Archive for February, 2008

Bedding down with the presidential candidates

February 8, 2008

As advertising gimmicks go, this one gets my vote. “Stay Smart, America” is a campaign by Holiday Inn Express and the Boston office of its ad agency, Digitas. What this new addition in the ad series does is show how much the presidential candidates would have saved had they stayed at a Holiday Inn Express instead of whatever swankier digs they’re using. Interestingly, Mitt Romney led the GOP in “wasted” hotel dollars. Hmmm… could that have contributed to his withdrawal?

The site design is genius. To the background of “Hail to the Chief,” you see drawings of all original candidates in their jammies. Romney is holding a teddy bear. Put your cursor over each candidate and their pj’s turn red or blue, depending on the party. Click on each to get a report of money spent on lodging, based on published campaign expense reports. There also are tallies for each party.

Days Inn in Hardeeville, SC welcomes petsPersonally, I find Holiday Inn Express a little too rich for my bargain-happy blood. The Days Inn I stay at in Partyville, SC (OK, it’s really Hardeeville), on my bimonthly drive from North Carolina to Florida is $39.99 on weeknights, and $10 extra for my wiener dog Roxy, who even gets her own bed.

In fact, I just did a quick test. The lowest rate for Feb. 22 at the Tampa International Airport Holiday Inn Express is $133. For the same night at the Tampa Airport Days Inn, it’s $90. Feel free to pass that along to your candidate of choice.

(Mediocre) cheeseburger in (real) paradise

February 6, 2008

They say there’s no such thing as bad publicity, so I’m going to do Cabbage Key a favor by sharing my opinion of its totally mediocre cheeseburger, which the wait staff pushes as something quite special.

View from patio on harbor of Cabbage KeyBut first, the place. Yes, it is paradise! The Cabbage Key Inn and Restaurant off the coast of Pineland, Fla., and near Boca Grande was built in the 1930s as the main house for the family of novelist Mary Roberts Rinehart. The building sits atop a Calusa Indian shell mound (a 30-foot-tall Florida “mountain”) and the view of water in every direction is extraordinary, especially if you climb up the vintage wooden water tower for a look-see.

Now about that grub. I rarely order cheeseburgers, but when the waitress sang out, “we’re famous for our cheeseburgers!” I was suckered in. She wasn’t lying, but that’s because Cabbage Key is one of the 73,538 places Jimmy Buffett has cited as his inspiration for the cheesy tune “Cheeseburger in Paradise.” Perhaps he was wasted away in you-know-where if he indeed found a muse in a Cabbage Key burger.

Eating a mediocre cheeseburger in true paradiseWhen lunch arrived, I was aghast! The bun was standard fare, not even toasted, and the slice o’ American single cheese was maybe a quarter melted. The fixins’ on the side were equally uninspiring. At least the view from the patio seating took away some of my pain. And, hey, I’m not the only one who feels this way. Or maybe it’s just a Boston Globe thing. In 2006, my colleague Ellen Albanese wrote, when mentioning the Buffett connection there, “judging by the burger we had on our visit, we’d guess the singer was referring to the view and not the sandwich.”

So I called general manager Rob Wells (he and his family own the joint, as well as the Tarpon Lodge on Pine Island) to get his side of the story.

“We have 100s of people on a daily basis who come in for cheeseburgers,” he said.

“But do they really think they taste good?” I asked.

“Absolutely, yeah,” he said. “Our overall experience by hundreds of people a day is that they love it.”

OK, Rob, if you say so. Don’t you think the appeal could be more about the scenery, or the famed 60,000 or so $1 bills stuck to the walls and ceiling of the adjacent bar? But you were such a good sport about the whole thing that I’ll give you the benefit of the doubt. I’m coming back some day, Rob. But when I do, I’m ordering the Reuben.

Somewhere over the ‘moonbow’

February 4, 2008

“Where they Went” by Diane Daniel
(Published Feb. 3, 2008, in the Boston Globe)

From Di’s eyes: Bill and Jan’s creative roadtrips show their great sense of playfulness and humor. It’s nice that they often meet up with long-time friend Paul Savina of Chapel Hill, N.C. (right up the road from me in Durham). I interviewed only Bill and he had me in stitches much of the time while he described Zaneville’s claim-to-fame, Wigwam Village, the crazy bus ride at Mammoth Cave, and their madcap chasing of the moonbow. He was rewarded with a photo of gold at the end of it.

WHO: Bill, 53, and Jan Sides, 52, of Foxborough, Mass.

WHERE: Kentucky.

WHEN: 10 days in September and October.

WHY: “In 2004 we were out West, and there was a restaurant that had a big tepee for the dining room. Jan wanted to eat there, but she got voted down,” Bill Sides said. “Later I went online and found a wigwam in Kentucky you could stay at, and I made up a little brochure with an itinerary and gave it to her for Christmas.” Jan and Bill Sides at Cumberland Falls State Resort ParkThe highlight was seeing a lunar rainbow at Cumberland Falls State Resort Park. “It’s the only place in the Western Hemisphere that you can see a moonbow on a regular basis.”

PAYING HOMAGE: “We stopped somewhere in Pennsylvania the first night to put some miles on and the next day went to Shanksville, where the plane crashed on 9/11. We had a very close friend killed in one of the towers.” From there they visited Frank Lloyd Wright’s Fallingwater in the village of Mill Run, Pa. “It fits in the landscape so perfectly. It’s just an amazing house.”

Y NOT?: “We had to tick off Ohio, so we went to Zanesville. Every town tries to promote something. This town promotes the fact that it has a Y-shaped bridge, and an overlook that you can look down on the Y-shaped bridge.”

LUKEWARM ON WIGWAM: They spent two nights in Berea, Ky., known for its arts and crafts, and from there, they headed to Wigwam Village in Cave City. The tepees “were all concrete, and probably state of the art when they were built 70 years ago. It was really pretty interesting but not that nice. My wife would say, ‘You get what you pay for.’ ”

THEY CAVED: At Mammoth Cave National Park, they chose the Frozen Niagara Tour over the Tall Man’s Misery and Fat Man’s Misery. “The tour was nice and interesting, but the most exciting part was the bus ride to the cave opening. It was in an old school bus, and we were blasting around all these corners.”

MILESTONES IN HISTORY: At Cumberland Falls park, near Corbin, they were joined by longtime friend Paul Savina of Chapel Hill, N.C. “We stayed at Dupont Lodge, part of the park and one of those CCC [Civilian Conservation Corps] projects built in the ’30s. It was absolutely wonderful.” In Corbin, “the Birthplace of Kentucky Fried Chicken,” they went to Colonel Sanders’s first restaurant. “We also went to the World Chicken Festival in London. Their claim to fame is they have the world’s biggest frying pan.”

KENTUCKY MOON: A chance to see the Cumberland Falls moonbow, a rainbow produced by the moon instead of the sun, can draw hundreds of people, Sides said. It’s visible only The Cumberland Falls moonbow or lunar rainbowat certain times near or during a full moon. “We had two chances to see it. The first night it was partly cloudy, but the next night, the sky was clearer. There were about 60 people and everyone is hurrying to get there. It only lasts about half an hour. It’s a fascinating phenomenon. It was quite bright, but you see white. It only shows colors in photos. I took three six-and-a-half-minute exposures, and one came out really great.”

How to beat rental-car ripoff during spring break

February 1, 2008

If you know me, you know I have a big thing against most rental-car company practices. Jacking up, up, up the prices during peak season is one of my beefs. For you folks Enterprise Car Rentalflying to Florida (and I’m sure this works elsewhere) in the spring and renting a car, here’s a little trick of mine you might be able to use.  (I’d love to hear others’ strategies.)

In January I booked flights to Tampa from Manchester, NH, (where my friend Kristin is flying from), and Durham, NC, (where I’m flying from) on Southwest, and both were about $200 round-trip. Not bad for Easter weekend! But get this. Car rentals from the airport for five days were around $500!! Unbelievable.

Here’s what I did. As you probably know, Enterprise has little neighborhood offices all over the place, and they’re often (usually? always?) cheaper than airport rentals. I reserved a Indian Rocks Beach, FLcar at a location on my way to where I’ll be staying (Indian Rocks Beach). I’m paying a mere $30 extra to then drop it off at the airport when I leave. The grand total? $156!! Now that is a deal. If I picked the car up at the airport, still using Enterprise, the price would be $438. Other companies were charging even more!!

To do this fancy-schmancy different drop-off reserving, you have to call, not go online. But then Enterprise *offered* to give me the online price, saving me another whopping $5.

Enterprise is tops in car-rental customer service, and I’ve been saying this for years, not just since my $275 savings.

I’ll probably be able to get a ride from the airport to Enterprise, but if I couldn’t, a Super Shuttle ride for about $20 (including tip) would take me straight to Enterprise.

My scenario may not exactly suit your needs. For example, you could use a neighborhood Enterprise office in Tampa and be even closer. If you’re traveling in a group or family, it would be cheaper to take a taxi than pay for individual shuttles.

My main message here is that when prices are jacked up, try to rent away from the airport. Get creative!