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The Silver Screen, in Real Life

February 22, 2017
One of the biggest clichés in film, other than the “homely” woman who magically becomes irresistible when she takes off her glasses, is when a director or screenwriter tells an interviewer that “[insert city here] is really like another character in the film.” While there may be a monument or two in a movie that indicate where the story takes place, it’s not every day that a film’s location matches its spirit, the feeling one may have while visiting the metropolis.

The Sunday, “La La Land” is up for Oscars in 14 different categories, and the credit in part goes to Los Angeles. The vision of Hollywood put forward in the musical is intoxicating, and in many ways does feel like the real L.A., where dreams are made and dashed on a daily basis, and life happens in between working towards the goals.

There may be no better marketing for a destination than a film set in a specific locale. With its colorful song-and-dance sequences, “La La Land” may compel your donors to add Southern California to any list of dream vacations. But Los Angeles is certainly not the only city in our Destinations of Excellence catalog to which a winner of a fundraising auction travel package can fly. Here are a few more places that have received flattering – and, in terms of spirit, accurate – portrayals on the silver screen.

There is no city more wide open, where more is possible, than Chicago in John Hughes’ classic “Ferris Bueller’s Day Off.” When the titular character commandeers a parade float to lead seemingly the entire populace in singing “Twist and Shout,” it has the same energy as a teenager sitting in his or her bedroom, singing into a hairbrush. While New York and Los Angeles both get tremendous press as the cities where dreams come true, thousands pour into the Second City each year from smaller Midwestern towns to chase that freedom. And in wide-open spaces like Millennium Park and along Lake Shore Drive, Chicago can feel just as open to that freedom as anywhere.

Who hasn’t wanted to fall in love while zooming around Rome on a Vespa (or, maybe, a faster mode of transport)? “Roman Holiday” is a classic of the “Hollywood on the Tiber” era, when many filmmakers from around the world were drawn to the Italian capital, and movies like “Ben-Hur” and “Cleopatra” were shot there, giving a sort-of old-school romance to a city steeped so much in history. Today, the images of Audrey Hepburn and Gregory Peck – and, by proxy, Rome – are almost a shorthand for carefree love. (Just, please, if you do ride a scooter around Rome, wear a helmet).

For city spotting, though, there may be no better film than “Paris, je t’aime,” the anthology film featuring short stories in neighborhoods all over the French capital. With so many different backdrops, the movie is one of the most wide-ranging depictions of Paris committed to the big screen; for once, the city is shown as being so much more than the Eiffel Tower and the River Seine. In addition to physically happening everywhere, its stories cover the gamut – tales of the domestic workers, the tourists, the aging lovers, the city’s diversity – while showcasing the French sense of whimsy. There’s a magic in the film that might only be felt standing on the Pont des Arts, the bridge where the Locks of Love once lived, and facing out towards the lights of the city at night.

Beyond the Beach

February 15, 2017
If you live in the Great Lakes region, early-to-middle February tends to be the coldest time of year. According to a report from the Guardian in 2012, we are in the middle of the coldest week in England of the year. February 13, 14, 17, 18 and 20 are five of the ten coldest days, on average, in the U.K. And for almost everyone else, the snow on the ground and the tiny “high” temperatures each day act as constant reminders that we’re in the depths of the winter.

It is at times like these that travel thoughts often drift toward sandy beaches, tropical drinks, and all of the sun one can soak up on an island vacation. But while we love sending your donors on adventures with our fundraising auction travel packages, we also love it when your supporters get to fully explore a destination, not just the space directly around a beach chair. Our island-based trips include some destinations that are both about the beach and the culture or activities found inland.

There certainly are beaches on Hilton Head Island in South Carolina, but the sand that most immediately associate with the resorts there sits in fairway-adjacent bunkers. The island is the home of 24 different golf courses (there are 40 in the area overall), and it’s become one of the most popular destinations in the country for both the weekend duffer and the scratch (that means even par, or very good) player. It’s also the home of 300 tennis courts, a major arts center and a tremendous local dining scene. It’s possible, in fact, to spend an entire vacation on Hilton Head without ever touching the sand – as long as you keep the ball in the fairway.

Golf isn’t necessarily high on the amenity list on Mount Desert Island in Maine, despite its name; being that far north usually makes courses unplayable for much of the year. But what it may lack in putting surfaces, it makes up for in natural beauty. The island is the home of Acadia National Park, the first park east of the Mississippi River, established in 1919. The park’s roads make for perfect hiking and biking trails. Bar Harbor, one of the island’s biggest towns (only topping out at a little more than 5,000 people), is a well-known tourist destination, and its downtown sector is a particular draw during the summer months.

Whether it’s the height of summer or the dead of winter, the isle of Ireland is better known for its green grass than its beige sand. That’s not to say there aren’t places to break out the beach chairs, of course, but a trip to Ireland is a trip focused much more on culture than suntans. And despite being an island, Ireland has its fair share of geographic variety, too; the coastal mountains don’t reach the heights of the Rockies or the Alps, but they do provide for both recreation and dramatic backdrops for photographs. Its rolling green hills, meanwhile, draw visitors at nearly every time of year.

Galentine’s Day

February 08, 2017
The television-created holiday of Festivus turns 20 years old in 2017. The alternative Christmas “for the rest of us,” the “Seinfeld” joke featuring an airing of grievances and “feats of strength” went from the small screen to a favorite theme for December get-togethers, complete with the Festivus Pole.

Not to be outdone, another NBC comedy has created its own holiday, and it’s one we fully endorse. On “Parks and Recreation,” lead character Leslie Knope gets together her girlfriends the day before Valentine’s Day for a brunch celebrating her circle of friends, no matter their relationship statuses, dubbing it “Galentine’s Day.”

Of course, we at Mitch-Stuart love our more romantic non-profit fundraising auction travel packages, to destinations like Paris and Italy. But we also love it when our trips are used for friends to reconnect, to make new memories, or even just to get out of town for some relaxation. (And it’s good for the non-profit, too – groups of friends can buy multiple trips to make sure everyone gets a room, meaning more money for the charity.) Because of that, we think that Galentine’s Day is as good a reason as any to send your donors on one of these adventures.

Lovers enjoy trips to Hawaii, of course, to the point that we offer a package that includes a vows renewal on an Oahu beach. But friends can also find their versions of bliss on the islands with a trip that includes a spa visit. Packages like our “The Essence and Spirit of Aloha” or “Pacific Vacation Paradise” feature gift cards for massages, facials and any number of other spa services on site at the resorts. And with either a volcano tour or the excitement of Waikiki Beach, respectively, waiting for after the spa, there’ll be plenty to chat about on the way home, too.

“Parks and Recreation” also launched a smaller fake holiday, where two of the secondary characters take a day off from work for indulgences and shopping trips (“Treat Yo’ Self,” it’s called on the show). That’s not a bad theme for a trip for friends, either; the combination of time away from the stresses of the day-to-day and some additional retail therapy ay set your donors up for ultimate relaxation. Mitch-Stuart has travel packages that can send supporters to San Francisco, Newport Beach and Chicago with gift cards for sprees at Nordstrom, or even the grand prize of four nights at The Plaza with a $2,000 credit at Tiffany & Co., Saks Fifth Avenue, Bloomingdale’s or Bergdorf-Goodman.

Those looking for fun with their friends out on the road would also do well to head to Napa Valley for some winery tour adventures. Send your donors on a limousine tour through boutique wineries, let them dine on three-course gourmet lunches and, most importantly, compare notes while trying some of the best wines in America. A long-time destination favorite for groups of friends, a Napa Valley trip package is sure to attract the supporter looking for a journey with their longtime acquaintances.

More Than a Game

February 01, 2017
On Sunday, the New England Patriots and Atlanta Falcons will face off in Super Bowl 51, to a television audience in the nine figures, along with more than 70,000 in-person spectators. The entire week leading up to the game, football will be inescapable, with the NFL Experience fan zone already underway and overwhelming media coverage clogging every outlet. It doesn’t sound like a place for the non-football fan to go.

However, it turns out that the attention of the sports world focused on one city becomes quite a magnet. While the week’s festivities may be leading up to the big game on Sunday, the array of music, food and revelry on offer goes far beyond football.

Mitch-Stuart is proud to offer a trip to the Super Bowl as one of its non-profit fundraising auction trip packages. Our “Winner Takes All at the 2018 Super Bowl” trip includes four days and three nights in Minneapolis for next year’s championship game, and while football will be the focus of the outing (thanks to two tickets to the game), there’s plenty more to do wherever the Super Bowl is taking place.

How do you fill your non-stadium time? How about…

The Parties: Wherever the Super Bowl goes, exclusive soirees usually follow, with celebrities and open bars aplenty. But not every get-together in the lead up to the game is guest-list dependent. This weekend, for instance, the Big Texas Party (with barbecue, local beers and celebrity guest appearances) will draw both the pigskin addict and the food fan, while raising funds for local charities. Between benefit brunches and late-night revelry, it’s possible to attend a party at the Super Bowl morning, noon and night for almost a full week.

The Music: The jocks and the band kids may not have mingled much in high school, but it’s no longer a Super Bowl without a list of major concerts. Musicians from around the world descend on host cities to play for large audiences (and in some cases, large appearance fees paid by brands anxious for the publicity). This weekend, acts like Solange, Leon Bridges and ZZ Top will all play for free at the Discovery Green in Houston. And for those with some contacts and some favors to call in, invite-only shows are a Super Bowl weekend tradition; Taylor Swift will be playing this weekend at the DirecTV party, a celebration that has, in the past, played host to Dave Matthews and Jay Z, among others.

The Food: Super Bowl host cities are almost always hubs of foodie culture. That’s more an accident of location and size than a planned correlation, of course; any event that goes to places like New Orleans on a regular basis has to incorporate local cuisine in some way. But the NFL has made sure to draw culinary influences in from around the country; the yearly Taste of the NFL event brings together more than 40 of the nation’s top chefs, with at least one from each city with an NFL team. It’s a way of letting your tastebuds travel the country, all in one place – and, for one year, without the goopy queso dip at your friend’s Super Bowl party.