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Friday, September 17, 2010

How to Get the Top Ranking on TripAdvisor

I just sat down for lunch with Dan Donohue, General Manager at the Lenox Hotel and asked him how the Lenox Hotel earned the number one ranking of all hotels in Boston on TripAdvisor. I always believed these rankings, especially as hotels inch their way to the top, are totally random. But he disagrees. He told me there’s a simple reason the Lenox is the number one hotel in the city--service. When he first took the job at the Lenox, he visited many of the lobbies of other hotels in the city. He sat and watched and realized that hotel employees wouldn’t even say hi to each other, let alone give a gracious nod to their guests. Not at the Lenox. His workers always go up to guests to ask them how their day is going. But what I really like about the Lenox is there’s no extra charge for that water in the mini-bar. There’s no extra charge for Wi-Fi. Guests aren’t nickled and dimed to death. “If a child wants a candy bar,” says Donohue, “we’ll find him one.” I visited two hotels this summer, Wequassett on Cape Cod and The Athenaeum in London, where everything in the mini-bar is free except for that bottle of Moet Chandon and other alcohol. There’s a certain degree of respect between hotel and guest when you’re not charged silly fees for beverages and Wi-Fi. On the other hand, nothing pisses off your guest more than charging them for these basic services after they already paid a decent amount for a night’s stay.
 


Posted by Steve Jermanok on 09/17/10 at 01:00 PM
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Thursday, September 16, 2010

TripAdvisor’s Not So Trusted Travel Advice

TripAdvisor, which bills itself as the world’s most trusted travel advice, just came out with their listing of the Top 10 Beach & Sun Destinations in the World. Number one on the list is Providenciales, otherwise known as Provo, in the Turks & Caicos. What a joke! I last went to Provo to write a scuba diving story on this Caribbean locale for Islands Magazine. Except for a sublime stretch of beach that was crowded with many overpriced hotels, I found the place to be another one of those scruffy islands in the Caribbean with no mountains, no waterfalls, no tropical allure, no beauty. It’s a culturally void locale where you can pop into the local bar and watch Monday Night Football on TV and feel like you’re back in the States. In fact, my favorite part of the trip was actually leaving the island and going underwater on a far more enchanting dive.

Number five on that same list is Myrtle Beach. This is one of the top beach destinations in the world?! Are you freaken kidding me?! Then there are two locales in Mexico, one in Jamaica, Puerto Rico, San Diego. Sure, they threw in the Cook Islands, Boracay, Philippines, and Byron Bay, Australia, but these are also bizarre choices. The first article I ever sold was on the Cook Islands, so it remains a nostalgic place for me. There’s a nice island trek across Rarotonga, but the landscape is not even in the same league as other South Pacific locales, like the mind-blowing verdant volcanic landscape of Bora Bora or any island in the Marquesas, French Polynesia. As for Byron Bay, it’s a popular place to hang for celebrities, but it can’t compete with the beaches north of Brisbane, like Coolangatta, or the largest sand island in the world, Fraser Island.

This list wasn’t made by any one who can remotely call themselves the most trusted voice in travel.  Judging from the list of locales, many of which are easy flights from the Northeast, I think it was written by some editor in the corporate offices of TripAdvisor in Boston, who has rarely traveled farther than Fenway Park. TripAdvisor is best used as a reference for hotels once you know exactly where you are going. I would never use them as expert opinion to find a stunning beach locale. Instead toss this list in the garbage and take my trusted expert advice, culled from over 20 years of being a professional travel writer. If you want one of the top beach and sun destinations in the world, start with Capetown, Folegandros, Greece, Kas, Turkey, the Gold Coast north of Brisbane, the Big Island of Hawaii, Savusavu, Fiji, Bahia, Brazil, Manuel Antonio, Costa Rica, the Seychelles, and yes, Bora Bora!
 


Posted by Steve Jermanok on 09/16/10 at 01:00 PM
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Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Saturday, September 18, is Maine Lighthouse Day

This coming Saturday from 9 am to 3 pm, 25 lighthouses around Maine that are usually closed to the public will open their doors for the second annual Lighthouse Day. The list includes my personal favorite, Portland Head Light, made famous by Edward Hopper, Curtis Island Lighthouse overlooking Camden Harbor, and a lighthouse I saw close up earlier in the summer, the red and white West Quoddy Head in Lubec. Lighthouse historians Bill Thomson and Jeremy D’Entremont will do a presentation at Portland Head Light at 10 am. 

Illustration created by Alan Claude


Posted by Steve Jermanok on 09/15/10 at 01:00 PM
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Tuesday, September 14, 2010

Not So Memorable All-Inclusive Resorts for Families

If you ask my kids, ages 14 and 12, what their favorite vacations were, they’d no doubt say Alaska, British Colombia, Israel, Paris, Bryce,  Zion, and Acadia National Parks, and, of course, New York. Even though we’ve been to over a dozen all-inclusive resorts in the Caribbean and Mexico over the years, all except our last one at the Riu Ocho Rios in Jamaica are quickly forgettable. They all featured wonderful beaches and decent food until the 3rd day, when you become tired of seeing the same entrees. But the reason they quickly forget this type of vacation is that it never really gets to the depth necessary to touch them. There were no adventures, no immersion into the local culture, be it food, music or history, no mishaps to look back and laugh about. It was all very pleasant, a warm retreat from the cold winter temps in Boston. How can staying at one hotel all week possibly compare to being surrounded by whales, otters, bald eagles, and sea lions on a zodiac off Sitka? Or listening to music late at night at one of the jazz joints in Paris? Or grabbing plates of hummus and foul with locals in Jaffa? Or seeing where King Henry VIII married his sixth wife at Hampton Court Palace?  Or hiking with those odd-shaped hoodoos or an exhilarating cliff walk in Bryce and Zion? Or grabbing a hot pastrami on rye at Katz’s Deli and then going outside to see Shepard Fairey paint his most recent mural on Houston Street? These things my kids remember. All those all-inclusive beaches blur into one big warm embrace, nothing more. 


Posted by Steve Jermanok on 09/14/10 at 01:00 PM
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Monday, September 13, 2010

ActiveTravels Update

In September 1990, I quit my job as a broker in Manhattan and booked a flight with Air New Zealand, stopping at 12 different locales in the South Pacific on the way to my final destination, Sydney. When I returned from that 4-month jaunt, I would write my first article, “Learning to Scuba Dive in the Cook Islands.” Since that time, I have been fortunate to make my living primarily as a travel writer, penning more than 1000 articles for over 50 publications. To celebrate my 20th anniversary in this business, I’ll be updating the Go Play! Section of ActiveTravels by adding many of these articles to the website. Simply click on a geographical region, say California, and you’ll find a slew of updated content from backpacking to surfing to snacking, listed under each category. I’ll also include the name of the magazine, newspaper, or website where the story was originally printed. Think of this as a resource guide to your world of adventure.

As always, thanks for checking in! If there’s any travel subject you’d like me to discuss, simply ask. If you’re planning a trip to some glorious part of the world and need recommendations on activities or lodging, simply ask. Since I’ve started this blog over a year ago, I haven’t made a dime from advertising or commissions from the places I recommend. This way, I remain unbiased and can give you the wholehearted truth about each destination. So don’t only use Go Play! as a resource. Go straight to the source and ask me any question you might have.
 


Posted by Steve Jermanok on 09/13/10 at 01:00 PM
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Friday, September 10, 2010

Tanzania Plans to Build a Highway Through the Serengeti

Here are some words of wisdom to the current Tanzanian president, Jakaya Kikwete, who just announced plans to build a highway that will slice right through the southern part of the Serengeti. “Build it and they won’t come,” as in the hundreds of thousands of Europeans and American travelers who make the trek to Tanzania each year to go on safari. Slated to be built in 2012, the 260-mile highway will connect Arusha, near Mount Kilimanjaro, with Musoma on Lake Victoria. The idiotic move will not only disrupt one of the world’s great migrations of some 1.2 million wildebeests traveling north into Kenya’s Masai Mara, but will be an easy way in and out for poachers. Make the wise move, President Kikwete, and find an alternative route.
 


Posted by Steve Jermanok on 09/10/10 at 02:00 PM
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Thursday, September 09, 2010

Maine Huts & Trails Will Open Third Hut on October 9th

Maine Huts & Trails, the nonprofit organization hoping to build 12 backcountry huts over 180 miles of trails in the remote western mountains of the state, has just announced the unveiling of their third lodging, the Grand Falls Hut. The hut is located on the banks of the Dead River, two miles below the cascading waters of Grand Falls. Each of the three huts, including the Poplar Stream Falls and the Flagstaff Lake hut, are spaced about 11 miles apart, so people can reach it within one day of hiking, snowshoeing, or x-c skiing. Now through November 7th, Maine Huts is offering a deal where you stay two nights and get the second night for half price. So for less than $150 per adult, you get to sleep on a bed for two nights, get hot showers, 2 dinners, and 2 breakfasts. The best part is that you have this vast tract of wilderness outside your window, with mountains, large lakes, sinuous rivers, and waterfalls all vying for your attention.
 


Posted by Steve Jermanok on 09/09/10 at 01:00 PM
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Wednesday, September 08, 2010

Adventure Cruises, No Longer an Oxymoron

I’m in the midst of writing a story for The Boston Globe on how cruise lines are adding more and more active shore excursions for their clientele. For years, cruise lines were the antithesis of an active lifestyle, catering to a sedentary clientele who were far more fixated on the buffet tables. That’s changed dramatically in the past 3 to 5 years. Cruise brokers like Todd Smith, owner of AdventureSmithExplorations, feature small cruise lines whose specialty is getting people off the ship for a dose of adventure. Next spring, they’re unveiling two ships in Alaska, the M/V Wilderness Adventurer and M/V Wilderness Discoverer, that will feature overnight hiking and sea kayaking jaunts, white water rafting, and fishing charters that pick you up right from the boat. Each ship only carries 49 passengers, which helps them cater to your every whim.

 


Posted by Steve Jermanok on 09/08/10 at 01:00 PM
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Tuesday, September 07, 2010

Sea Kayaking with My 80 Year-Old Dad on Lake George

When I tell people that I find Lake George more exquisite than Lake Tahoe, Lake Powell, or even that wondrous lake to the north, Champlain, they often look at me bewildered.  They equate the lake with the honky-tonk village on the southern tip, packed with T-shirt and fudge shops, video arcades, hokey haunted houses, a requisite water park, and my personal favorite, Goony Golf, a miniature golf course crowded with huge fairy tale characters. All folks have to do is drive about ten miles north on Route 9N to find the far more charming town of Bolton Landing. This section of the 31-mile long lake is more like a river, narrow and hemmed in by the peaks, offering vintage Adirondack beauty that once inspired Hudson River School painters to grab their canvases and head north, followed by Georgia O’Keeffe and her camera-toting husband Alfred Stieglitz.

Growing up in Schenectady, New York, we would make the hour-drive to Bolton Landing on a regular basis to reach our sailboat docked just out of town. Now I return on an annual basis with my family to visit my father and his wife who summer here, and treat my kids to a good dose of natural adventure. One of my favorite things to do is rent sea kayaks on Green Island and paddle around the classic Adirondack resort, the Sagamore, a large wedding cake of a hotel that’s been the lake’s premier address for over a century. This past weekend, I persuaded my dad and his wife, Ginny, to join me. I put my father in the front of a double kayak that I steered while Ginny paddled alongside us in a single kayak. The wind was strong and the waves choppy as we approached the sloping grounds of the Sagamore, but soon we were around the island singing sea shanties. Whether you sail, sea kayak, or prefer a motor boat, get out on this lake and make some memories.
 


Posted by Steve Jermanok on 09/07/10 at 01:00 PM
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Friday, September 03, 2010

Top 5 Fall Foliage Picks in New England, Golfing at the Equinox or Stowe Mountain Lodge

A favorite in autumn, when the hillside is aflame in color, the dramatic ups and downs of the Equinox course offer quintessential New England vistas of white steeples, Mt. Equinox, and the grand hotel. You won’t forget the seventh hole, a par-five that plays over a road. Take a break at the ninth to have lobster rolls for lunch at the Dormy Grill. Over at Stowe Mountain Lodge, Bob Cupp’s ego-boosting design has five sets of tees to ensure that birdies, not bogies, are a reality. That is, if you can concentrate on your putts instead of peering off at the majestic views of the Green Mountains that form a silhouette of peaks around you. Celebrate your low score with a drink at the golf cottage, created from the yellow birch trees found on the course. For more information, read my story on fall foliage golfing in Vermont at The Boston Globe.
 

"Photo credit Destination360 Vermont Golf"


Posted by Steve Jermanok on 09/03/10 at 01:00 PM
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Longtime Boston Globe travel writer, Steve Jermanok, dishes out his favorite travel locales and provides topical travel information that comes across his desk.

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