Welcome Home!

Welcome Home!

 

“During my training workshops about creating a Hospitality Culture I always always share my Walt Disney World Story to illustrate how engaged customer experiences result in Raving Fans.” – Chris Katon, Dine Write Hospitality

 

When the kids were young we made it our tradition to take a yearly vacation to Walt Disney World.

For two years in a row we had stayed inside the resort at Port Orleans and were afforded the royal treatment. About a month before leaving on our now third annual family vacation, that a friend-of-a-friend offered us his condo in Orlando.

“It’s a great place, located about 10 minutes outside the gate,” he said. “It’ll save you a bunch of money that you can spend on the kids.”

And so for about a month I was a hero. My CPA wife was excited about all the money we would be saving. I was simply exhausted after a long season and was looking forward to margarita’s by the pool.

The five hour drive from our home in Bluffton, SC was spent singing songs and eating snacks and playing the license plate game.

A busy tourist season had just a month earlier smashed headlong into the 2008 Banking Crisis and the start of the Recession. That, on top of the stress from her most recent Quarter Close had been weighing heavily on Karla.

We arrived at the condo in Orlando ready to relax.

I was still holding an armload of suitcases when chaos ensued.

“There is a bug in the sink,” squeeled Amanda. “This bed looks slept in,” said Karla. “I’m not moving,” said Sarah.

A quick look around and the bathroom was filthy, there were cobwebs on the windowsill and the sheets looked slept in. I’m not going to lie, we were completely grossed out. Amanda wouldn’t sit on the toilet. Sarah started crying.

“Grab your bags, we’re outta here,” I said. Karla looked at me sideways, knowing I was winging it and didn’t have a plan.

But I did, my plan was simple: We would throw ourselves at the mercy of the staff at Walt Disney World and trust that they would take care of us.

Karla was not impressed. She thought it would be too expensive to stay inside the resort and I didn’t think we could afford not to. I arrived at the front gate and met John from Arkansas.

“How ya’ll doin’ this fine day,” he said.

“Well, actually…” And so it was that I gushed our story of a family vacation gone wrong and shared our plight. I held my breathe for a minute waiting to learn how our fate would unfold.

He simply said, “Welcome Home!”

Welcome home? – Karla was stunned. Heck, I was stunned.

But John from Arkansas was as sincere as could be. He asked for my name and reached forward and shook my hand. “Ya’ll just drive up ahead about a mile to Registration, my friends will be waiting to take good care of you.”

I gave a silent fist pump,”I knew I could count on Disney,” I said.

The Assistant Reservation Manager spotted me with eye contact from across a crowded room and met us 10 feet from the door. Extending her hand and smiling warmly Emily from Texas said, “We’re so excited to have you back at Walt Disney World. Please follow me and we’ll take great care of you.”

That bottomless pit feeling of ruining your family vacation by trying to save you a few bucks was quickly fading into distant memory. And then Emily from Texas turned our experience from Good to Great and transformed me into a Raving Fan.

“I’m pulling up your reservation history on the computer and I see that you enjoyed your last stay at Port Orleans Riverside, is that correct?”

“Yes, that’s true,” Karla said. “We tried the French Quarter our first year, but I think Riverside has more activities for the kids.”

“It’s settled then,” Emily from Texas said. “I’m upgrading you to a suite in the same location for the same price that you paid last year.”

Neither Karla or I could believe it.

I’d thought we were going to be begging for a room. Karla thought that they would see we were desperate and charge us through the roof. Instead we were getting upgraded for the same price as we paid last year? Seriously?

That my friends, is Raving Fan Hospitality!

I have learned first hand about that warm, peaceful feeling when a complete stranger goes above and beyond to ensure that my average guest experience is elevated into Return of Guest Service.

“Welcome Home,” such a simple, warm, genuine, feel good response and the #1 reason that I’ll never consider staying off property at Walt Disney World again.

The Sound of Gullah Culture

The Sound of Gullah Culture

 

“THE SOUND OF GULLAH CULTURE”

WRITTEN BY CHRIS KATON | PHOTOGRAPH BY ROB KAUFMAN

Published HILTON HEAD MONTHLY MAGAZINE | 29 JANUARY 2014

As a musician and active member of the Hilton Head Island Gullah community, Lavon Stevens has always been fascinated by local history.

“Not to take anything away from New Orleans, but I’m reading a book right now that makes a strong case that jazz music was actually started in Charleston,” Stevens said. “The impact that Charleston had in the world of jazz is one of those things that has gotten lost in time.”

According to the Charleston Jazz Initiative, a multi-year research project that documents the African American jazz tradition in Charleston and its movement throughout the U.S. and Europe from the late 19th century through today, the beginnings of jazz music on the southeastern coast of the United States was centered here.

“As the story goes, enslaved Africans infused the culture with African style and substance, creating American culture,” Stevens said. “As happened in many other places, black music on the southeastern coast manifested itself through spirituals and fi eld holler songs.”

When Europeans settled Carolina more than 300 years ago its capital, Charleston, was the crown jewel of the British Empire before the American Revolution, and it was the North American cradle of the African slave trade.

Charleston is only one of a handful of places in the Western Hemisphere where Africa inter-acted with Europe in a seminal way to produce New World culture. Records indicate that as many as 40 percent of all slaves in the United States made their way through Charleston.

At Jenkins Orphanage in Charleston recently freed slaves played music in the streets. It is staggering how many American jazz greats received their start in the state.

Famous son, Dizzy Gillespie, was born in Cheraw, S.C., and is heralded as one of the greatest pioneers of modern jazz. He is recognized as one of the country’s greatest trumpeters and bandleaders, and South Carolina’s most celebrated jazz musician.

Gillespie was a self-taught trumpeter who emerged in the 1940s as a pioneer of bebop. His most memorable gigs were with Cab Calloway’s band from 1939—1941 before the outset of World War II. Gillespie famously worked with Ella Fitzgerald, Duke Ellington, Thelonious Monk and Charlie Parker, among others.

Other famous South Carolina jazz artists include Charleston’s first lady of jazz, Ann Caldwell, Freddy Jenkins, Blood Ulmer, Speedy Jones and Lucky Thompson.

“History was lost and wasn’t very well documented,” Stevens said. “Recently people have started to embrace the history and how rich it is. One thing I’ve always hoped for is that people would embrace and share our history.”

Much of Gullah musical history can be traced to the settlement of Mitchelville off Beach City Road, where songs in native island churches mirrored popular music of the day.

The popular Negro spiritual “Kumbahyah” was first recorded and documented at First African Baptist Church, the oldest native congregation on Hilton Head Island.

“A lot of the songs people sung in church were about not giving up hope and are songs about actual freedom and spiritual freedom,” Stevens said. “One line goes, ‘some day I will be free.’ It’s a song about hope as well as about despair.”

Many of the earliest Gullah songs can be traced to call and response, when a leader would call out and the remainder of the congregation would respond with the refrain.

The popular Negro spiritual “Kumbahyah” was first recorded and documented at First African Baptist Church, the oldest native congregation on Hilton Head Island.

Although their origins are not well documented, popular songs of the day included “Michael Rowed a Boat a Shore”, “I Want to be Ready”, “Walk Together Children” and “Traveling Shoes”.

“It’s important to remember that many of the songs had a double meaning and were meant as a way to communicate between the oppressed people,” Stevens said.

First recorded in St. Helena, down the coast from Charleston, are field hollers, changes, work songs, and the blues. The 20th-century brought ragtime and jazz, which is still thought of by many as the highest form of American art.

From enslaved African drummers, to black drummers attached to white militias, to military bands, to community brass bands — the music became Charleston jazz.

Ragtime, a composed musical form that is highly syncopated and a kind of blend of European and African American music, is considered a precursor to jazz, was prominent from the 1890s to the 1920s.

The democratic principles of African culture are found in jazz. Everybody has a chance to say something, to solo, to play by him or herself while everyone else listens as they wait their turn.

“Jazz is diverse and inclusive. It’s an experiment and will always be a work in progress,” Stevens said.

Observing Charlestonions inspired the wildly popular dance “The Charleston” and Jenkins musicians dancing movements called Geechee, a term applied to South Carolina Gullahs.

There was a point when the slave masters had to stop the slaves from singing because they were known to be communicating through their singing. Many years later it was learned that coded messages such as covert resistance meetings were being shared.

As and example, an early Gullah lyric of Down by the River, was sung to let the community know there was to be a meeting at the river later that night or a mention of Harriet Tubman may mean that a special guest was making their way through the area.

“Field holler songs, expressed raw emotion, often resentment, downtrodden, despair,” Stevens said. “This is where we get what we know now as the blues.”

Back in the early days the instruments were very primitive. “You started with your voice and your hands,” he said Drums or conga’s were probably the earliest local instrument. “I have no doubt in my mind that if it happened here, it happened all over the country,” he said.

“The minute you hear those drums you start bobbin and weaving and doing whatever your going to do.”

Feature: For the Family – Hilton Head Island, SC

Feature: For the Family – Hilton Head Island, SC

HILTON HEAD MONTHLY MAGAZINE

“CITY GUIDE ISSUE” – SEPTEMBER 2013)

 

HILTON HEAD ISLAND, SC –

Blessed with natural beauty, white sandy beaches and temperate climate, Hilton Head Island has earned a reputation as one of the most family friendly vacation destinations in the United States.

At the top of many must visit lists is a climb to the summit of the iconic lighthouse in Harbourtown.

Visitors will learn about the island’s rich natural history and are rewarded for their climb with spectacular views of Harbourtown Golf Links, Harbourtown Yacht Basin and Calibogue Sound.

Active families enjoy eco-kayak or stand-up paddle boarding tours through salt marsh estuaries, where naturalists and photographers have frequent sightings of alligators, bottlenose dolphin, manatee, bald eagles, hawks and osprey.

img_4654Thrill seekers will enjoy a visit to Zip Line Hilton Head for an adventuresome canopy tour. Dolphin sightseeing tours, sailing trips, parasailing, waterskiing and tubing are especially popular.

A custom pirate ship is outfitted for a pirate adventure tour. Sport fishing charters, night shark trips and a catamaran sunset cruise are also available.

A boat trip to Daufuskie Island offers a glimpse of what other sea islands were like before bridges and causeways opened them to development. Most native residents of the island are descendants of freed slaves, who have made their living oystering and fishing for decades.

Family-oriented singer, songwriter Gregg Russell can be found performing beneath the famous Liberty Tree six nights per week throughout the summer season.

At Lawton Stables a guided trail ride through the scenic Sea Pines Forest Preserve is offered. Young children will treasure a visit with Callie, the island’s pet deer.

IMG_4489A visit to Coligny Beach is an open invitation for people watching, where the flip-flop-tapping rhythm of steel drums and Jimmy Buffet songs sets a casual mood.

Jennifer Moscar of Atlanta, who is formerly of Bluffton, took photographs of chocolate ice cream mustaches on her two young children as they splashed and danced through the water spouts in the Coligny Beach Fountains.

Thousands of family’s annually enjoy Harbourfest at Shelter Cove, where Shannon Tanner has entertained audiences for the past 25 years. Live entertainment, bouncy houses, food, arts and crafts, and evening fireworks display are featured.

For the Freeland family of Rochester, New York, an afternoon at Islander Beach was an opportunity to construct an elaborate sand castle of a giant alligator, drawing admiration from a family of four on Fat Tire bicycles out for an evening ride along the shore.

OLD TOWN KAYAK TOUR 952013Outdoor enthusiasts will enjoy Pinckney Island National Wildlife Refuge, which includes more than 4,000 acres of salt marsh estuary and small islands.

Many families also enjoy championship caliber golf, tennis, cycling and miniature golf. Others relax during a game of bocce or kite flying. In addition, Sandbox Children’s Museum, a video arcade, bowling alley and several movie theatres are also available.

Did you like this story? Follow me at dinewrite.org

The Moscow Mule and other craft cocktail phenomenon

The Moscow Mule and other craft cocktail phenomenon

Bluffton, SC – Spring has sprung in the south, where chef’s and restaurateurs are rolling out new beverage menu’s in anticipation of a busy summer season.

Here in the Lowcountry I’m fortunate to have upwards of 1,000 restaurants within a half hour drive of my house, where competition is fierce for attracting a regular customer base.

Is your business looking for a boost?  The growing trend in craft cocktails and culinary inspired beverage lists has guests at some of the area’s most popular restaurants coming back for more.

If you haven’t noticed, Homemade Bitters, Fresh-made Everything, Moscow Mule Parties, Ladies Night’s with complimentary Champagne and Prohibition Era Cocktail Lists are all the rage.

If you’re up for a road trip – or simply craving a good drink, check out:

  • Bluffton: Bluffton Room (ask for Bob), NEO and Pour Richard’s.
  • Hilton Head Island: Lucky Rooster, Wise Guys and Ocean Lounge
  • Savannah: Chive, Local 1110 and Circa 1875
  • Beaufort: Breakwater, Luther’s and Lowcountry Produce

Cheers! … and don’t forget to tell them Chris sent you!

I learned to Salsa Dance on Hilton Head Island

Learning to Salsa Dance with fitness dance instructor Alyssa Petro (Photo by Chris Katon)

Learning to Salsa Dance with fitness dance instructor Alyssa Petro (Photo by Chris Katon)

Hilton Head Island, SC – You’re oceanfront at Daniel’s nightclub with professional dance instructor Alyssa Petro learning how to salsa dance.

The energy in the room has a sexy, silky feeling that makes your shoulders rock back and forth and head sway side-to-side. Your view from the dance floor is of flashing lights synchronized to the rhythm of the Latin beat.

Without thinking, you’re body falls into step with the music – sliding forward, then back and side-to-side. Alyssa shows us how to count to the beat, then step together.

“We just do basic steps because there tends to be a new group of people every week,” Alyssa said. “There’s just something that comes alive when I hear that music. To me it’s just lively and happy and it makes me feel amazing.”

Making memories is what vacation is all about. When’s the last time you stepped out of your comfort zone?

For more information, visit http://spicefitnessdance.tumblr.com

Cape Cod Outdoors – Skydiving

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“Skydive Cape Cod has been voted one of the top three skydiving locations in the United States and is the only drop zone in New England that jumps over the beach.

On a clear day clients experience views from one end of Cape Cod to the other; from Falmouth to Provincetown, and Martha’s Vineyard and Nantucket to the Boston skyline.”

Read my story here

Published: CAPE COD OUTDOORS The Enterprise • July 2013

“There is Magic in Old Town” – at 10th Annual Historic Bluffton Art and Seafood Festival

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10th Annual Historic Bluffton Art & Seafood Festival (Photo by Chris Katon)

Bluffton, SC – I spent the better part of Sunday immersing myself in the sites and sounds of the 10th Annual Bluffton Art and Seafood Festival and one things for certain, this once sleepy artist community is exploding with energy.

“There is magic in Old Town,” said Bluffton resident Ed McCullough. “Great things are happening here.”

We were talking about two renovation projects that he’s involved in, along with the exploding growth of the Bluffton Promenade.

McCullough, who is founder of the Bluffton Farmers Market, couldn’t be happier about the positive vibe of the day.

Both sides of Calhoun Street were lined with 100 vendor booths of artists from across the South East showcasing beautiful paintings, photography and other original art.

Two dozen local restaurants including Red Fish, Mulberry Street Trattoria and Joe Loves Lobster Rolls were on-hand to cater the event.

Bluffton Middle School Junior Naturalists manned touch tanks with Taco the Turtle, horseshoe crabs and fiddler crabs to share information about Low Country marine life.

Collage Illusion is an award-winning technique of collage art on glass by artist Carl Crawford of Columbia, SC. Crawford uses a mixed media style to create an illusion of an oil painting. The technique has earned him numerous national awards, including Most Creative for the 2011 New Orleans Jazz & Heritage Festival.