Monday, October 20, 2008

Top 10 Ways to Avoid New Airline Fees

1. Carry On to Put Fees in Check
The most common-sense solution for avoiding checked baggage fees is to simply not check your bags. Invest in a strong, yet lightweight bag that’s in accordance with the bulk of airlines' carry-on allowances and reusable toiletries containers (sized under the TSA’s mandated maximum of three ounces) and leave worries of lost luggage, hefty additional fees, and long waits at ticket counters for checked bags – behind.

2. If You Must Check Bags, Check Wisely
The steepest checked baggage fees are tacked onto bags that are overweight (usually above 50 pounds) or oversized (from 62 inches). So while it may at first seem logical to try to cram everything into one bag instead of using two, know that while a first checked bag won’t set you back more than $15 on any airline, if it ends up being oversized or overweight it can cost anywhere from $29 (AirTran) to $175 (Delta, for over 70 pounds). Considering second checked bag fees hover around $25 on most airlines (bringing the average total for two checked bags to about $40), it's near-always the more economical option to check two bags than to go overboard on one.

3. Pack Sweet Dreams With You
If you’re looking to catch some onboard shut-eye, pack an inflatable pillow to carry on. Available at many travel and luggage stores, they can be quite comfortable, are more sanitary than airlines’ recycled arsenal, and takes up very little room.

4. Bring Your Own Headset
A handful of airlines are now charging anywhere from $1 to $5 for headsets that allow travelers to tune into the in-flight video entertainment. Simply bring your own iPod earbuds or headphones aboard for superior quality, and save on dishing out for their cheapie versions which you'll most likely end up trashing.

5. Fight In-Flight Food Fees
Fight back against those pricey in-flight food fees by packing a brown bag meal ahead of time to carry on. Some airlines are extending this fee frenzy to non-alcoholic beverages, as well. Since TSA regulations bar travelers from bringing their own water through security checkpoints, try bringing an empty bottle and filling it up at the airport water fountain and adding an iced tea or sport drink mix, many of which are now served in single sizes.

6. Let Your Hotel Foot the Bill
Some very smart hotel chains have figured out a way to attract guests by offering to alleviate their newfound checked baggage expenses. Show your first checked bag receipt when checking in at a Loews Hotels for up to $30 in dining credit at the property under their Baggage Buy Back campaign. Kor Hotel’s Los Angeles-area hotels will reimburse guests with up to $75 in hotel credit through their Money Bags promotion.

7. Fly Southwest for Freedom From Fees
Southwest has been reveling of late in its fee-free structure, which it owes largely to the fuel "hedges" that the company put into place back in 1998 – basically a type of insurance policy against rising fuel prices that locks in their fuel rates at well below what other airlines have had to dish out since barrel prices spiked. It was a smart business move that has paid off tremendously for the airline – and their customers.

8. Join the Club
Several airlines will waive baggage fees if you are an elite member of their frequent flyer program. Remember to sign up for your carrier’s frequent flyer program before booking your flight to start accruing points, and if you are already a member of a program, keep in mind that loyalty to them might very well pay off in the long run.

9. Don’t Get Beat on Your Seat
About half of domestic airlines are now charging for "preferred" seat selection. To avoid doling out the extra cash, check in online just prior to your flight (most airlines open up online check-in 24 hours before scheduled departures), when non-assigned seating inventory usually opens up to all passengers. If you are able to pick your seats in advance, however (the bulk of airlines are still not charging for non-preferred seating assignments), consider booking seats at the back of the plane where you’ll have first dibs on luggage space, meaning you won’t have to store your bag under the seat in front of you, taking up precious leg room.

10. Squeaky Wheel Gets the Grease
If an airline attendant tells you that a can of soda costs $2, as US Airways is now charging, a little whining goes a long way. As an “unwritten rule,” US Airways flight attendants decided they would not charge customers who complain over the new cost for soft drinks.

5 things you must consider before cruising

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Cruising can be an exciting and affordable vacation option. Of course, it’s important to find the right cruise at the right price for your getaway. After all, there are more than 160 ships in the fleets of the 24 major cruise lines and thousands of itineraries worldwide.
Here’s what to consider when selecting your cruise.

Style of ship and cruise line
Cruise lines have their own distinct personalities and ships that reflect them. The size of a ship really does matter. Large ship cruise lines Carnival Cruise Lines and Royal Caribbean International provide a party atmosphere with glitz and high energy. Small ship operators like Silversea Cruises and Seabourn focus on quiet luxury and a more refined experience.

Where to go
Cruise ships can take you almost anywhere on the planet, from the Caribbean or Europe to Asia or Antarctica, so explore a range of possibilities before settling on a preferred route. When you’ve found a trip you love, go over the schedule carefully. If traveling internationally make sure you have valid passports, visas, and any required immunizations.

When to go
The holidays, spring break and summer are high season and that usually means higher prices. The shoulder seasons of mid-fall and early spring offer great cruise deals, and may be even more appealing than high season. An Alaska, European or Caribbean cruise in May or September, when the kids are in school, translates into fewer people in port.

Pick a stateroom
Consider your itinerary when reserving a stateroom. If you can afford to splurge, a balcony stateroom provides you a private space to relax and get away from the crowded decks. Still, not all cruises are ideal for balconies. A trans-Atlantic crossing doesn’t make a lot of sense for a balcony since the ship is at sea for days and the weather is often cold or too windy to enjoy the space. On the other hand, the appeal of a balcony on an Alaska, Caribbean, European or South American cruise offers amazing scenery that should not be missed. Smaller inside staterooms are adequate for budget-minded cruisers who seem more likely to spend most of their time utilizing the ship’s public spaces.

Getting the best price
Cruise lines offer travelers a host of discounts, so consider every source when looking for a deal. Check out your credit card as many offer discounts or points towards cruises. Look at all the clubs you belong to, from AAA, airline frequent flier programs and college alumni associations, to union memberships — see if they offer any deals or special rates for members. Also, if you’ve previously cruised with a cruise line you may be in for a repeat cruiser discount.

Friday, October 17, 2008

Top 10 Cities for Beer Lovers

Munich’s famed frothy festival, Oktoberfest, may get all of the glory, but the world is full of destinations where the natives know – and love – their beer, and where you can sample some local brew all year long.

1. Amsterdam
Heineken, Grolsch, and Amstel are three of the best-known native brews, but a sampling of artisanal blends and witte (wheat) beers from neighboring Belgium are also on the menu at Amsterdam’s cozy “brown” bars, so called for their antiquated, nicotine-stained walls.

2. Berlin
Berlin boasts more then 20 beer gardens where you can enjoy this local favorite – along with hundreds of other frothy ales. Though the city is a haven for beer lovers all year round, August in particular stands out, when the first week of the month is devoted to Bierfestival, and the city center turns into a 1.2 mile-long beer garden.

3. Brugge
This tiny city is, amazingly enough, a prime place to sample over 450 unique varieties of Belgian brew, each served in its own specialized glass. You’ll find a preserved pub, Café Vlissinghe, that dates back to 1515, breweries that still use antiquated brewing techniques, and even museums.

4. Burlington
Home to the quirky micro-brewery Magic Hat, visitors can do as the locals do and sample homegrown brews such as #9, Fat Angel, and Blind Faith IPA to name a few. Church Street, a four-block pedestrian-only zone buzzes with vibrant bars with top-notch beer on tap.

5. Dublin
Dubliners and visitors alike can’t resist the smooth creamy flavor and dark body of Guinness, the city’s finest, home-brewed stout. The Guinness Storehouse, where visitors can watch the brewing process and learn to pour themselves the perfect pint.

6. Mexico City
Corona, the signature Mexican brew, is produced in Mexico City, at Grupo Modelo, the country’s largest brewing company. While brewpubs are rare in the capital, fun taverns, mariachi clubs, and bars abound where you can taste your share of local beers.

7. Montreal
Montreal, in particular, boasts several brewpubs, like Le Cheval Blanc, Dieu du Ciel, and Sergent Recruteur that serve up first-rate micro-brewed beer in flavors that typically change with the season. Rather than be classified as lager, ale, and the like, beer here is commonly differentiated by color – blonde, rousse (red), ambrée (amber), and noir (dark) – and are ordered as such at the bar.

8. Portland
With 28 breweries based here – more per capital than any other city in the country – this Pacific Northwest city clearly boasts the motherload of American microbrews. One of the city’s oldest and largest breweries, Widmer Brothers Brewing Company, produces over 200,000 barrels a year, including a top-selling German-style Hefeweizen.

9. Prague
The city is home to U Fleku, the world's oldest brewpub, and one of Europe's most famous beer halls. It’s also home to the original (and many would say better) Budweiser, known locally as Budvar. Traditionally, beer halls only poured one brand, but have recently begun pouring two or three, so you won’t have to pub crawl to sample Prague’s best suds.

10. Sapporo
The town of Sapporo, in northern Japan, is a name beer lovers are familiar with, thanks to the golden beverage that shares the town’s namesake and which usually appears in a silver tall-boy. Since Sapporo beer is the city’s most popular export, it makes sense that it has its own museum – the only one of its kind in Japan.

Las Vegas Dos and Don’ts

Let your fellow travelers and Vegas locals give you the inside scoop before you go to Las Vegas. MSN Travel Las Vegas message board users sound off about what to do, where to stay, what’s worth the money and, more importantly, what to avoid. Here are the recommendations.

Add these items to your 'to-do' list

Do Bellagio waterfront—it’s free! It’s breath-taking! Gondola at the Venetian—so romantic!Treasure Island show—risqué! Nice fireworks! Drive a convertible at night—amazing sights!

Do go to dueling pianos at New York, New York. Best thing I did there, fun, energetic, singing, dancing, drinking, good times.

Do tip the cocktail waitress if you want your drinks to keep coming.
Do use the personal safes in your hotel room.

Do spend $ on your hotel room and make sure you book a room on south Las Vegas Blvd. Trust me when I say that staying on south Las Vegas Blvd as opposed to north Las Vegas Blvd makes all the difference!

Avoid Sin City nightmares

Don’t wear high heels if you’re walking on the Strip—it’s bad for your feet and posture. It just does not look good unless you're 'working' off the strip.

Don’t sleep too much—you’ll miss out on a lot!!!

Don’t rent a car—traffic on the strip is awful. There is plenty of public transportation—tram from Bellagio to Monte Carlo and another from MGM all the way to the Las Vegas Hilton.

Don’t go to Vegas in July unless you plan to stay inside the whole time.

Don’t bring the kids!!!! Vegas is a place for adults, plain and simple

Thursday, October 16, 2008

How to Plan For a Ski Vacation

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When it comes to vacations, the big thing now is ski trips. Everyone seems to want to head off to the slopes for a day of flying down a mountain, the wind in your hair, and the powder swishing beneath your skis. If you only have a few days of vacation time, a day trip to a ski resort is a great way to use them. However, to really get the most out of a ski resort, you should really look into a ski vacation package. Because when it comes to a ski resort, skiing is just the tip of the iceberg.

If your planning a ski vacation package, keep in mind that you want something that your whole family can enjoy, no matter what skill level they are at. Many ski resorts require you to have different passes for beginning, intermediate, and advanced slopes. Be sure that your family will have access to the slopes they want to be on. And ask about classes if you're not already skilled.

It can be great to learn from a professional, and you'll get the satisfaction of improving your skill.
And don't forget there's lots to do besides just skiing. There's tubing, where you ride giant inner tubes down the ski hill. There is usually also an ice skating rink, which should offer figure skating, and hockey. And don't forget about sledding for the little members of your family. There's lots to do with the snow other than just to slide down it.

If it's getting too cold outside in the snow and ice, there's bound to be plenty of things to do inside. Most ski resorts will have game rooms with ping pong, pool, or darts. These games may seem a little old fashioned, but on a family vacation, sometimes it's nice to get away from the video games. Of course, there might also be an arcade.

Don't forget that many ski vacation packages will also include swimming pool, hot tub, and sauna access. These can be great choices for evening, after you've combed the slopes all day. Few things are nicer than a good soak in a hot tub after working your body out in the cold all day.

Along with many fun activities, most ski resorts offer a variety of foods, sometimes having multiple restaurants right on site. You may be able to have steak one night, and seafood the next. With most ski vacation packages, you should be able to find something to please everyone.

5 tips to save on car rentals

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Reserve the least expensive model
Once you select a model, no rental-car company will ever let you leave with a cheaper one. When the car you reserved isn't available, they'd rather give you a better car for the same price than a lesser car for a lower price. If you're inclined, you can negotiate an upgrade at the car-rental counter.

Do ask, do tell
Laws vary by state and rules vary by company, but unmarried couples can often skip the extra-driver fee (and the paperwork) simply by telling the clerk that they're domestic partners. Don't wait for the clerk to ask what your relationship is. Other ways to try to get around the extra-driver fee: joining the loyalty club (what on earth are you waiting for?), saying that you're coworkers or that you're members of AAA, AARP, or Costco. The point is to ask.

Grab the keys and go
Join the free loyalty club and you won't have to wait in what can be a cruelly long line, or tell the agent your address, or listen to the upsell on a bigger model or on insurance. You can get off the lot and into your vacation in a matter of minutes.

Think globally, browse locally
It's a little-known fact that some car-rental companies have different websites for different countries, and the rates for the same rental can vary. The prices quoted at, for instance, won't necessarily be equal to the rates at the sites for the United Kingdom (, Germany (, Ireland (, and South Africa ( It's worth poking around.

Don't pay double for insurance
Insurance is a big profit generator for car-rental agencies, and they don't mind that it's confusing. If you own a car, however, your owner's policy will cover you no matter what car you're driving, including a rental. Also, most credit cards cover the Collision Damage Waiver (CDW) automatically, so there's no need to give the rental agency that extra $10 to $20 per day.

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Wednesday, October 15, 2008

Which Cruise Is Right for You?

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That depends on what you want to do—and how much you want to spend! Here are four types of seafaring getaways, with options to suit any budget.

Health & fitness retreat

$ If you don't want to shell out for a fitness cruise, sail to the western Caribbean, where you can choose an adventure like snorkeling, scuba diving, horseback riding, or biking. Carnival offers the best options in this area (

$$ Royal Caribbean's Freedom, Liberty, and Independence of the Seas each have healthy menu options, a gym and spa, a surfing simulator, a jogging track, an ice-skating rink, a boxing ring, and a rock-climbing wall (

$$$ On Star Clippers' ships, you dock in small, exotic ports with recreational options that include hiking up volcanoes and cycling through vanilla plantations. Onboard fitness classes include yoga and aerobics (

Milestone celebration

$ Cruises to Alaska and British Columbia offer sophistication (Vancouver and Victoria) and nature (all around you). During shoulder season, you can nab a bargain for around $100 per person per day. Princess and Holland America have the best options (,

$$ Big-time celebrations call for big-time ships: The Queen Mary 2, which crosses the Atlantic, has a planetarium, a pub, and Canyon Ranch's only cruise spa (

$$$ French Country Waterways and European Waterways offer trips on barges that meander along canals in France. Days revolve around meals, bike rides, winery visits, and watching the countryside go by (

Single girls' get-together

$ Carnival Cruise Lines — known to many as the "party hearty" line — has a terrific selection of three- and four-night voyages to destinations like the Bahamas (from Florida ports) and Ensenada, Mexico (from Long Beach, Calif.) (

$$ Book a shorter cruise on a line that might otherwise be a budget buster. Celebrity Century sails four- and five-night trips in the Caribbean and has fully equipped fitness facilities and an elegant ambience (

$$$ Mediterranean itineraries are popular with European travelers, so the onboard experience provides cultural immersion — and, potentially,cute men aplenty. MSC and Costa, lines that channel Carnival's celebratory mood, have shipsthat sail the Mediterranean (,

Made-for-moms trip

$ No time? Norwegian Cruise Line offers one- and two-night voyages out of New York that don't have any port calls. They do have restaurants, spas, and entertainment (you can catch a Second City comedy show on Norwegian Gem) (

$$ Get a grand experience for less by taking a repositioning cruise. Princess, Holland America, Royal Caribbean, Celebrity, and Carnival all offer these one-way trips. In October, for example, Carnival Splendor sails from Rome to Fort Lauderdale (

$$$ Norwegian Cruise Line's Pride of America sails round trip from Honolulu. The ship has spas, restaurants, and a Hawaiian cultural center, but the island stops — including Maui, the Big Island, and Kauai — are the real stars (

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Top 10 Extreme Vacations

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We've found ten extreme vacations to get your heart racing:

1. Drag Racing
Doug Foley's Drag Racing School offers several dates in Atco, New Jersey (plus a trio of options in Michigan, Pennsylvania, and Maryland); for the highest HBM (heart beats per minute), opt for the Super Comp Dragster package, a two-day program that includes safety instruction and step-by-step familiarization with your car.

2. Gorilla Safari
No more than 700 mountain gorillas remain, but Volcanoes National Park in Rwanda, Africa is still the best place on the earth to spot – and maybe even touch – one of these gentle herbivores. Their distinctive personalities are endearing, while the ruins of the Karisoke Research station where Fossey was murdered and buried are themselves quite moving.

3. Heli-Skiing
Lured by the promise of untouched slopes, wilderness solitude, and challenging terrain, those who dare to get airborne access otherwise inaccessible peaks. Valdez Heli-Camps operates tours to the Chugach mountain range in Alaska; serious extremists book the four-day Sound to Summit package that tackles Chugach's 13,000-foot peak and offers accommodations on a ship anchored in the Prince William Sound.

4. Mountain Climbing
Mount Everest looms large in travelers' minds, and with good reason: risking passage through the "death zone" (which takes lives every year) and reaching the summit is the achievement of a lifetime. If you're an accomplished climber, Adventure Consultants offers summit expeditions from Nepal that will set you back about $60,000 and come with no guarantees of summiting.

5. Sandboarding
Sandboarding is a four-season extreme sport that's recently gained in popularity with snowboarders looking for a similar rush and surreal, desert landscapes. Sure, you could try surfing the dunes at your local beach, but for the real deal, head to Cerro Blanco near the Andes mountain range in Peru to find the world's tallest sand dune.

6. Shark Diving
Pack your gear and go deep-sea diving with the sharks off the coast of Cape Point, South Africa. Apex Shark Expeditions runs day trips into False Bay (some 30 minutes from Cape Town) between November and June, inviting you to swim for over an hour with Mako and blue sharks without anything but your wet suit between you and their fins.

7. Space Travel
The 10-day space journey offered by Virginia-based Space Adventures blasts you from a launch pad in Kazakhstan into the actual orbit of the Earth, where gravity itself becomes obsolete as you circle the globe every 90 minutes. But if the thought of piggybacking on a Russian rocket for a cool $25 million grounds you, wait for a comfy chair on Richard Branson's Virgin Galactic, set to launch as early as 2009 with suborbital flights that will set you back $200,000.

8. Spelunking
Rappel down the side of a limestone cliff, squeeze through damp crevices covered with luminescent glow worms, leap from a subterranean waterfall, and go "black-water rafting" in the underground rapids at Ruakuri Cave, part of the otherworldly Waitomo cave system in New Zealand. The five-hour Black Abyss adventure offered by The Legendary Black Water Rafting Co. is the most challenging of the region's guided tours, with a mix of climbing, rappelling, and cave tubing.

9. Stunt Vacations
For a taste of the car chases, burning buildings, and free falls seen in high-octane action movies, head to Las Vegas. Thrillseekers Unlimited offers hear-pounding adventures taught by working SAG stunt professionals; book the five-day Stunt Experience and you'll stunt fight, set yourself on fire, and bungee jump from the AJ Hackett Tower on the Strip.

10. Titanic Dive
You don't have to be an oceanographer to get a look at the shipwreck of all shipwrecks, either – head to Newfoundland, where The Great Canadian Adventure Company runs expeditions aboard the Akademik Keldysh, a Russian research vessel capable of descending nearly 2.5 miles underwater to reach the ship's resting place. The privilege of seeing the Titanic up close costs nearly $40,000 but, for fanatics, it's a small price to pay to be one of the first non-scientists to make the dive.

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Tuesday, October 14, 2008

How to Avoid Jet Lag

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1. PREGAME. A term usually reserved for heavy boozing, this one seriously applies to flights. 24 hours before your flight, drink as much water as you possibly can. A flight is severely dehydrating, and it's actually the primary cause of jet lag.

2. RELAX. Once you get in the air, do whatever you have to in order to relax. Personally, I never sleep on flights, so I'm not saying you have to sleep. Listen to some relaxing music, breathe deeply, and kick off your shoes. Just relax.

3. WALK AROUND. To keep your circulation and muscles in order, walk around the plane every one-two hours. It keeps you adjusted and keeps your muscles in working order.

4. MOISTURIZE. During the flight, take some time to use facial and body moisturizer. Your skin gets really dehydrated (along with the rest of you) and this can help keep some of the moisture in.

5. ASK FOR WATER. Flight attendants are completely used to giving patrons water nearly constantly, so don't be afraid to ask for some water. Ask for a few cups at a time if you feel hesitant about continually calling them over.

6. EXERCISE. Once you land, try to be outside as much as possible, and absorb a lot of sunshine. Stimulating your endorphins doesn't hurt either (which exercise does). A lot of studies say that the more time you spend outside, the better you will adjust to the time difference.

7. STAY AWAKE. This is the most difficult, but also the most crucial part of the whole process. My tried and true method is to stay up until nightfall of the day you arrive. Try not to drink caffeine as it will dehydrate you further. Load up on water and fruit; they'll give you a natural boost and also help rehydrate you. Go to bed any time after nightfall.

8. WAKE UP. Wake up at a normal hour the next morning; it will keep you on a normal schedule, and you'll feel refreshed.

Carnival will get rid of fuel charges but will raise fares

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Carnival Corp., the world's largest cruise operator, said effective Oct. 31 it will eliminate fuel surcharges on new bookings for 2010 at six brands and raise fares instead.

The Miami-based cruise giant also laid out guidelines to reimburse consumers for 2008 and 2009 voyages if oil prices drop. If the price of oil is $70 a barrel or less during the 25 trading days ending five trading days prior to departure, a passenger will get a shipboard credit to refund the fuel surcharge.

The moves apply to Carnival Cruise Lines, Costa Cruises, Cunard Line, Holland America Line, Princess Cruises and the Yachts of Seabourn. Carnival Corp. was the first in the industry to impose the fuel surcharge last year, a move that was soon followed by its competitors.

In a statement, Bill Harber, director of marketing for Carnival Corp., said the company is moving away from fuel surcharges to reflect the recent downward trend in fuel prices. He added that Carnival may reinstate fuel surcharges if oil prices rise.

At Seabourn, the fuel surcharge is $15 a day per person for the first and second passengers, up to $210 per cruise, and $4 a day per person for the third and fourth passengers, up to $56 per cruise. At the other five lines, the fuel surcharge is $9 a day per person for the first and second passengers, up to $126 per cruise and $4 a day per person for the third through fifth passengers, up to $56 per cruise. The six lines operate 88 ships with 167,000 lower berths.

Monday, October 13, 2008

American Airlines will offer A la Carte Pricing?

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American Airlines recently announced that beginning in 2009, it would imitate the a la carte pricing plan of Air Canada by offering a basic fare and allowing travelers to select additional services for extra fees.

But when we asked readers what they thought of the "unbundling" of airline services, many were displeased. "This is absolutely ridiculous! Next they will charge us for oxygen on the airplane," wrote dcarey.

Some worry this is only the beginning of additional fees. "I will not be surprised if airlines begin selling magazines, or charging $20 for carry-on baggage, $5 to use the overhead bin, or $2 per restroom visit, and a few bucks for post-flight trash disposal and interior cleaning fee — regardless of whether you fly coach, business, or first class," said km-452746.

But not everyone had a negative reaction to American Airlines’ announcement. "I honestly don't have a problem with this," said Hank-618601. "In Europe, when you buy a train ticket, you are buying a seat only and sometimes you are not even guaranteed a seat. ... Anything else you want on board that train, you must pay for separately. Why shouldn't air travel be the same?"

Top 10 Guy Getaways

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We’ve rounded up the ten best activities and destinations where you can bond with your buds – whether watching baseball, drinking beer, or a getting a back rub – on a guys-only getaway.

1. Catch a Baseball Game in Boston
Even a die-hard Yankees fan can’t deny Boston's place in baseball history. The best time to see the boys of summer in action is – well, the summer – but no matter what time of year you visit Boston, you can always take a tour of Fenway Park for a behind-the-scenes look at one of baseball’s most famous franchises.

2. Cook in Napa
There’s no better place to learn the basics than the Culinary Institute of America in Northern California’s Napa Valley. The CIA offers very masculine "Live-Fire Cooking" cooking classes – you’ll be the ultimate barbecue man on the block in no time. If it gets too hot in the kitchen, get out to one of Napa Valley’s superb restaurants where you can sit back and let someone else do the cooking.

3. Drink Beer in Bavaria
There may be no better place on earth for beer lovers than Bavaria, Germany’s largest state. The capital city of Munich is home to the world-famous Oktoberfest, but there’s plenty of sud-sipping to be done in Bavaria all year long. Beer gardens and beer halls abound, as do centuries-old breweries whose output adheres to the strict standards set forth in 1516.

4. Golf in Ponte Vedra Beach
Head to Ponte Vedra Beach, Florida and book a tee time at the TPC Sawgrass, home of The Players Championship – known as the “Fifth Major,” – and the site of Tiger Wood’s incredible 60-foot “better than most” putt that helped him win the tourney in 2001 (you can try to recreate the moment on the famous 17th-hole). No matter what level you're at, playing a course that's as steeped in golf lore as this one is an experience best shared with the boys.

5. Off-Road in Death Valley
Former boy scouts looking for a wilderness camping adventure should look no further than Death Valley, California, where deep-rock canyons, old mining camps, and the arid Panamint Mountains beg to explored. See it all via 4x4 – and if you’re feeling really adventurous, spin your wheels in the sand of the Dumont Dunes, some of the tallest dunes open for off-road riding.

6. Party in Las Vegas
Las Vegas is the ultimate spot for excess, a place where boys can be boys and indulge in the activities guys love: gambling, girls, and nightlife. The Hardwood Suite at the Palms Casino Resort is tailor-made for men – think a basketball half-court and scoreboard, a massive hot tub, a full bar, and a pool table.

7. Play Cowboy in Lajitas
The best place to coral your inner cowboy is at the Lajitas Resort’s Badlands Hotel, which recreates a Wild West frontier town complete with tumbling tumbleweeds and a rickety boardwalk, albeit with modern comforts and amenities.

8. Spa in Chicago
If you secretly love to be pampered, you’re not alone – about a third of US spa-goers are men. Get your back massaged (or waxed) in masculine surroundings – think pool tables, brown leather chairs, and ’40s pin-up-girl posters – at the 316 Club Barber Spa.

9. Sport Fish in Panama
Panama is full of surprises; that it’s an excellent spot for sport fishing is one of many. Grab the guys and head south for a “reel” good catch – Panama’s waters are home to swordfish, marlin, and even some shark species.

10. Surf in Sydney
Known as the Bondi Beach of the north, this strip of Sydney sand attracts hordes of visitors looking to kick back and ride the waves (and perhaps steal a glance at topless sunbathers, a regular sighting on local beaches).

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Friday, October 10, 2008

Amtrak reports record annual ridership

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Amtrak has set another ridership record, with 28.7 million people taking its trains last year.
That's an 11% increase over the 25.8 million passengers that the national passenger railroad carried in fiscal year 2007.

Total ticket revenue for the year that ended Sept. 30 reached $1.7 billion, a 14% increase over the $1.5 billion taken in the previous year.

Amtrak, long criticized for its reliance on government subsidies, has been enjoying a resurgence. The railroad has posted six years of ridership and revenue growth and recently has benefited from high gas and airline prices.

Earlier this month, Congress passed a bill authorizing $13 billion in funding for Amtrak over five years. President Bush is expected to sign the legislation.

10 Tips for Surviving Holiday Travel

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Follow these 10 tips, and you'll be ready to face the unpredictable challenges of traveling during the holiday season.

1. Pack for security.
Ignore the TSA's baggage rules at your peril. Not only could you lose precious time as you scramble to make your plane, but you could also be forced to pitch your favorite perfume or that expensive bottle of wine.

2. Keep your gifts unwrapped.
If you’re bringing presents, be sure to leave them unwrapped until you arrive at your destination. That’s because TSA screeners may need to inspect the contents before clearing your checked or carry-on bag.

3. Lose the pounds on your luggage.
Packing light won’t just help you avoid straining your shoulders; it’s also a good way to keep you from draining your pocketbook. Most airlines allow you to check two pieces of baggage of up to 50 pounds each.

4. Leave yourself enough time.
Be sure to build enough time into your schedule if you plan to check your luggage: Airline rules require you to complete check-in, depending on your airport, no less than 30 to 45 minutes before departure. As a general guideline, you’ll want to be at the airport at least one hour before departure for domestic flights, and at least two hours for international flights.

5. Print your boarding passes on the Web.
One good way to save time at the airport is to bypass the ticket counter entirely. Check in on the Web and you’ll be able to select or improve your seating assignment and avoid waiting in line. Even if you’re checking bags, you can still print your boarding pass online and take care of your luggage by using either an airport kiosk or curbside check-in.

6. Avoid delays.
If you’re connecting in a city that’s being socked by a snowstorm, you have more control: Call your airline and see if you can be rebooked on a different flight. Also, when you’re buying your tickets, it’s a good idea to travel early in the day. Not only are you less likely to face delays, but you’ll have more options for fixing the situation if something goes awry.

7. Stay in the know.
Don’t wait until you get to the airport to find out that your plane’s been delayed. Check your flight status on the airline’s Web site several hours before you’re scheduled to depart. Being aware of potential problems early gives you time to make alternate arrangements.

8. Scout out airport eats and diversions.
Airports make some people cranky under the best of circumstances, and I’m not just talking about the under-5 set. It’s a smart idea to check your airport’s Web site to figure out if there’s anywhere good to eat near your gate.

9. Check the weather forecast.
Even if your flight takes off without a hitch, you don’t want to be caught unaware by stormy skies later in your trip. And if you’re going somewhere unfamiliar for the holidays, it’s helpful to know whether you should pack sunglasses or a scarf.

10. Know where you're going.
Finally, don’t spend so much time worrying about getting onto your flight that you don’t think about what happens once you’re off it. If someone’s picking you up, make sure you have a plan for meeting up; if you’re renting a car, have your confirmation number handy.

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Thursday, October 9, 2008

5 reasons to travel during the holidays

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Here's a holiday travel forecast you probably won't read anywhere else: look for lower prices on everything from airfares to hotel room rates, smaller crowds and a more pleasant overall experience.

1. Behold, a president bearing gifts
Regardless of who wins the presidential election in November, travelers can probably expect a change for the better. Practically speaking, it could mean lower fuel prices (after all, both candidates say they want to lessen our dependence on foreign oil) and a higher dollar (both candidates have pledged to control spending and jumpstart the economy).

2. A more civil flying experience
Air travelers are adjusting to the historic airline cuts by flying less. So it's unlikely that flights will be more crowded than ever. In fact, it's possible that more air travelers will forfeit their trip than the airlines expected, which could translate into smaller crowds at the airports and possibly even lower fares. There's some evidence this is already happening.

3. Some cruise prices are sinking
The cost of a Caribbean cruise is falling to levels not seen since 2001, according to Sharon Emerson, a Seattle travel agent and blogger. Why the slide? She speculates that there are overcapacity issues -- too many berths, not enough cruisers -- or that it's just the slow season in the islands. Either way, there are deals to be had.

4. Smaller crowds overseas too
The fall and holidays were already a great time to take an overseas vacation -- it's a slow time of year, and most of the rest of the world has never heard of Thanksgiving -- but this year it could be even better. "There will be a lot less traffic to international destinations," predicts Michael Stone, a travel consultant with Gestation, Inc., in Fort Lauderdale, Florida.

5. Cheaper hotel rooms? You got it!
John Boyd, the founder of MeetingWave, an online networking service for business executives, believes hotel room availability and pricing should improve as occupancy rates slide later this year. "Both corporations and individuals are cutting back on travel," he says. "They should find better deals at domestic travel destinations such as Las Vegas, Miami and New York." But what about the holidays, when hotels are typically sold out? They'll still be full, but the chances of finding a last-minute deal through a site that sells distressed room inventory, like or, will probably be better than it's been in years.

Columbus Day Travel?

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Columbus Day celebrates the arrival of a great explorer, and the resulting three-day weekend encourages many to get out and do a little exploration on their own. With fall foliage ablaze, good hiking weather, and one last chance for a mini-vaca before the holidays start, who wouldn't want to? And that's the problem. Because of high demand, getaways tend to be more expensive around Columbus Day than any other fall weekend, and many of the best deals come with blackout dates.

Nevertheless, don't let the idea of a challenge dampen your prospects. While more difficult than normal, my search for deals yielded some good results in city and country destinations across the U.S. Here are a few strategies for fitting the upcoming long weekend into a $500 budget.

Online Agencies
For just about every major holiday, big online agencies compile deals and are some of the best places to start looking. For example, Orbitz has a list of low-priced flights (including taxes and fees) departing on October 10 and returning on October 13.

Expedia's promo is less extensive, but has a handful of good destinations with a 25 percent discount on air and hotel (or just hotel). Since Columbus Day is fast approaching, also check for "Last Second Deals" on, where you can book air-and-hotel or air-and-car packages at a discount a week or two in advance.

B&B Websites
Although city escapes are ideal for some, others want to spend Columbus Day in the woods, enjoying quintessential fall festivities like foliage viewing, or even cozying up in front of a fireplace. Not surprisingly, the best way to find affordable country escapes is to look for deals at small inns and B&Bs. lists a host of special promotions for fall foliage. While many black out Columbus Day, others provide decent savings.

Individual Destinations
Another good way to find Columbus Day deals is to check with individual destinations, ski resorts (which often have tremendous fall foliage), and parks and wildlife areas. This year, some of the best offers are in Ogunquit, Maine.

Share Your Plans
What are you doing for Columbus Day weekend? Taking a leaf-peeping trip? Relaxing at home? Please share your tips and experiences with other travelers by posting a comment below.

Tuesday, October 7, 2008

Making Train Travel Safer?

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Amtrak passengers will have to submit to random screening of carry-on bags in a major new security push that will include officers with automatic weapons and bomb-sniffing dogs patrolling platforms and trains, the railroad announced earlier this year.

The initiative is a significant shift for Amtrak. Unlike the airlines, it has had relatively little visible increase in security since the 2001 terrorist attacks, a distinction that has enabled it to attract passengers eager to avoid airport hassles. Amtrak officials insist their new procedures won't hold up the flow of passengers.

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Monday, October 6, 2008

10 Most Beautiful Golf Courses

What makes a golf course a true classic? For some, it's the scenic beauty a course affords—jaw-dropping expanses of verdant nirvana. Others favor the strategic value presented by each hole, and for that matter, each shot. Finally, there is history: the chance to walk on the fabled fairways where champions fought, and tournaments were decided.

1. Pacific Dunes
Tom Doak was given a spectacular palette to work with at Pacific Dunes. The track is perched one hundred feet above an untrammeled Pacific coast beach, and hewn from giant sand dunes and thick fields of gorse, transplanted from Scotland. Though links-like in appearance, Pacific Dunes is much more than meets the eye.

2. Bethpage Black
One of five courses at Bethpage State Park, the Black's narrow fairways, high rough, strategically placed bunkers and small greens all combine to make it a incredibly daunting experience. "You don't have water hazards," said John Olenoski, "just really good contouring. And that's enough." Tillinghast was responsible for many fine layouts, including Winged Foot and Baltusrol.

3. Pinehurst #2
No lesser authority than Bobby Jones called the Pinehurst Resort "the St. Andrews of America," and #2 is Pinehurst's crowning glory. The sand hills area of North Carolina purportedly reminded Donald Ross of his Scottish home. Though he would design over four hundred courses in his lifetime, Pinehurst was his first love.

4. Pebble Beach
Thanks to years of televised final round coverage of the AT&T Pro-Am and a smattering of U.S. Open Championships - not to mention countless coffee table tomes - the links of Pebble Beach are indelibly stamped on the collective golf consciousness. "Not all eighteen holes are truly great," said Damian Pascuzzo, "but the stretch from four through ten and then sixteen through eighteen are amazing. One seldom gets a chance to play golf in that kind of setting."

5. TPC Sawgrass
One of Pete and Alice Dye's most recognizable designs, TPC Sawgrass near Jacksonville, Florida was the first course built to accommodate spectators. "You think of Sawgrass, you think of the seventeenth (island) hole," said John Olenoski. "Everyone wants a shot at it." "TPC is of great architectural significance," added Damian Pascuzzo. "It's a very man-made environment, and started a whole new design trend."

6. Harbour Town
Another Pete Dye Classic, Harbour Town is the course that made Hilton Head Island a golf mecca. "Mr. Dye took a flat site and made a course that is full of interest, by leaving great old live oaks in strategic spots, by creating interesting bunkers and hazard edges, and by giving the course a set of tiny greens that demand precise iron play," said Tom Doak. "Harbour Town proved that resort golfers prefer interesting features to long and challenging courses ... a lesson that I took to heart."

7. Whistling Straits (Straits Course)
Step to the tee at the Straits course and you may think that you've arrived at a storied links course on the west coast of Ireland. Unfolding along the shores of Lake Michigan in Kohler, Wisconsin, Pete's Dye's Whistling Straits is a truly "dyeabolical" layout, with upwards of five hundred bunkers. It's become an instant classic, having already hosted the 2004 PGA Championship, and is slated to host the U.S. Senior Open in 2007.

8. Broadmoor (East)
The opulent Broadmoor Resort rests at the base of the Rocky Mountains in Colorado Springs, and is celebrated for its three tracks - especially the East course, designed by Donald Ross in 1918. "Broadmoor East offers sweeping views of the Rockies," said John Fought. "It's a treat to play with its mix of holes, and will be even better when it is restored to its original Donald Ross vintage."

9. Wildhorse
Situated in Nebraska's Sand Hills region, Wildhorse mirrors the wild, dune-ridden links land of the Scottish coast - without the ocean. "Wildhorse rivals the quality of the courses at Bandon Dunes, though on a somewhat smaller scale," said Bill Coore. "It's a pure dunes land experience."

10. Black Mesa Golf Club
Black Mesa rests on a rugged piece of land north of Santa Fe. "Black Mesa features the kind of scenery you might find in an old western movie," said Tom Doak. "It's a difficult test of golf for good players, but everyone will enjoy the fact that they've kept it affordable and accessible. I think it's the best course in New Mexico."

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Friday, October 3, 2008

10 best hotels in the United States

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1. The Peninsula, Chicago
A sophisticated 339-room luxury hotel overlooking North Michigan Avenue in the heart of the premier shopping district. State-of-the-art guest accommodations, plus elaborate and recently renovated rooftop spa and fitness club with an 83-foot indoor pool and outdoor sun deck.

2. The Peninsula, Beverly Hills
A 193-room residential-style hotel near Rodeo Drive and Century City. Newly renovated rooftop cabana-lined pool and lavish health/fitness spa, plus elegant Belvedere restaurant.

3. St. Regis, New York
Sumptuously restored 229-room Beaux-Arts landmark hotel in the Midtown Fifth Avenue shopping district. Dining options include Adour restaurant by legendary three-star chef Alain Ducasse. Fitness/spa facilities.

4. The Four Seasons, Chicago
Impeccably serviced 343-room world-class hotel occupying the middle floors of a downtown tower complex incorporating upscale Michigan Avenue shops. Gourmet Seasons restaurant, plus luxurious spa and health/fitness club with a 50-foot indoor skylighted pool.

5. The Four Seasons, New York
Stunning I.M. Pei-designed 52-story 368- room modern hotel between Madison and Park avenues. Fine French/Asian fusion restaurant under the direction of celebrity chef Jo묠Robuchon, plus health spa/fitness center.

6. Ritz-Carlton, San Francisco
Sophisticated 336-room hotel in an elegant neoclassical structure on Nob Hill. Health spa and fitness center with indoor pool, plus signature New French/Japanese dining room that ranks among the city's best.

7. Hotel Bel-Air, Los Angeles
Captivating 91-room Mission-style urban oasis secluded amid a tranquil 12-acre garden in the foothills of Bel-Air near Beverly Hills. Fitness center, in-room spa services, and heated outdoor pool, plus romantic restaurant.

8. The Lowell, New York City
Refined 70-room hotel (mostly suites) set along an elegant tree-lined street between Madison and Park avenues, close to many of the city's most notable museums, galleries, and shops. Supremely comfortable accommodations (many with fireplaces, some with terraces), a residential atmosphere, attentive service, and an ideal location.

9. Mandarin Oriental, San Francisco
Distinguished 158-room luxury hotel affording spectacular bay views from the top floors of a high-rise near some of the city's best shops and galleries.

10. The Peninsula, New York
Classically styled 239-room Midtown hotel near Rockefeller Center and Radio City Music Hall in the heart of the Fifth Avenue shopping district. New panoramic Salon de Ning restaurant and lounge. Fabulous glass-enclosed rooftop spa/health club with indoor pool. Note: The spa is under renovation and is expected to reopen in October 2008.

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Wednesday, October 1, 2008

Top 10 Train Trips

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This list of top train trips around the globe will put you on the fast track to an “I-think-I-can” rail trip that we assure you not only can embark on, but absolutely should.

1. The Bergen Line
Northern Europe's highest railway, it passes through scenic fjord inlets, and past snow-capped mountains and glaciers, on a 300-plus mile journey between the culturally-rich city of Bergen in western Norway and its capital at Oslo.

2. The Blue Train
This veritable five-star hotel on wheels offers refined features and operates a handful of itineraries from Pretoria of which our favorite is the one-night excursion to Cape Town, stopping at an old diamond rush mining town along the way.

3. Denali Star Train
Passengers can chug along on a memorable 365-mile route of scenic unspoiled backcountry between Anchorage and Fairbanks, catching glimpses of towering Mt. McKinley and wildlife, from eagles soaring overhead to moose grazing in the distance.

4. Eastern & Oriental Express
The classy Eastern & Oriental Express offers several itineraries to major Southeast Asian cities in Thailand, Singapore, Malaysia, and Laos. Our favorite is the three-night journey between elegant Singapore and the bright lights of Bangkok.

5. The Ghan
Travel from the wine capital of historic Adelaide, brushing north past red sandstone cliffs, gorges, waterholes, and rock formations, keeping watch for wild camels, dingoes, brumbies and kangaroos along the way.

6. The Golden Eagle Trans-Siberian Express
Glides from Moscow, through the surprisingly beautiful Siberian tundra, to Vladivostok in 14 days. Passengers soak up benefits such as plasma screen TV’s and DVD/CD players; en suite bathrooms with power showers and underfloor heating; and dining delicacies.

7. Hiram Bingham Train
This luxury rail ushers travelers to and from the steps of the sacred site from Cusco six days a week, in sheer class – and in just 3.5 hours. Uncover stunning vistas of the surrounding landscape as you glide along through the lush Sacred Valley.

8. Napa Valley Wine Train
Savor a gourmet lunch in one of its lavishly restored 1915-1917 Pullman dining cars before hotfooting it to the wine-tasting car, where a choice of 100 wines compensates for the fact that you can’t disembark at the wineries you fancy along the route.

9. TER Méditerranée
Straddles the French Riviera coastline as it rolls from the port city of Marseille (accessible from Paris in just 3 hours by TGV train) to Ventimiglia, Italy, stopping at the Riviera capital of Nice, the resort towns of Antibes and St. Raphael, film-famous Cannes, and high-rolling Monte Carlo along the way.

10. Tokaido Shinkansen
Reduces the 320 miles between the bustling urban metropolis of Tokyo and temple and shrine-speckled Kyoto to a mere 131-minute journey, traveling at speeds of an astonishing 168 miles per hour (and accelerating to 186mph just beyond Kyoto). On a clear day, you’ll catch glimpses of majestic Mt. Fuji as you zip by the mix of urban and bucolic landscapes.

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