June 2, 2023


Just Do Travel

Hotel news from Long Beach to Tahoe

In this week’s “Get a Room,” we have some disturbing news from Long Beach regarding the much-loved Queen Mary, a Southern California institution; Ritz-Carlton is selling an unabashedly extravagant (to the tune of $25,000 per night) San Francisco-Lake Tahoe winter travel package; and, in Hawaii, #vanlife is getting even more ridiculous — and controversial. 

The combined forces of #vanlife influencers and a global pandemic helped to make life on the road downright trendy over the past couple years. Now, the camper van trend is causing problems in Hawaii. The islands, which saw a spike in visitors once vaccination was introduced and travel restrictions eased earlier this year, have been grappling with issues of overtourism, including the damage caused by a deluge of people into fragile ecosystems, traffic-choked two-lane roads and compacted housing markets. 

While camper vans are as much transportation as accommodation, the real tension around them lands their status as, in effect, mobile hotel rooms. If they were just another rental car, the biggest burden they’d present would be their impacts on traffic, parking, maybe air quality. But the issues campers raise for the islands are bigger, and there’s now a growing debate around how they should be managed. 

Currently, camper vans are not allowed at most state parks — a notable difference from most of the continental U.S., where they’re treated like any other vehicle. But in Hawaii, “good luck trying to find a place to spend the night,” writes one Hawaii News Now op-ed. With the exception of Maui’s Waianapanapa State Park, Hawaii’s state parks allow only tent camping. It’s also illegal to sleep in a camper while parked on the side of the road. But now the Department of Land and Natural Resources, which oversees the jam-packed state parks, is considering a change to its rules because of an “an explosion of interest in vehicle camping,” according to an op-ed in Honolulu Civil Beat

But considering the long simmering tensions between locals and tourists on the islands, it’s hard to imagine the potential changes won’t be met with resistance, like one comment on the Civil Beat story from a Kaui resident: “This is exactly why Kaua’i opposed the SuperFerries. Our tiny island is heavily impacted by visitor tourism, disproportionately, due to the ratio of limited shorelines to volumes of tourists. Local residents can hardly find access to park or use our own beaches, and the idea of hordes of campers/vans, etc rolling out into our rush hour traffic, was just an influx too big to swallow.”

JCB Lounge, Ritz-Carlton, San Francisco

JCB Lounge, Ritz-Carlton, San Francisco

Scott Chebegia / Courtesy Ritz-Carlton

For a mere $25,000 per night, you too can take a four-day trip to SF and Tahoe

Lest anyone think Lake Tahoe is a quick and relatively affordable weekend trip away from the Bay Area, the Ritz-Carlton has created a novel — and wildly ostentatious — way for lovers of these two California places to visit both in one easy-peasy two-hotel, outrageously expensive four-day package: the $25,000 a day “curated” itinerary dubbed “City to Slopes.” 

The Ritz-Carlton, Lake Tahoe

The Ritz-Carlton, Lake Tahoe

Chris Cypert / Courtesy Ritz-Carlton

So what does one get for a $100,000 four-day vacation — for what a house costs in some parts of the country? At San Francisco’s Ritz-Carlton, you’ll get “extravagant shopping sprees, wine and caviar tasting” and “impressive live entertainment.” Things like a private tasting at the opulent Jean-Charles Boisset Tasting Lounge, tickets to Dear San Francisco, “the high-flying acrobatics show at Club Fugazi” and what is, apparently, a $115 candle “inspired by founder Albert Krigler’s journey to California.” From there, you’ll hop “private air transportation” (via Surf Air) to Tahoe, where you’ll be feted with a private “chef’s table experience” and “unparalleled ski in/ski out adventures.” Not a bad way to spend the equivalent of a four-year university tuition on a long weekend.  

The Queen Mary saga continues in the LBC

For those who have been following the ongoing crisis at one of the country’s only, and best-known, boatels (that’s boat hotels, for the uninitiated), a freshly completed investigation is shedding light on the saga of Long Beach’s historic Queen Mary. 

As first reported in the Long Beach Post, the city auditor has finally finished a two-year deep-dive into what led to the ship’s extreme neglect and risk of capsizing. Then, on Wednesday, a federal judge threatened to arrest the Queen Mary’s former operators, whom he called “fraudsters” over their use of payroll protection loans, according to reporting by the Post’s Kelly Puente

The Queen Mary in 1989, during Disney's ownership.

The Queen Mary in 1989, during Disney’s ownership.

George Rose/Getty Images

The report is likely especially troubling for Long Beach taxpayers, who footed the bill for the $23 million in “subcontractor markups, unnecessary projects and overpayment” for the ship’s maintenance. But for the rest of us, who simply hope the Queen Mary will survive and reopen to the public, the auditor’s report isn’t reassuring. 

Among its findings: Urban Commons had little oversight from the city, which resulted in some eyebrow-raising business dealings, including Urban Common’s former head, Dan Zaharoni, appearing to hand no-bid contracts to companies with which he had ties, including one where his father is listed as the CEO. 

“Urban Commons proved ultimately to be a bad partner who did not meet expectations or operate to the City’s standards and expectations,” Modica wrote. “… History has shown over the past 40 years that a new model is warranted for this asset.”

What that model will look like is extremely unclear, which means the Queen Mary’s future is as well. 

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