Hotel News We Noted: February 22, 2013

Welcome to this week’s edition of “Hotel News We Noted,” where we round up the week’s best, most interesting and just downright odd news of note in the hospitality world. Have a tip? Send us a note or leave a comment below.

The hotel world has been buzzing this winter with new and planned openings, extreme amenities and packages galore. Here’s our take on what you need to know this week:

Quirky Hotels We’d Love To Visit: 134-Year-Old UK Fortress, Spitbank Fort, Now a Luxury Hotel
A mile off the Hampshire coast in the United Kingdom, the 134-year-old Spitbank Fort used to defend the English shores. Now it’s a nine-room luxury hotel featuring three bars, three restaurants, a rooftop champagne bar, wine cellar, library, rooftop hot pool, sauna and sun decks. There’s a private boat or helicopter option for arrival and rent-out options for “ultimate” weekends away. A night starts at $565. Check out the photos – we’re pretty sure this sounds like a place we’d love to visit.
Buzzy Hotel Destination: The Bronx
If the New York Times has it right, the newest destination for a luxury hotel just might be … the Bronx? A philanthropist has revamped a 10-room hotel called The Andrew Freedman, charging between $130 and $250 for a room, The Empire Hotel Group is planning a $10 million renovation of a historic opera house, turning it into a 60-room luxury property, and Marriott will open a Residence Inn in 2014. Is the transformation of this area best known for crime and poverty a good idea? The article has mixed reports. See for yourself here.

Travel Trend: Experiential Hotel Stays
A new article in the Wall Street Journal details how luxury hotels are attracting guests by offering one-of-a-kind experiences like private cooking lessons, celebrity makeup artists and even alligator tracking experiences. Would you pay more to stay somewhere that offers a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity? The article thinks so.

Pampered Pooches: SoHo Grand Creates a Dog Park
There are dog menus and dog walkers and even dog massages, but what about a hotel with an on-site dog park? SoHo Grand is the first hotel in New York City to create a special outdoor area for furry friends, including cherry trees, boxwoods and ornamental kale. The park opens May 1. Will you be bringing Fido with you to the Big Apple? (h/t Luxury Travel Magazine)

Haute Packages: Oscar Ready
Even if you can’t make it to Los Angeles to celebrate the Academy Awards, you can enjoy special offers and packages at some fun hotels around the country. Here are a couple of our favorite packages related to Oscar-nominated films:

  • Beasts of The Southern Wild at The Blake Hotel, New Orleans. It’s a simple promo, but an effective one if you’re traveling with kids: mention code “Beasts” at check in and you’ll receive free VIP passes to the Audubon Institute, which features an amazing zoo, aquarium, insectarium and butterfly garden.
  • Lincoln at W Washington, DC. What better place to celebrate a president than in Washington, D.C.? This overnight package ($399) includes a chauffeured tour for two and visit to historic locations including Ford’s Theater, the Petersen House, the Lincoln Memorial, and President Lincoln’s Cottage at the Soldiers’ Home.

[Photo by Spitbank Fort]

New Orleans Prepares For ‘Super Gras’ 2013

girl preparing for mardi gras in new orleans 2013Visiting New Orleans during Mardi Gras has never been for the faint of heart. But with the city set to host the Super Bowl just nine days before Fat Tuesday, locals believe that this year’s “Super Gras” celebration might be the city’s biggest party ever. New Orleans has spent $1.3 billion on infrastructure improvements in the run up to the Super Bowl according to CNN, and USA Today estimates that the city will see a $1 billion spike in economic activity as a result of the Super Bowl and Mardi Gras.
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The pre-Lent partying culminates on Fat Tuesday, which falls on February 12 this year, but there are dozens of parades, organized by carnival krewes, balls and parties in the weeks leading up to Ash Wednesday. We spoke to Laura Martone, a New Orleans native and author of the recently released “Moon Handbook to New Orleans,” to get a flavor of what New Orleans is like during Mardi Gras.


Laura MartoneFor some, Mardi Gras is synonymous with debauchery – beads, flashing and binge drinking, among other things. Has all of that been going on for decades?

I’m 36 and all of that has been happening since I was a little kid. My mom tells me that it used to be more family friendly. People throw beads down to women and men who are flashing. I have never done that. My dignity is worth more than some plastic beads. But a lot of the parades are more family friendly and you don’t see much flashing at those events.

I assume 99% of the women who are flashing are tourists?

Probably. The thing that used to fascinate me as a kid was seeing the cops taking pictures of the women flashing. No one was getting ticketed for indecent exposure because the cops were too busy taking pictures.

woman flashing her breasts at mardi gras new orleansThe cops don’t still take photos of women flashing, do they?

I don’t know. I wouldn’t put it past them.

You live in the French Quarter. Do New Orleans natives dread Mardi Gras because the city is invaded by tourists?

A lot of my friends are leaving town, and when I was growing up, my mom would take me to some of the parades but even she didn’t love it. As an adult, you kind of dread the mayhem. You get so many drunken crowds; people are here to party more than for the culture. This year is the perfect storm because we have the Super Bowl and Mardi Gras at the same time. It’s total mayhem.

But, while I know plenty of people that flee the city during one of the busiest times of the year, there are many, many more that embrace the occasion. People host Mardi Gras parties, flock to as many parades as possible, and, sometimes even spring for tickets to one of the big balls. Most New Orleanians don’t need a reason to let the good times roll.

What’s it like to live in the French Quarter during Mardi Gras? Are people vomiting and peeing in the streets?

Oh yeah, but sadly you see that here throughout the year. It’s just a bit more during Mardi Gras. Sometimes I just do not want to be on Bourbon Street. I’d rather walk on Royal Street, where you can still get the French Quarter atmosphere without being inundated by hawkers and drunks. But sometimes it is fun to walk down Bourbon Street and just feel the energy. Most people are having a really good time.

Do most of the tourists just turn up around Fat Tuesday or well before then?

The big crowds come for the last weekend because that’s when all the major super krewes run. Endymion is on Saturday night and Bacchus is Sunday night, and Monday is Orpheus. Orpheus is the one started by Harry Connick, Jr. and it has a music theme. And then on Mardi Gras Day, you have a ton of parades. The major ones are Rex, which is the king of Mardi Gras, and Zulu, that’s the African-American one that’s been around since the early 1900s. They pass out coconuts and it’s a little crazy.


When does the Mardi Gras season start?

Technically, it starts on January 6, Epiphany. But the parade season is usually the two weeks before Mardi Gras Day. The dates change every year, depending on when Easter is. Usually right after Christmas, we take down our Christmas decorations and put up our Mardi Gras decorations.

What advice do you have for first-time Mardi Gras visitors?

If they’ve never been before, coming on Mardi Gras weekend is a big deal because that’s when the super krewes roll. You get the celebrity grand marshals and the big floats and endless marching bands and that kind of stuff. But for people who just want to get a taste of the season, there are parades going on all the time. On Sunday, for example, there’s the Krewe of Barkus – it’s the dog parade and it’s really crazy.

It’s tough to get a room in the French Quarter for Mardi Gras. What other neighborhoods should people look into?

I don’t always encourage people to stay in the French Quarter. The French Quarter hotels tend to be a lot pricier and it’s harder to get rooms. The two neighborhoods on either side of the French Quarter – the Central Business District (CBD) and the Faubourg Marigny – are really good. CBD has a lot of chains so those places will be more reasonably priced. Faubourg Marigny has more intimate bed-and-breakfasts and it’s a little funkier, so it’s kind of a good New Orleans experience. It’s cheaper than the French Quarter but it’s still within walking distance.


And the Garden District?

That’s another good choice and it’s accessible via the St. Charles streetcar but because of the Super Bowl, everything is in disarray because they were repairing that line. But it’s still pretty easy to get from the Garden District to the heart of the city. Uptown is also a good choice. It has a combination of chain hotels and bed-and-breakfasts.

mardi gras beads new orleansWhat other tips do you have for first-time visitors?

New Orleans isn’t dangerous in the same way Rio is. But still, with the crowds and alcohol, you want to be careful. Travel in pairs. Watch out for pickpockets. People worry about the crime situation in New Orleans but just be careful where you go. The Quarter itself is relatively safe because there’s a big police presence. But right across Rampart Street, which borders one side of the quarter, you’re in Tremé, which is not very safe. Tourists wander off the beaten path when they’re drunk and that’s when they get mugged. Try to stay in places where you see plenty of people, and when in doubt about an area, just ask someone. Natives are very friendly here.

Tourists come here and they leave their inhibitions behind. People think that anything that happens here, stays here but it can be safe if you have your wits about you.

For those who want to experience Mardi Gras but are a little intimidated by the crowds and craziness in New Orleans, are there alternatives nearby?

There are parades in Metairie, which is a suburb of New Orleans, Slidell, which is another suburb that is much more family friendly. And beyond here, Lafayette has a big Mardi Gras celebration of its own. It’s about 2-1/2 to 3 hours away and it has a more Cajun vibe. And outside Louisiana, Mobile has a great Mardi Gras and it’s also pretty family friendly.

People do crazy things to get beads at Mardi Gras but these things are made in China. Why not just buy them?

Right, you can buy them wholesale. They are dirt-cheap, so it doesn’t make that much sense to me to expose myself to get them.

[Photo credits: Laura Martone, Infrogmation, Toast to Life, Mark Gstohl, Derek Bridges, and Tulane Public Relations on Flickr]

‘Riding Shotgun’ Reddit Series Rolls Into New Orleans

When last we posted about Zach Anner, it was to inform you that he and reddit had partnered up to launch an online series called “Riding Shotgun.” The premise is simple, albeit it a great example of next-gen multi-media. Zach, who has cerebral palsy and is confined to a wheelchair, travels to various domestic destinations and participates in activities, all culled from and selected by vote by reddit users.

If this sounds warped, it’s only because that’s how Zach rolls (pun intended). He’s handsome, funny, charming, and by his own admission, has lousy luck with women. The latest episode takes place in New Orleans. Zach and his crew visit legendary restaurant Antoine’s, and then go honky-tonkin’ at Tulane University dive The Boot. Check it out, below.


City Nicknames We’d Rather Not Hear

laundromatAs a native Californian, few things get on my nerves more than hearing the abbreviation, “Cali.” I don’t know why it irritates me so much, but I suspect it’s the knowing, insider-y tone that usually accompanies it. “Yeah, man, I just got back from a trip to Cali. It was hella cool.”

Aaargh. Also right up there is “Frisco.” Let me just tell you that Californians do not, ever, under any circumstances, refer to their state as “Cali,” nor “The City” as “Frisco.” San Francisco even famously had a laundromat called, “Don’t Call it Frisco.” I also dislike “Berzerkley,” “San Berdoo (San Bernadino)” and “The States (anyone in Hawaii referring to the Mainland).”

With these grating abbreviations in mind, I asked my Gadling colleagues what city nicknames bug them. The response was fast, furious and lengthy. Below, some highlights:

Anna Brones: Portlandia. Don’t even get me started.

Libby Zay: I personally hate “Hotlanta.” It’s also pretty annoying when people add “tucky” or “neck” as suffixes. As in, Fredneck, Maryland, or Brunstucky, instead of Brunswick, Ohio … I suppose Pennslytucky would be more of a geographic region.”

Author admission: Guilty as charged, Libby.

Kyle Ellison:Lost Wages,” for Las Vegas, and “N’awlins” for New Orleans.

Elizabeth Seward: It depends on the day whether or not these bug me. I wish I didn’t know so many. “Beantown”; “Chi-town”; “Sin City”; “Nasty Nati (Cinncinati)”, “C-town (Columbus)”; “SoBro (South Bronx, oy)”; “Marighetto (what locals call my hometown of Marietta)”; “City of Angeles”/”LaLaLand”/”Tinseltown”; “The Big Easy.”

Elizabeth, I promise to never refer to my hometown of Thousand Oaks as “Thousand Jokes” again.

McLean Robbins: “Naptown” for Annapolis and “The District” from anyone not a local to Washington, DC.

Meg Nesterov: Calling cities the Paris/Venice/X/ of the North/East, et al.

Sean McLachlan, resident history buff: Missouri is often called “Misery,” generally by outsiders from northern states and occasionally by frustrated Missourians. The term actually has old roots. The 18th century French settlers in Ste. Genevieve found the place so boggy and full of mosquitoes that they nicknamed it misère.

[Photo credit: Flickr user knitgrrldotcom]

5 Tips For Experiencing Toronto’s Changes

As the author of “Stroll: Psychogeographic Walking Tours of Toronto,” Shawn Micallef knows more corners of Toronto than most visitors will ever see. He can take a look around a neighborhood and pick out the new places in an instant. But newcomers may not know the difference. Here, Micallef offers his five tips for enjoying Toronto (with a little help from me).

  1. Hop on a street car. “It’s slow, it’s above ground, and the stops are every block. You can get off, walk a block, if you’re bored, get back on.” He advises picking one street – such as College, Queen, or Spadina – and riding it from end to end. An affordable way to do so is the Day Pass sold by the Toronto Transit System at all subway stations. Up to six people, with a maximum of two adults, can ride the system from the date on the pass until 5:30 a.m. the next day, meaning you can take a street car to sight see, dine out, and drink until bars close, if that’s your fancy.
  2. In the summer, go to the beach. The Toronto Islands are just a short ferry ride from downtown. The breathtaking view of the skyline is exchanged for a visit to cottage country, akin to a 1930s movie set. Toronto is proud of its eight Blue Flag beaches, recognized internationally for their cleanliness and safety. The islands are also home to Hanlan’s Point, a clothing optional choice, one of the few such public beaches in the country. “It’s all the weirdness of urban Toronto landing on a beach,” says Micallef.
  3. In the winter, go underground. Visitors to Toronto are often amazed when they venture down a staircase and find an entire city beneath the city. Underground Toronto stretches for 17 miles, from Front Street up to Yorkville. There are restaurants, shops, shoe repair stores, the basements of major department stores, parking garages, and more than 125 access points to buildings up above. “You could live down there,” he says, as a reporter for the Toronto Star did recently. Even if you don’t want to spend that much time, at the very least, it’s a pleasant short cut.
  4. Visit a market. Toronto has embraced farmers markets with gusto. During the height of the summer and fall harvests, there is a market somewhere every day of the week, with some starting at dawn and others in the evening. Because of its varied ethnic groups, Toronto markets range well beyond fruits, vegetables and cheese. I’ve tasted Thai influenced dumplings and salad, enjoyed Dutch pancakes and taken home vegan tarts. Don’t overlook the permanent St. Lawrence Market, either, where stalls are open six days a week. The Kensington Market area in Chinatown abounds with sights and smells, and newcomers from Latin countries and South Asia are adding their own contributions.
  5. Watch for contrasts. With neighborhoods shifting, you will find old school and new school right next door to each other. Conduct your own pub crawl or tea tastings. Sample baked goods from traditional and modern purveyors. And talk to the owners. Torontonians have the same friendliness found in Chicago and New Orleans. They’ll tell you what they think of what’s changing around them.

For more on “Toronto In Transition” click here

[Photo Credits: Micheline Maynard]