Travel news, updates and deals for the week of April 20, 2009
AIRLINES & AIRPORTS
Air Transfer. Short on time before your flight? You can now make it to Newark or JFK airport from Manhattan in just 8 minutes for $99 on US Helicopter. You may also clear security and, if you're booked on Delta or Continental, check in your bags before choppering over all those suckers stuck in tunnel traffic. The dual-engine Sikorsky S-76B helicopters fly daily from two locations in Manhattan between 7 a.m. and 8 p.m. Book through May 14 for travel through Aug 31 (except holidays). Downtown: Manhattan Heliport, 6 East River Piers; Midtown: Atlantic Metroport, 510 East 34th Street & FDR Drive; 877-262-7676.
Snakes on a Plane. Where's Samuel L. Jackson when you need him? Four baby pythons escaped their cage during a Qantas flight from Alice Springs to Melbourne on April 14. Workers searched the aircraft for the 6-inch reptiles which are non-venomous, and can grow to about 3 feet but after two flights had to be canceled to accommodate the fruitless search, the airline gave up and fumigated the plane. "They're not endangered, so a decision was made to fumigate," said Qantas spokesman David Epstein. "If these snakes turn up, they will be very much dead snakes." All the same, you might want to check that seatback pocket carefully.
Pets-Only Planes. Air travel has finally gone to the dogs. The new Pet Airways caters to your beloved Fido or Fluffy, offering dogs, cats and other domestic animals "first class pet travel" in the cabin instead of the cargo hold. Pets even get access to a special arrival lounge. Sadly, you can't fly with your baby; the aircraft are for animals only. Which begs the question, how is that different from every other airline you'd normally fly? Service starts between select cities New York, Washington, D.C., Chicago and Los Angeles on July 14. Fares start at $149.
To Beantown for Beans. The Southwest airline has announced service to Boston beginning August 16, so you can still squeeze out some cheap fares for the last two weeks of summer. The airline will start with 10 daily flights from Logan's Terminal E: five to Chicago Midway and five to Baltimore/Washington International.
Cheap Fares on AirTran. Budget carrier AirTran has flights from Atlanta to Portland, Maine, starting at $89, and from Columbus, Ohio, to Cancun starting at $91. Check out other sale fares on the AirTran website. Purchase tickets by April 23 for travel through Oct. 30.
Super Size Fee. Overweight baggage isn't the only thing incurring extra fees these days. United Airlines has a new policy for obese passengers people who can't buckle the seatbelt with one extender, or can't pull down the armrest asking them to buy a second coach ticket or upgrade to the wider business class seats on crowded flights. Oversized passengers will be accommodated at no charge if there are empty seats on the plane, but on full flights, they'll be bumped and seated on a later flight or given a refund. The airline says the new policy is in response to complaints from slimmer passengers crowded by their neighbors. Are Americans getting larger or are airline seats getting smaller?
What Causes Jet Lag? In a study in the current issue of Biology, researchers report that they've figured out the cause of jet lag: a desynchronization of the internal clocks of two groups of neurons deep in the brain. One group is associated with deep sleep, which results from fatigue; the other is linked with rapid eye movement, or REM, sleep. Although the first group of neurons can be reset in a few days, the latter can take up to a week to catch up so, one part of the brain thinks its in Paris, while the other insists it's still in New York. The result is you lying wide awake in your hotel room at 3 a.m.
HOTELS & PACKAGESIn honor of Earth Day, April 22, here's a collection of travel packages that get you close to nature by land, sea or air.
South American Safaris. International Expeditions is offering up to $1,200 off regular rates on their Amazon River and Galapagos Island trips. The 10-day Amazon Voyage takes you along 445 miles of the river aboard a 28-passenger riverboat, with promised sightings of river dolphins, sloths, giant otters and capybaras. Also included: jungle walks, piranha fishing and visits to local villages. If you book the June 26 or July 17 trip you can save $1,000 per person. Prices for adults, with discount, start at $2,048 per person, including most meals and local transportation; prices for kids ages 7 to 16 start at $1,898.
Retrace a few of Charles Darwin's steps 2009 marks the 200th anniversary of the naturalist's birth on International Expeditions's 10-day trip to the Galapagos Islands. You'll spot iguanas, giant tortoises and penguins. You'll hike up ancient volcanoes, snorkel with sea lions and visit the Charles Darwin Research Center. Your 32-passenger ship's small size means it can visit islands like Genovesa (Tower) Island, which boasts one of the most diverse bird populations in the Galapagos. Book the May 15, May 29, June 5 or June 26 Galapagos trips and get $1,200 off per person. Prices, with discount, start at $3,798 for adults, including most meals, local transportation and guides, and $3,448 for kids ages 7 to 16. 800-633-4734
Nature Show. The Lost Iguana Resort & Spa in central Costa Rica, which is situated facing the lava-flowing side of the Arenal Volcano (one of the 10 most active volcanoes in the world), is offering guests up to 20% off stays, plus a welcome dinner at its open-air restaurant. The small 42-room hotel is located on 120-acres of rainforest, populated with toucans and howler monkeys. You can raft or hike along trails that wind past 300-year-old trees, waterfalls and hot springs. The spa includes a heated pool and offers open-air massages and a fireside facial. If the volcano puts on a nighttime lava show, the front desk will even ring your room so you won't miss the sight. The longer you stay, the bigger your savings: A two-night stay gets you 10% off, with rates from $166.50 per night; three nights gets you 15% off, with rates from $157.25 per night; four nights, 20%, from $148 per night. The sale lasts through December 15. +506-2267-6148
Olympic Deals. Three hotels in Washington State's Olympic National Park are offering 35% off. Kalaloch Lodge is located on the Pacific coast; Lake Quinault Lodge is nestled in the rainforest; and Sol Duc Resort boasts hot springs. The discount is good for stays May 1 to June 26. Rates start at $359 per night.
Northern Lights. Alaska's Denali National Park has an Air-Land-Sea package at three lodges: Grande Denali Lodge (available May 17 to Sept. 14), McKinley Chalet Resort (May 12 to Sept. 20) and McKinley Village Lodge (May 26 to Sept. 15). Trips include a rafting tour, a trek to spot moose and other wildlife, and a helicopter ride around the park giving you a panoramic view of Mt. McKinley. Book by May 1. Rates start at $729.50 per person for two nights. 866-296-0327
California Dreaming. Sycamore Mineral Springs Resort has more than 100 acres of forest, hills and meadows, plus hillside mineral spring hot tubs, a labyrinth, meditation gardens, a wellness center, pool and a gourmet restaurant. If that isn't enough to help you find your moment of zen, there's also the Pacific ocean, wineries and nearby golf courses to chill you out. The resort is also near Hearst Castle, which is worth a side trip if you want to see how vacation living is really done. The resort's adventure package includes either an ATV rental, a half-day kayak trip, a round of golf or surf lesson. Rates start at $575. 1215 Avila Beach Drive, San Luis Obispo, CA; 800-234-5831
Birders Paradise. At Aska Lodge in Georgia's Blue Ridge mountains, an hour and a half from Atlanta, the thrashers, goldfinches, ruby-breasted grosbeaks, red-shouldered hawks and hummingbirds are out and about. Stay two nights and receive a $20 lodging credit, a Georgia Birds pocket guide and a birdhouse to take home. Rates start at $96 midweek. Through June 26. 178 Calen Drive, Blue Ridge, GA; 706-632-0178
Country Roads. In Shenandoah National Park, just 90 miles from Washington, D.C., the Skyland Resort and the Big Meadow Lodge are offering Girlfriend Getaways, with a guided hikes to see wildflowers and horseback rides through the Shenandoah Mountains. In the evening, local Virginia wine and cheeses are delivered to your room. Weekend rates start at $499 for two people, for two nights. 888-896-3833
Rocky Mountain High. At Colorado's Mesa Verde National Park, there's a two-night Indian Arts and Culture Festival package at the Far View Lodge, which includes a half-day ranger-guided tour of Cliff Palace and Chapin Mesa sites. Priced at $399, including full breakfast, the package is only valid for arrivals on May 22 or May 23. 888-869-3831
Free Dog Night. Can't stand traveling without your pooch? Your pet will get a friendly reception and fee-free stays at Red Lion Hotels. You can even register your animal companion in the company's loyalty program, the Red Lion R&R Club, where it can earn 500 points per stay. All pets that stay at a Red Lion hotel now through September 30 will be entered in a drawing for a year's worth of pet food. Register at the Red Lion R&R Club to qualify. Although the hotel doesn't charge you a damage deposit, you will have to fork over for any damage done by your pet during your stay. Rates start at $80, depending on location.
Private Club Goes Public. The dismissive door women at the private club Soho House in New York City will have to find it in their heart to welcome even you. The exclusive hotel has joined the hotel group Utell Hotels & Resorts, and now its 24 rooms, roof deck pool, library bar and games room are open to the public. Rooms start at $450.
Paper Chase. Marriott will no longer automatically deliver USA Today or the Wall Street Journal to your door. But if you still want to savor the smell of newsprint, you can ask for the papers at check-in (or set your preferences online, if you're a Marriott rewards member). By doing away with the automatic paper delivery, the hotel expects to save on 18 million papers a year.
Hotel Spies? It may be a while, if ever, before you get to book a room at Hilton's new luxury Denizen brand. Starwood, the parent company of the W, St. Regis and Westin brands, is suing Hilton Hotels and its global luxury brand head, Ross Klein who was also the former head of luxury brands at Starwood for corporate espionage, contending that Klein stole proprietary company documents from Starwood and used them to help launch Hilton's new brand in just 9 months, instead of the usual three to five years. According to Starwood, it received boxes of Starwood documents and electronic files from Hilton just days before the Denizen announcement, which alerted Starwood to the problem. Hilton denies the claims.
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