Archive for the ‘ Miscellaneous ’ Category

 

Save on gas with Fuel Rewards Network

Monday, October 7th, 2013

With fall is upon us, Americans will start looking ahead at their travel plans for the holiday season. Thanksgiving is one of the busiest travel holidays of the year, experiencing five consecutive years of growth. Many folks will choose a road trip as their preferred method of transportation. Unfortunately, with gas prices still remaining a pressure-point for many Americans, coupled with increased expenses during the gift-giving season, a road trip can seem out of reach for many. But what if your gas was free?

Giving the Gift of Free Gas
Just in time for the holidays, the Fuel Rewards Network (FRN), ™a free rewards program that is reducing the everyday cost of fuel for Americans, is giving its members a chance to win up to $2,560 in free fuel, every month until the end of the year (2013).

The FRN™ program is a free and easy-to-use rewards program that turns consumers’ everyday purchases into Fuel Rewards® savings that reduce the price per gallon at the pump. Since launching in June 2012,the FRN program has helped Americans save over $200 million in fuel costs, with members saving on average of $.28 cents per gallon. At $.28 cents a gallon, those savings can add up quickly.

Through its Fuel-for-a-Year Sweepstakes, which launched in July 2013, one lucky FRN Member can win Fuel Rewards savings each month, equivalent to what the average American household spends per year at the pump.

So how does the program it work? Americans can simply register for a FRN account and begin earning savings through:

·         Purchases made at online retailers like Macy’s, the Apple Store and the Nike Store
·         Exclusive offers on purchases made with member’s MasterCard
·         Linking their grocery’s savings cards (including Winn-Dixie, BI-LO and Hy-Vee)
·         And, by dining at thousands of local restaurants

Those savings then translate into cents-per-gallon off and can be redeemed at local Shell Stations. Members can also monitor savings, locate gas stations, as well as participating grocers and restaurants through the Fuel Rewards Mobile App, which is available on Apple and Android devices.

FRN is progressing toward its goal of saving consumer $1 billion dollars on fuel through the Fuel Savings Sweepstakes. “By turning the shopping power of our FRN Members into savings power, we’re helping American drivers make ends meet by helping them save money on fuel every day,” said Dickson Perry, Founder, Chairman and CEO of Excentus, the company behind the Fuel Rewards Network program.

About Excentus
The Fuel Rewards Network™ program is owned and operated by Excentus Corporation. Excentus Corporation is the creator of and patent-holder for marketing programs and services that utilize price roll-down discounts at the pump as the ultimate consumer reward. The growing Fuel Rewards Network™ program provides members with the opportunity to earn free fuel simply by purchasing the things they normally would from more than 1,400 retail locations, nearly 700 online merchants, and 10,000+ restaurants, and redeeming their rewards at participating fuel stations across the country. Excentus was founded in 1996 and is a privately held company with more than 200 employees. For more information please visit www.excentus.com.

Ten reasons why travel is an investment

Tuesday, September 24th, 2013

I was quite young when my folks got divorced, therefore family vacations were pretty much non-existent.  The highlight childhood vacation for me was the cliché trip to Disneyland, but other than that I don’t recall any others—except perhaps the occasional road trip to a relatives home.  My father was not much into travel, however my mom had a zeal for it—unfortunately, there was little time or money for such extravagance.  Today, there are options for a savings account in which families can put a little away each month for such travel adventures.

It wasn’t until I was in my mid-20s that I took my first real vacation.  I was dating a woman who had traveled the world, and with whom travel was an essential part of life. I was not opposed to traveling; I just needed someone to expose its fruitfulness to me. After a week-long trip to Purto Varta, I was hooked on travel. The excitement of exploration, the adrenalin rush of adventure and the nourishment for my soul was life altering.

I have now traveled the world and road tripped across North America. These ten lessons are what travel has taught me, and, why I think travel should be a part of your investment strategies.  Travel is not an extravagance; it’s a necessity in becoming a well-rounded individual. Get details about an ISA, this could put you on your way to enriching your life.

  1. Travel helps you strike up conversations with strangers.
  2. You’ll become more knowledgeable of cultures, geography and history.
  3. You’ll meet new friends…the more people you know, the more opportunities will come your way.
  4. Travel will shape the way you think…making you a well-rounded individual.
  5. Get exposed to knew food…your palate will thank you. We become accustom to the local foods available to us, however the world is full of unique fruits, vegetables and culinary delights.
  6. Let the rhythm move you…the music around the world can be completely different than what you’re used to. Case in point…I was recently in Quebec City for an international music festival.  It was amazing being exposed to so many different types of music.
  7. If you’re a fashion trendsetter…travel will introduce you to styles you never thought possible. You can bring back clothes and be all the envy of your friends and family.
  8. See globalization first hand. The world has changed dramatically with the advent of the internet, social media, shipping, etc. Don’t be surprised to see a McDonald’s in Timbuktu.
  9. Witness the different political systems…how they are better/worse than your home country.
  10. Finally, travel will make you a more marketable person in a world that is becoming flatter by the day.

Those are my top-10 reasons why travel should be looked at as an investment rather than an expense. What are your thoughts? Can you think of some other reasons? Or, do you disagree with me. I’d love to hear your thoughts.  Please post a comment below.

10 sensational shots…that I never got!

Wednesday, August 7th, 2013

A dedicated photographer always has their camera at the ready. While I almost always have one on me, the scene/shot often passes before I can take the photo. Sometimes, it’s too difficult to be inconspicuous and/or not appropriate to take a pictures. Therefore, I have been keeping track of some of the “shots I never got” in hopes that the description would be nearly as interesting as the photos…that never happened.

I would love to know which shot would have been your favorite…please leave a comment below.

  • Hip Hop Jews – I was coming out of a grocery store in Plattsburg, NY when I saw six acidic Jews sitting in a pimped-out suburban rocking out to some serious urban hip hop music.
  • Condom girl – I was at a Wal-Mart in Vermont when I was walking down an aisle and saw a young woman looking over the condoms.  What make this scene interesting…she was already pregnant.
  • The talented sleepwalker – I was in the Pike Place Market in Seattle…walking down an alley of sorts when I saw a woman sleeping—while standing…with a cigarette in one hand and a drink in the other.
  • Swimming pool guy – I was at a hotel walking passed the indoor pool, when I saw what looked to be a guy doing something very inappropriate in public.  Turned out, he was just cleaning the pool tile…vigorously.
  • Hot housekeepers – I was in Saranac Lake staying at a boutique inn. My room had a deck that overlooked the lake…I was hanging one morning enjoying the view…but not of the lake. I saw two incredibly good-looking ladies…model material, wearing short-shorts and skimpy blouses.  I couldn’t figure out what they were doing…they kept going in-and-out of a room. Impure thoughts ran through my head. It finally dawned on me…they were housekeepers.  Come to find out, they were foreign exchange students working at the inn for the summer.
  • Equestrian motorbike riders – I was shooting a video of an event in Lake Placid, NY when two kids in equestrian attire rode up to me to asked for direction…on mini-bikes (motorcycles).
  • Topless woman causes mayhem – While I was riding a bike down the Alki Beach Boardwalk in Seattle, I saw a topless woman cause a pileup. A guy was skate-boarding down the boardwalk when his eyes were drawn to an attractive woman laying on the beach…topless.  She was not on her back, but rather on her elbows, which at the angle for the skate-border was just enough to distract him.  Unbeknownst to him, there was a bicyclist coming from the opposite  direction.  The skate-border drifted into the cyclists’ lane.  The impact so significant that the skateboarder was thrown into two women who were rollerblading in front of me with a stroller—that impact caused a pedestrian to fall as well.  One topless woman caused a multi-person pileup.
  • Car on the roof – I was driving down the highway when I saw a truck driving in the opposite direction.  I noticed that the truck had something on its roof…as it got closer, I noticed it was a Smart Car.  Not sure how the heck they got it up there…or how they planned to get it down.
  • Pull up your pants dude! - I was in a hotel having breakfast in Québec when I saw a grown man with his beautiful wife and three kids. This guys was wearing jean knickers lookin’ like some hip hop kid with his pants hanging down his ass exposing 3/4 of his underwear. Who does that?
  • How’d that happen? – I saw a kid riding his scooter on a grassy hill near a lake. He would ride down a bit, then stop and go back up the hill. I just had a feeling that this kid was about to go for a swim. Sure enough, he got too much speed going down the hill and was not able to stop before plunging head long into the lake. Damn it was funny.

Ecuador going ‘bananas’ over tourism promotion

Monday, July 29th, 2013

I really enjoy coming up with new marketing ideas, it’s such a wonderfully creative and strategic outlet for me. I also appreciate it when I see out-of-the-box thinking from other marketers. For example, the Ecuadorian tourism department has a very limited budget to promote their country as a tourist destination, so they came up with an inexpensive way of doing it via a strength they have have as a nation…bananas!

Ecuador exports a whole lot of bananas, so the tourism folks came up with the idea of placing a QR code just below the export label that goes on each banana.  When folks scan the QR code, they are taken to a well produced tourism video of the country. It’s a brilliant and very affordable promotional campaign. Because the campaign is unique, they will get a lot of traction from media folks writing about it. Just like I’m doing now.

What do you think about this campaign? Please share your thoughts below by leaving a comment.

10 ways Innkeepers can convert lookers into bookers

Saturday, July 20th, 2013

Are you an owner/innkeeper who would like to increase occupancy rates, conversion rates and profit margins?  Read on and you’ll learn how to convert lookers into bookers!

1) Design and performance – First, you simply must have a website that uses the latest design and programming technologies. I would recommend developing a site using a content management system such as WordPress so that you can easily add and change content to keep the website up-to-date. Lookers are very savvy today and you only have a few seconds to make an impactful impression, therefore it’s worth the investment to have your site built by a professional. Your website is your single most important marketing asset. It’s simply not worth skimping.

2) Image is everything – To catch the viewer’s attention, use big, bold, high quality and captivating images.  The expense of having professional, signature photographs taken will be worth ever penny you invest.  You want images that will lure people into the rest of your site. Make sure to stage the shots.  For example, have flowers in the rooms, people enjoying breakfast, swimming in the pool, etc. You want shots that will evoke a sense of what it’s like to stay at your inn. When lookers can relate to what they are seeing, their propensity to become bookers increases.

3) Make it easy - To convert lookers into bookers, you need to make the booking process as simple as possible. The fewer steps the better. Make sure you have enticing room descriptions, clear pricing, stunning photos and answers to the frequently asked questions. And, if you are going to use a 3rd party booking engine, make sure it’s one that can be fully integrated into your website and POS (point of sale) and/or CRM (customer relationship management) system, so that the booker is not taken away from your site.

4) Be a showoff - If you have good reviews from previous guests on rating websites like Yelp and TripAdvisor, consider using their API to showcase those reviews on your own site. Your webmaster should be able to easily integrate this into your website. If you don’t do this, there is a strong likelihood that the looker will go to one of these review/rating websites on their own to look you up—when they leave your website, you’ve just reduced the chances that your looker becomes a booker. This scenario is similar to the car shopping experience…salesman know that if you leave the dealership, the likelihood you’ll return is slim to none. Do everything you can to keep the looker on your website.

5) Brag – In addition to sharing your consumer reviews, you also want to showcase press/media write-ups from travel journalists/writers/bloggers.  Having articles from travel media folks provides a seemingly unbiased look at your inn that lookers trust. Developing trust with lookers will convert them into bookers. If the last time a travel writer visited your property was a decade ago, reach out to folks in the travel industry to get your name out there. See who has written about other inns in your area. Hosting a writer for (typically) 2-4 nights is a small price for the marketing return. You can then re-purpose those write-ups by engaging your own audience, i.e. telling our Facebook or Twitter followers that you had a travel writer review the property and this is what they had to say. It’s newsworthy, so you could mention it in your monthly email newsletter.  The write-up provides you with an excuse to engage your own audience as well as your local media outlets.

6) Let the numbers be your guide – There is an array of simple tools out there to track everything! And, those numbers provide valuable insight that will help you make educated decisions rather than ones in a vacuum. Lookers have a short attention span—so, you want to make sure that you’re providing the information they’re looking for as quickly as possible. Before adding or redesigning your website, look at your Analytics to see what pages of your site are being visited most often…then, make sure those are most visible/accessible. Make sure you monitor your reservation system from time-to-time to make sure lookers are being converted into bookers. If your current reservation system doesn’t integrate with your website traffic to see how many people are converting, you should look at a new system. Metrics are your friend and it’s amazing what small things you can often do to increase the conversion rates of lookers and make them into bookers. Increasing your conversion rate just 5% could make all the difference to the bottom line.

7) Can you hear me now? - Mobile is only going to get more popular and more important to your business—therefore, make sure your website renders well on the various mobile platforms.  You may also want to consider having a dedicated mobile website for information that a mobile viewer might need quickly and easily, i.e. contact info, directions, availability and ability to book accommodations. Make sure the mobile experience is easy; for example…have your address hypertexted so that when the users click, it takes them directly to their mobile map app. Before you invest into mobile development, refer back to #6 on this list. Check your website stats to see how many people are accessing your site from mobile devices…if it’s less than 10%, perhaps you can wait a while before investing. However, the number is 30, 40%+, those are significant numbers that cannot be ignored.

8. Ready…action! – Video is no longer an option…it’s a must. And, just because you have one, you’re not done.  Video content should be part of a long-term content marketing strategy.  Consider having an overview video on your home page, and, individual videos for each room and/or accommodations level. You’ll also want to consider a video of your area/attractions, as well as on-site activities, amenities, breakfast/restaurant, etc.  In additional to promotional videos for each aspect of your inn, you also want experiential videos (editorial style) from local media/news stations, video bloggers/vloggers and network shows. Having videos on your website can increase your conversion rates from 40-200%. Today, people research their buying decision more than ever; having videos available for the lookers will allow them to get a better sense of what they’re about to book. For three years now YouTube has been the second most popular search engine; not having videos means you could be loosing out on a swath of folks looking for lodging in your area.

9) Be helpful – “YOUtility” is the latest marketing buzzword, and, I think there’s a lot of merit to the concept.  The book YOUtility was published by a long-time friend and social-media marketing guru, Jay Baer. The premise is that when you sell something, you gain a customer. However, when you help someone, you make a customer for life. The book is full of real-world corporate examples; however I think this concept is something that innkeepers already do, and is why the B&B/Inn experience is so appealing to many of us. For example, the innkeeper is a built-in concierge for restaurant and local activities. Of course, there is nothing like the personalized service of staying at an Inn.  I do, however, think that staying with the concept of this post, innkeepers could do a better job of conveying their “YOUtility” online by providing a list of recommended restaurants, activities, sights, etc. Take this a step farther; having reviews with photos of the recommended restaurants, activities and sights will serve two purposes. First, it will be helpful to your lookers and bookers, and, it adds content to your website, which search engines love.

10) Re-target to increase conversions - Conversions are directly related to the quality of the visitors coming to your website. If you have a business providing one thing, and someone ends up on your website looking for something else– chances are he will leave straight away. However, if you have qualified traffic, visitors become engaged and lookers become bookers. One way to achieve qualified traffic is by social sharing. Your booking system should make it easy for people to tell their friends how excited they will be to visit your inn. Chances are, those friends will consider your inn the next time they are looking to book a trip. If you participate in online advertising, you have to look at a retargeting service. Retargeting works by placing a cookie on a users’ computer when they visit your website.  If the looker doesn’t book, but rather they visit a site like Mike’s Road Trip, Travel and Escape, or Bedandbreakfast.com, your ad will show up while they are browsing…thus reminding the looker that they were indeed interested in your inn at one point, but perhaps didn’t book due to a distraction.

I realize that some of the items listed in this post may seem overwhelming, especially if you have only a modest understanding of online marketing. Additionally, many of these items are not inexpensive to implement, whether from a financial perspective, or, from a human resources point of view. However, if you’re in business for the long term and want to build an asset that will continue to grow in value…you simply cannot ignore these ten items that can help add to your bottom line. If you’re in an area with a lot of lodging competition, some of these areas will propel you ahead of the pack.

I hope you found this post to be helpful, if so, please share it with others. If you have questions, I’m more than happy to help. Send me an email with your questions, or, we can set up a time to chat on the phone. Thanks so much for reading.

About Mike Shubic
: I’m a seasoned marketer who has worked the client, agency and media sides of the business, in nearly every capacity. For more than three years now I have been road tripping around North America helping, consulting, writing and filming content for innkeepers.

Road rules that should rule the road!

Thursday, June 6th, 2013

Ten highway road rules that should rule the road!

1) Left Lane — For those of you who are unaware, the left lane is for passing, not cruising. If you insist upon driving in the left lane, whatever you do, DO NOT go the same speed as the person in the right lane. Why someone would do this is beyond me, but I see it time and again. Be aware…if someone is coming up behind you, please move over and let him or her pass.

2) Merging — If you are merging on to a freeway or interstate, be sure to get your speed up on the ramp before you enter the driving lane. It’s your job to speed up or slow down in order to safely merge. On the same token, if you see someone entering the freeway and you’re in the right lane (where you should be), be courteous and move to the left lane so the oncoming vehicle can safely enter the freeway system. Capice?

3) Passing — When you pass, don’t pull right in front of them…give yourself and the other driver a bit of space. And, don’t pass someone and then slow down so that they end up on your ass because they have their cruise control set.

4) Passing Lane — This happens 85% of the time…you come up on a hill with a passing lane and there has been a guy holding up 20 cars behind him…as soon as the passing lane starts, the driver who has been traveling 50mph is now going 65mph and doesn’t let but 1 or 2 cars pass before the lane ends. What’s up with that???

5) Texting — We all know that texting (being distracted) while driving is dangerous, illegal in many states. If you insist on texting or looking at your phone, do it on a straight road with little traffic so you don’t kill yourself…or worse, someone else. Better yet, just pull over.

6) Littering — It frustrates me so much when people litter, the most common offenders are cigarette smokers tossing their butts out the window. Hey, if that smoke is good enough for your lungs, then the butt can stay in your ashtray.

7) Rest Stops — This one isn’t quite driving related, and it’s also geared toward men. So many men are apparently afraid to use a urinal in a public restroom. I have no idea what causes this apprehension, unless perhaps they were ridiculed as a kid for having a wee wee pee pee. The situation is this… these insecure men go into the toilet stall and don’t lift the seat…they then proceed to piss all over it. You wouldn’t do this in your home, so why do it in a public restroom and frustrate those who have go number two.

8 Cruise Control — I learned this one the hard way…never use your cruise control if there is a threat of ice. A couple years ago I was driving through Montana on a cold winter day. I was traveling uphill when my friend said, “that looks like black ice.” Just as I was processing what she said, the overdrive kicked-in and spun us out of control. Thankfully we were going uphill with little traffic on the road…and, at the last minute before impact into the concrete barricade, the truck straightened out and we were able to pull over safely. Surprisingly the truck sustained no body damage and only had a couple minor scratches. Two of the tires and wheels had to be replaced, but that was a small price to pay for a bonehead move.

9) High Beams — Not only is it bothersome, but it can also be dangerous when you neglect to switch your high beams/brights off as on-coming traffic enters your line-of-sight. When driving at night, as soon as you see lights in the distance or around a corner, be sure to dim before your beam blinds the on-coming driver.

10) Radar Warning — All too often the speed limits posted are too slow for optimal driving (light traffic, good weather, straight roads, etc), and as long as you’re driving a safe and prudent speed, I see no problem going over the posted speed limit. There is an unwritten warning system that drivers have adopted…if you pass a cop with radar, help the drivers in the other direction by flashing your lights 3x to warn them of possible trouble ahead. The price of speeding tickets today will put a serious dent in anyone’s wallet.

Bottom line…while out on the road, just be aware of your surroundings as well as being courteous to your fellow driver/road tripper. Follow these simple rules and we’ll all be happier on the road.

Those are my ten road rules to rule the road; do you have one that really irks you that I failed to mention? Or, which one of the ten bothers you the most? Please leave a comment below and share with my readers and me.

Travel video insights by in-depth Google study

Friday, February 15th, 2013

Google recently released findings of a comprehensive online travel study entitled, “2012 Traveler’s Road to Decision Study.” I have pulled out and highlighted some interesting numbers that relate to travel videos.  Additional information from the study can be found by clicking links at the bottom of this post.

  • 96% of travelers begin their travel planning online.
  • 46% watch travel videos on a regular basis.  During the actual travel planning process that number jumps to 66%.  57% rely on travel videos when deciding what accommodations to stay at. 63% rely on travel videos for making destination decisions.
  • Most popular types of travel videos are:  62% hotel/lodging videos; 58% are cruises or tours.
  • 58% watch trip reviews from experts. Tied at 58% are travel videos from a travel-related channels such as, “Mike’s Road Trip,” Lonely Planet, etc. 56% are trip review videos made by peers.

A direct correlation was found between the more affluent a viewer, the more they gravitate toward professionally produced videos

  • How influential are travel videos? 45% of leisure travelers said it influenced them to book a trip.  That number jumped to 72% for business travelers, and to 74% for affluent travelers.

This data clearly shows the impact that travel videos have on the decision making process

  • Between 2009 and 2012, online video as a resource for travel planning has increased 89% with Leisure travelers and 93% with business travelers.
  • 38% of Leisure travelers and 57% of business travelers rely upon mobile devices for searching their travel information.

NOTE: I tried to make this video auto play at the start of the travel video segment, but for some reason it will not work. If you’d like to skip ahead, move the playhead to 22:55


    Resources from the study:

    Best of 2012

    Monday, January 14th, 2013

    This is the third annual Mike’s Road Trip “Best Of” list. As usual, there were a lot of worthy contenders. While I’m sorry some did not make it, I’m confident I’ve chosen the best-of-the-best. Click on any of the links below to be taken to posts, pictures and/or videos of my experience.

    I spent more than eight months on the road in 2012, including an epic coast-to-coast trip as part of the Rand McNally and USA Today’s “Best of the Road.”  As always, I had some amazing experiences that are fun to relive in a compilation “Best Of” list.

    To all the “winners,” congratulations! Your dedication and commitment to excellence have caught the eye of this discerning travel writer and video blogger. If you have not been contacted, please email me for your “Mike’s Road Trip “Best of’” icon to display on your website and social media profiles.

    LODGING CATEGORY

    • Best Bed & Breakfast Winner: Cameo Heights Mansion in Tuchet, Washington – Opulent, luxurious, romantic, amazing breakfast…every single detail of your visit has been thoroughly thought through. While not inexpensive, in my opinion Cameo Heights delivers amazing value for the experience.
    • Best Inn Winner: Run of the River in Leavenworth, Washington – Located in the Bavarian-themed community of Leavenworth,  Run of the River connects guests with nature in the most hospitable and epicurean way.  The setting encompasses nature in all its glory and the accommodations are nothing short of luxurious perfection.
    • Best Lavish Lodge Winner: 1906 Lodge Coronado Island, California. While more of a boutique Inn than what I think of as a traditional lodge, the 1906 Lodge is without question “lavish” and worthy of this years title.  Each of the seventeen rooms and suites use Coronado history as its decorative guide. And, the lodge is only a block from the famed Coronado Beach (located in southern San Diego).
    • Best Hotel Winner: The Marcus Whitman in Walla Walla, Washington – The remarkable combination of history and luxury make the Marcus Whitman the best hotel of the year. This opulent property is perfect for romantic getaways to experience the thriving wine and culinary scene of Walla Walla.
    • Best Boutique Hotel Winner: The Boar’s Head Inn in Charlottsville, Virginia – The Boar’s Head is a world-class retreat providing majestic views of the Blue Ridge Mountains.  The guest rooms create an inviting retreat which are in-tune with the natural rhythms of its Southern heritage. Activities include golf, tennis, spa, ballooning, to local winery tours. And, the area is full of fantastic restaurants…here are my five favorites.
    • Best Resort Winner: La Posada Resort & Spa in Santa Fe, New Mexico – Located in the heart of Santa Fe, nestled on six beautifully landscaped acres, La Posada pampers guests in an atmosphere that is both tranquil and indulgent. The Casita-style guest rooms are individually decorated with careful attention to their historic characteristics. Also, within walking distance are dozens of world-class restaurants…here are my five favorites.
    • Best Resort for Fun Winner: San Juan Marriott in San Juan, Puerto Rico – A welcome reception cocktail, warm turquoise water, sandy beach, a pool with a swim-up bar, a lounge that turns into a night-club and a casino provide all the ingredients for “fun!”
    • Best Business Hotel Winner: Cambria Suites by Choice Hotels – Sophisticated décor, MediaHub for all your technology, large flat screen TV’s, work space, in-room sitting area, free hi-speed internet, fitness center, indoor pool & spa and a barista bar make Cabria Suites a sweet place to do business.
    • Best Dude Ranch Winner: Flying~E~Ranch in Wickenburg, Arizona – This ranch dates back to the mid-40s and still offers guests a way of the west cowboy experience. You’re not going to find five star resort-like accommodations, but what you will discover is an experience that will not soon be forgotten.  The connection you’ll have with guests, the staff, the horses and even the land will make you want to come back again and again.

    DINING CATEGORY

    • Best Restaurant Winner: The Local in Charlottesville, VirginaA cool ol’ brick building with hip modifications, various dining options and contemporary American cuisine makes “The Local,” a world-class dining experience. Each dish tastes as good as it looks–and, the outdoor seating options accentuate the fresh theme. “Food nourishes the eyes, then the taste-buds then the stomach…and finally, the soul,” A “Local” saying.
    • Best Dining Experience Winner: Chianti Grill in Burnsville, Minnesota – Chianti Grill features contemporary Italian cuisine along with fresh seafood and aged Angus steaks. An extensive wine and spirits menu compliment the outstanding cuisine. The friendly service and warm inviting atmosphere make for a memorable dining experience.
    • Best Meal Winner: Coyote Cafe in Santa Fe, New Mexico – With sophisticated southwestern dishes like a Mexican sashimi plate; lobster latte; grilled Maine lobster drizzled in New Mexico Chile with Vietnamese chutney; and Prime fillet of beef with a vegetable crepe, Coyote Cafe is a culinary icon that does not disappoint.
    • Best Burger Winner: Burger Lounge in San Diego, California – Burger Lounge has artfully combined the feel of a nightclub with the ambiance of a chic  burger joint…hence the “lounge” connection. The menu is compendious, offering delicious grass fed beef, turkey, veggie and salmon burgers.  And, in true “lounge” fashion, they serve beer and wine.
    • Best Sandwich Winner: Pickles Deli on Whidbey Island, Washington – Pickles Deli starts by using the best cold cuts (Boar’s Head) along with a variety of locally baked artisan breads–gourmet toppings, spreads and accoutrements served on a plank of wood round out the best sandwich experience.
    • Best Fish & Chips Winner: Point Loma Seafood Company in San Diego, California – Lightly breaded in what I guess is a cornmeal mixture, with thick pieces of the freshest seafood, accompanied with fries and excellent cole slaw. Point Loma Seafood is without question the best fish & chips place this year.
    • Best Bakery Winner: The Village Bake Shoppe in Lewiston, New York – Famous for their “Mile High Apple Pie,” they offer a wide variety of baked goods for breakfast to desserts. As you would expect from the best bakery… everything is made from scratch.
    • Best Coffee Shop Winner: Mukilteo Coffee Roaster on Whidbey Island, Washington – Hidden location, warm and inviting atmosphere, beautiful patio, tasty treats and freshly roasted coffee makes Mukilteo Coffee Roaster #1 this year.
    • Best Breakfast Winner: Boar’s Head Inn in Charlottsville, Virginia – A combination of culinary creativity, selection and dining elegance made the “Boar’s Head Inn” stand out among many fantastic breakfast meals I enjoyed this past year.

    SCENIC VIEWS CATEGORY

    DESTINATIONS CATEGORY

    UN-CATEGORIZED

    *Note: The aforementioned are my personal “Best of” for travels during 2012 and don’t necessarily represent, “The Best” of all time.

    Cocktail History…the story of how the cocktail was created

    Tuesday, October 30th, 2012

    According to legends and lore, the history of the cocktail dates back to 1821 when it was first created at the Hustler’s Tavern in Lewiston, New York. Hustler’s Tavern was reportedly the only building left unscathed when the British invaded during the War of 1812.  Some say it was because the British officers remembered too many good times they had in the saloon sipping a cocktail–the drink that owner Catherine Hustler is credited with inventing when she stirred a mix of gin with the tail feather of a stuffed cockerel.  The rest they say…is history.

    See this cocktail history reenacted in the video below. Catherine Hustler is portrayed by: Kathryn Serianni


    Best New York attractions for sports fans

    Saturday, August 25th, 2012

    Guest Post by: Adam Rowley

    With popular attractions and sights such as the Empire State Building, Statue of Liberty, Times Square and Central Park, there are plenty of things to see and do in New York for the majority of tourists.

    However, sports fans in particular are in for a treat, as New York is the home of several famous teams and world-class stadiums.

    With cheap holidays to New York available all-year round, there is no reason for any sports fan not to visit the following sports-related tourist attractions.

    Basketball and Ice Hockey at Madison Square Garden

    This multi-purpose indoor arena is home to the New York Rangers ice hockey team and the New York Knicks basketball side. The stadium is located in midtown Manhattan and is now the oldest active major sporting facility in the New York Metropolitan area, having opened its doors in 1968.

    Both the National Hockey League and National Basketball League regular seasons run from October to April, so during these months you’re somewhat guaranteed to see two very different sports taking place.

    The best way to learn more about Madison Square Garden is to go on the All Access Tour, where you can explore the theater, lounges and corridors of this iconic facility.

    Baseball at Yankee Stadium
    Although the original Yankee Stadium, which was built in 1923 and hosted 6,581 baseball games, was converted into parkland in 2010, its brand new replacement is well worth a visit. The arena cost a staggering $1.5 billion and is the second-most expensive stadium of any kind ever.

    As you would expect, the facilities and amenities, as well as the sporting spectacle on show, are outstanding. The Yankees have one of the most instantly recognizable insignias of any sports team and are a hugely successful franchise, having won 18 division titles, 40 AL pennants and 27 World Series championships.

    Once again, to make the most out of your trip to this baseball venue located in the south Bronx, take a Classic Tour that includes visits to the New York Yankees museum, Monument Park, dugout and clubhouse.

    Horse racing at Yonkers Raceway
    Founded in 1899 as the Empire City Race Track, you can be guaranteed horse racing five nights a week at this historical arena in Yonkers near the New York City border.

    Spectators can place bets on their fancied horse or simply sit back and enjoy standard bred harness racing on a one-half-mile dirt track. But if you’re not having much luck on the track, head to the Empire City Casino featuring 5,300 slot machines and several other gaming options.

    Thankfully, you do not have to worry about timing your trip, as world-class racing events happen throughout the year. If you do have a particular sport in mind, though, do make sure you check when the season starts and ends to avoid disappointment.