HSMAI Honors Innovation at its 60th Annual Adrian Awards

Bermuda Tourism Authority and agency, TURNER, accept the Best of Show in Public Relations Award at HSMAI’s 2016 Adrian Awards Gala at the Marriott Marquis on February 21, 2017 in New York City © Karen Rubin/ goingplacesfarandnear.com

By Karen Rubin, Travel Features Syndicate, goingplacesfarandnear.com

They are the CLIO awards of the hospitality and travel industry – a gigantic segment of the US economy and culture which people don’t readily recognize as being so integral to everyday life. But these are the campaigns that excite, engage, inform and ultimately spur millions of us to venture out and experience new places and people. At the same time, travelers bolster local, state and national economies, create an economic underpinning that sustains heritage, culture and the environment.

The Hospitality Sales & Marketing Association International (HSMAI) presented the 60th Annual Adrian Awards at the New York Marriott Marquis, recognizing excellence in travel advertising, digital marketing and public relations, and the leaders behind the work.

“It’s always wonderful to be able to celebrate the innovators of our industry. Their outstanding work challenges and inspires the rest of the profession,” said Robert A. Gilbert, CHME, CHBA, president and CEO of HSMAI. He added, “Tonight was a special milestone—the Adrians have now been recognizing excellence in the hospitality industry for six decades.”

Dating back to 1956, the Adrian Awards applaud marketing achievements in hospitality across multiple segments of the industry. Award winners are selected by senior industry and media experts from more than 1,200 entries, for three main entry divisions: advertising, digital marketing and public relations. Gold Award winners across these three categories were recognized during the Adrian Awards Dinner Reception, which was co-sponsored by HSMAI and Google. Platinum winners were selected from the standout Gold Award winners. Winners were selected from 1000 entrees.

The judges speak of authenticity, engagement, blurring of lines among media, emotionality, innovation and creativity, visual beauty, quality of content, storytelling, and most significantly measureable results in distinguishing the winners.

The stakes are huge: these advertising, marketing and public relations campaigns are a key part of the travel and tourism industry that generates $2.1 trillion in economic output (2.7% of the nation’s GDP) from domestic and international visitors (includes $927.9 billion in direct travel expenditures that spurred an additional $1.2 trillion in other industries through a ripple effect). Travel expenditures support 15 million jobs (8 million directly); account for $221.7 billion in wages, and generate $141.5 billion in tax revenues to federal, state and local governments, levels that increased significantly over the past eight years, helping to lift the nation out of the Great Recession.

For example, Bermuda, which won “Best of Show” in Public Relations, undertook its campaign to reverse a decline in tourism that is such a large part of the country’s economy.

Best of Show Awards, the highest honor of the evening, were bestowed upon a Platinum Award winner from each of the three divisions—advertising, digital marketing, and public relations:

Advertising “Best of Show” – NFL Father’s Day Video – Courtyard by Marriott – IMG and Marriott Content Studio

Digital Marketing “Best of Show” – From Brake Lights to Rested Nights – Red Roof Inn and its agency, 360i

Public Relations “Best of Show” – Bermuda: Finding an Island’s Adventurous Side – Bermuda Tourism Authority and its agency, TURNER

Courtyard by Marriott win Best of Show in Advertising at HSMAI’s 2016 Adrian Awards Gala at the Marriott Marquis in New York City © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

The following are Platinum Award winners in the advertising, digital marketing, and public relations divisions:

 

Advertising Platinum Winners:

Company; Agency

Newfoundland and Labrador Tourism; Target

Brand USA

Visit Seattle; Publicis Seattle

Hilton; Fold 7

VisitGreenvilleSC

Courtyard by Marriott; IMG and Marriott Content Studio

 

Digital Marketing Platinum Winners:

Company; Agency

24 North Hotel; Travel Tripper

Visit Seattle; Publicis Seattle

Marriott International; Facebook & MEC

Aruba Tourism Authority; Concept Farm

Caribbean and Latin America Resorts Cluster; Marriott- Caribbean and Latin America

Best Western Hotels & Resorts; Ideas Collide & 11 Dollar Bill

Red Roof Inn; 360i

Red Roof Inn accepts the Best of Show in Digital Marketing Award at HSMAI’s 2016 Adrian Awards Gala © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

Public Relations Platinum Winners:

Company; Agency

South African Tourism; Sparkloft Media
Omni Hotels & Resorts; LDWWgroup

Hampton by Hilton; rbb Communications

Hilton

Cunard; MGA Media Group

Caneel Bay Resort

Marriott International; GREY New York

Aqua-Aston Hospitality; QUINN & Stryker Weiner Yokota

Bermuda Tourism Authority; TURNER

Gold Award winners’ submissions were shown on digital displays at the Adrian Awards Dinner Reception and featured during the Gala stage presentations. “The honorees in this year’s competition displayed innovation, creativity, and demonstrated measurable results and return on investment that were noted by this year’s judges as being exceptional,” said Fran Brasseux, HSMAI Executive Vice President.

Additionally, the distinguished careers of two industry leaders were celebrated with HSMAI Lifetime Achievement awards. Randy Smith, Chairman & Co-Founder, STR, was honored with the 2016 Albert E. Koehl Award and Melanie Brandman, Founder & CEO, The Brandman Agency, was honored with the 2016 Winthrop W. Grice Award for Public Relations.

“It is an honor to be a member of this illustrious group of industry leaders,” said Brandman, at the awards ceremony. “I would like to dedicate this award to my father and my mother, for raising me and my siblings to be global citizens, and instilling in us an unstoppable desire to experience the world and share whatever wisdom we pick up along the way.”

“It is truly an honor to accept this award,” stated Koehl Award recipient Randy Smith, who was unable to accept the award in person. “I have been incredibly fortunate throughout my career in the hospitality industry in working with smart and talented people.”

The winner of the seventh annual Leader in Sustainable Tourism Award, presented by HSMAI and National Geographic Traveler, was Amelia Island Convention & Visitors Bureau for “Clean Beaches and Sea Turtles.”

“Presented in conjunction with National Geographic Traveler, the Leader in Sustainable Tourism award recognizes a person, company, or community for demonstrable leadership and innovation in preserving and communicating an authentic sense of place through a wisely managed tourism program. Nominees are judged by how their efforts preserved the environmental, cultural, and historic integrity of a destination, and how the program demonstrated leadership, innovation and accomplished its goals.”

Gil Langley and Ktimene Axetell of Amelia Island Convention and Visitor Bureau accept HSMAI & National Geographic Traveler Leader in Sustainable Tourism Platinum Award from Fran Brasseux, Executive of HSMAI and Deborah Friedman, VP, Independent and Specialty Travel, National Geographic at HSMAI’s 2016 Adrian Awards Gala © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

The Pioneer in Visual Storytelling Award, presented by HSMAI and Libris by PhotoShelter, a new award presented for the first time at these Adrian Awards, went to Newfoundland and Labrador Tourism and their agency, Target.

“The Pioneer in Visual Storytelling Award celebrates a brand in the travel and tourism industry that has shown consistent commitment to using visual assets creatively in marketing and communication to tell its story. Nominees are evaluated based on high-quality production value of images and/or video, compelling storytelling across platforms, use of forward-thinking formats, innovative distribution and demonstrated impact on their audiences. Successful entries use visual assets to inspire an emotional response, motivate audiences to take action and help the brand meet strategic objectives.”

Randy Smith. Melanie Brandman Honored with Lifetime Achievement Awards

The Hospitality Sales & Marketing Association (HSMAI) presented its 2016 HSMAI Lifetime Achievement Awards to Randy Smith, Chairman & Co-Founder, STR, honored with the 2016 Albert E. Koehl Award. Melanie Brandman, Founder & CEO, The Brandman Agency, received the 2016 Winthrop W. Grice Award for Public Relations.

The HSMAI Lifetime Achievement Awards recognize individuals who have spent a major portion of their careers in the hospitality and travel profession and have contributed to the betterment of the industry in a significant and lasting way, over an extended period of time.

Melanie Brandman, Founder and CEO of The Brandman Agency, receives the 2016 Winthrop W. Grice Award for Lifetime Achievement in Public Relations at HSMAI’s 2016 Adrian Awards Gala © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

Melanie Brandman, honored with the Winthrop W. Grice Award for Public Relations, is the founder & CEO of The Brandman Agency. With offices in New York, Los Angeles, London and Sydney, Brandman is recognized as one of the most credible travel and communications experts in the business. She has ensured that The Brandman Agency has remained at the forefront of the industry by being an early adopter in the ever-evolving digital and influencer space. Prior to establishing The Brandman Agency, she served as Vice President, Corporate Affairs for InterContinental Hotels Group based in London. Brandman’s other successful ventures include Travel Curator, an online travel website, content development, and distribution platform targeted to an affluent, forward-thinking audience of global travelers. The site was voted one of the 10 Best Luxury Travel Blogs by readers of USA TODAY and 10Best. This past year, Brandman was named ‘Most Compelling Woman in Travel’ by Premier Traveler magazine.

The Winthrop W. Grice Award was named in honor of Winthrop W. “Bud” Grice, CHME, a long-time senior marketing executive with Marriott, who was the award’s first designate. Other winners include: Howard Feirertag, Mary Gendron, Vivian A. Deuschl, Laura Davidson, Yvonne Middleton, Peggy R. Bendel, René A. Mack, Lou Hammond, Bunny Grossinger, Herbert D. Kelleher, Steve Wynn, Richard Kahn, Gordon Lambourne, and Geoffrey Weill.

Randy Smith, the recipient of the Albert E. Koehl Award, co-founded STR in 1985. STR provides clients from multiple market sectors with premium, global data benchmarking, analytics and marketplace insights. With just over 300 employees, STR maintains a presence in 16 countries around the world with a corporate North American headquarters in Hendersonville, Tennessee, and an international headquarters in London, England. Prior to starting STR, Smith was Director of Research for Laventhol & Horwath. He has been recognized by Business Travel News, Lodging Hospitality magazine, ALIS, Industry Real Estate Financing Advisory Council, Florida State University College, and the International Society of Hospitality Consultants.

The Albert E. Koehl Award for Lifetime Achievement in Hospitality Marketing recognizes individuals who have spent a major portion of their careers in the hospitality and travel profession and have contributed to the betterment of the industry in a significant and lasting way, over an extended period of time. The award is named in honor of Albert E. Koehl, a pioneer in hotel advertising. Past Koehl award recipients including: David Kong, Roger Dow, Eric A. Danziger, Sol Kerzner, Ian Schrager, Barbara Talbott, Barry S. Sternlicht, Vincent Vanderpool-Wallace, Horst H. Schulze, John J. Russell, CHME, Michael A. Leven, CHME, Richard Branson, Christopher J. Nassetta, and George Aguel.

Amanda Hite accepts the Albert E. Koehl Lifetime Achievement Award on behalf of Randy Smith, Chairman & Co-Founder of STR during HSMAI’s 2016 Adrian Awards Gala © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

“HSMAI is proud to honor Melanie and Randy for their impressive careers marked by innovative contributions to the global hospitability industry,” said Robert A. Gilbert, CHME, CHBA, president and CEO of HSMAI. 

Top 25 Extraordinary Minds

Selected by a panel of senior industry executives, The HSMAI Top 25: Extraordinary Minds in Hospitality Sales, Marketing, Revenue Optimization for 2016 were honored by HSMAI in a reception co-hosted by Questex Hospitality + Travel and also recognized on stage during the Gala.

The HSMAI Top 25 Extraordinary Minds for 2016 are:

Justin Barnette: Manager, Marketing & Communications USA, South African Tourism

DC Becker: Principal & Co-Owner, Titan Group of New York

Josh Belkin: VP & General Manager, North America, Hotels.com

Bree Brostko: Managing Director, Kindred Resorts & Hotels

Bonnie Buckhiester: President, Buckhiester Management Limited

Patrick Campbell: Director of Advertising, Best Western Hotels & Resorts

Lisa Checchio, VP, Brand Marketing and Insights, Wyndham Hotel Group

Britton Cordill: Director of Marketing & eCommerce, Marriott International

Santiago Corrada: President/CEO, Visit Tampa Bay

Chris Flatt, EVP of Hotel Sales & Marketing, Wynn Las Vegas

Isaac Gerstenzang, Assistant Vice President, Corporate E-Commerce, Two Roads Hospitality

Jennifer Hill: Regional Director, Revenue & Distribution, Highgate

Daniel Hostettler: President and Group Managing Director, Ocean House Management Collection

Danny Hughes: Senior Vice President & Commercial Director, Hilton Worldwide

Victoria Isley: Chief Sales & Marketing Officer, Bermuda Tourism Authority

Cherry Kam: Director, Marketing Communications/Americas, Four Seasons Hotels and Resorts

Lynn Kaniper: Owner/President, Dana Communications

Leora Halpern Lanz: Lecturer, Boston University School of Hospitality Administration

Michael Lau: Regional Director of Revenue Management, Accor Hotels

Lisa Ross: President and Partner, rbb Communications

Ed Skapinok: Vice President of Sales & Marketing, Hostmark Hospitality Group

Edgar Tapan: Head of Industry, Travel, Google

Paolo Torchio: VP Digital & E-Commerce, Two Roads Hospitality

Vicki Varela: Managing Director, Utah Office of Tourism, Film & Global Branding

Daniel Wise: Founder & Chief Product Architect, revcaster – a Rainmaker company

“HSMAI is proud to recognize an outstanding group whose impressive achievements define success and inspire their peers in the hospitality industry,” said Robert A. Gilbert, CHME, CHBA, president & CEO of HSMAI. “Their deep knowledge, nimble response to changing markets, and innovative solutions have driven their success and strengthened our industry.”

The HSMAI Top 25: Extraordinary Minds in Hospitality Sales, Marketing, Revenue Optimization for 2016 © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

For more information about the Adrian Awards visit www.adrianawards.com.

The Hospitality Sales and Marketing Association International (HSMAI) is committed to growing business for hotels and their partners, and is the industry’s leading advocate for intelligent, sustainable hotel revenue growth. The association provides hotel professionals and their partners with tools, insights, and expertise to fuel sales, inspire marketing, and optimize revenue through programs such as HSMAI ROCET, Adrian Awards, and Revenue Optimization Conference. HSMAI is an individual membership organization comprising more than 7,000 members worldwide, with 40 chapters in the Americas Region. Connect with HSMAI at www.hsmai.orgwww.facebook.com/hsmaiwww.twitter.com/hsmai and www.youtube.com/hsmai1.

NYT Travel Show: Greenberg Tells Intrepid Travelers to Exploit ‘Brave New World of Travel’

Biking in Albania.Go beyond your bucket list, Greenberg says. Pick a place and go there. © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

By Karen Rubin, Travel Features Syndicate, goingplacesfarandnear.com

According to travel expert Peter Greenberg, that dreaded four-letter word “fear” could actually work out to the benefit of Americans who want to explore the globe..

That, in combination with a strong dollar against just about every other currency, means that Americans have a buyers market in a “brave new world of travel” characterized by “disruption.”

Travel expert Peter Greenberg gives tips on navigating the “Brave New World of Travel” at the 2017 New York Times Travel Show © Karen Rubin/ goingplacesfarandnear.com

Americans who travel abroad, though, tend to be open minded, able to adapt to different situations, and open to adventure and the unknown.

As it turns out, only 37% of Americans have passports (and, Greenberg notes, only 42% of members of Congress and Senate – a revealing aspect at why some have such an insular, provincial view, or who hold so ardently to the myth of American Exceptionalism. It’s easy to imagine America to be exceptional when you don’t actually see anything else first hand.)

“How can you make global policy if you have never left Kansas?,” Greenberg, a best selling author and TV travel commentator, asks the standing-room crowd  attending his seminar, “The Brave New World of Travel,” at the 2017 New York Times Travel Show  at the Javits Center in New York.

The Travel Show took place just as Trump’s Muslim/Travel ban was causing havoc and bringing out thousands of protesters at international airports across the country, an anathema to the people attending the show who clearly valued international travel as a bridge between peoples, cultures and politics.

The “disruption” that is at the heart of the “Brave New World of Travel,” is that there are more international airlines, creating more competition, more services, and keeping fares from rising, more competition among hotels and cruiselines. Even the uncertainty (insecurity) around global affairs creates a buyers’ market for intrepid travelers who see more reward than risk.

Since 2006, he says, there have been 75 new routes from such carriers as Turkish Airlines. Condor Airlines used to be a charter carrier, now is a scheduled carrier. Norwegian Airlines has really rocked the market with low fares.

It’s a buyers market in the hotel industry also, though it is harder to see why, with mergers and acquisitions like Marriott & Starwood giving a single entity even more control of the marketplace. It could be because after making their deals to sell inventory through online travel agencies (OTAs) like Expedia, now the hotel companies are trying to incentivize customers to book direct. “Why click around? They will give free WiFi and a donut.”

A boom in building new cruise ships – there are 56 cruise lines – has resulted in excess capacity. Last year, there were 18 new river cruise ships, and this year 10 new cruise ships.

How can you benefit? Greenberg says don’t book the newest ships (they aren’t discounting their fares); rather, “book the 2-3-4 year old ships that are just as good but have excess capacity.” Norwegian for example has fares as low as $65/night. “You can’t wake up in Brooklyn for that.”

Norwegian’s Breakaway in Bermuda. Greenberg advises that because of the onslaught of newer ships, look to cruiseships just 2-4 years old for better pricing. © Karen Rubin/ goingplacesfarandnear.com

“Now you know you can go, the question is how do you go.” When he asks people to raise their hands if they make their reservations online and most people in the room do, he comes back, “You’re all losers,” with a smile.

“You’re operating on myth that all inventory is online. But only 52% of inventory is online because that all the inventory that travel providers want to make available online.

“I know why you book online –because you can do it at 3 am and you don’t have to talk to anyone. You’re very happy to hit a key and book. But now you have disenfranchised yourself with 40% of inventory.”

He derides the “lost art of conversation,” and says, “it’s okay to research online, but don’t book online.”

He notes (what Pauline Frommer had observed in an earlier seminar also), that when you search for an airline fare, and happen to wait and return an hour later, you will find the fare has increased, perhaps $100 more.

That’s because the computer remembers you, appreciates a supply/demand market and can pitch you a higher fare. “Clean up your cookies or use somebody else’s computer.”

“When you have a conversation with an airline rep or a cruise rep, you may think it is about getting the best rate – losers! –It’s not about the rate, it’s about the value. The internet does nothing creativity, thinks literally, it can’t answer the questions you should ask.

“You might get a good rate online, but when you have a conversation directly with a hotel, you can ask for the hotel to throw in free WiFi, get rid of dreaded resort free, get the kids to stay free, eat free.

With a cruiseline, “it’s not about the cost of cabin, it’s about onboard credits, which excursion should or should not take.” [In this respect, you are much better off booking through a travel agent, who can usually get free upgrades, free drinks, perhaps even a shore excursion thrown in.]

Where do You Want to Go?

“Where do you want to go?” he asks. “This is where you get into trouble – how many have bucket list? He asks, and a few people raise their hands. “Loser,” is his retort.

“Everyone wants Paris, Hawaii. There are 196 countries in the world. Pick one. There are only four I wouldn’t go to (my metric is ‘Who is in control.’ – There are four countries where nobody is in control.)

He says he wouldn’t say no to going to North Korea (I know who is in control), Iran [which is actually become a hot destination for Americans, up until Trump’s election and the travel ban]. I would even go to Northern Iraq, because it is under control of Kurds, every airline goes there and is safe.” [Which might have been true before the Trump travel ban which Iraq retaliated against in kind.]’

“‘Fear’ is a four-letter word. Don’t be motivated, don’t be driven. How many read US State Department travel advisories – you should read them but when people hear there is an advisory, they don’t go.”

The State Department’s travel advisory for Turkey advises travelers that Turkish  drivers pass on the left and on the right. “Have they been on Southern State Parkway?” he jokes. “I was in Turkey 48 hours after the New Year’s Eve nightclub shooting. I did not feel threatened or afraid.

“The best time to go anywhere is after natural disaster, civil disturbance, terrorism.”

[Indeed, six countries have travel advisories against the United States because of the epidemic of gun violence.”

“Tourism creates jobs – these destinations that have been hurt by natural or manmade disasters are desperate to have you there. And who wants to stand on line? Go to a place that is happy to have you, a great deal, an amazing experience. And it sends a statement that we will not be beaten by that.

He notes that 707 Americans have been killed in acts of civil unrest of the past 28 years. “Put that in perspective: every week in this country 800 citizens are killed or injured in accidents in their bathtubs. People worry about shark attacks –after 1 person is attacked. More are killed in auto accidents abroad; the second greatest cause of death is by selfies – people fall off cliffs, are hit by trains – 100 people are killed by selfies. Put the numbers in perspective.”

“All these passport holders, you love to travel. Now you’ve got to use them – you are in the drivers seat – the most beneficial position.

The New York Times Travel Show cultural performances introduce intrepid travelers to destinations to explore © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

“It’s not seasonal – there will be deals all year long because economies are taking longer to recover – Italy, France, Turkey – you can go anywhere – Brazil, Argentina. Then, there are the deals airlines are doing with stopovers, hotels, tours.

“Now think of what’s on your bucket list, burn it and figure a place where you can have great experience.”

Beating the Airlines at Their Own Frequent Flyer Game 

Airlines have radically changed their Frequent Flyer programs. “If you didn’t pay a lot [for a fare] you don’t get much [in points]. It’s not just hard to earn miles but hard to redeem them.”

In fact, Greenberg notes that there are some 23 trillion unredeemed miles outstanding.

“Airlines, he notes, are free to constantly change rules for using frequent flyer miles to their advantage because there is no regulation by attorney general. They are protected by deregulation and can change the rules any time, which means every day, they have outstanding miles as a liability but they don’t want to displace revenue passengers.

“There is no such thing as a free ticket anymore; every plane is full.”

But miles are great to use to “figure a place you’ve never been, never wanted to go, and go there. Pick 330 days out and go.”

Still, you may just want to go to Hawaii and Paris and use your unredeemed miles to get there.

Greenberg proposes a rather adventurous way to beat the restrictions that make it almost impossible to use frequent flyer points,

“Let’s say you want to go to Hawaii a week from today and have enough miles based on eligibility– The carrier indicates you can’t have the fare at 12,000 points, but you can at 50,000 (extortion).

“You call up the airline to redeem miles. ‘When in my lifetime will  there be a seat?’ The airline tells you after Thanksgiving. ‘I’ll take it.’

“Then pick an arbitrary day. But now you have a ticket that has the flight and the cities just not the date you want. So you hang up and call the regular reservations number. You  tell them you want to purchase six seats on that flight. You just want to know there are 6 seats on the flight.

So you send your bags ahead by Fed Ex, he says.

“You know there are seats – every day you call, you  pick the first flight of the day – go down on the day want to fly, NY-Hawaii – 5 am with ticket – fly standby, no bags. If there is a seat on the plane, they will let you on. Or if that is full, the next or the next (there are many flights during the day).

“If you ask if you can fly standby with a Frequent Flyer ticket,  they will say no, but the counter agent will say yes.”

[I find myself thinking this is all well and good and wonderfully adventurous, but how would this work for the return flight?]

“The rule is – don’t hoard miles. There is no upside.” On the other hand, you are a full if you redeem your miles for a magazine subscription.

“54% of all miles earned is earned on the ground – that means that to get 25,000 – you spent $14,000, not counting the 11,000 miles you paid for when you flew.” If the magazine subscription wants 2500 miles, you spent $1200 to accumulate those miles, or for 6500 points, Delta will give you a $40 box of Godiva chocolates, but you spent $3800, or $190 each bite.”

“Don’t succumb to those offers. Instead, think 333 days out and beat the airlines at their own game playing by their rules.”

At the New York Times Travel Show, travelers eager to learn about new destinations © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

With the US dollar so strong, it isn’t just that the dollar has more purchasing power abroad, but that travel to the US becomes more expensive for people to come here. That means that it will be harder for airlines to fill their seats coming here.

(Of course, this, combined with the travel ban means that US inbound travel, a key export that contributes to a favorable trade balance and supports millions of US jobs and economic activity, will also be depressed, perhaps for Americans to fill the vacuum with domestic travel.)

“In a world of disruption, you get to disrupt. You have the knowledge. You can always go to Paris or Hawaii, but the world is open and [destinations] are ready.”

See also: 

Pauline Frommer at NYT Travel Show: How to Get Best Value for Your Travel Dollar in 2017

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© 2017 Travel Features Syndicate, a division of Workstyles, Inc. All rights reserved. Visit goingplacesfarandnear.com and travelwritersmagazine.com/TravelFeaturesSyndicate/. Blogging at goingplacesnearandfar.wordpress.com and moralcompasstravel.info. Send comments or questions to FamTravLtr@aol.com. Tweet @TravelFeatures. ‘Like’ us at facebook.com/NewsPhotoFeatures

Pauline Frommer at NYT Travel Show: How to Get Best Value for Your Travel Dollar in 2017

 

At the New York Times Travel Show, travelers showed tremendous enthusiasm for foreign destinations, such as these Indonesia, a destination that Pauline Frommer is recommending for 2017. © 2017 Karen Rubin/ goingplacesfarandnear.com

By Karen Rubin, Travel Features Syndicate, goingplacesfarandnear.com

Travel expert Pauline Frommer, of the Frommer Guides and radio show, says that 2017 is probably the best year for Americans to travel abroad because of a surging dollar, competitive pressure on international airline fares, and an international climate where destinations are thrilled to have foreign visitors.

Travel expert Pauline Frommer urges travelers to be skeptical of online travel searches but says 2017 is a great year for Americans to travel abroad because of a strong dollar and low air fares. © 2017 Karen Rubin/ goingplacesfarandnear.com.

But she began her presentation to the 2017 New York Times Travel Show counseling travelers to be skeptical of technology that is transforming so much of how people travel and even where they travel – how online search engines can force you into purchasing more expensive hotels and airlines based on the profile that previous searches create, and, as a corollary, the intrusion into privacy.

“Often the answers you are going to get through an online search aren’t necessarily the answers you want.” This is especially true because of the way the search engines keep track – through cookies, for example – and will provide listings that seem to conform to previous searches.” The cookies might be in your computer after you did a search for a hotel or a business trip where the boss pays, so you book a $400/night hotel. “So when you try to find a hotel for a family holiday, in your search, all the expensive hotels come up first. It’s more difficult to find the least expensive.”

This is true for flight searches on popular sites (like expedia.com), where if you log off, then go back, you might find that the flight is $200 more. The way around it? You have to either clear your browser of cookies, or go online again on a different computer, or “even go to Starbucks and use their WiFi.”

Based on research that Frommer commissioned from a freelancer, Frommer recommends a couple of websites for airline searches:

Momondo.com (which doesn’t use cookies, so when you return, the price is same but you have to reenter information); and Skyscanner.net (which does use cookies)

She also counsels that the cheapest days of the week to book are Saturday, Tuesday & Wednesday flights.

And based on a study of 26 million airline transactions by the Airline Reporting Corporation, which acts as middleman between airlines and travel agencies (online and storefront), there are trends in fares (she warns won’t always be true and likely not for traveling on Christmas or SuperBowl weekend). Nonetheless, to get the best fares, she advises:

Book on a weekend, 19% savings

Book 57 days before travel for domestic tickets,10% savings

Book 176 days before travel to Europe, 11% savings

Book 77 days before travel to the Caribbean 5% savings

Book 160 days before travel to Asia/Pacific 13% savings

Book 144 days before travel to the Mideast, Africa, 24% savings

Book 90 days before travel to Central/South America, 10% savings

Book160 days to get the best air fare to Asia Pacific; new carriers are also holding international fares down© 2017 Karen Rubin/ goingplacesfarandnear.com.

Frommer (as well as travel expert Peter Greenberg) warn buyers to beware of the new category of “basic economy fares” which American Airlines recently introduced, following on heels of United and Delta. Averaging $25 less than regular economy, the airlines have tended to offer them in markets where carriers have competition from low-cost carriers like Frontier and Spirit.

“But these are really, really ugly. You will never get to choose your seat, which means you are likely to wind up in a middle seat. This is a problem if you are travel with children – if there is a plane crash, how could you leave the plane if your kids are in different seats. I don’t think will be brought up soon with current administration.” On American and United, the austerity goes beyond (and is even parodied by comedians): you don’t get to use the overhead bin, you can only bring on board the plane what you can slip under your seat; if you need to check luggage, it costs $25. Another disadvantage: you don’t get any loyalty points when you buy a basic economy seat (though loyalty doesn’t mean much of anything, anymore, she adds).

Rethink loyalty. Loyalty has been devalued by the airlines now. In the last year, you would get points for how many miles you traveled; now it’s for how much money paid, that is multiplied by how high you are in their system. If you are a big-time business traveler, your money is multiplied by 5; if you only travel only twice a year, it is only multiplied by 2 – not greatest system. It will cause major fights at the gate.”  American, she says, is soon going to use its new Loyalty standard to determine where you get on a list to upgrade (it used to be, as an elite member, first-come, first serve, now the airline will look how much money you spent to get elite membership).

The only way to make the points game work in this climate, she advises, is to use credit cards.

Good news for travelers: airfares in the US have stayed stable, and airfares abroad are dropping dramatically because of new players like Norwegian Airlines (offering $499 fare each way to London), WOW airlines, XL Airlines (operating to Paris, www.xl.com/us/, which used to only concentrate on French travelers, but now Americans, too); Thomas Cook Airlines, Eurowings, AirAsia, Emirates, and soon, JetBlue, adding, “Any airline flying into the United States has to adhere to our gate standards.”

Emirates Airlines, which has been offering low fares, is not new but going to a lot more places in Europe for a lot less money. “Now Milan is the cheapest gateway in Europe because of Emirates.” And the international scene may get a new competitor, as JetBlue is looking to starting to fly to Europe.

Also, AirAsia has started flying to Asia, pushing fares down 25% from last year.

Context Travel specializes in small-group walking tours led by experts and focused on a theme, such as of Ancient Athens, Greece © 2017 Karen Rubin/ goingplacesfarandnear.com.

How do you find great ways to sightsee besides using Frommer guide? All around the world, you can find local walking tours led by starving graduate students. “These are people who go to places like Venice, Rome, New York, Chicago to work on dissertations and to make a little extra money, often lead walking tours. They know they have to be really entertaining or they won’t get a tip (which is all they make). The best walking tour in Rome, Through Eternity, is led by a woman writing her dissertation on Michelangelo, who had been studying letters his assistants on scaffolding had been writing the Pope. From those, she learned that Michelangelo, who was from Florence, believed Rome’s water was poisoned and because of that, did not bathe for the 10 years he was in Rome. That’s what his assistants were writing about. This woman really knew and was passionate about what she was speaking about.” Such tours can also be a refreshing change from tour guides who, because of limitations on purchasing licenses, have been at it for decades, and “sometimes are so bored telling about Hadrian’s Gate for the 10,000th time.”

Atypical tour companies include:

G Adventures

Djoser

Intrepid Travel

Explore!

Context Travel

Road Scholar

G Adventures, Djoser, Intrepid Travel all are designed around small groups, never more than 12 people, use locally owned guest houses, local transportation to keep green [and provide a closer, more authentic experience], provide a lot of free time to explore on your own, and tend to be much cheaper than the competition. G Adventures is based in Canada, Djoser in Holland, and Intrepid is an Australian company so you are not just traveling with other Americans, but people from all over the world [which is also a special experience].

“I took an Intrepid family tour with my kids in Morocco. It was the most wonderful tour because of our group. We had a German family, 2 British families and a family who lived four blocks away from us in Manhattan. Explore!, an interesting British company, does hardcore tours of places that are otherwise difficult to get to on your own – the Stans, deep Africa, deep south Africa. Context Travel hires erudite guides – it is the most expensive on list, but they run really smart learning vacations to major cities. It started in Italy, now everywhere. Road Scholar (used to be Elderhostel) is for seniors, offering smart tours, hub and spoke so you stay in one place and take day trips; tours are often led by professors, educators.”

Under the category “Solo travel with a safety net,” Frommer cites Women Welcome Women (a UK-based international membership network started by a woman who was jealous of son being able to do exchange, http://www.womenwelcomewomen.uk/article/home.aspx; which is not a travel agency or travel company, but basically network women traveling to other cities).

Greeter Tours are free tours run by local who love showing their home town to people from around the world. (in NYC, Chicago, Houston, Paris, Lyon, Bangkok, Delhi, Cordoba, Grenada, Sydney, etc. (GlobalGreeetersNetwork.info)

For a very different perspective on a city, look for a greeters program, such as “This is My Athens” program offered through the city’s tourism bureau, which matches visitors with a local volunteer. Here, my Athens with a Native guide, Constantine E. Cavoulacos, with the owner of Panagiotis, a neighborhood eatery. © 2017 Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com.

Accommodations. There’s been a sea-change in accommodations – AirBnB now has more beds in its inventory than all the major hotel chains combined. “Last year, [hoteliers] were saying AirBnB wasn’t affecting prices because a different person uses AirBnB. But this year, they are saying it is affecting prices. It used to be hotel chains would know they could raise prices sky high for a major holiday; now they no longer have that kind of security [control].”

The best search sites for accommodations, she says, are HotelsCombined.com (#1 for prices 92% of the time, according to a study, but Hotelscombined doesn’t actually sell from inventory, it just Googles), followed by Trivago (which is owned by Expedia; expedia gets inventory from the major chains).

In terms of OTAs (online travel agents), booking.com wins (not just the big hotel chains), followed by Asia specialist Agoda.com (best prices for Asia).

The best Booking Blind sites are: Priceline.com, hotwire.com, and biddingtraveler.com.

For lodging rentals, she recommends:

AirBnB.com

Homeaway.com (owns Rentals.com, owned by Expedia, massive corporation)

Zonder.com

FlipKey.com

VRBO.com

Sea Changes in Cruising: The cruise industry is seeing a sea change in technology. Frommer is skeptical about where technology is leading, particularly the juncture of privacy and marketing.

Carnival Cruises, for example, is very excited about a new medallion that replaces a key card, credit card, and knows if you are scheduled for a yoga class or a show or have a restaurant reservation.

“Medallion or Horcrux?  They hook you up to an app. They know where every member of your party is, open your door, order a drink, and will sell you things. I find this disturbing – from the point of view of the lack of privacy –a large corporation is going to know everywhere you are. They will be able to up-sell you. You may be glancing at a list of shore excursions and somebody will appear at your side to tell you why you should take a shore excursion.”

But one good trend in cruising, she says, are the lines that have responded to complaints about getting into a port at 9 am and leaving at 2 pm. Some are changing itineraries to allow more time in port, and some make it a focus. Azamara Club Cruises (which pioneered overnight stays, even 2-3 nights in a port so you can really get to know a city, but the trade-off is fewer sea days to relax) and other lines where they give you more time in port, like Oceania, Celebrity Cruises, Costa, MSC, and Holland America, so you can experience nightlife in a place and you don’t have to rush back to ship).

Cruiselines also are introducing new ports to their itineraries such as in Ireland, Australia, Asia, Scandinavia).

Frommer has a bugaboo about how much shore excursions cost: “They scare guests to take them when they don’t need to. They say if you don’t, the ship can leave without you. I say, get a watch. In most cases, you can wander off the ship and see as much as the shore excursion.

But, you can purchase less expensive port excursions than the ones offered by the cruiseline through such agencies as CruisingExcursions.com, ShoreTrips.com, Viator. CruisingExcursions.com and ShoreTrips.com offer 12-person vans and usually charge 2/3 of cruise ship costs. Viator is more of a marketplace for city tours will give you guarantee that if you miss the boat they will pay to get you to next stop.

There are tremendous differences in cruiselines – aesthetics, what the experience is like. “When you take a cruise, the ship is your vacation, so get the best ship for you. Use a travel agent. This is one area where you are foolish not to use travel agents – those who specialize in cruises, get special discounts they can pass along, complimentary upgrades, shipboard credits, bottle of wine. They know their boats [and typically have toured the ship and have worked with the line]. Not all travel agents are equal. Ask questions. Make sure the travel agent represents all lines or, at least, the ones you are interested in. They can suggest the best cabin for the price you are willing to pay.

River Cruising has become extraordinarily popular, largely due to the success of Viking River Cruises. “For centuries, the rivers of Europe, Asia, America were the arteries that people used to get place to place, so you are in the middle of everything. You step off the boat and in front of you is the cathedral, the historic square.” (Frommers has a guidebook just on river cruising.)

The beauty of river cruising is that cities are right along the water. The Danube is one of the best rivers for cruising. © 2017 Karen Rubin/ goingplacesfarandnear.com

But not all river cruises are alike, she notes.

In the category of Over the Top, most luxurious: Uniworld, Tauck, Scenic.  “Uniworld has a designer that Marie Antoinette would approve – crystal, silk wall paper; it’s over the top extravagance. Tauck is as luxurious but a little more contemporary in décor, well known for shore excursions. The dirty little secret of river cruises is that all the river cruises except Tauck and Gate 1 share the same guides on shore. Scenic gives all its guests headphones, so can hear commentary about what you are passing on shore; it is an Australian company so you are traveling mostly with Australians and blasts Olivia Newton-John at night; it offers fun trips (and also owns a budget river cruisline, Emerald Waterways).

Luxurious: AmaWaterways, Viking River Cruises, Avalon Waterways. Avalon and Ama are trying to attract younger crowd with more active experiences – kayaking on river; Ama carries bikes on board.

Budget Emerald Waterways, Grand Circle, Croisie Europe. “Croisie Europe is the second biggest river cruise company in the world after Viking, but you probably never heard of it because the line only marketed to Europeans until recently – so in Europe, you are surrounded by Europeans. Croisie tends to have very reasonable prices, but some Americans aren’t comfortable because of a language barrier. “Grand Circle, in contrast, only markets to Americans so you will be on ship with Americans, have burgers at every meal if you want, but in their defense, they do a lot on the educational side, bringing on educators, so the cruises are more erudite, but cheaper than the others.”

Family friendlyAmaWaterways has partnered with Disney to do tours for families. “These are wildly popular and very well done (not surprising, Disney). There are no characters onboard, but they have activities to keep kids busy on land and river. It’s great for multigenerational.” Tauck is another with family-friendly tours.

Best rivers (for first timers): Danube (variety – castle, spas, vineyards, interesting trip), Mississippi (variety, start or end in New Orleans, plantations, Civil War sites, Mark Twain sites); Mekong (because you go to many places you couldn’t otherwise get to except by river cruise).

Where to Go 

The US Dollar is strong pretty much everywhere, “whooping every other currency.”

Brexit tanked the British pound

Euro that cost $1.45 in 2012 costs $1.05 in 2017.

Japanese yen lost 1/3 of value against the dollar from 2012

“It’s never been a better time for Americans to travel abroad (at least from a strong-dollar point of view).

Imperial Palace, Tokyo. The dollar has more buying power in Japan because of a strengthening dollar against the Japanese yen. © 2017 Karen Rubin/ goingplacesfarandnear.com.

As for where to go, Frommer (and Peter Greenberg as well), also tell Americans not to be discouraged by terror attacks in places like Paris, which has lost 30% of its tourism, a vital economic component. “In certain rooms in the Louvre, I was  alone; I didn’t make advanced reservations at restaurants, some of most coveted in Europe; the hotel room, everything was cheaper,” Frommer, who visited Paris in June, says., “And Parisians are happy to see Americans. There’s never been a better time.”

But she points out that a lot of the discomfort for Americans, who see headlines and have little comprehension of geography, is perception:

“What do the UAE, Bahamas, France, New Zealand, United Kingdom have in common? They each issued travel warnings against coming to the United States because of gun violence. We are New Yorkers. We know what it is to bounce back [after a catastrophic event].”

But if you are looking for a city like Paris but has bagels? Montreal is celebrating its 300th anniversary this year. The home city of Cirque d Soleil will be the scene of the craziest, most surreal celebrations – 40 foot tall marionettes marching through streets, 3D projections on the river; you can download a free app of the historic district and as you go through, suddenly there is a Sound & Light show.

Haida Gwaii (formerly known as the Queen Charlotte Islands; the people changed back the name to the original First Nations name) “has everything that Alaska has – fishing, wilderness areas, First Nation’s culture but without the crowds and 30% cheaper. I highly recommend visiting before it is better known.”

Indonesia, the largest Muslim nation in the world. “Open the doors. Go there but not necessarily Bali – that is over-loved.” She recommends Sula Wessy – an island of incredible culture, architecture, bright green rice paddies, the smallest monkeys on planet, and fascinating cultural rituals. In

Bali, outsiders can go to weddings and funerals, where welcome; in Sula Wessey, funerals are so elaborate that when people die, they are mummified similar to Egyptians, and left in the house; the mummy lives with the family for years because it takes that long to raise money for the funeral. They have elaborate processions, feasts, dances, and water buffalo sacrifices, then finally the body is buried in rock caves. It is fascinating to visit and less touristic than Bali.

Northern Lights. This is the year to see the Northern Lights, a phenomenon caused by storms on the sun that shoot particles into the Earth’s atmosphere. It goes in a 10-year cycle and 2017 is the last year of the cycle. It will be spectacular this year and crumby for the next. There are inland places in Norway, next to Arctic Circle, where there are no worries of fog from the sea obscuring as well as dog sledding.

Pantanal, the largest inland wetland in the world – twice the size of Iceland, is straddles Brazil, Bolivia and Paraguay (?). A decade ago, you couldn’t go in, because it was too difficult, but now river boats go in and for nature lovers it is spectacular because all the foliage is low to the ground so you can see more easily than Amazon – 500 species of birds, jaguars, tapirs, giant otters, fascinating wilderness. It is becoming more popular, so go now.

Nashville prides itself as being the “Athens of the South.” this year, “Music City” is celebrating the 120th anniversary of the Ryman and 50th anniversary of the Country Music Hall of Fame. © 2017 Karen Rubin/ goingplacesfarandnear.com

Nashville – hot – wonderful city – 120th anniversary of Ryman, 50th of Country Music Hall of Fame – every kind of music – get off the plane, live musicians. Foodie scene. Parthenon-replica [Nashville considered itself the Athens of the South], – which sounds silly until you visit – it is the symbol for the city which has many universities, a major medical center, a whip smart population. You will meet great people.

Bermuda – will be home to the America’s Cup this year, undergone millions of dollars of infrastructure rejiggering. Martin Samuelson opening restaurant, great chefs opening. The Hamilton Princess has undergone a multi-million renovation. “More than fun in sun, Bermuda has interesting culture (British, high tea, Bermuda shorts without irony) –a really interesting place, historic sites.”

Not just “fun in the sun” on its famous pink beaches, Bermuda also offers a rich heritage, travel expert Pauline Frommer says © 2017 Karen Rubin/ goingplacesfarandnear.com

She adds as a “bonus place” to her list: Cuba. “President Trump has said he will shut the door there and he can with sign of pen. It was opened by President Obama by executive order so can be closed down just as quickly. But Cubans are smart, when Trump was elected, they fast-tracked port rights to Carnival and 5 other major lines, fast tracked hotel building permits to Marriott and Hyatt and are trying to get Corporate America on their side so Trump can’t undo relations. But go to Cuba while you can and before the changes that would inevitably come.

Connect with Pauline Frommer at Frommers.com, @frommers, on Facebook Frommers.

See also: 

NYT Travel Show: Greenberg Tells Intrepid Travelers to Exploit ‘Brave New World of Travel’

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© 2017 Travel Features Syndicate, a division of Workstyles, Inc. All rights reserved. Visit goingplacesfarandnear.com and travelwritersmagazine.com/TravelFeaturesSyndicate/. Blogging at goingplacesnearandfar.wordpress.com and moralcompasstravel.info. Send comments or questions to FamTravLtr@aol.com. Tweet @TravelFeatures. ‘Like’ us at facebook.com/NewsPhotoFeatures

 

Chinatown, NYC Celebrates Year of Rooster at 18th Annual Lunar New Year Parade

18th Annual Lunar New Year Parade, Chinatown, New York City © 2017 Karen Rubin/ goingplacesfarandnear.com

By Karen Rubin, Travel Features Syndicate, goingplacesfarandnear.com

New York City’s Chinatown celebrated the Year of the Rooster with its 18th annual Chinatown Lunar New Year Parade & Festival.

US Senator Charles Schumer of New York was the Grand Marshal.

All along the route, Senator Charles Schumer gave a shout out to the largest ethnic Chinese community in the US, to Chinese immigrants, to all immigrants, and finished with a declaration “Immigrants make America great. We need more,” eliciting cheers from the crowd each time, as the parade wound its way along Mott Street.

US Senator Charles Schumer, Grand Marshal of the 18th Annual Lunar New Year Parade, Chinatown, New York City © 2017 Karen Rubin/ goingplacesfarandnear.com

Periodically, he would make his way to personally greet parade-goers, which included many people from outside the community. The most frequent comment that he heard had to do with somehow torpedoing the confirmation of Betsy DeVos as Education Secretary. “She’ll be terrible,” he said. “We need one more vote. I’m working on it.”

Occasionally a few in the crowd would shout an anti-Trump remark, but in general, the crowd was in the spirit of the Lunar New Year.

US Senator Charles Schumer greets paradegoers at the 18th Annual Lunar New Year Parade, Chinatown, New York City © 2017 Karen Rubin/ goingplacesfarandnear.com

This is the Year of the Rooster, the tenth in the 12-year cycle of Chinese zodiac sign. The Years of the Rooster include 1921, 1933, 1945, 1957, 1969, 1981, 1993, 2005, 2017, 2029.

18th Annual Lunar New Year Parade, Chinatown, New York City celebrates the Year of the Rooster © 2017 Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

“The Rooster is almost the epitome of fidelity and punctuality. For ancestors who had no alarm clocks, the crowing was significant, as it could awaken people to get up and start to work. In Chinese culture, another symbolic meaning of chicken carries is exorcising evil spirits,” according to the travelchinaguide.com site.

New York City’s Chinatown, two square miles in lower east side of Manhattan, is the largest Chinatown in the United States and the site of the largest concentration of Chinese in the western hemisphere. Manhattan’s Chinatown is also one of the oldest ethnic Chinese communities outside of Asia.

Chinatown, New York City, largest Chinese-American community in the US, celebrates the Year of the Rooster © 2017 Karen Rubin/ goingplacesfarandnear.com

Schumer’s encouragement for immigrants was understandable in Chinatown. With a population estimated between 70,000 and 150,000, Chinatown is the favored destination point for Chinese immigrants, though in recent years the neighborhood has also become home to Dominicans, Puerto Ricans, Burmese, Vietnamese, and Filipinos among others, according to Sarah Waxma, who writes about the history of Chinatown on the Chinatown-online.com site, which is also a source for planning a visit and touring.

Lunar New Year Parade, Chinatown, New York City © 2017 Karen Rubin/ goingplacesfarandnear.com

“From the start, Chinese immigrants tended to clump together as a result of both racial discrimination, which dictated safety in numbers, and self-segregation. Unlike many ethnic ghettos of immigrants, Chinatown was largely self-supporting, with an internal structure of governing associations and businesses which supplied jobs, economic aid, social service, and protection. Rather than disintegrating as immigrants assimilated and moved out and up, Chinatown continued to grow through the end of the nineteenth century, providing contacts and living arrangements — usually 5-15 people in a two room apartment subdivided into segments — for the recent immigrants who continued to trickle in despite the enactment of the Chinese Exclusion Act of 1882,” she writes.

Lunar New Year Parade, Chinatown, New York City © 2017 Karen Rubin/ goingplacesfarandnear.com

In remarks that sadly resonate in today’s headlines because of Trump’s Travel Ban on seven predominantly Muslim nations, she notes that “The Chinese Exclusion Act (1882-1943), to date the only non-wartime federal law which excluded a people based on nationality, was a reaction to rising anti-Chinese sentiment. This resentment was largely a result of the willingness of the Chinese to work for far less money under far worse conditions than the white laborers and the unwillingness to ‘assimilate properly’.”

There is none of this dark history on view today, only celebration.

Lunar New Year Parade, Chinatown celebrates culture © 2017 Karen Rubin/ goingplacesfarandnear.com

At the Lunar New Year, Chinatown becomes a fantastic street party with vendors, food and festivities, and heritage and ancient traditions on view.

“Lunar New Year is the liveliest and most important celebration in Chinese culture and Chinatown is the place to experience it!

The Museum of China in the Americas (MOCA) offers a walking tour that takes visitors through Chinatown to learn about holiday traditions and customs observed by Chinese households. Witness how the neighborhood transforms itself in preparation for the New Year and discover the characteristics that make this holiday unique.”

Lunar New Year Parade, Chinatown, New York City © 2017 Karen Rubin/ goingplacesfarandnear.com

Tours are conducted in English and are led by MoCA docents with personal or family roots in the neighborhood. In case of inclement weather, tours will be held in the galleries. Advance reservations are required. For information and reservations call 212-619-4785 or purchase tickets online, www.mocanyc.org. (Museum of Chinese in America, 215 Centre Street New York, NY 10013, 855-955-MOCA).

For more information, visit www.chinatown-online.com.

 

 

Lunar New Year Parade, Chinatown, New York City © 2017 Karen Rubin/ goingplacesfarandnear.com
Lunar New Year Parade, Chinatown, New York City © 2017 Karen Rubin/ goingplacesfarandnear.com
Lunar New Year Parade, Chinatown, New York City © 2017 Karen Rubin/ goingplacesfarandnear.com

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© 2017 Travel Features Syndicate, a division of Workstyles, Inc. All rights reserved. Visit goingplacesfarandnear.com and travelwritersmagazine.com/TravelFeaturesSyndicate/. Blogging at goingplacesnearandfar.wordpress.com and moralcompasstravel.info. Send comments or questions to FamTravLtr@aol.com. Tweet @TravelFeatures. ‘Like’ us at facebook.com/NewsPhotoFeatures

 

Heavenly Mountain Resort & Hard Rock Hotel Lake Tahoe: An Epic Combination

The spectacular view of Lake Tahoe from Heavenly Mountain Resort (photo by Dave E. Leiberman/Travel Features Syndicate).

by Dave E. Leiberman & Laini Miranda, Travel Features Syndicate, goingplacesfarandnear.com

Set along the south shore of Lake Tahoe straddling the California/Nevada state lines, Heavenly Mountain Resort offers one of the most unique ski experiences anywhere, combining stunning views, epic runs, and purist California vibe with the casino hotels and nightlife of Nevada.

Heavenly, which is one of the Vail Resorts, hosts on-mountain aprés ski parties with DJs, dancers, and “Heavenly Angels”, or you can enjoy the entertainment and gambling of the casino hotels at the base of the mountain. The unparalleled views from Heavenly Mountain to the pure blue glacial lake on the California side, and the sweeping desert on the Nevada side are what most entices us city folk to Heavenly.

The incomparable view skiing down California Trail on Heavenly Mountain (photo by Laini Miranda/Travel Features Syndicate)

We come to Lake Tahoe in December, of course, for the epic skiing. Heavenly straddles the California-Nevada state line and is a mountain for everyone, from hard-core tree skiers to pure vista-lovers which even beginner skiers can enjoy. On a single run, you will marvel at sweeping views of snowy mountains and the majestic Lake Tahoe on the California side, juxtaposed with desert vistas on the Nevada side. Intra-run breaks with beer, brats and sun-tanning at Stein’s at the foot of Powerbowl Express and BBQ at East Peak Lodge round out the experience.

Skiing Heavenly affords the juxtaposition of snowy slopes and Nevada desert (photo by Dave E. Leiberman/Travel Features Syndicate).

For us, the best way to start our day is to drive the seven or so minutes from Hard Rock Hotel, where we are staying, to the California Lodge parking area, stopping for a sumptuous, home-style breakfast at Driftwood Cafe in Heavenly Village. We suit up and secure our rental gear from the base lodge. Heavenly has rentals for the beginner, intermediate, and pro skier, and their staff is incredibly helpful. These days, with airline baggage fees and the hassle of transporting skis and snowboard equipment, renting at the ski destination is often a wonderful opportunity to test out the latest equipment.

Once we have our boots, skis, helmets, and poles, we head right outside to the base of the Gunbarrel and take the Gunbarrel Express lift to head up the mountain.

Dave & Laini at Heavenly. No one can resist stopping for a photo on the California Trail with Lake Tahoe in the background.

In mid-December a few of the slopes and ski-lifts are closed, but we are still able to explore most of the mountain, thanks to some incredible snow dumps early in the season. There is a great mix of blue and black runs at Heavenly, with the easier greens still exhilarating because of the incredible views. Ridge Run on the California side is spectacular for cruising and sightseeing; Skyline Trail, a relatively easy blue starting at 10,040 ft elevation, takes you over to Nevada and is one of our favorite runs for its desert views. We start off with spectacular views of the lake and the snow-capped mountains in the distance. We ski along the ridge of the mountain and suddenly end up with the sweeping panorama of the Nevada desert and big open sky in the distance. It is truly breathtaking to have this expansive view of such opposite terrains within seconds of each other.

Advanced skiers can dip into Milky Way Bowl where — even if you are en route to the experts-only Mott Canyon — it’s hard to not pause to take in the other-worldly environment.

Stopping to take in the other-worldly environment on Milky Way (photo by Dave E. Leiberman/Travel Features Syndicate).

The action continues in Heavenly Village, where we find apres ski cocktails, live music, and incredible pizza. Basecamp Pizza offers inventive and delectable pies, fire pits, craft beer with great happy hour specials, corn hole, and an Americana band tonight. The vibe is great and the place is packed, even the high-tops by the bar. We luck out and snag one just as a family leaves, and we enjoy the multi-sensual experience. The “Base Camp” specialty pie couldn’t more perfectly hit the spot, even for a couple of New York pizza snobs.

Basecamp Pizza (photo by Laini Miranda/Travel Features Syndicate)

Nightlife Abounds at Hard Rock Hotel

We arrive at the Hard Rock Hotel on the Nevada side of south Lake Tahoe after a long and exhilarating day skiing at Heavenly Mountain Resort. On your way to our room, we are greeted by a wall-sized photo of a huge concert audience opposite the elevator, placing us in the role of performer as soon as the doors open.

That is nothing compared to the breathtaking view we have from our room on the 12th floor. From this height we have a 300 degree view of Lake Tahoe and the panorama of mountains behind. In early December it is surprisingly warm enough for us to watch the sunset from our private balcony.

Sunset over Lake Tahoe from our balcony at the Hard Rock Hotel (photo by Laini Miranda/Travel Features Syndicate)

The room itself is spacious and newly renovated. The room decor continues to make you feel like you’ve just left a rock concert–swanky, sleek, and edgy. The extremely comfortable king size bed and the big flat screen TV are perfect for unwinding after an active day on the slopes.

Then it’s time to explore. The Hard Rock Hotel is filled with Rock memorabilia, and it is fun to search around for autographed guitars from the Monkeys, the Sex Pistols, and Paul McCartney among others, glass cases with famous outfits from tours and other paraphernalia from popular performers.

It’s fun to discover the rock memorabilia around the Hard Rock Hotel Lake Tahoe (photo by Laini Miranda/Travel Features Syndicate)

Our favorite part of the Hard Rock Hotel (besides the room) is The Oyster Bar (the first-ever raw seafood bar of its kind on Tahoe’s South Shore!). We are amused by the fact that, as New Yorkers accustomed to consulting Yelp to find a top restaurant, the Hard Rock’s Oyster Bar is what came up. The Oyster Bar has amazing reviews, and a perfect location on the first floor of Hard Rock Hotel. With only about 20 seats at the horseshoe-shaped bar, there is often a line to get seated. We are lucky both times we visit and are seated right away (yes, we are at Heavenly for two nights and we eat dinner here twice, it is that good).

The Oyster Bar at the Hard Rock Hotel Lake Tahoe gets rave reviews (photo by Laini Miranda/Travel Features Syndicate)

The seafood-packed Bouillabaise is insanely flavorful and big enough for two to share. Even coming from spending a month in New Orleans, this is perhaps the best Bouillabaisse we’ve ever had. The New England Style Clam Chowder is perfectly creamy and clammy, the Caesar Salad (also huge) has a hint of lemon and is delicious even without the optional added protein, and the Lump Crab Cocktail with Dijon Aioli is perhaps the most generous portion of fresh crab this Baltimore girl has seen. The food is so good it makes you forget that you’re sitting about 5 feet from slot machines. It should also be mentioned that the prices here are extremely reasonable, or even cheap considering the portions. It is in a casino, after all.

The Oyster Bar at the Hard Rock Hotel Lake Tahoe abuts the casino (photo by Laini Miranda/Travel Features Syndicate)

The Hard Rock also offers Prime, a modern steakhouse complete with a sophisticated bar, live music, stylish atmosphere and premium dishes. The Park Prime menu was inspired by the Park family, owners of the Hard Rock Hotel & Casino Lake Tahoe and cattle ranchers in northern Nevada, and features local grass-fed, free-range beef, premium seafood, shareable appetizers, an approachable wine list and specialty cocktails in a cozy lounge and bar setting.

The Hard Rock Hotel also has one of Lake Tahoe’s South Lake Tahoe’s newest and hoppingest casinos: 25,000 square feet of  casino floor featuring more than 500 state-of-the-art video gaming machines and table games, including Blackjack, Craps, Roulette, Ultimate Texas Hold’em, Three Card Poker, Pai Gow. The lively casino fills the ground floor with energy any time of night.

It also offers a major entertainment venue with a calendar chock full of events. There is a large heated outdoor pool, which, alas closes at 5pm so we weren’t able to use it ourselves.

The Hard Rock Hotel is well located in South Lake Tahoe, walking distance to Heavenly Village (and most importantly, the central Gondola that whisks you up to Heavenly Mountain with a spectacular view down to Lake Tahoe), and about a 7 minute drive to California Lodge. For us, because we have a car, the California Lodge is the easiest and quickest way to get to the mountain and affords us the convenience of parking our car just a few yards away from the lift.

(Hard Rock Hotel & Casino Lake Tahoe, 50 Highway 50, Stateline, NV 89449, 844-588-7625, hardrockcasinolaketahoe.com. Inside secret: the Hard Rock Hotel has a special department that offers discounted ski-and-stay packages, 877-518-7768, but the allotment sells out.)

Zalanta Luxury Condo Opens this Season

After our last day on the slopes, we are lucky to get a sneak peak of Zalanta Resort at the Village, Heavenly’s new luxury ownership condominium development right in the center of town, scheduled to open February 2017, which is also the first lodging in South Lake Tahoe to come under Vail Resorts management. Just across the street from the Heavenly Gondola, Zalanta’s central location and lodge-like architecture feels perfectly integrated into the fabric of Heavenly Village.

On the bottom floor of the property, there is a storefront with about 20,000 square feet of retail space that fits right in with the stores along Lake Tahoe Boulevard, as well as an 8,000 square foot restaurant. Residents and guests enter through the spacious lobby with windowed facades showcasing both the lobby and pool area out back. Also on the first floor is a large yoga and workout room that shares beautiful views to the pool oasis.

The units are incredibly spacious and range in size from pool-view 2-bedroom suites to 4-bedroom suites with wrap-around decks and mountain views. At the time of our tour, there were slated to be 20 two-bedroom units ranging in square footage from 1140 to 1700 sq. ft.; six 3-bedroom units between 1600 to 1800 sq. ft., and two 4-bedroom units around 2290 sq. ft. Every unit has washer/dryer, at least one fireplace, and almost all have a private deck. Most of the units have an open plan kitchen and living room with 18 foot ceilings at the tallest peak and 10-ft ceilings in the kitchen and bedrooms to create a cozier home ambiance.

In keeping with the luxury lifestyle feeling of the development, each unit is complete with high-end finishes. The kitchens each have beautiful hard wood cabinetry, marble backsplash, grey slate countertops, and energy efficient Kitchenaid appliances. Every aspect of the climate and location has been taken into consideration during the planning stages of the condominium. The 2nd floor carpeting, 3rd floor wood flooring, and double-paned glass windows in each unit offer maximum insulation and shield against the noise from the bustling Heavenly Village outside. There are even heated sidewalks throughout the property.

On the opposite side of the building from Heavenly Village, the pool area creates a quiet oasis away from the action of the town. The pool area, open year-round, features 2 wading pools, 2 hot tubs, and of course a large central heated pool. There is also a private lakeside beach just 3 blocks away, to which all owners and guests have access.

Zalanta, which means “spiritual mountain”, embodies the Heavenly experience, at once luxurious and rustic, majestic and cozy, the best of all worlds.

EpicMix Time Expands to Lake Tahoe

Dramatic scenery from the lift on Heavenly Mountain. The EpicMix Time app tells you the wait time at the lifts so you have more time on the slopes (photo by Laini Miranda/Travel Features Syndicate).

This season, Vail Resorts expanded its EpicMix™ Time to Heavenly Resort, Northstar and Kirkwood (also Lake Tahoe), as well as Park City Utah, which let’s you access real-time lift line wait times so you can better navigate the mountain and make the most out of your ski and ride experience. EpicMix Time uses proprietary technology to calculate and display up-to-the-minute chairlift and gondola line wait times. This innovative application of crowd-sourcing technology debuted last year at the Vail Resorts’ four Colorado resorts, Vail, Beaver Creek, Breckenridge and Keystone.

EpicMix is an online and mobile application that allows you to digitally capture your ski and ride experience, and share it with friends and family. This is all possible through radio frequency (RF) technology loaded onto all hard card passes. State-of-the-art RF scanners are installed at all 10 Vail Resorts so you can seamlessly keep track of your vertical feet, days skied, special accomplishments.

Jet Blue from JFK to Reno/Tahoe

It is easier than ever to get to Heavenly from the New York area: JetBlue offers a nonstop direct flight from JFK into Reno-Tahoe Airport (RNO), which is 40 minutes drive away (will be cut down to 20-30 minutes when the high-speed highway is completed); local companies offer shuttle service. The flight departs JFK at 7:30 pm, arriving RNO at 11:01 pm and returns RNO at 11:52 pm, arriving JFK at 7:59 am; the flight is not daily so check jetblue.com for schedule.

For more information, visit www.skiheavenly.com, where links help you plan your trip and pre-arrange LodgingLift Tickets, Lessons and Ski School,, Child Care, Equipment Rentals, and Ground Transportation.( http://www.skiheavenly.com/plan-your-trip/plan-your-trip.aspx)

For more information or to book trips at any of the Vail Resorts mountain destinations, visit snow.com.

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© 2017 Travel Features Syndicate, a division of Workstyles, Inc. All rights reserved. Visit goingplacesfarandnear.com and travelwritersmagazine.com/TravelFeaturesSyndicate/. Blogging at goingplacesnearandfar.wordpress.com and moralcompasstravel.info. Send comments or questions to FamTravLtr@aol.com. Tweet @TravelFeatures. ‘Like’ us at facebook.com/NewsPhotoFeatures

Four Friends and a Babymoon Travel California’s Highway 1 Discovery Route

Scenic Pismo Beach on California’s Highway 1 Discovery Route (photo by Laini Miranda/Travel Features Syndicate)

By Dave E. Leiberman, Laini Miranda, Maya Kessel, Andrew Kessel

“For three days we have called Morro Bay home while we explored the quaint fishing village packed with water activities and amazing food, and visited nearby attractions including Hearst Castle and the Elephant Seal Rookery on Piedras Blancas (see Four Friends and a Babymoon in Morro Bay on California’s Highway 1).

Now we set out to travel south along what has come to be known as the CA Highway 1 Discovery Route, a scenic 101-mile stretch of Highway 1 along Coastal San Luis Obispo County, from Ragged Point to the dunes of Nipomo, with scores of picturesque villages, uncrowded beaches, state parks and wilderness areas, and bountiful wine regions.

Our destination is Avila Beach, an inlet cove off the Pacific that features several piers, a fabulous beach, golf course and a great wine trail in downtown Avila, hidden among the restaurants and shops.

Avila Beach (photo by Dave E. Leiberman/Travel Features Syndicate)

We make it to Kelsey See Canyon Vineyard just before sunset. Through an unintended series of adoptions years back, over 200 peacocks now roam the winery. This is not your typical wine tour stop and we suggest budgeting extra time for Kelsey. The Vineyard is family owned and these are some of the friendliest and most welcoming hosts you’ll meet anywhere. If you are not into wine, come for the art or the newly developing hard cider production. During much of the year the family hosts local musicians and barbecues on site for local patrons and club members, taking advantage of their spacious outside seating area. Over the years this place has grown with both membership sales and local popularity and is bustling when we visit during the off peak season.

This is truly a family business in all senses. They’ll make you feel so at home you won’t want to leave. The roots of their story about how they got into wine go way back. Originally the family was involved with abalones and through a series of industry transformations they became wine producers. Colleen, the Kelseys’ niece, is an artist whose latest endeavors include jazz-inspired paintings which often appear on the wine bottles. Her most iconic piece – referencing the family roots of deep sea abalone diving and her love of mermaids, originally painted on a surfboard – is the Kelsey signature.

Kelsey See Canyon Vineyard tasting room, (photo by Laini Miranda/Travel Features Syndicate)

Leading our tour is Jac Jacobs, an industry veteran who’s worked at many vineyards, but has found what seems like a second family here at Kelsey. Jac is the most down-to-earth, knowledgeable winemaker we’ve ever met. You will leave feeling like you can explain wine to others without sounding pretentious.

One of the most amazing things about Jac is that he had never had cider before starting to work for Kelsey. But when they asked him to make cider he said, “Sure.” He used his novel approach and invented a new cider. Typically, the sweetness in cider comes from the apple’s natural fermentation process, but early on, Jac adds a little bit of sugar to the mixture, creating a unique cider that is neither too sweet or too bitter. When it comes to apples, Kelsey is most known for their Golden Delicious Chardonnay, a crisp white wine that is dangerously drinkable. Although the heart of this operation is at their winery in Avila, their online shop lets you enjoy Kelsey wines from other parts of the country as well.

(Kelsey See Canyon Vineyard, 1947 See Canyon Road San Luis Obispo, CA 93405 www.KelseyWine.com)

After our wine and cider tasting at Kelsey, we check into The Sycamore Mineral Springs Resort & Spa, the perfect destination for a relaxing and romantic getaway and our babymoon. Each guest room and suites features a terrace with its own mineral springs hot tub. On a cool winter night, it’s a perfect way to unwind from an active day. We stay in “Heavenly”, a 2-bedroom, 2-bath Suite. There is one queen bedroom and an even larger master bedroom with ensuite bathroom, both with access to the private terrace. The setup is perfect for a family or (in our case) for two couples. The living room is spacious and comfortable with a large modern flat screen TV and electronic fireplace to help set the mood. The large table in the dining area is a nice place to share a dinner and really makes you feel like you’re home. If you do decide to cook, this suite offers a fully equipped kitchen with a large wooden cutting board even built into the countertop. The Sycamore is just a few steps away from the Avila Valley Barn and a quick 4-minute drive from some incredible restaurants on the beach.

The Sycamore is a destination for both locals and tourists. It has a Yoga Dome with daily fitness classes included with your reservation. If you want to bump it up a notch, treat yourself at their award winning spa. For daytime guests, there are also 23 open-air naturally heated mineral spring hot tubs on the hillside around the property, as well as a private Oasis Waterfall Lagoon, all rentable by the hour. If you end up renting Pedego bikes nearby, this would be an idyllic pit-stop. The gift shop is worth a quick look and accompanies the relaxing paradise perfectly.

(The Sycamore Mineral Springs Resort & Spa, 1215 Avila Beach Dr San Luis Obispo, CA 93405 805-595-7302, www.sycamoresprings.com.)

Avila Valley Barn, a popular place in Avila Beach for locals and visitors alike, is just steps away from The Sycamore (photo by Laini Miranda/Travel Features Syndicate)

The Ocean Grill, right on the water, is a dining experience not to be missed. The pleasant aroma of wood fire greets you as enter this three-year-old restaurant. The restaurant went through a few different chefs and iterations of the menu before it found its current niche, which seems to hit all the right notes. This is one of a few local high-end places that is both accessible to locals and tourists.

Everything we try is delectable and we’ll tell you exactly what to order. The Brussel sprouts are crispy, roasted just perfectly to a slight char and accompanied by a balsamic reduction, goat cheese, and orange sauce. If you don’t love Brussel sprouts this could change your mind. The mussels are another not-to-be-missed appetizer with a garlicky broth that may make you want to lick the shell when no one’s looking and grab more of the focaccia bites to dip in. The basil pesto risotto with burrata (to which we add shrimp), is succulent and not your everyday risotto. Since we skip the salad this time, we opt for the side of pan roasted garlic broccolini.

Our helpful waiter Jake recommends the scallops. Scallops and calamari are two local favorites we see at many of the restaurants in the area. The Normand wood fired white pizza with brie, sliced apples, arugula, and garlic cream sauce had us licking our fingers. The local Morro Bay blackened cod with miso-glaze and Thai-inspired sauce and salad is incredibly flavorful. The texture is perfectly flakey and this is possibly the best fish we have on the entire trip.

The amazing skillet cookie at Ocean Grill (photo by Laini Miranda/Travel Features Syndicate)

But now, as far as the best anything anywhere, we’ll tell you about the desert. Eating the brown butter chocolate chip skillet cookie with ice cream and hot fudge is a race against time; from the moment you smell it coming out of the kitchen to the 60 seconds before you get to the last bite (because you will eat it that fast). Save room. The combination of hardened chocolate shell on top of the creamy, cold pure vanilla ice cream on a sizzling freshly baked chocolate chip cookie is perfect. As we finish our dessert Jake comes by and asks: “Should I load you up another?” If your waiter asks you this, the obvious answer is yes. We almost finish the second one before our friend makes it back to the table.

This is a family friendly restaurant perfect for foodie families. We see a number of children during our visit who may actually be convinced to eat their vegetables here. Definitely bring a bottle or two of wine from Kelsey Vineyards up the road which pairs great for the meal. Like most restaurants in this area you can bring the wine from your recent wine tasting and for a small corkage fee have your waiter pair your dinner with your own bottle(s). At Ocean Grill, you can eat in the more casual bistro area near the bar or enter into the more intimate dining enclosed porch area overlooking the ocean with heat lamps to keep you cozy in the winter. We enjoy a nice stroll on the beach after dinner seconds away while listening to the waves crash against the shore. It is the perfect ending to a perfect meal.

(Ocean Grill 268 Front St Avila Beach, CA 93424, 805-5954050 www.oceangrillavila.com).

We eat a quick breakfast at the Sycamore. The vegetarian omelet with roasted kale and asparagus is good as are the eggs Benedict with crab. It is one of the better Benedicts we’ve had on the Pacific. The fresh juice bar is great with some interesting combinations of fresh fruit and vegetables. The sausage has a ton of flavor with a hint of fennel. The breakfast burrito is quite filling but you could put it down in ten minutes if you need to.

E-Bike Adventure in Avila Beach

E-bikes prove ideal for biking along the craggy coast of Pismo Beach for our babymoon (photo by Laini Miranda/Travel Features Syndicate)

We arrive at Pedego Bikes in Avila Beach and are greeted by the super friendly Brunsting family. They introduce us to Pedego electric bikes, a really fun way to get to know any area. Pedego offers a variety of bikes to fit all shapes, sizes, and fitness levels (this works perfectly for our babymoon). Some of the newer models offer pedal assist, the “cruise control” for biking. Debbie, one of the owners, offers just enough guidance so you feel comfortable on these electric bikes, and has great suggestions and tips of what things/places you might want to check out on the bikes. She gives you a notated map and excitedly emphasizes that anywhere you wander in this area will be worth it and that the adventure is yours to create. It’s easy to quickly get the hang of the electric bikes. However, after zipping up the coasts and hillsides it may be hard to go back to a regular old manual bike, even with 21 gears. Pedego Bikes also offers vouchers for Kelsey Sea Canyon Winery and another winery next store.

(Open Daily: 10am-5pm, Pedego Bikes, First Street, Avila Beach, CA 93424, 805-627-1414 425  www.pedegocc.com.)

Biking on the scenic Bob Jones Trail (photo by Dave E. Leiberman/Travel Features Syndicate)

We start our electric bike adventure on The Bob Jones Trail. This beautiful walking and bike path leads right to the Avila Valley Barn.

First started in 1985, the Avila Valley Barn is a local favorite for the freshest fruit and vegetables of the area. Not only will you find wonderful fresh produce you can pick up home baked pies, bakery treats or unique gifts. You can visit a farm pet area, where you can feed goats, pigs, horses, sheep, and donkeys. Hayrides are also available every weekend.

(Open daily from 9 a.m. to 6 p.m. Avila Valley Barn, 560 Avila Beach Drive, Avila Beach, CA 93405 (805) 595-2816; www.avilavalleybarn.com.)

Enjoying scenic Pismo Beach on California’s Highway 1 Discovery Route (photo by Dave E. Leiberman/Travel Features Syndicate)

Biking the trail is an ideal way to spend a few hours in Avila Beach and get to see both the beach side of the town as well as the hills and natural beauty. At the barn, so many cute farm animals greet you as well as more surprising ones like the emu and strange looking chickens. Shell beach and Pismo Beach is right around the bend, where you can park your bikes and gaze at the beautiful, rugged coastline. If you catch the tide when it’s low, there are various sea creatures like the abalones hanging out in the tidal pools. It’s also fun to watch the surfers splashing around in the cold water in their wetsuits.

After a short ride up the hill and the coast, assisted by the electric batteries, we cross a bridge bringing us to the dock on the Port San Luis Harbor, where people gather to watch the active seals, fish, and enjoy the 360 degree water view. Vendors flayed fresh fish on the dock as we arrived at Mersea’s.

Mersea’s on the Pier in Avila Beach (photo by Dave E. Leiberman/Travel Features Syndicate)

We enjoy our fresh seafood lunch at Mersea’s on the Pier and highly recommend this stop when you are in Avila Beach. Atmospherically, it’s a memorable lunch stop. The seals bark and fight for valuable real-estate on the floating dock near this seaside-perched restaurant. At Mersea’s you order at the window from their extensive menu of seafood, sandwiches, and other local favorites. They had some good looking bloody Mary’s and beer options as well. If you get the taco’s we recommend the shrimp. The fried oysters and chips were delicious as were the raw oysters, which were bigger than our fists. It’s a pretty great spot for Instagrammers.

(Mersea’s on the Pier in Avila, 3985 Avila Beach Drive Avila Beach, CA 93252, 805-548-2290.)

A couples getaway on California Highway 1 Discovery Route Route (photo by Laini Miranda/Travel Features Syndicate)

Morro Bay and the Highway 1 Discovery Route, between Los Angeles and San Francisco, are packed with wonderful places that put the emphasis on relaxed adventure over the frenetic pace of their book-ended cities. The tranquility and peacefulness of the California’s central coast offers a level of intimacy that is difficult to find in San Francisco and L.A. The mix of outdoor activity, fine dining, and relaxed pace makes for the perfect getaway for two couples from New York City and Atlanta, whether for  a babymoon, a reunion of friends, a romantic getaway, or an anytime retreat.

For more information on planning a trip contact Morro Bay Tourism, 695 Harbor Street, Morro Bay, CA 93442, 805-225-1570, www.morrobay.org; For more information on Highway 1 Discovery Route, visit highway1discoveryroute.com.

See also: Four Friends and a Babymoon in Morro Bay on California’s Highway 1

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© 2017 Travel Features Syndicate, a division of Workstyles, Inc. All rights reserved. Visit goingplacesfarandnear.com and travelwritersmagazine.com/TravelFeaturesSyndicate/. Blogging at goingplacesnearandfar.wordpress.com and moralcompasstravel.info. Send comments or questions to FamTravLtr@aol.com. Tweet @TravelFeatures. ‘Like’ us at facebook.com/NewsPhotoFeatures