travel

Where will you go? 1500 museums are free on Museum Day

Smithsonian magazine’s Museum Day is coming up on September 21 and we’re celebrating because on that day 1500 museums will be joining in to offer free admission to anyone who downloads a ticket.

Many science centers, aquariums, zoos and gardens will be offering free admission on Museum Day as well.

The free nationwide event presents a great opportunity to stop in and revisit a favorite exhibit at a local cultural institution or visit a museum in a town you’re visiting without worrying about all the admission fees.

Where can you go?

This year, Museum Day is celebrating the Smithsonian Year of Music, with many participating museums offering special music-themed programming.

The Lightner Museum in Saint Augustine, FL, will host a museum-themed scavenger hunt in its galleries. The music will also demonstrate the electric self-playing violin, the Gem Roller Organ and many other early mechanical musical instruments in its collection;  

The Armenian Museum of America in Watertown, MA will have live Armenian music in the galleries;  

In Missoula, the Montana Natural History City will offer demonstrations and experiments to show and explain how different animals hear;  

In North Carolina, a high school Rock Orchestra will play a selection of train related songs at the Wilmington Railroad Museum;

And in Mumford, NY, the Genesee Country Village and Museum, the state’s largest living history museum will be celebrating early shape-note music with a shape-note sing open to all.

Many all-music-all-the-time museums are participating as well.

Museum Day visitors to MoPOP in Seattle, WA will have full access to galleries and to exhibits dedicated to Jimi Hendrix, Prince, Nirvana, Pearl Jam and more. 

Music-fans will also get full access to the music history offered at the Grammy Museum in Los Angeles; to the Birthplace of Country Music Museum in Bristol, VA; and in Memphis, TN, to the Blues Hall of Fame, the Memphis Rock ‘N Soul Museum and the Memphis Music Hall of Fame.

And in Kansas City, MO, the American Jazz Museum will host a jazz storytelling session that explores the sounds and styles of jazz and present a screening of “Chasing Trane: The John Coltrane Documentary.” 

TThe full list of museums participating in Museum Day, September 21, can be found here. And Museum Day tickets can be downloaded here.

Only one ticket will be issued per email address, but each ticket is good for admission for two people.

(A slightly differen version of my story about Smithsonian magazine’s Museum Day first appeared on CNBC)

Upscale travelers are just like us

Where are upscale Americans spending their travel dollars?

Should you do what they do?

Wealthy or not, it’s good to know where the well-do-to are vacationing and where the up-and-coming “it” destinations will be for the next few seasons.

A shortcut to that intel comes from the advisors who consult with upscale Americans about their vacation goals and bucket lists and then book those journeys.  

So where are well-to-do Americans jetting off to? Here’s a story I put together recently for CNBC.

Global luxury travel network Virtuoso polled advisors, crunched numbers from $49.5 billion in bookings and transactions for September through December 2019 and shared a couple of Top 10 lists as well as insights on some emerging travel trends.  

The Top 10 destinations

“Americans increasingly choose to travel domestically for the holidays,” notes Virtuoso, which puts the United States, with its vast array of destinations and attractions, in the lead spot in the Top 10 list.

As it has in the past, Europe’s appeal as a summer destination is extending into the fall this year, with destinations such as Italy, the United Kingdom, France, Germany and Spain in spots 2, 3, 4, 8 and 10, respectively, on the Top 10 list.

South Africa and Israel, in the middle of the list, at #5 and #6, remain popular destinations for families seeking “trips of a lifetime” during the holiday season, according to Virtuoso. And Japan, the top emerging “it” country in Virtuoso’s 2019 Luxe Report, takes its place on the Top 10 list of fall and holiday season destinations at #9.

Luxury leisure travel bookings being made by advisors in the Ovation Travel Group for 2019 and 2020 seem to be following those trends, said Gina Gabbard, Ovation’s Senior Vice President of Leisure & Independent Advisors.

“Italy is overwhelmingly the hands-down favorite among international destinations, with increased interest now in Southern Italy,” said Gabbard, “Our advisors note its amazing food and wine, culture and diversity of things to do, including history and art, along with available luxury accommodations. Direct flights from the U.S. are a plus.”

Despite concerns about Brexit, bookings to the United Kingdom are holding their own, said Gabbard, “The added benefit to our clients is that the value of the U.S. dollar is so strong against the pound.”

Virtuoso’s Hot 10 list

Virtuoso also shared its “Hot 10” list, which is made up of countries experiencing the largest increases by percentage in year-over-year bookings. In some cases, the increases come from a country and its offerings being “discovered” or better promoted; in other cases, political fears may be subsiding.

For September through December 2019, the list is topped by Uruguay (up 286 percent), which Virtuoso attributes to the country’s award-winning wineries, pleasant climate and adventure opportunities.

Bookings are also way up for travel to the beach retreats of the Maldives (up 171 percent) as well as Malta (up 140 percent), Romania (135 percent) and Egypt (up 122 percent). Puerto Rico, Rwanda, Qatar, South Korea and the fjords of Norway (up 96 percent) round out the “Hot 10” list.

Where are upscale Americans staying?

“We’re seeing a rise in exclusive-use travel as people look for the ultimate in privacy and seclusion while getting away from it all,” said Misty Belles, Virtuoso’s managing director for Global Public Relations, “Home rentals, from villas to condos, jumped 56 percent this year, with millennials and multigenerational trips both contributing to the growing popularity in residences.”

Belles says private yacht travel is also gathering momentum as people look to escape crowds and explore smaller, lesser-known ports of call.

When it comes to hotel stays, Becky Powell, President of Virtuoso-member Protravel International, says hyper-personalized stays are in.

“Increasingly, hotels are using technology to connect and build relationships with guests and instantly fix issues,” says Powell. Hotels are also focusing on sustainability and emphasizing connections to the destination or city they are in with local partnerships and unique experiences, she said.  

Upscale travelers and overtourism

Lots of stories about overtourism have been in then news, “But now we are seeing it translate into client conversations and influence decisions,” said Jack Ezon, founder of Virtuoso member Embark, “Our clients want to feel like travelers, not tourists. And no matter how wealthy they are, they don’t want to see a Prada or Gucci on every corner,” he said.

Instead, Ezon says upscale travelers are increasingly seeking out charming and “new” secondary destinations, staying in neighborhoods beyond the popular city centers and traveling during the off or shoulder-seasons not to save money, but to have more of the city to themselves.

Have a destination you’d like to tell us about? Please share your tips in the comment section below.

Do you sleep well at hotels on the road?

Can you get a good night’s sleep in a hotel?

If you travel for business or pleasure, you likely spend a few – or many – nights at hotels. And, like many travelers, no doubt you are more loyal to one brand over others.

Free Wi-Fi, free breakfast and a generous points program towards free night stays may be important to you. But, according to the just-released J.D. Power 2019 North American Hotel Guest Satisfaction Index, what hotels really need to focus on are the quality of the beds.

The study found that while sleep quality is one of the most important components of a hotel guest experience, most hotels don’t deliver better-than-expected sleeping conditions.

“Delivering a superior sleep experience—from the quality of the bed, linens and pillows to the ambient sound and temperature of the room—is a huge opportunity for hotels to differentiate themselves from the pack and earn significant goodwill with guests,” said Jennifer Corwin, Senior Manager of Consumer Insights for Travel & Hospitality Intelligence at J.D. Power.

Here are some key findings of the 2019 study:

  • More zzzs, please: Overall satisfaction scores increase 114 points (on a 1,000-point scale) when hotel guests experience a better-than-expected quality of sleep.
  • The anatomy of a good night’s sleep: The top contributors to quality of sleep and, therefore, higher satisfaction scores, are comfort of bed; quietness of room; comfort/quality of pillows; room temperature; and comfort/quality of linens.
  • Satisfaction is higher when hotels offer extras such as such as white noise/sound machines, earplugs and robe/slippers.
  • Quality of sleep vs. the price of room: No surprise, really: the highest rate of better-than-expected sleep quality is in the luxury hotel segment.

The hotels guests love

These hotel brands rank highest in guest satisfaction in their respective segments:

Luxury: The Ritz-Carlton (for a fifth consecutive year)
Upper Upscale: Hard Rock Hotel
Upscale: Best Western Premier
Upper Midscale: Drury Hotels (for a 14th consecutive year)
Midscale: Wingate by Wyndham (for a fifth consecutive year)
Economy: Microtel by Wyndham (for a second consecutive year)

Is there a hotel or hotel brand where you sleep like a baby?

Let us know by leaving a comment below. And let us know if you travel with a sleep aid such as ear plugs, a favorite pillow or, perhaps, a stuffed animal.

Chicken cuddling, loaner gear and hairdo help with your next hotel stay

Each season I do a round-up of unusual hotel perks for CNBC. Here’s the latest.

In-room coffee makers, Wi-Fi, a bottle of water and, sometimes, complimentary nationwide phone calls are now among the standard amenities travelers will find included with most hotel rooms.

But to stand-out and, in many cases, justify, the sometimes hefty ‘resort’ or ‘convenience’ fees many properties now tag onto bills, more offbeat and intriguing perks are showing up in the list of amenities included. 

For example, the Fairmont Southampton in Bermuda offers guests complimentary daily garden and Hamilton Harbor tours. And the JW Marriott El Convento Cusco offers built-in oxygen systems in every room and coca leaf tea, to help guests acclimate to the high altitude in Peru.

From hairdo help and loaner athletic gear to culinary classes and cuddling chickens, we found a wide variety of unusual amenities being offered to guests at hotels in the U.S. as well.

Hairdo help, sparkling wine and shopping bonuses

Located near Seattle’s famed Pike Place Market and the Puget Sound waterfront, the Thompson Seattle welcomes guests with a complimentary glass of sparkling wine. The perks build from there with complimentary blow outs and bang trims at a nearby salon plus tickets to area attractions and museums (when available. Even better, the Uncovered Seattle program, secures discounts and/or bonus offers for guests at a dozen downtown boutiques, jewelry stores and spas. (Rates start at $279. Daily ‘destination fee’: $25.)

 Gear shed with hoverboards, cameras and guitars

(Gear Shed at The Hotel Zags; courtesy Harriet Baskas

In Oregon, The Hotel Zags Portland fits into the Rose City’s hipster scene with complimentary perks that include a ‘gear shed’ filled with everything from bicycles and basketballs to hoverboards, skateboards, guitars, fishing poles and cameras.

Soon-to-launch lobby events include astrology programs, art classes in the hotel’s living wall courtyard and “forest bathing” – walks in the city’s greenery.

Hotel guests also get one $15 mini-bar or hotel sundry shop credit each stay, access to an elaborate game room and passes to a nearby gym. (Rates start at: $199; Guest amenities fee: $24/day.)

Gourmet bagels and bonus amenity closet

In New York City, the Park Terrace Hotel overlooking Bryant Park the bonus perks are both tasty and thoughtful.

A community closet on each floor is stocked with take-what-you-need amenities such as deodorant, Malin + Goetz soap, collar stays, toothbrushes and other necessities travelers often leave behind. And the hotel’s complimentary daily breakfast offers a veritable Big Apple food tour with gourmet classics such as Zucker’s bagels, Murray’s Cheese and Doughnut Plant donuts. (Rates start at $350/night; No resort fee.)

Fairy houses, Whiff Walks and Garden Pun Tours

In Vermont, summer and fall guests of the Woodstock Inn & Resort are offered a bounty of free classes and complimentary tours at the resort’s 3.5 acre, certified organic Kelly Way Gardens.

In addition to nibbling tours and aromatherapy Wellness Whiff Walks, guests can try to spot the fairies living in tiny houses made from repurposed gourds.

Additional amenities include local shuttle service and admission to Billings Farm & Museum, home to Jersey cows, draft horses, Southdown sheep and heritage chickens. (Summer rates start at $279; Resort fee: $35/day)

 Monogrammed pillowcases and airport greeters

The 5-star Peninsula Beverly Hills pampers guests with plenty of posh perks.

A hotel greeter is stationed at Los Angeles International Airport to welcome arriving guests who have booked transfers to the hotel. “Peninsula Time” allows extremely flexible check-in and check-out times, so guests may, for example, check in at 8 a.m. and out at 10 p.m. A Rolls-Royce ferries guests to area destinations. And returning guests find personalized monogrammed pillowcases on their beds.  

Frequent guests of the Peninsula Beverly Hills may also store luggage onsite while they jet off to another city and make use of the hotel’s complimentary unpacking services when they return.  (Rates start at $595: No resort fee)

Culinary classes, creative writing and charming chickens  

Courtesy Sunrise Springs Spa Resort

Amenities at the Sunrise Springs Spa Resort in Santa Fe, New Mexico include unlimited experiential wellness activities ranging from fitness, yoga and meditation to cooking and creative writing classes and courses in making healthy beauty products.

The resort also offers guests stress-busting opportunities to hang out with puppies and with the resident flock of fluffy and friendly Silkie chickens, who have fur-like feathers. (Rates start $265; No resort fees.)

Stargazing and snorkeling gear

Guests at the Fairmont Orchid, a luxury resort along the Kohala Coast of Hawaii Island can use complimentary snorkel equipment to spot fish and Hawaiian sea turtles in Pauoa Bay and take advantage of a complimentary 45-minute photoshoot with a professional photographer. (Photo packages can be purchased). The resort also offers complimentary star gazing sessions and classes in Hawaiian crafts and culture. (Rates start at $269) Daily resort fee: $35).

Apps help travelers find a place to store luggage

There’s that ‘in-between’ time – when you arrive in a town before hotel check-in time, or when you checked out of your hotel or Airbnb and want to do some sightseeing – when you need a place to leave your luggage.

Hotels will sometimes store your gear, but in a story for CNBC this week, I found a group of apps that match travelers seeking short-term bag storage with coffee shops, restaurants, gift shops and other businesses with strage room to spare.

These luggage storage networks, such as Vertoe, LuggageHero, Stasher, Nannybag, Knock Knock City, Bounce and others, have apps that lead users to vetted nearby drop-off spots, with payment made online.

When dropped off, security ties are usually attached to bags to prevent tampering. Insurance is included in the fee and, after pick-up, users are invited to rate the experience online.

Storage fees vary and are charged by either the hour or the day:  

Both Knock Knock City and LuggageHero charge $1/hour or $10/day with a one-time handling fee of $2/bag. Bounce charges $5.99/day. Nannybag charges $6 per bag for the first day and $4 per bag for each additional day. Stasher’s fees are $6/day/per item and Vertoe’s fees start at $5.95 per day/per item (overnight storage counts as two days) and vary by location.

The storage-app ‘industry’ is still young and most company founders I spoke with said they decided to get into the business after finding themselves lugging their luggage around a city after checking out of an Airbnb.

“We started in New York City and Brooklyn with people offering bag storage in their apartments on Craigslist, like Airbnb for luggage,” Selin Sonmez, co-founder of Knock Knock City, told me, “But we found the business hours posted for some people’s homes weren’t reliable or always accurate and others required users to walk up flights of stairs with their suitcases.”

Knock Knock City now also operates in San Francisco, Boston, Washington, D.C., Seattle, Philadelphia, Chicago and Miami and only partners with ground floor venues that have strict business hours. Sonmez said any location with an average star rating below 3.5 (out of 5) is removed.

Like the other luggage storage app services, the list of Knock Knock City partner sites is eclectic. Customers can store their bags at bike shops, clothing stores, restaurants, a massage therapist’s office, an eyebrow bar, at hotels and in hostels.

In addition to helping businesses put unused or underutilized space to income-producing use, “We’re helping local economies by getting travelers to explore neighborhoods and getting foot traffic in the doors,” said Sonmez.

That’s the pitch that convinced ATLAS Workbase, a coworking space by Seattle’s Space Needle, to sign up as a Knock Knock City site.

“There are a lot of Airbnb rentals in this area and a lot of tourists, so it solves a real need,” said Kim Burmester, ATLAS Workbase vice president of sales and marketing, “But our real goal is to get traffic in here as our key target audience is the traveling professional.”

As convenient as storing a suitcase at a coffee shop for a few hours may be, travelers who don’t want to deal with any baggage hassles have other options.

Travelers can send luggage (and golf bags, ski and snowboard gear or bicycles) ahead with door-to-door shipping services such as Send My Bag, Luggage Free or LugLess (part of the Luggage Forward family) that offers both drop-off and door-to-door luggage shipping services. (Pricing depends on destination, weight and how soon you want your bag to arrive).

Or, for $9.95/month and $99 per standard U.S. shipment, you can skip worrying about making travel arrangements for your suitcase altogether. 

Dufl sends customers a suitcase to be filled with clothes or accessories and then picks up the suitcase and stores the items in a “virtual closet.” Customers can request that the suitcase, filled with any of the stored items, be waiting for them at a hotel and then, after their trip, return the suitcase and the clothes back to Dufl for dry cleaning and storage until the next trip comes around.