Category Archives: Seasonal Travel

Olympic vacations: Get in the spirit of the Games

Can’t make it to London this summer? Get into the spirit of the Olympic Games at these hotels, where you can compete in your sports of choice — swimming, luge, archery, horseback riding, even a paintball biathlon.

Lake Placid, N.Y.: Luge, paintball biathlon, ski jump
Set among the peaks of the 6-million-acre Adirondack Park, the alpine village of Lake Placid was home to the 1932 and 1980 Winter Olympics. Today, you can visit and partake in the Gold Medal Adventure program, where you’ll climb aboard a wheeled luge, learning the basics of the sport as you steer down a paved course, then try hockey and paintball biathlon and ride an elevator to the top of the 120-meter ski jump tower (but, not to worry, you won’t jump). You can also watch future U.S. Olympic ski jumpers soar off the 90-meter ski jump as they compete in Soaring Saturdays. Stay at the Interlaken Inn, where rates start at $175 a night.

Related: Where to ride the craziest waterslides 

Miami: Archery, ping-pong, swimming, track and field
While the summer games play out in London, kids ages 4-12 staying at the Loews Miami Beach Hotel will be able to enjoy their favorite Olympic sports, poolside, at the sprawling beachfront hotel located on South Beach’s famed Collins Avenue. The hotel’s recreation team will create fun kids’ versions of archery, ping-pong, swimming and track and field. Winners will receive one of the new medal-themed sundaes featured in SoBe Scoops, during the months of July and August. Adults can lounge in a chaise, float on a raft or just sit back and watch the 2012 Games poolside on the big screen outside with their “Dive In” viewings. Rates from $229 a night; all Olympics happenings are complimentary for guests.

Dominican Republic: Tennis, sailing, horseback riding
Head to Casa de Campo for easy access to tons of Olympic sports in an island setting, including riding lessons at the Polo Equestrian Club, trap/skeet shooting at more than 200 stations in the 245-acre Shooting Center, tennis lessons at one of 13 courts, kayaking along the Chavon River, or sailing in the Caribbean Sea from the 370-slip Marina Yacht Club. Just eight minutes from La Romana International Airport, the resort is easily accessible from Miami and New York, with airfare starting at around $300 per person. Rates from $219 a night, all-inclusive per person. Kids under 12 stay, eat and play free. 

Vancouver: Biking biathlon
The Olympics are still alive and well in Vancouver where you can pose for a photo at the Vancouver 2010 Olympic Cauldron and hike the Olympic ski runs of Cypress Mountain or nearby Grouse Mountain. After that, take a walk along Vancouver’s extensive seawall and see the Inukshuk statue, symbol of the 2010 Winter Games, and check out the grounds of the athlete’s village. Since it’s summer, try some warm weather twists on Olympic sports in Whistler including a biathlon that substitutes biking for skiing. Special rates from $209 a night at the Opus Vancouver.

Virginia: Archery, badminton, volleyball, tennis
The 255-year-old Homestead is the uncontested grande dame of the Allegheny Mountains, 180 miles south of Richmond, Va. Head to Hot Springs to try out the newly built archery range at this antebellum resort. Eight stationary targets are set at varying distances for adults and children, and a selection of bows accommodate right and left-handed archers. If archery isn’t your thing, try your hand at other Olympic sports, including badminton, volleyball, tennis and riflery at the sporting clay courses or enjoy guided horseback rides on mountain bridle paths. Rates from $250 a night.

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Route 66 still holds allure for travelers, industry

Route 66 hasn’t been a real highway for almost three decades.

The last section of the fabled U.S. route from Chicago to Santa Monica, Calif., was dropped as a federal highway in 1984. But its hold on travelers’ imaginations has revived motels, diners, souvenir shops, gas stations and other buildings along the old route.

The enduring fascination, along with some federal grants, has helped Route 66 thrive, even as people old enough to remember its heyday die off.

“People are looking to see the real America, not Walt Disney’s version,” said Ron Hart, director and founder of the Route 66 Chamber of Commerce in Carthage, Mo.

A Rutgers University study released in March estimated that people spend $132 million annually along old Route 66, which crosses eight states and is marked in some places by ceremonial signs.

Visitors encounter attractions like the Boots Motel, which Hart, as property manager, restored to its late 1940s glory ahead of its re-opening last month.

Built in 1939 and once visited by actor Clark Gable and singer Gene Autry, the Boots had fallen into disrepair and become a flophouse for drug addicts and illegal immigrants, Hart said.

Under its new owners, five rooms have been renovated and more are set to be redone. Guests are treated to touches such as real keys, chrome light fixtures, chenille bedspreads, monogrammed towels, built-in dressers and an old radio tuned to a station that plays 1940s hits. No TVs in the rooms — just a non-working late 1940s model in the lobby. If you want ice, the staff brings it to your room.

“We sit in front of the motel every night and wave to the people driving by,” said Deborah Harvey, a historic preservationist and co-owner of the Boots. “People stop, pull up a chair and tell us their stories about the motel.”

Route 66 was completed in the mid-1920s and gained fame in the 1930s when it was described in the John Steinbeck novel “The Grapes of Wrath” as the “mother road” from the Dust Bowl to the promise of California. It later became the family vacation route to the Southwest and was romanticized in movies, music and on television.

“It wasn’t the only highway, or the first or the longest, but through the quirks of pop culture it became famous,” said Mark Spangler, curator of the Route 66 Museum in Lebanon, Mo.

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Tough navigation

The biggest challenge to modern-day Route 66 travelers is staying on the original route, said David Knudson, founder and executive director of the non-profit National Historic Route 66 Federation. Signs are inconsistent along the long route and many are stolen for souvenirs, he said.

“It’s hard to follow without a good map,” said Knudson, whose group publishes a Route 66 map and guides. “Some parts of the road have deteriorated, some are in good shape and some parts were removed years ago and replaced with cornfields. About 80 percent of the original route is still drivable.”

The federal government no longer maintains any of the route, so repairs are done by various cities, counties and states that took over each section, Knudson said. His federation has a program that recruits people to monitor the condition of 100-mile stretches of the road.

But federal funds are available to owners of Route 66 businesses. The National Park Service’s Route 66 Corridor Preservation Program has paid an average of $150,000 annually since 2001 for business renovations along the road that are matched privately, according to the Rutgers study.

The survey found that the most popular sights along Route 66 are the old roadside diners, motels, gas stations, souvenir shops, theaters and other businesses. According to the study, 230 buildings along the route are on the National Register of Historic Places.

The route includes quirky sights like the Cadillac Ranch near Amarillo, Texas, which features a series of half-buried Cadillacs with their fins up. In Catoosa, Okla., there is a giant open-mouthed whale built over a popular Route 66 swimming hole.

People also travel Route 66 for the scenery of plains, mountains and rivers, Knudson said. It is still the American definition of the open road, especially as it passes through the remote southwestern states, he said.

“It’s the adventure that draws many people,” Knudson said. “There is certainly a lot to be said about that.”

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Freebies and fun Father’s Day adventures for dad

You could give dad another tie or splurge on a six-pack of socks for Father’s Day on Sunday, but he’d probably rather go somewhere with you on a fun adventure.

Many zoos, including those in Pittsburgh, Tampa and Atlanta, welcome dads for free on Father’s Day as do many museums and attractions such as Seattle’s Museum of Flight, Madame Tussauds in Las Vegas and Old Sturbridge Village in Massachusetts, where dads will also get a free gift and a free lesson in playing the jaw harp or a tin whistle. (Many free admission offers are 2-for-1, so don’t chintz out and try to send dad through the turnstile alone.)

In Spokane, Wash., tours of the restored home of Father’s Day founder Sonora Smart Dodd, known as “The Mother of Father’s Day,” will be offered on Sunday from noon to 4 p.m. (Email for address and details). At George Washington’s Mount Vernon Estate, Museum Gardens near Alexandria, Va., a man portraying General Washington will be on hand throughout the weekend to greet visitors, pose for photos and share his thoughts and advice on being a husband, stepfather and, of course, the Father of our Country. This weekend, modern-day fathers who purchase a ticket to the Mount Vernon estate will also get free admission to the George Washington’s Distillery Gristmill, three miles down the road.

Feed dad for free
Many restaurants have planned special Father’s Day brunch menus and some eateries will feed your dad for free.

On Sunday, dads dining at any of the 10 Smith Wollensky Restaurants across the country will receive complimentary sleeves of special edition golf balls (while supplies last).  Most TCBY shops will give dads a free frozen yogurt, and IKEA stores will treat dads to a free breakfast and a complimentary cup of coffee (until 11 a.m.). And if you say “BFD” (“burger for dad”) out loud when you order, your dad will be served a free 1/3 pound burger at The Counter restaurants.

Father’s Day hotel deals  
It’s not too late to take advantage of some of the specials and packages hotels have created to pamper your pop.  

  • The Father’s Day promotion package at the Seagate Hotel Spa in Delray Beach, Fla., includes a deluxe room, breakfast for two, a 50-minute Men’s Urban Cleanse Facial (at the spa) and an in-room amenity. ($350; promo code: Father)
  • “Rock of Ages,” starring Tom Cruise as an 80s-era rock-god, hits theaters today and New York City’s Sanctuary Hotel is offering a “Live Like a Rock Star Package” (starting at $269 per night, plus tax) that includes VIP add-on amenities ranging from a bottle of Double Cross vodka (“To get the party started,” $150) to a haircut at Whittemore House Salon by Larry Raspanti, the hairdresser who snips the locks of Bono and other celebrities. (Men’s haircut: $125). 
  • In Beverly Hills, a Father’s Day tradition is a free outdoor car and motorcycle show stretching along Rodeo Drive. This year’s Rodeo Drive Concours d´Elegance features classic automobiles and racing cars from Britain, so the Luxe Rodeo Drive Hotel is offering a British Intelligence Package, which includes a glass of California wine on arrival, breakfast for two and a 360 martini or cappuccino. (Code: BRINTEL)
  • Gearhead dads may also want to drive to Tacoma, Wash., where the Hotel Murano has added a “Get your Motor Running” package that includes free parking, $20 food and beverage credit, free in-room Wi-Fi and two tickets to LeMay-America’s Car Museum, the shiny new shrine to automobiles that opened its doors on June 2.

Find more by Harriet Baskas on and follow her on Twitter

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For summer travelers, sand is thicker than blood

Elizabeth Ruiz / EPA

Beach vacations are popular, in part, because they are affordable to other getaways, according to findings from the 2012 Flip Flop Report, released Wednesday.

With summer starting just weeks away, you might be starting to plan that big trip to visit the folks or other family.

Unless, that is, you’re like many travelers and you’re planning on hitting the beach instead.

That’s among the findings of the 2012 Flip Flop Report, a global survey sponsored by and released on Wednesday. When asked if they could take only one holiday, 33 percent of respondents said they’d prefer the beach vs. 10 percent who said they’d want to visit family or relatives.

“Beaches are definitely top of mind right now,” said Joe Megibow, vice president and general manager. “But even if you take seasonality out of it, beach-going and travel have been best friends for years.”

The survey, which included 8,599 consumers in 21 countries, also found that:

  • 52 percent of respondents worldwide expected to vacation at the beach in the next 12 months, up from 45 percent last year, although, sadly, only 23 percent of Americans expected to do so;
  • When at the beach, 60 percent of Americans preferred doing nothing/relaxing vs. exercising (13 percent) and “posing for pictures you wouldn’t want business associates to see (2 percent);
  • 38 percent of Americans cited prevalence of sharks when picking a beach vacation vs. 67 percent of Singaporeans and 70 percent of Brazilians;
  • 2 percent of Americans have sunbathed nude vs. 8 percent of Spaniards and Indians and 15 percent of, wait for it, Germans.

Silly statistics aside, the most telling insight, perhaps, is that 77 percent of travelers (and 78 percent of Americans) cited the “estimated price of total vacation” as their top concern when choosing a beach destination.

“It’s less about whether they spend more or less; it’s more about how much buying power they have with their budget,” said Megibow. “As flights get more expensive, they don’t fly or they fly and spend fewer days.”

That impression is echoed in two other reports released this week. On Tuesday, AAA released its annual Memorial Day forecast, projecting that budget-minded consumers will still travel but that they’ll stay closer to home, take shorter trips and decide to drive rather than fly.

Also on Tuesday, a new report from Deloitte suggested that 54 percent of Americans would take a trip between June 1 and Labor Day, a slight increase over the 52 percent who did so last year. With airfares and gas prices up over last year, says the company, travelers will be on the lookout for deals, discounts and complimentary amenities.

For fliers, that may mean choosing airlines that don’t charge to check bags or use onboard Wi-Fi; for hotel guests, seeking out complimentary breakfasts and free parking. At Expedia, the priority travelers are placing on their budgets has prompted the company to launch what Megibow says is its largest summer sale ever, with some 12,000 participating hotels in 700 destinations.

As for the 77 percent of Americans who don’t expect to take a beach vacation in the next 12 months, one last study might be worth considering. Released last month, a paper by researchers at the European Centre for Environment and Human Health in the UK revealed that visits to coastal environments resulted in greater calmness, enjoyment and refreshment than visits to other outdoor locations, such as rural settings and urban parks.

By that token — and regardless of the dent it may make in your budget — a beach vacation could be priceless.

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Rob Lovitt is a longtime travel writer who still believes the journey is as important as the destination. Follow him at Twitter.


World’s longest water coaster unveiled

Courtesy Holiday World

Thrill seekers who don’t mind getting wet are in luck. On Friday, Holiday World in Santa Claus, Ind., unveiled Mammoth, the world’s longest water coaster.

When it comes to attracting customers, the attractions business is often likened to an arms race in which competing parks do battle over who has the biggest, fastest and wildest rides.

These days, you could say it’s being fought with water cannons as parks invest in new water rides that promise faster speeds, steeper drops and more intense thrills.

Case in point: the new Mammoth “water coaster” opened Friday at Holiday World in Santa Claus, Ind. Located in the park’s Splashin’ Safari area, the ride features seven hills, multiple twists and turns and a length of 1,763 feet, making it the longest water coaster in the world.

“It’s bigger than big,” said spokesperson Paula Werne of the 69-foot-high, $9-million ride. “We thought Wildebeest [the park’s existing water coaster] was huge but Mammoth takes it up a whole other notch.”

Other parks are also unveiling new water rides this summer, a trend that observers say speaks to both the competitive nature of the business and consumers’ expectations.

“If you’re not keeping up with the latest and greatest, you’re going to have trouble getting the kind of attendance you need to be successful,” said David Sangree, president of Hotel Leisure Advisors LLC. “And with prices as high as $30 to $50 a day, you have some pretty high expectations.”

“The perception of water parks and water rides is making a shift,” said Brad Goodbody, marketing manager for ProSlide Technology Inc., the company that created Mammoth. “Previously, they were seen as theme parks’ poor cousins but now you have rides that will get people to come back month after month.”

If that sounds appealing, here are three new rides that’ll be making a splash this summer:

Courtesy Holiday World

Riders of Mammoth, the world’s longest water coaster at Holiday World in Santa Claus, Ind., could experience feelings of weightlessness during the ride.

Like Wildebeest and a handful of other water coasters, Mammoth uses the same linear induction motor (LIM) technology — basically a series of magnets — that newer roller coasters use to propel passengers uphill. Seated in six-person circular rafts, riders may find themselves facing forward, sideways or backwards and may even experience the weightless feeling known as “air time” as they crest each hill.

“There’s nothing like seeing your friends and family members getting soaked, getting scared and screaming and laughing,” said Werne.

Mile High Flyer
Visitors to Water World in Denver will also be able to notch a water coaster experience this summer, albeit on a slightly smaller scale than at Splashin’ Safari. Set to open in mid-June, the LIM-powered Mile High Flyer will feature five hills, four-person rafts and speeds of 15 to 20 mph. In a novel twist, the park is incorporating sound effects, including the familiar click-click-click of a traditional coaster lift hill.

King Cobra
Take your typical tube slide, outfit it in red, white and black scales, and have it end in the gaping maw of one of the scariest species of snake on the planet and you have King Cobra, the newest addition to Six Flags Hurricane Harbor in Jackson, N.J.

Once in the belly of the beast, riders race down side-by-side tubes, hitting speeds of up to 32 mph, before plunging down a 25-foot, 50-degree slope that resembles a cobra’s extended hood and fanged jaws.

“It’s not a new technology,” said spokesperson Kristin Siebeneicher. “It’s a way to evolve the classic thrill of a waterslide.”

Alas, you’ll have to wait a little longer to experience it. The ride is expected to open in early July.

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Rob Lovitt is a longtime travel writer who still believes the journey is as important as the destination. Follow him at Twitter.