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We have one hard and fast rule. We do not accept any advertising or other commercial content in our books or on this website.

Recommendations made here, or in the "Insider Tips" within my books, are based solely on Kathy and my personal visits (often "secret") and inspections to the places we have recommended. Our endorsements are only made after we have checked a number of qualities such as, value for money, the staff's attentiveness to service and cleanliness in all areas of the facility.

We encourage our readers to tell us about places they think others would enjoy based on these same qualities, but will only recommended them after our own visit and only if they meet our standards . . .

. . . so please have confidence in any of the services listed below or recommend in my books. And please feel free to let us know your experience with any of them.

Here are a few samples of our current "Picks," on I-75 and in Florida. There are many more in the "Insider Tips" of "Along I-75" and "Along Florida's Expressways."

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Lodging on I-75

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When driving on a long trip with overnight stops, travelers want consistency in their lodging experience at the end of the day. They don't need the fancy amenities of a resort hotel but do have an expectation of value for money, cleanliness and a reasonable "sameness" in the quality and style of room services (coffeemaker, etc.) and furnishing. In many cases, the large national brands do not always offer this consistency throughout their lodging system.

Over the years, we have tried just about every hotel chain and many independent properties up and down the I-75 corridor. Most properties are part of a franchise operation and the lodging experience can very much depend upon the local owner/franchisee, the efficiency and frequency of the chain's quality assurance (QA) inspections, and various local factors. In other words, there may not be a lot of consistency from property to property within a chain, although all operate under the same "flag" (brand name).

This is not to say that there aren't excellent properties under the various "flags" you see on the I-75 corridor, and whenever we have found a property which in our opion is outstanding, we have listed it in our book as an "Insider Tip." For example, two "flags" which do an excellent job of reasonable consistency are the Hampton and Fairfield chains.

Beyond the franchise operations, we have found a company-operated chain which represent excellent consistency in friendliness, quality and cleanliness.

The difference is that being company owned, there is a direct interest in each property at the corporate (head office) level. Local managers are company-trained, providing "grass-roots" consistency throughout the system and have a vested interest in their careers.

Head office and regional management staff travels frequently within the chain resulting in communications which are more open (team-based, rather than hierarchial) and employees tend to be more aware of issues beyond their local property. Staff turn-over is less and job satisfaction is often much greater among the front desk, housekeeping and the other staff the guest is liable to meet during a visit.

All these attributes are of course, to the advantage of the traveler. Here is my recommended company-owned chain for the I-75 corridor and while traveling in Florida:

Dave's Pick Drury Hotels:     www.druryhotels.com
Without a doubt, the Drury Hotel chain of inns offers one of the best lodging bargains on the I-75 corridor. Not only are most of their properties new but there are no extra costs involved in their amenities and services. - even long distance phone calls (one hour to North American locations, per night stay) are free!

All Drury Hotel properties are family owned and the staff company trained. We have always found them to be friendly and very attentive to their guests' needs.

Drury Hotels are located on the I-75 corridor at Michigan - Troy (exit 69E); Ohio - Findlay (exit 159E), Dayton (exit 59W), Middletown (exit 32W), North Cincinnati (exit 15E); Georgia - Marietta (exit 261E) and Morrow (exit 233).

A new Drury just opened at exit 18 - Valdosta, Georgia, and for those heading towards Walt Disney World, a Drury opened recently in Orlando.

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Bed and Breakfast in Florida

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Have you tried staying at a Bed & Breakfast, also known as B&B? It's not for everybody but if you feel comfortable sharing somebody else's home and enjoy chatting with other guests, then this can be a very enriching experience. Here are three of our favorites in Florida . . .

Dave's Pick Old Powder House B&B, St. Augustine:    www.OldPowderHouse.com
There are 37 B&Bs in St. Augustine, but our favorite by far is the Old Powder House Inn at 38 Cordova Street.

As I drive those last few yards down this ancient street, I know that Inn owners Kal and Katie will be waiting for us with a hug and a warm smile...it's just like coming home each time. And it's not only us, it's the way they greet all their guests and make them feel welcome in their wonderful turn-of-the-century, Victorian inn.

Once unpacked, we relax on the veranda surrounded by shady oak and pecan trees. With cool drink in hand and eyes closed, the nostalgic sounds of horse and carriages passing on the street below evoke memories of times gone by. We're back in old St. Augustine.

The Old Powder House Inn is just steps away from the town's historic lanes, walking malls and fine restaurants, so abandon your car in the Inn's off-street parking for your stay. You won't need it.

The Inn is not inexpensive but excellent value for money. The antique-filled rooms with period furnishings, lace curtains and hardwood floors evoke an earlier era of grace and tranquility; each is sumptuous and very comfortable.

And what is Bed & Breakfast without breakfast. Served in the Victorian Parlor, Katie and Kal's gourmet breakfasts are superb culinary performances. Here is the perfect place to linger over the first meal of the day, enjoy chatting with the other interesting guests and listen to the clip-clop of passing horses as the day slowly comes to life outside, on historic Cordova Street. This is the perfect place for a romantic splurge.

Phone Katie at 1-800-447-4149 for further information. I know you will enjoy a warm and memorable stay.

Dave's Pick La Veranda Inn B&B, St Petersburg:    www.laverandabb.com
This is my special place when I crave a bit more local activity, a sense of "small town" rather than "country escape" or beach. But I do not have to give up "Old Florida" with its mature palm trees, abundant shrubbery and cobbled streets; La Veranda B&B is situated in a quiet downtown neighborhood of old St. Petersburg ... and it delivers!

The name, La Veranda perfectly describes this lovely, laid-back property. Although within walking distance of the famous St. Petersburg Pier, several museums, excellent restaurants and the upscale shops of Bayshore and Beach Drives, if you prefer you can just sit back in one of the many comfortable chairs on the old world veranda, listen to the tinkling of the many wind chimes and watch the world go by. Oh, and you are probably just steps away from your room since each has its own private door, with most of them opening on to the veranda area.

And owner Nancy is an absolute delight. Welcoming in a lovely informal manner, Nancy will make you feel like "family" within few minutes of your first meeting. Nothing is too much for Nancy to make your visit comfortable and enjoyable. She has lived in this area for many years and knows it well; a wonderful source of local knowledge.

La Veranda is a grand old house surrounded by wide wraparound porches and lush tropical gardens. Though just a stone's throw from the amenities of downtown St. Petersburg, it's a quiet and homey setting in which to unwind and enjoy. I heartily recommend a visit.

Reaching La Veranda from I-275 is easy. Simply take exit 23 on to I-375, and head downtown to St. Petersburg. At the end of I-375, you continue straight ahead on 4th Avenue north - a wide one-way avenue which takes you into the downtown area. In five blocks, turn left at 1st Street NE. One block later where 5th Avenue north crosses, La Veranda is immediately ahead of you on the other side of the avenue . . . the house surrounded with verandas and just to your left. Nancy can be reached at 727-824-9997.

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Food

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We have thirty-seven local restaurant (i.e., no chains) recommendations in "Along I-75," along with their website address, so you can see their menus. These were all recommended by local people and checked by Kathy and myself before making the recommendation. Here is a small selection for you to enjoy.

Dave's Pick El Meson, W Carrollton, Ohio exit 47W:     www.elmeson.net
I have a confession to make–I’m not terribly keen on Mexican food so when a review of this restaurant was suggested by a reader, I tried to dodge it. Boy, was I wrong! First, El Meson is more than a restaurant, it’s a destination! And second, the menu ranges across the entire Hispanic epicurean landscape–Spain, the Caribbean, South & Central America, and of course, Mexico. OK, I admit it...I loved it!

The restaurant is a Castro family tradition. Started 30 years ago by Herman and Gloria Castro, son Bill and daughter Marie quickly became involved and now run the day-to-day operations. When you arrive, you will probably be greeted by Bill, Herman will be busy setting tables and Gloria will be out front, or back in the kitchen. Marie can be found in her favorite place, her gift shop, surrounded by colorful and exotic pieces gathered on her annual buying trips.

Since I had already expressed my food concerns, Herman and Gloria decided to take me in hand (no secret review here) and introduced me to Spanish Tapas (tiny bites of flavorful morsels–delicious), Pozole Blanco (chicken soup garnished with onion, radish, avocado and lime), sweet and tangy Coconut Shrimp with Dijon sauce, Sea Scallops poached with parsley and wrapped in smoked salmon. Wonderful!

I know you will also enjoy El Meson, its people, its food, its Hispanic decor and architecture. You will find it just west of I-75 at exit 47. [Hrs: Lunch, M-F, 11-2p, Dinner, M-Th, 5-9p, F-Sa, 5-10p; Phone: 937-859-8229]

Incidentally, El Meson is closed for the first 2 weeks of January, as the family heads off to Hispanic parts of the world to buy beautiful items for the gift shop. ˇHola!

Dave's Pick Pit Stop Bar-B-Que, Tifton, Georgia exit 63B W:     (no website - phone: 229-387-0888)
By now you know that my two loves when I travel are history & eating. Some people have even subtitled my book, “Dave eats his way to Florida!”

For years now, I've been telling all my readers about the Pit Stop, and that these are the best ribs on I-75. Sadly, owner Don Davis passed away a while ago but his wife Carole and daughter, Denise, stepped in and with the help and support of the Pit Stop's long time staff, have not only kept the restaurant running but continued to maintain the standards of food quality for which Don was famous. He would be proud of them.

The hours are Su-Th, 11a-9p; F-Sa, 11a-10p. Go in and tell them I sent you. I know they will look after you well.

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Other services

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We are working on this category. Let me know if you have any recommendations.

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