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Finnish Company Offers Teddy Bear Vacations, Blogger Considers Shooting Himself

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A travel agency in Finland is offering guided tours of the remote Lapland region—but for teddy bears only. No people allowed. But that’s okay. After all, it’s the bears that are coming out of hibernation, not you. Does your stuffed bruin seem a bit moody lately? Maybe what that sleepy Smokey needs is a change of pace, to be off on his own, in a land of ice and snow and pine trees and pickled herring. And Teddy Tours Lapland is standing by to help your plush Grizzly get that new perspective on life.

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Message from the Titanic: Send More Polar Bears!

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Last December we told you about the new Titanic Museum, a half-scale, three-deck replica of the doomed ocean liner, in Pigeon Forge, Tennessee. Well, the museum has finally opened and in its first three weeks it ran out of souvenir polar bears in the gift shop!

I suppose if that’s the worst fate to befall the nascent attraction, it’s doing pretty well. In fact, the museum clocked 50,000 “passengers” in the first 21 days. And what is it everyone wants to see? “Guests are interested in the only Titanic lifejacket tied to an actual passenger (below)—it's the only one in the world,” says Mary Kellogg-Joslyn, owner of the Titanic Museum. “The passenger's name was Madeleine Astor, married to the richest man aboard the ship.  The value of this artifact is really priceless. It has been insured for a million dollars.”

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Spirit Airlines Is At It Again

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Spirit Airlines, the Florida-based airline that will charge $45 to stow carry-ons in the overhead bin starting August 1, is plumbing new depths of customer annoyance by announcing today that it would begin placing ads for a toothbrush company on its lavatory mirrors.

The toothbrush company, which will get no additional publicity here, apparently believes Spirit’s media kit claim that the ads will get “100% saturation, with a targeted, captive audience that is actively engaged by ads for an average of three hours.”

It’s difficult not to snigger at the phrase “captive audience.”

Spirit, which recently installed cheap and uncomfortable “pre-reclined” seats on many of its aircraft so it could increase the passenger load, has sold advertising on barf bags, tray tables, bulkhead panels, beverage napkins, ticket envelopes and more. In years past it mandated flight attendants to wear aprons imprinted with the Bud Light logo.

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Singapore's New Summit

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One can forgive Singapore's new Marina Bay Sands resort complex for opening in stages. If it debuted all at once, it might melt your mind.

The 2,600-room hotel, which had a "soft" opening of 963 rooms on April 27, will feature six celebrity-chef restaurants (including eateries run by Daniel Boulud, Wolfgang Puck, and Mario Batali), boat rides through canals interlacing the expansive, 800,000-square-foot Shoppes at Marina Bay Sands, two state-of-the-art theaters (The Lion King opens in October) with combined seating for 4,000 souls, a massive casino, and an "artscience" museum built in the shape of a lotus, all housed in an aggressively futuristic multi-structure complex overlooking Singapore's Marina Bay waterfront.

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Pay Toilet Foes Feel The Flush of Relief

The stupidest idea to come along in ages looks to have gone down the drain, literally. Last week Michael O’Leary, ceo of the Irish budget carrier Ryanair, said he would install pay toilets for use on short-haul European flights, but the cockamamie scheme turned out to have been more than a piddling matter. A stream of invective followed the announcement in the press.

The latest news: Boeing, which built Ryanair’s fleet of 737-800s, has put the kibosh on the plan for safety reasons, leaving O’Leary up a yellow river without a paddle. In addition to charging one euro to use the facilities, O’Leary had planned to remove some of the existing toilets and replace them with additional seats. But the airline’s planes already are configured for 189 passengers, the most that can be carried safely. Because the planes were made in America, any reconfiguration by Boeing to increase the number of passengers would be subject to FAA approval, which would be unlikely.

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Ryanair Confirms: ‘We are serious about charging a toilet fee’

201004-b-bathroomjpgRyanair, the ultra-budget Irish airline known for its low fares and numerous surcharges, confirmed yesterday what had long been rumored: It is serious about charging passengers to use the toilet. If it goes forward, it would be just the latest in a long line of airline industry fees that have dogged travelers over the past several years. The news comes on the heels of yesterday’s announcement from Spirit Airlines that it would begin charging passengers a carry-on luggage fee of up to $45. When I wrote the Spirit blog item yesterday, I said the only fee that could be worse would be a toilet charge.

Well, that didn’t take long, did it?

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Spirit Airlines To Charge for Carry-Ons

201004-b-istockjpgSpirit Airlines has hit a new low. Four hours ago I received an email from the airline announcing that it would begin charging as much as $45 fee for carry-on bags, the first U.S. airline to add that surcharge. This is only the latest move in the industry’s “unbundling” trend, in which airlines tack on fees for services and amenities that traditionally were included in your airfare. But Spirit’s move today marks the trend’s nadir. Perhaps the only surcharge that could surpass it for egregious gouging would be if an airline charged passengers to use the toilet—a day that certainly can’t be too far off.

Spirit will begin charging the carry-on fee for flights starting on August 1. Exceptions to the carry-on fee include medicine, food for immediate consumption, and assistive devices, presumably because it wouldn’t look right to have passengers going into convulsions for lack of meds or to charge someone for bringing crutches on board. The carry-on rule applies only to baggage placed in overhead bins. Personal items that can be placed under your seat—such as your wallet, your change purse, your ATM card, and loose cash—are free.

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So That’s What’s In A Name!

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I’ve long had a small problem with the Jolly chain of hotels and resorts. Not the hotels themselves, some of which are very good. I love the 1920s-era Whaler Bar at the Jolly Madison Towers in New York City, for instance, although I have to suppress a giggle whenever I tell a friend to meet me there. No, it’s the name itself that bugs me. There’s an enforced gaiety to it, a glued-on marketing smile. At any rate, I was surprised to discover there are three Jolly time-share resorts neighboring one another in Antigua. At least, there were three until the Jolly Beach Vacations Resort changed its name in March to Tranquility Bay.

On the Orwoll 10-point Smart Meter, I rate that name-change a 10. Who could not love a resort with a name like Tranquility Bay? And it got me thinking about more hotels that have changed their names, and even other random corporate name changes—some of which, shall we say, do not earn high marks on the Smart Meter.

HOTEL NAME CHANGES

Cova Hotel (San Francisco). Former name: Air Travel Hotel. After an extensive renovation and a dose of marketing reality, the owners realized that Air Travel is a truly odd name for a hotel. So they changed it to something arcane instead of merely misleading. Not necessarily a huge improvement. Smart Meter: 4

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Dispatch: Kismet in Berlin

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I'm in Berlin for the annual ITB travel fair, and last night had one of those magical moments that sometime happen when we travel, a foruitous experience that can't be planned, only enjoyed. Kismet.

We were a small group of magazine people dining at Grill Royal, one of Berlin's restaurants of the moment, overlooking the Spree River from a quay just below fashionable Friedrichstrasse. The massive restaurant is renowned for its beef— entrecôte from Nebraska, Wagyu from Australia, specialty cuts from Argentina—a decidedly gourmet approach to steak. But the menu is varied, with choucroute (dressed sauerkraut), oysters from the island of Sylt, bouillabaisse, and other regional delicacies.

The restaurant decor is minimalist, with spotlighted artwork on the walls, massive columns, dark-wood banquettes. The real decoration comes from the diners themselves—chic, attractive, some young, others young-ish, all wearing fashions you'd find in the cutting-edge boutiques off Unter den Linden a few blocks away.

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NYC’s New Eventi Hotel is Located in…

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In a city that seems to have a catchy nickname for every neighborhood (NoLita, TriBeCa, the Flatiron, et al), no one seems to know exactly what to call that part of Manhattan around Sixth Avenue and 29th Street. A few blocks southeast of Madison Square Garden and a few blocks southwest of the Empire State Building, the neighborhood tenants are nondescript costume jewelers, button-sellers to the trade, and wholesale import companies, interspersed with mom-and-pop markets and the occasional martial-arts supply store.

“It’s an area that you pass through to get somewhere else, but I think we’re going to change all that,” says Thomas Mathes, general manager of Eventi, a new 54-story hotel managed by Kimpton Hotels and set to open on May 15. “We call the area North Chelsea.” Which may be stretching the map coordinates a bit, but in any event it’s more attractive than, say, Garment Center South.

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