Travel Adventures – Los Angeles

Welcome to the good life! Upon my arrival at LAX, my excitement and anxiety about the next few days continued to grow. As I picked up my car, a sleek and sexy black convertible, my nerves about driving in LA reached an all-time high. But with the warm sun shinning on my face, I put the top down, plugged in my gps and found my way to Custom Hotel.

After a busy day of meetings and traveling, I headed to the hotel restaurant, Deck 33. It’s a second story outdoor bar and grill filled with fireplaces and overlooks the pool area. Not being able to sit outside at home on a January night, made the experience quite refreshing.

As promised by most of the hotel staff, traffic was a nightmare during morning rush hour. After two hours, I finally made it to my first meeting which was only 20-25 miles from my hotel. With my meetings in Beverly Hills done for the day, I had to make a stop on the famous Rodeo Drive. Wow! Such a thrilling experience, and better yet I even made a purchase! Exhaustion had set in, and I was ready for a bed! Upon check-in at Hotel Angeleno (my second hotel in LA) I found the perfect surprise: milk and cookies!

With another full day of meetings, a good breakfast was a must. West, the hotel restaurant, allowed for some of the best views of Beverly Hills. With a few hours open mid day, I headed up Mulholland Drive to get a view of the infamous Hollywood sign. What a site! Something that only seemed to be in the movies was an actual thing. Not only does the Mulholland look-out provide a great view of the sign, but also the city below. Talk about a breathtaking experience. Due to GPS failure, I wound up on Hollywood Boulevard, a place I hoped to see. Although loaded with people, I was able to catch a few glimpses of Kodak Theater, and even duck into a small shop for some souvenirs.

For my last night in LA, I stayed at Hotel Erwin, located in the heart of Venice Beach. Lucky for me, I had a room with a view! Having never been to the Pacific Ocean this was quite a treat. The beach was beautiful and I even got to put my feet in the (freezing cold) water. As I returned my car and headed to the airport, I felt my heart tug a bit with hopes of returning very soon!

Travel Adventures – San Francisco

My first trip to the west coast: yep! The Katie’s hit San Francisco hard these past couple days.

Since we landed early afternoon on Sunday, our day was filled with site seeing! Our first stop was the Golden Gate Bridge. As the iconic symbol of the city, and with big hopes for our 2012 year it was a must see for us. Glistening in the sun, there it stood, 887,000 tons of metal stretching 1.7 miles long. Filled with excitement we decided to walk the entire length of the bridge. It was packed with other tourists, local runners and tons of bikers. Not only was the site of the bridge spectacular, but also the walk across it gave breathtaking views of Alcatraz, the city of San Francisco and an afternoon of sailors filling the waters below. After exploring the sites we were in dire need of food and a bathroom. Having never navigated around the city we trekked to find a train, a bus, a cab… (at one point, Katie even asked about my thoughts on hitchhiking) anything to get us to our next stop, Fisherman’s Wharf.

Upon our search, we stumbled into the most amazing beach. Chrissy Field beach (I highly recommend) was filled with locals enjoying family picnics, children running in the nearby grassy fields, dogs and owners playing fetch, and couples strolling along the shore. Just minutes away from the cities biggest tourist attraction, we discovered a hidden secret.

Upon recommendation of our taxi driver we landed at Scoma’s for a fresh from the ocean dinner. The atmosphere was so relaxed, and the view was picturesque as we looked out towards the bay. With a chill in the air, the lobster bisque soup was the perfect choice. Our first day of adventures came to an end as we rode a trolley (how cool!) back to our hotel for the night.

Still being on east coast time, Katie and I were up bright and early…early as in 4am. Starving and ready for our day to being we hit up the outdoor breakfast place next to our hotel. Talk about delicious.

As Katie headed off to her first meeting of the day, I headed up to the rooftop terrace at our hotel for a morning run. Being outside in shorts and t-shirt in January was amazing! Thank you Galleria Park Hotel for starting my morning off great! After morning meetings commenced, we hit up the Ferry building for lunch. Inside was filled with several trinket and food shops. Luckily, we made it out with only a few purchases. We indulged in lunch at the Slanted Door, an excellent Vietnamese restaurant located inside the Ferry Building.

For our evening adventures, we took more local advice, and hit up the Missions Area. A unique, off-the-beaten-path spot gave us some of the best shopping and dining I’ve ever experienced. Therapy, a trendy retail shop occupied our time for hours, and made a large dent in our wallets. From clothes to shoes for both men and women to purses and jewelry this eclectic spot is a must. Not only did we hit up some amazing shopping, but we stumbled into the best Mexican restaurant. Mosto Tequila V Botanas satisfied our palettes to no end. The joint was packed, the atmosphere relaxed and the margaritas strong…what more could you want.

Again, our day started early, but we waited for the hotel restaurant, Hecho, to open before we grabbed breakfast. Delicious! With some free time in the afternoon, we explored the Berkley and Oakland area. Talk about a different atmosphere from downtown San Francisco. Again on recommendation, we ended up at Barbacco Eno Trattoria for dinner. The food was tremendous and their wine selection was extensive.

As Katie headed back to Ohio to see her munchkins, I had a few more meetings before making my way to the airport. It had been a busy few days, but ones I will never forget. San Francisco, I hope to see you in the not-too-distant future!

Hilton Head Island’s Holiday Inn Rebranded as a Holiday Inn Resort

InterContinental Hotels Group (IHG) has announced the 18th location to their ever-growing Holiday Inn Resort Americas brand—The Beach House, a Holiday Inn Resort – Hilton Head Island. The current property is a Holiday Inn hotel and will officially join the Holiday Inn Resort group in March after a $5 million renovation.

Located on the island’s popular Coligny Beach, the 202-room resort offers guests the perfect place for exploration and relaxation. The newly designed interior has incorporated Hilton Head’s renowned island culture into every detail. The property features an expanded oceanfront fitness center with new equipment, game room, remodeled restaurant, newly created oceanfront lounge, more than 4,500 square feet of meeting space and the Tiki Hut, a popular beach bar with both tourists and locals. Guestrooms now have a stylish, cool blue décor, new bedding, and updated amenities.

Those at IHG said that the rebranding is part of the strategy to bring Holiday Inn Resorts to leisure destinations that are convenient for their guests. Gina LaBarre, Vice President of Brand Management for IHG Americas, stated, “As part of the work surrounding the Holiday Inn relaunch, we identified opportunities for existing Holiday Inn hotels in resort markets to convert to the newly-created Holiday Inn Resort brand, paving the way for this renovation. This oceanfront property is in one of the most family-friendly vacation destinations in the world, making it an ideal addition to the Holiday Inn Resort portfolio.”

Find out more on The Beach House, a Holiday Inn Resort’s new renovations today!

McConnell In The Community – Cincinnati Chili

Cincinnati Chili

For my day of service this past January, I participated in the annual Sue Hernan Memorial Chili Cook-Off at Boardman United Methodist Church. This event has been a ten-year tradition and serves as a fundraiser for the church’s mission trips. With the funds, missionaries will visit Kensington, OH to assist with a farmhouse building project, and in the spring, travel to Joplin, MO, to help those still suffering from the wreckage of last year’s tornado.

Unfortunately, I was out of town, so I couldn’t physically attend the event. I did, however, submit my version of Cincinnati Chili. For those who aren’t from Ohio, or haven’t ventured to Cincinnati, I knew my chili without beans, with chocolate and served over spaghetti, would have a unique twist and would be a definite standout at the Chili Cook-Off.

From what I’ve heard, my chili was a success. Even though I didn’t win, my use of spaghetti was also able to promote the upcoming spaghetti dinner event at Boardman United Methodist Preschool, where my twins attend…and help raise funds for a worthy cause. A win-win.

The event raised $1,100 for future mission trips.

Best served over spaghetti, with diced onions and shredded cheddar. Enjoy.

Katie

Sleep at the Airport…Comfortably!

If you’re an avid traveler, you know trying to catch a good nap in between flights isn’t very easy—especially when all you have to “lay” on are the chairs at the gate. What if we told you that you could stay in a hotel room without even leaving the airport? It may sound too good to be true, but pod hotels are invading airports…and will soon be at an airport near you.

What is a pod hotel? It’s a small in-terminal hostelry comprised of mini-rooms where you can get a comfortable rest in between flights. The company, Minute Suites debuted their mini-hotels at the Hartsfield-Jackson Airport in Atlanta and the Philadelphia International Airport. Each room, at about 56-square-feet, comes with a daybed, pillows and blankets, a 32-inch HDTV and an in-room workstation with a desk, phone and office chair. None of the rooms currently have bathrooms, but with two new hotels at the Dallas/Fort Worth Airport in the works, Minute Suites will also provide private shower units in each room.

Pod hotels are not only taking over U.S. airports, they’re invading international airports, too! London-based Yotel has pods inside Heathrow and Gatwick Airports as well as Amsterdam’s Schipol. The Russian-based Sleepbox is planning on populating European airports and train stations with their self-contained compartments, which are the most spare in the pod hotel industry—only adorning the tiny rooms with a bed platform, electrical outlets, a nightstand, reading lamps and electric blinds.

While these mini-hotel rooms may not be the Five-Star luxury hotels that you’re used to, these spaces do offer privacy and a chance at a good rest in a place where it is hard to come by. Check out more on pod hotels today, and see if one is coming near you soon!

Comfort Inn and Suites Get an Upgrade

Comfort Inn and Comfort Suites brands are known for their great room rates and comfortable rooms, but not so much for their luxurious amenities. This is sure to change within the next few years. Choice Hotels International, which franchises more than 6,100 hotels worldwide, will implement design upgrades for about 70% of their 2,000 Comfort Inn and Comfort Suites.

Those at Choice said that it had been a while since the look of the hotel chain was refreshed and rejuvenated, so the company hired Gensler, a New York based architecture and design firm, to upgrade their hotels’ bedrooms, bathrooms and public areas. With these upgrades, Choice hopes to move the Comfort brands to the upscale operations division (i.e. Marriott, Hyatt and Hilton), which has been recently favored by investors. Choice will also work with the owners of those 200 hotels not getting upgraded and help them move into their economy brands sector (i.e. Econo Lodge and Rodeway Inn).

Estimated costs for the standard 75-room Comfort Inn upgrade will require a couple hundred thousand dollars, increasing room rates by $5-$10 a night. However, the company believes that it will give investing franchisees a strong return on investment.

The Comfort brand’s makeover is expected to be completed by 2015.

2012 Summer Olympics: Thousands of Hotel Rooms Made Available

Thinking about hopping the pond to witness the long-awaited 2012 Summer Olympics, but struggling to find a place to stay? Well, Olympics fans, you are in luck. Thousands of London hotel rooms have been put back on sale to the public. The London Organising Committee of the Olympic Games (LOCOG) booked about 600,000 room nights for the Games, but now more than 120,000 (roughly 8,000 rooms) are no longer needed—about 20% of the hotel room nights initially reserved.

The rooms were booked under a deal in 2005 at more than 200 hotels, ranging from budget to five-star accommodations. As part of the proposition for London to host the 2012 Summer Games, LOCOG agreed to provide more than 40,000 rooms for world media, International Sports Federations, the International Olympic Committee, sponsors and those working at the Games over the two-week period. LOCOG also agreed to return any of the unwanted rooms so that the hotels were able to sell them in time for summer 2012.

Tourism officials say that the hotel availability is a “timely boost,” and is great news for those wishing to visit London and experience the Olympic Games. Officials also believe that this will enhance the UK’s image as a destination vacation and help create a tourism legacy for the future.