Most college towns have no hotels worth visiting. Staying near a college campus can be a complete drag. But UC Santa Cruz is a welcome exception. Paradoxical? Sure, why not.

Hotel Paradox is in a college town and it does not suck.

CA Route 1

CA Route 1

We arrived sunburned and exulted after a 384 mile road trip up the California coast from Los Angeles. Hey, nobody said that college and the arts was going to be easy! The drive was mesmerizing.

Paradox is also self-referential in a sense that the architecture is 100% hamster cage. Holiday Inn, Days Inn, you name it, this is the rectangle. But somehow they pull it off with a design-forward approach and an inclusive feel. A paradox.

Coolest front desk ever

Coolest front desk ever

Apparently they read the blog. We were upgraded (really), we were given a bar credit, we were greeted by name. Dang!

Room 534 is situated at the very end of the rectangle and involves two rooms making a suite with a virtual porch on the side. Surprisingly nice.

Time warp to the '70s

Time warp to the ’70s

Sitting room with fold out couch

Sitting room with fold out couch

Bedroom 534 (rectangle done right)

Bedroom 534 (rectangle done right)

Wood

Wood

The bathroom has a non-plastic shower. You know how we feel about that around here!

534 has a glass shower with a silver twig handle and a pebble floor

534 has a glass shower with a silver twig handle and a pebble floor

IMG_2503

The nicest thing about 534 is the outside space associated with the suite. Just very well done.

The park next door

The park next door

Virtual porch in 534

Virtual porch in 534

So we’ll need to revise our “university towns have no hotels” opinion. A very high four shower heads for the Paradox. Well done!

In other Santa Cruz news, the Oswald is apparently the best bet restaurant-wise in town. Hmm. Not bad, but also not good.

We leave you with more CA Route 1 footage.

When properly motivated, NPS is about as loyal a traveller you could get. Note that this behavior is less motivated by rewards than it is by habit. NPS knows what it likes in a service company and it knows where to go to get it (and where to avoid going to not get it…hah parse that). Once we find what we like at NPS, we go over and over again back to the well.

But when things go south in a loyalty relationship, NPS does not shy from corrective action. Just trawl the United airline entries here and see what we mean. After 1,590,963 miles on United (ten years as a 100K flyer), Jeff Smisek’s terrible operational leadership finally squandered and squeezed every iota of loyalty out of NPS. So what did we do? We pledged to fly any other airline possible in 2015. And we’re doing it (thanks Virgin America! Jet Blue! Delta! American!). For the record, Virgin America seems a bit surprised by just what a business traveller firehose of cash looks like!

NPS is run by capitalists—the kind of capitalists who remember who has the money, who is paying for the service, and how capitalism is supposed to work. Woe to the business that forgets this, because at NPS we mostly vote with our hard cash (oh and we tweet sometimes too).

Loyalty programs are a nice perquisite of abundant travel, but as mentioned above, NPS never choses a hotel chain, airline, or rental car organization for its loyalty program. Accumulating frequent whatever status is just a side effect of habit.

Given all this, it is high irony indeed when a theoretical “reward” associated with a loyalty program screws things up in a loyalty relationship. Consider Hertz. NPS chooses to rent only from Hertz because price differential in rental cars is completely arbitrary and, most important of all, remembering which flavor of car you have rented takes cycles we don’t have to spare. If we have a rental car reserved for a trip, we don’t want to dig around in our stuff trying to remember which company it is. So it’s Hertz for NPS.

A side effect of always renting Hertz is membership in the super gold plus “presidential circle” which as far as we can tell is utterly meaningless, oh, and accidental accumulation of points. Recently NPS looked into the points reward thing to get a bunch of cars lined up for the #collegeandthearts tour. Multiple free cars on multiple legs is great and makes us feel good! But wait, you wanted a convertible to take one way from LA to San Fran up the Pacific coast with your son? Well that will cost you more! You see your “free” reward involves a generic car type that you don’t rent by default. Talk about squandering loyalty capital, Hertz did it in spades! To make $300 in short term revenue Hertz chose to made NPS unhappy, crumpled up all the loyalty and threw it in the trash can by the door. That tradeoff is just ridiculous if you think about it. So, yes, NPS will spend the $300 bucks, but we may also switch our business cash spending hose to Avis.

Instead of “stickiness” the Hertz loyalty reward has led to brand “slipperiness.” FAIL.

What prompted this tirade was some Kimpton behavior that NPS does not approve of involving its loyalty program. Read the entries here and you will see that Kimpton has NPS right where it wants us. We love Kimpton. If we are in a city with a Kimpton, we thank our lucky stars and stay there. But do we do it for the inner circle status or the rewards? Nope. We do it because we abhor plastic showers, terrible hamster cage room design, and Disney-world-Walmart-shooper consumers (in precisely that order). Plus over the years we have come to know many Kimpton GMs and executives and we are pleased to count them as friends (I’m talking to you Joe Capalbo, Steph Vogel, Jacques Bezuidenhout, Brian Means, Chris Smith, Matt Hurlburt, and Mike DeFrino! You guys rock.)

In fact, back when the Kimpton loyalty program first started, NPS provided lots of advice to the setter uppers, most of which was operationalized. A compliment/complaint to Mike DeFrino long long ago regarding training 14 properties about NPS habits one at a time (and its relationship to arbitrary leadership from different GMs) was met with a fantastic solution. NPS was inner circle back before there was such a thing, and watching Kimpton build such a strong chain and associated brand has been a joy.

Then there is the rewards system, which should be icing on the cake, but somehow misses the mark. Just for the sake of repetition, we stay at Kimpton to see our friends and avoid plastic showers. So when we get a reward night at a new property what would we expect? Certainly not a plastic shower. NPS is not in it for the free night, heck, we have plenty of money. We’re in it for other reasons. A generic rewards program that ignores that fact does so at its peril. Give us a free room with a plastic shower and watch us become upset.

A quick aside on social media is worth a few words. Part of Kimpton’s brand strength comes from decent use of social media. But Kimpton needs to make sure to engage just as well with the hard lessons of dissatisfaction as they do with happy happy back slapping bonhomie of people who don’t travel much. NPS will aim its pea shooter in whatever direction it pleases and hopefully make the world a better place for spoiled travelers in some way. Better pay attention!

What does NPS do when unhappy? Is this all about social media and rampant complaining? No not really. NPS votes with cash when push comes to shove. So brand managers, here is a lesson for you: do NOT let your rewards system squander so much loyalty capital that you cut yourself off from the cash flow river.

The good news is Kimpton has a store of plenty of loyalty left in the lake, so there is no danger of NPS jumping ship anytime soon.

OK enough of that. Dismount.

Now on to College and the Arts hotel number 2, the Palomar in LA that got all this thinking started. NPS has sent spies here, but we have never been here ourselves. Usually, a first visit to a new property is a joy. This time, not so much.

Do tell, we hear you saying…

Wine hour in the packed lobby

Wine hour in the packed lobby

We arrived from the arts part of the day (at the LACMA) right at wine hour. Optimal! Free wine is a great Kimpton perq. The lobby was abuzz and there was even a DJ and a long line to check in.

At the front desk they told us we had been “upgraded” to a special room. But if room 1020 is superior, this property needs some work. You see, we have stayed at many a Palomar over the years and we expect way better than a gussied up hamster cage with a plastic shower. Yes, Kimpton, you have created a monster. Please just do your homework before we get there.

1020 at the Palomar Los Angeles is supposedly an upgrade?!

1020 at the Palomar Los Angeles is supposedly an upgrade?!

Anyway, our reaction to 1020 is “this sucks,” which frankly is not the reaction Kimpton is probably looking for what they dole out a loyalty reward?!

A plastic shower at Kimpton's Palomar in Los Angeles

A plastic shower at Kimpton’s Palomar in Los Angeles

As NPS readers know, we spend endless hours avoiding plastic showers. The worst variety is the kind with the bent out obesity-friendly shower curtain bar designed for Walmart shoppers. Here’s a picture of what we can’t stand.

PLASTIC SHOWER. Look at that light shine off the curtain.

PLASTIC SHOWER. Look at that light shine off the curtain.

So we called down and let the front desk know about the plastic shower thing. They were stymied because all of the glass showercube rooms were taken. BUT I MADE THIS RESERVATION MONTHS AGO IN 2014!!! Here’s the deal with loyalty. Track us all you want, but read the dang computer file and do some planning. Assign someone to read the blogs of inner circle people before they show up at your property and see what makes them tick. Free? Not us. Glass shower? That would be it.

We did say when we called down and had a chat about the room that they would hear about it. And so we took to the twitterz where we were met with cricket chirps and resounding silence from the crack Kimpton social media team who seems to have been on break for 14 hours. That meant we needed to find the GM, which we are doing in a different thread.

We’re looking forward to a chat with Rob Hannigan who has been ultra responsive so far. NPS is confident that things will resolve nicely because Kimpton is about the best there is.

Oh, and the water was still. So we went and bought some San Pellegrino ourselves when we joined friends in Topanga for dinner.

A Kimpton all time low two showerheads and an upbraiding for the Palomar in Los Angeles on this trip. You can do better Kimpton.

1020 a room with a view (and a plastic shower) at Palomar LA

1020 a room with a view (and a plastic shower) at Palomar LA

It’s #collegeandthearts time for #2, and that means lots of flying, lots of hotels, lots of looking at colleges, and lots of art. We’ll cover the hotels on this ten day adventure here and the art on apothecaryshed. Off we go!

The trip out to LA was via our disdained old flame United airlines. The plan is to burn all of the FF miles in the pile. And wouldn’t you know, United performed perfectly! On time (early in fact), wifi, power, room to work. The staff could be friendlier, but they were not downright surly so that is an improvement. Well done United!

We arrived just at sunset and proceeded to Hertz where we are cashing in loyalty points for free cars all week. Hertz would not let me reserve a convertible, so I got one at the airport by paying extra money. Free is nice, but wrong car sucks. Not too good Hertz, way to squander your loyalty good will!

Anyway, the best part of the whole thing was figuring out how to get the top down. 20 minutes, one Hertz employee, and a miraculous theory later, it went down. We were laughing pretty hard. The drive to Laguna was uneventful.

14 West is right next door to the Holliday Inn in Laguna. That should tell you something. Wrong side of the road, but a decent location within walking distance of the real center of town (5 minutes).

14 West is not exactly on the Pacific

14 West is not exactly on the Pacific

Due to some mixup that the hotel was sincerely sorry about after it was too late to fix, my 17 year old and I ended up in a one bed room. Fortunately the bed was huge. But really, this was a fail on the part of the hotel.

Room 12 has a nice big bed and a circular chair set

Room 12 has a nice big bed and a circular chair set

We were in room 12. We were promised a rose garden. Just sayin’.

The kitchenette in 12

The kitchenette in 12

The sink/closet alcove in 12

The sink/closet alcove in 12

Sadly, the HVAC and the small fridge were like droids making machine noises all night. Where are the Jawas when you need them? Get this machinery out of here!!

Dire need of Jawas at 14 West

Dire need of Jawas at 14 West

The shower was not plastic.

At least the shower was not plastic!!

At least the shower was not plastic!!

Do not steal these hanger hangers are for lesser properties

Do not steal these hanger hangers are for lesser properties

Anyway, there are better places to stay in Laguna, but they will cost you way more money. Three showerheads for 14 West.

Then there is Laguna itself.

If you have to have breakfast within 50 miles of Nick’s, make sure you go there. Just fantastic. Mimosa. Crispy (?!) juevos rancheros. Amazing biscuits and honey.

First a tour of UC Irvine with friends, and then art.

The Bayfront Hilton in San Diego has exceeded NPS expectations and set a new record for Hilton goodness. Lets see why.

One view from 2935

One view from 2935

The other view from 2935

The other view from 2935

Getting here on Virgin was very good indeed and a huge step up over united. On time, relaxed, room to work, wifi. You go Virgin.

Room 2935 is a hamster cage design, but it has two banks of windows with a gorgeous view of the city. A very nice room indeed.

Windows in 2935

Windows in 2935

From the door 2935

From the door 2935

And the shower is glass. NPS approves.

Hilton has a glass shower.

Hilton has a glass shower.

One of Kimpton’s fun hacks is putting a fish (usually named Walter) in your room for your stay. Hilton is trying to go there by putting virtual fish on the TV. Not quite the same.

And now some good things and bad things about this Hilton.

Real hangers = good

Real hangers = good

iPod dock = good Power by bed = good

iPod dock = good
Power by bed = good

Water for sale = bad

Water for sale = bad

All in all we’ll give this hotel four showerheads, which is a definite step up for a major chain. Most excellent!

In other San Diego news, El Dorado bar has seriously great cocktails as well as a bunch of antique collection bourbon and rye on hand (real Stagg from multiple years for example). Brionnie Briem made a superb and masterful Sazarac (with Sazarac 18). The experimental cocktail she whipped up was only meh, but hey you can’t have everything!

Experiment
2 oz Rittenhouse Rye
t of fallernum (too sweet!! too sweet!!)
2 dashes Angostura
lemon zest

Lou and Mickey’s is still a great place for a steak. Amazingly, they can handle a group dinner of over 20 without a hitch (perfectly cooked everything). Well done chef!

The secret speakeasy Noble Experiment is an oasis of hip in San Diego. Superb entrance, great skull decor, and best of all seriously good cocktails. My spoiled cocktail geek friends and home brewers all loved it.

We were served by Jesse Ross who was happy to play. Though my friends started with a Nevada (nice to see that on the list), but I went straight for the fun.

Pine and Rye
2 oz sazarac 6 rye
.25 oz sapping (a piney French concoction)
.75 oz Dolin’s dry
heavy dashes of Pernod Absinthe

This drink was so similar to what I have been drinking at home lately (the old 48) that it was a shock! Serve on a big cube with a healthy slice of orange peel. Boozy deliciousness.

Non-cyn Thriller
1.5 oz Whistle pig rye
.75 oz Port
.75 oz Campari
dashes of Chocolate Mole Bitters

We ended the evening with some 2014 George T Stagg. Hotter than the last couple of years, but something unbalanced about it.

The evening was just super fantastic. Do not miss Noble Experiment if you find yourself in San Diego.

USAirways to Raleigh

March 14, 2015

Surprise surprise! Commuter jets operated by Republic for USAirways have wifi, and you can upgrade for super cheap. Too bad they only fly out of DCA.

I am not sure what United has planned, or when its plan will be implemented, but they seem to think a plan is reality. Ridiculous.

I flew in and out for dinner and did not spend the night. But I did camp in the Marriott RTP lobby for a short while. Yuck.

At least Marriott listened (and brought out a cocktail to boot).

No driving. No flying. Nine inches of fresh snow. And on top of that, it is national absinthe day. What is to be done?

Create a snow-based absinthe drink! Without further ado, the absinthe snowball

The rum is a one year old elixer made of fresh vanilla beans soaked in brown island rum. Like vanilla extract only stronger and rummier.

The absinthe is Swiss.

The milk is 2%.

The nutmeg is fresh ground organic nutmeg.

The snow is not yellow.

Fresh snow.  Not yellow.

Fresh snow. Not yellow.

Shake other ingredients in shaker.

Shake other ingredients in shaker.

Pour over snow in fancy glass.

Pour over snow in fancy glass.

Sprinkle liberally with fresh ground nutmeg.

Sprinkle liberally with fresh ground nutmeg.

The Absinthe Snowball

Absinthe Snowball

Absinthe Snowball

OK, first of all we will still do anything to avoid United. They can have my loyalty back when they ditch the worst CEO in the United States. (Jeff Smisek. Smisek sucks. Ruined a whole airline.) Meanwhile, we’re trying to figure out how to navigate the East coast when we’re not on JW’s plane. We’re desperate, we’ll fly anybody!

Jet Blue works just fine from IAD to Boston. But NY? Not so much. Here’s the problem. JFK is just not going to work. Jamaica?? Yeah, that’s pretty far from the city.

For example, getting there on a Friday in the frozen tundra from Brooklyn (which is basically halfway there from Manhattan) takes an hour. Argh. Imagine if my flight were actually on time.

But what’s worse is that the Jet Blue terminal at JFK is off the beaten path. Car service parking? Ten minute walk. And once you are trapped there? It’s just like a very bad mall. You know, malls are dying out. Some of us know why.

I did find a good Negroni. But then I got some serious food poisoning. Really. Not good. I finally feel human again 48 hours later.

Plus Jet Blue pulled the drip delay thing that United does, flew a plane with no wifi, and well, frankly, reminded me too much of United.

Anyway, no more Jet Blue for me to New York.

hah hah hah. yeah. BZZZT.

Jet Blue fail.

Jet Blue fail.

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