Thursday, March 31, 2011

Picture Yourself in a Boat in a Hotel...

Hotel Chatter: We've heard of water features in the lobby, but this takes the biscuit… a full on harbor with boats available for guests. Amazing! In fact, as heavyweight Vegas connoisseurs, we thought we'd seen all the ostentatious look-at-me posing a hotel could do - but then, this weekend, we checked into the JW Marriott Desert Springs Resort & Spa in Palm Desert.

Yes, we probably should have guessed something special was on the cards from the flock of flamingos in the palm tree lined drive on arrival. And we'd seen the huge waterway with vaporetto-style boats on the website. But nothing prepared us for the vision that was the boat dock in the lobby.

Yup, there's a mini harbor as part of the massive lobby, with a bar looking over it. And the boats are at your disposal! Hotel guests can catch a free ride between 3-6pm every day or, come the evening, you'll be chauffeured to the restaurant of your choice. It's kind of like how we imagined the Venetian in Vegas would be, until we realized those gondolas are only for paying customers and your $16 scores you a boring little five minute trip on a ride to nowhere. These boats have a purpose, and that purpose is awesomeness.

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Hottest Item at Swanky Hotel Restaurants -- Live DJs

USA Today: Is that a DJ in my restaurant? You're not seeing things. It sure is.

High-end restaurants in chic, luxury hotels in New York, Miami and Atlantic City, N.J., are saving prime eating space for a DJ booth. I'm not talking about squeezing a DJ and his or her turntables into a dead space near the bathroom. Instead, restaurants are placing the DJ front and center in areas where another table or two could've been added.

But DJs are so hot these days that maybe they may make up for the lost place settings.

DJs are becoming as popular as live bands. Consider this: Chart topping DJ David Guetta just helped fill a downtown Miami park during Miami's Ultra Music Festival. More than 50,000 house-music fans packed a Miami waterfront park to hear Guetta and other DJ's mix it up, MTV reported.

New York City: I witnessed the live DJ concept first-hand in Manhattan last weekend while dining at the gigantic, jam-packed Italian restaurant, Asellina. Here, DJ John Perry set the mood with accessible pop with a touch of 1980s.

The restaurant's housed inside the celeb-filled Gansevoort Park Avenue hotel. Guests at the hotel last Saturday night included basketball star Carmelo Anthony (who last month landed with the New York Knicks) and his wife, who's shooting a reality TV show, in addition to pop singer Pitbull.

Electro-clubby rhythms in Miami: At the Miami Beach outpost of Michelin-starred, Chinese restaurant Hakkasan of London, resident DJ Jean Marc Halimi spins moody electronica live from a discreet booth on Thursday, Friday and Saturday nights. He also selected the music played in the restaurant on weeknights as well as dim sum brunch. The restaurant is located inside the legendary Fontainebleau, which also houses Liv, one of Miami's hottest nightclubs.

"Jean Marc joined the restaurant since opening in April 2009 and has been a hit with guests ever since," Rod Gutierrez, general manager of Hakkasan at the Fontainebleau told me via email. "His blend of trance and house caters to the dining crowd and creates an upbeat atmosphere that compliments the restaurant."

Modern alternative in Atlantic City: At Izakaya, a modern Japanese restaurant inside Atlantic City's Borgata Hotel Casino and Spa, you'll find resident DJ Paul Castro selecting the music.

While sharing plates of braised beef short ribs or sushi rolls, you might chew to the following: "1901" by Phoenix; "Sex On Fire" by Kings Of Leon; "Beautiful People" by Chris Brown and Benny Benassi; "Tighten Up" by the Black Keys, and "Come Together" by the Beatles.

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Traveling for Tattoos

Lonely Planet: Art and travel go hand-in-hand. Local galleries can capture the history and creative culture of a destination, but if you’re looking for a gallery with a difference next time you hit the road, why not check out the local tattoo culture instead? Lonely Planet staffer and tattoo aficionado Jess gets under the skin of tattoo tourism:

Visiting tattoo shops and learning about the people who have expanded the art form can be as inspiring as visiting any art museum. It has been said that tattoos are 5000 years old and are as diverse as the people who have them.

Travelling for a tattoo follows a rich legacy of trend-setters. There are many places that still use ancient tattooing traditions and these might inspire you to travel for a piece of their traditional art. Destinations known for their ritual tattooing include Tahiti, Hawaii, Japan, New Zealand, Borneo, Thailand and Samoa. Whether you get a tattoo for fashion, tradition or commemoration, there are many reasons to seek out an artist who you admire. Many people choose to travel to a specific tattoo conference where they can get inked by a world-renowned artist while immersed in all things tattoo. (There is some debate about whether you get a good bargain at a convention as most artists raise their rates due to demand, but the costs can be rationalized considering you’ll presumably have the tattoo for life.)

Tattoo culture has a rich history of outlaws, misfits and travellers. Bert Grimm, the ‘grandfather of old school’, tattooed Bonnie and Clyde, the famous outlaws who travelled the Central US with their gang during the Great Depression. It’s unknown exactly where and when Grimm tattooed the famous pair, but Bert Grimm’s World Famous Tattoo was the oldest continually operated tattoo parlour in the continental US. If you’re taking a road-trip up the Pacific Northwest it’s fascinating to check in at locations that shaped the industry as we know it today. You can pay your tributes at Seaside, Oregon where Grimm is buried, or you can stop by the shop he was best known for running, which was located in an amusement park called Nu Pike in Long Beach, CA. (The tattoo shop was under threat of condominium developers but it was purchased in 2004 by tattoo artist Kari Barba and two silent partners and still operates as a tattoo studio today.)

The highly popular exhibition Skin & Bones: Tattoos in the Life of the American Sailor that was staged at the Seaport Museum in Philadelphia beautifully illustrated the journey of tattoos from the east to the west; the melding of travel tales and art. Sailors didn’t just carry cargo from port to port; they also brought new forms of artistic expression on their skin.
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The New Hotel Amenity: Gas Cards

Los Angeles Times: The new hotel amenity is the gas card. That seems to be the trend as regular gas in California hovers around $4 a gallon and hotels seek an incentive that will resonate with guests. Gas up with these deals the next time you belly up to the pump.

Marriott Hotels is offering a California Road Trip Package that includes a $25 gas card with a stay at 10 locations in Bakersfield, La Jolla, San Bruno, San Diego and San Francisco. When I tested this deal at a few locations, I found package prices slightly higher than the hotel's best available rate.

For example, I found the "Road Trip" rate for $159 a night on April 22 at Residence Inn San Diego La Jolla -- $10 more than the best available rate for the same room on the same night. Still, that's $15 of free gas when you crunch the numbers. The offer is good through Sept. 6; use the code TRS when making a reservation. Contact: California Road Trip Package, (800) 834-7260

Riviera Palm Springs offers a "Free Gas Pass" package that includes a $25 gas card and free valet parking for visitors paying the best available rate. (I checked random midweek and weekend dates and found best available rates starting at $239 plus tax a night.) Mention "freegaspasspromo" when checking in to receive the extras. The offer is good through May 26, with some blackout dates. Contact: Riviera Palm Springs, (866) 588-8311

Personality Hotels include three San Francisco properties -- Hotel Diva, Hotel Union Square and Kensington Park Hotel -- where the Get Pumped Up! package applies. The offer includes a $10 gas card and free valet parking with rooms that start at $169 a night plus tax. The offer is good for stays through Dec. 30 but must be reserved by April 16. Contact: Personality Hotels, (800) 553-1900

Comfort Inns, Quality Inns and other brands from Choice Hotels offer a"Free $50 Gas Card" for two stays by accruing points through their free rewards program. Check out this prior Daily Travel & Deal blog for details about that deal, which applies to stays through May 4.

Bar-Hopping Inside Whole Foods

Triple Pundit: As if Whole Foods didn’t already have a vice grip on wandering shoppers, they have now added an in-store bar feature to some stores. Opening up five test runs in California, Arizona, Illinois, and Texas over the past year and a half, plans for expansion into even Hawaii are on the horizon. The offerings? Local wine and craft beer, which supermarket experts expect to help keep shoppers in the store longer and increase sales significantly. The wine and beer trend has been expanding as pilot projects within various chains nationwide including Starbucks are picking up steam.

While the bar may improve the mood of shoppers and keep them in the store longer, some are concerned it will lead to unwelcomed behavior in the grocery store. Whole Foods is arguably known for its community feel with super store prices (for organics). With the potential of drunken behavior inside the store, the community feel may quickly be diminished. Whole Foods representatives have not experienced this type of behavior or set back yet. As alcohol starts to enter more establishments, promoting casual drinking while shopping, the future societal impacts are unclear.

For those shopping for local wines and beers though, this comes as great news. With the addition of bars, shoppers can more easily taste wine and beer without having to purchase an entire bottle or pack. They also offer growler jugs for those interested in closing the loop on their bottle purchasing.

Travel Gear: Spacepak

MyGloss: We’ve always been big fans of Flight 001 and their nifty travel accessories — and these new Spacepak luggage bags are our new favorite travel must-have. We’re traveling up the California Coast this week — with a variety of stops from luxury hotels to camping along the way. The trip has been loads of fun, but my family of three is lugging lots of gear on the road trip.

The other family of three we’re traveling with packed all their luggage in Spacepaks — as a result, they only have half of the take-alongs that we do.

So how to Spacepaks work? The bags feature air-vents that work to remove all excess air from the packs as you add your clothing — similar to vacuum-sealing. Watch the demo below — when packed properly, you can fit up to two weeks worth of clothing, toiletries and even shoes (yes! there’s a Spacepak for shoes that fits two pairs) in a standard carry-on.

How to pack for a 2 week trip with Spacepak from FLIGHT 001 on Vimeo.

Legoland Windsor (UK) Downsizes Royal Wedding

Blind Federation Sues Over Airport Kiosks

Las Vegas Review-Journal: The National Federation of the Blind has sued Clark County to make the boarding pass printers at McCarran International Airport usable to blind people.

In a case filed Tuesday, the federation listed two individuals and one married couple as plaintiffs who could not get boarding passes without waiting for an airline employee to help or telling their information to strangers. The federation wants the airport to alter the touch screen kiosks by adding features such as an audio interfaces that the blind could use.

In a statement, the airport said its attorneys are "researching the facts and issues. ... We cannot comment on this matter until the attorneys have reviewed the allegations."

The case, filed in U.S. District Court in Las Vegas, contends that the federation contacted the county on Sept. 27 about changing the kiosks but received no response.

The complaint asks that the kiosks be changed and for unspecified damages.

In many airports, the airlines install and own self-ticketing kiosks. McCarran is one of the few with a common system and charges the airlines to recover the costs.

Wednesday, March 30, 2011

London's Race for Clean Olympic Air

The Gaurdian: With construction on the stadium complete and plans for a blue hockey pitch unveiled, preparations to date for the 2012 Olympics appear to be running smoothly, but in the background is an issue that plagued the Beijing Games.

Poor air quality is one of the biggest public health problems facing the capital: it has the worst air quality record in Britain and ranks among the worst in Europe. Simon Birkett, founder of the Clean Air in London campaign, took early retirement two years ago to mobilise public opinion and put pressure on the London mayor and the government to clean up the air ahead of the Games.

The run-up to the 2008 Beijing Olympics was mired by negative reports about smog smothering the city. The International Olympic Committee president, Jacques Rogge, was prompted to admit a year before the Games that China's pollution problems were so dire that outdoor endurance events could be postponed if the problem continued to worsen.

The Beijing organisers took drastic measures three weeks before the Games to lift the haze of smog: banning half the city's 3.3m cars from the roads each day, depending on whether their number plates ended in an odd or even digit. That proved insufficient so efforts were stepped up.

Although London is not on a par with the smog of Beijing, there is a pressing need to improve London's air. A report by the House of Commons environmental audit committee concluded last year that poor air quality made asthma worse, exacerbated heart disease and respiratory illness, and "probably causes more mortality and morbidity than passive smoking, road traffic accidents or obesity".

Figures published last year by city hall revealed 4,300 premature deaths were caused by poor air quality in London in 2008. Boris Johnson, the mayor of London, who has done so much championing of the Games, is under pressure because of his statutory duty to deliver an air quality strategy for the capital.

Thanks to London, the UK is in breach of an air quality standard set in 2005. A second written warning from the European Commission, issued last year, concentrated minds and the UK won an extension to meet the standard for limit values for PM10s – dangerous airborne particles that contribute to thousands of premature deaths.

This month the commission granted the UK an extension because the commission's environment commissioner, Janez Potocnik, believed government had successfully demonstrated that the UK would reach compliance.

But because this was projected to be met within a "very narrow margin", the extension was agreed on condition that the London air quality plan is revised by June and submitted to the commission for scrutiny by November this year.

Johnson maintains that the measures in his air quality strategy were not all included in the official submission to Europe, and that once these are presented as the action plan the commission will be satisfied and London will not reach the stage where cars have to be ordered off the road in pollution hotspots.

Let's hope this race is won so that athletes and spectators breathe in cleaner air next year at what the government promised would be the greenest ever Games.

Theme Parks Cash In on Merchandise Sales

Los Angeles Times: The Legoland theme park in San Diego County is preparing to launch its newest attraction — an area featuring "Star Wars" movie scenes built with Lego bricks — to boost attendance this spring and summer.

But the attraction, opening Thursday, also is expected to boost profit with another important moneymaker for the park: souvenir sales.

Adjacent to the new Star Wars "miniland," the Carlsbad park plans to open a store called the Empire Emporium to sell hats, T-shirts and, of course, Lego kits to build Star Wars spaceships and characters.

"We are definitely merchandizing toward more Lego products for the Star Wars attraction," Legoland spokeswoman Julie Estrada said.

Merchandise sales typically generate about 20% of theme park revenue, but that percentage spikes when a park offers new souvenirs, clothes and hats that are tied to the opening of a new attraction or holiday celebration, according to theme park industry experts.

"Once a new attraction opens, they have a short period — one to two years — to capitalize on it," said Dennis Speigel, president of International Theme Park Services Inc., a Cincinnati consulting firm. "They get an immediate hit and then the champagne effect as sales go flat."

As theme parks try to recover from the recession, many are looking for ways to boost income without raising admission prices. And with five of Southern California's largest theme parks planning to launch new attractions over the next year and a half, growing merchandise sales should help.

The Legoland Star Wars attraction will open first, followed in June by a spinning Green Lantern roller coaster at Six Flags Magic Mountain. Also this summer, Disney's California Adventure plans to open an indoor ride based on the 1989 movie "The Little Mermaid." Knott's Berry Farm in Buena Park also plans to launch a gondola ride dubbed Windseeker before July 4. Universal Studios Hollywood plans to open a 3-D ride next year based on the 2007 blockbuster "Transformers."

When Universal Studios in Orlando, Fla., opened its Wizarding World of Harry Potter attraction last June, park attendance jumped 36% and merchandise revenue doubled from the previous year, to $48.7 million for the three months that ended Sept. 26, according to a report filed by Universal City Development Partners, which owns and operates the theme park.

The merchandise at the Harry Potter attraction includes souvenir magic wands, Slytherin scarves, Dumbledore steins and Voldemort key chains, among other items based on the blockbuster movie series.

"New rides and attractions provide a great opportunity to create fun and unique products that are complementary," said Eileen Strotz, corporate director for merchandising at Six Flags, which plans to offer new clothes, toys and collectables with the opening of the new Green Lantern roller coaster.

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Hotel Boss Told Manager He Wanted 'Young and Sexy Staff'

The Telegraph: Amia Ismail, 57, said he was transferred from a Radisson Edwardian hotel in central London, where rooms cost up to £3,500 ($5,622) a night, and replaced with an attractive 28-year-old woman as they wanted a new and younger image.

He claimed that on another occasion he was told to go to the group’s Mayfair hotel, find fault with older staff and pressure them to leave. Mr Ismail, who worked for the company for 18 years, was made redundant in 2009 and is claiming unfair dismissal.

He told a tribunal in central London that he was moved from the Kenilworth hotel in the West End to the Vanderbilt in South Kensington in 2001. “The Kenilworth was refurbished,” he said. “I was told I was going to be transferred because the new hotel needed a new and younger image and they wanted someone younger to run the restaurant.

“I was then aged 48, so I was transferred to the Vanderbilt. I was replaced by an attractive young woman of about 28 years old. I told the human resources director it was not right.”

Once at the Vanderbilt, Mr Ismail, who claimed he only ever earned £26,000 ($41,760) a year despite younger managers receiving £40,000 ($64,246), said he witnessed further incidents showing age discrimination. “On one occasion the general manager, Charles Oak, asked me what I thought of the food and beverages team and I said they seemed fine. He said he did not like the fact that in my department there were three Philippine ladies who he said were ugly, fat, old and short.”

He claimed that another staff member asked Mr Oak what sort of staff he wanted and he replied girls who were “young, blonde, sexy and with short skirts”.

In 2007, Mr Ismail said, he was called to a meeting with three senior managers and told to go to the Mayfair hotel and find fault with older staff. “They wanted me to go down and get rid of them,” he said. “I was told to find fault with them and pressure them so they would leave.” He said he did not find any problems with the staff during two months there.

Egyptian-born Mr Ismail, a Muslim, said he also believed there were racial and religious reasons for dismissing him. He alleged that Indian staff were given preference after the hotel chain came under Indian ownership and he claimed to have been the subject of religious discrimination after he was forwarded a joke email that disparaged Islamic groups.

Mr Ismail, of Bayswater, West London, is claiming unfair dismissal and discrimination on the grounds of age, disability, race, religious beliefs and the fact that he was a union member.

The hearing continues.

Sign of the Times

At least they're honest about it

Spotted in: Skopje, Macedonia

Source: The Telegraph

Make Sure Your Stuff Stays in Vegas

USA Today: No, not that kind of stuff.

Things like sunscreen, perfume, shaving cream, makeup, your own bottles of booze if you visit Vegas more than once a year and don't want the hassle of remembering to pack everything, or the cost of checking bags if you have more than a quart-size bag of liquids, or if you don't want to spend time buying essentials in Vegas.

The new service is called "The Vegas Box." You get a container delivered to your hotel room, you fill it with things you want to stay in Vegas till your next visit (including that half-fifth of tequila), you lock it. The service takes it to a storage center and delivers it back to your hotel on your next visit. Cost: $99, which includes two Vegas stays with drop-off and pick-up. If you go to Vegas more often, each extra trip costs $20 to use the box.

This is the kind of thing that some of the world's luxury hotels do for their best customers (I recall some repeat star guests at The Beverly Hills Hotels even kept cars there). But The Box makes the service available to anyone and will deliver to most any Vegas lodging. Or you can request delivery elsewhere. The box is about 20 inches by 17 inches by 12 inches and holds up to 70 pounds of stuff, a Vegas Box spokeswoman says. More information is at thevegasbox.com.

New Travel Gear for Golfers

Wilson Staff Wheel Bag
World Golf: Wilson Staff has released a brand new line of golf travel gear for 2011, and I've had the chance to try two pieces out on my last couple golf trips.

I've had some rotten luck with luggage in recent years, most of which was my own doing. When you buy the cheap stuff, like American Tourist at Wal-Mart, they're going to last the regular traveler about five months. I broke the handle off my carry-on roller, and it'll cost more than the bag itself to get it fixed.

So suffice to say, I've become a little more discerning with my luggage. The new Wilson Staff line, which comes with everything from a golf club travel bag to duffel bag, roller bag and backpack, are built with strong 1680 polyester. Each comes in the Wilson Staff red with white lettering.

These pieces are certainly more heavy duty than the discount stuff. They are built to last with strong zippers, fabric and handles. The articles inside should stay protected too. I smuggled a bottle of wine home on a two-connection flight with no incident.

The Wilson Staff Backpack (17.5” x 12.5” x 9”) comes with a lot of compartments and is great for the road. If you're like me, you like carrying your laptop in a backpack and not a shoulder strap bag and this has a laptop compartment in it. The backpack also has a long, skinny side pocket that goes down one side (that I still can't really figure out what to put in there), plus a couple other pockets on the back.

My current North Face backpack may beat it out only that it has two straps that wrap around the front to help your back if you're lugging a big load. But I like the compartment choices better with the less expensive Wilson Staff model. Online prices start at just $49 plus shipping.

The Wilson Staff Wheel Bag (34.5” x 16.5” x 13”) is a good size if you're going on a trip of about 4-6 days. Aside from the main compartment, it also has two side pockets (to put your sandy swim trunks or sandals if you were on Great Exuma Island), and a small top compartment that is good for toiletries or anything with liquids. The pull out handle feels extremely solid, and so does the top handle. I don't think this is going start showing any wear-and-tear for awhile.

If I have a knock on it, it's that I wish it was a little smaller so it could be a carry-on, so you should opt for the duffel bag if you can't avoid airline bag fees. Online prices range from $125-150.

For your golf clubs, the wheeled travel cover is going for $149 on eBay new right now, and comes with padding from head-to-toe for club protection.

Spirit Airlines Invents New "Late" Baggage Fee

eTurboNews: Last-minute planners beware: Spirit Airlines has added fees for travelers who wait to pay for carry-on or checked luggage within 24 hours of departure.

Calling its previous bag fees an "Early Bird Discount," the airline will now charge travelers who pay for checked or carry-on bags within 24 hours of departure online an extra $5 and an extra $10 for travelers who pay over the phone.

"With this updated policy, fees remain the same for customers who pre-purchase their bags at least 24 hours in advance via spirit.com or through reservations," said spokeswoman Misty Pinson via e-mail. "We are continuing to pass savings along to our customers who choose self-service options vs. waiting until they get to the aiport to conduct their transactions."

Fliers who pay for carry-ons early -- and aren't members of the airline's fare club -- pay $30 for a carry-on that won't fit under the seat. Spirit became the only U.S. carrier to charge for carry-on bags when it instituted new fees in April 2010. Paying for carry-on bags at the airport now will cost $40 at the airport check-in counter or kiosk and $45 at the gate.

The changes are in effect for travelers who booked on or after March 24. Spirit Airlines also has dropped its threshold for overweight checked bags from 50 pounds to 40 pounds.

So if your bag weighs between 41 and 50 pounds, you'll pay an additional $25 on top of whatever you paid to check the bag. Checked bag fees start at $28 for the first bag checked online or by phone -- 24 hours in advance -- for travelers who aren't part of the airline's fare club. The new weight limits went into effect for travel after February 1, Pinson said.

Other U.S. airlines start charging fees for overweight luggage at 50 pounds. Bags weighing more than 50 pounds on Spirit incur $50 to $100 overweight baggage fees, depending on weight. The new luggage weight limits are more in line with international carriers in Europe and Asia, Pinson said.

Amtrak Begins Tweeting Train Delays

NewsWorks: Folks waiting for an MIA Amtrak can now follow @AmtrakNEC on Twitter to get the latest on delays along the Northeast Corridor.

Amtrak today began Tweeting out major service disruptions that cause long delays or stoppages. Trains covered include Acela Express and Northeast Regional and other Amtrak trains between Washington, D.C., and Boston; Keystone Service trains between Harrisburg, Pa.; and New York City, via Philadelphia and Shuttle trains between Springfield, Mass., and New Haven, Conn. No Tweet will be sent for single trains that experience delays.

The Tweets will also be linked to from Amtrak.com. Train status information will continue to be available through the tools on both the standard and mobile versions of Amtrak.com, calls to 800-USA-RAIL and on information display systems at stations.

If the program is a success, Amtrak will continue it and possibly expand it. If few people use it, the service will be discontinued. Sounds familiar, Amtrak.

FAA Suspends Second Air Controller

CFNews13: Federal aviation officials have suspended a Florida air traffic controller following an incident in which two planes came too close together.

The suspension is the second in a week involving an air traffic controller. An air traffic supervisor working as a controller at Reagan National airport was suspended for falling asleep on duty while two planes landed without assistance.

The Federal Aviation Administration said in a statement Tuesday that a controller at a regional radar facility in central Florida asked for help from the pilots of a Southwest Airlines flight in determining the status of a private plane that had been out of radio contact for an hour.

As a result of the request, the planes came too close together - a violation of FAA regulations.

Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Texans Could Vote on Expanding Gambling

NBC: Texans could get to vote on a constitutional amendment to expand gambling.

The House Licensing and Administrative Procedures Committee will hear testimony on a number of measures to allow casinos and slot machines. The Texas Gaming Association is backing a measure that would license eight casinos and slot machines at eight racetracks. Other measures would allow gambling on Indian reservations or slot machines at bingo halls.

The Texas Gaming Association says its proposal could bring in $1.2 billion a year in gaming taxes alone. The organization also released a poll it said found that 86 percent of Texans believe there should be a vote on gambling.

The state faces a $23 billion budget shortfall over the next two years. Opponents warn that gambling could bring more trouble than it's worth.

Room With a View: World's Highest Hotel Opens

Daily Mail: It offers a bird's eye view of one of the most spectacular skylines in the world. And should the visitor get bored of staring at Hong Kong's glittering towers from the eyrie of their hotel room window, there are always other distractions.

These come in the form of six restaurants, a sky-high spa with floor-to-ceiling windows and an indoor infinity pool overlooking the iconic harbour.

Should those fail to amuse, there's always the 93,000 square metres shopping mall.

The Ritz-Carlton Hong Kong offiically became the world's tallest hotel - and the fourth highest building in the world - when it opened its doors to the public today. Located at the very top of the International Commerce Centre (ICC), it perches on floors 102 to 118 and has 312 rooms all with city and harbour views.

Herve Humler, president of luxury hotel chain said the building was a landmark hotel which was the culmination of many years of hard work. 'We have been able to create truly spectacular so we can welcome our guests not just to the tallest hotel in the world, but also to one of the very best hotels in the world,' he said. 'We are taking luxury to new heights in every sense.'

The hotel's facilities include state-of-the-art technology including WiFi, iPod docking stations, Blu-ray DVD players and flat screen TVs.

There are three restaurants on the 102nd floor, including Tin Lung Heen, which is a Chinese restaurant serving refined Cantonese cuisine; Tosca, an Italian restaurant which offers Southern Italian cuisine and the very stylish The Lounge & Bar with fire pits and open kitchens.

In addition, there is a chocolate-themed lounge named The Chocolate Library on 103rd floor and a stylish patisserie located on 9th floor. Managers say the jewel in the crown is Ozone, located on the hotel's 118th floor. It offers contemporary Asian tapas and signature cocktails to a backdrop of incredible views as well as the chance to drink on the world's highest al fresco terrace.

The hotel has an ESPA on site which is located on the 116th floor.

Beware of Alcoholic Monkeys on St. Kitts

The Fix: Travelers headed to the sandy shores of St. Kitts this spring are advised to keep a close eye on their daiquiri (virgin or not): the island’s liquor-loving monkeys, known as vervets, are prone to swooping down on alcoholic drinks left momentarily unattended.

The monkeys, originally imported to the island by pirates, were introduced to the tantalizing effects of umbrella-laden mojitos and shots of tequila by tourists a few decades ago. Not surprisingly, they developed a heavy hankering for it. A team of scientists spent two years studying the effects of alcohol on the island’s primates, and found unsettling similarities between the behavior of alcohol-addled monkeys and their human counterparts.

It seems that while most monkeys are either teetotalers or "social drinkers," a large minority demonstrate clear alcoholic tendencies. According to a report by ABC News, the scientists were surprised to discover that messed-up monkeys engaged in many of the same behaviors as Duke frat boys—slurred speech, unprovoked hostility, binge drinking, blackouts, and obnoxious sexual behavior.

However, those man/monkey messups may not be so surprising after all—given that vervets share more than 96% of their genetic makeup with people. And just like overindulging humans, the morning after isn’t a treat for the vervets, either. One researcher told the UK Telegraph: "The binge drinkers gulp down the alcohol at a very fast rate and pass out on the floor. Then the next day they do it all over again." Sound familiar?

The "Maternity Tourism" Phenomenon

New York Times: The building inspectors and police officers walked into the small row of connected town houses here knowing something was amiss. Neighbors had complained about noise and a lot of pregnant women coming and going. And when they went into a kitchen they saw a row of clear bassinets holding several infants, with a woman acting as a nurse hovering over them.

For months, officials say, the (California) house was home to “maternity tourists,” in this case, women from China who had paid tens of thousands of dollars to deliver their babies in the United States, making the infants automatic American citizens. Officials shut down the home, sending the 10 mothers who had been living there with their babies to nearby motels.

For the last year, the debate over birthright citizenship has raged across the country, with some political leaders calling for an end to the 14th Amendment, which gives automatic citizenship to any baby born in the United States. Much of the debate has focused on immigrants entering illegally from poor countries in Latin America. But in this case the women were not only relatively wealthy, but also here legally on tourist visas. Most of them, officials say, have already returned to China with their American babies.

Immigration experts say it is impossible to know precisely how widespread “maternity tourism” is. Businesses in China, Mexico and South Korea advertise packages that arrange for doctors, insurance and postpartum care. And the Marmara, a Turkish-owned hotel on the Upper East Side in New York City, has advertised monthlong “baby stays” that come with a stroller.

Immigration experts say they can only guess why well-to-do Chinese women are so eager to get United States passports for their babies, but they suspect it is largely as a kind of insurance policy should they need to move. The children, once they turn 21, would also be able to petition for their parents to get United States citizenship.

Angela Maria Kelley, the vice president for immigration policy and advocacy at the Center for American Progress, a liberal-leaning research group, said the existence of businesses helping foreign women give birth in the United States had only just begun to enter the public consciousness.

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NYC Hotels Lock Out Charlie Sheen

New York Post: Charlie Sheen could have a hell of a time getting a room when his show rolls into town. He's playing Radio City on his "Violent Torpedo of Truth" tour April 8. But sources say he's not welcome at several top New York hotels -- especially The Plaza, where he famously trashed his room last October after partying with a hooker.

Sources tell us The Plaza has made it clear Sheen won't be welcome back, while other high-profile properties, including the Waldorf-Astoria and the Trump Soho, have also turned him down.

A source said, "Many of the big New York hotels don't want the drama. He is now looking at renting a private residence."

Another source close to Sheen told us, "The real issue is finding him a hotel that allows smoking. He has to be able to smoke. And it's hard to find a place that will accommodate him, plus his entourage that will be more than 30, including the lighting people and of course the goddesses."

A rep for The Plaza didn't get back to us, and reps for the Waldorf-Astoria and the Trump Soho declined to comment. Sheen won't likely be staying at a hotel managed by the Trump Organization in any case. Donald Trump isn't backing down after he claimed that he warned Brooke Mueller's parents against her marrying Sheen.

Trump earlier told how he ran into Mueller's mother, Moira Fiore, a few years ago and told her, "You cannot let your daughter marry Charlie Sheen . . . Don't let your daughter marry this guy. It's the wrong guy . . . it's a disaster."

After Trump's comments, Sheen's mom, Janet Templeton Sheen, raged in an e-mail obtained by The Daily: "The Donald is spreading such vicious lies about Charlie, is there anyway to stop him? . . he had been sober for some time before he had met her and we were convinced that she would be his downfall."

Last night, Trump wasn't changing his tune. He said, "I think Charlie's a great guy. I got to know him at Mar-a-Lago. But I wouldn't exactly say he is great marriage material." Calls to Charlie and his goddesses were not returned.

Instant Replay: Bret Michaels: I Taught Charlie Sheen How to Trash a Hotel Room

Foreign Tourism to U.S. Increased 9% in 2010

USA Today: The U.S. travel and tourism industry has suffered some painful blows in these recession-ravaged years. But the numbers are encouraging on one front: inbound foreign tourists.

About 60 million international tourists visited the USA in 2010, up 9% from the previous year, says an annual Commerce Department report. The report, issued by the department's Office of Travel & Tourism Industries, put their economic impact at $1.34 trillion.

In general, foreign visitors behave a lot like domestic tourists -- they stay in hotels, eat in restaurants, shop for stuff and seek out entertainment. They just spend more money than their domestic counterparts. Foreign leisure travelers outnumbered foreign business travelers by more than two to one.

And where did they come from? No surprise here: Canada and Mexico are No. 1 and No. 2, followed by the United Kingdom, Japan and Germany. But the countries that accounted for the greatest increases in visitation were China (with a whopping 53% gain over 2009); South Korea (up 49%) and Brazil (up 34%).

New York is the top city for foreign visitors, followed by Miami, Los Angeles, Orlando, San Francisco, Hawaiian locales and Las Vegas.

Las Vegas Mob Experience Opens March 30

eTurboNews: The highly anticipated Las Vegas Mob Experience will officially open its doors on Wednesday March 30th at 10:00am.

The Las Vegas Mob Experience is an immersive, highly interactive journey through the history of organized crime and the impact its major players had on the building of Las Vegas. Anchored by the largest collection of authentic artifacts, memorabilia, photos and videos of organized crime ever assembled, the attraction immerses its guests in the story of the rise and fall of the "Mob" as it chronicles the lives of the men who ran Sin City for three decades.

Beware, this is not a museum! The attraction uses a wide variety of technologies in order to enhance its Smithsonian quality collection. Enter at your own risk, as you will become part of the story! The interactive portion of the Experience allows you to determine your "final fate." As you move through the attraction, you are required to make decisions and act upon them. If you don't get the outcome you are hoping for, you can journey through multiple times in order to experience a number of different high value production outcomes. Your fate is in your hands.

Live character actors and apparitions of various celebrity gangster guides including James Caan, Mickey Rourke, Steve Schirripa, Frank Vincent and Tony Sirico, will help you find your way through while giving you unprecedented access to the private lives and deaths of a group of notorious men who lived extraordinary lives!

Jay Bloom, managing partner of the Las Vegas Mob Experience said, "I am pleased to be able to bring to Las Vegas an extraordinary attraction that will entertain and educate millions of visitors for years to come."

Starbucks' Single Brewers to be Placed in 500,000 Hotel Rooms

Hotel Chatter: Starbucks has announced that it will start selling single-cup coffee brewers next year, giving our beloved Keurig and Nespresso makers a serious competitor to contend with. The one-cup wonder will be sold in supermarkets and warehouse club stores but the product is also set to be placed into over 500,000 hotel rooms next year.

Unless you're staying in a mega convention center hotel that has a Starbucks in its lobby, your best hope for getting that brewed coffee perfection (seriously, we can never duplicate the brew correctly in our own homes) has been to hunt down the nearest Starbucks shop...and sometimes it's not so near. Thus a one-cup Starbucks coffee brewer in our hotel rooms will be an awesome amenity to have.

We're not so sure what exactly this machine will look like and to be honest, we are quite attached to Keurig, but Starbucks has partnered with Courtesy Products, whose own CV1 Coffee Maker looks simple enough to operate.

Now would it be too much to ask hotels to include free coffee packets next to the machine?

A Tourist's Encounter with a 300 Pound Eagle Ray

Daily Mail: A woman tourist was pinned to the deck of a sightseeing boat by a 300lb stingray after it came hurtling out of the sea as she cruised off the Florida Keys.

Jenny Hausch, 40, was knocked down (last weekend) by the spotted eagle ray, which torpedoed out of the water and landed in the charter boat in which she was a passenger.

She was trapped and gasping for air under its 4ft wide body for three to four minutes. 'The ray was slamming this way and slamming that way and she was trying to crawl out backwards from under it, but it kept landing on her,' said boat captain Kelly Klein.

The bizarre incident took place off the island of Islamorada. It came almost exactly three years after widow Judy Kay Zagorski, 57, was killed by a spotted eagle ray that leapt from the waves and struck her in the face while she stood aboard a motor-cruiser off Marathon, also in the Florida Keys. The blow sent Mrs Zagorski, of Michigan, crashing to the deck, fracturing her skull and causing a fatal brain injury.

The spotted eagle ray is also the same species that killed Crocodile Hunter Steve Irwin in 2006.He was impaled through the heart by a ray while diving on the Great Barrier Reef, off Australia.

Wildlife experts say that stingrays do not leap to be aggressive, but may jump occasionally to shake off parasites, avoid predators such as sharks, or while giving birth. 'This is not an ‘attack’. These things are not looking to, you know, have a little human meal. It’s just a one in a million chance,' said Officer Aja Vickers (of the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission).

In 2006, millionaire property developer James Bertakis, 81, narrowly escaped death when a spotted eagle ray launched itself at him during a fishing trip off Lighthouse Point, 40 miles north of Miami, piercing his lung and heart with its razor-sharp, venomous barb. His survival was dubbed a miracle by doctors.

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Monday, March 28, 2011

The Most Anticipated New Theme Park Rides and Attractions

LA Times: It already seems like 2012 is shaping up as a good year for ride enthusiasts and theme park fans as the major industry players are planning to roll out big projects that have been on the drawing boards for a while.

Other projects remain mysteries that the marketing divisions at the individual parks have been relentlessly priming with viral campaigns designed to build excitement in advance of an official announcement.
Since it is still early, I'll update my Top 12 over the coming months as new projects are announced. Until then, here's my list of most anticipated rides for 2012:
1) Cars Land, the 12-acre themed land under construction at Disney California Adventure, will feature three new rides set amid a faithful re-creation of the isolated red rock desert town populated by Lightning McQueen and other animated vehicles in the Pixar movie “Cars.”

2) The Magic Kingdom will transform Fantasyland into a magical fairy-tale forest with new and upgraded rides, character meet-and-greet areas and a themed restaurant. The centerpiece of the expansion at the Florida park will be a new Little Mermaid dark ride that will take visitors on a musical journey under the sea with Ariel and her friends.

3) Universal Studios Hollywood will add a Transformers dark ride featuring 3-D high-definition footage with special effects and robotics. The new Transformers attraction at the California park is expected to constitute the next generation of the Spiderman dark ride systems at Universal Studios parks in Florida and Japan.

4) SeaWorld San Diego will add a $10-million roller coaster that marks the U.S. debut of a highly anticipated prototype ride. The 30-foot-tall Manta coaster at the California park will feature dual launch zones, a 54-foot drop into a subterranean trench and a dramatic wing dip into a shallow lake over a 2,800-foot-long track.

5) Busch Gardens Williamsburg has announced that a new multi-launch roller coaster will replace the former Big Bad Wolf suspended coaster. In surveys, the Virginia park has asked visitors to rate four potential names: Revenge of the Black Forest, Uber Bahn, Black Forest Turbo or Verbolten.

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The Most Beautiful Hotel in the World?

Daily Mail: For years it has stood empty, its echoing corridors and soaring arches crumbling gently to dust.
But the hotel Sir John Betjeman once described as 'too beautiful to survive' has now been restored to its former gothic glory - twinned, of course, with the super-slick accoutrements of 21st century travel.

St Pancras Renaissance - formerly the Midland Grand - is already an iconic London landmark, a fairytale fantasy of redbrick and turrets overlooking one of the world's great stations.

Add to this a £150 million ($240 million) decade-long transformation, a restaurant run by one of Britain's top chefs plus an in-house spa, and you've got the makings of something rather special. The hotel will officially open on May 5, 138 years to the day since it threw open its glamorous halls to an awe-struck public for the first time.

It was built by Sir George Gilbert Scott, the leading Victorian architect whose signature style was gothic revival at its most lavish. He created a labyrinth of sumptuous colour characterised by an obsessive attention to detail.

Tragically, the original incarnation of the hotel only lasted for 62 years before closing in 1935. It was then converted into offices and was only saved from demolition by the intervention of Betjeman and protests from a public very attached to the hotel's distinctive edifice.

But the victory was a temporary respite. In 1988, it was abandoned, the doors shut on the golden age of railways and their palatial hotels. Languishing in a derelict hinterland, it seemed only a matter of time before the bulldozers once again loomed large for the Midland Grand.

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Whistle-Blowing Witch Grounded by TSA

Las Vegas: The New Disneyland

Blackjack Champ: The number of tourists to Las Vegas who spend their time gambling is dropping each year as the Sin City is turning into yet another Disneyland clone.

The politicians wanted and dreamed of it for years and they are finally reaping what the sowed.

The dream of Benjamin “Bugsy” Siegel of a playground for ADULTS, where 24 hour action, excitement, blackjack card games, adult theme cabaret shows, nonstop gambling, boozing, dancing and easy women is dying.

On the bones of the pleasure palaces from where the likes of Sinatra and the Rat Pack painted the town red, now are built poignant politically correct McPalaces more suited for Disney Land or Six Flags Great Adventure.

“Mommy, Mommy can we go see the pirate show at Treasure Island and then the dancing bears at the Mirage,” is now heard on the Vegas Strip instead of the old, “Where (are) the dancing broads, the nearest bar and a one deck blackjack table, because baby, I am feeling lucky tonight!”

Passangers on flights to Vegas no longer read the latest black jack strategy book but prefer articles analyzing if Giuseppina Bozzacchi or Jean-Baptiste Hus would have danced better in the newest Snow White ballet revival on the Vegas Strip.

The numbers don’t lie. The recent report by the Las Vegas Convention & Visitor Authority shows that fewer and fewer visitors each year spend their time and money playing craps, slots and blackjack card games. The new 2010 report shows that 80% of tourists spent $466 each gambling that year, while in 2009, 83% of tourists spent $482 gambling. In 2009 tourists gambled an average of 3.2 hours while in 2010 it was under 3 hours.

So what happened? The new casino strategy of making Sin City into Disney Vegas is working!

Captain Hook style pirates and the cuddly clown shows happened. It’s probably easier to find dancing Can-Can burlesque girls on the Mickey Mouse Cruise Ship than on the Vegas Strip. The only woman of ill-repute left on the strip is the Wicked Witch of the West at the Casino Wizard of Oz Show (Ages 3+ Welcome!)

Bugsy Siegel is spinning in his grave.

Emerging Travel Trends

Adventure Travel News: As the thawing of the consumer travel freeze continues, several trends will be key in marketing to travelers. Here are a few areas we’re monitoring for the second quarter of 2011.

Multigenerational travel has increasingly popped up on our radar over the past few years and is an especially hot topic on consumer news and travel sites these days. Virtuoso reports that trips of this nature are their top trend currently and have tripled in the past two years, while American Express Travel also includes it as one of their five major trends for 2011, noting that cruises and upscale all-inclusive vacations are popular in this expanding category.

While the industry is seeing price sensitivity with a focus on value all across the market, the biggest shift may have occurred in luxury travelers. According to Virtuoso’s 2011 Luxe Report, this group cites “authentic experiences in new destinations” as their top motivation for traveling this year, above R&R and socializing. The same report reveals that value for money paid (79%) and once-in-a-lifetime experiences (57%) are top factors in choosing destinations, and 33.2% of Virtuoso agents named active and adventure travel among the top five biggest trends of 2011.

Of the ten trends named by PhoCusWright in the 2011 Truth, Myth and Pith report, three we find most salient centered around smart technologies and the game-changing impact they’re having on the travel industry. The first is that mobile is not actually a trend, but now part of the fabric of the consumer landscape. Expedia has seen mobile bookings rise by 5 times in 2010; Kayak now has more people developing for mobile than for the web; mobile payments are expected to become a reality this year.

The second trend taking place is suppliers are getting smart about smart technologies. As mobile 1.0 gives way to 2.0, we’ll move away from a framework of consumers simply accessing what they need in the moment (reservation numbers, contact information) to a more sophisticated model that considers what they want while they’re on the road. Think interactivity

Last but not at all least is that tablet wars will spark a travel revolution as their popularity rises and competition between manufacturers increases. Immersive and entertainment-oriented, expect them to travel with your consumers and be ready to connect with them via their tablets throughout the entire process, from trip research to post-trip feedback and content.

“These smart technology trends in web, mobile, and tablets are important and exciting to follow, but likely leave you feeling anxious and overwhelmed. Don’t let the complexities of these new trends and technologies hold you back from moving forward,” adds Reckers of ATTA. “A good first step is to understand your current and potential customer base and where those customers will most likely access your products and services. Whether they’re finding you through a mobile device, the concierge at the local hotel, or while booking a cruise online, each of these scenarios require a different game plan.”

“Transforcations” – According to the WSJ, this increasingly popular type of travel helps people achieve goals, learn and experience new things, push beyond their limits. These transformative vacations could include adventure travel, boot camp type experiences, volunteer travel or cultural travel with a focus on education.

Experiential travel – American Express Travel predicts that river cruising sales will rise as people look for all-inclusive travel that emphasizes a deeper look at local culture and history, along with a more intimate experience, as well as ‘Expert-cation’ itineraries crafted around specific interests (think food, sports, yoga, history) or even more niche travel like knitting cruises or salsa dancing classes. They emphasize travelers’ desire for exclusive tours and viewings, and hands-on, unique experiences.

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Pioneer Who Banned Smokers at His Hotel

CNN: First, I wanted to find out if Lyndon Sanders was still alive. Second, I wanted to find out if he was feeling triumphant.

The answers: Yes, and yes.

"Every time I hear about a hotel that doesn't allow any smoking at all, my heart beats a little bit better," he said.

Sanders, 82, has moved to Fredericksburg, Texas, but 30 years ago, when he had his world-changing idea, he lived in Dallas. That was where he decided he would build and operate a new kind of hotel.

He planned to put it up right on the Carpenter Freeway, midway between the big DFW airport and the main Dallas business district. The name of the place said it all:  The Non-Smokers Inn.

"Putting smokers and nonsmokers together is like putting tomcats and bulldogs together," Sanders told me at the time. He said that at another hotel he owned, he had noticed something every time he'd had to steam-clean a room where smokers had stayed:

"The smoke stinks up everything. We have to take the draperies down, shampoo the carpet, strip the beds completely down -- even the plastic shower curtains. You should see the yellow nicotine stains on the cleaning rags. I'll tell you, it would gag a buzzard."

More and more hotels are going 100% smoke-free, either by choice or in response to local smoking ordinances. Reporter Gary Stoller, writing in USA Today, said that an analysis of data collected by the American Automobile Association found that more than 12,900 lodgings in the U.S. now allow no smoking at all in any of their rooms -- nearly 4,600 more than the figure was in 2008.

Stoller quoted Joe McInerney, president of the American Hotel and Lodging Association: "We will continue to see either properties go entirely smoke-free or increase non-smoking rooms not only in the United States but around the world."

Which brings us back to Lyndon Sanders, who felt quite alone when he came up with his idea. In 1981, after all, cigarette smoking was still allowed just about everywhere, including on passenger airplanes. In a business sense, he was ahead of his time -- too far ahead. The Non-Smokers Inn did well at first, but by 1991 Sanders had to turn the hotel over to new management, which changed the name to the Classic Motor Inn, and allowed 22 of the 135 rooms to welcome smokers.

You might think that Lyndon Sanders would be a little resentful about being too smart too soon. People told him he was nuts when he announced that he was building a hotel in which guests would not be permitted to smoke. One woman wrote him a letter at the time saying she hoped he went bankrupt and that she was sure he was a Communist. He is out of the hotel business now; meanwhile, the hospitality industry is flocking to his idea. But, he said, at 82 he feels a quiet satisfaction.

"I knew I was right back then," he said. "I know I'm still right now."

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Legoland Florida Set to Open October 2011

Child Mode: Orlando, Florida will be getting themselves a brand new theme park! Opening this Fall 2011, Legoland Florida will be the largest of the 5 Legolands in the world joining the others in California, Germany, England and Denmark. Geared towards families with children ages 2 to 12, the 150 acre full-day theme park will offer more than 50 interactive rides, shows and attractions including amazing and unique LEGO® models making it unlike any other theme park in Florida.

The ten different lands of Legoland Florida are The Beginning, Fun Town, Miniland USA, Castle Hill, Land of Adventure, XTreme, LEGO City, Imagination Zone, Pirate Cove and DUPLO® Village.

Don’t think the park is all roller coasters and rides, families will be able to get a glimpse of castles, jungle angimals, miniature skylines and famous cities – all made out of Lego bricks! You can buy passes for a limited time discount right now through their website. Prices are $65 for adults and $55 for children and seniors (children 2 and under get in free). Standard Annual Passes purchased now through the end of the year are available at the children’s prices of $99. Once the park has officially opened admission will go up $10 per ticket.

If you have a real Lego fan on your hands, a lifetime pass is available for $2,500 and includes unlimited admission, discounts on preferred parking, special events, plus discounts on food and merchandise. Wow!

Sunday, March 27, 2011

Around the World in 2000 Pictures

New Luxury Liner Crowned Royal Princess

The Sun: Princess Cruises celebrated the start of construction on their latest, greatest ship this week and revealed its name – Royal Princess.

Arriving in the spring of 2013, the 3,600-passenger liner is the first of two new-generation ships being built. Features include an over-water SeaWalk and a SeaView bar – a top-deck glass-bottomed enclosed walkway on one side and bar on the other, each extending more than 28ft beyond the edge. On her top decks Royal Princess will also feature a new adults-only pool surrounded by seven private cabanas that appear to be floating on the water.

Two additional pools will flank a tropical island that will offer pool seating by day. By night they will be transformed into an outdoor dance club, complete with a water and light show. Princess boss Alan Buckelew said: "We are taking the best features of our newest vessels and taking them to the next level."

Airlines Get More Creative with Fees

Boston.com: Beleaguered airlines are trying to generate revenue wherever they can.

Last year, airlines around the world collected about $18 billion from fees for things such as checked baggage and early boarding, according to an estimate by airline consulting firm IdeaWorks. In five years, airlines expect that 15 percent of their revenue will come from fees for optional services — double the amount it is now — according to Forrester Research Inc., based in Cambridge.

“Airlines aren’t just transportation companies anymore, they want to be retail merchandisers, like Wal-Mart, offering a $1 12-pack of Coke at the back of the store — hoping you’ll buy some Tupperware along the way,’’ said Rick Seaney, president of FareCompare.com. “So expect to see more airline fees and discounts on these fees, like half off Wi-Fi on Thursdays when the moon is full.’’

Airlines are charging for many things that once were free, including checked baggage, pillows, and snacks. At US Airways a window or aisle seat toward the front of coach comes with a price tag — $12 on a flight from Boston to Philadelphia, for instance. On American Airlines, a seat in the front of coach will cost $19 to $39 more, but its occupant also gets to board early (available on its own for a $10 fee).

Even JetBlue Airlines — which prides itself on giving passengers free perks such as the first checked bag, a TV in every seat, and all-you-can-eat plantain chips — recently bumped up its fee for a second checked bag from $30 to $35 in response to the cost of fuel.

Spirit Airlines, which charges passengers $20 to $45 to put their carry-ons in an overhead bin, leads the way when it comes to fees, getting 27 percent of its operating revenue from optional products and services, according to the Bureau of Transportation Statistics.

(Airlines) also are finding new things that passengers can pay for. American will send someone to meet passengers at the curb, help them with baggage, and escort them to the gate for $125 each. Surfing the Web on a three-plus hour flight on AirTran Airways costs $12.95. United Airlines just launched a champagne brunch — in coach — with quiche, fresh fruit, cheese, and salmon for $24.99 on some flights.

Other new amenities include Continental Airlines’ fare lock-in, which allows travelers to hold a fare without buying it for three days for $5. As of this summer, Delta will offer economy seats on international flights that recline 50 percent farther, and have 4 more inches of legroom, for an extra $80 to $160 each way.

GuestLogix is rolling out a mobile application that will allow passengers to browse for items on their smartphones in flight and has developed a feature that will enable passengers watching a movie to touch the screen and order a scarf an actor is wearing. Proud estimates that onboard retail shopping partnerships could bring in an extra $1 to $5 per passenger for airlines.

Other possibilities analysts see: offering preordered premium meals, providing in-flight spa services (which Virgin Atlantic has done in the past), renting entertainment devices, and issuing money-back guarantees for on-time flights. In Spain, passengers on the low-cost carrier Vueling Airlines pay extra to keep the middle seat empty. And how about charging people to use the restroom, like Irish carrier Ryanair has proposed?

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Goose Rescues Squirrel From Hotel Toilet

Belfast Telegraph: A British entrepreneur has told of his surprise at finding a squirrel in his toilet bowl.

Duncan Goose was in Malawi to check on the humanitarian aid projects funded by his company's One projects when he came to the animal's rescue.

The Edinburgh-born 42-year-old, whose company Global Ethics also produces One-branded toilet roll, got a shock when he lifted the toilet lid in his hotel room one night to discover the squirrel.

He said: "It was a real shock as my immediate reaction was that it was a rat and, particularly in developing countries, they carry lots of disease.

"I was concerned it was going to jump out and bite me, so I put the lid back down and left it for a minute as I wasn't sure what to do."

When he returned to lift the lid on the struggling animal, he realised it was a squirrel and promptly came to its rescue.

Mr Goose, who now lives in Kew, south west London, said: "In the end I put a hand towel down the toilet, allowed it to climb up, put it in a laundry basket, took it outside and released it back into the wild and it didn't seem too much the worse for wear so hopefully it's recovered from the experience and will go on to have a happy life devoid of toilet bowl experiences."

It was not the first time Mr Goose, brother of former Casualty actress Claire Goose, has had a run-in with a wild animal. He said: "I've had scorpions creep into my room, I've had to remove a very large spider in Australia and I once ran into a deer on my motorbike in Canada which was quite an experience - it was a mutual collision in the early hours of the morning - so my luck with animals is not the best."

10 Best Travel iPhone Apps

G-Park App
GeekSugar: If you've got an iPhone, you have a world of apps at your fingertips to help you track, plan, and learn all you can about the locations you'll be visiting to ensure you have a well-rounded trip. Even if you're hitting the road now, you should definitely load up on these helpful apps.

1. The World Factbook 2011 ($1): Pick a country, any country! This app is stuffed with an amazing amount of facts about world history, and current data for more than 250 countries around the globe.

2. WorldView (Free): Can't wait to step foot in Paris? Check out what's happening there now with this app that lets you peek in on live webcams being broadcast from the Eiffel Tower and other cameras from around the world.

3. Word-Lens (Free): Instantly translate printed words from one language to another with your built-in video camera, in real time! Use Word Lens on vacation, business travel, and just for fun.

4. TripTracker (Free): Get organized before you get on board with this app that not only holds all of your flight reservations, car rentals, and hotel details in one place, but also sends alerts, live weather reports, and airport notifications to your phone.

5. Geocaching ($10): Turn your trip abroad into a huge geocaching game with this app. Geocaching is a global treasure-hunting game, and this app gives you the tools to find the loot.

6. Free WiFiFinder (Free): Online or offline, this app will help you find the closest WiFi signal so you can check your emails, favorite blogs, or Skype with your friends and family.

7. HearPlanet ($5): Next time you're wandering around a city, check out this app that turns your iPhone or iPod Touch into an audio tour guide.

8. GasBuddy (Free):  Get your gas on the cheap with this app, which shows you the nearest gas stations and their prices.

9. Fotopedia Heritage (Free): Discover all of the World Heritage Sites around the globe from this single app that brings facts and over 22,000 photos.

10. G-Park ($1): Taking a road trip this year? Driving around a new city? You'll definitely want this app that lets you bookmark your car's location on GPS, then tells you exactly how to find it later once you get lost. Just be careful you don't go over your parking meter limit!

Saturday, March 26, 2011

The Evolution of Hotel Amenities

Hotel Chatter: Every year's end we round up the best and the worst of the year that was, including the Must-Have Amenity, whatever hot item that hotels were killing themselves to place in their guestrooms.

Here's a quick rundown of the past must-have hotel amenities from the past couple of years:

2006 was the flat-screen TV, 2007 was the iPod docking station, 2008 was high-tech recreational toys, 2009 was the plug panels and 2010 was the iPad.

But have you ever wondered about the must-have amenities of years long gone by? The Washington Post has that covered in a recent article about the evolution of hotel amenities:
Joseph A. McInerney, president and chief executive officer of the American Hotel and Lodging Association...can offer a ticktock of the milestones: After color TV came the TV-plus-remote, then the clock radio. In the 1960s, shampoo became a must. Lotions, mouthwash and more followed. The 1970s saw the introduction of sewing kits, shoe mitts and shoe horns. In the early 1990s, coffeemakers appeared in the room. At the end of the century, irons and ironing boards became de rigueur.
Nowadays, thanks to the recession, hotels have started to do without some of these bathroom perks like lotions, sewing kits and even little bottles of shampoo and conditioner (instead they use dispensers on the bathroom wall.)

But at least they aren't taking away our gadgets. iPads, flat-screens and plug panels continue to be crucial to hotel stays. Now if only we could get them to add free WiFi as a milestone amenity.

5 Questions with Fodor's Publisher Tim Jarrell

Time: Eugene Fodor penned his first guide book, On the Continent–The Entertaining Travel Annual, on European travel in 1936. Since then, Fodor's has become one of the world's largest publishers of travel guides, producing companions to more than 300 destinations around the globe. In honor of their 75th anniversary, NewsFeed spoke to Tim Jarrell, publisher of Fodor's, about the company's legacy, the changing tourism industry and his favorite travel destination.

Tell us about the man behind these guides. What was Eugene Fodor's vision of traveling?

Eugene Fodor started Fodor's because he really wanted to introduce people to travel and he felt that travel was a form of international diplomacy. Even though we're transitioning into a digital world, we make sure that we remain true to his vision.

How has travel changed in recent years, especially since the recession?

The recession has obviously had a deep impact on the travel industry. Up to the recession, there were forecasts that travel would grow 5-10%, and as a result, a lot of people were building hotels, and airlines were expanding. And when the recession hit, there was a lot of excess capacity in the system. The travel industry is just now working through that…and beginning to grow again.

For consumers, it's a little bit of a different story, although a parallel story. The travel economy came to a standstill and people just stopped traveling. Now those who feel more secure in their jobs are beginning to travel once again and they're beginning to travel farther away from home.

And how has that changed travel guides?

One obvious trend is that as we've become digital. As people have access to the Internet and mobile devices, there is much more travel information available. And travelers are less reliant on traditional guide books than perhaps they were before.

The other trend is actually more subtle but equally significant. What's happening over time is that travel is becoming much, much more democratic. As travel becomes more commonplace—the fact that you can fly nonstop from New York to Hong Kong—people feel more comfortable traveling. If you've been to a destination before, do you still need the same kind of preparation? I think that, for the once-in-a-lifetime trip, people are still dependent on travel guides. But people are looking for easier ways to get that information.

How have you changed Fodor's guides to keep up with these trends?

In the last four or five years, we've changed these books to make them more entertaining, more inspirational and just more fun to read. We go into depth on things like how to dance and learn the tango in Buenos Aires. Or how to do a wine trip in Italy. We've introduced color books in the last three years and we have added magazine-like features to bring destinations alive.

What are your personal favorite trips?

Istanbul if you're looking for something a little bit more adventurous and if you want a European kind of trip. Istanbul is fascinating because there is so much culture and is in the middle of everything, but it is a thoroughly modern city. And I happen to have a very soft spot in my heart for Macchu Picchu. It's one of the great trips that everyone should take in their life—to be able to walk in the middle of those mountains is just mythical.