sure there your hotel will be able to accommodate you and conversely, don’t assume that the hotel you are in can hold your reservation. Be proactive and keep in contact.

Most hotels make it easy and painless to cancel reservations without penalty during events such as SuperStorm Sandy. For example, Kimpton Hotels sent out an email letting everyone know that there is availability at their East Coast hotels for those of you who can’t get home. Call 1-800-KIMPTON (546-7866) for help. has no change or cancellation fee and has agents standing by to help with any reservations. If your plans to travel to the East Coast have been disrupted, you can change or cancel your reservation with by calling (877) 903-1807.

4. Power goes out, batteries die. Make sure you have printed out or written down all of your important contacts and associated information: doctors,
family members, schools, hotels, airlines, etc. In this era of smart phones, you’ll find yourself feeling not so smart when you can’t get in touch with anyone.

5. My most used and best tip of all: be patient and be kind. Frustrations can run high during events such as this. Stop and consider for a minute what the person on the receiving end of your frustration may have gone through just to get to work or has lost because of the storm.

Also it seems timely to bring back these tips from a recent post: What to do when weather has other plans for your vacation.

Keep Dry, Stay Calm and Travel Safe from all of us at Travel Smart Blog!



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Presidential Hotel Packages Celebrate Your Right to Choose!

Wednesday, October 24th, 2012

President Obama and Mitt Romney

Did this week’s debate get your more excited about the presidential election on November 6? Now a few San Francisco hotels are jumping on the political bandwagon with a “Presidential Package” regardless if you sleep on the right or left!

Choose from the three Personality Hotels: Hotel Diva, Hotel Union Square or Kensington Park Hotel and then cast your vote for:

  • A customizable Voodoo Doll (pin down your vote)
  • A choice of Obama or Romney toilet paper (wipe away the opponent)
  • A 22 oz bottle of “Ale-Lection” – choose from red-labeled Romney Ale or blue Obama Ale, brewed locally by Half Moon Bay Brewing Company (lubricate the debate)
  • A Democratic donkey pin or Republican elephant pin (election bling)

    This “Presidential Package” is available through November 7, 2012. Rates depend on the economy (excluding tax, of course). For reservations, call 800.553.1900 or visit



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This Hotel Used To Be A PRISON…

Tuesday, October 23rd, 2012

Overnighting in a prison…isn’t that what we all try not to do? You might change your mind when you read about these former prisons turned luxury accommodations. There’s a cell waiting for you!

The Charles Street Jail is now the The Liberty Hotel

Charles Street Jail = The Liberty Hotel
Once upon a time, Boston’s Charles Street Jail held prisoners for nearly 140 years. Today, The Liberty Hotel offers luxury accommodations, although the outer appearance remains unchanged. The exposed brick walls and historic catwalks in the hotel’s modern atrium remind guests of the origins of the building. Tile mosaics of people once imprisoned at the jail embellish the escalators. At the bar, Alibi, have a cocktail and check out the preserved jail cells, barred windows, original stonework and an outdoor patio. Do some time in CLINK, the restaurant, which provides an upscale seasonal menu.

The Oxford Castle Prison is now the Malmaison Oxford hotel

Oxford Castle Prison = Malmaison Oxford
In the United Kingdom, in the town of Oxford, the high-life hoodlums hang out at the Malmaison Oxford formerly the Oxford Castle Prison. You can stay in a double-cell in the A-Wing, the original prison block of the castle prison. The core of Oxford Castle is nearly 1,000 years old. Today, the Oxford Mal (as it’s called) complex has overnight rooms, apartments, restaurants and bars. Much of the prison infrastructure has been upgraded, remodeled and refurbished. It’s vibrant and modern without losing the mystery of the building’s beginnings.

German Resistance Prison = Juvi = The Lloyd Hotel
The Lloyd Hotel opened its doors in 1920 as an emigrant hotel. As the Germans occupied the Netherlands in World War II, they converted the building into a prison to keep members of the resistance movement, and it remained a prison until the 1960s when it became the first juvenile detention center. Restore and refined, the building is now a 117-room designer hotel, with quirky features such as swings dangling from wooden beams, spiral staircases and beds that sleep up to eight people. Unlike the building’s past, the service at this fine Netherlands establishment is top-notch. The Lloyd Hotel is the first 1-to-5 star hotel in the world. The hotel’s Cultural Embassy specializes in arranging showings and presentations of Dutch culture and the culture of guests. 

Helsinki County Prison = Best Western Premier Hotel Katajanokka
Commissioned by Czar Nicholas I in 1832 the Best Western Premier Hotel Katajanokka used to be Helsinki County Prison. Three more wings were added onto the prison over subsequent years, and it was only in 2002 that it was finally put out of commission due to overcrowding. The Katajanokka County prison building was a pioneer in many ways; it was one of the first to have central heating with wood burning stoves and to have electric light in all rooms. More than 40% of all prisoners in Finland passed through this prison turned hotel. You can relax, those days are long gone and now a stay at this Finland hotel sentences you to complimentary breakfast and a superb night’s sleep.

San Clemente Palace Hotel and Resort

Just a short boat ride from St. Mark’s Square in Venice, Italy is the San Clemente Palace Hotel and Resort, a private island retreat off the famed canals. The island once hosted a hospital for pilgrims returning from the Middle East and later a convent was built to house a quarantine station. Soon after, it was turned into Europe’s first all-female mental hospital, which operated until 1992. Today, it’s transformed into a luxurious hotel that boasts high Venetian ceilings, three sumptuous restaurants, two Old World style bars, a glistening pool, and spa treatments to make you feel like you’re living la dolce vita!



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Best Kept Secrets in San Diego

Monday, October 22nd, 2012

Panoramic view of downtown San Diego from Coronado Island.

Warm days, cool nights, cooler things to do! San Diego is one of those US cities that you can find on most “must visit” lists. Even here on Travel Smart Blog, we mention the iconic Southern California city quite often. And with good reason! There’s so much to do and so many great places to stay that you can’t visit just once.

San Diego is rising in popularity among both domestic and foreign travelers. According to the Hotel Price Index (HPI), it rose above Chicago for the first time to the fourth most popular destination among Americans. It also rose above Chicago again as the eighth most preferred city for foreign visitors. Isn’t it time for another visit to San Diego?

On October 1st, I mentioned that it is “Kids Free” month in San Diego. Hundreds of restaurants and attractions offer free entrance, meals and more to kids 12 and under. Take advantage of the free entrances to Sea World, The San Diego Zoo, and LegoLand through the end of October.

You’ve probably heard of Balboa Park, Sea World, and the Hotel Del Coronado. Here are a few things you may not know about San Diego…but you should!

Get Chocolate While It Lasts

San Diego Natural History Museum has a delicious, new visiting exhibit, Chocolate, which will be on display until March 10, 2013. Developed by The Field Museum in Chicago, the exhibit moves visitors through chocolate’s history beginning with the botanical life of the cacao tree and ending with chocolate’s place in today’s world market.

Go Victorian

Heritage Park Victorian Village is open each day from sunrise to sunset. Situated on a hillside just off Juan Street, Heritage Park takes you back to a more refined time of San Diego. The village is made up of seven classic examples of Victorian architecture, restored to their original glory.

Visit Carlsbad Village

The quaint town of Carlsbad is an easy walk from the beach, offering plenty of dining and shopping options. It has small town charm with tree-lined streets and sidewalks, ideal for walking. The Carlsbad Village Certified Farmers’ Market is held twice a week year-round, every Wednesday and Saturday, from 1-5 PM.

California Camping

With the weather mild all year long, consider a night under the stars at South Carlsbad State Beach. This would be a great spot to test the “car camping” waters, and create some great campfire memories with friends and families! The beach campground has gorgeous views and is somewhat isolated off I-5 on Carlsbad’s south side. The campsite fills up fast and reservations (especially in summer) are recommended. Reserve anytime online through, or by contacting the ReserveAmerica Call Center at (800) 444-7275 during select hours.

San Diego Suite Deals from

Here’s something else I bet you didn’t know! is running some sweet last minute deals on San Diego hotels and resorts.

What’s your favorite thing about San Diego?



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Beep! Beep! Uncovers Top Cities Around the World to Hail a Taxi

Thursday, October 18th, 2012

London reigns as the best city to hail a taxi, according to the annual global taxi survey compiled by®, the leading provider of lodging worldwide. Survey participants from 29 countries critiqued taxis on seven categories – Cleanliness, Value, Quality of Driving, Knowledge of the Area, Friendliness, Safety and Availability. New York City, Tokyo, Shanghai and Bangkok rounded out the top five best cities to hail a cab. Culture coach and founding partner of Dean Foster Associates, Dean Foster has been sharing his cultural expertise with companies for over 20 years. He’s provided us some tips for hailing taxis in these cities and his own personal experience.

  • London - Bags will be stashed with travelers in the big personal cabin behind the driver, not in the “boot”.
  • New York - Avoid “shift time”, usually around 4-6 p.m., when taxis passing by are “off-duty”.
  • Tokyo – Most drivers don’t go by house numbers so the destination’s address, unless it is an iconic landmark, probably won’t mean much to the driver. Before leaving the hotel, have the concierge write down, in Japanese, the intersection, any identifying nearby landmarks, and, if possible, a small map, to be presented to the driver.
  • Shanghai – Drivers don’t speak much English, so before leaving the hotel, have the concierge write down in Chinese the destination name and address on a card, then present it to the driver with two hands as this shows respect
  • Bangkok –Take a tuk-tuk, a kind of motorcycle with a small one or two passenger compartment attached to the back. The advantage of the tuk-tuk is that it can scoot in between traffic thus actually getting travelers to their destination in a timely manner.

I’ve taxied in all of these cities – London, New York, Tokyo, Shanghai and Bangkok, and many more, but my most memorable taxi adventure was in Tokyo a few years ago. After entering the cab, true to form, the driver didn’t know my destination address. I did not present him with written directions, he spoke no English, and I little Japanese.  After much mutual gesturing, efforts to draw recognizable sign-posts and such, a bolt of recognition finally flashed across his face, and we burst out laughing, in relief that we had  figured out, against all odds and across cultural and language barriers, where we were going.  The effort was great, and in the doing, not only had we solved our little mystery together, but we formed the beginnings of a relationship.

After a few minutes, my driver, in a soft, barely audible voice, began singing the words, “On top of Old Smokey, all covered with snow, I rost my true rover, by courting too slow.”  “Now courting’s a pleasure”, I joined in, “and parting’s a grief”.  And together we sang, “but a false-hearted lover is worse than a thief”.  I added the next verse.  Then he sang the opening chorus of that old John Denver song, “Leaving on a Jet Plane.” We worked our way through “Yesterday” by the Beatles, “Satisfaction” by the Rolling Stones, and by the time we hit “When the Saints Go Marching In”, that taxi was rocking.  I am sure the closed windows on the cab insured that Tokyo was spared our remarkable duets; I got to my destination all too soon, and after I paid my fare, my singing driver stepped out of the taxi, came around to the curb, and gave me a very un-Japanese hug.  I hugged back.  Then we both bowed, and hesitantly said goodbye.  I stood on the curb and watched as he disappeared into the traffic of Tokyo.



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100 Years of the Red River Rivalry in Dallas This Weekend

Friday, October 12th, 2012

While Rivalry Weekend isn’t for a few more weeks, one of the greatest college football rivalries is scheduled for this Saturday in Dallas. According to official stats, The Red River Rivalry between OU and Texas ranks ahead of Michigan – Ohio State, Alabama – Auburn, and Army – Navy.

The football series is chalk full of its own traditions and has been an annual event in Dallas (supposedly half-way between Austin, TX and Norman, OK) since 1912.

As if you needed another reason to visit Dallas: Big Tex is back! That’s right; the State Fair of Texas is going on through October 21st. With entertainment, an auto show, livestock, rides, and all the fair food you can handle. This year’s fried food champions are: Deep Fried Jambalaya and a Fried Bacon Cinnamon Roll.

What are you waiting for? Join in the celebration in the big “D” and take advantage of the last minute Dallas hotel deals from



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Hotels with the Most Interesting Art Collections

Thursday, October 11th, 2012

The Grand Bohemian in Orlando is part of the Kessler Collection of hotels and resorts.

Add cultural enrichment to your list of requirements when looking for a hotel for your next trip. Hotels today are taking décor decisions and elevating them to a level of premier art galleries. It’s not enough to hire an acclaimed architect—hoteliers now have to consult a famous art expert or big-name gallery owner as well. The result is standout collections that you can appreciate without even checking in—the art usually hangs in the lobby, bar, or restaurant.

So, skip the museum and stay a night at one of these hotels that feature collections and exhibits that give out-of-towners an excuse to return again and again.

The Kessler Collection

The Kessler Collection of hotels and resorts, including the Grand Bohemian in Orlando, Beaver Creek Lodge in Beaver Creek, CO, and El Monte Sagrado in Taos, NM, inspires guests through the beauty of art and music.  Each Kessler hotel is filled with stunning pieces of art that enhance every area of a guest’s stay. Presenting unique artwork from internationally acclaimed artists, the gallery features paintings, sculptures, art glass, ceramics and even jewelry that are all available for sale.

Gramercy Park Hotel

This NYC boutique hotel features a private roof club and the über-exclusive Gramercy Park. But for art aficionados, the real appeal of the Gramercy Park Hotel hangs on its walls.  With an impressive collection of artwork by Warhol, Basquiat, Haring, and Picasso, you’ll practically save yourself a visit to MOMA.

The James Chicago

The James Chicago houses an art collection that was partially curated by Gene Pressman, former co-CEO and creative director of Barneys New York. The Rooms, of this Chicago hotel, feature abstract nude photographs by Wolfgang Ludes, one of Germany’s leading still-life photographers, and Michael Kenna’s eerily beautiful black-and-white photos of Japan.

21c Museum Hotel

In Louisville, KY, you’ll find the 91-room 21c Museum Hotel that features 9,000 square feet of gallery space and houses a multimillion-dollar collection of contemporary art. Two featured works are by Brazilian artist Vik Muniz, who is best known for creating pieces out of materials such as chocolate syrup and garbage and then photographing them.

The Joule

The 129-room Joule is housed in a former Dallas, TX bank building dating to 1927, which was extensively renovated by famed restaurant architect Adam Tihany. The hotel’s art collection features Andy Warhol’s Electric Chairs silk-screen print and photographer David Levinthal’s large-scale Barbie Polaroids.

Have you had an art-inspired hotel stay? Share your experience with us here at Travel Smart Blog.



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Don’t Forget to Look Down

Tuesday, October 9th, 2012

(Photo Courtesy of Pat Bosch)

By Pat Bosch, Design Director of Perkins+Will’s Miami office

You would be amazed at how much you get to know about a city by looking down instead of looking up.

For quite some years I have found myself looking down and discovering that sidewalks, streets, and pavers of cities may tell more about a city than its buildings. As an architect I have always looked up and across cities. I have tried to understand them as diagrams or rather intellectual masterpieces of urban planning, but sometimes the secrets of their essence and ethos lie silently in the tiles, bricks, and pavers of their sidewalks, plazas, streets, and courts.

I have over 100 photos on my iPhone that document several years of this new-found passion, and my shoe is always clearly displayed for scale (and to document the fact that I was actually there).

Little did I know my curious way of “sightseeing” would catch on… My daughter, now a college student in New York City, has been texting me pictures of her shoes over varied “pavers” across the city. You would think she’d be sending pictures of her new dorm room or the Library or the Student Union, but instead we are “seeing” the city thru new eyes. These tiny pictures have become very insightful and sometimes beautiful works of art.

What will you see throughout your travels?

In Barcelona you will see tales of the sea, where creatures in the form of beautiful miniature pieces of art designed by master Catalan architect Antonio Gaudi take you on a journey thru miles of the city. Walk along Las Ramblas and see how the pages of Jules Verne’s 20,000 Leagues under the Sea, a book that impacted Gaudi as a youngster, come to life and sweep you into that magical Mediterranean Sea that frames and defines Barcelona. His work there not only changed the course of design but left a legacy of wonder, magic, and art on the sidewalks of this beloved European city.

Walk the streets of Old San Juan in Puerto Rico and find history documented not only in museums but beneath your feet. Every single street paver, called “Adoquines,” is the exact replica in shape and weight of the gold bars the Spaniards brought in their galleons. The pavers, in essence, silently document the magnitude of wealth that was driven out of the New World, and their iridescent Blue appearance has only become more and more powerful over time as traffic has polished these small pieces of granite from the Old Empire.

So next time you find yourself in a new city, trust me, look down… You’ll be amazed at what you can discover.



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Visiting Disney During the Holidays

Saturday, October 6th, 2012

Disney is even more fun during the holidays! (Photo courtesy of

Now that the holiday season has begun, Disney becomes an after-dark experience where holiday magic takes over. It’s hands-down my favorite time to visit any Disney theme park. If it’s even possible for the Happiest Place on Earth to become even happier…it does! I’ll be back for more this year, will you join me?

From Halloween to New Year’s Eve, try these events to spice up your holiday celebrations!

Mickey’s Not-So-Scary Halloween Party

Magic Kingdom, Walt Disney World

Orlando, FL

Mickey’s Halloween Party at Disneyland Park


Anaheim, CA

Both events:

Select nights through October 31, 2012

Ticket prices range: $55-$70/ticket

Something Spook-tacular: At the Magic Kingdom, Mickey’s “Boo-to-You” Halloween Parade—including Disney Characters and the stars of the Haunted Mansion attraction. The parade begins with a spook-tacular ride by the Headless Horseman.

Special trick-or-treat stations with candy and healthy goodies at both venues.

Mickey’s Very Merry Christmas Party

Magic Kingdom, Walt Disney World

Orlando, FL

November 9 – December 21, 2012

Ticket prices range: $55-$65/ticket

Christmas Magic: Complimentary cookies and hot cocoa, a magical snowfall on Main Street, U.S.A., and special access to many of the most popular Magic Kingdom attractions make this a special evening hosted by Santa himself.

And don’t forget that you can find a Disney hotel on a budget!



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How to Choose a Disneyland Hotel on a Budget

Tuesday, October 2nd, 2012

Traveling to Disneyland this holiday season? This infographic will help do the work of finding the best hotel on a budget so you can sit back and relax until it’s time for takeoff!



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