Travel Expert and Radio Talk Show Host Stephanie Abrams - Travelers411 Travel Radio Shownotes - February 12, 2011
"Travelers411" Radio Show - February 12, 2011
img Skiing European Royals and Truffle-Hunting Dogs at Relais & Chateaux El Castell de Ciutat, La Seu d'Urgell, Lleida, Spain; Miles of Meeting Space and Shopping at Hilton Branson Convention Center and Hilton Promenade, Branson, Missouri; Stephanie Plays Travel Fairy Godmother to the Senior Class at Webber Township High School, Bluford, Illinois; Finger Food and Family Entertainment at Dolly Parton's Dixie Stampede and Dinner Show, Branson, Missouri.

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Hour 1

Topics Include:

Link to this segment

Jaume Tapies, President & CEO, Relais & Chateaux, Co-owner, El Castell de Ciutat, Le Seu d'Urgell, LLeida, Spain.
www.relaischateaux.com
www.hotelcastell.com

Travel Expert Stephanie Abrams and the "Travelers411" Radio Show welcome Jaume Tapies, President and CEO of Relais & Chateaux and Co-Owner of El Castell de Ciutat in La Seu d'Urgell, Lleida, Spain. La Seu d'Urgell is in the Pyrenees, very close to Andorra. A tiny country of about 60,000 people, Andorra is known for its ski resorts, which are favorites of European royalty. "We're having a superb winter; we had snow at the beginning, then lots of sun, so there's good skiing," says Jaume.

El Castell de Ciutat, Le Seu d'Urgell, LLeida, Spain.
El Castell de Ciutat, Le Seu d'Urgell, LLeida, Spain.

El Castell de Ciutat translates to 'the castle of the city.' The castle is in La Seu d'Urgell, near the palace of the prince of Andorra (who also happens to be the bishop). Jaume's grandfather bought the castle and transformed it into a hotel. Today, Jaume and his wife own and run the property; he hopes that one day his children will take over. El Castell de Ciutat has 30 rooms, a spa, and, like every Relais & Chateaux member, good food.

El Castell de Ciutat, Le Seu d'Urgell, LLeida, Spain.
El Castell de Ciutat, Le Seu d'Urgell, LLeida, Spain.

Although the resort is nestled in a valley in the Pyrenees, it's easy to reach from Spain's major cities. From Barcelona, it's a 2 hour drive north toward the French border. From Madrid, the drive is around 5 hours. From Marseille, France, the drive takes 4 hours. Travelers take the motorway toward Spain, then switch to smaller mountain roads in Perpignan. "Many Americans come, land in Barcelona – because it has good connections to airports in North America – and rent a car," Jaume says. "They come to us, then continue to Basque country, the north coast, Corona, and Santiago de Compostela."

El Castell de Ciutat, Le Seu d'Urgell, LLeida, Spain.
El Castell de Ciutat, Le Seu d'Urgell, LLeida, Spain.

Since the Pyrenees are such a popular ski destination, Jaume says the roads are not dangerous in winter. "We're ready for snow," he explains. "We have plenty of machines that clear the road very quickly, so it's not a problem." The area has recently become popular as a summer destination, too, thanks to its green mountains, waterfalls, and lakes. From November 15 to March 15 every year, visitors can even experience truffle season.

El Castell de Ciutat, Le Seu d'Urgell, LLeida, Spain.
El Castell de Ciutat, Le Seu d'Urgell, LLeida, Spain.

"Twenty minutes south of the hotel is one of the most important markets for truffles," Jaume explains. "Farmers from the valley go with their dogs to hunt the truffles. People can come and look and eat afterwards. It's like mushroom hunting except that you can't see the mushrooms – you need the dog to sniff them out. Pigs can find truffles, too, but if you're not careful, they'll eat them. Every time the dogs find a truffle, we give them a little bit of sausage. That way, they know they'll get a little gift and won't eat the truffle."

Canoe Bay, Relais and Chateaux.
Canoe Bay, Relais and Chateaux.

Although almost any breed of dog can be trained to hunt for truffles, they do need to be trained. "If you look at the dogs, they're really regular dogs," Jaume continues. "But they have to be very clever, and it takes years to train them. One of the farmers who's a friend has a little dog that's about 25 centimeters high, a mix of everything. But every time it gets a little sausage, it goes mad to find a truffle."

Bedford Post Hotel, Relais and Chateaux.
Bedford Post Hotel, Relais and Chateaux.

When not managing El Castell de Ciutat, Jaume is responsible for the Relais & Chateaux organization. The brand has recently focused on expanding to Asia and has named actor Richard Gere as its ambassador for 2011. "Richard Gere is actually an owner as well as a cinema star; he owns the Bedford Post in New York," says Jaume. "He's also someone who likes Asia, and we're developing properties in India, Sri Lanka, Malaysia, and Thailand. So he's the ambassador for our 2011 guide."

Westglow Resort and Spa, Realais and Chateaux.
Westglow Resort and Spa, Realais and Chateaux.

The Bedford Post Inn is about a 35 to 40-minute drive outside New York City. Stephanie describes it as a "wonderful haven," even though all Relais & Chateaux properties meet high standards. The criteria for joining the organization include the so-called 5 C's: character, calm, charm, courtesy, and cuisine. "We have all of these things at hotels, plus grands chefs that prepare the best possible meals you can have in any country," says Jaume.

Related Photo Galleries:
Relais and Chateaux Relais and Chateux

Travelers411 Community Forums - This interview's thread:
http://www.travelers411.com/forums/showthread.php?t=1324

For more information visit www.relaischateaux.com and www.hotelcastell.com


Travel Tips:

When driving Italy's Amalfi coast, Stephanie suggests going from Salerno to Sorrento, instead of the other way around. This way, travelers will be driving on the mountain side of the narrow roads, instead of the side closer to the sea.


Fun Facts:

Delta recently announced that it would be sending some of its employees to charm school after receiving numerous passenger complaints. Stephanie is not surprised; she once ran a program designed to recognize helpful employees and was rebuffed by Delta. The program, called 'You're the Best,' asked passengers to fill out a postcard when they received especially friendly service. One half of the postcard was sent back to the airline and the other was given to the helpful staff member. Delta declined to participate.

Airport concourse.
Airport concourse.

Guests Include:

Jaume Tapies, President & CEO, Relais & Chateaux, Co-owner, El Castell de Ciutat, Le Seu d'Urgell, LLeida, Spain.
www.relaischateaux.com
www.hotelcastell.com

Hour 2

Topics Include:

Link to this segment

Bill Derbins, General Manager, Hiltons of Branson, Hilton Promenade at Branson Landing, Hilton Branson Convention Center, Branson Convention Center, Payne Stewart Golf Course, Branson, Missouri, USA.
www.hilton.com

Travel Expert Stephanie Abrams and the "Travelers411" Radio Show talk with Bill Derbins, General Manager of the Hilton Branson Hotel & Convention Center and Hilton Garden Inn in Branson, Missouri. Stephanie is playing Travel Fairy Godmother and sending the senior class of Webber Township High School in Bluford, Illinois, on a trip to Branson, Missouri, where they'll stay in the Hilton Branson Convention Center Hotel.

Dixie Stampede in Branson.
Dixie Stampede in Branson, Missouri.

Bill manages two Hilton properties in downtown Branson: the Hilton Branson Convention Center and the Hilton Promenade. The Hilton Branson Convention Center is connected to a 200,000-square foot convention center that's owned by the city of Branson and managed by Hilton. Across the street, the Hilton Promenade is connected to Branson Landing, a mile-long shopping center that sits on Lake Taneycomo. In addition to 100 stores, the mall has a $6 million fountain show that goes off hourly.

Legends in Concert, Branson, Missouri.
Legends in Concert, Branson, Missouri.

The Hilton Branson Convention Center has 294 rooms, while the Hilton Promenade has 242 rooms. Both properties opened in 2007 and the Hilton Branson Convention Center has been designated a 4-diamond hotel by AAA for 3 years in a row. The hotel is also connected to a convention center that has an exhibit hall with 46,000 square feet of meeting space and a ballroom that can seat 1600 for dinner. "There are numerous breakout rooms, and it's laid out on 2 floors," says Bill. "It's easy to get around and you don't even have to go outside." Stephanie suggests that the hotel would be a good place for a corporate meeting, family reunion, or birthday or anniversary celebration.

Legends in Concert, Branson, Missouri.
Legends in Concert, Branson, Missouri.

The Hilton Branson Convention Center is also home to the Level 2 Steakhouse, which opened in March 2010. "It's already received all kinds of awards – best new restaurant and a marketing award for Hilton," says Bill. Diners who visit the Level 2 Steakhouse five times or more will become members of the Cut Club. "We engrave a steak knife with your name, so the next time you make a reservation, it's waiting at your table," he explains. "We've already engraved 200 knives and have 1500 people on our mailing list."

Dixie Stampede in Branson, Missouri.
Dixie Stampede in Branson, Missouri.

Stephanie compares this to the French tradition in which each family member has a napkin with his or her name embroidered on it. "If you're invited to the house enough times – which in France is a big deal, because most people do their entertaining in public places like the local cafe – you get a napkin with your name on it," she says. "When that happens, you know you're really in." At the Level 2 Steakhouse, diners are welcomed to the Cut Club by a tableside presentation in which they choose the knife they want engraved.

Travelers411 Community Forums - This interview's thread:
http://www.travelers411.com/forums/showthread.php?t=2772

For more information visit www.hilton.com


Link to this segment

Roger Pauley, Principal, Superintendent, Webber Township High School, Bluford, Illinois, USA.
www.webberhs.com

Travel Expert Stephanie Abrams and the "Travelers411" Radio Show check in with Roger Pauley, Principal and Superintendent of Webber Township High School in Bluford, Illinois. Last fall, a Bluford student suffered a serious brain injury in a bike accident. The senior class voted unanimously to donate the funds they had raised for a senior class trip to the student's family. When Stephanie heard about their generosity, she decided to play Travel Fairy Godmother and send the seniors on a class trip to Branson, Missouri.

Webber Township High School, Bluford, Illinois, USA.
Webber Township High School, Bluford, Illinois, USA.

"The story got around and Stephanie picked it up and gave me a call," says Roger. "She said she wanted to do something to help those kids. Now she's arranged a trip to Branson and they're all excited. They did a Skype interview with Stephanie where the seniors were in the gym. When she announced what was going on, they sat there in silence. I wondered what was going on! But they were just so awestruck that someone from a different part of the country would recognize them and want to reward them for what they had done."

Webber Township High School, Bluford, Illinois, USA.
Webber Township High School, Bluford, Illinois, USA.

So far, Stephanie has organized a visit to the Titanic Attraction, a stay at the Hilton Branson Convention Center, a pizza party and swim in the hotel pool, and tickets to the dinner show at Dolly Parton's Dixie Stampede. But she has more surprises up her sleeve. "I'm working on something special for the day the seniors are leaving, so it's not just a day of travel," she promises.

Travelers411 Community Forums - This interview's thread:
http://www.travelers411.com/forums/showthread.php?t=2773

For more information visit www.webberhs.com


Link to this segment

John Richardson, Director, Sales & Marketing, Dolly Parton's Dixie Stampede, Branson, Missouri, USA.
branson.dixiestampede.com

Travel Expert Stephanie Abrams and the "Travelers411" Radio Show chow down with John Richardson, Director of Sales & Marketing for Dolly Parton's Dixie Stampede in Branson, Missouri. Stephanie is sending the senior class of Webber Township High School in Bluford, Illinois, on a trip to Branson, Missouri, where they'll have the chance to enjoy the dinner show at the Dixie Stampede. "It's great to make sure that their senior year is capped off not just with a cap and gown, but with a great experience in Branson," she says. "It's the kind of place where you feel comfortable sending young people."

Dolly Parton's Dixie Stampede, Branson, Missouri, USA.
Dolly Parton's Dixie Stampede, Branson, Missouri, USA.

John agrees. "Branson is the kind of place where we entertain all ages," he says. "It's not always thought of that way; many people think it's where grandparents go on vacation. But there's a lot for families and young people to do. It's a great destination that does not have the distractions of gaming or adult-type nightlife. So it's a great place for a class trip – they'll get a quality experience, a lot of value, and strong values as well."

Dolly Parton's Dixie Stampede, Branson, Missouri, USA.
Dolly Parton's Dixie Stampede, Branson, Missouri, USA.

There are Dixie Stampede locations in Branson, Missouri, Myrtle Beach, South Carolina, and Pigeon Forge, Tennessee. On June 1, 2011, the Myrtle Beach location will change its theme to 'Pirate's Voyage.' "It's an all-new concept that we've decided to let loose in the market," says John. "It's the perfect location on the waterfront, there's a lot of pirate history in the area, plus pirates are a pretty hot property right now."

Dolly Parton's Dixie Stampede, Branson, Missouri, USA.
Dolly Parton's Dixie Stampede, Branson, Missouri, USA.

Even though she's currently working on the touring Broadway production of "9 to 5," Dolly Parton appears nightly at the Dixie Stampede in Branson through the magic of video. The production is a full dinner show with 32 horses, a stampede of buffalo, racing pigs, Southern pageantry, beautiful music, great costuming, and a lot of fun, according to John. "We're in the escapism business, so we'll transport you to another time," he says. "We have an audience participation show with competitive events where we pit the north against the south. It's all in fun, though.

Dolly Parton's Dixie Stampede, Branson, Missouri, USA.
Dolly Parton's Dixie Stampede, Branson, Missouri, USA.

"And we're going to serve you a big meal, choreographed right into the show," he continues. "It's eaten with the silverware that God gave you: your fingers. We give you a moist towelette afterwards, but you get to eat like a kid for a couple hours. We serve a whole rotisserie chicken, a slice of hickory-smoked barbecue pork loin, corn on the cob, a potato, a creamy vegetable soup in a bowl with a handle – so you can eat it without utensils – and a hot biscuit. And there's an apple turnover for dessert."

Dolly Parton's Dixie Stampede, Branson, Missouri, USA.
Dolly Parton's Dixie Stampede, Branson, Missouri, USA.

The attraction can seat 1100 people per show and is capable of up to 5 shows a day. "Depending on the season, we do 3 to 5 shows a day," says John. "It's busy during the Fourth of July, all summer, and into the Christmas season. It depends on demand. But it's really a great family thing to do. My customer is a mom. Moms make travel, leisure, and entertainment decisions for the family based on what makes kids happy. So if Mom is happy, everybody's happy."

Dolly Parton's Dixie Stampede, Branson, Missouri, USA.
Dolly Parton's Dixie Stampede, Branson, Missouri, USA.

John has been at the Dixie Stampede for over 12 years and still loves his job. "When you really enjoy your work, it's easy to come in and be enthusiastic every day," he explains. "We do work with live animals, so there's an element of unpredictability there, and this is show biz, so there are lots of crazy people around. But it's very entertaining. I worked in the computer industry before and this is a far piece more interesting than that group of people."

John is equally enthusiastic about Branson itself. "It's a unique place to visit – the people are very genuine and the quality of life is wonderful," he says. "It's a great place to raise a family or take your family for a quality vacation experience. And it's one of the most economical destinations on the map; you'll get lots of value for your vacation dollar." Although many people see Branson as a destination for older travelers, the town is changing.

"Fifteen years ago, our predominant customer was a senior couple who may have arrived in a motorcoach on a package tour," John explains. "Now, baby boomers are the predominant travel generation. They choose not to travel in motorcoaches; they will drive in their own vehicle, or with a church or other organization. So it's a changing environment. There's a lot more for a younger group of people [now]. It's a family destination where you know that whatever you do, you'll be able to entertain multiple generations."

Visitors to Branson can even fly into town instead of driving. The Branson airport opened a few years ago and is served by carriers including AirTran, Frontier, and Branson Air Express. "We're hoping to have even more carriers sign on; it's been a rough few years for airlines," says John. "But it's a pretty exciting development for a little market that's always been drive-to. Plus we have the new convention center that attracts conference business, and air travel is a must for that. So there are a lot of changes taking place, but it's a great destination with beautiful Ozark lakes."

Travelers411 Community Forums - This interview's thread:
http://www.travelers411.com/forums/showthread.php?t=2774

For more information visit branson.dixiestampede.com


Guests Include:

Bill Derbins, General Manager, Hiltons of Branson, Hilton Promenade at Branson Landing, Hilton Branson Convention Center, Branson Convention Center, Payne Stewart Golf Course, Branson, Missouri, USA.
www.hilton.com

Roger Pauley, Principal, Superintendent, Webber Township High School, Bluford, Illinois, USA.
http://www.freewebs.com/webberhighschool/webberhome.htm

John Richardson, Director, Sales & Marketing, Dolly Parton's Dixie Stampede, Branson, Missouri, USA.
branson.dixiestampede.com

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