TripAdvisor’s inaccuracy and Estes Park’s sucky Mountain Home Cafe

Estes Park is a key Colorado tourist destination. It has many culinary delights.

Mountain Home Cafe is undistinguished and served my family low quality food. Why does TripAdvisor rank it as Estes Park’s 2nd best restaurant?

TripAdvisor apparently allows liar ratings. For example, look at my August 3 rating, and pay attention to the highlight:

I don’t understand this restaurant’s very high rating. The food quality was the pits. I had the breakfast chicken fried steak meal. Um, chicken fried steak is supposed to be a solid piece of cheap steak breaded and fried. This restaurant served me some kind of sausage-y junk that was ground up and reformed to look like a steak, the same quality and texture of frozen meat patties that really are full of beef hearts. Another person at the table had the chicken fingers. Texture and taste was like what you buy in the frozen foods section of your supermarket. Mashed potatoes tasted mostly like a mix, little depth to the flavor.

Sorry, $9.50 and $10 (rounded) for meals that taste and feel mostly like frozen foods and mixes? I don’t think so, even in Estes Park.

Now look at the next newest rating, from August 8, by a reviewer for whom this is his only review:

I have lived in Estes Park for 18 years and have sampled many of the local restaurants. Mountain Home Cafe is definitely one of my favorites. The food and service are excellent. My favorite dish is the chicken fried steak and eggs combination. While growing up in the South I was able to sample chicken fried steak from many restaurants and households. Mountain Home’s chicken fried steak ranks high for taste and texture. Mountain Home’s white gravy is the perfect compliment. Mountain Home is the only restaurant in Estes Park that serves high quality American and Mexican food. Enjoy.

Um, OK, this person has lived in Estes Park long enough to know its culinary delights. Despite this, I am supposed to believe that this person:

  1. Has a “favorite dish” of sausage-like, too-perfectly-shaped-to-not-be-preformed-and-frozen chicken fried steak and flat, salty, might-as-well-be-from-a-mix gravy.
  2. Thinks this is the “only” Estes Park restaurant that serves “high quality” American and Mexican food?
  3. Has only left one review ever, and it’s about Mountain Home Cafe?

Yeah, right. Oceanfront property in Arizona…

Compare that to Rock Inn Mountain Tavern’s review, also in Estes Park. Much fewer “1 contribution” reviewers, and the whole experience was excellent.

The ratings for Colorado Springs’s Travelodge are more obviously stacked. The excellent ratings almost uniformly come from “1 contribution” accounts, and thanks to this apparent manipulation, Tripadvisor ranked it as the 3rd best hotel in Colorado Springs, above high quality chains. Poke into the other ratings, such as its poor and terrible ratings, and you start to find reviewers with more than 1 contribution.

Two lessons:

  1. Stay away from Estes Park’s Mountain Home Cafe. It doesn’t deserve its rating.
  2. Don’t trust TripAdvisor at its word. It isn’t preventing obvious abuse.

American Airlines’s $30 baggage tax: deceptive and dishonest

American Airlines Sucks!American Airlines’s new $30 baggage tax is deceptive and dishonest:

  1. DECEPTION: It’s not $15 as advertised. It’s $15 each way. That’s a whopping $30 tax for the vast majority of passengers.
  2. DISHONEST: It’s not upfront. All costs incurred by the vast majority of passengers should be upfront and non-hidden. Otherwise, it’s much more difficult to do an apples-to-apples comparison of competitors. Orbitz and Travelocity won’t be able to tell you that American Airlines will cost $30 more than listed. (This is a big reason why service industry loves tips: lets them create an illusion of lower prices.)

In a lengthy missive, AA’s PR chief Tim Wagner claims this is necessary to recoup costs. Sorry, Tim, nothing justifies dishonesty and deception.

My wife and I may both fly this summer. Even though we will be reimbursed, we are doing whatever we can to avoid American Airlines.

How to force EVDO in Sprint’s 1X zones

Driving between the Mississippi towns of Starkville and Flowood on MS 25, I was surprised that my cell phone’s pokey 1X data service went to high speed EVDO.

It turns out that this is a roam area, possibly using Verizon. The gray blob between Columbus and Jackson in the coverage map at right is classified as “mobile broadband roaming” on Sprint’s Coverage Tool. (Verizon’s own coverage map doesn’t have a special broadband area that corresponds to the gray blob, so it may not be Verizon after all?)

Once I got into Flowood, MS, I reentered Sprint’s pokey 1X network. Argh.

On a whim, I forced my phone into roam mode, and I get EVDO even in Sprint’s 1X area! So it appears that if you only have 1X access, you may still be able to get high speed EVDO by forcing roaming.

UPDATE: I got EVDO on I-20 all the way to Van, TX by forcing the phone to roam mode. Otherwise, it would have been 1X the entire way.

Central Texas Musuem of Automotive History

The Central Texas Museum of Automotive History is bar none the most awesome auto museum I’ve ever visited. It’s a hidden gem just north of Rosanky, TX on TX 304. I estimate it to have at least 130 cars of many vintages. It also has all sorts of automotive memorabilia.

Typical view down one of the rows:

All these cars are in superb condition.

Stanley Steamer:

Stanley Steamer engine:

1949 Diamond T Pickup:

Oldsmobile Delta 88:

Some goofy Euro-like battery powered car:


Rolls Royce limo:

After touring, I asked the guy at front about a Boy Scout plaque I had seen last time I was there (around 1995?). It turns out that the museum director, Dick Burdick, is an International Commissioner for the Boy Scouts of America and has the Silver Beaver, Silver Antelope, and Silver Buffalo awards:

He is heading the committee planning the 2010 Jamboree.

The plaque I remembered was the 1989 Jamboree plaque, which is at top center:

It used to be in his front office.

Driving up on it, you would have no idea how magnificent the inside is:

I highly recommend this museum to anyone even slightly interested in automotive history.

Inn on the Riverwalk

While in San Antonio on our summer trip, we stayed four nights at the Inn on the Riverwalk, a large home right on the river. It was restored in the early ’90s. They were repainting and experimenting with colors while we were there:

Just to the left of this picture is a tall condo tower that I think was owned by Wyndham?

The place had quirkiness of an old converted house (tiny bathrooms, no A/C vent in the adjoining bedroom that Alec slept in). Those didn’t bother me, but the mediocre overall attention to detail–peeling paint in bathroom, deadbolt that didn’t latch unless you held the door just right, etc.–wasn’t impressive, albeit these details didn’t functionally detract from the stay.

Here’s the outside of our room:

It was room 11, and it had a nice view of the river.

I don’t know if it was just this place, but the concept of a bed and breakfast is kind of lost on me after this stay. I don’t see what bed and breakfasts offer that decent normal hotels can’t.

The mother of the inn’s owner, who apparently was the night contact and lived across the street in one of their cottages, was accompanied by a wolf dog. This bothered me. Wolf dogs are literally wolf-dog hybrids. These are dangerous animals, and I don’t think they have any place around strangers, especially in places that accommodate children.

The staff was quite friendly.

Considering that “normal” hotels adjacent to any part of the River Walk were more expensive, and considering the 10% (unadvertised) AAA discount, free breakfast, free parking, and location right next to the river (albeit a few blocks from the main part of the Riverwalk), I feel we got a fair deal.