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October 26, 2003|Jane Engle

Mobil guide experiences falling stars

Think service is declining at hotels and restaurants? It probably is, unless you're staying at the Ritz or its equivalent, judging from Mobil Travel Guide's 2004 award winners, announced last week.

The annual list, which ranks lodging and restaurants from one (lowest) to five (highest) stars, handed out 43 five-stars for 2004 versus 44 the year before. But the big change was in four-star properties: 305 this year versus 393 the year before -- nearly a fourth fewer, most demoted to three stars.

"What has been lowered are the service levels," said Shane O'Flaherty, Mobil Travel Guide's vice president of business development and the man who oversees inspectors dispatched to check out the establishments. He's been seeing less of what he calls the "smile in the eye" factor for about two years.

Possible causes include greater employee turnover and cutbacks forced by the economy, he said. Super-luxe hotels and restaurants may escape the slippage because they have a greater "commitment to excellence," better training and a more stable staff, he added.

Arizona experienced one of the more dramatic drops in four-star establishments: from 26 in 2003 to 10 for 2004. In Nevada, the Hyatt Regency Lake Las Vegas Resort, Spa and Casino fell to three stars. (Neither state has five-star ratings.)

In other notable changes, the Hotel Bel-Air in Los Angeles is back in the five-star ranks after being demoted to four stars in 1999. O'Flaherty credits "a phenomenal job" of improving service. In San Francisco, the Ritz-Carlton's Dining Room jumped to five stars, and the Mandarin Oriental hotel dropped to four. In New York, Daniel restaurant fell from the five-star firmament, and the new Ritz-Carlton New York, Central Park joined it.

California has 10 five-star-rated hotels and restaurants, the most of any state.


New fast 'Cat' to the Bahamas

If you're traveling to the Miami-Fort Lauderdale area this winter, you may want to pack your passport so you can hop the new two-hour ferry to the Bahamas.

The service is scheduled to launch Nov. 1, with a 4 p.m. daily departure from Port Everglades in Florida and a 10 a.m. return trip from Grand Bahama Harbor each day.

Called the "Cat," the high-speed vessel operated by Bahamas Florida Express is a 320-foot-long catamaran that can carry 900 passengers. It has a casino, cafe and bar. The round-trip fare for adults, through Dec. 21, will be $129 to $189, depending on the day of travel, and $70 for ages 3 to 17, plus $31 in port fees. For more information: (866) 313-3779,

From Associated Press


Hawaii hotel will ban smoking

In what it claims is a first for the state of Hawaii, a small boutique hotel in Honolulu will go smoke-free Nov. 20.

The 110-room Ohana Reef Lanai hotel in Waikiki said it would place guests who reserved smoking rooms in other hotels in the 16-hotel Ohana Hotels & Resorts chain.



Saving cash on Cambria hotels

Seven hotels in Cambria and one in nearby San Simeon are offering off-season rates of $49 to $69 per room per night. The deal, subject to availability, is good for stays Sunday to Thursday nights Nov. 2 to 20 and Dec. 1 to 18.

The hotels, all run by Moonstone Hotel Properties, are Blue Dolphin Inn, Cambria Pines Lodge, Creekside Inn, Cypress Cove Inn, FogCatcher Inn, Sand Pebbles Inn and Sea Otter Inn, all in Cambria; and Sea Coast Lodge in San Simeon.

By comparison, summer rates at the Sand Pebbles Inn, for instance, start at $159 per night. Ask for the Holiday Spree rate. (800) 445-6868 (Cambria Pines Lodge),



Going for gold in Eastern Sierra

"The Eastern High Sierra Fall Color Guide" maps out 20 places to view autumn displays in the California mountain region, from Big Pine Canyon in the south to Walker River Canyon in the north. (800) 845-7922 (if leaving a message, ask for the guide by name), e-mail lmedove@visit

-- Compiled by

Jane Engle

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