Tipping Apps Now Available

Determining the tip is often an awkward moment. We find ourselves trying to talk with friends, while attempting to determine in our head what the correct percentage is, while at the same time, evaluating the level of service. That may be a lot to do when engaged in conversation.   More often than not often, I’ve noticed that people just appear to “give up” and put down a number that seems appropriate. In fact, they may even remark about it saying… ” I hope this is right.”  This leads to over-tipping or under-tipping. Neither of which is good.

Now, there are apps available for download, which can provide you with exactly what you need in terms of determining the best tip.  These apps are easy to use, and take the pain out of the process. Anything that is easy to use, means that it will be used frequently. Some apps  even calculate tips for tabs that are being “split”. Now, that’s a crowd pleaser!

You just may want to add one of these to your smart phone. Certainly, I don’t want to catch you in a restaurant with your calculator.


5 Hotels/Resorts to Set Your Sights On for a Re-defined Staycation


Several years ago when the economy tanked, the notion of the “Staycation” became popular. People stayed at home, and found activities that they could do in their home town. That sounds like Sunday to me, with distractions.  The purpose of a vacation, no matter how small, is to allow you to relax, reguvenate your mind and spirit, and to allow you to return to your family, friends and work group a refreshed being, ready to tackle the multiplicities of today’s challenges.

So, I started thinking. Why do we have to have the Staycation as currently defined? Why can’t we have an “Expanded Staycation”, one where we are able to move beyond the perimeter of our own dwelling, and instead, take retreat in a local hotel or resort, or drive to one that is within 3-4 hours? The drive itself will be part of the winding down process.   The idea had endless possibilities. Instead of only one vacation a year that requires tireless planning, a person could have multiple Expanded Staycations throughout the year, that are purposed for family, girl friends, or special getaways for you and your spouse or special someone.

I selected fie (5) properties that are within an easy reach of metropolitan areas. Take a look at each location, and determine what strikes your fancy, and start planning your Expanded Staycation.

Photo courtesy of Kimpton Hotel
Photo courtesy of Kimpton Hotels
Photo courtesy of Kimpton Hotels
Photo courtesy of Kimpton Hotels

After a hard week, it’s time to call your spouse or significant other and say… “ Meet me in the city.” And the place to meet and stay is Ink48, a Kimpton Hotel. This chic boutique hotel, in the heart of Manhattan,  has everything that one might want or need to totally relax while enjoying the world’s cosmopolitan hub.  You will not be far from some of the favorite activities, the theatre district, shopping, that make it such a draw.  The hotel recognizes that the city is full of excitement and energy, and it aims to calm your spirit while giving credence to that foundation. Let’s start with its modern and open designed lobby area, which is referred to  as “the living room.” Gee, I wish my living room looked like this. The living room, is not just a lobby, it is actually a gathering place for the hotel guests. Throughout the day, guests  lay claim to comfortable chairs and couches to sit and read,  or to meet with others in nicely grouped seating areas. So, it really is a living room.  The guest rooms, with views of  the Hudson River, add to the sense of tranquility, with a soft color pallet of naturals with hints of yellow and red accents, and yoga  mats  provided  to help you start or end your day in the most peaceful manner. (This is a touch). For those who prefer pampering, the InkSpa is the perfect place to go. It is a full service spa, including hair salon. If you decide that you just want to have a great meal, look no further than the highly touted PRINT restaurant, serving farm-to-table menu selections. This is the place to come and experience a culinary delight. While on your Expanded Staycation, why not call some friends to meet you for drinks, and head to the 16th floor to the Press Lounge. This glass-enclosed space provides unsurpassed views of the city, while giving you the chance to relax, chat and get caught up. What a way to take in the city.

Lobby. Photo courtesy of: 21c Museum Hotels
Lobby. Photo courtesy of:
21c Museum Hotels
Photo courtesy of: 21c Museum Hotels
Photo courtesy of: 21c Museum Hotels

If you love art, and you wish to enhance your sense of culture and design then a stay at the  21c Museum Hotel in Cincinnati. Voted in 2014, #1 hotel in the mid-west by Conde Nast Traveller, it offers the perfect place for your Expanded Staycation. This boutique hotel is unique in that it  has a rotating art collection and situated next to the Contemporary Arts Center, and across the street from the Arnoff Center, in downtown.   Art relaxes the mind, body and spirit, and this hotel aims to please.  Everything about it speaks to well thought out design, from the muted color scheme and minimalist design to the extraordinary lighting, which in itself is like an extension of the art that is displayed.  As you go through the facility, you will find yourself stopping to stare and wonder for just a moment exactly where you are. The hotel has a very European feel to it. While at the 21c Museum Hotel, you need to make an appointment at The Spa at 21c.  There, the staff provides rejuvenating treatments that revive you and make you want to return. After attending a cultural event at the Aronoff, or going through the Contemporary Arts Center, you may feel like getting something to eat. What better place than the Metropole, where you will find fresh ingredients served from the open hearth kitchen. It’s a great place to dine and has a fun atmosphere.  The food is inventive, without being presumptuous. Weather permitting, perched atop the hotel is the Cocktail Terrace, where you can enjoy the view of the city and have specialty drinks. Now, it is time to return to your room, and enjoy the beauty and the simplicity of its design, and wish that some of the art was yours.

Photo courtesy of: French Lick Resort
Photo courtesy of: French Lick Resort
Photo courtesy of: French Lick Resorts
Photo courtesy of: French Lick Resort

Not far from Chicago, Cincinnati, Indianapolis, Louisville, or Lexington is French Lick ResortThis resort is spectacular. If you are looking for a place for the entire family, this is the resort to select.  There is something here for everyone. No one is left wanting. The resort has two fabulous hotels, The West Baden Hotel and the French Lick Hotel. The hotels are different in that the West Baden is opulent, and the French Lick Hotel is more of a standard hotel that appeals to families and groups. The rooms in each of the hotels are quite nice by any standard, approximately 450 square feet. If you elect to stay at the West Baden Hotel, ask for a room overlooking its 200′ atrium lobby.  Both hotels have their own restaurants,  swimming pools, retail shopping, and spas. The spas deserve special mention. The spas at French Lick Resort are well known because of their mineral springs. It is said that they have “healing power”.    There is a trolley so that guests may use to travel between the two hotels, although you can easily walk the grounds between the two.  You can select activities to choose from such as horseback riding, bowling, wine tasting, cooking lessons, movie night, biking, hiking.There are a total of three golf courses. A new Pete Dye golf course, which will host the SPGA in May,2015.  There is an 18 hole course, and a 9 hole links course. The latter is especially fun for families to play. There are walking trails, and a  multitude of fine dining to casual restaurants on the property. There is a casino, which offers entertainment,and concerts featuring top national talent. At the end of your stay, you’ll discover that you still didn’t get it all in. That just means you have to return to French Lick Resort.


Photo courtesy of: Lowes Hotels
Photo courtesy of: Loews Hotels

If you live in  the Southwest, there are many hotels and resorts from which to select,  but the one that stands out for me for an Expanded Staycation is the Loews Ventana Canyon Resort in Tucson. Rated by Travel and Leisure as one of the World’s Best Family Hotels, this resort has a lot to offer. Let’s start with the scenery, and the building architecture. As you can tell from the photo, the structure of the building blends in with its natural setting. Upon arrival, every aspect of what you see  makes you say, “Wow”. The resort is meant to keep you engulfed in the beauty of the Sonora dessert while experiencing casual  yet luxurious  styled accommodations. The rooms are spacious by most standards (450 square feet), and are decorated in a neutrals, punctuated with white.  If possible, try to score  a room with a mountain view. Remember, you are there to relax. Walking paths abound,and along the way you’ll discover the 80′ waterfall and the butterfly garden. For those who wish more strenuous activity (not me), try the  hiking and biking trails. The scenery is breath-taking.  There are tennis courts, 2 glorious pools, and an adult only serenity pool. For those who remember to bring their clubs, there are  2 Tom Fazio designed golf courses. You will remember playing these courses in years to come.  Take a “selfie” at hole 18 and send it to your friends with bragging rights.  End your day at the Lakeside Spa. You’ll need it to work out the kinks from all that exercising. Try dinner at the Flying V Bar & Grille, and don’t forget the table- side guacamole, (the best I’ve ever had)  and margaritas on the patio at sun set. Put your feet up, and think  about how life is fine.

Photo courtesy of: Mandalay Bay Resorts
Photo courtesy of: Mandalay Bay Resorts
Photo courtesy of: Mandalay Bay Resorts
Photo courtesy of: Mandalay Bay Resorts

If you live in or around the LA basin, and you’re looking to get away to re-charge your batteries, why not go to Vegas.  The Delano, Las Vegas   is a sanctuary in a town filled with energy, entertainment and vices. It is considered a boutique hotel, although it is 43 stories high.  What you receive at this large golden tower is unparrelled design and service. You certainly know that you have “arrived” when you step into the Delano. You can hear yourself saying… “Well Aw right, Aw right!” It’s an all suite hotel. The suites are very spacious (725 square feet) and beautifully decorated in muted natural tones, with their iconic floor to ceiling  white flowing drapes. The ambiance is just what you need to feel relaxed and renewed. There’s an on-site spa to keep you in the mood.  You will not find a casino in this hotel. If you wish to gamble, you will need to go  elsewhere. If you are a foodie, then the Delano is your spot. Alain Ducasse has created a new venue  called Mix at the Delano, an inventive restaurant, with chef Bruno Riou,  which offers  exquisite food and a significant wine selection (5,000 bottles). One might think this is the place for special occasions, but I would say that if you are there, then that is the occasion.  The hotel also offers an elegantly decorated  lounge for drinks, the Franklin Lounge, a great place for meeting friends or simply having a specialty cocktail.  If you go to the Delano, don’t forget to pack your most fashionable outfit. Someone may want to take your picture.

5 Tips When Using Airbnb

There have recently been a number  of stories about the Sharing Economy, and the leader in this growing travel space is Airbnb. (Read more at the end of this article). It’s a trend, but is it meant for everyone? Is it meant for you? I wanted to find out if it was meant for me.

I wasn’t  familiar  with Airbnb, until speaking with a friend who had just returned from two weeks in Europe. She showed me photos of where she stayed in Paris, and I became excited about the possibilities,but thought, that was Paris. What types of properties will I find here in the United States? Am I ready to stay in someone’s home?

Airbnb is easy to navigate; but after spending a bit of time on the site, I discovered a few things that I could do that would help me get closer to what I wanted for my vacation. Most of the properties  are ones that people are using for investment purposes. They range from the basic to the extravagant. It was fun to look at the pictures, but first I had to determine, where I wanted to go. I selected Montreal.

The inventory of properties that the site displayed for Montreal was tremendous. The best thing about Airbnb is that you are getting a lot more space, (in my case an entire apartment) for less than the cost of one night stay in a good hotel. The excitement started to build. I must have spent a couple of hours on the site. I was like a kid with a new toy, moving about the site, looking at the pictures and imaging myself in the location. After almost wearing myself out, I settled upon a modern apartment with a garden. The idea of a garden just seemed too good to pass up. I could envision myself having morning coffee, and drinks in the evening. That’s the magic of Airbnb. They sell the “fantasy” of where you are going to be staying. If this works out, who knows, it may be difficult for me to go  back to a stodgy hotel. Actually, not really. I still need access to a great restaurant, spa and a golf course. But using the sharing economy does offer an alternative that should be explored and used from time to time. Here are my tips for using the site.

1   Know what type of property you want. Use the filters The site has individual homes, condos, villas, apartments all for sharing. It is essential before you begin that you have an idea as to the type of property best fits your travel needs. I recommend spending some time within the category that you select, and then further narrowing your focus. For example, you may decide that you want a condo, but you don’t want to be in a high-rise building. Or, you want to be in a house with a garden or back yard, or across from the beach. Make sure that you complete the section on amenities, particularly if you are looking for parking, or fitness areas

2.   Scrutinize the photos  The photos are what “sell” you on the property. You can tell the owners who have used a professional service for the photos from those who took their own photos with their phone and uploaded to the site. Look at each photo carefully. Are there things in the photo that seem out of place, or strange? I have seen nice properties where  dirty laundry appears in the photo. Ok, what’s that about? I’m not your mother coming for a stay. The photos tell a story about what you might expect so examine them with a watchful eye.

3.  Carefully screen the reviews The reviews are the lifeblood of the Airbnb business, but make sure that you read as many of the reviews as possible, even the negative reviews. I tend to look closely at the reviews that talk about how the unit was managed, its cleanliness, its furnishings,etc. I pay very close attention to any review that speaks negatively about the area in which the unit/house is located, or its general appearance. Any mention of bugs or untidiness is a definite “no” for me, no matter how many positive reviews exist. Pay attention to traveler’s experience with parking or amenities at the location. Look for signs of whether or not there were issues with travelers using services, such as swimming, gyms, or gates, if a gated community.

4.  Pay attention to the Owner Profile & Reviews The Owner Profile provides you with a glimpse of  the owner and their background, but the key information comes from the owner reviews. When you are reading reviews, you will see a number of comments about the owner. From the reviews, you will get a sense of the owner’s involvement in the property, their personality, and general character. This is all important because you want to make sure that the owner’s personality and style is one that matches yours. For example, there are some owners who greet guests with flowers, stay to show them around, and generally make themselves available.There are others who leave a key with a designated person, and a list within the venue of contact numbers. Both forms of communications may be operating at the extremes for your particular taste. Find the style that is best for you and fits your needs.

5.  Check the total fees  What may appear like a deal, may not be a deal at the end of the transaction. That is because the total may include fees for housekeeping, lodging, etc. These fees tend to vary by location and type of property. So check the fee before you hit that “submit” button.

Read how Airbnb is making it easier to click to that perfect spot that most closely fits our dream vacation. It is gathering data on our preferences. Read more about how the company is using data in an effective way. http://www.businessinsider.com/airbnb-data-analysis-2015-2















Luxury Suites in Europe Come At Hefty Price

Just when I was about to plan a trip to Europe, I read the following article. I will keep to my plan. Look for my next post on the Sharing Economy, and see how I plan to live like a rock star, at moderate prices.

But for now, it is fun to dream…


Those Pesky Hotel Phones, Thing of the Past?

No matter how nice your room is, the hotel phone, which  travelers occasionally need to use to contact staff, is the one area that most of us look at with some level of trepidation. I know that we try to wipe it down, spray it, or simply pray over it in hopes that we don’t end up with a virus left from the previous visitor.

Enter technology.It’s the newest trend in new hotels. Brands like IHG, which now includes the Kimpton Hotels, Delano and Starwoods are all beginning to utilize some form of technology to enhance communications. In some cases, IHG, is using in their  Holiday Inns, apps for travelers that will open the door, thereby allowing the guest to bypass the Front Desk. The Kimpton Hotels use IPhone docking stations, with built in surround sound, to ensure that guests get the full quality of their music in their room.  The Delano in Las Vegas put in an upgraded phone into its posh hotel, that has a USB port on the side, so that you don’t have to look for a place to “plug in”. Starwoods, in some of its newer properties, is experimenting with apps that can allow the traveler to communicate with the Front Desk, room service, valet, make reservations, and control the TV, and music in the room.

These are all tremendous advances, but don’t look for that phone to disappear quite yet. This is just the start of the trend. So keep your wipes handy.

The oldest existing Caribbean resort is also home to one of the top beaches…in the world.

Since most of the United States is in a deep freeze, this location, sounds like a winner.

Destinations Of Distinctions

I don’t know about you but there’s something magical about a place that boasts stories of a 18th century mansion perched on a cliff, where stairs were carved from the rock allowing sea bathers the chance to cool off in the calm Caribbean waters below.

What about a place where “Wild Bill” Hickock stayed and left his gold chain as payment for his room charges. A small commercial port was also developed in the area, and a ‘crane’ was added where the hotel currently sits to allow for raising and lowering of cargo.

Seems very “Pirates of the Caribbean” doesn’t it?

A true nostalgic monument, The Crane Barbados is steeped in history and intrigue that is sure to delight each of its many passing guests. The 260 suites have all been modeled after the original mansion, Marine Villa.

Rich mahogany furnishings, coral stone floor-to-ceiling walls and teak-wood jalousie shutters all…

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Hotel Rates On the Rise

We know that airfares have increased, and even though gas prices are down, the prices of airline  tickets have not decreased. Now, a recent study shows that hotel rates increased in 2014, and are predicted to continue to rise in coming years.


In high demand locations, some rates are already teetering on the  high side, showing per night stays between  $ 750.00-$1,500.00.  And travelers are coming through paying the rates. This is happening because of a supply and demand. It’s starting to feel out of control. Does this mean that we must give up on the type of property or brand that we enjoy,  and essentially downgrade due to rising costs? I don’t think so.

Be willing to express your needs and exercise your negotiation skills. I believe it will require that we begin to think in terms of the total experience, and not how much we are paying per night. If you can work with the manager of the hotel on a room upgrade, spa deal, or some benefit, it will make the cost palatable. In the end, we all just want to have a good time.

5 Tips for planning an “Outstanding Getaway.”

Now, is the time to begin to plan for that great weekend trip, but often we are unsure as to the steps that will ensure that we get what we want. The 5 tips shown here are the ones that I have used consistently with success. Feel free to add to this listing as you travel.

1. Go in the shoulder season. Everyone thinks that you have to travel  when the industry tells us to. Remember, that’s just marketing. The “shoulder season” is a great time to go to all the places that you wish to explore. One reason is that you will find that it is less crowded, but not desolate, and the rates at hotels are substantially reduced.  Just make sure that you are not scheduling during hurricane season.

2. View the location’s calendar to see their rates.  This can represent an enormous savings for you, particularly if you’re planning to stay several days. Most people don’t think of this, and simply plug in their dates and a rate comes up, and they make their decision based upon that. Also, when you’re looking at the rate, look at the total, and not just the daily rate. Some hotels have extra fees that will cause the total amount to be more than you think. This is called, “when a deal is not a deal.”

 3. Call the hotel directly. Always, and I do mean, always be willing to contact the hotel directly to see if they have a rate that is better than that which is displayed online. Ask if they have a better rate than that which is shown. If that doesn’t work, don’t give up. Use one of the following: (a) Praise them for being an outstanding property and tell them how much you want to stay there. Then stop talking. Usually, the silence will help the person to move into action to get you a better (b)Tell them that you stay with this brand frequently, but not just at this hotel. Ask if  there anything that they can do, so that you can have the experience? They will view  you as brand loyal, and this usually works.

4. Upgrade the class of hotel. This is an important feature that many are afraid to use. The fear is how much you will have to pay, but my feeling is the difference in quality and service is substantial enough that you will want to make the upgrade. Pinch your pennies elsewhere on your trip. You will not be disappointed in the upgrade. Higher level hotels have more amenities and they are more willing to provide services that you don’t experience at other hotels. Anyway, it’s your “getaway trip.” Treat yourself.

5. Schedule an activity that you know you really enjoy.  This involves talking to the concierge so that you can get tickets to concerts, events, or needed appointments scheduled.  Don’t just play golf, take a golf lesson from one of the pros. Ask the concierge about a great place to eat, and be willing to try  that new hot restaurant that just opened. Whatever the activity, do something that will be memorable, for which you will speak of for years to come.

Use these tips to plan your next getaway. Take photos and let me know what amazing things happened on your “getaway.”

Newest Trend: The Lifestyle Brand Hotel is Waiting For You

It wasn’t that long ago that you could identify the type of hotel that you were considering by the brand. The brand had a definitive market, and we as the consumer knew exactly where we fit into it. Then, the hotels began to segment the brands, which made it a bit more interesting, but at the same time confusing.

The newest trend is the “Lifestyle brand,” which essentially means that the particular hotel associated with the brand, has its own unique look and feel of the community, and neighborhood in which it resides. It’s taking us further down the path of personalization. Several major hoteliers have entered this market. Each with their own take on design, culture, and the approach to appealing to the consumer’s needs. Some properties are casual, while others are luxurious. The trick is to find the brand that best fits your personality and lifestyle choices. Here are just a few of the brands that have recently entered the market and are making a difference in the traveling experience.

Lowes with their OE Collection. This collection is initiating in Toronto later this year, and falls more towards the luxury end of the scale, but does a nice job of blending both business and luxury into the experience.  Hilton has elected to get into this market with a new brand called Canopy, that appears to be geared to those who enjoy an easy lifestyle. It will be interesting to see how this  brand does with its Curio brand that was introduced at the end of 2014. Canopy hotels are slated to open around the US later this year.  Marriott has the AC Hotels  which were primarily in Spain, Portugal and Italy but has expanded to New Orleans, Kansas City and Miami.  Hyatt  Centric Hotels are a modern urban experience and are due to open in 2015,  and the Ritz Carlton  has  The Reserve. The Reserves are strategically located  in four (4) locations around the world, with each deploying a lifestyle that is “fabulous.”

So, how do you make your selection. The brands have made it simple. There is something for every taste, price point, to accommodate your travel and vacation needs, from relaxation, high volume activity, to a place to meet with business associates.  The choice is yours. Let your lifestyle be heard. Enjoy.

I will add a menu selection on this blog that will post hotel openings around the world in this category. Check for your favorite.

Looking for a Romantic Holiday?

Romantic vacationCredit: The Huffington Post

Look no further than the outstanding places to stay around the world listed by the Huffington Post. The locations are so fantastic that they are not limited to the month of February. Anytime that you show up with your very special person makes it a romantic occasion.

See if you can find the place that is best for you. If not, perhaps it will provide you with some ideas that you can request at your favorite spot that is closer to home. Never be afraid to ask.