What Hotel Services Could You Live Without?

Recently, The Cranky Flier wrote about the airline El Al (which seriously sounds like it should serve flights to the planet Kypton) creating a super-low economy section by charging for services normally offered for free. This “unbundling”, as it’s known in industry parlance, would charge for things like snacks and drinks. I’m assuming there’s no upcharge for seat belts and barf bags.

And I just complained about the ludicrous prices of hotels in much of the First World – the United States is my most egregious example, but western Europe is hardly a bargain.

Why not put the ideas together? That is, unbundling hotel services. I can’t take credit for this idea – it was the ever-practical wife’s suggestion when I told her about El Al.

I’d completely be willing to forgo telephone services, irons in the room, cable TV and a bad continental breakfast. Hmm, I guess “bad continental breakfast” is redundant. I’ve always thought that first a pastry is a pastry – then it gets stale and becomes a “scone.” Once the scone solidifies into a rocklike mass surpassing diamonds on the Mohs scale of mineral hardness, it winds up on a tray in a hotel’s continental breakfast spread; only the brutally acidic coffee on display is caustic enough to break it down for consumption by some humans. But I digress.

That seems a nifty solution to what I consider the really poor values that are most hotels.

Here’s a question for you: What standard hotel services would you forego to knock some bucks off the bill?

Prime Time for Another Doomed Theme Park?

A Facebook conversation with my old friend, Stacy (whose excellent blog you should check out), dredged up some memories of the old-timey version of Phoenix. And by old-timey, I mean the 1980s.

One of those memories was of Legend City, Arizona’s very own amusement park. It closed in 1983. I’m not even 100 percent-certain I made it there before it closed … my family showed up here in 1980. Apparently, some people died on rides. Lawsuits from those incidents killed Legend City; today, thousands of people drive by the site unaware that it ever existed. You can read about it and see photos at a very cool tribute Web site to Legend City.

Now, what makes this a bit more timely is that some people might not be ready to let go of the notion that Arizona should have a major theme park. No, Rawhide does not count.

This new vision started floating to the surface a few years ago. Here’s the concept: A rock ‘n’ roll-themed, $850 million, 144-acre theme park built somewhere in the dusty fields between Phoenix and Tucson. It would be in a place called Eloy, which pretty much makes Casa Grande look like Sydney, Australia.

I hadn’t thought about Decades much until Legend City came up. That conversation made me think “Hey, what ever happened to that debacle-in-the-making?”

Well, over the past year, not much. The Decades Web site (which is amateurish, at best) hasn’t seen a news item update  in nearly a year. This leads me to think that (despite then-Governor Janet Napolitano’s backing and the passage of a bill to create a tax district that would allow the theme park to collect more sales tax) it’s dead. I’m still a little concerned about the silence: I’d prefer to see the garlic, holy water and wooden stakes come out to make sure this doesn’t happen. Also, the park’s chief creative officer, Marty West, has apparently talked to the band Rush about a Rush-themed concert hall. The Coaster Buzz blog, though, thinks the project is buried.

Here’s why I think Decades is a bad idea (some of this comes from a post in a different blog I used to write):

1. Summer Heat – This is pretty obvious. Sure, Florida is hot and sticky in the summer. But it also has a lot more shade, and the sunlight is far less intense because of the humidity. This place will be brutal in the summer.

2. The Competition – People go to theme parks ’cause their kiddies want to. This is Walt Disney Co.’s strength. It ain’t just a theme park – it’s well-known characters that span generations, new-fangled movie heroes like Buzz Lightyear and rides that get turned into movies of their own.

3. The Theme is Silly – Look, theme parks are about kids. Kids don’t care about Chuck Berry. And really, what does rock ‘n’ roll have to do with Arizona? Did we hold Woodstock here? Is this where the members of Led Zeppelin were born? Oh, wait … Eloy is where Abbey Road Studios were built before they got moved to England in a reverse London Bridge-style swap! No? Nothing about the theme makes a lick of sense.

4. Natural Resources – Rumor has it that, to combat the heat, most of the rides will be water-based. Where do the backers plan to get that water?

5. We’ve Heard it All Before – Really, I’ve heard variations on the phrase “most amazing projects Arizona has ever seen!” too many times to count. It seems these phrases are most often tied to short-lived debacles like the Scottsdale Galleria or Biosphere 2. We see where those wound up.

6. Put it in a Real City – Eloy is far too remote. A theme park needs infrastructure, especially hotels. It can also use a major airport within 50 miles and some post-theme park activities. That favors a location much closer to Phoenix, and one that doesn’t require travel on the often-problematic I-10.

Also, as a former news reporter, I roll my eyes whenever I see that PR shyster Jason Rose is a project’s hired huckster. I can’t recall him doing anything that was in the public’s interest. He is exactly the sort of drone who would propose turning Arlington Cemetery into a Wal-Mart plaza and try to convince you that a few thousand low-paying jobs are better than any musty ol’ history.

BONUS: According to Richard Ruelas, one of the better writers over at the Arizona Republic, Decades isn’t the first proposed boondoggle for Eloy. Feast your eyes on these (directly from a sidebar in an a Republic story):

  • 1989, the Wooz, a $2.7 million maze-style theme park in Eloy.
  •  1990, Sunplex, a theme park, ice rink and football stadium park in Eloy. It was to be home of the world’s largest sundial. The developers admitted it was a fraud.

American Hotels are a Rip-Off

I was somewhat excited about an upcoming trip to Boston. Then I started researching hotel prices.

Check this out:

1 night in a generic hotel in Boston = $210

Now contrast that to these (bear in mind that I generally travel just slightly off the peak seasons, but not much):

1 night in a British Bristol freighter airplane turned into a hotel in New Zealand: $160 Nz, roughly $85 US

1 night in a two-room suite with kitchenette in Queenstown, NZ: $150 NZ

1 night at La Mansion, a spectacular hotel in the jungles near Manuel San Antonio, Costa Rica: $150-$350 US (FYI, this place is super-deluxe. Ex-presidents stay here. It is not a (long string of expletives deleted) Best Western or Holiday Inn.

1 night in a slick backpacker’s lodge in Tongariro National Park, NZ: $40 NZ (call it $25 US)

1 night in a super-awesome eco-lodge in the rain forest of Belize: $85-$105

1 night in a sleek, modern, convenient hotel steps from downtown Cairns, Australia: $115 AU (call that about $85 US).

Seriously, are American hotels trying to price themselves out of consideration? If so, they’re doing a grade-A job of it. Factor in the fact that, to reach most foreign destination, I have to fly a foreign airline with better service and that I LOVE long flights, and you can see that American hotels will get my dollars only when family obligations require travel within this country’s borders.

If you’re a traveler, vote with your wallet. Take your dollars off-shore. Maybe that will get the message through.

So You’re Going to Australia … 11 Handy Tips

So you’re going to Australia? I know of more than a few wise people who are following my advice and heading really, really far south. Good on ya, as they’ll say in Australia. Rather than just hording my favorite tips for family and friends, I’ll share ’em with all of you.

1. Airline tickets – Australia’s a huge country, and it’s also very empty in the center. If you want to visit a few cities (and you should), think about something like the Qantas Aussie AirPass. I couldn’t find anything similar from Air New Zealand or V Australia – that doesn’t mean it doesn’t exist – call either airline and ask if they have something to compete with Qantas for multi-city visits.

2. Eating in the air – Don’t bring food. None of the Australia or New Zealand-based airlines will starve you. In fact, they’ll try to stuff you full of food, fresh fruit and free beer and wine. You’ll even get breakfast. Also, being a big island, Australia is determined to keep foreign stuff away. Even your snacks can pose a threat to the Australian ecosystem, apparently. So away put your trail mix – you will not need it.

3. Clean your outdoor gear – I showed up with dirt from my local trails on my hiking boots. This was met with extreme disapproval by the Ozzy customs agents. Again, it’s an ecosystem thing. So arrive with clean gear.

4. This isn’t the usual coffee – Australia has a pretty distinct coffee culture. Rarely will you get to put cream in your own coffee. And that coffee is usually made espresso-style. I can’t even remember drinking drip coffee there. The good news is that the average Australian barista is well-trained and on par with the upper echelon of American baristas. That’s the way they roll.

5. Tomato sauce and capsicum – That’s ketchup and green pepper to you, yank! Brush up on some of the lingo, if possible.

6. Bond with Aussies in an instant – Want to strike up a conversation with just about any Aussie? Ask for a few tips on understanding cricket. The entire country seems to be sharply divided on Ozzy rules football (aka footy or AFL), Rugby Union and Rugby League. But they all share the love for cricket. Just acting mildly interested is a perfect ice breaker, and you’ll have a new friend in an instant.

7. Relax – Don’t let anything bother you. Missing luggage? Remain calm. Train late? Cool your jets. Things have a way of working out down there, especially if you maintain your composure and sense of humor.

8. Don’t be afraid to drive – I know it’s not the way you’re used to driving. But you should give it a go. Once you stop turning on the windshield wipers when you want to turn on the turn signals, that means you’re making progress. For the first few hours, though, if you feel right at home, you’re doing something wrong.

9. Don’t go to the Australian Venom Zoo before you go camping. Unless you like staying awake at night and quivering in fear.

10. Tipping is kind of rare there. I felt weird about this, but it’s true.

11. You won’t be here every week – It’s a long flight, and a big block of time. Make the most of it. Don’t be afraid to creep outside your budget a bit to do something truly cool that you can’t do anywhere else. But make it worthwhile, like some sort of crazy tour or experience. My main indulgence was a sweet didgeridoo. It was a pain in the butt to lug it around and it nearly caused coronaries for the baggage people in Los Angeles, but it was too cool not to bring home.

There! You’re well on your way to a great Australian vacation. I’ll see you soon … with your kangaroo scrotum keychain, a boomerang and a pound of Highland Pearls coffee beans!

If there’s anything you’re wondering that I haven’t mentioned here, feel free to ask. I’ll answer in a follow-up post. That goes for anywhere … not just Australia.

48 Hours in Flagstaff

Downtown Flagstaff with San Francisco Peaks in Background - Photographer unknown
Downtown Flagstaff with San Francisco Peaks in Background - Photographer unknown

Flagstaff has saved the sanity of many people from central Arizona. We know that, even on the hottest, most brain-baking weekends, respite is just two hours away up the I-17. That means you can squeeze relief from triple-digit temperatures into just one weekend.

Here are some tips for desert dwellers looking to get the most out of 48 hours. Out-of-state visitors can also use this to get their plans started.

Where to Stay:

Flagstaff has a little something for everyone when it comes to accommodations. Even the cheap hotels are pricier than they should be, but we’ll just have to grin and bear that. There are enough decent hotels that you shouldn’t have trouble finding a place. In fact, I’m not even going to name any specific hotels.

Here’s what I’ll do instead: I’ll tell you to mind the railroad tracks. The closer you are to them, the more you will hear train whistles and the roar of enormous diesel locomotives. Let the tracks be your guide. Unfortunately, some of the more fun places are walking distance from the tracks, too.

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Pass Mountain Trail at Usery Park

pass mountain trail
The view north about two miles from the Pass Mountain Trailhead.

Pass Mountain and many other county trails get overlooked often. And unless you live in the Phoenix area, the only time you’ve probably heard the phrase “Maricopa County” is in relation to its relentlessly self-promoting sheriff, Joe Arpaio. I’m not going to dive into that can of worms except to say that he doesn’t exactly do much to foster warm, fuzzy feelings for the county government.

That’s a shame for the Maricopa County Parks crew. This system of more than 10 parks isn’t perfect – but it is outstanding. I am constantly thankful for the county parks department, and all it has done to provide a lot of quality outdoor recreation for residents and visitors alike. I feel like it’s a bargain to hand over my $6 whenever I go into a county park (See a complete list of fees). Huge props to the county parks staff, especially for McDowell Mountain Regional Park. That one’s my favorite by a long shot.

Today, I’m focusing on Usery Mountain Regional Park in Mesa (we’ll get to McDowell in a future post) and the Pass Mountain Trail. This is getting you close to the famous Superstition Mountains, and within very nice sight of the Four Peaks Wilderness Area.

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