Haunted Hotels Are In Full Swing

If luxury horror is your thing, look no further than haunted hotels this Halloween. As rounded up in a spread on USA Today, several hotels across the country are incorporating their own tales from the crypt into their businesses this time of year. A couple examples of haunted hotels participating in the spooky season:

The Biltmore Coral Gables in Miami has been everything over the years from a speakeasy during Prohibition to a hospital ward for World War II soldiers to the murder scene of a gangster. Guests have complained of visions and other kinds of ghostly disturbances-including getting dropped off at the 13th floor form the elevator despite the button not being pressed-since the building reopened as a hotel in the 1980s.The Bourbon Orleans Hotel in New Orleans once served as a ballroom and theater, but was then turned into a girls’ school, orphanage and medical ward. Guests routinely complain of hearing voices that sound as though they belong to children.

If you can’t beat ‘em, join ‘em. And if you can’t convince them your hotel isn’t filled with ghosts, convince them of the opposite instead.

Halloween Destinations
More on Halloween

Great Comeback Cities For Travel

comeback cities - Detroit love
Flickr, Michigan Municipal League

Recently, the former automotive boomtown of Detroit made history by filing for bankruptcy, making it an easy butt of jokes on Twitter and in the news. However, Motown has also been making strides to become America’s great comeback city, with artists and entrepreneurs lured by cheap rents, and innovative projects happening all over town (disclosure: I’m a big fan of the city, and so is the New York TimesFrank Bruni). Detroit has more than a few great things going for it, including architecture, museums and sports, and tourist dollars could go a long way in helping the city recover. Can it become a tourist destination again?

Some of the top tourist destinations in the world were once no-go zones for travelers, suffering from financial crises, war, natural disasters and rampant crime. Here are a few of our favorite comeback cities:Berlin: One of the world’s most resilient cities, Berlin has been through war, occupation and one gigantic divide, and come back to thrive. In the decades following the fall of the Berlin Wall and the reunification of Germany, East Berlin in particular has become a hipster mecca, due to some of the lowest prices in western Europe for nightlife and a vibrant art and design scene. While not everyone welcomes the gentrification, the German capital is continuing to gain millions of foreign tourists each year.

Buenos Aires: A mix of hyperinflation, government corruption and mounting debt led to riots and an economic crisis in Argentina in the late 1990s and early 2000s. The country has stabilized and the peso value has risen, but it’s affordability has made it increasingly attractive to travelers in the last ten years, making it the No. 1 tourism destination in South America. Buenos Aires is opening more boutique hotels each year, ensuring a place every year on lists such as Conde Nast Traveler’s Hot List of new hotels.

New Orleans: A longtime favorite for the French Quarter and Bourbon Street, along with events like Mardi Gras and Jazz Fest, New Orleans was profoundly affected by Hurricane Katrina in 2005. Tourism is the biggest source of employment in the city and a major factor to its economy, and the disaster made visitor numbers plummet. Louisiana’s recovery has been slow but steady, and major infrastructure improvements brought on by this year’s “Super Gras” have helped the Big Easy come back.

New York City: Visitors to the Big Apple have topped 50 million, spending billions of dollars in the city annually. While New York has never suffered from lack of tourists, the 1980s crack epidemic and surge in crime gave it an image of being a violent, dirty and dangerous city and visitor numbers dipped. Like Detroit, it also faced possible bankruptcy in 1975 and President Ford was infamously (mis)quoted to tell NYC to “drop dead.” The terrorist attacks in 2001 caused another slowdown in visitors, but it’s now one of the safest, most visited cities in the world.

Tokyo: While Tokyo was not as devastated by the 2011 earthquake and tsunami as other parts of Japan, it definitely felt the hurt with a sharp decline in tourism, major damage to national infrastructure, and radiation concerns. Foreign visitors are now exceeding the pre-disaster levels, though seismologists worry that an even bigger earthquake is due to hit Tokyo.

An honorable mention must go to the countries in the former Yugoslavia, especially Croatia and the cities of Belgrade and Sarajevo. Twenty years ago, who could have predicted the popularity of the Dalmatian coast as a beach destination, or the battle-scarred Serbian capital as a nightlife hotspot? They aren’t quite seeing the same tourism numbers as the destinations above, but they should be on your travel radar. Istanbul and Beirut are also favorites for their many comebacks and reinventions, though the effects from current events are already being seen in the local tourism industries.

What are your favorite “comeback cities”?

Hotel News We Noted: June 28, 2013

l'auberge de sedona property
Image of L’Auberge de Sedona Courtesy of Nick McKeta

Greetings from sunny and hot, hot, HOT Sedona, Arizona, “Hotel News We Noted” fans. It’s a bit cooler down here on Oak Creek, where I’m currently typing this from the balcony of my cottage at L’Auberge de Sedona. So far, this AAA Four Diamond resort is full of lovely surprises, from the quaint feeding of the ducks each morning to the outdoor rain shower (complete with a real live tree) inside the room, and the nighttime star gazing lessons where I got my first glimpse of Saturn through a telescope! Expect a full recap of my trip in next week’s column, or travel along with me – I’m Instagramming live from the @GadlingTravel handle for our weekly #OnTheRoad column.

But for now, here’s your weekly dose of all that’s going on in the hotel world. Feel free to leave tips below or send your comments via email. I’d love to hear from you!

Dress The Part: New Orleans’ International House Undergoes Summer Wardrobe Change
Sure, our wardrobe changes with the seasons, but we’ve never seen a hotel do the same. New Orleans’ International House alters its furnishings, staff attire, foliage and overall ambiance to uphold the New Orleans tradition of “Summer Dress.” Dating back to pre air-conditioning days to keep cool during the steamy months, cotton slipcovers and sisal rugs replace formal upholstery and throw rugs, and native banana leaves, palms, fragrant floating blossoms and spiraling topiary decorate the lobby. Hotel staff will change their uniforms as well. The stylists for the hotel include fashion designer Lisa Iacono (who has worked with names like Proenza Schouler and Betsey Johnson) as well as Interior designer LM Pagano, who has worked with names like Nicolas Cage and Johnny Depp.

Hotel Opening: Fairmont Baku
One of the hottest areas in the world for new luxury properties is probably not a country you’ve heard of. Baku, Azerbaijan has seen an influx of luxury properties in recent months and years, including Four Seasons, Jumeirah and JW Marriott. Now Fairmont has opened their first property in the area. Located in the Flame Towers, the tallest building complex in the country, the 140-room hotel boasts spectacular views of the city of Baku, the old Inner City or the Caspian Sea. Highlights include a 20-foot glass chandelier formed in the shape of water droplets, a world-class, contemporary art collection and the spacious Fairmont Gold rooms and suites.

Cool Summer Vacation at a Hot New Resort: Topnotch Resort
Fresh from a $15 million upgrade, Stowe, Vermont’s Topnotch Resort has re-opened to the public. While we’d normally shy away from a ski resort in the summer, this newly upgraded property offers plenty to do in the off-seasons, including hiking, biking and more. Topnotch added a new lobby, revamped dining outlets, an outdoor wedding venue, a refreshed indoor tennis center and newly renovated guestrooms.

Smells Good To Us: The Grand Del Mar’s Perfume Sessions
We’ve certainly heard of hotels creating custom scents, but this new package from The Grand Del Mar in San Diego raises the bar even more. Wednesdays in July and August, the property is hosting a two-hour natural perfume making class where a local perfumer will give instructions and materials to blend your own custom scent. Open to the public and guests alike, this program seems like a steal at just $100.

Family Travel Package: Capture the Memories
While we certainly take a lot of photos during our travels, it’s rare that most of those images will ever see a life beyond our computer screen, which explains why we like this new package from Preferred Hotel Group. The Preferred Family collection of family-centric hotels has teamed with Shutterfly to allow every traveler checking into the group’s 41 hotels a complimentary photo book of their trip. It may only be a $30 value, but the idea of having someone encourage us to share our vacation snaps with friends and family seems like a great value.

On The Road With NPR Music: Gwen Thompkins At WWNO, New Orleans, Louisiana

We love music here at Gadling, and this month is Public Radio Music Month, which is why we’re teaming up with NPR to bring you exclusive interviews from NPR music specialists around the country. We’ll be learning about local music culture and up and coming new regional artists, so be sure to follow along all month.

Today we’re headed to the birthplace of jazz: New Orleans. But New Orleans offers a whole lot more than jazz, and the local scene is one that’s well known outside of Louisiana. Thanks to local music host Gwen Thompkins we get the insider scoop on the music of this exciting city, from singer-songwriters to high school brass bands.

Name: Gwen Thompkins

Member station: WWNO, New Orleans

Regular Show/Contribution Beat: Host, Music Inside Out with Gwen Thompkins. NPR contributor.

When people think of music in New Orleans, what do they think of?

When people think of New Orleans, they think of music and vice versa. The city and its music are synonymous – traditional jazz, modern jazz, bounce, blues, R&B, brass bands, gospel, boogie woogie, swamp pop, hip hop, funk, cabaret. If your tastes run to opera, New Orleans has that too. In fact, the first opera house in North America was built right here in the French Quarter, which back then wasn’t just a neighborhood. It was New Orleans. Jelly Roll Morton talked about what he heard and saw at the opera house all the time. But what most people forget is that the legendary Boswell Sisters also grew up in New Orleans. In the 1920s and 1930s, their vocal jazz harmonies dominated the national charts and sold tens of millions of records. Ella Fitzgerald credited Connee Boswell as the only singer she ever tried to emulate.

New Orleans later topped the national charts with early rhythm and blues. Nearly everything Fats Domino touched turned to gold. But there’s no use skipping over Shirley and Lee of “Let the Good Times Roll,” or Ruth “Mama, He Treats Your Daughter Mean” Brown or Lee “Working in a Coal Mine” Dorsey. And the whole nation heard about Ernie K-Doe’s “Mother-in-Law.”

These homegrown songs and many, many others are still part of our daily lives in New Orleans. We hear them every day on radio and at a growing number of music festivals around town.

More often than not, today’s visitors to New Orleans want to fit into the groove right along with us. So they’re looking to absorb the whole musical experience – from trumpeter Buddy Bolden to the Meters, from Mahalia Jackson to Mystikal and from Louis Prima to Trombone Shorty to L’il Wayne. They also want to know about the great producers – Allen Toussaint, Dave Bartholomew, Wardell Quezergue and Cosimo Matassa – who helped shape, shift and funkify modern American music. And they want to hear from some of our piano royalty – Professor Longhair, James Booker, Dr. John, Huey Smith, Ellis Marsalis, Harry Connick, Jr., David Torkanowsky, Jon Cleary.

And then there’s Louis Armstrong. He’s the immortal one, the reason we all want to be from New Orleans.

How do you help curate that musical scene?

I look to my left and I look to my right and chances are – wherever I am in New Orleans – there’s someone or something great nearby. Just a few doors down from my house lives Lionel Ferbos who, at 101, is the oldest performing jazz musician in town. I see soul queen Irma Thomas at the dry cleaners and Dr. John at the grocery store. Talent is ubiquitous down here, which makes us a little spoiled. So I’m creating an archive of hour-long discussions with some of the most seminal artists of our time. We talk about the experiences and influences that helped create their sound and, by extension, music that is treasured around the world. We broadcast the interviews each week on radio and allow folks to stream them on the web.

How has the New Orleans scene evolved over the past few decades?

We’ve said goodbye to way too many wonderful artists in recent decades. Some, like James “Sugar Boy” Crawford or “Uncle” Lionel Batiste, died. Others, like the great pianist Henry Butler, moved away because they had to start over again after Hurricane Katrina. But those who can come back eventually do.

Since the 1950s, New Orleans has had its share of traditional jazz revivals and currently traditional jazz is in full bloom, with a crowd of established and up and coming artists. Try visiting Preservation Hall or the Palm Court Cafe or walking Frenchman Street in the Marigny (neighborhood). There’s nothing like seeing kids with dreadlocks and tattoos slow dancing to an old classic like, “Careless Love.”

That said, bounce has grabbed a lot of music lovers by the ears. Big Freedia and Katie Red are the divas to beat and when they team up with funksters like Galactic, they’re unstoppable.

Brass bands have gotten funkier too, which has set off an aesthetic debate down here about the meaning of tradition. What a trumpeter like Shamarr Allen teaches young brass band players is a world apart from what a drummer like Shannon Powell learned from the celebrated jazz greats of Treme.

What would you say is the most unique thing about the New Orleans music scene?

New Orleans has open arms. There’s room in the city for homegrown talent and for musicians who were born far, far away. It’s rare to find a place in the world where so many different people can play so many disparate styles and still feel at home artistically.

What are three new up and coming bands on the local scene right now and what makes them distinct?

The first lesson a music lover learns here is, “Ain’t nothing new.”

But if you’re coming to New Orleans don’t miss:

Alex McMurray: one of the finest songwriters working today in New Orleans or anyplace else. McMurray was born in New Jersey, came down here for college, took in a Neville Brothers/Marva Wright show at Tipitina’s and decided he was home. His songs are fully realized narratives about protagonists who drift through blues melodies, ditties, lounge music or flat out rock ‘n roll. McMurray writes about old boxers and sea faring lads, barflies, soldiers, at least one courtesan and a nutty guy named, “Otis.” Through a strange set of circumstances involving Disney and Japan, McMurray also knows an unusual number of sea shanties by heart. Filthy? Yes. But they’re awfully fun. He plays solo and with a band called the Tin Men. Check out: “The Get Go” “Me and My Bad Luck,” “It’s Not the Years, It’s the Miles,” “As Long as You Let Me.”

Hurray for the Riff Raff: Great singer-songwriters, not afraid of a guitar and a violin and a yodel or two. Alynda Lee Segarra, originally of the Bronx, New York, writes most of the songs. The melodies are mostly folk rock, but take on a Cajun quality at times. Hurray for the Riff Raff has been reported to admire The Band, which makes them A-OK by me. Check out: “Look Out Mama,” “Junebug Waltz,” “Little Black Star.”

KIPP McDonough 15 Middle School Brass Band. Director: Kelvin Harrison, Sr.: One of the many young brass bands coming out of the schools of New Orleans. Others include: O. Perry Walker High School Brass Band and Joseph S. Clark Prep Brass Band. Each school won a top prize at the 2013 Class Got Brass competition held by the New Orleans Jazz and Heritage Foundation. This is how the city’s second line tradition is reaching the stars of tomorrow.

Each year, the foundation uses some of the money earned at the city’s annual jazz and heritage festival to help continue local music traditions. The bands win prize money to buy and maintain their instruments. If you wanna know who’s gonna be the next Trombone Shorty, Shamarr Allen or Dr. Michael White, start seeking out these and other young brass bands.

For a Gadling playlist, what are your favorite tracks?

“We Made it Through That Water” – Free Agents Brass Band

“Heart of Steel” – Galactic featuring Irma Thomas

“Blessed Quietness” – Zion Harmonizers & Olympia Brass Band

“Petite Fleur” – Dr. Michael White

“Tou’ Les Jours C’est Pas La Meme – Carol Fran

“Careless Love -Don Vappie

“Atrapado” – Tom McDermott

“How Come My Dog Don’t Bark (When You Come Around)” – Dr. John

“Cry to Me” – Professor Longhair

“Tipitina and Me” – Allen Toussaint

Listen to the complete playlist on Spotify.

New Orleans Cabs Upgraded With Soda Vending Machines

Between the comfort food and the free-spirited partying, New Orleans is certainly a city that knows how to make visitors feel at home. Now, its cabbies are encouraging travelers to kick back and relax with a refreshing drink via new in-vehicle vending machines.

For 99 cents, those traveling in a local taxi are able to purchase a can of soda on the spot. Using a seat-back media screen, passengers can choose from a range of drink options before swiping their card to make the payment. Within moments, a cold can of soda is ejected from the back of the passenger seat.Simon Garber, who owns the New Orleans Carriage Cab and Yellow-Checker Cab companies, came up with the vending machine concept after his son suggested the idea. It took him four years to fine-tune the drinks dispenser, which works by connecting to a fridge holding several dozen cans of soda.

So far, Garber has installed the drink machine in 40 New Orleans taxis, but he hopes to expand the service to other cities including Chicago and New York. Garber says one day, the technology could also be used to sell cologne, umbrellas and other travel necessities.

[via Harriet Baskas]

[Photo credit: Flickr user Sigmar]