Plan a 'Night at the Museum'
In the box-office smash, a late-night security guard (Ben Stiller) finds himself with some unexpected company when roaring lions, a T. rex, and other creatures from the American Museum of Natural History spring to life. Now you can get your own after-hours glimpse. The New York City museum, which has been flooded with requests, relaunched its sleepover program over the weekend.
Hundreds camped out under the iconic 94-foot-long blue whale, roamed the marble halls on flashlight tours, and caught screenings of the adventure film Dolphins and the space show Cosmic Collisions. Future hopefuls will have to be patient--the sleepovers are so popular that they're already sold out through June (amnh.org, 212/769-5100; ages 8-12, $79).
The movie has created a surge of interest at museums nationwide. In Chicago lately, the Field Museum has been taking more than 50 calls per day for its Dozin' With Dinos overnight program, complete with storytellers and hands-on workshops (fieldmuseum.org, 312/665-7400; ages 6-12, $47).
Kids can make plaster casts of dinosaur fossils and meet their modern-day relatives--reptiles such as snakes and tortoises--while spending the night at Camp Dino at the Natural History Museum of Los Angeles County. Butterfly Dreams and Insect Quest are among other camp offerings (nhm.org, 213/763-3535; ages 5 and up, $43).
To sleep under the stars, head to the St. Louis Science Center, where camp-ins take place under the planetarium's starry dome. In between the Omnimax movie screening and science demos, there's free time for roaming the DNA Zone or visiting dinosaurs in the ecology and environmental gallery (slsc.org, 800/456-7572, $43 for the planetarium; $38 for the main building; all ages).
Tampa's Museum of Science and Industry is hosting a special slumber party on February 16, during which the IMAX version of Night at the Museum will debut (mosi.org, 813/987-6000; $34, all ages).
Wherever you stay, be sure to BYOSB--bring your own sleeping bag!
Ads on Airport Shoe Bins?
Ever been bored while you waited at an airport checkpoint? The Transportation Security Administration (TSA) would like to cash in on the boredom of travelers by inviting companies to slap advertisements on trays and tables at checkpoints nationwide. For the past six months at Los Angeles International Airport , the TSA has tested a program that allowed companies such as Rolodex to place ads on the surfaces of shoe bins and other checkpoint items. The TSA may soon roll out the program across the country, encouraging advertisers to hawk their goods in return for millions of dollars in additional income. While we know airport and airline security costs a bundle--roughly $3 billion a year--we worry about this new program. What's next? Free product samples after pat-downs? X-ray machines sponsored by soap makers? More seriously, as soon as the TSA starts profiting from the exposure of travelers to commercials, it may have a perverse incentive to permit delays--rather than speed up checkpoints. If you have thoughts one way or the other about the placement of ads at checkpoints, please email us at Letters@ budgettravelonline.com with the subject line "tsa ads". In the meantime, know that you can find out the average wait times at security checkpoints at any U.S. airport by visiting this site. Find out how readers responded by clicking here.
Transcript: On the Road with Gerry Beckley
New York City, N.Y. "I really love downtown in New York and try to stay there whenever I can. We've recently completed a new album called Here & Now, and we're based in Soho. I love this skyline of these water towers, and this village environment that still exist down there. Every time of day this looks different. What's happening in this particular evening Soho shot is the dusk, and the bronze-gold is the reflection of the sunset behind me. I took dozens of these to get this particular final moment, when I can get the most gold on those windows, because it goes a bit lower and all the gold disappears, and you're basically left with a silhouette. There's something tranquil about this, and I remember coming back in the evenings from the studio and thinking, 'You know what? I've got a couple of invitations to go here and there, but I think I'm just going to have some room service and put my feet up.'" Quito, Ecuador "Quito is about 10,000 feet up in the Andes, and it's a really remarkable city. We were there April of this year, and obviously very changeable weather. One of my favorite moments is this contrast of storm and bright sun. It's just very fleeting. I remember being up there, and we would go for walks and stuff, but came back, not wanting to get trapped in what was obviously going to be a torrential downpour. This particular shot was just a moment. Although it's a nice shot of the hillside, it's really dictated by this bizarre weather condition." Oshkosh, Wis. "Oshkosh is a festival that we play along the water, and we've done it twice in the last five years or so. I really got fortunate here. To a certain extent you can't set this stuff up. You're really at the disposal of what's down there, but this just made a really great shot to me, and it was a matter of waiting for that sun to come out from the clouds." North Haven, Conn. "I'm on the first floor, or maybe the second floor, and there are lines and a very boring collection of cars or rent-a-cars. That engine that's in this picture is the back engine, and there was an engine in the front. Within another half second, that whole thing is gone out of view. So from the time I heard the rumble, to powering the camera up, to framing, to grabbing the last engine as it slipped out of view, at about 60 to 70 miles an hour. I was just very lucky." Sao Paulo, Brazil "Sao Paulo is what I call a Simpsons sky. It's one of these receding cloud-filled skies, like in the cartoon series, The Simpsons. Sao Paulo is one of the largest cities in the world, and it just goes on forever. We were at a brand-new high-rise hotel that was, as you can see from this shot, somewhat more on the outskirts, out near towards the airport. So I am looking back at one of the high-rise sections of the city. And, so, by being removed, there's a long expanse of suburb before you see this whole collection of high-rises again in the distance." Buffalo, N.Y. "Because of the reflective nature of that building, it was also a self-portrait. You can kind of see where I'm at. I'm in this older brick building across the way, and the reflection, even thought it's pretty severely warped, shows you the false front on my hotel building, the extended roof being held up by the beam, and I'm on the top floor, you can see me with the window up." San Diego, Calif. "It's a fantastic place. We actually hold the record for, I think, 14 consecutive years we've played and sold out this venue. I happened to look down and realize that there was not one person on the seats, and if I framed this right I can fill the entire window with the seats. So that was the concept, and I just lined it up as smoothly as I could, and got a pretty unique shot." Westbury, N.Y. "The Westbury shot is just one of those weird things where you look out and it's of a building across the way with some kind of irregular evergreens along the bottom. You couldn't have scripted it. You don't ever like things to be exactly too perfectly balanced and stuff. And what I have found is very often I'll shoot something like this, and I'll frame it the first time. And then I'll go and think, 'Hmmm, let me try a few other ways,' and very often I'll come back and realize that I got it with the first shot." Canberra, Australia "Australia is one of our favorite places to tour. Canberra--I don't know a lot about it. It's a business center, but in this particular hotel, I was looking inside. This was a fitness center. All of a sudden, this guy came in his Speedo, and I thought 'Oh, this might be good.' He got his goggles out and everything. I ended up taking a dozen shots, and had to be a little bit cautious, because I don't like to be spying on people. I ended up going with this shot here with the ripples where it looks like he just stuck his toe in to test the water, and he's about to head in for his swim. I think that it shows that, although the concept is 'view from my hotel window,' how widely that can take you. It isn't just 'well, here's what's out the window.' Sometimes, without going nuts, you can tell a little bit more of a story."
On the Menu in '07: Healthier Food
Travelers' diets might become a little healthier this year. The reason? A slew of hotels, cruise ships, and theme parks are banning trans fats--partially hydrogenated oils believed to escalate the risk of heart attacks and strokes--from their restaurants. Last fall, The Walt Disney Company kick-started the trend by announcing it would quit using trans fats at its theme parks. In late December, Universal Parks & Resorts followed suit, banning ingredients containing trans fats at its three attractions in California and Florida. Loews is the first hotel chain to ban frying oil that contains trans fats, aiming to make the change at all its hotel restaurants within six months. Marriott and Omni Hotels are eliminating trans-fat products from their kitchens in the next few weeks. Among cruise lines, Royal Caribbean is the first to say it will substitute trans fats with healthier ingredients, planning to have all its ships in compliance by year-end. The upscale Crystal Cruise line has also banned trans fat from its fleet. Expect other travel companies to follow suit.
Readers React to "Confessions Of... A Front-Desk Clerk"
We've gotten some passionate letters in reaction to our recent article, Confessions Of...A Front-Desk Clerk. Here's a sampling: I was appalled by Anne Szeker's "Confessions of a Front-Desk Clerk" (November 2006). She says, "The folks who reserve through discount sites are at the bottom of the food chain" because "the hotel barely makes a profit on the booking." Nobody is forcing any hotel to participate in third-party booking sites, such as Expedia and Priceline. But if a property does choose to release rooms to those sites, it has a responsibility to treat all guests equally. What Ms. Szeker is really advocating is a two-tier system: The guests who have lots of money get treated like royalty, and everyone else gets the shaft. Did it ever occur to Ms. Szeker that some people simply can't afford the outrageous prices charged by most hotels? In my experience, $200 a night buys a room with stained carpet, ugly furniture, paper-thin towels, scratchy bed linens and one-ply toilet paper. Guests are nickel-and-dimed for everything, including Internet access fees and "resort fees" for services they don't use. Perhaps if hotels offered better value for the money, their guests wouldn't have to use the discount sites. --Regina Klapper, Santa Fe, N.M. I enjoy your magazine, and particularly the insider tips from employees within the travel and leisure industry in your "Confessions Of" piece. However, I take issue with the comments of the hotel front desk clerk in your December/January issue. Across our society we suffer from a decline in civility from those whom we seek service. From sullenness at fast food joints to unfriendly store clerks, bad attitudes and bad service are far too common. The writer's attitude speaks volumes as to the cause. She seems to be implying that in order to get consistently good service, the customer must treat her well. It is the "me first" attitude that has become all too typical of service industry employees. I am assuming the hotel she worked at was upscale, and not the standard budget or economy roadside establishment. If that is the case, I do hope that she is atypical of the employees and management there. Good retail businesses know that rule number one is "the customer is always right." Rule number two is, "when the customer is wrong, refer to rule number one." Repeat business results from the experiences one has with the establishment. I have traveled frequently all over the world, and I can tell you that if you want me to continue to spend my money with you, treat me kindly, even when I am wrong! --David E. Chesebrough, Woodbridge, Va. I was absolutely stunned and shocked at what Anne Szeker said in her article, "Confessions of .....A Front Desk Clerk" in the Dec 06-Jan 07 issue. Specifically about the comments concerning third party reservations (Expedia, Priceline...)! "Hotel Managers can't stand it when guests reserve room through Expedia, etc.....because the hotel barely makes a profit on the booking." And, "The folks who reserve through discount sites are at the bottom of the food chain." Is this commonly known? Am I the only one who doesn't know it? I have never heard this or even imagined it! If they don't make a profit, why do hotels participate in it? We're told they want to fill rooms and often discount them to do that, so we figure we're all happy. Do they not have a choice if they want to compete in the market? I've only booked through the Internet a few times, and had no problem, but I will hesitate to do so in the future. If this gets out, where will Travelocity, Expedia, et al, be?? Are there any other desk clerks out there to verify that this is indeed true, even if, of course, the hotels themselves would never admit it? --Susan Paradis, Machias, Maine I was disgusted after reading the article "Confessions of a Front Desk Clerk. I dont know if I will EVER trust a hotel clerk again. What ever happened to Star Quality Customer Service? Surely this is not the standard? Did this person work at a flea bag? Hopefully at the hotels we all frequent we dont have to expect this back stabbing, inappropriate view of the customer who by the way, pays thier salary by staying there. The customer is ALWAYS right, no matter how difficult they may be. --J McGraw, Merced, Calif. I grew up in a famous resort called Grossinger's in New York's Catskill mountains. The author of "Confessions of a Front Desk Clerk" got it all wrong. It was not the responsibility of the guest to make her shift pleasant, it was her responsibility as an employee of the hotel to make the guest's stay pleasant! --Tania Grossinger, New York, N.Y. Once again you surprise me by printing a article that is so one sided and makes traveling look distasteful to people. Not all hotels use such horrid practices. The ones that routinely over book the hotel to compensate for No-show reservations are probably more likely to have these inexcusable attitudes. You would be better off running articles about cancelling unneeded reservations and verifying their reservations regularly. An article on what a request really is and what checking out means, would be extremely useful to everyone. These articles would save the hotels and guests a lot of money. I work at a Hampton Inn and at no time have we ever treated a guest so poorly. Whether you book through us or a third party makes no difference to us. You are guaranteed to get the room type you book. You are guaranteed at my hotel to receive great service no matter what. Whether your having a bad day or made a mistake on booking your reservation on line. As for the rates, through Hampton you are guaranteed the best available rate no matter how you book your room. We do accept AAA and AARP but a guest does need to request the discount. If a hotel knows the competition and the area they are located in there is no reason to give discounts to any one who does not have either AAA or AARP because they are going to already be quoted a fair and reasonable rate for the hotel. We have found that booking through the hotel directly is more accurate than booking online or through an 800 number. At the hotel we know our hotel, the room set ups, amenities, availability and policies. It is much more informative to a potential guest because we can answer all questions accurately. The 800 number does not know that our hotel does not have a room with 2 queen beds and a pullout, BUT we know that! We do deal with alot of problem issues. Everyone at Hampton Inn has the ability to invoke the 100% guarantee for a guest. They don't have to wait for a manager to make the decision. Yes we have people who treat the staff poorly, but we do not return the poor behavior. Any place that pratices that type of attitude has no business working in the customer service field. I am a Front Desk Manager at my hotel and have been working extensively on training my staff to handle difficult issues with finess and a smile. If a guest invokes the 100 % guarantee, whether we feel they are pulling one over on us or not, we do it happily and with a smile. In all honesty I feel it not only makes the guest return but turns them into a loyal guest less likely to invoke the guarantee over minor issues. In the customer service field attitude really is everything. On a daily basis my staff helps guests with various deliveries, helping with luggage or what ever the case may be. It is pretty tough to get the staff to even accept a dollar tip for the extra help. We do it because we enjoy our jobs, our guests and more than anything making someone else smile. We do discuss guest issues frequently at the desk. Our answer to an irate guest? How about a a note under the door or a phone call letting the guest know they can order a complimentary movie on the tv and drop off a bag of microwave popcorn. See how easy it is to turn an unhappy customer into a satisfied loyal guest. You should see what we do when our favorite frequent stayers come stay with us! Come visit us and see what a hotel stay should really be like. Making everyone's day a little brighter, Janet Shatto, Front Desk Manager