All content
© 2003-2006    
Updated 06/08/06


Home
Travel briefing
Geogroffica
Travel Q&A
10 for the Road
Philadelphia
Just back from
Focus on
Agent specialties
Travel gadgets
Bookshelf
State events
Bio
Seminars
                                  skateboarding dog, Manly Beach, Australia
Welcome to the online home of travel columnist Donald D. Groff, who has dispensed advice  and stories since 1988 in such publications as the Philadelphia Inquirer, the Newark Star-Ledger, The Kansas City Star, Newsday, Salon, Condé Nast Traveler, Consumer Reports Travel Letter, The Boston Globe, and Endless Vacation magazine.




Travel briefing archive

(Click on headlines to unfold column)

 

 

 

  • US Airways begins nonstop flights from Philadelphia to Milan, Stockholm and Lisbon; Air France changes terminal; 
    Pa. offers online parks reservations

    • By Donald D. Groff
      Posted Feb. 15, 2006

      US Airways will start seasonal nonstop flights later this spring from Philadelphia to Milan, Italy; Stockholm, Sweden, and Lisbon, Portual, the airline announced, bringing to 16 the number of European destinations on routes from Philadelphia.

      • Milan service is scheduled to run from May 30 to Oct. 7, with daily flights aboard Boeing 767 aircraft that seat 203 passengers in two classes.
      • Stockholm service is to run June 3 to Oct. 7, with daily flights aboard a Boeing 767.
      • Lisbon service is to run from June 7 to Oct. 27, with flights four days a week aboard a Boeing 757 with 194 coach-class seats.
      The first-ever Park Tag helps supports Pa. state parks with a donation of $5 or more. www.PaParksandForests.org 

      European cities to which US Airways already flies either year-round or seasonally from Philadelphia are London-Gatwick; Manchester, England; Paris; Madrid and Barcelona, Spain; Frankfurt and Munich, Germany; Rome and Venice, Italy;  Amsterdam, Dublin and Shannon, Ireland; Glasgow, Scotland, and Vienna, Austria.

      Visitor information on each of the US Airways destinations is at the US Airways site.

      Air France changing terminals at PHL. Air France moved to Terminal A-West at Philadelphia International Airport, effective. Feb. 15, 2006, from Terminal E, where it had leased space from Delta Air Lines.

      The move to Terminal A-West is part of a move to consolidate all international flights at Terminal A-West, also known as the international terminal, where customs and other immigration operations are located.

      Air France flies between PHL and Charles de Gaulle Airport in Paris, departing Philadelphia at 7:05 p.m. on Monday, Wednesday, Thursday, Friday and Sunday each week. Flights from Paris are scheduled to arrive at 3:45 p.m. on those days.

      Earlier, Lufthansa flights between PHL and Frankfurt shifted to the international terminal from Terminal A-East. British Airways flights to London still depart from Terminal A-East, but are expected to relocated to A-West later this year, the airport said.

      Pa. state parks go online. Campsites, cabins, pavilions and other facilities in Pennsylvania’s 117 state parks can be reserved online at the state park site, www.visitpaparks.com, under a new booking system that went into effect in January 2006. A "reservations" link is on the opening page.

      Reservations can be made at all hours online, although any changes or cancellations must be done by phone at 1-888-727-2757. That number also can be used for initiating reservations. The phone line is staffed from 7 a.m. to 5 p.m. Monday to Saturday, except Thanksgiving Day, Christmas Day, New Years Day and Martin Luther King Jr. Day.

      To make online reservations, users must create an account with contact information and provide a credit card number.

      Reservations can be made up to 11 months before the arrival date. Cancellations or changes incur a fee.

      Cancellations made up to close of business seven days prior to your scheduled arrival date will incur a $10 cancellation fee. If you cancel six days or less prior to the arrival date, you will forfeit the first night’s fee or $75, whichever is the lesser amount. There is a $10 fee assessed for all changes made to your reservation, except adding nights to the reservation. The full cancellation policy can be found here.

      The online reservation system is operated by Spherix Inc, which in July 2005 was awarded a 5-year contract in July 2005 to Spherix Inc. to operate its central parks reservation system and build and host the state’s first-ever website to process state park facility reservations, according to the Department of Conservation and Natural Resources.
      Top

  • This is prime time for bargain meals at 'restaurant week' in New York, Philadelphia, Boston, San Francisco and Toronto

    • By Donald D. Groff
      Posted 1/23/06

      Belly up to the table, bargain diners – it’s that time of the year when several big cities offer discount dining programs to lure the economy-minded and otherwise bolster business in the post-holiday commercial lull.

      The restaurant "weeks" often run for two weeks or more, and for these deals, reservations are usually essential. Weekends often are excluded.

      New York’s Winter Restaurant Week runs Jan. 23-27 and Jan. 30-Feb. 3, with nearly 200 restaurants offering three-course fixed-price lunch menus for $24.07 and/or dinner menus for $35, excluding beverage, tax and gratuity

      Among restaurants joining the promotion for the first time this year are Perry St., Jovia, Centrico, and Barca 18.  Some of the city’s best-known restaurants take part, including Nobu, Montrachet, San Domenico, Gramercy Tavern and Asia de Cuba.

      The full list is at the NYC Winter Restaurant Week site.

      As good as the deals sound, a New York Times story noted that the price of this year’s lunch is almost 20 percent higher than last year and drew attention to how the extra expenses not covered by the special can add up. "This year's lunch price exceeds last year's $20.12 lunch price," said the Times, "and once a diner has added a glass of shiraz, some sparkling water and a side of spinach -- not to mention tax and tip -- the check swells far beyond what most people think of as economical."

      Among other cities with restaurant weeks are:

      • Philadelphia. Feb. 19-24. Ninety-nine restaurants offer three-course meals for $30 per person. Among participating restaurants are Fork, Lolita, Old Original Bookbinder’s, Rouge, Sansom Street Oyster House, Susanna Foo and Zanzibar Blue. For full list, visit the Center City Restaurant Week site.
      • Toronto. Jan. 27-Feb. 9. The city’s Winterlicious promotion offers fixed-price menus at more than 120 restaurants, with a choice of lunch at C$15 or C$20 and dinner for C$25 or C$35. Acqua Ristorante e Bar, Assaggio Ristorante, Auberge du Pommier, Byzantium, and La Bruschetta Restaurant. Find the restaurants at the Winterlicious site, which denotes those with vegetarian offerings.
      • Boston. March 5-10 is Boston's first Winter Restaurant Week, following five years of a summer restaurant program. The Sunday-Friday observance features  more than 90 restaurants offering three-course lunches for $20.06 and three-course dinners for $30.06. Among participating businesses are Legal Seafoods, Meritage at the Boston Harbor Hotel, Brasserie Jo, Davio’s and Top of the Hub. The full list is at the Restaurant Week site.
      • San Francisco. The city’s Dine-About-Town program includes more than 100 restaurants, with three-course menus costing $21.95 at lunch, $31.95 at dinner. The program runs throughout January, and links to the restaurants are at the Dine-About-Town site. There’s one catch: You must pay for your meal with a Visa credit card.
      • Seattle. The city’s smaller promotion is called Twenty-five for $25, held in November with dinner for $25 and lunch for $12.50. A similar program is scheduled for March. Restaurants taking part in the program are described in promotional reviews here.
      • Washington, D.C. held its Restaurant Week earlier this month, Jan. 9-15. Watch for the next one at this Washington restaurant week link.

       

  • Go to your separate rooms, boys! Eurostar splits first class into 'business select' and 'leisure premier'  Southwest adds senior fare booking to its site   Delaware parks day use fees rise   Pennsylvania to add online booking for state camping and cabins

    • By Donald D. Groff

      It’s not exactly the Hatfields versus the McCoys, but the operators of the Eurostar train service linking London to Europe under the channel tunnel  have a new way to keep serious business travelers separated from free-wheeling tourists in first class.

      Starting Sept. 1, 2005, “first class” will be replaced by two new fare types, each assigned to its own train cars: business select and leisure premier.

       It seems business people didn’t appreciate the distractions of tourists, and the tourists didn’t appreciate a work atmosphere that included cell phone use.

      “Surveys showed, not surprisingly, that business class travelers paying a premium for first-class flexible tickets prefer to travel in an environment more conducive to work,” Eurostar’s commercial director, Nick Mercer, said in a news release.  “And leisure travelers paying the extra money for first class felt less relaxed when they were among business travelers working on laptops and discussing business matters on cell phones. 

      It appears business premier will become the new first class, judging by the price difference. For the London-Paris route, a one-way business premier ticket will cost $375 and is refundable or exchangeable. Leisure select starts at $190 round trip for a nonrefundable, nonexchangeable ticket.

      Besides refundable tickets, business premier passengers get special lounges at London , Paris and Brussels Eurostar terminals; fast check-in counters, and the choice of express or full-service breakfast options.

      Both the top classes have power outlets and meal service at seats, as well as newspapers and magazines.

      Elsewhere on the train, seats on “standard class” cars start at $90 round trip and are open to all comers, leisure and business travelers alike.

      Eurostar says that despite the unfavorable exchange rate between the U.S. dollar and the euro, passenger traffic from North American visitors has grown this year, with a 15 percent increase during the January-April period. Eurostar said North American passengers accounted for 53 percent of Eurostar’s first-class tickets sold by the booking agency Rail Europe, compared to 48 percent for the period last year.

      Reservations and details on the services are at www.eurostar.com or from Rail Europe,   www.raileurope.com or 1-800-387-6782.

      Senior fares from Southwest. The airline has added “senior fare” selections to its site, www.southwest.com, so passengers 65 and older can find and book discounted senior fares without having to speak with an agent. Southwest long has offered fully refundable senior fares, but before July they were not available online – passengers had to use the phone booking line.

      Most other airlines traditionally offered a 10 percent discount to passengers age 62 and older, but under financial pressure many big airlines dropped that broad discount in 2002, adopting instead senior fare categories that better allowed them to control the quantity and size of the discounts. Some offer the better fares only in selected markets.

      At Southwest’s reservations page, look for the “How many are traveling” section where “senior fare” is listed separately from “adult fare.”  In that same section, there is a link leading to the airline’s seniors policies, including:

      * You must request the fare if you are 65 or older;

      * Some restrictions and seating limitations apply;

      * For weekend and holiday travel, you should reserve as far in advance as possible;

      * The airline encourages midday and midweek travel times, though that is not a requirement.

      * The fares are fully refundable.

      * The senior fares do not apply to younger travel companions.

      Southwest also offers reservations and information services for hearing impaired travelers with access to a TDD machine. Dial 1-800-533-1305.

      Booking Pa. campsites. Pennsylvania is joining the bandwagon of states offering online booking for state park camping.
      A company called Spherix Inc. has been awarded a five-year contract to operate the state’s central parks reservation system and build and host the state's first Web site for state park camping and cabin reservations.

      The site is expected to be available for reservations during the first half of 2006. 

      Spherix already runs reservations sites for the National Park Service and seven state park systems: Delaware , Maryland , Georgia , Michigan , Ohio , Indiana , and New Mexico . Links for those states are on the company’s reservation site, www.reserveworld.com.

      The company also will administer Pennsylvania ’s existing toll-free reservations line, 1-888-727-2757, available Monday to Saturday from 7 a.m. to 5 p.m. except for certain holidays. 

      State parks information is on the Department of Conservation and Natural Resources site, www.dcnr.state.pa.us.

      Delaware state park fees rise.  Daily vehicle entrance fees rose July 23 to $3 for state residents and $6 for out-of-state vehicles, up from $2.50 and $5, respectively.

      Included in that fee schedule are Trap Pond, Killens Pond, Fox Point, Brandywine Creek, Lums Pond, White Clay Creek and Bellevue State Parks and other sites.

      The daily entrance fee for the ocean parks -- Cape Henlopen , Delaware Seashore, and Fenwick Island – is now $4 for Delaware residents and $8 for non-residents.

      The prices for annual passes, which offer unlimited visits to 12 state parks and several nature preserves, increased to $27 from $20 for Delaware residents and to $54 from $40 for non-residents.

      Rates for annual passes for seniors and other details are on the site of the Delaware Department of Natural Resources and Environmental Control.  

  • It was a big month for air service from Philadelphia: America West's takeover saved US Airways, nonstop flights began to Barcelona & Venice, and Southwest Airlines started flights to Pittsburgh -- dramatically reducing fares for the route  

    • By Donald D. Groff
      Posted May 25, 2005

      Three big airline developments in recent weeks have given Philadelphia-area travelers their heaviest dose of happy news in a long time.  

      The biggest development is the America West Holdings Corp. plan to acquire US Airways, becoming the nation's sixth largest airline, paving the way for US Airways' emergence from bankruptcy protection, and relieving the fears of  Dividend Miles members that their accumulated frequent flier mileage was at risk if US Airways folded.

      As it turns out, Dividend Miles members can look forward to even more ways to use their mileage as the America West network of cities is added to the program. (America West route map.) The merged airline will be a low-fare carrier using the US Airways name, based in Phoenix.   

      The airlines' spin on the acquisition is here.

      Days before that announcement, US Airways began daily nonstop flights between Philadelphia and two hot European destinations -- Venice, Italy, and Barcelona, Spain. 

      The scheduled flight time to Venice, airport code VCE, is 8 hours 25 minutes, leaving at 5:55 p.m. and arriving at 8:20 a.m. the next day.  On the return, the flight time is 9 hours 45 minutes, departing Venice at 11 a.m. and arriving at 2:45 p.m. the same day.

      The scheduled flight time to Barcelona, airport code BCN, is 7 hours 50 minutes, leaving at 8:15 p.m. and arriving at 10:05 a.m. the next morning. From Barcelona to Philadelphia the flight takes 8 hours 55 minutes, departing at 12:35 p.m. and arriving at 3:30 p.m. the same day. 

      Click on these links for aircraft and other details on the new routes to Venice and Barcelona.  They both are seasonal, running through the end of October. 

      The other big development in April was the start of Philadelphia-Pittsburgh service by low-fare carrier Southwest Airlines, which spurred an immediate drop in US Airways fares for the route. The trip takes about 1 hour 18 minutes westbound and just over an hour eastbound, but when US Airways was the only airline flying it, fares were often hundreds of dollars each way.

      With the new competition, US Airways had fares posted for as little as $58 round trip in June.

      This is not the first time a low-fare carrier has invaded the US Airways space between Pennsylvania's two biggest cities. Three times in the past 15 years airlines have competed on the route. Start-up carriers EastWind and Nations Air flew against US Airways on the route in the 1990s. 

      US Airways responded by lowering its fares, and with far more aircraft and departure times it was able to undermine its competitors, which in each case failed on the route within a couple of years. 

      In July 2001, AirTran Airways began Philadelphia-Pittsburgh service and as an established airline seemed poised to give US Airways a run for its money. But the air traffic drop-offs after 9/11 led AirTran to discontinue those flights. 

      This time, the tables have turned. With Southwest Airlines' financial strength -- it recently announced its 115th consecutive quarterly dividend and is the only major U.S. airline to operate profitably -- US Airways may now find itself the underdog on the route, even with America West riding in on a white horse.   (May 25, 2005)

  • Passports would be required for travel from Caribbean, Canada, Mexico under new plan •  A warning about Cancun crime •  Cost of U.S. passports rises •  Cherry blossom watch A free lot awaits cell-phone-bearing motorists on pick-up duty at PHL

    • By Donald D. Groff
      posted April 6, 2005

      U.S. citizens have long been able to get by without a passport when traveling to Canada, Mexico and most Caribbean destinations, relying instead on a birth certificate or driver's license.  That will change starting late this year, the State Department announced.

      "Travelers to and from the Caribbean, Bermuda, Panama, Mexico and Canada will be required to have a passport or other secure, accepted document to enter or re-enter the United States," the department said. "This is a change from prior travel requirements and will affect all United States citizens entering the United States from countries within the Western Hemisphere who do not currently possess valid passports."

      [Some doubt was cast on the plan April 14 when President Bush expressed reservations about some elements and asked for a review. "When I first read that in the newspaper, about the need to have passports, for particularly the day crossings that take place - about a million, for example in the state of Texas - I said, `What's going on here?'" Bush said at a meeting of the American Society of Newspaper Editors. "I thought there was a better way to ... expedite the legal flow of traffic and people."

      The new provisions, aimed at improving security, will also affect certain foreign nationals who up until now have not had to present passports to enter the United States. "Most Canadian citizens, citizens of the British Overseas Territory of Bermuda, and to a lesser degree, Mexican citizens will be affected by the implementation of this requirement."

      The timetable for the new requirements:

      • December 31, 2005: Passport or other accepted document required for all travel (air/sea) to or from the Caribbean, Bermuda, Central and South America.
      • December 31, 2006: Passport or other accepted document required for all air and sea travel to or from Mexico and Canada.
      • December 31, 2007: Passport or other accepted document required for all air, sea and land border crossings.

      The "other accepted documents" mentioned are government-issued cards affiliated with several international frequent traveler programs. A Border Crossing Card will be OK for Mexicans traveling into the United States from Mexico or Canada. 

      Details of the new passport requirements are on the State Department site.

      Cancun crime warning. Visitors to Cancun should beware, the U.S. State Department warns in an unusual public announcement. Budget problems have eroded law enforcement there, according to the agency, and tourists have become targets.

      The announcement issued April 6 alerts U.S. citizens "to the deterioration in recent weeks of local law enforcement in Cancun caused by a persistent shortage of municipal funds to pay for police and public services.  Police responsiveness to emergency calls and investigation of crimes has been severely impaired, and the U.S. Consulate in Merida has received several reports of petty corruption and extortion aimed at U.S. travelers."

      The notice supplements another issued Jan. 26 that warned about problems along the Mexican side of the U.S.-Mexico border in the wake of increased violence among drug traffickers. "Although the majority of travelers in the region visit without mishap, violent criminal activity, including murder and kidnapping, in Mexico's northern border region has increased. The overwhelming majority of the victims of violent crime have been Mexican citizens. Nonetheless, U.S. citizens should be aware of the risk posed by the deteriorating security situation."

      The Mexico announcement is scheduled to expire on May 31. 

      The Cancun advisory comes as the two-month spring break season winds down. The State Department’s information sheet on Mexico notes that as many as 120,000 Americans visit Mexican resorts during that period.  Usually the Mexican government objects, as it did after the border-crime notice, when the U.S. calls attention to such problems.

      The new notice said the U.S. Consular Agency in Cancun "has received numerous allegations of tourists being extorted for money by taxi drivers and malfeasant police or individuals posing as police officers.  In some cases, tourists have been taken to ATM machines for immediate payment of alleged infractions.  In other cases, extortion attempts occur after a motorist (typically in a rental car) is stopped for an alleged moving violation.  The motorist is threatened with imprisonment if a 'fine' is not immediately paid, even though there is no proof that any infraction has been committed."

      "Visitors to Cancun should be aware that a written citation should be received before the payment of any fine," the department advised. "No money should be paid directly to a police officer.  If you believe you are the victim of an extortion attempt, you should make a note of the officer's name and badge number, the time and location of the incident, and the number of the patrol car if applicable, and immediately call the U.S. Consular Agency in Cancun or the U.S. Consulate in Merida."

      The full announcement is at the State Department site.

      Top  

      By Donald D. Groff
      posted Feb. 19, 2005
      ©2005 Donald D. Groff

      The cost of a U.S. passport will rise March 8 when the State Department institutes a $12"security surcharge" to help pay for its new biometric passport program.

      The surcharge will bring the base cost of a first-time adult passport to $97 from the current $85. An adult passport is good for 10 years.

      The base cost of a passport for those under 16 years old will rise to $82 from $70. Children's passports are valid for five years.

      Those totals include a $30 "execution fee." For renewals processed by mail rather than at the post office or other acceptance facility, the $30 is waived, so the cost of a mailed-in renewal rises to $67 from $55.

      The high-tech passports, which be issued to new and renewing travelers starting about the middle of this year, will include an electronic chip that stores personal identifying data. 

      Beside funding the passport program, proceeds from the new charge will be used to upgrade passport delivery from first-class to priority mail. 

      The cost of a U.S. passport last rose in 2002, when the price for an adult's passport went to $55 from $40.

      People in a hurry to receive their passports can pay a $60 expedite fee, which is unchanged. Normally passport processing takes up to six weeks, according to the department. With expedited processing, applicants can get their passports back in under two weeks, and sometimes within a few days.

      The State Department also said that starting March 8 it will increase to $60 from $45 the cost to search department files to confirm a previous passport. Such searches are conducted when an urgent applicant cannot provide other proof of citizenship but once had a U.S. passport. The increase in cost will go partly to automate the search process.
      Passport application and renewal information is available from the State Department site, or by calling the center at 1-877-487-2778.

      Check the latest estimate on when the cherry blossoms will peak at the U.S. Park Service site

      Free waiting lot near PHL for cell-phone chauffers. Drivers who go to Philadelphia International Airport to pick up arriving passengers now have a place to wait without charge until their cell phones ring with that "we’ve landed and are ready for you" call from friends, relatives and colleagues.

      The city has designated a 60-space area of Septa’s Park & Ride lot on the west side of the I-95 exchanges on the airport perimeter for drivers-in- waiting, addressing a sticky situation of recent years. Because of post-9/11 prohibitions against waiting in front of the terminals and construction congestion, many drivers had begun parking along the shoulders on roads approaching the airport, where they waited to hear from arriving passengers.

      For more than a year, airport authorities appeared to tolerate the practice, but eventually posted no-parking signs and announced a crackdown, although the practice continued to a lesser extent.

      The new lot mimics a similar plan put into effect at Baltimore-Washington International Airport.

      To get to the PHL lot:

      • From I-95 southbound: Take Exit 12B "Cargo City." At the light at the end of the ramp, turn left onto Bartram Avenue. Follow the signs to the lot, which is on the left.
      • From I-95 northbound: Take Exit 10 "Bartram Avenue/Cargo City." At the 1st light, turn left onto Bartram Avenue and follow Bartram Avenue to the lot, which will be approximately ½ mile up the road on the right.


      To return to the airport from the Park & Ride lot, turn right onto Bartram Avenue and follow Bartram Avenue to Island Avenue. Turn right onto Island Avenue and follow the signs for I-95 South. From I-95 South, take Exit 12A to Philadelphia International Airport and follow the signs for "Arriving Flights."

      A map of the lot’s location is on the airport’s site.

      Southwest's fare magic. True to form, Southwest Airlines has worked its fare magic at Philadelphia International Airport.

      Average airfares for flights from PHL declined 9.9 percent during the second quarter of the year, April through June, airport officials announced during the first week of November.

      The decline in prices occurred even though the airline didn’t start flying until the third week in May, more than halfway through the quarter, and it suggests that even bigger increases may be in store when third quarter fares are compared to the previous year.

      Southwest started with 14 daily departures; the number has tripled to 41.

      The price drop reflects not only Southwest’s introducing lower fares to its new market, but also the depressing effect they have on the fares of competitors, including PHL’s principal airline, US Airways. The trend has been well-documented whenever Southwest enters a new market. Another factor was Frontier Airlines, which started flying from Philadelphia a few weeks after Southwest.

      The airport said the decline was the biggest for the period of any in the country’s top 85 airline markets.

      "This considerable reduction in airfares is attributable to the increased presence of low-cost carriers at Philadelphia International Airport," Charles J. Isdell, the city’s director of aviation, said in a news release.

      The airport said low-cost competition was expected to save travelers from the region more than $200 million a year. Besides Southwest and Frontier, they include AirTran Airways, America West Airlines, ATA, and USA3000

      A record 26.1 million passengers flew from PHL in the fiscal year that ended on June 30, the airport said, an 8 percent increase over the previous year.

  •  Amtrak offers 10% off and toughens its baggage policy 

    • Amtrak’s new site, Web discount, baggage policy. Through Dec. 15, 2004, Amtrak passengers can get a 10 percent discount for booking through the rail line’s newly improved Web site. Among restrictions are that the booking must be at least three days in advance, and not all routes or trains are eligible for the discount. But for many riders the deal is excellent, especially because the discount is on top of several routine discounts, such as the 10 percent available to seniors, students, and AAA members. Travel must be completed by the end of February, and the deal is not available for holiday travel Nov. 23-30, Dec. 17-Jan. 2, and Feb. 18-21. When booking online, enter H431 in the promotion code box. For full details, see the Amtrak site. … Amtrak said that starting Nov. 1 it would begin enforcing its baggage restrictions, which include a two-piece limit on carry-on luggage, excluding briefcases, purses, laptops, and baby-related items. Each carry-on can weigh no more than 50 pounds and may not exceed 28 x 22 x 14 inches in size.

      Each passenger may check up to three pieces of luggage at no charge; additional pieces are $10 per piece. Each piece of checked baggage may not exceed 50 lbs. and must be packed in luggage or containers able to withstand normal handling. Details at Amtrak’s baggage page. 

  • A new book examines Boston's French accent, and the Irish weigh in, too • Cruise lines begin their autumn repositionings • Las Vegas launches its monorail  Updated Aug. 30, 2004

    • Everyone knows Boston has a green tinge, but many people overlook its French accent. 

      That French twist is the focus of a new book in the Hidden Heritage Travel Guides series, Boston's French Secrets: Guided Walks That Reveal Boston's French Heritage, by Rhea Hollis Atwood (Images From the Past, 2004).

      The 160-page book presents five walks, illustrated with easy-to-read maps, covering downtown Boston, the waterfront and vicinity, the financial district, Beacon Hill, and the Back Bay. 

      Another chapter pinpoints assorted other sites, including the Paul Revere House. Come again? That's right, the house was bought by Revere's father, Apollos Rivoire, a Huguenot who fled France. Paul never read or spoke French.  

      The Irish are not letting any moss grow beneath their feet, of course. Two other guides revolve around that heritage.

      Irish Boston: A Lively Look at Boston's Colorful Irish Past,
      by Michael P. Quinlin (Globe Pequot Press, 2004) combines historical accounts with modern sites that could anchor any exploration of Irish Boston. Quinlin is the founder of the Boston Irish Tourism Association and creator of the Boston Irish Heritage Trail. 

      The trail also shows up in "Irish Massachusetts," a free booklet being offered by the association. It notes that 23 percent of the state's residents claim Irish ancestry. The guide has a calendar of events, including Celtic festivities in Nova Scotia and Prince Edward Island, tourism contacts, and a listing of cultural groups. The guide can be ordered at the association's site, www.irishmassachusetts.com.

      Repositioning cruises. A big autumn migration is getting under way, and it has nothing to do with birds. It's the annual shifting of ships around the globe from their summer cruising grounds to their winter ports. These repositioning cruises barely register on the radar of most passengers who think single destination - Alaska, Caribbean, Mediterranean. 

      But for those who want variety, they provide itineraries that aren't regularly available. Royal Caribbean International has one of the busier repositioning schedules - 14 cruises, including a 10-night transatlantic voyage on the Jewel of the Seas from Harwich, England, to Boston, with calls in Paris; Plymouth, England; Cork, Ireland, and Portland, Maine.

      Most of the repositionings occur in September and October. 
      Descriptions of 13 cruise lines offering ship-shifting cruises can be found at the Web site of the Cruise Lines International Association.

      The new Vegas monorail. Mass transit recently took a great leap forward in Las Vegas, the boomtown whose traffic volume has become an urban headache in the past decade. A new monorail began running in July from 8 a.m. to 2 a.m. along about four miles of elevated track between the Sahara and MGM Grand resorts.

      The route roughly parallels the famous Strip between the MGM Grand and Harrah's, then jogs east away from a number of the northern Strip properties. It does not serve McCarran International Airport. The just-opened service incorporates an earlier section that connected the MGM Grand and Bally's. 

      For the first two months, single one-way tickets cost $3, a round-trip fare is $5.50, an all-day pass costs $10, a 10-ride pass is $20, and a three-day pass is $25. Tickets can be bought at kiosks that take cash or plastic. Children under 5 ride free; there is no discount for older children.

      After Sept. 9, most of the fares are scheduled to rise. The round-trip jumps to $5.75, the 10-ride to $25; the one-day pass to $15, and the three-day pass to $40. 

      The line has seven stations, positioned adjacent to the MGM Grand, Bally's-Paris, Flamingo-Caesar's, Harrah's-Imperial Palace, Convention Center, Las Vegas Hilton, and Sahara. About 19 million riders are expected to use the monorail each year. 

      A map showing the route and stops is at www.lvmonorail.com. Advance purchases can be made from the site. 

  • Restaurant Week in Boston, Aug. 23-27 • Best hotel deals rest with the hotels, not the online brokers, a Consumer Reports study finds • No-frills Ryanair ponders charging a fee for checking baggage. Updated Aug. 15, 2004 

    • Scores of Boston restaurants will offer three-course, fixed-price lunches for $20.04 and three-course dinners for $30.04 from Aug. 23 to 27 during the city’s fourth annual Restaurant Week. 

      Eighty-four restaurants will take part in the tourism-promoting observance, according to the Boston Convention & Visitors Bureau, including Newbury (lunch & dinner), Armani Café (l, d), Brasserie JO at the Colonnade Hotel (l, d), The Bristol at the Four Seasons (l), The Elephant Walk (l, d),  Icarus (l, d), Pigalle (d), The Palm Restaurant (l), Torch (d), UpStairs on the Square (l, d), and Zephyr on the Charles at Hyatt Regency Cambridge (l, d).

      Some dining spots are offering other discounts as well, such as reduced prices on wine or beer.

      The participating restaurants and which meals they are offering can be found at the BostonUSA site’s Restaurant Week link.

      Casing hotel rates. You think sites such as Hotels.com always offer the best rates for lodging? Not so, according to a price study by Consumer Reports, which found that booking with hotels themselves beats such travel sites three out of four times. The magazine searched for the cheapest rate for 100 rooms in five cities.

      The magazine also used responses from 35,000 readers to form a picture of 50 hotel chains in four categories.  The findings:

      In the luxury category, the best values were Ritz-Carlton, Four Seasons, Omni, and Fairmont.

      Among upscale hotels, the best values were Walt Disney Resorts, Embassy Suites, and Harrahs.

      Moderately priced hotels offering best value were SpringHill Suites, Homewood Suites, Wingate Inn, and Residence Inn.

      The survey found that readers were generally satisfied with their hotel stays, but cited problems with some chains, including:

      * Unattractive décor (based on complaints by at least 20 percent of readers surveyed), at Days Inn, Econo Lodge, Howard Johnson, Ramada, and Travelodge.

      * Poor room lighting, based on complaints by at least 18 percent of readers surveyed, at Days Inn, Econo Lodge, Howard Johnson, and Travelodge.

      * Excessive phone charges, based on complaints by at least 45 percent of readers surveyed who made calls, at Hyatt, Sheraton, and Westin.

      Best complimentary breakfast honors went to Embassy Suites (“best by far”), Homewood Suites, and Residence Inn.

      The full report is in the July 2004 issue. Tips for finding the best rates are on the Consumer Reports site.  

      No-frills in extremis. One of Europe's top no-frills airlines, Ryanair, is considering cost-cutting in a way that takes no-frills to a new level.

      The Dublin-based airline may start charging for checked luggage in the next couple of years. The Times of London, the BBC, and other news outlets  quoted Ryanair chief  executive Michael O’Leary as saying baggage handling accounts for a significant part of the airline's expenses and such a charge would help cover those costs. 

      Airlines commonly have a checked baggage allowance of one one or two pieces at no charge as long as weight limits are observed. But Ryanair said baggage 

      Europe's low-fare airline market is hotly competitive, and Ryanair had previously announced plans to reduce costs by ordering new aircraft without standard-issue features such as reclining seats, seat pockets, and headrests.

      As the pay-for-checked-bag reports circulated, the airline announced a winter sale with fares starting at 99 pence -- under $2 -- for certain flights from Glasgow Prestwick to Dublin, Bournemouth, London, Paris and Brussels. The fares, for midweek travel from early September through January, had to be booked by July 15 through www.ryanair.com.

      The airline serves 84 destinations in 16 European countries.

       

  • Scotland opens a huge national park, just in time for new nonstop flights to Glasgow and Edinburgh; Rail Europe offers a free pass to Normandy veterans; England turns the spotlight on its gardens.  Updated April 28, 2004

    • Nature-lovers bound for Scotland have a new preserve to frolic in: Cairngorm National Park , recently opened in the Grampian Highlands region west of Aberdeen. The park has almost 1,500 square miles of forests, farmland, heather moorland and mountains, dotted with historic villages and ancient sites.

      It officially opened last September as the largest national park in the United Kingdom, according to VisitBritain. Tourism officials said the park has a quarter of Scotland's native woodland and the biggest continuous stretches of near-natural vegetation in Britain. It is a refuge for many rare plants and creatures, including 25 percent of the United Kingdom’s threatened species. The park’s Web site is at www.cairngorms.co.uk.

      The park is just one attraction that Scottish and British tourism authorities are touting as new nonstop flights are about to begin between Scotland and the United States.  US Airways is scheduled to begin seasonal service May 10 between Philadelphia and Glasgow .  Continental starts service June 10 between Newark N.J. Edinburgh.

      VisitScotland’s latest vacation planner is an 88-page primer to a country that many Americans know only in caricature. While the guide acknowledges the country’s scenery in movies such as Braveheart, the Harry Potter movies, Rob Roy, and Monarch of the Glen, most of it is devoted to more practical lures.

      Among events on the calendar are  the Spirit of Speyside Whisky Festival, April 30-May 3; Royal Deeside Walking Week, May 22-28); the British Open Golf Championship, Troon, July 15-18; World Championship Highland Games, Callander July 31-Aug. 1; the Edinburgh Military Tattoo, Aug. 6-28; Edinburgh International Festival, Aug. 15-Sept. 4); the Braemar Gathering, Sept. 4,  and the Royal National Mod, Perth, Oct. 8-16.

      The Scotland 2004 vacation planner can be obtained through the VisitScotland site, or by calling 877-899-8391.

      Another worthy primer is the May 2004 issue of Bon Appetit magazine, entirely devoted to the cuisine of Scotland. It includes a dissection of haggis, the national dish, and “A Walk Through the Highlands,” by Bill Bryson.

      Free railpass for Normandy veterans. U.S. and Canadian veterans of the Normandy Invasion are eligible for a good deal from Rail Europe: A free four-day France Railpass, available starting April 15 and good for travel between June 1 and Aug. 31. The first France in a one-month period and is valued at $252.

      The pass must be obtained prior to leaving home. Rail Europe said it is not available in Europe

      Getting the rail pass requires jumping through a few hoops. First, veterans must register at Web site www.normandiememoire.com. A follow-up e-mail provides the details on how to obtain the free pass. 

      Rail Europe also is offering a special three-day first-class France Railpass to others for $199, good for travel during the same period as the free pass. It can be been purchased between April 15 and Aug. 15. Travel must occur between June 1 and Aug. 31.

      June 6 will be the 60th anniversary of the Normandy Invasion. A Web site devoted to the anniversary is at www.normandy-dday.com, where planning information and links to companies offering tour packages can be found. Another site for the region is that of the Western France Tourist Board, www.westernfrancetouristboard.com.

       

      Gardening in Britain. Britain has dubbed 2004 the “Year of Gardening,” saluting the 200th anniversary of the Royal Horticultural Society, the country’s top gardening charity, and the role the United Kingdom’s gardens play in tourism.  An 88-page guide to gardens is available by calling 877-899-8391 or going to the VisitBritain site at www.visitbritain.com/usagardens.

      Among events noted in the guide is the bicentennial exhibit at the Chelsea Flower Show in London May 25-28 and the unveiling in May of the “Secret Garden” of Blenheim Palace in Oxfordshire, a garden that has been largely out of view for more than 30 years.

      Other events on tap:

      ·        “Art of the Garden,” an exhibition at London’s Tate Britain art gallery from June 3 to Aug. 30 of British paintings of plants and gardens.

      ·        An international lily show at the horticultural society halls from June 29 to July 3.

      ·        A series of exhibits at the society’s Lindley Library in London, featuring Mediterranean plants May 15-19 and Frederick Warne’s “Flower Fairies” paintings and drawings Sept. 14-Oct. 30.

      ·        Exhibits and other events at more than 80 museums and gardening groups throughout Britain in observance of the Year of Gardening.  

  • Frontier Airlines to start PHL-Denver and PHL-Los Angeles nonstops; Continental to go nonstop from Newark to Edinburgh; big apple art coming to the Big Apple; Berlin offers museum & transit passes; water festival contest results. (March 3, 2004)  

    • Frontier Airlines will add Philadelphia-Denver and Philadelphia-Los Angeles flights starting May 23, the Denver-based airline announced on Feb. 19. The schedule offers two daily nonstops to Denver and one daily nonstop to Los Angeles, with introductory fares starting at $99 each way for Los Angeles and $109 each way for Denver, the airline said.

      On the Denver route, flights will depart Philadelphia at 8:50 a.m. (arriving at 10:50 a.m. Denver time) and 5:55 p.m. (arriving at 7:55 p.m.). From Denver, flights depart at 10:50 a.m. (arriving 4:15 p.m.) and 3 p.m. (arriving 8:25 p.m.).

      On the Los Angeles route, the flight will leave Philadelphia at 9:10 p.m., arriving at 11:55 p.m. Los Angeles time. From Los Angeles, the return is a red-eye, departing at 11:20 p.m. and arriving at 7:25 a.m. the next day.

      For bookings or fare details, check Frontier's Web site at www.frontierairlines.com, call the airline at 800-432-1359, or consult a travel agent.

      Frontier has been in business 10 years and is the second-largest jet-service airline at Denver International Airport. With its affiliate Frontier Express if offers service to more than 37 cities in 22 states and to five Mexican cities. Most of its destinations are in the West and Midwest. Eastern destinations served by Frontier are New York’s LaGuardia Airport; the three main Washington, D.C., airports; four Florida cities; Atlanta, and Indianapolis.

      Its frequent flier program is called EarlyReturns; enrollment is available on the Web site.

      Frontier’s announcement of Philadelphia service comes almost four months after Southwest Airlines said it would begin flying from Philadelphia International Airport. Southwest’s new service also is scheduled to begin in May. 

      The Philadelphia Inquirer's report on Frontier’s announcement.

      Newark-Edinburgh nonstop. Continental Airlines plans to start daily nonstop flights between Newark Liberty International Airport and Edinburgh , Scotland , on June 10, 2004. The airline says it will be the first nonstop service between the U.S. and the Scottish capital, whose biggest tourist month is August, when the  Edinburgh Military Tattoo, the Edinburgh International Festival, and many other events occur. A good central source is the Edinburgh Festivals site. … Continental says it now guarantees that its lowest fares are at its own Web site, not at other sites that promise low fares. “If you find an online fare for the same flight, itinerary and class of service that’s more than $10 lower than through continental.com, we’ll make up the difference and give you a $100 Electronic Travel Certificate,” Continental says in its latest frequent flier statement. To be eligible for the guarantee, the tickets must be purchased through the Web site; the flights must be on itineraries operated by the airline and its related companies, and “some discount fares” are not eligible.  Other restrictions apply. Details at the Continental site.

      NYC’s apple crop. New York City will drop apples all over its sidewalks and lobbies this summer in a Big Apple Fest to stir tourism enthusiasm and raise money for charities. Hundreds of the 4-foot-high apples, each decorated by artists, will be on display Aug. 15 to Oct. 15. 

      The artists will be sponsored by businesses and organizations whose contributions -- $8,500 per apple -- will benefit the Police Athletic League, the food program City Harvest, and the nonprofit work of the city’s tourism agency. The apples will later be auctioned or, for $12,500, sponsors can keep their fruit.

      Besides the fundraising, the exhibit aims to spark street buzz, notably during the Republican National Convention scheduled for Aug. 30-Sept. 2.

      The program will become an attraction even before it hits the street. Starting in May, the public can watch the artists’ progress at a Big Apple Fest design studio.

      The project recalls Chicago’s “Cows on Parade” public art project of  1999, which was later mimicked in New York and elsewhere. The Chicago Department of Cultural Affairs estimated that its cow show had an economic impact of $200 million as more than a million visitors came to see its more than 300 cows that summer.

      Information on the project is at www.bigapplefest.org

      Water festival results. Each February the spa town of Berkeley Springs, W.Va., sponsors a water-tasting competition as part of its Winter Festival of the Waters. This year’s contest attracted contestants from 25 states and the District of Columbia, plus Canada , Bulgaria, Bosnia, Sweden and Romania. Among results:

      • Noncarbonated bottled water: Ice Mist, from Mörarp, Sweden

      • Purified water: Pure StoneClear Springs Water, Vanleer, Tenn.

      • Carbonated bottled water: Borsec, from Harghita County, Romania

      • Municipal water: Desert Hot Springs, Calif.

      Rankings for other contestants are at the Travel Berkeley Springs site.

      WelcomeCardBound for Berlin? The city offers a museum pass called the SchauLUST Ticket for €12 (about $15) that gives admission to more than 50 museums over a three-day period. Buy it at Tourist Information Centers or at any of the participating museums. Another money-saver is the Berlin WelcomeCard, which costs €21 (about $26) and is good for three days of travel in Berlin and Pottsdam as well as for discounts on many attractions. It covers all buses and trains of the Berlin-Brandenburg public transport network operating anywhere within the A, B and C fare zones. Details on both cards at the

  • To lure post-holiday visitors, big cities mount discount package programs    

    • January 2004  Flashy as the big holiday parades were, they pale in scale to the parade of discounted lodging, shopping and sightseeing offers that big Northern cities are rolling out at the time of year to lure visitors during the traditionally slow winter season.

      Among those with come-hither deals are Philadelphia, New York, Boston and Washington. 

      The cornerstone of Philadelphia's program is the Philly Overnight package, offering a second night free if you check in on a Friday or Saturday through March 28 at dozens of hotels in the city and surrounding region. That deal includes free hotel parking both nights, and giveaways such as a map guide. Details at the city's official tourism site, www.gophila.com.  (A big "Manet and the Sea" show opens Feb. 15 at the Philadelphia Museum of Art.)

      New York dubs its love fest Paint the Town and includes deals from more than 300 hotels, restaurants, museums and Broadway and off-Broadway shows through March 31. Packages start at $105 per person, including a night's hotel stay, tickets to a show, dinner at a restaurant, discounted parking, a booklet of other discounts. Two- and four-night packages also are available. Visit the NYC & Company site at www.nycvisit.com or call 1-800-692-4843 for a Paint the Town guide. 

      Boston's winter program, Boston Overnight, runs through March and also encourages those in town for the day to stay over. Dozens of hotel packages and descriptions of diversions are described at www.bostonusa.com or can be obtained from the Greater Boston Convention & Visitors Bureau by dialing 1-888-733-2678 and asking for the Boston Overnight brochure. (The "Gaugin-Tahiti" exhibit opens Feb. 29 at the Museum of Fine Arts.)

      Through Feb. 29 in Washington, D.C., the Holiday Homecoming promotion features more than 50 hotels offering discounted rates and packages, while restaurants offer specially priced meals and a dozen attractions discount admissions. A list of the promotions is at the Holiday Homecoming site, or call 1-800-422-8644 or visit www.washington.org.

      Top

  • At long last, rail service to JFK Airport; US Airways ticketing resumes on Expedia  

    • After five years of construction and generations of dreaming, rail service between Manhattan and Kennedy International Airport is set to begin on Wednesday, Dec. 17. The service, called AirTrain JFK, will allow passengers to go between Penn Station and JFK terminals in about an hour for $7.

      Using the light rail system will be a two-part process: getting to the Howard Beach station by subway, Long Island Rail Road, or other method, then taking the new rail line the final 15 minutes or less to one of the six station stops on the Central Terminal Area loop.

      Taking the new service from Howard Beach station to the terminal will cost $5; the additional $2 in the above example is for subway fare to Howard Beach on the A train. Other subway lines that intersect with the AirTrain are E, J and Z.  AirTrain service also connects with the Jamaica Station.

      The light-rail cars will run 24 hours a day from those two stations, arriving every four to eight minutes during peak daytime, every 12 minutes overnight. The trains also stop at parking and hotel shuttle locations.  

      AirTrain JFK details can be found at www.panynj.gov/airtrain, or call 1-877-535-2478.

      The light-rail system is about eight miles long and is expected to serve 34,000 passengers per day when it opens. The total price tag for the project was $1.9 billion, funded with Port Authority of New York & New Jersey funds and passenger facility charges that fliers pay with the purchase of each airline ticket.

      Reaching JFK Airport has long been problematic for many travelers because of either cost or time considerations, or both.  The Port Authority noted the trip from midtown Manhattan to JFK can take more than two hours by car or taxi during heavy traffic periods.

      AirTrain will be a boon to many travelers, especially those who can travel light. That includes passengers from other cities. Budget travelers from Philadelphia, for instance, can make the 90-mile rail trip to Penn Station on Septa and New Jersey Transit, or go by bus to the Port Authority bus terminal, for around $20. Taking a Chinatown bus could reduce that cost further.

      US Airways, Expedia patch up differences. US Airways tickets can once again be purchased on the booking site Expedia after the two companies settled a month-long dispute over booking fees. 

      On Nov. 21, the booking giant increased the service fee it charged for US Airways tickets – to $8.99 from $5 – during negotiations over commission charges.

      On Dec. 9, the airline said it had withdrawn its flights from Expedia.com, noting it was the only airline to which the higher charge would apply.

      On Dec. 26, both US Airways and Expedia issued statements saying US Airways tickets could again be purchased through Expedia and that "the details of the partnership are confidential."

      A check of fees for bookings of US Airways flights on Expedia showed the Expedia service charge is once again $5.

      Expedia competitor Travelocity charges $5 per ticket for tickets on most major airlines, and Orbitz assesses a $6 charge. The US Airways site has no charge for booking standard e-tickets.

      Fee disagreements between airlines and the booking agencies have occurred almost since the launch of online booking, usually without much a ripple from the flying public’s perspective.

      But US Airways suggested a higher booking fee creates the impression its flights are more expensive, putting the airline at a disadvantage in the eyes of shoppers.

       

  • US Airways opts out of Expedia in fee dispute;  Vegas rooms for $11.35  (Posted Dec. 12, 2003)

    • US Airways-Expedia clash. US Airways said it had withdrawn its flights from Expedia.com after the booking giant increased the service fee it charged for US Airways tickets – to $8.99 from $5 – during negotiations over commission charges. A US Airways e-mail to customers said it was the only airline to which the higher charge would apply and branded the Expedia move as unfair.

      Bookings previously made through Expedia are not affected, both the airline and Expedia said. Negotiations were continuing.

      Teri Franklin, an Expedia spokeswoman, described US Airways as a “valued partner” and said, “We’re hoping to resolve this quickly.”

      Travelers shopping for US Airways tickets have many alternative booking choices, including Travelocity, which charges $5 per ticket for tickets on most major airlines;  Orbitz, which assess a $6 charge, and the US Airways site, which has no charge for booking standard e-tickets.

      Fee disagreements between airlines and the booking agencies have occurred almost since the launch of online booking, usually without much a ripple from the flying public’s perspective.

      But US Airways suggested a higher booking fee creates the impression its flights are more expensive, putting the airline at a disadvantage in the eyes of shoppers.

      The airline made its withdrawal announcement Dec. 9; Expedia said it imposed the new charge on Nov. 21.

      Cheap rooms in Vegas. How does $11.85 a night sound for a hotel room? Las Vegas is renowned for its hotel deals, but the period between Thanksgiving and Christmas is traditionally the height of low room prices. This year is no exception.

      In its annual survey, Las Vegas Advisor newsletter priced rooms at more than 90 casinos and found the weekend of Dec. 14-18 offered the best rates. Eight had prices under $20 per night; 34 had rates under $30. Fifty-one were under $40. The Plaza had an $11.80 rate – the lowest of all – and the Palace Station had a $13 rate.

      Finding bottom-dollar rates at the glitzy newer resorts is tougher. But the newsletter’s survey showed good deals even at them, including $57 at the Luxor, $62 at the  Paris, $70 at the MGM Grand, and $87 at Mandalay Bay.  

  • A new booking service for 12 national parks; 12 new cruise ships coming in 2004;  planning for the 60th anniversary of the Normandy invasion; new nonstops to Vail from Philadelphia & Charlotte (Posted Nov. 18 and Dec. 2, 2003)

    • Vacationers aiming to visit any of a dozen national parks next summer can now reserve through an agency that specializes in recreational bookings. ReserveAmerica, based in Los Angeles, said reservations at the parks could be made online starting in January at www.reserveamerica.com.

      The parks involved are:

      • Arches National Park, Utah

      • Big Bend National Park, Texas

      • Black Canyon of the Gunnison National Park, Colo.

      •  Blue Ridge Parkway in Virginia and North Carolina

      • Bryce Canyon National Park, Utah

      • Buffalo National River, Ark.

      • Chickasaw National Recreational Area, Okla.

      • Curecanti National Recreational Area, Colo.

      • Lake Roosevelt National Recreational Area, Wash.

      • Lassen Volcanic National Park, Calif.

      • North Cascades National Park, Wash.

      • Ozark National Scenic Riverways, Mo.

      Cruise report. More than 2.1 million North Americans took cruises in the third quarter of this year, 5 ½ percent more than during the same period last year, and a dozen new ships are scheduled for launching in the new year, an industry trade group said.  The Cruise Lines International Association, whose member lines account for almost all of the  cruise capacity of ships serving North America, reported Dec. 3 that the industry was on pace to meet its estimate of 9.6 million passengers for the year worldwide.

      CLIA said the 12 ships expected to begin service in 2004 will bring to almost 26,400 the number of new cruise beds on the market by the end of the year.

      Normandy Invasion anniversary. Next June 6 will be the 60th anniversary of the Normandy invasion, and tour organizers here and in France are preparing for a surge of visitors planning day trips and longer explorations of the area.

      One of the must-see stops, the Caen Memorial, is offering a new historian-led tour that includes the memorial and the D-Day Landing beaches. A one-day pass costs 65.60 euros, about $77.  A reduced fare of 55.20 euros, about $65, is available for morning departures, for those under 18, and for World War II veterans. The package also includes a book detailing the D-Day Landings in English.

      A one-day package for 89.50 euros, about $105,  includes pick up and return at the Caen railway station and lunch at the Caen Memorial. Two-day packages with lodging also are available.

      Stops on the mini-van tour from the memorial are the artificial harbor at Arromanches, the battery at Longues-sur-Mer, the American Military Cemetery at Colleville, Omaha-Beach, the Pointe du Hoc, and return to the Caen Memorial. 

      The passes can be purchased through the Caen Memorial Web site at www.memorial-caen.fr.

      A Web site devoted to the 60th anniversary is at www.normandy-dday.com, where planning information and more-extensive packages offered by 15 companies can be found. Another site for the region is that of the Western France Tourist Board, www.westernfrancetouristboard.com.

      Skiers’ express. US Airways begins weekend flights to Vail, Colo., on Dec. 20 from Philadelphia and Charlotte, Philadelphia will leave at 9:45 a.m. on Saturday and Sunday, arriving in Vail at 12:14 p.m.   Return flights depart Vail at 1:15 p.m. Philadelphia at 6:42 p.m.   Flights from Charlotte will depart on Saturdays at 10:28 a.m., reaching Vail at 10:28 a.m. Return flights leave Vail at 11:40 a.m. US Airways began Saturday nonstop service on Nov. 8 between Philadelphia and San Jose, Costa Rica, and between Charlotte and San Jose. The airline plans to expand the San José service on Feb. 1 to four weekly from Philadelphia and four from Charlotte. . . . US Airways said it will begin seasonal nonstop service between Glasgow, Scotland, and Philadelphia on May 8.

      Casino robberies. Mississippi casinos are getting robbed in record numbers, reports the Las Vegas Advisor newsletter, with police reporting 23 robberies in the first 10 months of the year. That was more than all the casino robberies combined since 1994, the newsletter said. In Mississippi, countermeasures include posting local police guards 24 hours a day in Tunica, where 18 of the robberies happened. Tunica is home to 10 casinos.

      Five-star restaurant. Le Bec-Fin in Philadelphia has been awarded a five-star rating for 2004 by Mobil Travel Guide. The restaurant had won the designation for 20 years in a row until 2000, when it garnered only four stars. The five-star rating was restored in 2003. Le Bec-Fin is one of 14 North American restaurants to earn the rating, and the only one in Pennsylvania.

  • Perkiomen Trail is completed, dedicated  Posted 11/22/03

    • The Perkiomen Trail was dedicated Saturday [Nov. 22], only days after completion of the final one-mile stretch of the 19-mile path in Montgomery County, Pa.,  between Oaks and Green Lane. The final section includes a new  bridge across Perkiomen Creek between Graterford and Schwenksville. 

      perk-dedication13.jpg (53815 bytes)
      L to R: John Wood, Michael Marino, Keith Laughlin speaking.  (Click to enlarge)

      Several hundred people turned out in brilliant sunshine at Green Lane Park to hear John Wood, director of trail development, jubilantly declare the path completed. The festive audience was dense with children, dogs, bikers and, on the periphery, more than two dozen riders atop their horses. 

      Wood praised the county commissioners, particularly chairman Michael Marino, for forcefully promoting the trail's development.

      That sentiment was repeated by the keynote speaker, Keith Laughlin, president of the national Rails-to-Trails Conservancy. "For this to be completed in 3 1/2 years is truly extraordinary," Laughlin said, noting that usually such a trail can be seven to 10 years in the making.

      perk-dedication8.jpg (48512 bytes)
      The new bridge

      "If not for the leadership of commissioner Mike Marino, this trail would still be a plan on paper," said Laughlin.

      He said that nationwide more than 12,600 miles of rail trails have been completed. "These trails provide multiple benefits for communities. They provide safe places for family recreation."

      "In many of these communities it becomes an engine of economic revitalization," Laughlin said, noting the growth of B&Bs, bike shops, and other business that cater to trail users. 

      "These trails become, in effect, long linear parks that preserve the green space.  I can assure you, the longer the trail is open, the more popular it will be."

      With the commissioners and other county officials looking on proudly, a replica of the dedication plaque was unveiled, after which the officials and the crowd moved a few yards to the trail for a ribbon-cutting.

      With the ribbon down, bikers surged forward, followed by horse riders and people on foot. 

      The trail's other end is in Lower Perkiomen Valley Park, where the path meets the Schuylkill River Trail near Valley Forge National Historical Park. The Schuylkill River Trail continues for 25 miles to the Philadelphia Museum of Art, within blocks of Center City.

      Most of the Perkiomen Trail is flat, except for a section north of Schwenksville along Spring Mount Ski and Recreation Area. The surface is crushed gravel.  Most of the Schuylkill River Trail is paved, except for sections along the tow path near Manayunk. 

       

       

       

       

       

      Bikes can be rented at Tailwind Bicycles in Schwenksville, just steps from the trail

      View a map of the Perkiomen Trail by clicking here.

      View a map of the Schuylkill River Trail by clicking here. 

      Besides bikers, the trail draws runners and horse riders.

  • Southwest Airlines expanding to Phila. (Posted Oct. 28, 2003; updated Dec. 11)

    • Southwest Airlines, king of low-fare carriers, announced it would begin serving Philadelphia with as many as 14 daily flights operating from four gates, starting in May 2004. The Oct. 28 announcement likely signals a new era for passengers in the Philadelphia region, where USAirways' dominance has worked against lower average fares to many U.S. destinations. 

      How much savings?

      When a no-frills airline begins flying between two cities, average fares for the route decline on competing airlines as well. How much?   A look at the fourth quarter of 2000, reported in the August 2001 issue of Consumer Reports Travel Letter, showed the declines can be dramatic.

      Between Baltimore and Buffalo, N.Y., where Southwest Airlines offered new service, the average one-way fare dropped by 70.5 percent to $57 from $193 for the fourth quarter a year earlier. Between Burlington,  Vt., and New York , where the new airline JetBlue entered service, the fare dropped 48 percent to $91 from $175. Between Atlanta and Pittsburgh, where AirTran started service, the fare dropped 37.2 percent to $137 from $218.

       

      Announcing the plans at Philadelphia International Airport, the airline's chairman, Herb Kelleher, said destinations would be announced later, but that they would include a mix of short- and long-haul flights.

      [updateThe airline announced Dec. 11 that the new routes would be between Philadelphia and Chicago; Las Vegas; Orlando and Tampa;  Phoenix, and Providence, R.I.]

      Southwest originally made its name by offering no-frills, short- and medium-range flights, but in recent years has added longer flights. 

      The closest city to Philadelphia served by Southwest is Baltimore, where the airline's lower fares have helped drive down competitors' prices.
      Southwest began flying nonstop between Baltimore-Washington International Airport and Los Angeles in September 2002, the first time it had offered transcontinental flights. Earlier this year, it started flying from Baltimore to San Diego and San Jose, Calif.

      Southwest periodically has offered $200 round-trip fares for cross-country travel, and lower fares -- sometimes hundreds of dollars lower -- have led many Philadelphia-area travelers to drive to BWI, which is 100 miles from PHL. 

      BWI has occasionally advertised on billboards on Interstate 95 near PHL, and a two-day survey of BWI parking lots in October 1999 showed 12.7 percent of the cars had Pennsylvania license plates.

      Southwest's arrival becomes another thorn for USAirways, whose high operating costs helped lead to a bankruptcy filing in 2002. The airline emerged from Chapter 11 protection in March 2003.

      Despite its formula's success, Southwest has critics, including competitors who argue that it does not always offer the lowest fares. There is evidence to support that complaint. In July 2001, USA Today reported that a fare study of its own, as well as a federal airfare comparison, showed as much. 

      About that time, Southwest successfully sued the booking site Orbitz.com, which is owned by other airlines, forcing Orbitz to remove Southwest fares and schedules from the comparisons provided for booking queries. Competitors said Southwest wanted to avoid that sort of flight-by-flight fare scrutiny. Southwest said that compelling customers to use its own site was simply part of its formula for success.

  • For discounted tickets, British Airways awards just 25 percent mileage; Orbitz has the key for lowest-price car rentals, survey says; Pittsburgh-based airline in the works; luxury bus service between N.Y. and Boston (Posted Oct. 22, 2003)

    • Most passengers relish the idea of earning beaucoup frequent flier miles when they jet off to another continent. Such mileage can quickly add up to a free domestic flight award or other bonuses.

      But don’t assume you’ll get full frequent flier mileage the next time you book a flight half way around the world, or you could find yourself in the shoes of Jerry Sorkin of  Radnor, Pa., who after flying from Philadelphia to London and London to New Delhi and back noticed that his mileage statement came up short.

      Instead of the total 15,430 miles he expected, he was credited with less than 4,000 miles. “I thought it was a mistake,” he said recently.

      But it was no mistake. Sorkin made the trips on British Airways. He contacted the airline and learned that last February the airline changed its program, called the Executive Club, to award only 25 percent of mileage flown to coach class passengers flying on less than full-fare tickets.

      Program members were advised of the change in statements at the time, he was told, but no particular alert was offered to those booking online, as he had for his trips in September.  

      A recent check showed the Executive Club’s “earning miles” page said: “You will earn 1 BA Mile per 1 mile distance flown” and “You can earn BA Miles even on discounted fares.”  Elsewhere, a “What are BA miles” link included “On discounted economy fares you will earn 25% of the actual miles flown.”

      While earning mileage at reduced percentages is more common abroad, it is virtually unheard of for flying in the United States .

      U.S. airlines – American, Continental, Delta, Northwest, United , US Airways -- still award coach class passengers one mile of credit for each mile flown, even for low-end international fares.

      But frequent-flier programs and inter-airline alliances are going through a period of change. Especially if you plan to use an airline you are not accustomed to, read the fine print or ask customer service what mileage you can expect.

      Earlier this year Delta announced changes that affected how its SkyMiles fliers accumulated credit toward elite status, and in September Continental took similar steps with its OnePass program, each designed to give preferential treatment to those flying on more-expensive tickets.

      While the Delta and Continental changes may not affect the occasional flier who isn’t in the mileage big leagues, they are a reminder that rules are shifting in the mileage game.

      For many years, travelers buying discounted tickets through airline consolidators have had to forego any mileage in many cases. That is the case, too, with discount booking services such as Priceline.com and Hotwire.com, whether the flight is domestic or international.

      What can a frugal traveler do? Comparison shop. If two airlines fly the same route at the same price, one offering full mileage, the other offering less, the choice may be easy.

      Airline frequent flier sites typically describe their mileage basics. An unofficial source that’s easier to use is WebFlyer.com.  Click on the program guide for links to individual programs. 

      Online car rentals. What Web sites offer the most promise for getting the best deal on car rentals? Of seven sites tested, Orbitz.com came through with the lowest price 73 percent of the time, followed by Travelocity.com, with 63 percent.  The sites were tested at midyear by Consumer WebWatch, a project of Consumers Union, and are reported in the November issue of Consumer Reports and on the WebWatch site.

      Researchers compared five bookings at 30 U.S. airports using seven booking sites. After the top two came Expedia, 26 percent; Alamo.com, 8 percent; and Avis.com and Hertz.com, each of which never provided the lowest rate.

      The comparison noted that Expedia did not always put the lowest prices on the opening page after a search was completed; a company official confirmed to WebWatch that companies on the first Web page were “preferred partners.”

      The report called attention to rental taxes and surcharges, which do not appear in the quote price at some booking sites.

      Pittsburgh-based airline planned. A low-cost airline that would be based in Pittsburgh and fly to Philadelphia, Boston, Chicago, Los Angeles, New York, Washington and Orlando is on the drawing boards, according to a report in Travel Weekly. 

      The trade publication said the founder of America West, Edward Beauvais, and a former CEO of travel agency Carlson Wagonlit Worldwide, Travis Tanner, are seeking financing for the venture, which has not yet sought the federal approvals it would need to fly. 

      The airline, with the working name of Project Roam, would launch in June 2004 and serve 39 destinations within five years. Under the business plan, fares would be as low as $49 one-way for destinations such as Philadelphia and Washington and $99 to places such as Las Vegas and Dallas, the Travel Weekly report said

      N.Y.-Boston luxury bus. There’s a new way to travel between New York City and Boston – a 28-passenger luxury bus service called LimoLiner that makes three round trips each weekday between the Hilton New York and the Hilton Boston Back Bay.  Each seat has power outlets, Internet access, and DVD movies, and the bus has an onboard attendant who serves snacks. Introductory fare for the four-hour ride: $69 one way. For schedules and seat selection, call 1-888-546-5469 or visit www.limoliner.com.

  • US Airways revises its unused-ticket policy; an outdoor sports superstore opens near Hamburg, Pa.;  PHL parking rates rise; NYC visitor figures improve; getting passport info by phone (Posted Sept.  21, 2003) 

    • US Airways passengers just won a reversal of fortune.

      The airline revised its policy on nonrefundable tickets that aren’t used, now allowing the cost of the ticket to be applied to a later ticket, minus a change fee. The change, announced Sept. 13, largely reverses a “use it or lose it” policy that was adopted in August 2002 and soon was mimicked by other big U.S. airlines.

      Last month the other airlines gave up on that policy – widely criticized by passengers as being unfair given the erratic nature of travel plans -- and US Airways has given in to competitive pressures.

      Under the airline’s new policy, passengers must cancel their original booking by midnight on the date of the flight in order to preserve the value of the unused ticket. Prior to the August 2002 changes, airlines generally gave customers one year after the missed flight to apply its value to another flight.

      Details of the US Airways policy are at www.usairways.com.

      Policies for the airlines that made the change earlier are at:

      ·        American Airlines, www.amrcorp.com (go to News Releases/August 2003/Aug. 19).

      ·        Continental Airlines

      ·        Delta Air Lines

      ·        Northwest Airlines

      ·        United Airlines

      Outdoor sports, big time. The country’s latest megastore for outdoorspeople opened this month (September 2003) near Hamburg , Pa. , 65 miles northwest of Philadelphia in Berks County . The new Cabela’s store has 250,000 square feet of hunting, fishing, camping, hiking, watersport and other equipment. For comparison, Wal-Mart's average discount store size is about 100,000 square feet.

      The company projects that the store will draw seven million visitors a year, making it one of the largest attractions in the state. Besides outdoor products, it has a range of diversions such as a 55,000-gallon aquarium, a 12,000-square-foot trophy deer museum, a 250-seat restaurant, and an indoor archery range.

      The store is at the intersection of Interstate 78 and Route 61, about 20 miles north of Reading. Cabela’s Web site at www.cabelas.com carries photos of the new property.

      Other Cabela’s stores are in Sidney and Kearney, Neb.; Owatonna and East Grand Forks, Minn.; Prairie du Chien, Wis.; Mitchell, S.D.; Dundee, Mich., and Kansas City, Kan. Another store is being built in West Virginia.

      PHL parking rates. Parking rates rose at Philadelphia International Airport , effective Sept. 1.  Parking on the economy lot now is $8 per day, up from $7.  The garages near the terminal are $17 per day, up from $16. And the ground-level, short-term parking rates – for anyone willing to pay prices designed to discourage long-term parking there – now amount to $38 per day, up from $36. Hourly rates can be found at the airport’s site, www.phl.org.

      NYC visitor figures. Discounting of New York hotels and attractions helped boost overnight trips to the Big Apple by 11 percent in 2002, to 14.1 million trips, compared with 2000 figures, according to the city’s tourism office. The tourism office, known as NYC & Company, said that overall, 30.2 million domestic visitors arrived in 2002, a record number, and that the city remained the No. 1 destination for foreign visitors. Among other 2002 results reported by NYC & Company:

      ·        Family travel to New York City set a new record with 4 percent increase to 10.7 million visitors; 

      ·        Leisure travel overall increased by 3.2 percent, an increase of more than 1 million visitors, to a record 25.9 million on the strength of the domestic market and the return of the international leisure travelers in the last four months of the year;

      ·        Business travel shows signs of recovery, especially in the last quarter of 2002;

      ·        Cultural travel to New York City grew above 2000 levels to 16.9 million. Spending by cultural visitors accounted for $7.6 billion in 2002.

      Despite being the top U.S. destination for international visitors, the tourism office noted the city has had a 25 percent drop in those visitors since 2000. They make up only 14 percent of the total visitor market, but account for 40 percent of the spending. The countries sending the most visitors to New York are the United Kingdom , Canada , Japan , Germany and France . Together they account for nearly half of all international visitors to the city.

      The city’s tourism site is at www.nycvisit.com.

       

      Passport info hotline. Getting the latest passport information by phone just got less expensive – free, in fact.

      In August the National Passport Information Center adopted a toll-free number for obtaining information on applying for and renewing passports, discontinuing a 1-900 pay-per-minute number.  The new number, 1-877-487-2778, provides automated information as well as customer service representatives available from 8 a.m. to 8 p.m. (Eastern time) Monday through Friday, except on federal holidays.

      The recorded message at the new number immediately tries to steer callers to the State Department site at http://travel.state.gov. Those who want to talk to an information agent can skip through the menu by pressing 0. (If it doesn’t work the first time, try hitting 0 again.)

      In addition, the information center added e-mail access for questions. That address: npic@state.gov.

      Among topics the recorded information covers are how to apply for, amend or renew a passport; what to do if you are leaving the country within 14 days and need a passport; and how to contact one of the country’s 13 passport agency offices. For most people, the State Department Web site offers this information faster. But those who prefer to talk to someone, this new number provides a better alternative to the pay-per-minute number, where the tab kept rising the more questions you had.  

       

  • Airlines soften a rebooking policy; getting passport info by phone gets cheaper; a travelogue series starts Oct. 1; D.C. salutes its African American heritage through November. (Posted Sept. 8, 2003)

    • Good news for passengers who aren’t able to use a plane ticket for whatever reason -- several airlines are returning to more flexible policies for rebooking without losing the value of the ticket.

      In recent weeks most top U.S. airlines have eased up on a ticketing rule they imposed about a year ago. The rule eliminated a traditional grace period of a year for applying the value of an unused nonrefundable ticket to a new ticket and required that the rebooking be completed by the day of the original flight. Ticket holders who didn’t “cash in” the ticket’s value prior to the original flight time (or for some airlines the day of the flight) forfeited the value of the ticket.

      Passengers objected to the “use it or lose it” policy, but the airlines insisted the move was necessary. Typical was American Airlines’ contention that “these policy changes will allow American to simplify its processes and lower its operating costs.”

      Now at least five big airlines – American, Continental, Delta, Northwest and United – have put in place more liberal rules, although they vary from airline to airline and do not apply to all tickets.  As of Sept. 2, US Airways, the airline that first imposed a strict “use it or lose it” policy in August 2002, was odd-man-out in not announcing a policy revision.

      In general, the eased rules restore the one-year period to apply a ticket’s value to a new fare. They may not apply to tickets purchased through sellers such as Priceline or Hotwire, or to discount-program fares, and they may not apply to international flights.  A change fee likely will be assessed.

      Travelers should pin down the exact rule for the type of ticket and destination at the time of purchase. The trade newspaper Travel Weekly noted that the airlines have been tweaking their policies and in some cases their announcements have been incomplete.

      Details can be found online:

      ·        American Airlines, www.amr.com (go to News Releases/August 2003/Aug. 19).

      ·        Continental Airlines

      ·        Delta Air Lines

      ·        Northwest Airlines

      ·        United Airlines

      Passport info hotline. Getting the latest passport information by phone just got less expensive – free, in fact.

      In August the National Passport Information Center adopted a toll-free number for obtaining information on applying for and renewing passports, discontinuing a 1-900 pay-per-minute number.  The new number, 1-877-487-2778, provides automated information as well as customer service representatives available from 8 a.m. to 8 p.m. (Eastern time) Monday through Friday, except on federal holidays.

      The recorded message at the new number immediately tries to steer callers to the State Department site at http://travel.state.gov. Those who want to talk to an information agent can skip through the menu by pressing 0. (If it doesn’t work the first time, try hitting 0 again.)

      In addition, the information center added e-mail access for questions. That address: npic@state.gov.

      Among topics the recorded information covers are how to apply for, amend or renew a passport; what to do if you are leaving the country within 14 days and need a passport; and how to contact one of the country’s 13 passport agency offices. For most people, the State Department Web site offers this information faster. But those who prefer to talk to someone, this new number provides a better alternative to the pay-per-minute number, where the tab kept rising the more questions you had.

      Travelogue series. The Geographical Society of Philadelphia begins its “Travel Adventure Cinema” season of eight films Oct. 1 with Ireland : Celtic Myths and Splendors, in which Sandy Mortimer explores Dublin , Galway , Belfast and many charming rural locations. 

      Other programs are Amazing Thailand, with Mike Shiley, Oct. 22; Casablanca : Travels in Morocco , with Hal McClure, Nov. 19; China : The 21st Century, with Buddy Hatton, Jan. 28; Norway , with Dale Johnson, Feb. 18; La Bell France, with Monty and Marsha Brown, March 3; Europe’s Alps, with Jim Tompkins, March 24, and Royal England, with Charles Hartman, April 21.

      Each film in the series is shown twice, at 2 p.m. and 7:30 p.m. , at the Academy of Natural Sciences Auditorium , 19th Street and the Benjamin Franklin Parkway . The films are introduced and narrated in person by the producers. The series costs $65 for all eight shows or $55 for any six shows; both subscriptions include a year's membership in the society, invitations to other travel-related activities, discounts and member benefits. Single-show tickets are $10 by mail or at the door. For students, tickets are $5 and the series is half-price.

      For information, call 610-649-5220 or write the Geographical Society of Philadelphia, Box 67 , Haverford , Pa. 19041 . Descriptions of the films are on the society's site at www.geographicalsociety.org.

      D.C.’s African American heritage. The nation’s capital pays tribute Sept. 15-Nov. 30 to its African American cultural heritage with a promotion called Blues & Dreams: Celebrating the African-American Experience in Washington , D.C.   Besides performances by the likes of Wynton Marsalis, The Preservation Hall Jazz Band, and Sweet Honey and the Rock, highlights include “The Art of Romare Bearden” at the National Gallery of Art and “African-American Quilts from the Robert & Helen Cargo Collection” at the Textile Museum. Schedules are on the Blues & Dreams site.  

      Top

  • Pennsylvania reopens Kinzua Bridge State Park, touting tornado damage; Philadelphia airport's new Web site; Vegas monorail on track. (Posted Aug. 6, 2003)

    • Making lemonade out of lemons, Pennsylvania has reopened Kinzua Bridge State Park and is touting the wind damage that toppled the historic bridge as a tourist attraction.

      "From the overlook, visitors will be able to see the incredible path of destruction the tornado cut across the distant hillside to the north," state parks director Roger Fickes said in a statement announcing the limited reopening early this month. "For hundreds of yards, the winds left nothing standing before smashing into the viaduct. The toppled columns of this engineering landmark, its standing remains, and the twisted timber everywhere all can be seen from the overlook.”

      Visitors now can park on the main lot, then walk on a path cleared through downed trees to an overlook. Prior to the collapse caused by the winds of a tornado, the overlook offered the best vantage point for viewing the historic, 2,053-foot-long bridge. Before last summer, it also provided good views as a tourist train crossed the bridge daily about noon . Those trips were discontinued in July 2002 when inspectors found weaknesses in the support structure.

      The park is located in McKean County , near the town of Mt. Jewett .

      The state also said the tourist train, operated by the Knox, Kane, Kinzua Railroad, was resuming excursion rides from Marienville to the park, 97 miles round trip.  Passengers will be permitted to walk a short distance from the train to the overlook.  For information, call 814-927-6621.

      PHL's new site. Philadelphia International Airport has revised its Web site at www.phl.org, including a link to a flight tracker that reports a flight’s altitude, speed and when it will land – extremely useful information if you’re planning to meet someone’s flight at the airport but don’t want to arrive too early. The PHL site also includes the departure/arrival data posted by the airlines on airport monitors. But the flight tracker can be more reliable than the airline-supplied data, which sometimes fail to keep up with delays and other schedule changes.

       The site also has added a Kid’s Corner, which answers questions about how planes fly, explains aviation terms, and offers educational puzzles that can be printout out and played in flight or at home.

      Among site improvements are more readable listings for the progressive prices for on-airport parking lots, which range from $8 per day on the economy lot to $36 in the short-term lot.  Also handy are links for airport-area and metro area traffic conditions, and a weather link.

      Las Vegas monorail coming. Visitors to Las Vegas will win big early next year with the opening of a four-mile-long monorail whose trains will stop at seven stations along the east side of the Strip. Each train will have four cars and make the trip in minutes – far speedier and far less grueling than bus shuttles that often creep along in heavy Las Vegas Boulevard traffic.

      The stations will be situated near eight resorts and the Convention Center.

      The monorail is expected to be ready during the first quarter of 2004, said a spokeswoman for the Las Vegas Monorail Co., which is building the privately-funded project. The one-way fare will be $3, and plans are being made for one-, three- and seven-day passes, she said.

      The route runs from the Hotel Sahara at the north end to the MGM Grand at the south end of the line. Descriptions of the project are at the Las Vegas Monorail site, and photos can be found at the Monorail Society site.  

  • Wind collapses a historic Pa. bridge, San Francisco's new airport rail connection, online maps of Pa. state parks, Amtrak cuts fares for checking out college campuses (Posted July 23, 2003)

    • A tornado collapsed much of the historic Kinzua Bridge in Pennsylvania’s McKean County on July 21, about one year after inspectors closed the 2,053-foot span and warned that it could be in jeopardy in high winds. The bridge was the key attraction at Kinzua Bridge State Park north of Mt. Jewett and anchored the area’s tourism trade.

      A $3.9 million emergency repair project was begun early this year, and the Department of Conservation and Natural Resources had hoped the bridge would reopen to pedestrian and rail traffic by spring 2004. 

      A spokeswoman for the DCNR said it was too soon to predict whether the bridge would be rebuilt.

      Until last July, a scenic railway used the 301-foot trestle as a turn-around point on daily tours. Inspectors first closed the bridge to the train, then in August closed it to pedestrians as well.

      When it opened in 1882, the bridge was the highest railroad bridge in the world, according to the DCNR. It was rebuilt in 1900 to handle heavier trains, then went unused from 1959 to 1987. The park officially opened in 1970. In 1977, the bridge was placed on the National Register of Historic Civil Engineering Landmarks.

      S.F. airport rail. Visitors arriving at San Francisco International Airport now have a new option for getting into the city besides the usual taxis, buses and limos: Rail service on BART.

      The San Francisco Bay Area Rapid Transit District on June 22 opened its SFO Extension, which reaches the airport (SFO) and includes three other new stations, South San Francisco (SSF), San Bruno , and Milbrae. The new stations connect to about 40 other stops in the system, which includes downtown San Francisco and extends into Oakland and other cities in the region.

      The new section also makes it possible to get from SFO to Oakland International Airport ; the final leg of that trip is aboard the AirBART shuttle. (Check the system map.)

      BART’s general hours are weekdays 4 a.m. to midnight ; Saturdays 6 a.m. to midnight ; and Sundays and holidays, 8 a.m. to midnight . The system uses magnetic fare cards that can be bought from vending machines in all stations. The cost of a trip depends on its length, but an excursion fare allows anyone to tour the BART system for up to three hours on a $4 fare, as long as you enter and exit at the same station. 

      The trip from the airport to Powell Street takes about 30 minutes and on weekdays costs $4.70.  

      Pa. state park maps online. Pennsylvania has put maps of its state parks online, including locations for campgrounds and cabins. For larger parks, topographic maps show elevation changes and other natural features important to hikers.

      The maps are at the Department of Conservation and Natural Resources site, where users select a state park and click on the “maps” button.

      The DCNR said 83 of 110 printed state park maps were online, with others being added.

      Reservation requests must be made through the toll-free park information and reservation number, 1-888-727-2757, from 7 a.m. to 5 p.m. Monday through Saturday

        Visiting colleges by rail. Amtrak is offering a 50 percent discount to high school juniors and seniors making exploratory visits to college campuses around the country. Dubbed the “campus visit discount coupon,” the discount is offered to the student and up to two parents or legal guardians. The coupons are good for travel on most Amtrak trains nationwide, Amtrak said.  The coupon can be used with tickets purchased through Dec. 8 for travel through Dec. 15.

      To get the coupon, travelers go to a partner site, click on the Amtrak coupon link on the home page, download the file and print a coupon.  Amtrak said original copies of the coupon must be presented at the time reservations are ticketed.   

      The coupons require a high school counselor's signature on the coupon; reservations must be made by calling 1-800-872-7245; they cannot be made online. The discount code to mention is H178.   

      Among conditions: The fares are not available on Acela Express, Metroliner, Auto Train, Downeaster, peak departures of Amtrak's Regional service in the Northeast, or any departure requiring the purchase of a peak or unrestricted fare. Blackout dates and other restrictions apply.  The coupon may not be used in conjunction with other promotions.  Tickets are nonrefundable once purchased, and no changes to the itinerary may be made once travel has begun.  

       

  • Airlines ease up on cell phone use after landing, Disney World prices rise, N.J.'s Latino travel guide, e-mail comes to the air. (Posted July 8, 2003) 

    • Continental Airlines on July 7 began allowing passengers to use their cell phones sooner upon landing than has been permitted in recent years. Instead of waiting for the aircraft to reach the gate and the door to open before switching phones on, they now need wait only for the crew’s OK as the plane taxis to the terminal.

      Continental’s policy change is likely to spread to other airlines, for whom the issue has a competitive ring. Indeed, American Airlines adopted a similar policy on July 8. The change especially affects business travelers who want to make the most of their time and keep in touch with the office or contacts. Passengers stranded on the tarmac also benefit. And then there are those people who do not feel complete unless a phone is pressed to their ear.

      The closed-door policy will remain in place for departures, Continental said. Cell phone use must be discontinued when the cabin door is closed.

      Airlines applied the “closed door” rule at the insistence of the Federal Aviation Administration because of fears that cell phone signals may interfere with an airplane’s communications or navigation systems. But the FAA has concluded that no threat exists once a flight has landed and is leaving it up to the airlines to set their own policies after landings.

      Disney World rate hike. Disney World’s gate ticket prices rose $2 for each park on June 1, reaching $52 for adults and $42 for children ages 3 to 9. On top of that add taxes of 6.5 percent, totaling $55.38 for adults, $44.73 for kids.  Before taxes, the adult 4-day Park Hopper ticket – which allows free movement among Disney’s Orlando parks -- costs $208 if purchased at the gate. That price represents no savings over single-day tickets, but if you purchase in advance by phone or online, the 4-day Gate Hopper costs $192 before taxes – a savings of 7.7 percent. The advance purchase savings on the 4-day children’s pass is even more – nearly 9 percent.  Other types of passes also are available online or by calling 407-939-7429.

      Regal Cruises refund claims. People who were booked for cruises about the Regal Cruises ship Regal Empress when the company folded last spring can submit a claim using a form available at www.regalcruises.com. The ship stopped operating in May after federal marshals enforcing a lien boarded the ship in Port Manatee, Fla. , and more than 800 passengers had to disembark. The cruise line later posted a note on its Web site saying that passengers’ payments were proteced by a  Federal Maritime Commission bond and that a claims center had been set up.  Refund forms also can be obtained by contacting Regal Cruises Refund Center, P.O. Box 4179, Hialeah , Fla. 33014-0179.  

      E-mail takes wing. United Airlines and Continental Airlines plan to offer e-mail connections for U.S. passengers in the coming months.  United expects to have its domestic fleet wired by the end of the year for inflight e-mail, instant messaging and text messaging; E-mail will cost $15.98 per flight, plus 10 cents per kilobyte of data over 2Kb.  Continental said it would begin installing similar service on its fleet this month [July 2003], starting with its Boeing 757s and expanding to its smaller planes in the fall. Both airlines are using a system called Verizon Airfone JetConnect With E-Mail. Other airlines are expected to follow suit, as they did when phone service became common on airlines in the late 1980s.

      Latino New Jersey . The “New Jersey Latino Visitors Guide” – available in Spanish and English – is available free from the New Jersey Office of Travel & Tourism, phone 800-847-486,  or by visiting www.visitnj.org and going to the publications page. In announcing the new guide, the travel office noted that 13 percent of the state’s population has Hispanic heritage, about 1.1 million people, with especially strong Latino neighborhoods in Vineland, Newark, Union City and Perth Amboy. Among July festivals noted are the Colombian Cultural Arts Summer Festival in Hackensack, the Festival Puertorriqueño de New Jersey in Vineland, the Summer Latino Musical Festival inCamden, and the Peruvian Parade and Festival in Passaic.


      Top

  • All Asia Pass for $699 from N.Y., L.A., S.F.; New York's restaurant week approaches; US Airways joining Star Alliance. (Posted June 8, 2003)

    • Cathay Pacific Airways, beleaguered by the effects of SARS on key air routes, has slashed the price of its 21-day All Asia Pass to $699 plus taxes for departures from Los Angeles , San Francisco or New York . The economy class pass allows travel to Hong Kong and any or all of 17 other Asian cities served by the airline.

      The usual price is $999 if purchased online, a good value even at that cost. The sale price is a 30 percent discount.

      [The Hong Kong-based airline also called attention to improvement in the CDC’s appraisal of the threat level of severe acute respiratory syndrome in Hong Kong . The latest CDC notice is at www.cdc.gov/ncidod/sars/travel.htm.]

      Under the new offer, the pass must be purchased and ticketed by July 31, 2003 , with travel occurring from Sept. 1 through Nov. 30. The pass is only available to U.S. residents with U.S. mailing addresses.  Fees and taxes are not included in the base price.  U.S. taxes and fees range up to $46.40 per person and foreign taxes and fees range from $8.40 to $42.00 per person per foreign airport departure. Seats are limited and not available on all flights.  All Asia Pass terms and conditions, advance purchase requirements and other restrictions apply.  

      Among restrictions are that the passes must be booked and ticketed through travel agents; travelers must join Cathay Pacific's CyberTraveler program to qualify for the sale price

      Details can be found on the Cathay Pacific site at www.cathay-usa.com, or call the airline's toll-free fax-back service at 800-607-3388 and enter document code 5001.

      The basic All Asia Pass includes travel to Hong Kong and to Bangkok, Cebu, Denpasar (Bali), Fukuoka, Jakarta, Karachi, Kuala Lumpur, Manila, Nagoya, Osaka, Penang, Sapporo, Seoul, Singapore, Surabaya, Taipei and Tokyo.  The pass can be extended to other cities and other levels of service for an additional fee.

       

      NYC restaurant week. New York restaurants taking part in the city’s Summer Restaurant Week – extended now to two weeks of $20.03 lunches and $30.03 dinners -- started taking reservations May 27 for dining June 23-27 and June 30-July 4. More than 170 restaurants plan to take part, including the likes of Balthazar, Calle Ocho, Nobu, Gramercy Tavern, Blue Water Grill and San Domenico New York . The fixed-price lunches and dinners each consist of three courses and do not include beverage, tax and gratuity.

      Some restaurants will offer just the lunch deal, some just the dinner deal, and some will offer both. Details and a list of participating restaurants are on the New York Restaurant Week site.

      Other New York visitor deals are available through the city’s Summer Breaks program from June 1 to Sept. 5.  Summer Breaks includes special hotel packages and discounts at hundreds of stores, restaurants, cultural organizations, Broadway shows and attractions.

      Information on both programs is also available at NYC's Official Visitor Information Centers at 810 Seventh Ave. at 53rd Street (212-484-1222) and downtown at the southern tip of City Hall Park.

      US Airways/Star Alliance . US Airways is joining the Star Alliance, a partnership of 17 airlines worldwide that cooperate for booking and flight-connection purposes. Up until now, US Airways has not belonged to one of the major alliances, and its membership will bring tangible benefits to passengers.

      In a message to its frequent flier program members, the airline said its membership in the alliance was approved May 31 and that starting in the first quarter of 2004, US Airways passengers could start earning and redeeming mileage for travel to destinations served by all the alliance members.

      Altogether, the airlines fly to 771 airports in 133 countries, US Airways said. The other airlines are Air Canada , Air New Zealand , ANA, Asiana Airlines, Austrian Airlines, bmi, Lauda Air, Lufthansa German Airlines, Mexicana Airlines, Scandinavian Airlines, Singapore Airlines, Spanair, Thai Airways International, Tyrolean Airways, United Airlines and VARIG Brazilian Airlines. LOT Polish Airlines will become a member in October 2003.

      An announcement of the new membership is at  www.usairways.com/about/press/nw_03_0531a.htm  

      Top

       

  • Amtrak online discounts, a no-frill airline to Belfast, rating theme parks (Posted May 2, 2003)

    • Amtrak discounts. Amtrak is offering 25 percent off its best fares for those who book using its site at www.amtrak.com. Fares must be booked between May 1 and June 15 for travel between May 6 and Dec. 18, but reservations must be made at least five days in advance.  The special internet-only fares may also be combined with Amtrak’s senior, disabled and Student Advantage discounts. Reservations  must be made online using promotion code H315.

      The special fares are not available on Acela Express, Metroliner, Downeaster, peak departures of Amtrak’s Regional service or any departure requiring the purchase of a peak or unrestricted fare – which rules out a lot of trains in the Northeast Corridor.  Blackout dates and other restrictions apply.  Tickets are non-refundable once purchased.

      The discounted fares also can be combined with Amtrak’s usual discount for children, which lets two children, ages 2 to 15, to accompany each fare-paying adult at 50 percent off the full adult fare.  Tickets may be upgraded to include sleeping accommodations upon payment of the applicable charges.

      Tickets can be picked up at any staffed Amtrak station or obtained using a Quik Trak machine. They also can be mailed.

      No-frills from Manchester . Travelers flying to Manchester , England , on US Airways flights from Philadelphia or elsewhere should note that a no-frills airline called bmibaby started flying May 1 from Manchester to the Spanish resort town of Palma , Mallorca , and Belfast , Northern Ireland . It already was flying from Manchester to Alicante , Malaga and Murcia , Spain , and Cork , Ireland . The airline said it planned to expand its Manchester operations. For now, anyone bound for Ireland , Northern Ireland , or Spain might be able to put together a two-airline deal that would be quite inexpensive, especially if taking advantage of fare sales on the transatlantic route. One-way fares from Manchester to Belfast for mid-May were shown online starting at $32. Check the bmibaby schedules and fares at www.bmibaby.com and the US Airways schedules at www.usairways.com.  

      Theme park ratings. Epcot and SeaWorld earned the highest value ratings in a survey of theme parks reported in the June issue of Consumer Reports. The ratings of U.S. theme parks, the first conducted by the magazine, covered 14 top parks and was based on a survey of almost 2,500 people who took 5,500 visits between November 2000 and November 2002.

      In overall ratings, which considered value, rides, shows, staff, souvenirs and crowds, Epcot ranked No. 1, followed not far behind by Disney-MGM Studios, the Magic Kingdom, SeaWorld in Orlando, Universal’s Islands of Adventure in Orlando, SeaWorld in San Diego, and Disney’s Animal Kingdom.

      In the middle of the pack were Disneyland in Anaheim , Calif. ; Cedar Point in Sandusky , Ohio ; Busch Gardens in Tampa ; and Universal Studios in Orlando .

      At the bottom of the pack were Knott’s Berry Farm in Buena Park , Calif. ; Universal Studios Hollywood, and Disney’s California Adventure in Anaheim .

      Among the magazine report’s findings: Theme park package deals don’t always offer the best value for the money; discounts are available if you look for them, and park food is expensive – avoid relying solely on dining inside the parks. 

  • Baltimore booms, American Trans Air becomes ATA,  Vietnam warning, Amtrak's spring sale, dog books & beds. (Posted March 28, 2003)
    • Baltimore booms. The city of Baltimore -- celebrated twoInner Harbor, viewed from Visionary Art Museum decades ago for a downtown resurgence anchored by Inner Harbor development -- is going through a new spurt of come-hither openings and refurbishments. A May launching is set for the Fell’s Point Maritime Museum, 1724 Thames St. , which will revolve around the pivotal seafaring community once based just east of the Inner Harbor . A shipyard operated there from the 1730s until the mid-1800s.

      Scheduled for an August opening is a new $6.7 million Baltimore Visitor Center , located between Harborplace and the Maryland Science Center . Also set to open this spring is a multimedia show called “PassPort Baltimore, Voyages of Discovery,” located in the Power Plant Live!, itself a fairly new addition to the Inner Harbor scene, housing six clubs, five restaurants and four attractions. The newest attraction will offer two “voyages,” Time Elevator and Oceanarium, with moving seating, film and special effects.

      A $4 million expansion of the Star-Spangled Banner Flag House, including the War of 1812 Museum, is expected to be complete in mid-June.

      Also on the touring calendar are the Maryland Historical Society, whose expansion and grand reopening is set for November; the Hippodrome Performing Arts Center, set to open in February 2004; the Maryland Science Center, with an expansion due for completion in summer 2004, and an expansion of the National Aquarium in Baltimore, due to be ready in 2005.

      Locations for the new attractions can be found through the city’s tourism site at www.baltimore.org.

      Call it ATA. America Trans Air, which often offers competitive fares between Philadelphia and other U.S. cities on its Chicago-based route system, has changed its name to ATA Airlines. The company said it made the change to more closely align its name with that of its parent, ATA Holdings Corp., and to “avoid confusion with similarly named airlines.”

      The airline had long been informally called ATA within the industry, and its Web site made frequent use of the ATA abbreviation.

      The name confusion occurred most often with AirTran Airways, a larger, Atlanta-based airline also is known for low fares and no frills. AirTran changed its name from ValuJet Airlines in 1997 after a fatal crash near Miami in 1996.  

      Amtrak spring sale. Rail travelers booking between now and April 30 can consider two new Amtrak specials, one which lets three people ride at what amounts to a 50 percent discount, the other giving 25 percent off to solo passengers. It may be a “spring” sale, but the discounting is good for travel for much of the whole summer, through Aug. 28. Tickets must be booked by April 30.

      The offers are available for most trains, but not the Northeast Corridor’s Acela Express and Metroliner trains or the Downeaster service between Boston and Portland , Maine . A limited number of discounted seats are available under the program, fares are nonrefundable, and other restrictions apply.

      With the first deal, dubbed the 1-2-Free promotion, the first ticket is full fare, the second is half price, the third is free. Everyone in the group must travel on the same itinerary at the same times. The fare code is H270.

      The discount for single travelers can be combined with other types of discounts.

      For details, visit www.amtrak.com or call 1-800-872-7245.

      Vietnam health warning. In an unusual warning, the State Department is urging U.S. citizens to defer nonessential travel to Vietnam for health reasons, namely concern over severe acute respiratory syndrome (SARS) there and the lack of medical care and evacuation options should a visitor contract the mysterious ailment that has proven fatal in a number of cases. U.S. citizens already in Vietnam should consider departing, the department said.

      “The level of medical services in Hanoi is now dramatically diminished by the closure of the only adequate hospital facility and reduced operations by the two main outpatient facilities due to the SARS emergency. At present, no commercial carriers are willing to transport patients with SARS.  Even non-lethal medical conditions are difficult to address because clinics are making initial assessments by phone or screening patients outside the clinic facilities.”

      The full warning is at  www.travel.state.gov./vietnam_warning.html. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has a SARS page at www.cdc.gov/ncidod/sars.

      Pooch news. Rolling off the presses any day now is Dog-Friendly New England: A Traveler’s Companion, by Trisha Blanchet (The Countryman Press), which paves the way for those traveling with Fido by detailing lodgings that accept pets. It also covers parks, historic sites and other attractions where dogs are welcome to tag along and lists pet stores and vets in the region. … Cascade Designs, the company that makes Therm-a-Rest mattresses for campers, also makes them for dogs. Products such as the Camp K-9 Dog Bed can be found on a new site, www.campk9usa.com.  

      Top

       

  • 10 'next big thing' destinations, Kinzua Bridge project begins, National Gallery renovations, Nepal warning revised (Posted March 9, 2003)
    • Even with the drumbeats of war in the background, ambitious travelers always ask: What’s the next big destination?

      Here are 10 of them, as selected by correspondents of the trade publication Travel Weekly and described in a recent issue.

      * Krakow, Poland. “Tempts with castles and churches, cobblestones and cafes – without the big crowds of Prague and Budapest .”

      * Queenstown, New Zealand. “The dollar goes a long way and the natural setting for every attraction ranges from simply pretty to drop-dead gorgeous.”

      * Belfast, Northern Ireland. Past hurdles such as religious strife, military presence, and a shortage of hotel rooms are fading. “The province is one of travel’s up-and-comers if ever there was one.”

      * Dubai, United Arab Emirates. “… Guests can go scuba diving and then attend a sunset picnic in the desert, complete with billowing tents and belly dancing.”

      * Salvador da Bahia, Brazil. Located a two-hour flight north of Rio de Janeiro on the Atlantic coast, Salvador is capital of Bahia state, “a land of Carnival and of the Candomble religion, a fusion of African beliefs and Catholicism.”

      * Molokai, Hawaii. The most Hawaiian of the Hawaiian islands “is filled with history, culture and natural beauty,” including the 2,774-acre Kamakou Preserve rainforest sanctuary.

      * Tunica, Mississippi. Legalized gaming came to this city 30 miles south of Memphis in the early 1990s, spawning a boomtown atmosphere that is bringing attractions beyond gambling, including golf courses and a $22 million river park.

      * Luang Prabang, Laos. “If unspoiled Eastern culture is your thing, Luang Prabang, Laos, is your place,” with its dozen or so ancient temples and monstaeries in a picture-book setting.

      * Botswana. In the Okavango Delta, “visitors glide along narrow, papyrus-lined streams and watch is eagles, herons, storks and egrets soar overhead.” The South African country is wildlife-rich, tourist-sparse.

      * Belize City, Belize. Belize’s resources “range from top dive sites that dot its Caribbean coastline and its 185-mile-long barrier reef to rainforests, jungles, cave systems and Mayan ruins.”

       Work begins on historic Pa. bridge. A $3.9 million emergency repair job on the Kinzua Bridge in McKean County, Pa., has gottenKinzua Bridge, Aug. 2002 underway, and contractors hope to have it open to pedestrian and rail traffic by spring 2004, the Department of Conservation and Natural Resources said. The 2,053-foot viaduct was closed to pedestrian and excursion train traffic last summer after an inspection revealed rusting and deterioration of its steel understructure. The bridge, originally opened in 1882, is the key attraction at Kinzua Bridge State Park .

      Most park visitors arrive in vehicles, but also come on a scenic railway that until July 2002 made daily crossings of the bridge. When first opened, the bridge was the highest railroad bridge in the world at 301 feet from the center of the valley, according to the DCNR. It was rebuilt in 1900 to handle heavier trains, then went unused from 1959 to 1987. The park officially opened in 1970. In 1977, the bridge was placed on the National Register of Historic Civil Engineering Landmarks.

      The park is near Mt. Jewett in northwest Pennsylvania and remains open. The bridge can be viewed from an overlook, and the state said that later this year segments of the deck will be opened to pedestrians as repairs by two full-time crews progress. A Webcam trained on the bridge is at www.winterinpa.com/winterinpa/webcam_kinzua.jsp.

      National Gallery renovated. Renovation work on the National Gallery, located on Trafalgar Square in London , is expected to beNational Gallery with construction outside finished by late summer, the British Tourist Authority said. The $31.5 million project includes the addition of new public spaces, such as the conversion of a hidden courtyard into an atrium space, and the opening of the main portico entrance and “the return of the 1880s Central Hall to its original grandeur as a main picture gallery.” The museum includes 2,300 works and is free. Web site: www.nationalgallery.org.uk.

      Nepal warning revised. The State Department on March 5 revised its advisory on travel to Nepal , noting a cease-fire announcement on Jan. 29 between the government and Maoist insurgents. Terrorist bombings, kidnappings, and assassinations by the Maoists have been suspended since the cease-fire announcement, the department said. “Whether the current cease-fire agreement will continue remains unclear, however, and a return to violence at any time is possible.” The latest announcement on Nepal is at http://travel.state.gov/nepal_announce.html.  The American Embassy in Nepal 's home page is at www.south-asia.com/USA.

      Top

  • World tourism grew last year, single-parent beach deal, a hotel chain's phone deal, cherry blossoms, pets in Europe  (Posted Feb. 23, 2003)
    • World tourism overall grew in 2002 despite global economic problems and uncertainty over war and terrorism, according to the World Tourism Council’s annual report on international tourist arrivals.

      Arrivals reached nearly 715 million, the first time they have gone above 700 million, the WTO said. The 2002 figure was 22 million more than 2001, a 3.1 percent increase. It was 19 million more than in 2000.

      Europe ranked No. 1 in arrivals, with Spain, Italy and Greece faring especially well. United Kingdom arrivals grew more than 3 percent. Central and Eastern Europe increased 3.9 percent on average. Poland and the Czech Republic registered declines of more than 5 percent.

      Asia and the Pacific grew significantly, although India’s arrivals fell 6.6 percent.

      North American arrivals still are hurting from Sept. 11 fallout, the WTO said, but the overall decline was just under 1 percent, owing partly to increases in Canada. Still, North American has nearly 12 percent of the global market, compared with 14.6 percent in 1995.

      Caribbean island arrivals declined for the second year in the row, with a 3 per cent drop, and South American arrivals declined again as well. Central America posted 10 percent growth.

      The WTO noted that its figures do not take into account domestic tourism, which especially in North America has helped offset declines in international visitors.

      Single parent beach deal. The Beaches Resorts group is waiving the single supplement for stays at four Caribbean properties during May, September, Aug. 24-31, and October, dubbing those periods "Single Parent Months." The supplement, usually charged to those who have not booked on a double-occupancy basis, will be waived even when guests take advantage of another discount program, such as the "Beaches is for Everyone" at select resorts. The resorts also are beefing up activities aimed a single-parent families.

      Avoiding the supplement represents a big savings; at Negril, for instance, the supplement adds about 50 percent to the cost for a single adult. A spokeswoman for Beaches said the deal applies to all single adults, regardless of whether they are parents. The resorts waiving the supplement are Beaches Negril, Beaches Turks & Caicos in Providenciales, Beaches Sandy Bay in Negril, Jamaica; Beaches Boscobel; Rios. For details or reservations, call 1-888-232-2437 or go to Web site www.beachesresorts.com.

      Free phone use. Phone bills are a sore subject for many guests at hotels that apply surcharges or charge high rates for long-distance calls. Hoping to take advantage of that, Wyndham International recently extended a program that not only offers free local calls, but also free long distance phone calls, high-speed Internet access, faxing and copying at its many properties. To qualify, guests must sign up for the chain’s Wyndham ByRequest program before June 30 and must also stay at any Wyndham Hotel, Wyndham Resort, Wyndham Luxury Resort, or Summerfield Suites by Wyndham prior to June 30. Wyndham says the ByRequest program has one million members. The phone policy excludes calls to Alaska and Hawaii. For other conditions or to enroll, visit www.wyndham.com.

      Cherry Blossom Festival. This year’s National Cherry Blossom Festival – the 91st -- will take place March 22 to April 2 and will embrace several events not part of the past festivals, including the World Figure Skating Championships March 24-30, blossom-theme walking tours, and a Japanese and Asian artifacts appraisal day. Among other events are the Smithsonian Kite Festival on March 22, the Festival of Origami Architecture on March 29, and a street festival of Japanese Arts and Culture on April 5. The big Cherry Blossom Festival Parade goes up Constitution Avenue starting at 9:30 a.m. on April 5. For details of festival events, go to Web site www.nationalcherryblossomfestival.org or call 202-547-1500.

      Pets in Europe. Pet owners planning to take their pets to England or Europe can find an authority on the topic in a British company called Dogs Away, which walks clients through the red tape for a fee. In December, the United States was added to the United Kingdom’s program that allows dogs and cats to enter without a six-month quarantine, providing certain conditions are met. Since then, Dogs Away has set up a Web site at www.dogsawayfromtheusa.com. Director Colin Silver also says his company knows about potential problems in Europe not widely known abroad, such as a disease called leishmaniasis that is being reported along the Mediterranean coast and spreads to pets via mosquitoes and flies. It can be combatted using a repellant collar, he said.

      Top

       

  • Travel habits of singles, an airline for pets, Bath getting a spa, golf in Britain (Posted Feb. 16, 2003)

    • Single people don’t tend to haul the family to Disney World, but that doesn’t mean they don’t have clout in the world of travel. Single households – those composed of people who are single and live alone or with a roommate – account for 32 percent of all U.S. households and are responsible for 27 percent of all domestic trips, according to a new study by the Travel Industry Association.

      To study singles’ travel habits, the TIA divided them into four groups: young singles, ages 18 to 34; middle singles, ages 35 to 54; older working singles, age 55 and older and employed; and older retired singles, above age 55. Here’s what the study found: * For young singles, most trips were taken by those age 25 to 34, 39 percent of their trips were short getaways of one or two nights, 26 percent of their trips were by air, 61 percent were by car, and they were most likely to include nightlife activities on their trips.  

      * For middle singles, the average age was 45, they spend the most of all the singles age groups – averaging $462 per trip, excluding transportation – and their trips are more likely than those of other singles to be taken for business travel.

      * For older working singles, the average age was 64, they were more likely to visit historical places and museums or attend cultural events and festivals than were younger singles, and the majority of their trips lasted six nights or less.

      * For older retired singles, the average age was 72 and they owned the most RV vehicles. Their trips were least likely to be by air but most likely to be by bus, and they take the longest trips, owing to their having more free time.  

      Flying pets. Recent talk about requiring airlines to better monitor and report on pets in their holds have led some airlines to threaten to stopDexter the dog, in leather jacket carrying pets. Not so with a small airline called Companion Air, which plans to specialize in flying pets and their owners around the country. The company, founded in 2001 by a couple of pet lovers, expects to use six-passenger aircraft that allow contact between owners and their pets during the flight. The company is going through a certification process and it will be May 2003 at the earliest before it begins service. Fares and schedules already posted on its Web site vary according to the demand and timing, whether the trip is one way or round trip, and whether the pet travels alone or with a human. One fare category, “Pampered Comfort,” is a 14-day advance-purchase fare. Among prices from the company’s Web site: Philadelphia to Chicago, $1,158, round trip, for one person and one pet; New York to Washington, $483; St. Louis to Dallas, $996.  A pet-only price, one way, with a 30-day standby fare, is listed at $214.50 for Philadelphia to Chicago; $89.50 for New York to Washington, and $184.50 for St. Louis to Dallas. Details and more pricing are at www.companionair.com. The phone number of the corporate office in Boca Raton, Fla., is 561-470-0970.

      Spa town. The British city of Bath is best known for its Roman Baths, but for decades it has been open only for touring – no bathing. This spring, visitors who are put in the mood for a steam or a soak can turn to the Thermae Bath Spa, a modern spa opening not far from the ancient baths. The new facility, expected to open in April, will have indoor and outdoor thermal bathing, steam rooms, and massage therapy, plus a restaurant and visitor center. Besides a new building with a rooftop hot pool overlooking the surrounding hills, the spa will have five restored buildings, including the 18th-century Hot Bath and Cross Bath. A two-hour spa session will start at about $25. Information: www.thermaebathspa.com.

      Golf in Britain. “Golf in Britain” is a new map folder that identifies about 150 golf courses in England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland. Besides courses, the guide also points out nearby sightseeing points such as castles and historic sites that can be visited by family members or others who aren’t on the links. The free guide can be obtained by calling the British Tourist Authority at 1-877-899-8391 or at Web site www.travelbritain.org.

      Top

       

  • Disabled travel, QE2 fails then passes, historic Atlanta itinerary, an Acela deal, and a terrifying face lift at Disney World (Posted Feb. 9, 2003)

    • Disabled Americans would spend at least $27 billion per year on travel -- twice as much as they did in the past year – if their travel needs were better met, according to a recently published study.  If the travel industry did more to meet those needs, the increased spending would help offset recent declines in travel spending, the study suggested.

      What disabled travelers need are services that make traveling easier, such as “meet and greet” services at airports, preferred seating on airlines, hotel rooms close to amenities, and hotel staff members who go out of their way to accommodate disabled guests, the study said.

      The research was conducted by Harris Interactive on behalf of the Open Doors Organization, a not-for-profit corporation that promotes support of people with disabilities. The Travel Industry Association of America helped prepare the survey, which involved polling 1,037 people with disabilities.

      • QE2 inspections. The cruise ship QE2 received a “not satisfactory” rating after a routine sanitation inspection in Fort Lauderdale , Fla. , on Jan. 3, scoring an 85 out of 100 points. Under Centers for Disease Control and Prevention standards, a ship must earn at least 86 points to be considered satisfactory. Cunard Line, the ship’s owner, rectified  the shortcomings, requested a reinspection, and later in January in Honolulu earned a satisfactory score of 92. The Jan. 3 CDC Vessel Sanitation Program report cited the ship for ice machine corrosion, galley sanitation and potable water system shortcomings, and cockroaches in the Caronia galley. The reports for the QE2, as well as for other ships, can be found at www.cdc.gov/travel.  

       

      • Historic touring. Parents, teachers and other trip planners looking for educational itineraries may be pleased to learn the National Park Service has done some of their work for them. Collaborating with state and local governments and groups, the service has a Travel Itinerary Series featuring destinations drawn in part from the National Register of Historic Places. Atlanta recently became the 25th theme area in the series, with nearly 70 sites as diverse as the Fox Theatre, Oakland Cemetery , Stone Mountain Historic District, Margaret Mitchell House, and the Dixie Coca-Cola Bottling Plant. Also in the series is “Aboard the Underground Railroad,” with stops in Pennsylvania , New Jersey and Delaware , and “ Delaware and Lehigh National Heritage Corridor.” New itineraries for later this year [2003] are “Lewis & Clark Expedition,” “Three Historic Nevada Cities,” “Aviation History,” and “ Hartford , Conn. ”  Printed materials also are available. The itineraries and links to their hundreds of sites are at www.cr.nps.gov/nr/travel.  

      • Acela Express deal. Traveling by train from Philadelphia to New York can be less expensive in business class on a premium Acela Express train than in coach class on regular Amtrak trains. What’s the catch? You must book your seat on a new Acela Express train – number 2118 -- that starts in Washington and departs Philadelphia at 10:09 p.m. , arriving in New York at 11:22 p.m.   The one-way fare from Philadelphia to New York is $40, compared to the usual unreserved coach class fare of $48. The usual Acela Express business class fare from Philadelphia to New York is $95. Deeply discounted fares on train 2118 also are available for the whole Washington - New York run or to intermediate points. The new service began in late January; the introductory fare is available through April 25. Book at www.amtrak.com or by calling 1-800-872-7245.  

      • Tweaking terror. The Twilight Zone Tower of Terror thrill ride at Disney-MGM Studios near Orlando recently got a face lift – or perhaps “fright lift” is a better term. It’s the fourth time since the ride opened in 1994 that it was reengineered for different dips and other effects aimed at making it scarier. Besides adding new sound technology, scent, and visual effects, Disney says, the ride’s dip-and-drop sequences and timing play out randomly. “We wanted the guest to feel completely out of control -- not knowing what to expect next, and giving the die-hard fans a lot more to talk about."  That’s a key benefit: Such changes help keep the fans coming back for more, like a video game with many unpredictable corridors to go down. The Tower of Terror ride begins with guests stepping into a creaky freight elevator, which takes them on its newly unpredictable ride. Disney information: 407-824-4321, Web site www.disneyworld.com.  

      Top


  • Gatwick Express 4-for-price-of-2 discount, Disney breaks ground in Hong Kong, coming to Las Vegas, hotel movies, Pennsylvania scenic overlooks, New Mexico scenic drives (Posted Feb. 2, 2003)

    • Groups of three or four people flying into London ’s Gatwick Airport aboard US Airways’ daily flights from Philadelphia or by other airlines can save up to 50 percent with the new “four for two” ticket on the Gatwick Express train, which runs between the airport and Victoria Station in 30 minutes.

      The ticket lets three or four adults make the trip for the price of two. Normally the one-way fare for an adult is 11 pounds, about $18. Under the four-for-two plan, the price for four people traveling one way is 22 pounds, or 43 pounds for a round-trip ticket.

      Those using the ticket must travel together and must be more than 15 years old.   The first leg of a round-trip ticket must occur the day of the purchase; the return trip must be made within one month of the purchase date.  Tickets can be bought at the Gatwick Express ticket offices at Gatwick Airport and at London Victoria station.

      Even people traveling as singles or a couple could take advantage of this discount – at least for a one-way trip -- if they can manage to team up with another couple or person about to buy a full-fare ticket at the ticket window.

      The Gatwick Express Web site is at www.gatwickexpress.co.uk.  Click on “fares” for information about the four-for-two ticket.

    • Hong Kong Disney. The Walt Disney Company broke ground in Hong Kong on Jan. 12 for Hong Kong Disneyland, a new theme park scheduled to open in 2005-2006. The 310-acre site on North Lantau Island will include the park, two hotels and retail, dining and entertainment outlets. The park, a joint venture between Disney and the Hong Kong government, is expected to eventually draw 10 million visitors per year. North Lantau Island is the largest of the many islands that are part of Hong Kong . It can be reached by a roadway crossing from the mainland to the north tip of the island, as well as by several ferry routes. 
    • Las Vegas outlook. Las Vegas-bound gamblers can expect three new properties to open this year, says the January issue of Las Vegas Advisor newsletter. Most notable is the Ritz-Carlton Lake Las Vegas, a Mediterranean-style resort with casino and 36 holes of golf, taking reservations for later this month. [February] It’s located 17 miles east of the strip. The other openings are Cannery, a North Las Vegas locals casino, and Tuscany , part of an all-suites hotel on East Flamingo Road . Expansions are planned at six big casinos this year [2003]. As 2002 came to a close, Wildfire, a small casino across from Texas Station, opened. Also new last year [2002] was Neonopolis, an entertainment complex on Fremont Street .  
    • Hotel flick report. The top movies on the big screen in 2002 also performed well on the little screen in hotel rooms, according to a company that provides in-room entertainment for hotels with more than 890,000 rooms. The company, On Command, said that based on revenue generated, the most-watched film was The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring, followed by Ocean's 11; Shallow Hal; Spider-Man; My Big, Fat Greek Wedding;  Training Day;  Harry Potter & the Sorcerer's Stone;  Monsters, Inc.;  Black Hawk Down, and The Bourne Identity. 
    •   Pa. overlooks. Travelers who like to take the long view will appreciate a newly published book called Pennsylvania Overlooks: A Guide for Sightseers and Outdoor People, by Art Michaels (Penn State University Press, 2003). The book covers 47 overlooks statewide with pictures and text, offering details on what to see and do near each site. The guide’s 6-by-9-inch format lets it fit into the glove compartment, at hand for weekend getaways. The $15.95 book is in stores or available through the publisher at www.psupress.org.
    • N.M. drives. Twenty-four scenic drives are mapped and described in a free New Mexico Scenic and Historic Byways Driving Map just published. Several drives have their own Web sites, which are noted, including five of the six National Byways in the state: Turquoise Trail, Jemez Mountain Trail, Santa Fe Trail , Historic Route 66, El Camino Real, and Billy the Kid. Get the map by calling 1-800-733-6396, Ext. 751, or visiting Web site www.newmexicoscenicbyways.org.  

      Top

     

  • US Airways' new standby fee, S.F.-Philadelphia by way of the Panama Canal, an exhibit on Irish women, a Tampa-Cancun ferry falters (Posted  Jan. 26, 2003)
    • US Airways again altered its same-day standby policy reducing to $25 from $100 the charge for nonrefundable-fare passengers who want to fly standby on an alternate flight for travel within the United States and Canada . The airline said the fee remains $100 for European, Caribbean and US Airways Shuttle service.

      Since last fall, the airline has been selling $100 coupons that passengers could use for flying standby. Under the change announced earlier this month, [ jan 10,2003 ] the $100 coupons can be exchanged for four $25 coupons.

      In September, most major U.S. airlines revised their same-day standby policies to begin charging fees when flights are swapped, a practice common among business fliers. The new fee was a revenue-generating step for the cash-strapped airlines, but it met with strong complaints from passengers and most airlines have since reconsidered.

      In December, United Airlines said it was abandoning plans to charge $100 for flying standby, and Continental and American followed suit.

      Delta Air Lines, however, began charging $50 for standby on Delta Express flights, and its policy on other flights says: “Effective for tickets purchased on or after Sept. 5, 2002 , for domestic travel beginning on Mar 1, 2003 , standby travel is prohibited unless allowed by the rules of the fare. However, upon payment of a $25 service charge, passengers may be confirmed on another same-day flight within 3 hours of departure of the new flight provided coach seats are available on the requested flight. Reservations outside 3 hours are subject to a $100 service charge, plus any difference in fares.”  

    • Philly via the canal. Seldom do “ San Francisco ,” “ Panama Canal ,” and “ Philadelphia ” show up in the same sentence, but those are the start, midpoint and finish of an unusual itinerary in September aboard the cruise ship Prinsendam of Holland America Line. The 20-night voyage departs San Francisco on Sept. 10 and arrives in Philadelphia on Sept. 30 after port calls in Manzanillo and Santa Cruz Huatulco, Mexico; Puerto Quetzal, Guatemala; the canal; Costa Rica, the Dutch West Indies, and the Bahamas.  From Philadelphia , the ship continues to Boston . Rates start at about $3,000 per person, double occupancy.  For details, contact Holland America at 1-877-724-5425 or visit www.hollandamerica.com. The Prinsendam, which was new in 1988, is a relatively small ship with about 400 staterooms for about 800 passengers.
      Irish women. “Fire Upon the Hearth: A Celebration of Irish American Women” is an exhibit set to open Feb. 17 and run through April 30 at Dreams of Freedom, Boston’s immigration museum. The exhibit focuses on the contributions of dozens of women the fields of education, work, literature, politics, religion, culture and athletics.  For details, contact the museum, located at One Milk St. in downtown Boston , at 617-338-6022, Web site www.dreamsoffreedom.org.  Other Irish-related events can be located through www.IrishMassachusetts.com.
      New ferry fumbles. New ferry service from Tampa to Cancun , Mexico , has been discontinued by Scotia Prince Cruises because the channel to Morales, the port closest to Cancun , proved too shallow. The company said the 1,000-passenger Scotia Prince would continue its Tampa-Merida service, launched at the same time as the Cancun route in mid-November. Improvements to the channel were made in  2002, but “following a month of sailing into Morelos it has become apparent that the channel is neither as deep nor as wide as required due to winter seasonal tides, adverse winds and channel swells of up to 1 meter,” the ship’s owner said. The Tampa-Merida trips dock in the port of Progreso and are expected to continue through April. For information on the ferry and related vacation packages, contact Scotia Prince at 1-866-466-3935, Web site www.yucatanexpress.com.

      Top

     

Return to Travel briefing main page.

Return to Travel briefing main page

 

Home ] Travel briefing ] Geogroffica ] Travel Q&A ] 10 for the Road ] Philadelphia ] Just back from ] Focus on ] Agent specialties ] Travel gadgets ] Bookshelf ] State events ] Bio ] Seminars ]

          Last updated: 06/08/2006