Travelzoo, You’re my boy but what gives with the twitter contest prizes?

Image representing Travelzoo as depicted in Cr...

Image via CrunchBase

One Friday this June I participated in a contest hosted by Travelzoo on Twitter. Our job as contestants was to come-up with a catchy caption to describe a photo. The winner was promised a prize. The photo happened to be a series of 4 or 5 drinks on a serving table. I studied the photo meticulously, hoping that a theme would emerge thus leading me to a rich response and assured victory. Noticing that all the drinks possessed fruit in some capacity or another, an idea emerged. With a soft-chuckle and swift manipulation of the keyboard, I entered the caption “Got that Friday Fruity Feelin!” Immediately an aura of confidence in winning overcame me, re-affirmed more strongly as my fellow competitors’ responses took shape. Soon thereafter the Travelzoo moderator stated that a winner would be chosen on Monday. “Wow, a whole weekend to wait before the winner is announced”, I thought. Quickly I forgot about the endeavor as gratification was being delayed for at least a few days.

Having forgotten totally about the contest over the weekend, you can imagine my shock when I saw my twitter handle posted as the winner of the Friday picture-caption contest. I couldn’t believe it. I never win contests, let alone social media ones. The message requested that I send an email to the moderator at Travelzoo. I did so almost immediately, checking and rechecking the email address to make sure my acceptance of victory ended up in the right hands. After clicking send I must have refreshed my yahoo inbox 50 times or so the rest of the afternoon but nothing came. As a matter of fact nothing came that day nor the next, which prompted concern on my part that some how the email never made it, like it had been kidnapped by a band of internet pirates. On Wednesday I began debating on when to follow-up with the moderator about the status of my prize. Then shortly before noon I was contacted. The moderator asked for my address to send the prize. I responded rapidly with my mailing address and began waiting in great anticipation for my prize.

A week or so went by when my doorbell rang and a FedEx package placed at my doorstop. The size of the box surprised me, knowing that I was to receive Travelzoo Local Deals gift cards per my email conversation with the contest moderator. During the time between the conversation with the moderator and the delivery of the package, I filled my head with thoughts about the gift certificates. I imagined two $25 gift certificates being sent, in which I could amply apply them to a couple of fun meals at trendy Denver restaurants with my wife. So you can imagine my surprise when I opened the box and found an umbrella, pen, and five $5 gift cards inside. After getting over my initial disappointment, I tried to see if I could combine the cards for one Travelzoo Local Deal. No such luck, as each deal would only accept one gift card code.

I feel a little weird complaining about the prize from a twitter contest. After all it cost me nothing but a few moments of my time. I even enjoyed coming up with the silly caption. I guess I just believe that if a company is going to offer a prize for a contest it should actually be worth winning. Travelzoo can take a page out of the book of other online travel companies the likes of Expedia an Orbitz who offer free round trip tickets and travel vouchers of value in the hundreds of dollars. I continue to support Travelzoo for the quality of travel products they promote. It’s just that I will take a long look before investing time and energy into one of their online contests again.

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Black Hawk, CO: Rocky Mountain Mini-Vegas

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     Living in Denver and being a teacher on summer break, I was looking for somewhere to hang out for a few days to break-up the monotony of the weekdays. That’s when I noticed that Ameristar Hotel and Casino of Black Hawk  was offering a $99 special Monday through Wednesdays. Upon further investigation at the hotel’s website, they indicated an additional 20% saving for staying two nights. I had always been interested in what it would be like to stay at an Ameristar being that I grew-up close to the Council Bluffs location just across the river in Omaha, NE. Multiple travel search engines gave it four stars so I thought “what the heck?” and made a reservation.

Upon arriving at the hotel I took notice of the fact that I was really up there so to speak in terms of elevation. Later on this feeling would be re-affirmed by the hefty buzz I felt after drinking just two New Belgium Summersaults. I found the check-in a bit tedious, the time being past 4:30 p.m. and my room was not ready. However the Front Desk Agent provided courteous and prompt service, resolving the issue in less than 15 minutes. I waited in the adjoining lobby Imageuntil she flagged me back over with a friendly wave.

The room was spacious and comfortable. I had a lovely view of the mountains  from the room window, and just outside the room, a nice view of Central City and Black Hawk Image from the hallway window. The room Image had a very modern feel utilizing neutral colors with the occasional vibrant accent to spice things up. The bathroom Image showcased porcelain tile and marble along with a separate shower and tub, including a partitioned area for the toilet complete with a door to maximize privacy. It reminded me so much of the bathroom at The Hotel at Mandalay Bay, perhaps a typical sign of deluxe casino hotel accommodations.

I consider the pool Image to be the best amenity at Ameristar. It has a rooftop location with glass ceiling and adjoining sundeck. The sundeck also features a cozy hot-tub that I imagine could be enjoyed all-year round. My only gripe about it is that one cannot truly enjoy the beauty of the mountains from it, because a wall blocks any type of view. The pool was cool, refreshing and of good size. I understand that food and beverage service is offered there similar to Vegas, but unfortunately not during the early part of the week during which my stay occurred. The rest of the amenities were so-so, nothing to get too excited about. As far as gaming goes I had no luck on video poker, slots, or blackjack. I was content to find a $5 dollar blackjack table but that was in the middle of the afternoon so I can only assume it vanished at some point in the evening.

Black Hawk, CO is like a mini-Vegas Rocky Mountain style with a few differences of course. The casinos stop serving drinks at 2:00 A.M. unlike their Nevada counterparts who go all night. All the casinos are non-smoking including the ones with hotels. There isn’t the occasional splattering of local bands playing in little corner casino lounges like in Vegas, well at least not any that I could tell anyways. Being early week, Black Hawk’s “Strip” did not have any type of “buzz” similar to Vegas. It maintained a rather low key vibe and portrayed mostly an older clientele. I played both shoe and single deck blackjack, having a little success this first night but giving it all back and then some the second one. The strip casinos I enjoyed the most for gambling and service included Fitzgerald’s and Golden Gates.

If I go back to stay overnight in Black Hawk I will keep it to one night. Hanging around casinos outside of Vegas for more than that gets to be monotonous and a little depressing. At almost 9,000 feet elevation it is a great way to beat the summer heat, but word of caution; alcohol there will hit you like a ton of bricks. Ameristar’s rooms and pool are nice, but definitely don’t overpay for the experience. The rest of the amenities are lackluster. If you don’t care about a nice pool, there are other lodging options in Black Hawk that may be of greater value.

That’s Chicago! Palmer House Hilton 06-22 to 6-25-12

ImageI had read that our upcoming stay in the Palmer House Hilton was a hotel of historical significance and my mom confirmed its authenticity. The Palmer, originally constructed by Potter Palmer in September of 1871 was a wedding gift for his bride-to-be Bertha Honore. Some wedding gift huh! Well, if luck would have it, or should I say bad luck, the hotel was burned to the ground 13 days days later in the Great Chicago Fire of 1871. Potter Palmer, refusing to give in, reconstructed the hotel to make it one of the fanciest hotels in Chicago, and what he proudly boasted as “The World’s Only Fire Proof Hotel.” The hotel went on to receive two more grandiose renovations. The first being in 1920 when the hotel achieved a height of 25 stories being touted as the largest hotel in the world at that time. The second major renovation occurred recently from 2007-09 with the aid of $170 million. Today the Palmer has almost 1700 guest rooms, making it the second largest hotel in Chicago behind the Hyatt Regency Chicago. As the name implies the Palmer House was purchased by Conrad Hilton in 1945 but was sold to Thor Equities in 2005. It has retained the Hilton brand name none-the-less.

ImageThe Palmer House is a wonderful blend of classic meets contemporary. On the classical side one immediately becomes mesmerized by the lobby ceiling mural painted in the 1920’s by Louis Pierre Rigal. It is a tribute to Greek Mythology and love, done in a style similiar to Michaelangelo’s Sistine Chapel in Rome. Additionally, the hotel boasts marble walls and staircases, tastefully accessorized with ornate sconces for light and an assortment of potted plants and flowers.

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Our room was small but elegantly done. We had the option between a non-smoking double and a smoking king. Worried that our room would smell like stale cigarette smoke I opted for the smaller one to which the front desk attendant claimed she really liked it for what that was worth. Upon entering the room I was immediately concerned with its size. Having not stayed in the heart of many great metropolises, I was unprepared for such accommodations. So initially I was a bit disappointed by its scale of size, but as time progressed and I became more acclimated to my surroundings, I really began to appreciate the room for what it was; a tasteful decor of classical elements. Image

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I really enjoyed the  amount of marble used in both the bedroom and bathroom. There were also a lovely curtain and shades that when opened revealed a make-shift courtyard engulfed by colossal buildings spanning 180 degrees. Not an ideal view but intriguing none-the-less by its sheer magnanimity. The bathroom was bright and very white other than the sink counter, accented beautifully with white wall paper and black print. The bed was simple yet elegant, however the both the pillows and mattress were weaker than what I typically like.

Probably the greatest feature of the Palmer House Hilton is its accessibility to the sites of downtown Chicago. We literally only had to walk a few blocks east before we were face to face with such landmarks as the Chicago Instititute of Art, Millenium Park, Lake Michigan, and the Magnificent Mile. We walked or took the subway everywhere, having all “L” lines no more than a couple of blocks from our hotel. Less money for taxi’s meant more money for “funzies” such as eating, drinking, shopping, and attractions, to which downtown Chicago has many. So to conclude I thoroughly recommend staying at the Palmer House for your next visit to Chicago be it business or pleasure. It is the perfect blend of classic style with modern amenities and a location that simply cannot be beat!