Four Ways to Make Me Hate a Hotel

English: Looking north across 11th Avenue at K...
English: Looking north across 11th Avenue at Kimpton Hotel, 659 11th Avenue, on a sunny midday. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

I hate to admit this, but I spend more nights in hotels than in tents when I travel. I wish it didn’t have to be that way, but it’s tough to camp in the middle of a city (at least legally … without establishing your own shantytown) So I’ve had some thoughts about hotels – mainly, about how hotels can do little things that make me really, really dislike them.

I’ve wound up staying at the Loews Ventana Canyon Resort over the past few years. Each time, Loews gave me very few reasons to like it. Rather, it offered a case study in how to make a traveler hate a hotel that should have everything going for it. Let’s take a look.

It’s Isolated from Everything Interesting

This particular Loews is tucked into the mountains on the north side of Tucson. It is extremely far from everything interesting about Tucson – the funky shops, the cool cafes, the museums. The scenery is pretty, but wow -- this neighborhood is dull. This seems to be a Loews theme. Consider the Loews Coronado Bay Resort near San Diego. Each cab trip to the interesting bits of Coronado Island is going to set you back a good $25. Or you can wait for its not-frequent-enough shuttle that runs on octagenarian hours.

My theory? Loews would rather have you pay $8 for a pint of local microbrew (double the going rate) at its own bar than shell out for a cab and spend time going to the actual brewery. So they don’t do a good job of standing by local businesses, either.

Charging for WiFi

Fancy hotels seem to invert everything. They charge you for stuff that cheaper hotels include. Case in point: WiFi. A hotel might as well charge guests for broadcast TV if it’s going to charge for WiFi. The Internet is necessary whether you’re a business traveler or a leisure traveler. And it’s 2015. Wise up, hotels.

Wasting Resources

Some hotels have this nailed. I checked into  The Grand Hotel Minneapolis (operated by Kimpton Hotel & Restaurant Group) and marched straight into the shower. There, I found refillable glass-and-metal dispensers on the shower wall – they held liquid soap, shampoo and conditioner. This is so much better than the hotels that have individual-sized, individually wrapped or bottled bars of soap and liquid toiletries.

Hotels that haven’t caught onto the importance of eco-friendliness earn a big points deduction. It’s short-sighted to their bottom line, too. So they’re not good at acting in the planet’s best interests, and they’re not good at acting in their own best interests.

So, hotels – let guests reuse their towels and bedding for a few days. Use refillable dispensers. Maybe even think of using linens made from sustainable materials like bamboo fiber.

Terrible Hours for Amenities

Here’s another chance for me to pinata Loew’s a bit. I had an urge for a workout. My schedule was a bit discombobulated, so I wound up hitting the gym at 7:45 p.m. That’s when I found out it closes at 8. Every single night.

Why bother having a gym if you’re going to close early? Travelers need to burn calories when they’re away from home. And traveling messes with people’s schedules. They might not fit into the local time zone.

Wrapping it Up With Some Praise

I mentioned Kimpton Hotels earlier. I’ll go out of my way to stay at a Kimpton hotel. Each one I’ve seen has a much more contemporary vibe (compared to the better-known hotel chains), a friendly staff and a reasonable price. The Minneapolis location I mentioned? It had a wonderful little bar with some great regional microbrews; it also had a knowledgeable bartender who was quick to point out some great local craft beer hangouts. So much different from the frosty, corporate-enforced courtesy and laminated luxury from the older, bigger hotel chains. Keep it up, guys!

“Mad Men” Meets Airlines – Book Covers Airline Branding and Ads

airline branding
The cover of “Airline Visual Identity 1945-1975”

If you read enough about the airline industry, you can bet that someone – on any given day of the week – will harrumph about the current state of air travel.

"In my day," says the harrumpher, who probably wears a monocle, "we wore our Sunday best to board an airplane. It was an occasion."

What this person never mentions that their Sunday best reeked of smoke after a flight, and they probably could only afford to fly every once in a great while.

By now, you’re getting the idea that I don’t think much of the so-called Golden Age of air travel; I’m not even sure how to define the Golden Age. I think the general opinion is that it started with the beginning of the Jet Age, and ended immediately at deregulation.

airline branding
Korean Air – no need to change this very distinctive identity.

There is one thing that airlines did better back in the ol’ days than they could possibly do now: They crafted their identity.

The craft of these identities is the subject of Airline Visual Identity 1945-1975 by M.C. Höhne. The book is a weighty tome of 430-some pages that traces the design histories of iconic airlines. It sells for about $358 US.

So who’s going to spend that much on a book about airline branding? Air travel nerds are the obvious audience. But graphic designers and anyone involved in branding, take note. This era was a never-ending stream of outstanding branding and advertising. People still realized that pilots were more than glorified bus drivers (though I imagine most still viewed flight attendants as eye candy). They appreciated the ability to fly at 38,000 feet at hundreds of miles per hour.

airlines branding
Hawaiian Airlines has preserved an identity that matches its mission.

The status symbol element of air travel was clear in airline branding, from advertising to liveries. Air travel was exciting, not tedious. The aircraft themselves were industrial art – absolutely no aircraft manufacturer of the era would’ve called their product "Airbus."

The airlines were also careful in the statements inherent in their names, their logos, their colors, their paint schemes. There is again absolutely no way an airline named Wizz Air would’ve happened back then -- not even if it was painted bright yellow. And exactly what the hell is behind a name like S7 Airlines?

airline branding
Airline branding amateur hour, from the name to the design.

You can see the power in these older brands. Eastern Airlines has been resurrected with its very cool original livery. And even PSA, America West and Piedmont Airlines live on in the form of special liveries on US Airways aircraft: If these old brands didn’t have power and panache, why in the world would US Airways keep them around? Contrast this to the newer brands, where you’re not even sure what they look like at any given time. And even timeless classics like the brushed aluminum of American Airlines are getting revamped (I’m not saying the new look is terrible, just that it’s not likely to become a classic with staying power).

So designers, creatives and branding enthusiasts, give Airline Visual Identity 1945-1975 a look. You’ll get a lot to think about – and maybe a few ideas for how the pros once crafted identities that suit their industry, and how they wanted the public to perceive them. No matter what industry you work in, chances are there are some inspiring ideas here.

If you’re interested in airlines, design and/or branding, what modern airlines do you think do it well? And if you want to read more about airline branding, check out this post by Patrick Smith.

Mead – The Coolest Thing in Prescott

You’re right near the mead – just walk to the photo’s left. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

For the last five years, I’ve predicted that mead will be the next big thing. I’ve expected it to lure craft beer and wine drinkers alike.

But damn, it hasn’t happened. Few people know what I’m even talking about – if you’re one of them, mead is a super-tasty beverage made from fermented honey. It can be tart, it can be sweet, it can be dry, it can even be sour. It can be knock-you-on-your-ass strong, or far gentler than a typical wine. It’s arguably the world’s oldest fermented beverage, too.

This guy knows how to drink mead.

Am I discouraged? Nope. Because, if Superstition Meadery in Prescotthas anything to say about it, the Age of Mead is finally at hand. Besides having a mead named Best in the World, Superstition Meadery has also opened what might be the perfect tasting room in the basement of a row of buildings on Gurley Street.

I didn’t take any photos – I didn’t have a decent camera. Here’s the picture: It’s dimly lit and comfortable. It’s a perfect place for conversation. You can get flights, glasses and bottles. The menu is absolute perfection: small snacks like charcuterie, cheese platters, a chocolate platter and what amounts to a gourmet grilled ham and cheese. This is exactly what I want with mead. I wish every craft beer bar had items like this.

Meadmaking in progress at Superstition Meadery. (photo by The History Tourist)

The staff is knowledgeable and opinionated, steering mead first-timers and longtime fans equally well. I had a delicious flight of five: the lightly hopped and saffron-infused OM; the dark, hard-hitting Safeword; Maple Stinger; my favorite, the stupifyingly delicious Sweet Mesquite; and one whose name I don’t remember. Unfortunately, neither the Superstition Meadery website nor Facebook page list what’s currently being served. Sweet Mesquite is so good that it gives my personal previous favorite mead, Viking Blød, a pretty good run for its money (I just love the slight note of cola I always taste).

This brings me to two minor quibbles. The first is about the Superstition Meadery website. I would love to get into that thing with one of my designer friends to team up – one of us to re-write the content (first, purging that page written in all caps) and the other to make a consistent, easy-to-read look and feel to each page. Oh, and there should always be a list of what’s being served in the tap room – for reference, if nothing else. I also see there’s occasional live music in the tasting room. I’m one of those who believes in separating music from enjoying beverages with friends. When I want to listen to live music, I’m rockin’ hard, and I am not in a frame of mind to enjoy the nuances of a fine beverage and a plate of chocolates. So if you’re like me, visit early in the evening.

These complaints are super-minor. And consider this: No other city in Arizona has a meadery. And this is by far my favorite tasting room. It has atmosphere, excellent service and super snacks to go along with award-winning mead. Go to Prescott, and be sure to visit Superstition Meadery.

Get a Great Deal on Luci Solar Lanterns

Luci light
My campsite – lit by Luci.

You might remember my Camping Lantern Review of 2015 that I published last week – and the MPOWERD Luci light that took top honors. If you’ve had the urge to get a bunch, MPOWERD has some deals for you. Shipping is also free for orders $75 and up during the promotion, which runs through June 8.

You can get two of the shag-a-delic Luci Aura lights (which will throw some swingin’ colors onto your yard or campsite) and a Luci Lux for $49.98. That’s $20 off!

camping lantern
The MPOWERD Luci solar-powered camping lantern boggles my mind with awesomeness.

The other option is two Luci Outdoor lights plus a free EMRG for $29.98 – $10 off on this deal, which is the one I’m going for. I plan to give some of these to my outdoor friends as gifts, so I might as well save a few bucks while I’m at it.

And remember – you can also give Luci lights to people in communities that don’t have reliable electricity. I like handing my money to a socially responsible company that stands for something beyond the bottom line; giving a Luci or three is a great way to let other companies know they should act like MPOWERD and make the world better in a way that fits them. (HINT: I ordered two of the Luci/EMRG packages and selected the GIVE option for 2 Luci lights to get the free shipping.)


My last post also mentioned jerky. And loyal reader Trevor wants me to cough up my recipe. Here is is:

1. Get 2 pounds of either top round steak or rump roast.

2. Get a big enough dish to accommodate the meat.

3. Add two cups of red wine, plus the Korean BBQ sauce of your choice.

4. Mix well, add the meat.

5. Marinate for at least 24 hours, flipping the meat once halfway through.

6. Slice into strips.

7. Lay it out on your dehydrator, lightly salt the strips (use quality salt) and let the dehydrator go to work.

8. Uncover to find delicious jerky. Eat while standing at your kitchen counter. Growl at anyone who approaches. (This enhances the flavor.)