Cool places & events to add to your ‘go’ list

Kentucky’s new GLASS National Art Museum

The Stuck at the Airport art team is based in Seattle, which is home to world-renowned glass artist Dale Chihuly, the Chihuly Garden and Glass attraction, the Refact Glass Festival, and a bubbling glass art community. Down the road, in Tacoma, WA, there’s an entire Museum of Glass.

But we’re putting the newly opened GLASS National Art Museum, in Danville, Kentucky on our ‘go’ list. The just-opened museum is built around the collection of Stephen Rolfe Powell, an artist known as a hot glass master of color who died in 2019. He was highly regarded in the international glass world and his glass sculptures are in the collections of major art museums. He was also a professor at Danville, Kentucky’s Centre College for more than 35 years, where he founded a glass program.

The Art Center of the Bluegrass, a multipurpose space in Danville, acquired Powell’s collection and is displaying it along with works by other prominent glass artists. 

Find the Glass National National Art Museum at 408 West Main Street, Danville, KY. Hours: Tuesday – Friday 10:30 am – 6:30 pm. Admission: free.

(Photos courtesy GLASS National Art Museum).

Circus dinner theater: Teatro Zinzanni at Lotte Hotel Seattle

(Elena Gatilova in Teatro ZinZanni Residency at Lotte Hotel Seattle. Photo by Nate Watters)

Love, Chaos & Dinner. And maybe an overnight stay.

If you live in or near Seattle or are looking for a reason to head that way this holiday season or sometime before the end of March 2024, the rollicking theatrical cirque experience that is Teatro Zinzanni is a must-do.

The sumptuous dinner show is wacky and, at times, a wee bit racy. And there’s a stellar cast that leans into some tried and true vaudeville traditions while offering a steady stream of impressive and often heart-stopping acrobatics and funny stuff performed on and above the stage and, sometimes, in the audience.

There’s a storyline to the evening, but with all the singing, the shtick, and the ‘how can they do that?! feats on the trapeze and elsewhere – that won’t matter.

This is Teatro Zinzanni’s 25 anniversary and over the years the company’s giant cabaret tent has been in residence in several locations in and around Seattle.

This season, Teatro Zinzanni is in residence in the Grand Ballroom of the Sanctuary at Lotte Hotel Seattle so there’s no room for the entire tent.

But the mirrored walls, the wooden booths, the in-the-round seating, and the elevated live orchestra Teatro Zinzanni fans have come to expect are all here. And it’s clear that the Sanctuary, formerly the oldest church in downtown Seattle, is a perfect venue thanks to lots of stained glass, a 58-foot-high domed ceiling, and plenty of history.

Sleepover after the show

Lotte Hotel Seattle is one of the newer, high-end hotels in Seattle and an overnight here is a great pairing with an evening at Teatro Zinzanni.

Designed by industrial French designer Phillipe Starck, the hotel has 189 rooms, a spa, plenty of meeting space, great views over the city, the waterfront, and Elliott Bay, plus a cocktail lounge and restaurant on the top floor with a very reasonably priced Happy Hour.

The guestrooms have floor-to-ceiling windows, large mirrors, fun art, spacious bathrooms clad in travertine stone, and a cozy decor that takes inspiration from Pacific Northwest forests.

We spotted a lot of fun wood (real and referenced) throughout the hotel, from the front desk made out of a log from a 3,000-year-old Sequoia tree to the ‘wood’ carpeting in the hallways and in the rooms.

They’ve even got a discount package for anyone attending a Teatro Zinzanni show.

Hotel Amenity of the Week

The Stuck at The Airport team is still relearning some of its post-pandemic packing skills.

And we’ve called down or showed up at several of our hotel front desks asking for toothpaste, combs, and other items we’ve forgotten to replace in our travel kits.

We’ve also been forgetting to pack belts, sunglasses, and other accessories. So this new complimentary program from Kimpton Hotels & Restaurants (part of IHG Hotels & Resorts) caught our attention.

Through a partnership with lifestyle retailer Anthropologie, beginning August 1 select Kimpton properties will offer guests the opportunity to borrow from a selection of stylish and seasonally-appropriate accessories kept at the front desk.

The accessories in the Forgot It? We’ve Got It! program will change with the season and right now includes several styles of sunglasses, handbags, and belts. Better yet, if you love what you borrow, you can buy that accessory on a special Kimpton/Anthropologie shopping site.

Smart right?

So we’re declaring this a top nomination for “Hotel Amenity of the Week.”

Have a hotel or airport amenity you’d like to nominate? Leave a note in the comment section below.


Travel Tidbits: Airport rewards + a fun hotel

Get extra rewards for eating, drinking, and shopping at airports

You know you’re going to spend money at the airport. Why not get an extra something in return?

In addition to the points/miles/or cash back you might get by charging your airport meal, cocktail, or store purchase to specific credit cards, if you’re at a participating airport you can also earn gift cards and airline miles through the Thanks Again loyalty program.

The program operates at dozens of US airports, including Atlanta Hartsfield International Airport (ATL), Boston Logan International Airport (BOS), and Tampa International Airport (TPA). And now Denver International Airport (DEN) has joined the program with its locally-branded DENPerks program.

Stay here: Hotel Rose in Portland, OR

The Stuck at the Airport team has a soft spot for Portland, Oregon, and Portland International Airport (PDX). And over the past six months, we’ve been checking out various downtown hotels in Rose City.

Our most recent visit included a stay at the Hotel Rose, which is part of the Staypineapple brand that also has properties in Boston, Seattle, New York City, Chicago, San Francisco, and San Diego.

Beyond the squeaky clean room, we appreciated the bonus amenities that include a chit for a welcome drink (beer, wine, or soft drink) in the bar, complimentary afternoon coffee and cookies in the lobby, courtesy loaner bikes, unlimited bottled water, and this great charging station in the room.

Better yet, the hotel is located right on Waterfront Park and is a block away from Mill Ends Park.

The park is on a median strip, is just 2 feet across, and has room for just one tree. And back in 1971, the park was designated as the world’s smallest park by the Guinness Book of Records.

Hotel ‘bed taxes’ are here to stay.

(This is a story we first wrote for NBC News)

Ever check out of a hotel and notice a “transient occupancy tax” on your bill?

Unfortunately for your wallet, the Biden administration’s crackdown on “junk fees” won’t do anything about it.

But unlike some of the add-ons hoteliers and booking sites charge, this common type of tax doesn’t pad corporate margins, and the projects it funds are evolving in step with the post-pandemic tourist economy.

These levies — often known generically as “bed taxes,” though they go by many names — are imposed by state, county and local governments or tourism improvement districts.

They can drive up the cost of an overnight stay at hotels, motels, bed and breakfasts, campgrounds, and short-term rentals like Airbnbs, sometimes by up to 20%.

The jurisdictions typically decide how to allocate the revenue these taxes pull in. Sometimes they supplement governments’ operating budgets; other times they’re used to finance tourism campaigns, build convention centers, support cultural programs, or hire beach lifeguards.

New Uses For Hotel Bed Taxes

But in Estes Park, Colorado, bed taxes are now subsidizing housing and childcare costs for local workers.

The mountain community, known as a base camp for adventures in Rocky Mountain National Park, voted for that move after a law Colorado enacted in March 2022 began allowing cities and counties to use hotel tax proceeds to cover housing and child care for the tourism-related workforce

In Estes Park, the decision came after advocates flagged a proliferation of second homes and short-term rentals that they said had strained affordability in the area.

Last November, the city raised its hotel bed tax to 5.5%, up from 2%, and earmarked funds from the increase — an estimated $5.3 million in 2023 — for the housing and child care initiatives, said Kara Franker, the CEO of Visit Estes Park, a local tourism group. That beefed-up bed tax now combines with town, county and state sales tax to add a cumulative 14.2% onto the cost of a nightly stay in the city, she said, helping to fund a range of public services alongside the new workforce-related initiatives.

According to Colorado tourism officials, at least 17 municipalities have imposed a new bed tax or modified an existing one over the past year, many of them putting the revenue toward new types of projects.

Similar moves are happening in tourism-heavy areas across the U.S., said John Lambeth, CEO of travel consultancy Civitas, reflecting a more expansive approach that is “more about stewardship of the destination and giving back to the community.”

Jack Johnson, chief advocacy officer for the travel industry group Destinations International, said the disruptions of the pandemic have motivated some communities to consider whether broader social and economic policies “can be tied to travel in tourism, either directly or indirectly, and therefore paid for out of the bed tax.”

Hotel taxes were first adopted in the U.S. by New York City in 1946, became commonplace nationally by the 1970s, and are what guests typically see itemized on their hotel bills today, said Elizabeth Strom, an associate professor at the University of South Florida’s school of public affairs. Public officials have long loved bed taxes because they generate easy-to-raise income from out-of-towners, not local voters.

“Every state either has such a tax at the state level or permits such a tax at the local level or both,” Strom said.

The newer breed of bed tax experiments, like those in Colorado, are being driven as much by windfalls from rebounding travel demand as by evolving civic attitudes.

Tourism revenues dipped sharply during the pandemic, but in 2023, hotel-generated state and local tax revenue — which includes bed taxes along with the other levies lodging operators contribute to government entities — is expected to reach $46.71 billion nationwide, up 13.6% from 2019, according to a study by the American Hotel and Lodging Association and Oxford Economics.

Bed taxes already account for nearly half of the hotel-generated taxes in the U.S., the AHLA said, and it expects bed taxes this year will likely exceed the $19 billion they generated in 2019.

In Florida, which has been hit by multiple hurricanes that affect beaches and islands, Broward, Collier, Lee and other counties are applying tourism revenues to rebuild and protect those travel assets, Johnson said. Bed taxes now contribute financing for dune restoration, shoreline stabilization, erosion control, and other coastal management activities, he said.

The shift has raised some concerns from the hospitality industry.

“In general, the more taxes states and cities levy on hotels, the more of a competitive disadvantage they create for local businesses, as potential hotel guests may seek out other destinations with lower tax burdens,” AHLA CEO Chip Rogers said.

As for the industry-imposed fees the Biden administration is scrutinizing, AHLA spokesperson Curt Cashour said that only 6% of hotels nationwide charge “a mandatory resort, destination or amenity fee, at an average of $26 per night,” adding that they “directly support hotel operations” like staff wages and benefits.

Cashour said the AHLA is continuing to work with authorities “to ensure that the same standards for fee display apply across the lodging booking ecosystem” so guests aren’t caught off guard.

Bed taxes may send extremely cost-conscious leisure and business travelers to lower-taxed destinations, Strom said, “but if you are a unique location, I don’t think an extra few dollars a night in taxes matters.”

“If people want to see the Space Needle,” she added, “they aren’t comparing the cost of rooms in Seattle to the cost of rooms in Portland.”

Some top tourist destinations say they aren’t worried about turning away tourists at the moment.

Hawaii, for example, is seeing a strong post-pandemic tourism recovery, even though its 13.3% state and county transient accommodation taxes combine with 4.5% excise taxes to add close to 18% to nightly hotel bills. State revenue forecasters expect Hawaii’s bed tax alone to bring in more than $785 million this year, up from $645 million last year.

Since drawing more tourists isn’t the main challenge, said Ilihia Gionson, a public affairs officer with the Hawaii Tourism Authority, the agency is using some of the funds it gets from hotel taxes to try to influence what types of visitors it attracts.

“The wheels were turning before the pandemic and accelerated during the pandemic,” he said. “We want visitors that align with our economic and community goals — who will shop at local businesses, eat in local restaurants, participate in ‘voluntourism’ and be mindful of their economic impact. So, it’s less about, ‘Come here,’ and more about, ‘Here’s who we are and what we’re about.’”

Keys for Trees

San Luis Obispo, along California’s Central Coast, is also earmarking some of its hotel tax income for projects that authorities hope will benefit the community.

Its existing transient occupancy tax supports the city’s general fund. But last year a new “Keys for Trees” program began setting aside some proceeds from the city’s tourism assessment tax — another government surcharge on hotel bills — to help plant 10,000 trees by 2035 as San Luis Obispo pursues its carbon neutral goals, said Tourism Manager Molly Cano.

The city’s business improvement district raised $1.6 million from this assessment pre-pandemic and $2.1 million in fiscal 2022, Cano said. Previously, all these funds were used to market San Luis Obispo to visitors. But now 1% of that revenue is steered toward the new program, with some $17,000 reserved for planting 35 trees this fiscal year.

“There’s no extra step to take,” Cano said, “and we think visitors will enjoy knowing that just by booking an overnight stay, they are helping to preserve the beauty of our community.”

Trip Report: 3 Oregon Hotels + 1 Cool Restaurant

The Seattle-based Stuck at the Airport team took a short road trip to Oregon last week to join a special dinner hosted by Humble Spirit.

The new(ish) farm-to-table restaurant in historic downtown McMinnville celebrates the wonderful wines and seasonal bounty of the Willamette Valley.

On our winter tasting menu: Hazelnuts and Pork Belly, Whole Trout, Winter Braised Vegetables, as well as meatballs, burgers, and other dishes made with beef, chicken, and pork attentively raised and harvested on Tabula Rasa Farms in nearby Carlton, OR.

Farm products even make it into the restaurant’s version of Oreo cookies. Evidently, the recipe for the now-classic snack called for sweetened pork lard, an ingredient later replaced with hydrogenated cottonseed oil. The Humble Spirit chef has his own oreo cookie-like dessert (complete with milk for dipping) that puts sweetened pork lard from Tabula Rasa Farm hogs back into the mix.

Hotels That Embrace History With Wit and Charm. And Books

It’s a small town, but there’s plenty to do, see, and learn about in McMinnville and surrounding Yamhill County. There are oodles of wine-tasting rooms, plenty of charming restaurants, and a thriving art scene. And if you time it right, you can land in town during the annual UFO Fest, honoring a 1950 UFO sighting documented with some pretty believable photographs.

It’s impossible to take it all in during a quick visit. So we were delighted that our home for the night, the 36-room Atticus Hotel in historic downtown McMinnville, is filled with locally-made products, specially-commissioned artwork, lots of handmade furnishings, and Oregon-made products (including Pendleton bathrobes) at every turn.

We loved that each of the hotel’s 36 rooms has an antique door knocker, that guests are offered a complimentary glass of bubbly before they even check in, and that the front desk will make you an espresso drink any time of the day or night.

But what we truly loved about the Atticus Hotel is the history lesson front and center in the lobby.

In the early 1900s, McMinnville was known as Walnut City and walnuts galore were grown and shipped from Oregon’s Willamette Valley. A Columbus Day storm in 1963 took out almost all of the region’s walnut trees and now the region is known for its hazelnuts.

In 1908 McMinnville’s Walnut Club built a promotional archway of walnuts and in 1909 that charming display made its way to the Alaska Yukon Pacific Exhibition, the first World’s Fair held in Seattle. That archway has been recreated in the lobby of the Atticus, complete with constantly refilled bowls of walnuts and hazelnuts. (Each room has a bowl of nuts and a nutcracker as well.)

2 Choices to Stay in Portland, Oregon

The pandemic may have kept people from visiting Portland, OR, but it didn’t do much to slow down the construction of new hotels already underway. So if you head to the Rose City now, you’ll have an even wider choice of lodging options.

We stopped briefly in Portland on our way to and from McMinnville and did return visits to two of our favorite hotels.

The Sentinel

The Sentinel, which calls itself Portland’s ‘most storied’ hotel is made from two historic downtown buildings. The hotel’s east wing is the former Seward Hotel, built a few years after the 1905 Lewis and Clark Exposition. (That hotel later became The Governer Hotel).

The Sentinel’s west wing was once the very grand Elks Lodge.

We love the murals, the ornate lobby ceiling, the fitness center in the former ‘vault room’ complete with a punching bag in the safe, and the faux library and cozy touches in the “Room at the End of the Hall.”

The Heathman Hotel

Located smack dab in the middle of Portland’s cultural district, the Heathman Hotel, which opened in 1927, has been an iconic go-to spot for musicians, artists, celebrities, and other performers.

One of the key features of the hotel is the restored former Tea Court Lounge. It is surrounded by the hotel’s two-story library. Go ahead, take a book off a shelf. The collection is filled with close to 3000 signed editions of books by Nobel and Pulitzer Prize winners, U.S. Poet Laureates, a former U.S. President, and hundreds of other noted authors who have been guests of the hotel.

With the hotel’s permission, we made sure there is now a copy of our new guidebook, “111 Places in Seattle That You Must Not Miss,” on the shelves.

It looked like Stephen King’s book needed some company.