What Do You Get A Blog For Its First Birthday?

A momentous occasion (to indulge in a little rank hyperbole) would have passed quietly Blog's first birthdaywithout notice today had I not received this congratulatory, albeit terse, note from the folks at WordPress headquarters, (reputed to be located in a bunker buried deep in the Ural mountains).  The message read simply, “Happy Anniversary with WordPress.com.”

It is hard to believe that one year ago today an impoverished world was struggling along without benefit of my accumulated wisdom, wry wit and effervescent charm.  Planet earth must have seemed a very grim and dreary place back then.   Thankfully, one of the seven muses (nine according to some antiquarians . . . nothing is ever straightforward, is it?) arose from a long slumber and showered their inspiration on your humble blogger.  OK, perhaps it was more like a light dusting but let’s not quibble on such an august occasion.

English: United States Postal Service headquar...

United States Postal Service headquarters at L’Enfant Plaza in Washington, D.C. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

I am sure, even as I pen these words, burlap bags full of well wishes, congratulatory cards and letters and even a few modest tangible expressions of appreciation are being sorted and loaded by our friends over at the U.S. Postal Service.  The fact that none have as yet arrived must be attributable to the voluminous increase in mail that always surrounds Father’s Day. (That was sarcasm in case it escaped you.)

To be perfectly frank, I have not achieved all the lofty goals I set for this blog one year ago today.  I am not able to report my 10 millionth visitor nor have I been asked to write the travel blog for USA Today.   What I can report is one of the strangest phenomenons associated with blogging.  To date my blog posts have been read by people in 104 different countries around the world.  Seriously!  When you consider that my quirky sense of humor escapes the appreciation of some people in my own family, you have to wonder how comprehensible it could possibly be to people in Malta, Albania, Senegal, Macao and French Polynesia to name just a few.

I have written 61 posts, each a veritable classic it goes without saying.  If you are doing 40 years to life in San Quentin and need a way to make some time pass (granted very slowly), just jump over to my What Did I Miss? page and you will find a complete listing.

I have somehow managed to persuade several otherwise reasonably sane individuals to let me interview them for this blog such as Vicki Freed, Michael Batt and John Heald.

Royal Caribbean's Vicki Freed        Mike Batt         John Heald Carnival Cruise Senior Cruise Director

Since so far I have not been sued in a court of law or made to do a perp walk through the county courthouse, I suppose I will keep plodding along in my inimitable mind numbing way until either the muses abandon me or my frustrated maker cries “Enough already!”  You are invited to register your reaction to this self-congratulatory epistle by taking the poll below.

River Cruising: A Languid Stroll Down Liquid Highways

There is a very good reason that so many great cities, not only in Europe but throughout the world, are found alongside some of the world’s most majestic rivers.  Before relatively recent times, challenging terrain posed many obstacles to travel over land.  In the rivers, however, the merchants found ready-made highways to transport their goods and thus these cities sprung up as inland ports-of-call.  River cruising is capitalizing upon this reality and rapidly becoming one of the hottest vacation options in travel.

View from the Viking HelvetiaA couple of years ago I was fortunate enough to experience a truly magnificent river cruise aboard the Viking Helvetia.  We sailed from Amsterdam to Basel mostly along the Rhine River.  Part of what made the experience so enjoyable was that I was sauntering along with eighty or so of my closest friends.  You are no doubt shocked I would have 80 casual acquaintances much less that many close friends.

Viking River Cruise Excursion

The wheels on the bus go round and round.

You might be surprised to learn how much natural affinity there is between us like-minded, quirky travel folks.  We tend to congregate in large clusters, kind of like the Amish but without the beards . . .  and the foggiest notion of what’s appropriate in public, of course.  Actually I count the folks in this picture among my dear friends. At least I did before I published this candid shot on the internet without their permission where it will linger in some dank corner of cyberspace for all eternity.  Flip’s not really driving.  It just sort of looks that way.

I discovered that there are a whole host of things I like about river cruising, first and foremost being the leisurely pace.  Someone like my fellow blogger Lesley Carter over at Bucket List Publications, a frequenter of these pages, God love her,  would probably have to parasail behind the ship upside down, blindfolded and tethered to concertina wire just to stay awake.  Check out her blog to see what I mean.

However, for those of us for whom an adrenaline rush is defined as sipping a mellow Malbec in a dimly lit room, it is ideal.   When you are trying to absorb several hundred years of European history through the bar’s gigantic picture window, even five knots an hour seems like wave running.  Captain, can’t you slow this thing down a bit!

Archimedes' screws in Amsterdam

Giant Archimedes’ screws

Our first stop was in Kinderdijk where we did a windmill excursion.  If you have ever wondered how they move water around in a country which is largely below sea level check out these gigantic Archimedes’ screws.  Those of you who are expecting one of my typical crude attempts at humor will have to wait a sentence or two.  I’m not touching this one.

Just to prove I actually was in The Netherlands, here is one of many windmills dotting the landscape.  And no, dear skeptics out there, I did not photoshop the third hole at my local miniature golf course.  Windmill in KinderdijkI can tell by your drooping eyelids that I am not going to be able to hold your attention all the way to Basel.  Therefore I have made an editorial decision, seeing as I am what passes for an editor around here, to return next post with more of my heart-throbbing river adventures.  I have decided to do this just for the  Helvetia of it.  (Now there’s the kind of pathetic pun you have come to expect from your humble blogger.)

Have you ever been on a river cruise?  After reading this scintillating post, would you like to?  Check it out here. At you own languid pace, of course!

Two Provocative Travel Insights From G.K. Chesterton

Writer

Writer (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

You are to be altogether forgiven if the initials G.K.C. strike no immediate chord with you. Let me assure you, however, that there was a time in the early twentieth century when those initials at the conclusion of an essay or newspaper article (mere initials being the customary byline of the time) guaranteed a thoughtful reading by the literate class across the entire English-speaking world.   As my title reveals, those initials stand for the English journalist, novelist and essayist, Gilbert Keith Chesterton.

Chesterton was, and still is, one of the world’s most quoted individuals.   You would be doing yourself an immense and pleasurable favor to Google “G. K. Chesterton quotes” and spend a little time perusing any of the several sites that come up.   Today, however, I want to call your attention to two particular quotes.  The first offers an insight into the proper approach to travel and the second reveals the single greatest benefit of traversing the planet.

“The traveler sees what he sees. The tourist sees what he has come to see.”

When we pack to go on a trip we all pack two kinds of items:

Picture from ATTitude

Picture from ATTitude

1)  We consciously pack every tangible item we think we might need.  (In my case, unfortunately, that tends to be everything I could conceivably need in any climate under any set of foreseeable or unforeseeable circumstances resulting in baggage fees equal to the GDP of small nations.  Don’t even ask about the ladies’ lingerie or the bunny.)

2)  We subconsciously pack an invisible suitcase with intangible items such as every expectation, preconceived notion,  prejudice, and misconception we have ever harbored regarding our destination.

This practice, of which we are almost all guilty to some extent, makes us very vulnerable to seeing only that which we expect and plan to see.  As G. K .C. astutely suggests, a true traveler manages to removed the filtered sunglasses of expectation and absorbs reality as he or she encounters it.  As G. K .C. once remarked of some of his contemporaries, ““It isn’t that they can’t see the solution. It is that they can’t see the problem.”  The best way to ensure you are a traveler and not a tourist, is to recognize this growth inhibiting problem and determine that you are going to travel more like a wide-eyed child than a jaded know-it-all.

“The whole object of travel is not to set foot on foreign land; it is at last to set foot on one’s own country as a foreign land.” 

This quote demands a little more reflection.  It seems paradoxical to the first which is hardly surprising since every fan of G. K .C. knows he is often referred to as the “prince of paradox.”  He believed that if you really wanted to see something clearly you could do that best by standing on your head.

Tourist

Picture from Anna Maria Island Realtor

We are all so immersed in our own culture that it practically never occurs to us to question anything about it.  They say a fish does not know there is any such thing as water.  What envelopes you, largely gets ignored.  Ah, but when you travel to a distant land (remember, as a traveler, not a tourist!), suddenly everything seems strange and . . . well . . . foreign.

When we return home, especially after an extended stay, suddenly we notice all sorts of things we had heretofore taken totally for granted.

Why do we drive on the right?  Why do we switch hands with our forks?  Why do we use Fahrenheit?  What is the big bleeping deal with soccer (OK, football everywhere else) anyway.?  Why don’t we have a Parliament?  You mean all women don’t shave under their arms???  You mean all male children aren’t circumcised???

If Socrates was right that the unexamined life is not worth living, then one of the best ways to re-examine all your core beliefs is to travel somewhere with a radically different culture and a markedly different perspective.

Finally, apologies to those who regularly tune in expecting to find a more liberal sprinkling of silliness often topped off by a shot of stupidity, straight up.  Ever so often I feel compelled to write a relatively sane post to restore a modicum of credulity and decorum to this blog.  But never fear,  I am sure in my next post I will resort to the same tasty yet trivial travel tripe for which I am rapidly earning a reputation.  Just remember, tripe can be quite tasty.  What do you think goes into a hotdog?

We Get You. We Get You There.

As many of you know who follow this blog, our agency Travel Leaders / Main Street Travel is an associate of Travel Leaders, one of the travel industry’s fastest-growing and most robust networks of travel agents.  Just a couple of months back, at our national meeting in Dallas, a new marketing campaign was unveiled and I thought you might enjoy a little backstage view of the rationale behind this branding effort.

This campaign, “We Get You.  We Get You There” is anchored by a new shortenedWe Get You with Logo tagline “Travel Better”.  Please don’t ask me to share the older, longer version because I could never remember it which, I am told by savvy marketers, is not considered a strong selling point for a tagline.  Granted, I have the attention span of a gnat but even I can remember “Travel Better.” 

WE GET YOU

I recently wrote a post about the value of travel agents called “Travel Agents:  Dinosaurs or Crocodiles?”  in which I addressed the tremendous value travel agents add to the equation.  One of the primary tools we use is asking customers a series of discovery questions to better understand our clients’ specific interests, their personal budget, their previous travel experience, etc.

We prod and probe (in an ever-so-gentle manner, I hasten to add, and thankfully without ever asking you to disrobe or bend over), until a clear picture begins to emerge of you, the traveler.  As has been aptly pointed out . . . by me, I think . . . prescription without diagnosis is malpractice.

Perhaps you are thinking at this point, “Sheesh, I didn’t come into your office to get psychoanalyzed.  I just wanted to go on vacation.”  OK, fair enough but here is an interesting thing I have discovered over the years, “People generally don’t care how much you know about them once they know how much you care about them.”  Once you realize our objective is not to sate our prurient interests (the National Enquirer and Star serve that purpose nicely, thank you), but to understand and thus serve you better, hopefully you will not care either.

It is when we get to know your preferences, your expectations and your aspirations that we well and truly “get you.”  It is then we are prepared to move to the next step.

We Get Your Priceless Moments

WE GET YOU THERE 

So you are probably thinking, “After I have confessed in front of God (and let’s not forget my spouse who is a little less forgiving), to every secret travel fantasy I’ve ever had, I hope to heck you are going to put that information to some good use!”   We are and trust us, all will be forgiven when you get back from the perfect vacation.

It is at this juncture that we take off our doctor’s lab coats and pick up the pins, patterns and measuring tape of a tailor to fashion a memorable vacation that is perfectly suited to your needs.  I like to think of it as fitting you to a T since that was my dad’s nickname for me and has nice associations.

Think about it.  Wouldn’t you much rather have us tailor a vacation that fits you instead of grabbing “garments” off the rack and trying to squeeze you into them?  I did that years ago with a leisure suit which may explain my uncanny ability to sing falsetto.

THREE COMMERCIALS

Now for a little entertainment.  I know, it’s about time!  Travel Leaders has fashioned  three clever thirty second commercials in support of this new campaign, all of which can be found on YouTube at Travel By Terry Videos.

Travel Leaders commercial

We Get You – Humor

Travel Leaders Commerical

We Get You – Heartstrings

Travel Leaders Commerical

We Get You – Aspirations

I would be very curious to know which one of these commercials most resonates with you.  Please take a moment and cast your vote below.

Michael Batt Talks Travel

If there is anyone I’ve met across the years who seemed destined to fulfill a successful career in “bidness”, as we like to mangle the term here in Texas, it is truly Michael Batt.  Mike is founder and chairman of Travel Leaders Group and is the latest travel industry expert to visit us here on Backroom Banter.

Mike is the business equivalent of Roy Hobbs, i.e. The Natural, without all the sub-plots.  If you want a quick overview of his immensely successful corporate career click here.  But honestly, that is just part of the story.  At heart, he is a bold entrepreneur with investments in restaurants, publishing, internet marketing, and only he, God and his tax attorney know what else.

Mike possesses that rare package of gifts the rest of us only pine for.  He has a keen analytical mind that enables him to quickly diagnose the financial health of a potential acquisition.  As you will see when you watch the video below, he is an effective communicator whether chatting one-on-one or captivating a large audience on stage.

Without a doubt, however, the single trait I most admire in Mike is his commitment to integrity.  One of the major reasons he has been able to broker the amazing deals he has with other industry giants is the transparent honesty he exudes in business dealings.  People quickly realize when negotiating with Mike that he has zero tolerance for sharp corners or shady deals.   There is a lesson here for all of us.  The word integrity is related to the word integer, meaning whole, as in whole numbers.  When you are just one thing, both without and within, it spares you loads of game playing.  This is the essence of being real.

You would think a guy with Mike’s immense gifts would at least have the decency to be an arrogant jerk so the rest of us could rationalize our jealousy.  But no, on top of everything, Mike has to go and be a genuinely warm, gracious and kindhearted person as well.  It has been my genuine privilege to count Mike a valued friend over more than a dozen years.

I will share one quick anecdote and on to the video interview.

Mike once told me that he was the son of a Welsh coal miner and was the first in his family to have the privilege of attending university.  Fresh out of school, his first job was with M & M Mars candy company.  As Mike tells it, he drove home flush with his new position and immediately dragged his father from his easy chair and out to his car.  He popped open the boot (trunk for you non-Anglophiles) to reveal hundreds of assorted candy bars.  His dad took one look, glanced over at Mike, coughed out a little mine dust and said, “Let me get this straight, I worked thirty years in a coal mine so you could sell candy bars out of the boot of your car?”  From candy merchant to capitalist mogul,  it couldn’t have happened to a nicer guy.

Now enjoy a few minutes with one of our industry’s leading lights as he shares his insights on the remarkable growth of Travel Leaders, the overall state of the travel industry and the merger between two New York powerhouse agencies, Tzell Travel Group and Protravel International. You will even get a glimpse into  how Mike likes to spend his own leisure time.  Just click on the image below to view the interview.

Thanks, Mike, for stopping by.  By the way, do you still have any connections over at Mars?  I really like those Twix bars.

A Life Lesson Learned in London

I have been an Anglophile as far back as I can remember . . .which lately seems to be about the day before yesterday.  Even before I got into the travel business, my brother and I used to own a book store and had a yen to visit the mother country.  I realize now that no amount of yen would have done us any good in Great Britain, since they use pounds, but, to my credit, my grasp of world currencies has expanded greatly since then.

Our bookstore was located next to the campus of Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary whose students had a rapacious (unfortunate choice of words, perhaps) appetite for classic 19th century biblical commentaries.   This seemed liked the perfect excuse, as if we needed one, to hop over the pond and scour used book shops for as many of said tomes as we could unearth.

London Tower Bridge

Picture from Health Insurance Solutions of London

Having, if possible, less sense in those days than I do now, my first introduction to London was landing at Gatwick Airport, renting a stick-shift car and driving blithely into the heart of central London as if I were taking a Sunday stroll in Hyde Park.  After grinding the transmission into first gear with an unfamiliar use of the left hand and finding the clutch in a ridiculously unlikely spot on the floorboard, we were almost flattened by a lorry the size of a Cotswold Tudor cottage pulling out of the car rental agency because I instinctively glanced in the wrong direction.  Had the guardian angel in charge of dim-witted book sellers not been working overtime, you hapless readers would have never had a chance to read all these stimulating blog posts you find so entertaining.  I know, a very chilling thought indeed.

The point I am trying to make in my insufferable, laborious way is that from that first visit I fell in love with England.  My role as a travel entrepreneur . . . goodness, that term makes me sound almost successful . .  has enabled me to make many return trips.  On one such trip I was delivered a mortifying tutorial as only the Brits can dispense.

I was wandering one day off Fleet Street when I stopped by Ye Olde Cheshire Cheese pub.  The sign outside reads “Rebuilt 1667″ which, of course, was the year following the great London fire making it practically a new build in English historical terms.   The pub has been the haunt of literary geniuses for centuries making it all the more apropos that I should stop by.  Speaking of other literary lights, I had just read the famous biography  Boswell’s Life of Johnson.

Portrait of Samuel Johnson commissioned for He...

Portrait of Samuel Johnson commissioned for Henry Thrale’s Streatham Park gallery (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Samuel Johnson, who compiled one of the earliest English dictionaries, was a frequent visitor to said pub and, in point of fact, you can to this day sit in his favorite chair.  He won’t mind.

The house where Johnson lived and did all his lexicographical labor is now a museum and just a short walk away from the pub.  I decided to take a tour since I had enjoyed the biography so immensely.  Upon entering the very narrow, four-story edifice, I turned to the right and began examining various objects on display.   Sitting quietly on a bench was an unassuming, bespectacled  lady.  As our eyes met, she asked me “Are you a fan of Dr. Johnson?”  “Oh yes,” I assured her.  As if to offer proof, though none was requested, I blurted out, “I loved the clever remark he once made about an attorney,” at which point I offered what can only be called a badly mangled version of the quote.

Without a pause the woman replied, “I believe the remark you have in mind is where Johnson said ” . .  he did not care to speak ill of any man behind his back, but he believed the gentleman was an attorney.”   Thus having inserted the stiletto into the deepest recesses of my bloated ego, she slowly turned it further by saying, “I have always thought Dr. Johnson is best remembered when he is quoted accurately, don’t you?”

I learned two important things that day.   The woman in question was the curator of the museum and more importantly, “Never attempt to carelessly quote any famous personage in their own home!”

Have you had any similar “teachable moments” in your travels?

The Best New Travel Blog of 2012: Ta Da … Mine!

I think you will agree that what my title lacks in humility is more than made up for inBlogging award audacity.  What prompts such an immodest claim, you ask?  I blame it on the season.  No, not Halloween or Thanksgiving.  Rather, it’s that time of the year when all sorts of other bloggers with nothing better to do are starting to work on their 2013 version of lists such as these from last year:

15 Best Travel Blogs To Follow In 2012

12 Travel Bloggers You Should Read in 2012

Best Travel Blogs of 2011

The Best New And Not-So-New Blog Travel Blogs for 2012

This is just a modest sampling.  I have not linked to any of these because:

a)  The lists are now almost a year old and the new ones will be out soon and

b)   much more important, Travel By Terry is not on any of these lists.  Shocking, I know.  I attribute this, with irrefutable logic I might add, to the fact that my humble blog did not exist when these lists were compiled (having only started my blogging adventure this past June).

The purpose, therefore, of this post is to Blogging Awardget ahead of the curve by nominating myself for consideration on some of these upcoming lists.  After all, who knows me better or loves me more.

Here is my succinctly stated case for inclusion.

1)  My travel blog is HUMOROUS.

I should probably qualify that.  Let’s just say, I often find myself giggling like a school girl when writing and even rereading many of my own posts.  I acknowledge that my threshold for bemusement may be hereditarily low (which is certianly true of my taste, style and judgment, as you faithful readers will have long ago noted),  so that theory can’t be dismissed out of hand.  In my own defense, however, I have had readers, some not even biologically related, who also said that they find this blog . . .  droll was the word I believe they used.

2)  My travel blog is INFORMATIVE.

Had you started reading my blog last June without missing a post you would first of all constitute an army of one.  I confess, even I skipped a couple.  But had you exhibited the required fortitude to wade through them all you would have garnered all sorts of invaluable information.   For example, you would have learned that my brother is equally unhinged, further strengthening the genetic weakness theory above.

You would have discovered precisely Where Conoco Kisses Cuisine.  Be honest, I bet  you didn’t even know they were dating.  Who else would have taught you how to Build A Travel Bridge To Somewhere or suggested A Round-About Way to a Nervous Break Down?  I think it is safe to say no one.  No one on this side of a padded cell at any rate.

3)  My travel blog is ADDICTIVE.

Blog addiction

Photo by: Luis Louro

Really, addictive?  Yes, in the same way you can’t avert your eyes from a ten car pile-up on the interstate.  Would you like proof?  Unless you somehow miraculously stumbled across this specific post in the vast, uncharted black hole called cyberspace, you are a dreaded “return visitor”!  Now, now.  It is nothing to be ashamed of.  My brother once followed Judy Lollar all over our Junior High School in a hormonal rage with his tongue hanging out repeating “Ooo La Lollar”.  It happens.  Who is to say what genetic forces create the strange attractions that propel us through life.

The time has come, dear members of the blog rating jury, to rest my case.  I would say, without a trace of partiality,  that the evidence is overwhelming, incontrovertible, irrefutable and whatever else lawyers like to say about their case.  If my travel blog does not land on your list, than you are obviously just another member of the wildly biased, Trotskyite  mainstream media.  Either that or you went to college or something.

As for you my faithful readers, I would say “Keep those cards and letters coming” but as an old black radio preacher I used to listen to liked to say, “Just send letters. You can’t put cash or checks in a postcard!”

A Walkabout at the Westin Kierland

Last post I acknowledged the remarkable reward trips we in the travel industry are privileged to experience.  I failed to mention, at the risk of spiking the ball, that our business meetings aren’t exactly shabby either.  Now if this strikes you as rubbing salt in the wounds, to mix metaphors, go back and read the last post about the “other side of the coin” (warning:  metaphor pile-up!).  I am pretty sure a quick, side-by-side comparison of our respective bank accounts will have you suddenly feeling much better about your life.

My most recent meeting was a Travel Leader’s FAB (franchise advisory board) meeting at the Westin Kierland Resort & Spa in Scottsdale, Arizona.  I know what you must be thinking.  “YOU were elected by your peers to serve on an advisory board?”  I know, I was every bit as shocked as you are.  Apparently none of my constituents have stumbled across this blog and honestly, I would just as soon keep it that way.  Why disabuse them of their harmless illusions regarding my sound judgment and sterling character?

When I arrived at the resort, I had a little free time so I embarked on what the Aussies call a “walkabout”.  Granted that term may be a bit of a stretch since I am neither an AustralianWestin Kierland Resort & Spa Aborigine nor did I spend six months tracing the paths of my ancestors.  In point of fact, I got tired after half an hour and plopped down in the Dreamweaver’s Canyon Courtyard,  sipped a Negra Modelo and gazed at all the swells strolling by.  It doesn’t take me long to get the lay of the land, especially when my favorite beer is beckoning.

Why don’t we reenact my little stroll to give you a bit of a feel for this magnificent resort?  Once I had gone to my room and stowed my gear (something I feel compelled to do in the first ten minutes upon arriving at any hotel . . . can you say OC?), I walked out a side door and this is the very first view that greeted me.  The similarities with my landscaped back yard were startling.  Or maybe it was the dissimilarities.  Westin Kierland Resort & Spa Sandpainter's CourtyardI would return to this very table below at Nellie Cashman’s Monday Club Cafe a little later in the evening for a delicious repast.  The resort has numerous charms but dining al fresco as the sun sets behind a bagpiper in traditional Scottish dress piping his haunting melodies is toward the top of my list.

Dining at the Westin Kierland Resort & SpaBagpipes at sundown at the Westin Kierland Resort

Even the golf is unique.  Read this sentence from their website, “Only at Kierland Golf Club can a golfer – novice to experienced – enjoy innovative amenities and experiences like Segway transportation, Fore-MAX golf training, climate-controlled golfing and Scottish-themed Golf.”  As an avid golfer, I can say without the slightest fear of contraception, that is not a sentence that would apply to 99.99% of the golf courses anywhere in the world.

After a tough day of climate-controlled golf, what better way to cool off then tubing down the winding 900-foot lazy river.  How is that for a nice segway . . . I mean segue?  There is also a 110-foot water slide and even Aguamiel, a quiet retreat for adults.  But without a Westin Kierland Resort FlowRiderdoubt, the feature causing the greatest waves (pun intended) is the FlowRider.

My only regret was that I arrived on a Monday afternoon and left on Wednesday afternoon which didn’t permit me to enjoy all the amenities as I would have liked.   If you happen to have the responsibility in your work life for planning meetings or incentive trips, I strongly recommend this resort as a suitable site.  Based on my brief experience, you will not be disappointed.

Have you ever stayed at the Westin Kierland and how did you find it?  No wisecracks about using Garmin or TomTom, please.  That would be way too easy!

Sandals Sans Sandals

By writing posts about the sort of trip I am about to describe,  I am not unaware that I run the risk of reinforcing the reader’s most inflated notions of the opulent not to mention indolent lifestyle led by humble travel entrepreneurs like myself.  This is owing to the fact that in the travel industry some of our key suppliers express their appreciation for our efforts with reward trips to appealing destinations.  This reality is made abundantly clear on my Fool Disclosure page.

In our industry, you had better be prepared to endure frequent comments along the lines of “Wow, it must really be rough being you.” and other equally witty remarks.  They are usually offered in a jocular vein with a nonetheless discernible tinge of jealousy.  I will be the first to admit that we in the travel business often travel like kings but our ugly, dark little secret is we are too often compensated more like kitchen help.  When quizzed about the travel business, my usual retort is “If you want to travel as if you had a lot of money, it’s great.  If you want to actually earn a lot of money, not so much.”  But enough self-indulgent whining.  Truth is, if the trade-off were not acceptable, none of us would not be doing this for a living.  And hey, when I am working as a greeter at Wal-Mart at age ninety-four, I will have incredible memories!

A few weeks back I was invited by Funjet Vacations to participate in a five day, four night stay at the Sandals Grand Riviera Beach and Villa Golf Resort in Ocho Rios, Jamaica.  One nice thing about going to a sun and fun resort, it makes packing relatively simple.  On the whole, I was pleased with the selection of clothing items I brought alongSandals with one exception.  Apparently, if you are going to go to Sandals, male or female, you must bring a pair of nice sandals.   I am pretty sure that I was the only dweeb in the entire resort who did not get the memo.

I consider myself a reasonably natty dresser but I am obviously way behind the trend in male sandals.  Note to self:  Before your next reward trip (coming up in December), scrape together a few shekels and invest in a pair of nice leather sandals.  For you fashion aficionados out there, here is a note for you.  If I am so far behind the trend that male sandals are actually now on the way out, please keep that bit of knowledge to yourself.  Once I pony up for a pair, I will be wearing them until the leather looks like Keith Richards’ face under strobe lights.

For those of you who tune in to this blog hoping to actually get a little travel insight now and again and not just my fascinating personal peccadilloes, here is my impression of the resort.

Sandals Grand Riviera Beach & Villa Golf ResortTheir website describes it as a “sprawling paradise” and that is pretty accurate.  The resort consists of a series of villas spread over an entire verdant hillside but the “sprawling” part presents no obstacle thanks to the ubiquitous jitneys always flitting around.

If you are a golfer, you can play as many rounds as you like without green fees at Sandals Golf and Country Sandals Golf And Country ClubClub about half-an-hour away.  (There are caddy and cart fees).  Shuttles run regularly to the course.  The property has had a recent $60 million dollar upgrade and is in beautiful condition.  The Ochi Beach Club with its babbling brooks, fragrant gardens and a great stretch of beach offers the perfect way to spend your day.

I can promise you that you will never be bored.  Take a look at the activities page here for a truly amazing selection of options.  If you want to really pamper yourself, book a private cabana where your whims will be catered to by your cabana concierge!  Then further indulge yourself at the Red Lane Spa.

A final word: if you prefer smaller, quieter and more upscale, check out the Sandals Royal Plantation just down the road.  I had a great private dinner there sitting at the same table frequented by Winston Churchill.

GrupoHabita: Chic, Unique, Boutique (2)

Last post, you may recall, we began a little trek across Mexico City by private car with our first two stops along the way the Downtown Mexico hotel and the Habita hotel.  I pointed out that the Downtown is in the epicenter of the action (perfect for those who crave excitement) and Habita is in the heart of the haut monde (ideal for inveterate people watchers.)

Today we complete our tour with two more sparkling gems in the GrupoHabita collection. I realize nearly a week has elapsed but hey, I did warn you, Mexico City traffic can be brutal.  I don’t know about you but I thought we would never get around that turnip truck!  The consolation, if you need one, is that these last two hotels are well worth the wait.

Condesa df Mexico City

The two-fold attraction of the Condesa df hotel is its quiet, tree lined setting and its classic charm.  As to the setting, it is situated across from Parque España in what might be described as a hip, Bohemian section of Mexico City.  It is relatively close the airport and very near to the Bellas Artes Palace, the Anthropology Museum and Chapultepec Castle.   A piece of quick trivia.  My avatar, which I use for this blog, was taken from the ramparts of Chapultepec Castle with Mexico City in the background.

As you see from this picture to the right, the exterior has a unique triangular shape reminiscent of theCondesa df Mexico City exterior Flatiron building at 23rd and Broadway in New York City.   (Ask me about the origin of the expression “23 Skidoo” in a comment on this post, and I will share another interesting bit of trivia in my answer.  Consider it a free bonus!)  The building is done in 20th century French neoclassical style and exudes warmth and hospitality.

Interior courtyard at Condesa df in Mexico CityThe most striking feature of the hotel is the interior courtyard hosting a restaurant and bar where you can enjoy breakfast, lunch or dinner.  Were I to book a stay there, I picture myself relaxing often on The Terrace which overlooks the tranquil neighborhood while sampling their specialty of succulent sushi.

You might want to take a moment and peruse Trip Advisor where you will find mostly positive comments and a few I would even call glowing.  After viewing the property, I am not at all surprised that so many reviewers were on their sixth or seventh stay.  If I were going on vacation in Mexico City, this might well be my selection.

Distrito Capital Mexico CityOur final stop will be at the truly unique Distrito Capital, my own humble abode during the F.I.T.A. event I wrote about previously.  The hotel shares a high-rise building with office tenants on most floors and, on the ground floor, various retail businesses. This hotel is located in the Santa Fe area of Mexico City which is where many international and domestic corporations are based.  It is very much a business hub for the city.

The lobby is on the fifth floor and the rooms are on 25-28.  The lobby, bar, pool area and small meeting room are all on the fifth floor.  Here is a series of pictures to give you a sense of how contemporary and funky (in the best sense of that term) their public space really is.

Distrito Capital Mexico City Bar      Distrito Capital Mexico City meeting roomDistrito Capital Mexico City pool area

Distrito Capital Mexico City lobby decor      Distrito Capital Mexico City wall decor     Distrito Capital Mexico City lobby

I could not have been more pleased with my stay.  I found the accommodations quite comfortable and the food very well prepared.  The staff could not have been more accommodating.  A special shout out to Nicolle Lekare and Rafael Micha Smeke who both went out of their way to see that my requests were promptly fulfilled.

If you have marked Mexico City off your list of must see destinations, for whatever reason, I strongly encourage you to add it back.  This is simple too magnificent a world class city not to experience at least once.  Whatever your purpose in coming and regardless of your tastes and inclinations, I am certain that one of the four GrupoHabita properties I have shared with you will fit the bill.

Take a moment and let me know in the poll below which hotel strikes your fancy.