Wednesday, November 26, 2014

Beech Mountain slopes open for season this weekend on 'White Friday'

A weather system dropping snow in Western Carolina on Wednesday afternoon -- and tapering off Thanksgiving Day -- will add more than half a foot to the snow cover on Beech Mountain, north of Banner Elk.

Combined with human-made snow, it's enough to begin the winter season at Beech Mountain Resort on Friday. Operating hours will be 9 a.m. to 5 p.m.

The ski resort is off N.C. 184. Improvements there this 47th season include a "magic carpet" conveyer lift added to the beginner slope and an upgrade of snowmaking capacity, with seven new high-tech snow guns. Also, the View Haus cafeteria has been remodeled and there's new rental ski equipment.

The  Burton Learn-to-Ride Center for snowboarders debuts in early December in the ski village at the base of the slopes.

The photo by James Foley at the top of this post shows the top of Beech Mountain.

Resort details:

Tuesday, November 25, 2014

Driving in winter weather? Follow these tips

Hitting the road for Thanksgiving, Christmas ‑- or any other time between now and spring? Be careful out there: Weather and road conditions, coupled with being in an unfamiliar area, can combine to make  for a dangerous situation.

Hertz and AAA offer these safe-driving tips for winter drivers.

Watch weather reports for your route and destination in advance.  Delay a trip when especially bad weather is expected.

Plan your route in advance, especially when bad weather is expected.

If you're renting a vehicle, get one with a GPS system. And if you'll be driving in an area where snow can be a problem, think about getting a vehicle with extra weight, like an SUV of minivan. Renting a car with four-wheel drive could also prove advantageous on  snowy and icy roads.

Check your windshield wipers before going anywhere. Make sure they function properly and that the wipers and windshield are clean. And make sure you have an ice scraper.

Allow for time when you're on snow or ice. Drive slowly, to maintain vehicle control when accelerating, stopping or turning. Also when driving under these conditions,
maintain your speed when ascending a hill; don't accelerate -- that can be hazardous.

Do not use cruise control. You can instead instantly and easily decrease speed just by  taking your foot off the accelerator.  This, in turn, transfers weight to the front tires, giving them more traction.

Also, braking on slippery surfaces requires you to look further ahead, so plan as early as possible and always look 20 to 30 seconds ahead of your vehicle to make sure you have time and space to stop safely.

Along those lines: The normal dry pavement following distance of three to four seconds should be increased to eight to 10 seconds.

Have warm jackets, gloves and hats inside your car. Just in case.

If you become snow-bound, stay with your vehicle. The car provides temporary shelter and makes it easier for rescuers to locate you.

Don't try to walk in a severe storm, like the stranded traveler in the photo at the top of this post.. It was taken in Amarillo, Texas, during a February 2013 blizzard. (AP Photo/The Amarillo Globe News)

Thursday, November 20, 2014

Brookgreen Gardens rolls out holiday illumination Dec. 4

Brookgreen Gardens, just south of Myrtle Beach in Pawleys Island, S.C., is about to launch its annual "Night of a Thousand Candles" holiday presentation.

It's Dec. 4-6, 11-13 and 18-20, and is staged from 3 to 10 p.m. so visitors can better enjoy the outdoor illuminations, both candles (more than 5,500)  and displays.

New this year: an 80-foot holiday fir decorated with 60,000 lights; the switch is ceremonially flipped at 5:45 p.m.

More new highlights? The Peppermint Forest in the Children's Garden, the Ice Garden in the Lower Left Wing Garden.

Admission is $18, $10 for children; 3 and younger, free. Tickets are available at, at the gardens, and by phone at 843-235-6016. All entertainment is included in admission; dinner there is available at an additional cost. 

Also new this year: a free mobile app that has performance details and info on food and beverage locations, a map for the event and more. Get it by searching Brookgreen Gardens in the App Store and in Google Play.

The event will draw crowds, and the staff there offers these suggestions:

* Carpool with family and friends. This makes for easier parking.

* Consider checking out the event on a Thursday evening ‑- Brookgreen Gardens will be less crowded.

* Arrive early between 4 and 5 p.m. so you can see the candles being lit. Dusk is also the best time to take photos. Also, a limited number of adult and child strollers are available at no charge on a first-come basis. Reservations for them are not taken, so get there early if you need one.

* Dress warmly and wear comfortable shoes. "Night of a Thousand Candles" is a walk- not a drive-through.

Tuesday, November 18, 2014

24 properties nationwide awarded Historic Hotels designation

A total of 24 hotels  were designated this week as Historic Hotels of America. This program of the National Trust for Preservation recognizes and celebrates hotels that are at least 50 years old, have historic significance, and have been designated as a National Historic Landmark or are eligible for listing in the National Register of Historic Places.
 were designated this week as Historic Hotels of

There are now more than 260 properties on the list.

There are no inductees this year from the Carolinas, but the two-state area already has honorees on the list.

In North Carolina they include:  Haywood Park Hotel, Asheville; The Omni Grove Park Inn, Asheville; Green Park Inn, Blowing Rock; The Carolina Inn, Chapel Hill; The Dunhill Hotel, Charlotte; Old Edwards Inn and Spa, Highlands; The Mast Farm Inn, Valle Crucis; and  Pinehurst Resort, Pinehurst.

In South Carolina, they include: Francis Marion Hotel, Charleston; Kings Courtyard Inn & John Rutledge House Inn, Charleston; Wentworth Mansion, Charleston; and The Westin Poinsett, Greenville.

New to the list: Le Meridian, Tampa, Fla.
Hilton Hawaiian Village Waikiki Beach Resort, Honolulu
The Drake Hotel, Chicago
Hilton Chicago, Chicago
Hilton Orrington/Evanston, Evanston, Ill.
Seelbach Hilton, Louisville, Ky.
Hilton Baton Rouge Capitol Center, Baton Rouge, La.
Hilton New Orleans/St. Charles Avenue, New Orleans
Southern Hotel, Covington, La.
The Westin Portland Harborview, Portland, Maine
Hilton Boston Downtown/Faneuil Hall, Boston
Hilton President Kansas City, Kansas City, Mo.
Hilton St. Louis Downtown at the Arch, St. Louis
Hilton Santa Fe Historic Plaza, Santa Fe, N.M.
Hilton Manhattan East, New York City
Chateau at the Oregon Caves National Monument, Cave Junction, Ore.
Abraham Lincoln Reading Hotel , Reading, Pa.
Caribe Hilton San Juan, San Juan, Puerto Rico
The Condado Plaza Hilton, San Juan, Puerto Rico
Condado Vanderbilt Hotel, San Juan, Puerto Rico
Hilton Fort Worth (1921) Fort Worth, Texas
Airlie, Warrenton, Va.
Capital Hilton, Washington, D.C.
The Edgewater, Madison, Wis.

The oldest inductee?

Hilton Santa Fe Historic Plaza -- built in 1625. It was originally a colonial hacienda. The photo at the top of this post shows its lobby.

Monday, November 17, 2014

Try Norfolk, Va., for holiday fun

Norfolk, Va., is a gem of a town worth visiting most any time of the year. If you're heading north a state or two between now and Christmas, be aware of what's going on in Norfolk. Highlights include:

MacArthur Winter Extravaganza, through Dec. 24 at Norfolk’s MacArthur Center -- a large shopping mall right downtown. The Ice Palace -- a  30-foot globe encircled with majestic arches, the ethereal palace appears to be carved from ice -- is where you'll find a photo-friendly Santa. You can also enjoy a 7,200-square-foot outdoor ice rink offering  public skating sessions, ice hockey clinics and figure skating exhibitions (Nov. 22 – Jan. 19). The  MaAarthur Winter Carnival features classic amusement rides, like a ferris wheel and spinning tea cups.

Downtown Norfolk this year debuts its first Dickens’ Christmas Towne holiday celebration. The semblance of Victorian London involves carolers and merchants in period costumes, as well as a Victorian Father Christmas and a holiday train display. Dates: Nov. 21 – Dec. 14 and Dec. 17 – 28.

The Grand Illumination Parade the night of  Nov. 22 marks the 30th year of the skyline being officially lit for the holidays. (The photo at the top of this post shows a float from that parade.)

The Norfolk Botanical Garden id dressed for the season for its 19th annual Dominion Garden of Lights. Nov. 27-Dec. 31, 5:30  to  10 p.m., drive the 2-mile through a display of a million twinkling lights.

 The first-ever BlueMoon Harbor Lights Half Marathon and 5K will be Nov. 21-23. The three-day event begins with a Sports & Fitness Expo followed by two runs that go through the scenic, historic downtown area and along the Hampton Roads Harbor. Adult participants can attend a post-race party with complimentary live music, food and beer.

Need another run? The Tacky Sweater 5K, staged the morning of Dec. 13, is a chance to show off over-the-top holiday-themed outerwear. Besides both races, the fundraiser offers s a tacky sweater competition.

 Details on visiting the Norfolk area:

Thursday, November 13, 2014

Renting a vacation car at an airport? Check these rankings and stats

Plan to rent a car on your next vacation? Read this before you make your reservation.

The research firm  J.D. Power just released its annual study of rental-car satisfaction. The study -- now in its 19th year -- is based on more than 12,000 evaluations by business and leisure trvelers who rented vehicles at airport locations between August 2013 and August 2014.

The rankings are based on six factors. Those factors, in descending order of importance: cost and fees, pickup process, return process, the rental car itself, shuttle bus/van, and reservation process.

Here are the overall results of the  2014 North American Rental Car Satisfaction Study


The results were scored on a points basis. Of a possible 1,000 points, Enterprise scored 805;  Dollar scored 725.

The list is identical to the J.D. Power 2013 rankings, except last year National came in first and Enterprise second.

Some findings of note from the 2014 study:

Overall satisfaction is highest among Gen Y vehicle-renters (born between 1977 and 1994)  in both business and leisure categories.

Among all business customers, 15 percent make their choice on price alone ‑- and 10 percent report they don't consider price at all.

Satisfaction is higher among both business and leisure customers who chose their brand based on features and benefits, as opposed to those why are "price buyers."

The study reports that the price of a rental car has increased, on average, $5 per day since the previous year's survey.

Also, wait times are longer for all aspects of the rental process. Average wait time for the vehicle pickup and return process: 43.4 minutes.

Those surveyed reported that getting a smile from the rental agent makes the wait seem shorter... and that, on average,  customers greeted by a smiling agent indeed waited for a shorter car-pickup period (16.8 minutes) than those who dealt with Mr. or Ms. Grumpy (25.7 minutes).

(Note: The Los Angeles Times photo at the top of this blog shows rental counters at the airport in Burbank, Calif. It's hard to tell if the rental agents are smiling... but they are working at Burbank's Bob Hope Airport.)

Wednesday, November 12, 2014

Carolina Opry adds new show to MB lineup

The Carolina Opry -- the long-established live entertainment venue in Myrtle Beach -- is adjusting its lineup to add "Thunder & Light," a show that combines choreography from the  All That! clogging group, contemporary music and a multi-colored light show.

It will be worked into the schedule that will continue the traditional " Carolina Opry" show as well as the "Good Vibrations" show. In fact, vocalists from both established shows will be making guest appearances at "T&L" performances.

A release from Gilmore Entertainment, the venue-operator, said the show, directed by Jeff Gilmore, had a successful preview run this fall.

The calendar for TCO lists "T&L" shows at 4 p.m. Nov. 29 (a Saturday) and Dec. 31 (a Wednesday). January shows -‑ all at 7 p.m. -- are scheduled for the 17th and 18th (a Saturday-Sunday) and the 24th (a Saturday); February shows ‑ both at 7 p.m., are set for the 5th and 12th.

 The new show then fills more slots -- 4 p.m. every Thursday -- in March and April.

The  venue is at 8901 North Kings Highway, Myrtle Beach.

Initially at least, "Thunder & Light" has a lower price than "Opry," "Vibrations" or TCO's seasonal "Christmas Special."

Online tickets are $32.51; $20.42 for ages 3-16.