The 1,980-room hotel, New York City's largest, isn't the first hotel to discontinue that amenity, but it's probably the biggest. It's all part of a lodging industry trend to cut the frills and concentrate on basic service—a trend that the airlines pioneered with the introduction of controversial fees.
Around the nation and across the globe, hotels are curtailing such extras as business centers, minibars, bellhops, doormen and even traditional front desks for checking in. Yotel New York in Midtown Manhattan, for instance, asks guests to check themselves in at kiosks in the hotel's "Ground Control." And if their rooms aren't ready, Yotel's guests check their suitcases with a robotic baggage storage system.
You know me: Always complaining about excessive fees aimed at travelers. I've kvetched about the worst rental car rip-offs. I've bemoaned the world's most outrageous hotel fees. I've griped, groused, growled, and grumbled about airline surcharges here and here and here. But before I have to rush back to my thesaurus again for another way to say complain, let me acknowledge that there are some travel companies that are doing it right: They're giving stuff away, free. May I just say, yay.
Family members have planned a private burial service for Malcolm Shabazz, the grandson of slain civil rights activitist Malcolm X, in Hartsdale, New York tomorrow. He was beaten to death in a bar fight on May 9 in Mexico City. But in the widespread news coverageof the killing, one fact has been curiously underplayed: Shabazz was the unwitting victim of one of the oldest scams in travel.
Getgoing.com, a new website that officially launches on March 6, promises to save leisure travelers up to 40 percent on airfare. How do they know you're really a leisure traveler? Simple. You choose two different destinations in the same region of the world (for example, Vienna and Geneva, or Costa Rica and Panama) and enter your travel dates. Then provide your billing information to complete your reservation. The Get Going team randomly chooses one of your two options. The "surprise" is supposed to be part of the website's charm. The savings is the other part.
The website covers hundreds of cities in more than 50 countries. Here are some airfares from New York I found on getgoing.com and the lowest comparable fares on Kayak: Milan, $568 ($635 on Kayak); Istanbul, $577 ($705 on Kayak); Las Vegas, $247 ($338 on Kayak); Beijing, $815 ($1,020 on Kayak). I didn't find any 40% discounts, and the flights on getgoing.com may be different from those on Kayak, but in every example I tried, getgoing.com had the lowest fare.
And now for the drawbacks: Getgoing.com is the wrong choice if you are a business traveler who needs to be in Los Angeles on Monday morning or you're traveling to a family reunion in Glasgow, because you may not get your preferred destination. You won't know which airline you'll be flying or the location of your stop-over airports (if any) until you complete your purchase. Even more important: your tickets are completely nonrefundable and changes are not allowed, even if you're willing to pay a penalty fee. You can, however, buy cancel-for-any-reason trip insurance at a cost roughly equal to 10% of the airfare.
For free-and-easy travelers who choose their destinations using a blindfold, a dart, and a map taped to the wall, getgoing.com could be a useful booking tool. But for the rest of us, maybe not.
Mark Orwoll is the International Editor of Travel + Leisure. Follow him on Twitter.
UPDATE: Changes have been made below to the original post to clarify certain details about the import and export of musical instruments that were made using endangered species.
As individual musicians and orchestras make their plans now for the summer touring season, many face the distinct possibility are concerned that their rare and antique instruments may be confiscated when the musicians travel abroad or return to this country they cross international borders. That's because an international convention called CITESprohibits places restrictions on the import and export of musical instruments made from endangered materials like ivory, sea-tortoise shell, and Brazilian rosewood, among others. Enter an unlikely musicians' friend: the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service, which announced today that it will propose issuing "musical passports" that would permit international transport of such instruments made before the prohibitions were enacted.
This would be a huge relief to musicians with such instruments as vintage guitars and violins, as well as ivory-keyed pianos, since they currently have to file lengthy and complicated import and export forms every time they travel, for each and every country visit. If the proposal passes (and a FWS spokesperson seemed optimistic at a press conference today), musicians will be able to get an actual passport for their instruments, complete with a physical description on one page and spaces for entry stamps on another. The musical passports would be valid for three years. The proposal is expected to be made at a CITES conference in Thailand on March 3.
This post was updated February 26, 2012.
Mark Orwoll is the International Editor of Travel + Leisure. Follow him on Twitter.
In the summer and fall of 2009, Emmy-winning director, writer, and veteran mariner Sprague Theobald took on one of travel's greatest challenges: sailing through the fabled Northwest Passage, which connects the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans through the Arctic Circle. Only 24 other personal craft have completed the harrowing, often ice-bound journey since explorer Roald Amundsen did it in 1903. Untold ships and hundreds of lives have been lost in the attempt. So when Theobald and his crew set sail in the 57-foot trawler Bagan on the five-month, 8,500-mile sea-trek from Newport, Rhode Island, to Seattle, there were no guarantees that they would succeed--or even live to tell about it.
You've probably read most of the horrors experienced by the passengers on the ill-fated Carnival Triumph, currently being towed to Mobile, Alabama, after an engine-room fire disabled the ship's generators on Sunday. By all accounts the situation can only be described as heinous. But it gets worse…
Among the nightmarish conditions: nonworking toilets, odors so overpowering that people are vomiting everywhere, so little food that passengers must stand in line for hours in the hopes of getting nothing more than an onion sandwich, and sewage "sloshing" in the hallways and seeping through the walls! And yet few media are reporting an equally horrifying (though unconfirmed) bit of news: The ship may have stopped serving alcohol.
Would you pay $42.95 a day (plus 15 percent gratuity) for virtually unlimited bar drinks on your next Carnival cruise? What about paying the same amount for, say, 15 drinks? That's the big change now being tested on 13 Carnival ships.
The statement from Carnival:
We are still in a trial period with the CHEERS! beverage program which is currently being piloted on 13 ships. We recently made a change to the program, formalizing the limit on how many alcoholic drinks guests will be served within a 24-hour period (15 drinks total within the 24-hour period which runs from 6am to 6am the following day). Sodas and other applicable non-alcoholic beverages remain unlimited and will not be counted toward the 15 alcoholic beverages limit, and all other policies and procedures remain the same.
Westin Hotels & Resorts is rolling out new gyms worldwide, all with a more spalike atmosphere—neutral colors; woven flooring—and special blue light-therapy fixtures, which (apparently) have an energizing effect.
InterContinental Hotels Group, meanwhile, has announced a new wellness-themed brand called Even Hotels. Rooms will have jump ropes and exercise balls; breakfasts include free smoothies. The first property is expected in early 2013, perfectly timed to help with New Year’s resolutions.
Would everybody please stop picking on the TSA for a cotton-pickin' minute?! Hey, no question the airport-security agency has taken a pummeling from critics lately, especially over accusations of theft. A report by ABC's Nightlinelast week was particularly damning when an iPad stolen from an airport security checkpoint was tracked down to the home of the TSA agent on-duty at the time. And now comes another dust-up. But this time the TSA claims it had nothing to do with it.