Travel: This Hotel Shapes Your Vacation Around Your Horoscope

“Your glow is bound to attract all sorts of wonderful things and delicious people. You’re lit up from within right now.” If I were to design a vacation out of today’s horoscope, I’d probably stop by the Sydney Opera House and then eat my friend Josie before I spontaneously combust—probably due to the Australian heat.

A new, boutique hotel in Sydney, Australia is shaping vacations just like that, astrologically. It’s called The Ultimo, and it’s the world’s first astrology-themed hotel. From the rooms equipped with astrological literature, artwork and even slippers to the unique city guides curated to your sign, The Ultimo aligns your vacation with the zodiac.

Because it’s Gemini season, here’s how the hotel recommends a Gemini spend their Sydney trip. “Born with the need to communicate, Gemini is the sign of the social butterfly.” Following The Ultimo “Explorology” guide, Gemini vacationers should, “Belt out some tunes at Dynasty Karaoke right next door to The Ultimo; head to Oxford Street and lose yourself at some of Sydney’s best bookstores, Berkelouw Books; and cure your curiosity and take a Captain Cook cruise around Sydney Harbour.”For food, they should consider: The Local Mbassy, a 1920’s boiler-room-inspired cafe; Golden Century for some seafood; and the underground bar Palmer & Co.

This entire analysis is curated by the hotel’s astrologer Damian Rocks, founder of the organization Stars Like You and a resident of Australia’s morning talk show circuit.

Astrology-packaged rooms start at $229 per night, which is roughly the price of an hour consultation with Damian. So if you’re feeling on edge or in the midst of an existential crisis, The Ultimo might provide some direction … now the only problem is reaching Australia.

Travel: Stay at the World’s First Permanent Ice Hotel

If you want to up the ante this winter holiday, perhaps you’d consider staying at the world’s first permanent ice hotel, Icehotel 365 in Sweden. Located 125 miles north of the Arctic Circle in Jukkasjärvi, where the sun doesn’t set for 100 days, Icehotel 365 is available all year round. With its first hotel built in 1989, Icehotel is now in its 27th iteration. Constructed completely out of snow and ice and designed by various artists from across the globe, 2016′s Icehotel spans 2,100 square feet, houses 20 suites, a bar, and an art gallery. Powered by solar panels harvested during the summer months, the indoor premises drop to as low as 23 degrees Fahrenheit to ensure the hotel remains cold throughout the warmer season.

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Travel: The Null Stern Open Air Hotel

Walls and ceilings are overrated, especially when the weather outside is perfect. So why even bother staying in a standard hotel next time you take your annual trip to the Swiss Alps? Instead, you and a lucky someone can shack up under the Swiss stars in this luxury bed, complete with an attentive butler to cater to your every need.

Known as the Null Stern Hotel, which is German for “The Zero Stars,” this design comes from Hoteliers Frank and Patrick Riklin, who set the “hotel” up the hill from the Swiss town of Graubunden. There’s no walls, no ceiling, no bathroom, no building to speak of actually. And the amenities are few and far between as well. You’ll have a double bed, a nightstand, and lamp. There’s a public restroom just a ten-minute walk away. The price? A surprisingly reasonable $254 a night. Not a bad deal considering you’re completely surrounded by nature 6,463 ft. above sea level. It’s available for booking every night between spring and fall.

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Travel: The Nautilus Hotel

With an eye on keeping the original Morris Lapidus design largely intact, the newly reborn Nautilus Hotel blends European and mid-century elements to create an ideal beach getaway. Each of its 250 rooms has creature comforts like Nespresso machines and standalone showers, and offers views of South Beach and/or the Atlantic. The property extends from Collins all the way to the beach, creating plenty of room for the saltwater pool and adjacent bar, the signature Driftwood Room restaurant, lobby bar, and relaxing backyard.

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Travel: Hôtel Grand Amour in Paris

André Saraiva’s latest undertaking see the graffiti artist-turned-entrepreneur present Hôtel Grand Amour, an extension of his empire in the hospitality sector. Located on Rue de la Fidélité, the hotel blends traditional Parisian charm with a modern pop sensibility, as themed rooms are draped with photos by Guy Bourdin, Helmut Newton and Carlotta Kohl, while carpets feature customized artwork by André and Pierre Frey. The rooms are designed to replicated classic European drawing rooms, with quirky graffiti (such as André’s trademark Mr.A) and bold color palates bringing a whimsical feel to the otherwise vintage aesthetic. On the ground floor, a cozy restaurant and bar, soon to be filled with creatives, elbow to elbow with youthful locals, continues the hotel’s charismatic chic. Be sure to check in at the Grand Amour on your next visit to the city.

Hôtel Grand Amour
18 Rue de la Fidélité
75010 Paris, France

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Would You Share A Hotel Room With A Stranger For Half Off Your Bill?

What would you be willing to do in order to cut your next hotel bill in half? How about sharing the space with a stranger? That’s the idea behind a new startup that aims to bring people together and lighten the strain on their wallets. 

The Seattle-based Winston Club website appears to bring the convenience and cost savings of ride-sharing to hotel lodging, allowing travelers to hook up with others staying in the same city to split the cost of a hotel room, The Los Angeles Times reports.

The program, which is free to join, chooses a roommate for users using biographical information provided by members. They can then reject or accept the roommate suggestion.

Bryon Shannon, Winston Club founder, says the program is geared more toward business travelers, especially those who are self-employed or wooers of startups who might be on a tighter budget.

Additionally, he says that while saving money is the main objective of the program, it also helps travelers meet new people.

“We’ve noticed that business travel is one of the loneliest things,” Shannon said. “It’s a great option for people who are frustrated by that.”

So far, he says the option has been popular, but he declined to provide specific user numbers.

Winston Club currently operates in hotels in Los Angeles, Seattle, Portland, OR, Las Vegas, and San Francisco.

Why Do So Many Historic Hotels Claim to be Haunted?

In Asheville, North Carolina there’s a 102-year-old hotel that looks like a stone castle, built from granite boulders transported from nearby Sunset Mountain by mules, wagons, and ropes. During World War II, it served as a prison for Axis diplomats, who were held at the hotel by the State Department.

Thomas Edison once stayed there, as did Helen Keller and Franklin D. Roosevelt.

But for many decades the Grove Park Inn (now the Omni Grove Park Inn) has been most concerned with a guest who was never famous–or even really known. Her name is the Pink Lady. She is a ghost.

The Pink Lady is not so much a lady as a mist. Or a fog. Sometimes she appears in the dead of winter, in the off-season when few people are at the hotel. She tends to appear early in the morning and late at night and when she is least expected. She is chiefly associated with Room 545, where past and present employees say they have felt her presence like a cold chill. Perhaps she stayed in this room long ago. Perhaps not.

“It’s not that she was wearing pink when she died–she just appears as pink,” says a man sitting in an armchair in the lobby. “Like a pink fog.”

It is not uncommon for historic hotels to claim to have a resident ghost. From the infamous Stanley Hotel in Colorado (Stephen King’s inspiration for The Shining to random Days Inn hauntings), it’s almost pro forma to brag of supernatural guests. A whole website exists to help you locate and book rooms at such places. Ghosts embody the past and suggest that the past persists in the present; they also authenticate old hotels. The nearby historic Lake Lure Inn is thought to be haunted by founder Lucius Morse, who died in 1946, as well as by the G.I.s who convalesced there after World War II.

The Grove Park Inn undertook an investigation into the phenomenon of the Pink Lady in 1996, but the stories about her span half a century. The hotel was built in 1913 by Edwin Wiley Grove, who made his fortune with Grove’s Tasteless Chill Tonic, a treatment for malaria that masked quinine’s bitter taste with iron, sugar, lemon flavoring, and alcohol. It was a household name by the late 1890s.

On a trip to Detroit, he befriended Fred Seely, another man in pharmaceuticals, who promptly married his daughter Evelyn and began working for his Paris Medicine Company. In the first decade of the twentieth century, when Grove began acquiring land to build a hotel on Sunset Mountain but found himself dissatisfied with all potential architectural plans, Seely drew up his vision for the inn, and Grove approved it.

Some of the boulders that make up the hotel’s cave-like walls weigh as much as five tons, an architectural ruggedness that connects it to the landscape. Builders were given the instructions that no cut stone should be visible: guests should see only “the time-worn face given to it by thousands of years’ sun and rain that had beaten upon it as part of the mountainside,” according to one brochure.

The Great Hall, or lobby, was decorated with 700 pieces of furniture and over 600 light fixtures of solid copper made by the Roycrofters of Aurora, New York. Over a dozen quotes from writers such as Ovid, Thoreau, and Emerson were carved into the stone. The huge, medieval-looking fireplaces at either end of the room burned 12-foot logs. An old photograph depicts women standing by the fire, their own forms blurred and ghostly.

Like many ghosts, the Pink Lady’s history is defined as much by gaps in the narrative as by tantalizing details. The legend is that a beautiful woman–perhaps dressed in a pink gown, perhaps not–fell to her death in the Palm Court, the interior atrium of the main historic hotel. The guest rooms line this open space, which is framed by low walls on each floor.

She may have been murdered. She may have killed herself. She may not have even existed.

According to some of the stories collected in paranormal enthusiast Joshua Warren’s 1996 book Haunted Asheville, the Pink Lady is the embodiment of conventional femininity: beautiful, elusive, an enigma.

But others think of her as an outsider figure–a prostitute or a madwoman. One local man occasionally calls the hotel to insist that the Pink Lady is Zelda Fitzgerald, whose husband stayed in Rooms 441 and 443 for the summers of 1935 and 1936, drinking gin and trying to write. Zelda died in a fire in Asheville’s Highland Hospital in 1948.

Although the Pink Lady has been sought with contraptions worthy of Ghostbusters, she is more readily found in stories. Most of these tales emphasize her benevolence, but she is still disruptive: an unpredictable element in a controlled environment. At its inception, the Grove Park Inn was nothing if not controlled.

Seely managed the hotel according to regulations designed to cosset his guests. He made sure that no automobiles entered the property after 10:30 p.m. or before 9:00 a.m. Guests were requested not to run the water late at night. They were also discouraged from bringing young children. Signs in the historic elevators encourage guests to be quiet once they leave the Great Hall.

Early brochures even promise that cleaning is done by Sturtevant Vacuum Cleaners that are “noiseless.” It is precisely into this silent, rule-bound environment that the Pink Lady intrudes, violating the mandates that define this space of retreat. She wanders the corridors. She tickles your toes when you sleep. She does not obey the rules.

Guests and employees like to talk about the Pink Lady. They tend to say that she’s the spirit of a woman who died “in the 1920s” or “around 1920,” this uncertainty adding to the elusiveness of the legend. “She’s like a shadow,” says someone reading a newspaper by the fire.

“She’s strange but gentle,” says a guest at the bar. The woman at the check-in desk says that some visitors call and request Room 545, but others make it clear that they want to be placed as far away as possible.

My waiter in the hotel’s Edison Restaurant is sure she exists. He recalls strange events late at night, when he has been closing up. Once, a commercial-grade lock unlocked itself. The restaurant is part of the modern addition to the resort, so the Pink Lady’s purview extends from the old into the new.

“She turns lights on and off,” says a woman sitting at the next table, after he walks away. “Late at night.” The elevator operator says that everyone asks about the Pink Lady. On the walls of the fifth floor hang reproductions of old black-and-white photographs of the hotel.

Although the Pink Lady is primarily associated with the hotel’s interior spaces, the landscape beyond is also suited to a phantom. The Blue Ridge Mountains are characterized as otherworldly in early advertising materials. It is “the Land of the Sky”: the ideal location for a restless spirit.

Doormen open and close the hotel’s large main doors, letting in an evening breeze. Guests flow in and out, some dressed up for dinner and others still in their hiking clothes. Upstairs, it is silent: Seely’s dream. Someone must be staying in Room 545, since a Do Not Disturb sign hangs on the doorknob.

Perhaps historic hotels like ghost stories so much because ghosts are like guests: wandering and displaced. Restless. The Pink Lady is the ultimate hotel guest, the embodiment of travel itself. She will never leave.

Polk County’s Worst Hotel… Lakeland’s Regal Grand Lakeside Inn

When business sucks, rebrand.

Must be the first thing that Regal Grand Lakeside Inn owner George Chiang thinks when he wakes up at 2PM every afternoon before he slips on his 80s style Miami Vice sports coat to venture out to Five Guys to eat a ‘Garbage Burger’ (his words) to absorb the fruit-laden, sorority girl drinks that put him into the perpetual stupor the night before.

I first met George almost 8 years ago now. The self-proclaimed Yakuza wannabe who had the lakefront establishment (now inappropriately named the ‘Regal Grand’) bestowed upon him by a rich uncle. Back when I had the displeasure of this acquaintance, the hotel was branded the Kingston Inn. And before that the “Inn at Lake Parker”. In fact the place has undergone seven, yes count ’em, seven name changes in the 15 years that the Chiang Dynasty has ruled over it. In fact, I was actually brought in to help revive the flailing bar that is attached to the former Holiday Inn… in sort of a fruitless ‘Bar Rescue’ capacity.

Master Chiang had given me the ‘grand tour’ of the not-so regal grounds. The property has potential, and would actually make a great resort if anyone other than Mr. Chiang had the chance to own it. Situated on Lake Parker just off Memorial Blvd, the Regal Grand features a green swamp pool, a decaying boat dock and an overgrown beach inhabited by oversized gators presumably mutated by the Power Plant within eye-shot across the lake, the Regal Grand probably was at one point and could’ve been something other than a disaster. But I digress, let’s get back to the particulars.

With a predilection toward wooing Polk County’s finest female meth heads into his concubine via bottom shelf spirits, Mr. Chiang employed me at a cut rate to flip his country-sports bar into something of an upscale club/sports bar. The bar was at the time boasting daily revenues of anywhere between $10-$23. In actuality it was operating at a deficit due to the 70 plus year old barkeep’s necessity to pickle himself on the regular to alleviate his leprosy. My first order of business was to exile that detritus to the colony where he belonged.

Next, I was introduced to Matt, George’s head of security who carried not only a stun gun and a BB Gun on his hip, but also a rap sheet as thick as a composition book. His daily duties were to walk the grounds and keep any unsavory types off the grounds. However when the majority of your staff is just as delinquent as the figures which lurk about Memorial Blvd in that area, you are bound for disaster. Mr. Matt’s nightly rounds far exceeded securing the perimeter and bouncing. Seems that the master key he was provided turned him to the left and into one of the leading pimps in Lakeland. Matt was renting out rooms by the hour to the many hookers and drug addicts in the area unbeknownst to the ‘ever-attentive’ ownership. Mr. Matt was also cast aside quite forcibly after his gig was exposed.

As part of my ‘benefit’ package, I was given what they called a ‘suite’ and the now Regal Grand. I was allocated this room so that I could work as the interim bartender until close at 2AM, until I could interview and find a suitable replacement.

When I first entered my new perk, I was greeted by the overwhelming stench of mildew which was presumably emanating from one of the various brown stains both on the carpet and the paper thin overly starched sheets. The sheets of course came complete with ventilation in the form of several tears and holes. The pillows, ahem, felt more like a couple of socks rolled up inside a pillow case. Needless to say, I made my way across the street to Big Lots to purchase new sheets, pillows and odds and ends for the bar for my first evening of deployment at this establishment.

After my first day of work came to close the following AM, I flipped on the lights in my room to witness an entire entourage of German cockroaches scurrying to their respective hiding places in the many cracks and crevices this cell had to offer. Too tired to really care, I pulled back the comforter and sheets to find a lovely mattress with its very own camouflage stain pattern from God only knows what. The corners and folds of the comforter were riddled with bed bugs to the effect that it looked as if coffee grounds were cast on the mattress.

Looks like I was making the drive back to Tampa to sleep it off.

I could go on and on about the incidents at the Regal Grand in the month’s time I spent employed there. Like the time a former popular preacher from Lakeland who had fallen victim to the meth epidemic, had entered the Regal Grand’s lobby apparently intoxicated and more importantly with sewage leaking from the cuffs of his stained jeans. And, of course they gave him a room. Later that evening he was found in one of the ‘suites’ getting a ride on a shit covered mattress on the floor by one of the many local prostitutes which cruise the perimeter of the Regal Grand. Or the time I was asked to help evict a tenant and when we opened the door to the room, a flood of urine, feces and empty beer cans about two feet deep almost washed us into the courtyard.

So two weeks ago, I decided to revisit the Regal Grand with a couple of staff members to see if things had changed.

Upon entering the lobby, it was good to see that the cheesy Asian-American 1980’s décor was still in play. The front desk clerk looked, well like someone you would expect George to hire off of Craigslist. We were issued our room and it was certainly deja vu. The same smells, the same sheets, and the same mascots in form of various insects still inhabited this roach motel. And by insects, I don’t just mean the bed bugs, the roaches, and the dead fruit flies which lined our window sill, but the shady characters in the form of both guests and employees which still lurked about every corner. It must be why the Lakeland Police still had a patrol car staked out in the lot across the street from the Regal Grand. We counted five police visits to the Regal Grand in our 18 hour stay there. A stay without Wifi, a stay with only 8 television channels, a stay with extremely intermittent hot water, a stay with parchment paper to wipe your ass with and a stay with a funk so thick in the air that George Clinton couldn’t get it out.

Even though the name may change several times, at the least the shittiest of shitty hotels that I have ever had the displeasure of trying to stay at has remained consistent in the lowest common denominators of uncleanliness and discomfort. But don’t take our word for it, just take a look at the plethora of negative reviews on Google, Orbitz and TripAdvisor that are certainly on par with everything that I have ever encountered at the Regal Grand Lakeside Inn.

Of course there are a few 5-Star reviews that owner George Chiang pays random people and staff members to post to try and boost his rating; nor should you be misled by the photos of the grounds and rooms of this Butt Sweat Lodge. Like the one from ‘Matthew D’ who remarkably took the time to post his 5-Star review on every site out there. C’mon guys use at least little common sense; not everyone out there is a complete moron like you obviously think they are.

But let’s look on the dark side… it is October, so if you are looking for a true nightmare experience and can make it through the night it could actually be a real life American Horror Story: Hotel. After all several people have been murdered and passed from overdoses at this daunted haunt. If we can take anything away from all this… the Regal Grand Lakeside Inn could be legitimately haunted.

Looks like it’s time for a rebrand again George. You can thank me later.

Winter Haven’s Legoland Hotel is ‘Blocks Office’ Hit With All the Family

ORLANDO has always been a hit with vacationers and now it’s even better.

Just a short jaunt to Winter Haven and you’ve arrived at the Legoland Resort.

We stayed at the new Legoland hotel which is right at the entrance to the Legoland Florida theme park.

All kids will love the multi-colored hotel, which is made to look like a giant Lego set, its jaw-dropping, dragon-guarded entrance a hint of the delights inside.

Even the stuffiest of visitors will struggle to resist a boogie in the disco lift and the kids can spend hours building Lego to the ceiling or running around the magic castle dressed as a knight.

A session with the Lego master builder is included, allowing kids to learn some building tricks.

The rooms are available in a choice of themes: Adventure, Kingdom, Pirates and Friends, with each decorated in Lego themes.

There are lots of treats to discover the longer you stay, with youngsters having their own separate room, all of which include a treasure chest of goodies that can only be unlocked after cracking the code.

There are two options for dining – family-friendly buffet-style in the Bricks restaurant or slightly more formal in the Skyline lounge.

Both boast a sumptuous menu from locally sourced fresh produce for breakfast, lunch and dinner.

The resort itself is a two-minute walk away and is a fantastic mix of roller-coasters, live shows and, of course, incredible displays of Lego creations – from New York to Star Wars, made up of more than 58million bricks.

There is something for all ages, with the flying school and the Lego Chima ride proving to be Lucy’s favourites, although be prepared for a thorough soaking on the latter.

Within Legoland is the water park, catering for all ages and the perfect place to cool off in the Florida sunshine.

You can build your own Lego life raft while floating down the lazy river, take a dip in the wave pool or test your nerve with a hurtle down one of the huge water slides.

Around half an hour’s drive from Legoland is another amazing new Orlando destination – the i-Drive 360. It is a stunning dining and entertainment complex on the bustling International Drive.

LEGOLAND Hotel Nears Completion

In just under three weeks, the first LEGOLAND Hotel on the East Coast will officially open. The final bricks are being put in place ahead of the grand opening celebrations on May 15.

The Hotel is built for kids and invites them to take the lead from the moment they arrive. A special “kid check-in” takes place in front of the minifigure wall, which is made of 5,000 minifigures. The lobby is also home to a Castle Play area complete with a pirate ship surrounded by a moat filled with LEGO bricks.

LEGOLAND Hotel offers many unique experiences, exclusive to its guests. Kids can build with Master Model Builders in a workshop setting, go on a scavenger hunt to crack the code on a LEGO treasure chest and uncover special prizes. There’s even a Disco Elevator, where riders can dance under the light of a disco ball as the floor appears to flow under their feet. Each night, Hotel guests can enjoy nightly entertainment including LEGO building contests, or take a stroll on the boardwalk overlooking Lake Eloise.

There are more than 2,000 LEGO models to explore throughout the Hotel created out of more than two million LEGO bricks! Kids can choose to stay in one of four themed rooms: Pirate, Kingdom, Adventure or Friends. Each room will have at least eight LEGO models, and a bucket of LEGO bricks for kids to build their imagination.

Located just 130 kid steps from the main entrance of LEGOLAND Florida Resort, Hotel guests will have early morning access to the theme park designed for families with children ages 2-12.

To make a reservation visit: LEGOLANDHotel.com