Stephanie Abrams' Travel Blog
Travel Expert Stephanie Abrams Blog – Nationally Synidcated Radio Show Host
Plan Now for Spine-Tingling Holiday Spirits Uplift with the Boston Pops!
September 13th, 2018

Seth MacFarlane Joins New Year’s Eve at The Pops at Boston Symphony Hall!

An outing with the Boston Pops is always an uplifting experience any time of year but there’s nothing that will lift your spirits of the holiday season more or faster than an encounter with Holiday Pops! Attending a Pops concert at Boston Symphony Hall is like no other concert experience! The concert hall is designed with comfortable theater seats but they are fabricated in groups of rows anchored to wooden sections that are removable! So when the Boston Pops are performing, the orchestra level seating is completely removed from its tracks and a different floor is “popped in for the Pops!” And, instead of theater-style seating, cocktail tables and chairs are put in place so that you can order from their cabaret-style menu and enjoy lite-fare and drinks while being gleefully entertained by the Boston Pops. The additional “pops” sounds will be coming from bottles of champagne being uncorked during the concert. . . and that’s an expected feature anytime the Pops are performing at Boston Symphony Hall. But then there’s the added treasure of Holiday Pops!

Ah, yes, Holiday Pops! Where to begin. . .

While you may think about Holiday Pops being focused on Christmas and New Year’s Eve celebrations, Boston Pops of recent years has embraced Halloween programming and this year there are performances of the musical score of Psycho by the Pops while you view the entire film, “Psycho!” That will get you into the spooky Halloween spirit with this classic Alfred Hitchcock thriller designed to make your spine tingle! Catch one of the two performances. . .or go to both. . . October 29 and October 31 at 8pm.

How marvelous that Boston Pops programming includes special Children’s Matinee performances at 11:00 AM December 8, 9, 15, 16, 22, 23, & 24for families with very young children (so everyone in attendance can feel comfortable being there with their toddlers and older children)! Going to any of these performances is sheer magic for the whole family but what a wonderful way to begin Christmas Eve with the December 24th 11am performance of the Pops and a visit to see Boston decorated for Christmas in its Holiday Best!

And Holiday Pops is taking its show on the road to a concert venue that may be easy for you to reach:

Dec 02

2018

Sunday, 2:00 PM

State Theatre Brunswick New Jersey

Dec 02

2018

Sunday, 8:00 PM

Tilles Center for the Performing Arts Greenvale NY

More Details >

Dec 03

2018

Monday, 7:30 PM

Proctor’s Theater Schenectady NY

More Details >

This link will take you to the complete listing of matinee and evening Boston Holiday Pops performances at Boston Symphony Hall with details on how to purchase tickets. May I urge you to plan now so that you are not disappointed as Holiday Pops is notorious for selling out early and you really don’t want to miss this truly awe-inspiring program designed to set your heart-to-singin’ in harmony with the season designed to thrill every member of the family!

The Pops has added, on December 29, two performances of the film, “Home Alone,” in concert with the score performed by the Boston Pops! Performances are schedule from 3pm and 7:30pm at Boston Symphony Hall. Don’t miss this! It’s incredible to experience watching a feature film where the musical score has been removed and you are hearing, live, the score perfectly synchronized with the film performed by the marvelous Boston Pops Orchestra! It’s incredible! This holiday favorite film is enhanced on the big screen with members of the Wellesley High School chorus adding to the Pops accompaniment!

And to say goodbye to 2018 and welcome the New Year, 2019, be at Boston Symphony Hall to Ring in the New Year with the Boston Pops on December 31 at 10:15pm. Party the night away with the Boston Pops and very special guest, Seth MacFarlane! There will be a cash bar and several dining options will be available. Doors open at 8:30pm.For details, click here!

Plan to enhance your Halloween, Christmas, Post-Christmas and New Year’s Eve experiences by including the Boston Pops Orchestra to uplift and brighten you festivities. Gather friends and family and have a ball! And check out BSO.org for year-round musical experiences to bring harmony into your life!


Plaza Athenee, NYC, Debuts Reimagined Accommodations But Excellent Food Service Prevails! Checkout These Recipes!
September 6th, 2018

So much new and wonderful is going on at the already fabulous Plaza Athenee Hotel in New York City. This luxurious property in a prime location for shopping, sightseeing, basing oneself for after-the-business-day decompression in relaxed elegance offers an oasis of pampering in the center of this city of hustle and bustle.  Now, with the debut of newly reimagined rooms and suites and other locations within the Old World elegance and charm that is New York City’s Plaza Athenee, if you’ve never stayed there, or if it’s been some time since your last visit, now is the time to book your space, especially in this fourth-quarter of the year which is always the busiest time of year in NYC!

I’m hoping to get the grand tour and share with you all that the Plaza Athenee has to offer in its updated form. . . frankly, for me, they didn’t need to do a thing as this hotel has always offered accommodations, public spaces and service that is as near perfection as possible to offer in an imperfect world. And I’m looking forward to dining at the Plaza Athenee as the food there is exceptional. The combination of great location, wonderful interior, a staff focused on exceeding the expectations of staff, and great food with suites that look like the elegant setting for a film about people who know how to live well, the Plaza Athenee should be the first place you think of for holding a benchmarking reception like a wedding, honeymoon, corporate reception, product launch, or celebrating your life and achievements!

I was born in Baltimore, Maryland, where people grow up dining on crabs from the Chesapeake Bay. When you meet someone who has spent their life in Baltimore, there’s a good chance that person is a connoisseur on seafood, in general, and crabs in particular. For that reason, I rarely order crab cakes anywhere but  in Maryland as other locations generally serve mashed potatoes with bread stuffing infiltrated by a flake of crab meat or two. For that reason, when I saw crab cakes offered on the menu  at Plaza Athenee in NYC I hesitated to order them. But our waiter assured us we would not be disappointed and this menu item is a wonderful yardstick to measure focus on quality of product and preparation. I will long  remember those wonderful crab cakes that I didn’t need to drive to Maryland to get!

Alfred Thomas, Executive Sous Chef at the Plaza Athenee, was kind enough to share their recipe with me so that I can share it with you. It’s certainly easier and more elegant and charming to be served this glorious dish in the hotel’s intimate environment, but have a go at the recipe so you’ll have a taste of the finished product as well as experience the generosity of the hotel’s willingness to share what others might regard as best-kept secrets!

Enjoy!

New York City’s Plaza Athenee Crab Cake Recipe. . . Authentically Delicious!

1 pound-jumbo Lump blue crab meat, picked over the shells

1/3 cup Mayonnaise

½ cup panko bread crumbs

1 large egg, beaten

2tablespoons Dijon mustard

2 teaspoons Worcestershire sauce

3 dashes Tabasco

¼ small dice sweet bell pepper

½ teaspoon paprika

Kosher salt

Freshly ground black pepper

3 tablespoon vegetable oil/unsalted butter

-In a large mixing bowl, combine half of the crab meat, panko, eggs mustard, Worcestershire, tabasco and paprika. Season with salt and pepper and stir until thoroughly combined.

-Gently fold in the remaining half of crab meat and sweet red pepper, try not to break apart the lumps of meat as you stir, gently coat in bread crumbs and shape into 2oz patties and arrange on parchment-lined sheet pan.

-In a medium cast iron nonstick skillet, heat oil/or butter over medium-high heat. Add 2oz patties and cook and cook for 3-4 minutes on each side or until golden brown and finish in oven

Would love to hear your results. Go to travelers411.com to “Ask Stephanie” and let me know how your meal turned out and post some photos! Now if you think that was good, go to Plaza Athenee to rejoice in the moment to get the desired results without the work and clean-up! If you’re planning an event at the hotel, be sure to add their crab cakes to your hors d’oeurves, canapes, and main dish options! And do what I’ve done: find your cozy corner in the restaurant of the Plaza Athenee and treat yourself to the best!


Traveler’s Question at TripAdvisor:”Why should I waste my time talking with the Duty Manager?”
August 20th, 2018

I wound up reading a TripAdvisor review about a hotel in the Channel Islands on the island of Guernsey when I decided I should interview some hotelier(s) there after I just saw the new Netflix release,  “The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society,” which I thoroughly enjoyed!  While looking for hotels of interest to me and my audiences on air and online, I ran across a result from TripAdvisor in which a recent hotel guest there complained about a less-than-perfect experience. The question posed by the hotel guest in Guernsey became tangled up in my consideration of creating a feature about the destination as an outgrowth of my decision to focus on Mitchell Kaplan, the book fair attraction he has spearheaded and his role in bringing this film to life!

I decided I needed to read about the experience of that guest in Guernsey and consider whether or not to include that hotel in my next show that includes an interview with Mitchell Kaplan when we talk about his new film that takes place on Guernsey and expand that into a feature on Guernsey since his book stores and book fair, both attractions for travelers to Miami, act as the bridge to exploration of Guernsey as a tourism destination.

This period film, with wonderful scenery of Guernsey and costumes of the 1940’s is set during the Nazi occupation of this British island. I saw Mitchell Kaplan’s newest film on Netflix and decided two things:

1) I need to expand my radio interview with him  to talk about the film, “The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society,” and the location on one of the Channel Islands on which it was filmed and. . .

2) I need to set the imaginations of my radio audiences loose as we talk with one or more hoteliers from the island about why travelers should opt to visit the Channel Islands, particularly Guernsey, in this case and get some sense of hotels that would be of interest to check into!

So I went to Google to find hotels in Guernsey that would interest me as the first  step in ferreting out hotels that would also be of interest to my audiences. And when I did that search, in addition to finding four (4) hoteliers and their hotels that I’d love to talk with and talk about, I also came across a link to reviews of hotels at TripAdvisor.

There was a hotel I had just looked at that was very appealing and I had jotted down the general manager’s name and telephone contacts for him and the hotel when I noticed a one-star review from a recent guest at the hotel. If you are a fan of my radio, and now TV, travel shows, you probably are aware that I don’t put a lot of stock into random reviews from anonymous people who may have never traveled before in their lives and, as  a result, get bent out of shape by things that could easily be remedied while at the hotel or resort rather than carrying on with internet postings once they are home, especially since most of the items I read that upset people are simple, to the point of being petty, and could easily be rectified.

I have since learned that there is a segment of travelers who make a business of complaining about insignificant items in hopes of using these little items as leverage to, essentially, blackmail management of the hotel into offering them either a partial, discounted or full refund on their visit or providing them with a voucher of significant value to be used on their next visit to the property. Shameful as that is, note that that is factual information. Note that, if you really like a place and hope to visit many times in your lifetime, that approach is certain to put them out of business if enough characters who travel impose on the good intentions of the hotelier and the hotel may not be there to honor the voucher in less than a year let alone be there for your next bench-marking occasion due to such impositions.

The person who left the review criticized something having to do with drainage in the bathroom and presentation of breakfast that they found unappealing and explained that they noted these lack-luster items to the housekeeping and dining room staffers. After a few days  of their week long visit, nothing was changed nor attended to and the guest complained at the front desk.  The front desk clerk asked if the guest had reported these items to the Duty Manager, who would be the person in charge when the General Manager, who is one step from being the Heavenly Father as it relates to any hotel. The guest’s TripAdvisor question was, in essence, why should he waste his time seeking out the Duty Manager when he told these things to the staff people in each category of complaint and wondered why the various hotel departments don’t communicate with one-another.

Oh, dear! Clearly, this person, whom I think lives in the UK so he is forgiven, doesn’t listen to my radio shows or he would have known better from the outset. (Note: He can now listen to Travel WITH Stephanie Abrams on iHeart Radio if he becomes one of the 90 million subscribers to iHeart Radio(!) or he can listen to our podcasts at travelers411.com or archived audio at sAbrams.com!)

So for all of you who may have missed the many times I’ve explained where to lodge your unhappiness at any hotel or resort in the world, the magic words are not Open Sesame! The magic words are, “I’d like to speak with your General Manager!” Do not ask to speak with the Manager. If you are at the front desk, they will bring you that shift’s front desk manager. Do not ask for the Manager in the hotel’s bar or restaurant as they will bring you the restaurant manager or bar manager. You want the General Manager of the whole place! That is the person with the keys to the vault! That is the person who knows where all  the bodies are buried! That is the person who knows how to get done what you want accomplished and who has the authority to accomplish your goals if so motivated. Anybody else you tell your story to such as the maid cleaning your accommodations or the waiter in the dining room, first has to remember what you complained about and then has to tell his/her supervisor who then has to tell the manager of that sector of the hotel who then has to either deal with it or go to the Duty Manager who then has to go to the General Manager and, in the normal course of things, the ball that you handed them is going to get dropped somewhere along the route in any hotel or resort in the whole world. . .except for a very, very few such as at a Ritz-Carlton, if they haven’t dramatically changed since Marriott took over the brand, or in a few, very few, hotels in the world where the training is so amazing as to instill in every. . .every. . . employee that they have the responsibility and authority to correctt whatever a guest sees as incorrect and stay on top of it until it is fixed! Everywhere else, the reason you ask to speak with the GM is that you want to see the problem fixed now and that’s the only way you are going to see it get done while you are still in the hotel.

Had this guest spoken  with the Duty Manager (or the GM) about an annoying drain that wasn’t draining, the drain would have been fixed while the guest was at breakfast or out sightseeing or shopping or playing a round of tennis or golf.  Instead, this guest whispered his problem down the drain and then complained because it wasn’t fixed. The Duty Manager, for the moment, or the GM when available could have, and probably would have, offered them, if the hotel was not sold-out, the opportunity to move to another room or suite or accommodation with a better view, offered help packing up and  moving to the (upgraded) facility, and maybe even bought them lunch or a drink to relax while the staff accomplished that.

If you want to get a problem corrected, you need to take it to a person who has the skill and tools to get the job done swiftly and to your satisfaction. Don’t mumble to the maid and then complain that three days later the problem isn’t fixed and that’s the hotel’s fault. This so reminds me of the travel agent who wanted to get the group travel business of a local school soccer team. The agent went out of her way to pitch the coach on all the reasons that her agency had all the skill, knowledge and tools to do  a great job efficiently, attend to every detail of the road trips the team would be taking, and save the team money in the process. It was a shock to the agent when another travel agency got the account which happened because it wasn’t the coach who made the decision about what agency the team would choose. It was the team’s manager who made that decision so the agent was pitching the wrong person throughout the process! When you try selling the husband on the destination for the next vacation, you lose that sale too as it’s going to be the wife that makes that decision! And these parallels come to mind in thinking about leaving your complaints and requests with a staff member, seeing that they are not being accommodated and then telling the same staffer to remedy the same complaint. If you ask for more pillows or more soap or a shoe  horn and you don’t get it, it’s time to move your request to a higher level and in a hotel remember who holds the keys to the vault.

In general, the easy items like extra pillows and more bars of soap or a sink that isn’t draining don’t require the GM to get involved UNLESS you are getting snappy, snarky responses from the staff which warrant that tale to be retold and a higher level of skill entering the picture. If you reserved a suite and got a room or bought seafront and got parking lot views, those are important enough issues to go  straight to the top so you aren’t wasting your time climbing the hierarchy to resolve your problem. And to give finality to the TripAdvisor patron’s question about why should  he waste his time seeking out the Duty Manager or GM, the answer is that you’ll get what you need done pronto and won’t be wasting your  time asking people who have to pass the request along and hope it doesn’t get lost along the route and, in the long run it will be the most efficient way to get what you need accomplished and not waste time getting aggravated by telling and retelling the story and  still not getting what you want! So that’s why you need to ask to speak with the truly top person unless your plan is just to complain at the hotel, complain online and hope you’ll get compensated with a refund or future discount or voucher to “make up” with you!


When You Announce a Sponsor’s Name, You Should Probably Get It Right: “Daniel Chester, French Sculptor” is Incorrect!!!”
August 13th, 2018

I live in Berkshire County, in western Massachusetts, where we are blessed with a myriad of World Class museums, historic homes, theaters, and attractions of all kinds, plus places that foodies would love and fabulous places to stay like Blantyre in Lenox, MA, a Cinderella castle-like experience that generally requires a trip to Europe to experience!  One of the places that gets much less attention that it deserves is Chesterwood.

Chesterwood was the summer home of Daniel Chester French who was the sculptor behind the  creation of the statue  of Lincoln in the Chair found inside the Lincoln Memorial in Washington, DC. You can visit Chesterwood, the historic Victorian mansion, his sculpting studio and walk the paths and trails through flowers and woods in Stockbridge, MA. Chesterwood is about  a quarter of a mile down the road from the Norman Rockwell Museum and a hop-and-a-jump from The Mount, the summer home of author Edith Wharton. Clearly, you could plan to visit all  three in one day if you get an early start and it will be a day you will long remember.

This morning, I was listening to WAMC, the NPR radio station out  of Albany, NY, while I was doing some mindless tasks that didn’t require my full attention. A young woman’s voice came on the air to read their “endowment” information 12-second spots that are positioned as “non-commercials” but do exude the information related to delivering the donors messaging. No matter.

But what does matter is that Albany is about an hour away from Stockbridge and you’d think that someone there would know something about Chesterwood as this is what listeners were  directed to. . . .

“. . .visit Chesterwood, home of Daniel Chester, French sculptor. . . ”

What we learned from that phrase is that Daniel Chester, a sculptor who is French. . . . etc., etc.

No. We should have heard:

“. . . visit Chesterwood, home of Daniel Chester French.”   DANIEL CHESTER FRENCH. . . THAT’S  THE MAN’S NAME. AMERICAN DANIEL CHESTER FRENCH WHO SUMMERED IN STOCKBRIDGE FOR OVER 30 YEARS AND PLACE WHERE HE CONCEIVED/CREATED THE STATUE OF THE SEATED LINCOLN SEEN AT THE LINCOLN MEMORIAL!

NO. DANIEL IS  NOT FRENCH. If  anything, he is a member of the French family which makes me wonder if he was a member of the Ffrench (two f’s) of western Ireland. There is a roundabout in Galway called the “Ffrench Roundabout.” I really have to know more about Daniel Chester French’s family history. Clearly, he was not Native American so his family emigrated from somewhere across the Atlantic. Could well have been Ireland even though he’s a “French,” and not a Frenchman!

Last year, we were treated to an announcement on that same station that told us that an all “CHOP-in” program of piano etudes would be performed at Tanglewood by an acclaimed pianist.  No, it’s not  CHOP-in. . .It’s pronounced “SHOW-PAN” even though it’s spelled “Chopin.”

Somebody needs to educate those they assign the responsibility of delivering “endowment” messages. I cringe when I hear items like the above as they both fall into  the realm of why people travel to the Berkshires and, when it comes to all things travel related, I am truly an expert. . . even on the pronunciation of Chopin and knowing what Chesterwood  and Daniel Chester French  are all about!

Just wanted to set the record straight  on behalf of a yet another valuable tourism location in the beautiful Berkshire Mountains of western Massachusetts. Come see us, y’all!


TripAdvisor Requests Travel Expert Stephanie Abrams to Reply to Questions on Clontarf Castle
August 13th, 2018