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So close and yet so not close. We’ve been to the umstead many times, but they don’t seem to know that. Hey guys, maybe a computer??

As predicted, in the Spring it is just gorgeous here.

But all is not perfection. Arrival after midnight should pay attention to reservation constraints. Like: 2 beds (actually made), the fact that we have been here multiple times (?!), the fact that we like sparkling water, and so on. The umstead has slipped management-wise over the last few years. Who is the general manager? Great property, but not managed very tightly at all. Get it together, umstead, if you want to be world class and not just the best property in NC.

Hmmm

Hmmm

Room 107 is beautiful as all of the rooms here are.

107 Umstead

107 Umstead

We're in it for the bathrooms

We’re in it for the bathrooms

The shower is to write home about. Really. Bench. 4 shower heads. Plenty of pressure. World class.

Unbelievably great shower

Unbelievably great shower

It's Spring

It’s Spring

Are there sheets under there?  Maybe not.

Are there sheets under there? Maybe not.

Note that the patio is a superior place to have a leisurely dinner on a fine Spring evening. Delicious. The company was the best part of course. Oh, and there is real mixology here now too, mostly stolen wholesale from NY. Nothing if not good mimics here.

However, we’re looking for perfection. Four point five showerheads for the Umstead. Time for management to wake up and figure out that being great means serious attention to detail and a history on your guests.

During college and the arts, there was a visit to Duke and UNC. Both schools are to be avoided for different reasons. Duke thinks it is Stanford (uh, nope). UNC thinks it is a sports franchise. Ouch.

The only interesting thing about Duke

The only interesting thing about Duke

The only interesting thing about UNC

The only interesting thing about UNC

UNC: Centered around a stadium, or is that a prison?

UNC: Centered around a stadium, or is that a prison?

Hey look what North Carolina collected when you weren’t watching. ART.

genius

genius

The Garden of the Gods people have customer service down to a T and they are really nice to boot. While we were still touring Berkeley in another state entirely, we got a tweet asking about dinner and arrival. The twitter peeps were fun to interact with too.

We knew our arrival was going to be super tight for dinner, so we drive fast and still missed the window by a few minutes. But no worries, we got dinner anyway. The fireplace lounge is nice (though dominated by a giant TV over the bar showing the final four basketball tournament). The helpful people at the front desk got our stuff put away and even moved our car.

There was wine (barbera d’alba) which was unnecessarily comped since we do the Italian thing. Thanks for that.

After a relaxing dinner, we headed to our room (117) to crash. According to the map, most of the rooms here have the same design. The only seriously major flaw in the property is that the room blocks all share the same concrete box slab construction as a base. There is little or no sonic separation between the rooms. So when the ballet class for unrhythmic hippopotamuses started upstairs at 7am this morning, we were first hand witnesses.

But then there is the mountain range (available in the morning), which is the point really. Fantastic.

More on room 117. The design is tasteful and spartan with lots of veneer. A bit on the ikea side of things, but pleasant enough.

117 Garden of the Gods

117 Garden of the Gods

Fireplace and TV shrine

Fireplace and TV shrine

Real art

Real art

One major bug has to do with power by the two beds. Yes, we use multiple devices; both of us do in fact. Where do you plug them in?

Old school nIghtstand needs power and a second lamp

Old school nIghtstand needs power and a second lamp

no no no no

no no no no

I slept with my computer and my cell phone. At least they were warm.

The room design mixes up the usual hamster cage rectangle with a nice foyer and entrance with a closet and the bathroom. The glass wall aiming toward the mountain range is nice as well.

Anteroom 117

Anteroom 117

But (yeah, you knew it was coming), the shower design needs complete replacement. Plastic tub. Not enough water pressure. Ouch. What you gonna do?

Wrong kind of shower for us

Wrong kind of shower for us

Lets repeat ourselves at this point. But then there is the mountain range (available in the morning), which is the point really. Fantastic.

Gorgeous

Gorgeous

All told we’ll have to give Garden of the Gods a high three showerheads. The people are fantastic, the view can’t be beat, the food is good, but that shower and the hippopotamus ballet class…

Colorado College on deck.

The massive Colorado College tour (two)

The massive Colorado College tour (two)

Colorado College

Colorado College

How do you know this is a college campus?  The car is being towed away.

How do you know this is a college campus? The car is being towed away.

Pike's Peak: Colorado College

Pike’s Peak: Colorado College

Driving in Colorado right next to the Rockies.

We did not find much art in Boulder, but we did find a cousin or three!

So called art (handmade)

So called art (handmade)

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.