Relief: Four airport perks coming soon

There’s nothing fun about going to the airport, and the regulatory climate isn’t likely to change that anytime soon. Security will still be a nightmare, and you won’t be able to bring your own water with you (at least not for a while). Fortunately, there are companies out there looking for ways to make your airport experience better.

So, what can you expect to see in your local airport in the near future? Here are four amenities to whet your appetite for something to counteract the airport security gauntlet:

1. Catch some comfy shut-eye: sleeping on a plane sucks. There’s just no way to get comfortable. And, if you slip your leg alongside the seat in front of you, you do run the risk that it will get slammed by the beverage cart. Well, you’ll be able to use your layovers to rest, soon. Napping nooks, already available at the Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport, are expected to come to San Francisco in the near future. Seven airports are in the early stages.2. Light up a cigar: okay, this one is particularly meaningful to me. A few airports still have smoking areas (I just lit up in Denver last month), but they tend to be unfortunate spaces, not designed to appeal. This is where a company like Graycliff can make a difference. The Bahamas-based cigar and hospitality company has an idea for well-ventilated lounges, featuring cigar rollers (and nothing beats a stick fresh off the bench, at least, not for me). With Graycliff involved, you can expect a stylish, upscale experience. The first is already open at the airports in Nashville and Nassau.

3. Better shopping and eating: the challenge of finding a bite or buying a tie during weird hours could become a thing of the past. From the chance to dine at a Food Network Kitchen to broader shopping options, airports are scoping out ways to enhance the experience of being trapped within their walls. If all the doomsday predictions by the airline industry about the implications of the three-hour delay rule are true, you might need to buy several changes of clothes and meals … because they believe this rule means you will never get home again.

4. Get picked up more easily: no, this has nothing to do with wearing something hot or having that extra cocktail. Rather, airports are opening their minds to parking where your ride can wait for you. You call; they drive around to get you. But, it’s not always that easy. Nature calls, and there’s always a shortage of space. So, look for larger parking lots with bathrooms flight information boards and maybe even dining options? Newark’s already headed down this road, with plans in the works for JFK airport, Cincinnati, Fort Myers and St. George (in Utah).

For more on this topic, head on over to USA Today where airport expert Harriet Baskas explores more upcoming airport amenities.

[photo by msspider66 via Flickr]

Gaylord Opryland hotel to re-open Nov. 15 in Nashville

The clean-up work is done at the Gaylord Opryland hotel, and construction crews have moved on to the rebuilding and renovating.

Hotel officials say Nashville‘s largest hotel will re-open on Nov. 15, six months after the Cumberland River overflowed its banks and flooded the hotel’s common areas.

The photo below, which was released by the Gaylord Opryland, shows that the water also rose within a foot or so of the ceiling in some guestrooms in the hotel’s Magnolia area.

The Magnolia area rooms are getting a complete renovation (as shown in the rendering at right), with an updated, lighter look than they had before.

The Gaylord Opryland hotel is also getting a new look in the Cascades area lobby and the rotating Cascades Terrace bar, as well as in several of the hotel’s restaurants. Two new restaurants — offering Mexican and Italian cuisine — are being added during the rebuilding.

The adjacent Grand Ole Opry House, which was also flooded, is on track to reopen Oct. 1, according to Gaylord officials. (The Grand Ole Opry shows are still being performed at other Nashville venues.)

Gaylord’s price tag for all of this clean-up and renovation is estimated to top $215 million.

Grand Ole Opry’s famed circle survives Nashville flooding

For almost seven decades, country music legends have stood on a single piece of oak floor to perform in the Grand Ole Opry in Nashville, Tennessee. The “Opry Circle” was just the center part of the stage at the Ryman Auditorium when the legendary show moved there in 1943.

When the current Grand Ole Opry House was finished in 1974, a 6-foot circle was cut from the oak stage floor and installed center stage in the new auditorium.

Last week, the circle and the rest of the Opry stage was submerged under two feet of water when the Cumberland River overflowed its banks. But this week, the news is good: The rest of the stage will be replaced, but the Opry Circle can be salvaged.

Yes, it’s just a circle of wood, but to country music fans, it is sacred ground.

Late legends Hank Williams and Johnny Cash have sung in the circle. Loretta Lynn, Tammy Wynette, George Jones, Porter Wagoner and hundreds of others have stood in the same spot when they took the Opry stage.

As our friends at the Boot note, even Elvis Presley sang on this piece of flooring early in his career, during his only Grand Ole Opry appearance in 1954.

(Legend has it that Elvis was practically booed off the stage during his performance, leading Opry officials to suggest he go back to driving a truck.)

%Gallery-92866%I grew up listening to the Grand Ole Opry on the radio on Saturdays, and then, when cable finally came to my tiny hometown, watching it on TV. I followed all the country music artist’s careers, and I even entertained childhood dreams of singing on the Opry stage myself one day.

As most fans do, I have made a couple of pilgrimages to the Grand Ole Opry myself through the years. Last fall, I finally got a chance to take the backstage tour, and I stood in that Opry Circle for the first time as an adult.

I can’t describe the feeling, except to say that I was moved to tears standing in that sacred spot. Of course I had not idea at the time that the Opry House would be flooded — and that circle would be in jeopardy — in just a few months’ time.

“That circle is the most magical thing when you’re a performer,” says Brad Paisley, “to stand there and get to sing on those same boards that probably still contain dust from Hank Williams’ boots.”

Despite the flood, the Opry will go on, as it has every Saturday night since 1925. Most of the upcoming performances have been moved to the Ryman Auditorium while crews try to remove the muck covering the Opry House and assess the damage.

The show would have gone on without that precious circle.

But I’m glad it doesn’t have to.

Nashville landmarks remain closed after historic flooding

After a weekend of torrential rains and flooding, sunshine is predicted in Nashville, Tenn., today. Officials at many of the city’s landmark spots for visitors will be assessing the damage and starting the clean-up process.

Here’s a look at what’s open, what isn’t and what won’t be for some time:

The Gaylord Opryland Resort is closed. At last report, many of the hotel’s common areas were flooded with up to 10 feet of water. The resort’s 2,800-plus hotel rooms have not been damaged, but the company says it will take months to clean up and re-open for business. Reservations for the Gaylord Opryland have been suspended, and Gaylord officials said they are seeking alternatives for the conventions scheduled at the complex in the coming weeks. The Gaylord contained 12 percent of the city’s hotel rooms, and The Tennessean reports today that some larger conventions are being directed to Gaylord properties in other cities.

Next door, the Grand Ole Opry House was also damaged in the flooding. Officials have not released details on the extent of the damage. Tonight’s Grand Ole Opry performance has been moved to Nashville’s War Memorial Auditorium. Weekend Opry performances have been moved to the Ryman Auditorium. Other Grand Ole Opry attractions, including backstage tours and the Grand Ole Opry Museum, have been suspended.The historic Ryman Auditorium downtown has not been damaged and was never threatened by the flood waters. The Ryman is the former, longtime home of the Grand Ole Opry. It’s likely that many Opry performances will be relocated to the Ryman as long as the Grand Ole Opry House remains closed.

Mega-mall Opry Mills is closed because of the flooding and power outages. Mall officials have not released damage information, but the mall is adjacent to the flooded Gaylord Opryland Resort and Grand Ole Opry House. Nashville news stations are showing helicopter video of flood waters surrounding the mall and parking areas.

The basement of the Country Music Hall of Fame and Museum is flooded. Fortunately, none of the museum’s collections are housed in the basement, so the exhibits have not been affected. Museum officials say they expect to re-open right away.

The honky-tonks and shops in the popular LoBro area (along Lower Broadway and Second Avenue) are a mixed bag. Some, including larger venues the Hard Rock Cafe and Wildhorse Saloon, are closed because of basement flooding, but other business remain open. The streets and sidewalks are not flooded in this area.

Schermerhorn Symphony Center will be closed for about a month, officials told The Tennessean. The concert hall’s basement has flooded, and essential equipment, including two Steinway grand pianos, has been lost. A note on the Nashville Symphony’s Web site informs visitors that “the status of all upcoming events remains uncertain.”

LP Field
, home of the NFL’s Tennessee Titans, is underwater. There’s no word on whether the stadium’s locker rooms, offices and other facilities have been damaged.

Nashville Predators hockey venue Bridgestone Arena is also flooded. The NHL team says there has been extensive damage to locker rooms, TV production facilities and other venues on the arena’s lower levels.

The Hampton Inn and Suites Nashville – Downtown is completely closed because of flooding. The hotel across the street from the Country Music Hall of Fame has relocated its guests to other Nashville hotels.

Flooding has not affected air travel in and out of Nashville International Airport. It remains completely open.

But getting to and from the airport could be a different story. Dozens of road closures dot the Nashville metro area. The metro Nashville government is continually updating a Nashville road closure map online.

Nashville’s Gaylord Opryland Resort to be closed for months after floodwaters rise

The Cumberland River breach this morning in Nashville, Tenn., has flooded the Gaylord Opryland Resort. Gaylord Entertainment now says that the hotel and popular convention site is damaged and currently closed.

Company officials say the extent of the damage has not been fully assessed, but that the hotel will likely be closed for several months.

Last night, as the threat of flooding rose, the Opryland Hotel evacuated approximately 1,500 guests to higher ground. No guests or employees at the hotel have been injured in the flooding.

The Gaylord Opryland Resort is the largest non-casino hotel in the United States, with more than 2,800 rooms and 600,000 square feet of meeting space. The hotel hosts hundreds of meetings, shows, weddings and other events each year.

It is a popular vacation spot for country music fans visiting the Grand Ole Opry in Nashville, and the hotel’s lavish Sunday brunch is legendary among locals.

The Gaylord Opryland is situated on the banks of the Cumberland River, which winds through the city of Nashville. It was protected by FEMA-approved levees.

The company says it will spend the next 24 hours assessing the damage and arranging alternatives for the conventions booked at the hotel in the coming weeks and months.