Celebrities go to sea, some stay

Celebrities go to sea all the time it seems. Martina McBride performed a short concert on Royal Caribbean’s Voyager of the Seas in New Orleans Saturday. Last weekend, Maroon 5 rocked Galveston with Carnival Cruise Line’s new Carnival Magic as a backdrop. Other acts from Kid Rock to Dancing with the Stars contestants host themed cruises, allowing fans up-close-and-personal time like never before. Now, celebrities are lending their names to onboard venues that will stay with cruise ships long after the stars have gone home. It’s all part of a branding effort by cruise lines to gain favor with the public as never before and travelers are clearly gaining as a result.

Saturday’s Martina McBride concert to welcome Royal Caribbean’s Voyager of the Seas was not the first time the cruise line has used star power to welcome a new ship. Stars from Reba McEntire to Rhianna have been on board to bring in new potential travelers, reward those already booked and help define the Royal Caribbean brand as current and relevant.

“We are particularly delighted to have Martina McBride help us celebrate our return to New Orleans with an exclusive concert aboard Voyager of the Seas.”Royal Caribbean International senior vice president of marketing Betsy O’Rourke said.

The concert was free to Royal Caribbean’s past and invited guests, adding a whole lot of value for those booked to sail after the concert. Such was also the case in Galveston, Texas last week as GRAMMY award-winning band Maroon 5 played a standing room only crowd dockside to welcome Carnival Magic to the port. This one catered to a more engaged crowd as thousands of fans took advantage of free tickets being distributed by Carnival via their Facebook page, senior cruise director John Heald‘s blog and selected Texas radio stations.
“We wanted to do something big and memorable to mark Carnival Magic’s U.S debut and what better way to celebrate than to bring together fans of music and fans of Carnival, along with our partners in Galveston, for an exceptional afternoon of fun and entertainment,” Carnival Cruise Lines‘ president and CEO Gerry Cahill said.

A similar level of engagement at Carnival has resulted in what they call their Funship 2.0 initiative, a $500 million transformation of the line’s onboard experience. Introduced in New York last month, this is way more than a makeover and way more than a dry-dock remodeling project. Carnival is bringing in heavy hitters and time-tested concepts in an attempt blow away the competition, at no additional charge to their passengers.

It’s all about the burgers

First up, Food Network star Guy Fieri, has developed a burger venue called Guy’s Burger Joint featuring gourmet, made-to-order burgers with a variety of toppings. There will be not hockey puck-like burgers here.

Fieri’s influence goes beyond the burger recipe too. Condiment stations will feature a suggested menu developed by the chef to show guests what condiments and toppings they can use to build a specialty burger. In addition to burgers, Guy’s Burger Joint will serve fresh, hand-cut French fries prepared on board.

A variety of innovative condiments from chipotle mayonnaise and a special barbecue sauce to garlic aioli and three hot sauces, will be available at self-serve condiment stations. For guests who like a little more spice, seasonings like garlic and herb, sea salt and hot chili also will be offered, along with a selection of toppings such as sautéed mushrooms, grilled onions, blue cheese crumbles and vine-ripened tomatoes.

Comedy is king

Carnival is also teaming up with comedian and TV personality George Lopez who will become the cruise line‘s creative director for comedy as Carnival introduces the Punchliner Comedy Clubs Presented by George Lopez.

“Carnival’s ships offer a huge audience that truly appreciates comedic performances and the on-board clubs are fantastic,” said Lopez. “I intend to help build and nurture an understanding among up-and-coming comedic talent that these ships represent a phenomenal environment to work and gain experience.”

Through the partnership, Carnival ships will feature a Lopez comedy routine shown on in-cabin televisions fleetwide and pre-recorded introductions by Lopez at comedy club shows, as well as a new Punchliner Comedy Brunch that will be offered on sea days. Lopez will also partner with the line on a comedy-themed consumer contest in 2012.

Lopez is seriously into the concept too. In an interview on Cruise Radio, Lopez detailed his involvement saying “I will bring people from television and movies and that will make it better. You start to see people on the ship that you have seen in movies and that makes it fun, that’s a great surprise,” adding “I will be performing on the ships occasionally myself which I am excited about”.

Celebrity DJ to the rescue

DJ IRIE, song master to the stars and the official DJ of the Miami HEAT, will develop a first-of-its-kind DJ academy at sea that will train all Carnival DJs across the “Fun Ship” fleet. The DJ IRIE Spin’iversity will bring an exciting new vibe to the line’s legendary nightclubs, deck parties and beyond.

“Miami HEAT games are known for their high-energy and non-stop fun created by DJ IRIE and we want to tap into his unique skills and passion for music to create an unforgettable atmosphere on board,” said Mark Tamis, Carnival’s senior vice president of guest operations. “Music is the soundtrack of our lives and our goal is to create an emotional experience for our guests through the right mix of terrific music and a DJ with a unique personality who can energize a crowd.”

Whether spinning in clubs in Miami or Las Vegas, at a sporting event or hosting his popular South Florida radio show, the internationally known DJ IRIE has mastered the art of bringing a crowd to its feet and pumping up the energy and excitement.

Through his new DJ IRIE Spin’iversity, a comprehensive training program, IRIE will train Carnival’s DJs how to read a crowd and tailor song selections from every musical genre, appealing to guests of all ages. He will also instruct DJs on how to make maximum use of their own personality and energy to create their own persona and build popularity among guests to develop a fan following.

And it’s free

An important point to note: None of this costs extra. Other lines have piled on upscale dining venues, entertainment options and other pay-as-you-go choices with mixed results. Carnival is adding all this and more at no additional cost to their guests.

First ever Wolfgang Puck restaurant in Europe to open at 45 Park Lane

The celebrity chef with the magic touch is making his way to London, and the Dorchester Collection is rolling out the red carpet for his arrival. The hotel group announced they will be opening the first Wolfgang Puck restaurant in Europe to the London dining scene with the opening of ‘CUT at 45 Park Lane’, a modern American steak restaurant at the distinctive 45 Park Lane hotel.

Scheduled to open in spring 2011, Wolfgang Puck will bring his famous CUT concept to London for foodies to feast on. With a menu featuring everything from prime dry and wet aged beef, to pan-roasted lobster and sautéed and roasted whole fish, the options are endless when Puck is in the kitchen. Of course, no menu is complete without an international wine list, which will be hand-selected to accompany the menu items.

Located in Mayfair, 45 Park Lane is one of London’s most revered boutique hotels. Each of the hotel’s 45 rooms (which include suites and one penthouse) have views of Hyde Park. CUT at 45 Park Lane will occupy the ground floor of the hotel alongside Bar 45, with seating for approximately 30 additional guests.

Can’t you just taste the excitement?

Veterans blocked from Wolfgang Puck restaurant in Dallas

Okay, it has to be hard to turn a nonagenarian away from a restaurant, right? How about one who’s a decorated World War II hero who spent two years in a POW camp and five of his buddies? Well, this is what happened at the up-market Five Sixty restaurant, a Wolfgang Puck property in Dallas.

Their transgression: failing to meet the dress code.

The vets were holding their annual reunion; they were survivors of the “Black Thursday,” a 1943 German bombing mission. If bending the rules is ever warranted, these are the guys who have earned it. Yet, clad in baseball caps, shorts and POW t-shirts, they weren’t able to strike the necessary pose to get in.

According to USA Today:

“I figure if I spent two years in a POW camp, I could have handled the privilege of sitting in that fancy restaurant a few minutes,” said 93-year-old Jay Coberly, a member of the Second Schweinfurt Memorial Association and a bombardier with the decorated 8th Army Air Force, known as the Mighty 8th. “We’ve been all over the country, and we’ve never had this kind of problem. Dallas must be a first-class town.”

The restaurant has, unsurprisingly, taken action, sending the vets two bottles of Scotch, a written apology and an invitation come back to Five Sixty. The group isn’t going to take the offer, though, reports USA Today: “We were humiliated once,” she said, “so I don’t think they have any interest in stepping back in there.”

[photo by respres via Flickr]

Los Angeles’ L.A. Live luxury complex isn’t always alive

Los Angeles’ spectacular L.A. Live development, cleverly planted by the city’s convention center near the interchange of the 10 and the 110, cost a reported $2.5 billion to construct. Its two marquee hotels, a Ritz-Carlton (123 rooms, opened in April) and a J.W. Marriott (878 rooms, opened in February), represent two of the more appealing national luxury brands, and their placement in an eye-catching, bowed skyscraper was tactical, designed to attract convention-goers and concert VIPs.

It’s bustling on nights when there are events at the adjoining Staples Center and the Nokia Theatre. It also hosts the cinema where Eclipse recently held its premiere.

But on other nights, like the ones when I was there, the party shuts down. At L.A. Live, the energy level is all-or-nothing.The hotels aren’t the problem. They’re fairly well-designed, the rooms and corridors spacious, and with terrific views of downtown and beyond. The Ritz’s spa is a fantasia of all-white decor, while the vertical aspirations of the J.W.’s lobby feel akin to a mod 1960s airport terminal. In all, despite the volume of people they can collectively serve, the hotels were a welcome, private respite from the tumult down below on the tough and cluttered grid of Southern California.

I did experience some minor hiccups during my stay, though: My coffeemaker at the J.W. didn’t work and my requests for repair were ignored. There are also a few notable, but not fatal, flaws, the biggest being the private but large pool decks for the J.W. (4th floor) and the Ritz (28th floor) are both in the shade of the connected 54-story condo tower by the middle of a mid-summer afternoon. The $38 parking charge was dizzying, but at least the subterranean lot was so roomy it could eat countless other L.A. structures for breakfast.

The Ritz-Carlton’s 24th-floor restaurant and lounge, WP24 by Wolfgang Puck, should be one of the most alluring nighttime watering holes in the city, given its sumptuous panorama of downtown Los Angeles and the poor suckers laboring along the 110 freeway. But when I showed up at 10 p.m., primed for a martini overlooking the skyline, I was told it was closed for the night. The economics of the L.A. Live project are so immense that tenants are interested only in blockbuster crowds, not off-night scene-making.

It was a shame to seek a martini elsewhere when I was staying in something purported to be a full-service entertainment citadel, but now, L.A. Live is designed to feed guaranteed crowds, not draw its own.

The situation in the rest of the complex, connected to the hotels, wasn’t better. On one of the nights of my stay, the Trader Vic’s began closing at 9 p.m., the same time as the mall in many small towns. But the two hotels’ smart and glassy decor and full-service détente had made me feel urban and chic, and I wanted a highbrow cocktail to suit the mood they put me in. Almost every L.A. Live nightspot was closing, except the sports bar, and I wasn’t in the mind of onion rings.

Rather than settle for the no-view hotel lobby bar at the J.W. Marriott (stylish as it is), I ended up having to leave L.A. Live and search for style on the mean streets of downtown L.A. There, I found the nightlife I was looking for at Seven Grand (a hip and dusky whiskey bar), Rivera (artisan cocktails and modern Latin plates), and Hank’s (a lost-in-time dive bar often populated with tipsy solo men and, on my night, a young gay trust funder and his smitten female BFF).

It was a shame to have to seek a martini elsewhere when I was staying in something that purportedly was constructed to be a full-service entertainment citadel, but right now, L.A. Live is designed to feed guaranteed crowds, but not draw its own, and until that changes, it won’t truly establish itself on the landscape.

That may not be much of a loss, since downtown Los Angeles is one of the most underrated and history-rich central business districts that middle-class Americans have ever ignored. For me, being near downtown L.A. is a one of the most important reasons to choose to stay at L.A. Live.

But if I were a local, I’d never risk heading to L.A. Live unless I had an event ticket in hand, even if it meant battling the influx. The development will never be integral to the Los Angeles nightlife until it jumps the hurdle between serving only guaranteed audiences and offering something distinctive that can be accessed anytime. That’s quite a leap to make if you’re a cynical developer who aligns his goals by his predicted market share and not by a distinctive vision.

Chicago airport food FAIL – and what’s safe to eat

If you or your loved ones are traveling for the holidays and those travels take you through either of Chicago’s airports, you need to read this.

If you thought airport food was gross before, you ain’t seen nothin’ yet. At Midway airport in Chicago, an investigator recently found toxic black mold in the ice being served, and there was rat hair in a sandwich at O’Hare.

The big offenders:
Lalo’s – repeatedly stores their meat at unsafe temperatures, and the drinking water may be tainted.
Luigi Stefani’s – where they found the black mold, as well as unsafe sandwiches. Luigi Stefani’s failed health inspections in 2005 and 2006.
Reggio’s Pizza Express – failed three inspections since 2007 for various violations including the coolers not working.
The Doghouse – meat and cheese at unsafe temperatures.
Chili’s – failed four inspections in the last three years and is suspected of giving multiple travelers E. coli.
Manchu Wok – two failures since 2006.
Wolfgang Puck – two cooks with open sores on their hands.

Even Gate Gourmet, who makes the airplane food, has repeatedly failed inspections due to insects, rodents, and unsafe temperatures. There’s a lot of hot meat in Chicago.

Basically? If you have to eat something on the plane or at the airport, choose prepackaged items that could not be made toxic by being stored at an unsafe temperature, and stick to bottled water.

Be careful, because getting sick could ruin your trip.

[via cbs2chicago]