Wednesday, August 13, 2014

Survey says: CLT among America's 'hottest' airports

A press release issued in honor of Aug. 17 being "National Aviation Day"  says good-old Charlotte-Douglas International is one of the 10 hottest airports in America.

And we're not talking about  tarmac temperature.

The "Hottest Airports in America" list that has Charlotte as No. 7 was generated by Hot or Not, whose  website home page says, "Find the Hottest people near you, and let them find you too!"

Hot or Not is an android (Google Play) app about sex appeal.

"We surveyed people within a certain radius -- we can target, based on location," said a Hot or Not representative. "Someone within the airport area would probably be voting."

When you "play the game" on your phone, the profile picture of another Hot or Not players nearby pops up on your phone.

And you can vote whether you consider that person "hot" or not.

Hot or Not says it has more than 8 million users in the United State.

The data used in the airport survey, pulled in July, goes back  as far as June 17, when its most recent updated app was launched in the United States.

Here's their list of "Hottest Airports in America":

1.       Denver
2.       Fort Worth, Texas.
3.       Orlando, Fla.
4.       Newark, N.J.
5.       Los Angeles
6.       Las Vegas
7.       Charlotte
8.       Seattle
9.       San Francisco
10.   Minneapolis

If the findings are accurate, what does this say about Charlotte?

Not much, actually. That's because, as a rule of thumb, 80 percent of passengers at CLT are between flights; only 20 percent board or depart here.

If anything, it may speak to the sex appeal of our fly-through guests who are waiting for the next jet to elsewhere.

(P.S. The  CLT concourse photo shown above is by Observer photographer Todd Sumlin.) 

Monday, August 11, 2014

Will flying cost less this Labor Day weekend?

Flying away for Labor Day weekend?

The online travel agency  CheapOair said last week that its data is pointing to a lower demand -- and possibly some lower prices -- for domestic destinations for Labor Day vacationers.

CheapOair says these are the most  popular U.S domestic fly-tos (Denver tops the list), what the average round-trip fare is for Labor Day weekend, and how the airfare price has changed from the same weekend in 2013 (the percentage of change is in parenthesis):

Denver: $268 (up 40 percent)
Orlando, Fla.: $269 (down 15 percent)
Tampa, Fla.: $276 (down 6 percent)
Washington, D.C.: $289 (down 16 percent)
Boston: $293 (down 32 percent)
Fort Lauderdale, Fla.: $310 (down 26 percent)
Miami: $336 (up 10 percent)
Los Angeles: $339 (down 19 percent)
San Francisco: $354 (down 19 percent)
Seattle: $369 (down 1 percent)

The devil, of course, is in the details: The farther you are from your destination, the more expensive it will be. And what kind of routing is involved? What about departure/arrival days and times go with it?

Consider a quick trip to San Francisco (the Golden Gate Bridge is shown above).

Checking CheapOair at 3:30 p.m. on Aug. 11, there were two round-trip fares between Charlotte (CLT) and San Francisco (SFO) at $436.70, including taxes -- one-stop flights via JetBlue. Both leave Charlotte at a reasonable time: 12:12 p.m. or 4:20 p.m. on Aug. 29; on the way back on Sept. 2, they leave San Francisco at 10 p.m. and 8:45 p.m.

The catch? Your one stop is in Boston, where there's a two-hour layover in either direction... making for an eight-hour flight either way.

That said, Labor Day is considered a "drive" holiday, and if airline demand is indeed down this year -- and you don't mind taking a longer, round-about, one-stop journey -- you may find deals out there from discounters or  airlines.

Thursday, August 7, 2014

Most-popular cruise lines and ships? Depends on what you want

CruiseCompete (, an online cruise-booking site, has released a review-based list of the  20 Most Popular Family Cruise Ships for January to June 2014

1.Royal Caribbean Oasis of the Seas
2.Celebrity Eclipse
3. Royal Caribbean Allure of the Seas
4. Holland America Eurodam
5.Princess Cruises Island Princess
6. Celebrity Solstice
7. Holland America Ryndam
8. Norwegian Epic
9. Royal Caribbean Navigator of the Seas
10. Princess Cruises Ruby Princess
11. Holland America Rotterdam
12. Disney Fantasy
13. Princess Cruises Crown Princess
14. Royal Caribbean Radiance of the Seas
15. Royal Caribbean Freedom of the Seas
16. Royal Caribbean Majesty of the Seas
17. Royal Caribbean Mariner of the Seas
18. Princess Cruises Caribbean Princess
19. Celebrity Summit
20. Carnival Conquest

This comes just a day after CruiseCompete released a trends report whose lists included the most popular cruise lines and most popular cruise ships, based on "actual consumer quote requests and transactions taking place via"

Among the most popular cruise lines and ships listed below, only two -- Carnival Cruise  Lines and RC's Caribbean Princess (shown above) -- were included in the "family cruise ships" list above... where they were ranked 20th and 18th, respectively:

 Most popular cruise lines
(Based on the total number of quote requests for each cruise line in the given month)
1. Premium/Contemporary: Carnival Cruise Lines
2. Luxury: Oceania Cruises
3. River: Viking River Cruises

Most popular cruise ships
(Based on the total number of quote requests for each ship)
1. Premium/Contemporary: Caribbean Princess
2. Luxury: Queen Mary 2
3. River: American Star

Are there list contradictions? Maybe not. While family cruising may be growing in popularity, it's only one segment of a considerably larger industry. 

Wednesday, August 6, 2014

Biltmore plans fall wine events

Too early to think about autumn?

 For leaf-peeping, certainly. People start thinking about drives in the N.C. mountains around Labor Day and are ready to head to the hills in mid-September. Truth be told, leaf coloration most years isn't even peak in Quebec and northern New England until the end of that month.

But planning has its advantages -- especially when it comes to selecting any post-Labor Day weekend to head out of town. Our lives in the metro area are simply that busy.

Up in Asheville, Biltmore is also busy in the months ahead, and their schedule of special events is already out. 

September is N.C. Wine Month at the estate, with a full lineup of wine tastings, Live After 5 concerts (they continue through Oct. 25) and Friday wine-paired dinners at the Market Gardener’s Cottage or the winery. There are winery tours and Grand Tasting events. Ongoing wine-related activities include a daily "Red Wine & Chocolate" seminar.

Wine events are held at Antler Hill Village & Winery, Biltmore House and Gardens and other estate locations.  Details:

Special over-weekend deals at the Inn on Biltmore Estate include a Labor Day package (Aug. 30-Sept. 1), a Fall Celebration package timed for Halloween events (Oct. 24-26) and the Our State Package (Oct. 31-Nov. 2), which highlights Biltmore's agricultural history.

Another reason for planning a Biltmore trip in advance? Starting Sept. 2, you can save $12 on daytime admission when your ticket is purchased online seven or more days in advance. Book six days ahead of your visit and you can save $7.

For details on programs and admission:

Thursday, July 31, 2014

Boomer study: Have suitcase and will travel... to party on

As "Wayne's World" dudes Wayne Campbell and Garth Algar used to say, "Party on!"

That, however, was back in the late 1980s and early 1990s; Mike Myers (who played Wayne) is now 51;  Dana Carvey (Garth) is 59.

The photo above shows them back in those days. No telling if they have gray hair these days. Or any hair.

They may or may not be able to stay up late enough on weekends for "Saturday Night Life," but if they're typical Baby Boomers, they still have a yen to travel to party.

A study just released by AARP Travel -- the travel arm of  what was the American Association of Retired Persons (it just goes by the acronym now) -- indicates that travel is the No. 1 "aspirational activity" for America's 76 million boomers, and that they collectively spend more than $120 billion annually on leisure travel.

Among the findings of the AARP Travel survey:

78 percent of  people 45 and older say they've taken or plan to take a "celebration vacation" in the next two years.

Top reason: celebrating anniversaries (87 percent).

Coming in second: celebrating a milestone birthday (77 percent).

No. 3: retirement (69 percent).

No. 4 -- a wedding (66 percent).

Sixty-three percent of respondents took celebratory vacations in the U.S. within the past two years; here's where they say they went:

1. Las Vegas
2. Disney (unspecified whether that's to a theme park or on a cruise)
3. Los Angeles
4. Florida
5. Hawaii
6. New York City
7. New Orleans
8. Chicago
9. California
10. Alaska.

Eighteen percent of respondents say they took a tropical/beach destination; these were the most popular locations:
1. Caribbean (unspecified)
2. Hawaii
3. Puerto Rico
4. Bahamas
5. St. Martin
6. Cabo (Mexico's Baja California)
7. Cancun, Mexico
8. Maui, Hawaii

9. Negril, Jamaica

Tuesday, July 29, 2014

Remote help at the airport: Rocky to the rescue

Parking at Charlotte-Douglas International Airport is always bewildering; especially these days, given the traffic rerouting due to parking ram construction.

Even more, in my case, when it's 11 at night and you can't remember precisely where that vehicle could be.

On July 14, I drove up from Charleston to catch a flight to Chicago. Time was tight and I wasn't too happy to find Remote Lot 1 and Remote Lot 2 -- where I usually park -- both filled to closing. I followed the signs to Remote Lot 4 where spots were plentiful that afternoon.

With nothing in my car but an overnight bag and gum wrappers, I couldn't write down where in the lot I parked. A shuttle bus pulled up in a jiff; I knew I could make the flight. All I had to remember, I told myself, was this: "Remote Lot 4, first parking stop/shelter in; on the right."

Flying back from O'Hare Wednesday, on a flight whose delays added up to an 11 p.m. arrival, I boarded the shuttle back to Remote  4 and got out.

And for the life of me, I could not find my car. A dark brown car in a darkened parking lot.

I walked from row to row in the darkness, pushing the lock-unlock button on my keys, hoping to see my headlights flash. No luck. I also periodically hit the car's "panic button" -- but there was not a horn honk to be heard.

The shuttle driver eventually came around with another round of drop-offs.

"You lose your car?" he asked out the window. "Let me call for some help."

That's when I finally noticed the sign on the bus shelter saying to call 704-359-4038 if you can't find your vehicle.

"Wait here," he said. "Someone will be out soon."

Sure enough, five minutes later Rodolfo Aguirre -- "Rocky" -- turned up in a white airport pickup truck with flashing strobe lights. (That's Rocky's photo at the top of this personal horror story.)

"Hop in," he said. "We'll find it."

I gave him all the information I remembered and we drove up and down every row of cars near where the shuttle left me off. I kept pressing the buttons on my key. No luck. No car.

Then I remembered I had parked on a gravel surface. There was no gravel near the first-in bus shelter tonight.

We realized we were looking in the wrong place: When parking I had came in through a  different lot gate than the shuttle had entered just now.

Rocky drove to the opposite corner of Remote 4. In a few seconds we spotted my key-activated blinking headlights. (The panic button would not kick in, for some reason.)

I thanked Rocky for his help, got in my car  and left the airport.

I later called Charlotte-Douglas and learned there are approximately 20 "lost car" situations in their lots and ramps each day, and that the number rises to 35 or 40 when there's inclement weather.

All you have to do is call 704-359-4038 on your cell phone for their Ask to Locate Service.

It's available for all lots and decks, day and night. On average, there are four white pickup trucks out there to help you at any time.

They gave me some additional tips. If you don't have a pen handy to write down your aisle or signpost/shelter designation:

* Remember: From which direction did you enter the lot/ramp and pull your parking ticket?
* Got a cell phone? Take a  picture when you park of where you parked .

* Take note of the cars parked around you. There's a strong chance some will still be there when you return; use those cars as benchmarks.

Thursday, July 10, 2014

It's rock, not Revolution, July 12 at South Carolina's Historic Camden

Historic Camden ‑- Isn't that the Revolutionary War site in South Carolina where they have re-enactment events?

Usually, yes. This Saturday... not exactly.

July 12 is the 19th annual Music Snorgasbord Under the Carolina Moon , a music festival in a historic setting that features 10 bands and solo acts  from the Midlands region.

And musically, it is an inviting smorgasbord. And you can forget about fife-and-drum re-enactors.

Here's the  lineup: Blue Phoenix (5 p.m.; blues with folk flavor), Brik Cash and Friends (5:25 p.m. original pop rock), Frederick Ingram (5:50 p.m.; alternative folk/rock), East of West (6:25 p.m.; original country rock), The Society Jazz Band (6:55 p.m.; Dixieland), Fair Jam (7:30 p.m.;  rock with shades of bluegrass), Jim Hayes (8 p.m.; classic/contemporary rock ), The Bunch Quitters (8:35 p.m.; original folk, bluegrass and Western cowboy) and Jacob Johnson Group (9:40 p.m.; neo-acoustic folk/funk).

This year's finale, starting at 10:45 p.m., will feature a blend of talent from Blue Phoenix, Fair Jam, Jim Hayes and others. Dubbed the 19th Nervous Breakdown, they will celebrate the acoustic side of the Rolling Stones.

An odd choice? Not really:  Keep in mind that it was Brits who put Camden on the Revolutionary War map.

Gates open at 4:30 p.m.;  the live music is 5 to 11 p.m. There's free parking is located in the big field next to Historic Camden’s main entrance, at 222 Broad St., Camden

Kids, coolers, blankets and lawn chairs are welcome (no pets, glass bottles or tents).

 Admission: $20;, $18 seniors and military; $4 for  ages 6-12; 5 and younger, free. and free under six.

Tasty fare will be provided by Old South Restaurant, Mae Frances, Pizza Hut and Palmetto Coffee & Tea Room. 


Details: 803-432-9841;