Surviving MGX: A few helpful travel tips for Atlanta
If you're heading to the US for MGX (Microsoft Global eXchange - the Microsoft Sales & Services annual event), I've posted here a few hints along the lines of my notes from Surviving CES in Las Vegas.
(Please note that an updated post with new information is available at http://blogs.msdn.com/mthree/archive/2009/07/20/mgx09-072009.aspx)
Flight and Hotel: Given the event is invitation only, if you don't already have either of these, good luck. You'll have a better chance of seeing a mid-day temperature under 85 degrees than finding either at this late date.
Overall, stick to the plan: MGX is a well-run, professional event. Remember to use the shuttle busses, go to the planned events and have fun.
Pack light. Keep in mind that it is hot in Atlanta this time of year (high 80s, and lends to the given the nickname, Hotlanta), and the weather will be in the high 60s/ low 70s at night, and humid as all get out (up into the 30s at mid-day, and about 18-20 degrees for my friends outside the States). Check the weather report for Atlanta here. Standard dress includes light khaki pants or shorts and comfortable shirts: think Hawaii.
Bring sunglasses, a hat that doesn't brand you a tourist, and wear great, comfortable shoes. And don't bring the stylish shoes, go for comfort as you will be standing and walking. A lot. My pick: anything from Ecco, Rockport or New Balance. And see also a few travel recommendations from Colin Cowie on packing.
Getting from the airport to anywhere: Remember, if you need to get a taxi cab at the airport, look to the departures area where people are exiting the taxi. (Just a suggestion, not an endorsement.) You'll receive a number of suggested modes of transportation, but always good to pair up (or three or four) with folks going to the same hotel and split the $30 taxi fare into town.
Getting around town: Metropolitan Atlanta Rapid Transit Authority (or MARTA) is one of the easiest and inexpensive ways around Atlanta and the surrounding area. Taxis are readily available from most major hotels, and likely there are a number of places to see within a short walking distance from your downtown hotel.
When in Buckhead, ride the Buc: The Buc Shuttle is a free shuttle bus service that connects MARTA's Lenox and Buckhead stations to popular places in Buckhead, including hotels, restaurants, Phipps Plaza and Lenox Square. Important to note when visiting some of the clubs and restaurants noted below.) According to the Buc info site, "the shuttle runs every 8-15 minutes between 7 a.m. and 10 p.m. Monday through Friday on a five-mile loop." So, for heading home from a late evening, take a cab to MARTA or back to the hotel.
If you arrive into Vegas with other folks on the same flight, consider renting a limo or get together an impromptu set of people going to roughly the same hotel on the strip: that way you'll pay one limo fee. Last, unless you plan on traveling off the main strip, don't rent a car (take a cab) unless you enjoy paying daily hotel parking rates akin to what you would pay for a flat in SoHo.
Say hello your new best friend: the hotel concierge. I've said it before and I'll say it here, too: the concierge is your connection when you don't have connections in town. When you arrive at the hotel with a concierge on staff, introduce yourself and hand them a business card. That one move may come in hand later more than you know. See 'dinner' and 'getting to the airport' for starters. As Cowie notes, "ask your concierge to make some reservations for you now at top restaurants so you don't find that you can't get in when you arrive there in peak season. Tip the concierge the moment you arrive..." See, you can learn helpful travel hints from a man that you thought only had great party design sense. ;)
Eating out: You'll no doubt have some free time one or two nights, and Atlanta is a wonderful place.
See these suggestions on sneakysunday.com and if you're game, check out my favourites...
Alon's, a great local bakery and breakfast joint, with brunch offered at their Dunwoody location on Saturday and Sundays. 1394 North Highland Avenue, Atlanta, GA 30306
Tel: (404) 872-6000
Java Jive, for the authentic Atlanta Southern breakfast, with homemade biscuits and traditional "big, American breakfasts" with eggs and bacon. It's a very busy place but worth the trouble. 790 Ponce de Leon Avenue, Atlanta, GA 30308, Tel: (404) 876-6161
Lunch and Dinner:
Around town: Check out the MSN MSN City Guide for Atlanta here, as well as their restaurant guide. Also, my favourite web spot for ratings and information is Zagat's, with links to a few of my favourites - you can also book many of these restaurants for free via OpenTable.com:
- Bacchanalia - The food at Bacchanalia is still among the best in Atlanta. You can order a la carte or from a sampler menu (prix fixe), featuring local fare and excellent wine. It's expensive, so don't pad the expense account... eat at the bar and get the same food as in the main restaurant. 1198 Howell Mill Rd NW, Atlanta, GA 30318, (404) 365-0410
- Aria - this is one of my favourite restaurants in Atlanta. (http://www.aria-atl.com/) and on many top restaurant lists, serving a great fare ranging from local fish (I see that Mountain Trout with crab smashed potatoes, haricots vert
and pecan brown butter is on the menu this week), chicken, duck, and meats.
- Bone's Restaurant - When in Buckhead, one of the best place for steaks is Bone's, a nice local alternative to Ruth's Chris' or Morton's, with starters of excellent starters, steak and seafood. The restaurant has excellent service and a very good wine list.
In addition, there are a few tried and true spots in Atlanta, including these two high-end chains:
- Capital Grille - Atlanta. Technically, it's in Buckhead, which has plenty of late-night fare and entertainment, and a classic steak house in the vein of The Palm, with plenty of lobster and seafood. A very nice wine list, excellent service and a full menu in the bar if you are there for a simpler evening or can't get a table. Tel: (404) 262-1162
- Oceanaire Seafood Room. Oceanaire is a great choice for fresh seafood from all over the world. 1100 Peachtree Street, Atlanta, GA 30309 - Tel: (404) 475-2277.
A note on booking tables... Consider booking your table through your hotel concierge as noted above: if you haven't called them in advance, ask for their help in booking a table (tip, please) and get their business card with their phone number after you check in... and give them a tip if they offer a direct dial number. A good concierge may be able to score a reservation to a hard-to-book place: I have found that your best bet is a well-connected hotel concierge if a direct call to the restaurant doesn't pan out. Also, look to your credit card company (many offer a concierge service) or try your hand (or mouse) booking a table at OpenTable.com. Many of the restaurants still show availability on OpenTable.com as of today, so book early.
(Added 072009) Thanks to Jeff for his suggestions on other cool sites in and around town (for any free time between events you may have...):
I'd also recommend that folks who have a few minutes to spare might enjoy the Georgia Aquarium and/or World Of Coca-Cola. If you have enough time, you can take a walk around Centennial Olympic Park (bonus points if you can find the nail imprints on the metal statue from the Olympic Park Bomb). News junkies may enjoy the CNN Tour.
Getting to the airport. Finding a cab on the last day of MGX or any large event in the Peachtree capital is like finding a street in the City without a 'peach' in the title. Arrange a car in advance through your concierge for more than one traveler. Or that concierge you tipped earlier just may have arranged a shuttle for a small group that has an opening.
Added July 2009...
Ask your friends and followers on Twitter. Follow the discussion about MGX on Twitter here via the #MGX hashtag: http://search.twitter.com/search?q=%23mgx