Travel Tips

The Best Vacations for Couples in the USA...

Posted on October 18, 2016 by Guy Paquette

No matter what you and your significant other think is the perfect vacation, the immense variety of the United States offers a spot for you to relax, recharge and enjoy each other's company. There's no one "best" vacation to fit all preferences, but whether you want to lie on a beach, cuddle in a mountain cabin, enjoy the great outdoors or stroll through a city to a gourmet restaurant, the two of you can make memories to last a lifetime by exploring all that America has to offer.

  • Northeast
Millions of tourists visit New York City every year, with good reason: gourmet restaurants, world-class hotels, museums, clubs, shopping and iconic sites to visit. Hold hands with your partner on the top of the Empire State Building, stroll through Central Park or take the ferry to Staten Island for a view of the Statue of Liberty. The CBS Local website recommends The Chatwal (thechatwalny.com) and NYC.com lists the Bryant Park Hotel (bryantparkhotel.com) among the many romantic hotels available in the city. The Pocono Mountains in northeastern Pennsylvania combine natural beauty with resorts designed for romantic getaways, including the Cove Haven Resorts (covepoconoresorts.com/rooms), where you can find heart-shaped whirlpool tubs for two, as well as dancing, golf, hiking and horseback riding. Another traditional couples destination is Niagara Falls; gamble the night away or indulge yourselves with the couple's massages and facials in the spa at the Seneca Niagara Resort and Casino (senecaniagaracasino.com); for a cozy bed-and-breakfast experience, stay just 500 feet from the falls at the historic Red Coach Inn (redcoach.com), with champagne and red roses included in one of the special romance packages. Take a fall foliage tour or a winter skiing trip in New England, snuggling before the lobby fire at the North Conway Grand Hotel (northconwaygrand.com) in North Conway, New Hampshire. Nearby you can shop at outlet stores or from spring to fall, take a ride on the Conway Scenic Railroad (conwayscenic.com/) through the White Mountains.
  • Southeast

If a romantic getaway means strolling on a beach with palm trees waving in the warm breezes, the Florida Keys offer all that and more. For the ultimate in secluded luxury, visit the resort at Little Palm Island (littlepalmisland.com), where you can dine privately on the beach and return to find your bungalow prepared with candlelight, rose petals, champagne and strawberries. Take a horse-drawn carriage ride through the cobblestone streets of historic Charleston, South Carolina. Look out over the harbor while staying at the HarbourView Inn (harbourviewcharleston.com), one of Conde Nast's Gold List Award hotels; book a room with a working fireplace and venture forth to visit nearby antique shops. A romance package welcomes you with a dozen roses and offers turn-down service with rose petals and sparkling wine, as well as continental breakfast delivered to your room.

  • Midwest and Central States

Slow down the pace and focus on each other during a six- to 14-day Mississippi River cruise. The American Queen (americanqueensteamboatcompany.com) travels from Minneapolis to New Orleans, visiting such ports as St. Louis and Hannibal, Missouri; Memphis, Tennessee; and Vicksburg, Mississippi. The steamboat features Victorian decor; relax in your stateroom and on your private balcony, or enjoy nightly dancing, music, gourmet dining, lectures from an historian, shore excursions or spa treatments. Get away from it all in Tennessee and enjoy stunning views of the Smoky Mountains while staying in a luxurious log cabin (resortsandlodges.com) with a fireplace, hot tub and rocking chairs on the porch. In the Pigeon Forge and Gaitlinburg area, you'll be near the Dollywood theme park and plenty of dinner theater and music shows, as well as such outdoor attractions as hiking, ziplining and white-water rafting.

  • Mountain States

High in the Rocky Mountains, Aspen, Colorado, offers winter sports such as skiing, snowmobiling and snowboarding, as well as cool, comfortable summer weather and an upscale, artsy town. The Sky Hotel (theskyhotel.com) features king suites with gas fireplaces and jetted tubs; guests can use the 24-hour fitness center or book a spa treatment and then head for the evening wine hour and Chef Shawn Lawrence's take on local ingredients for dinner at the 39 Degrees Lounge. The Resort at Paws Up (pawsup.com) in Greenough, Montana, is a luxury resort on a working cattle ranch. The two of you can stay at a private home or in a camping tent -- with an en-suite bathroom and a camping butler. Take a private horseback or a horse-drawn wagon ride, indulge in a couple's massage or enjoy fire and fondue for two, as well as wine tastings and chef's demonstrations.

  • Southwest

The desert southwest offers stunning sunsets to wind down your day; consider one of Concierge.com's World's Sexiest Resorts, the Hotel Valley Ho (hotelvalleyho1-px.trvlclick.com) in Scottsdale, Arizona, with its midcentury decor. Soak in a tub for two, schedule a spa treatment, reserve a private poolside cabana and have chocolate-dipped strawberries or handcrafted truffles delivered to your room. Hawaii abounds in lush resorts where couples can relax; Travel and Leisure's website lists the Four Seasons Resort Lanai at Manele Bay (fourseasons.com/manelebay) as one of the United States' 10 Most Romantic Hotels. Take surfing or hula lessons, play golf or tennis, scuba dive or snorkel, renew your vows or create your own signature perfume before retreating to your private terrace for a panoramic view of the Pacific Ocean.

  • Northwest

Napa Valley in northern California is one of the most popular romantic destinations in the United States, with rolling hills of lush vineyards. Take a wine tour, see the countryside by bicycle or horseback, or ride in a hot-air balloon for an unforgettable experience. The Knot website notes that the best weather is from August to November. Stay at the luxurious Auberge de Soleil (aubergedusoleil.com), as famous for its restaurant, overseen by Chef Robert Curry, as for the French-inspired inn. A completely different experience awaits lovers in Alaska, where the "New York Times" notes that you can enjoy the luxury of solitude by renting one of the state parks' public-use cabins (http://dnr.alaska.gov/parks/cabins). Some cabins are on lakes or saltwater beaches -- go fishing for the ultimate in fresh dinner -- and most are accessible only by plane, boat or hiking trail. You'll be roughing it while taking in majestic scenery, such as glaciers and waterfalls, as well as possibly sighting bear, seals, bald eagles and other wildlife. This far away from it all, you may be able to hear nothing but each other's heartbeats.

Posted in airlines, food tips, fun, quirky, travel

Coolest hotel elevators around the world... (USA Today/Travel)

Posted on September 14, 2016 by Guy Paquette

While most elevators serve as mundane mechanical boxes that transport passengers from point A to point B, some hotels are turning them into attractions in their own right. From futuristic, rocket-ship pods that look like they belong on a film set to tricked-out, amusement park-worthy rides that bolt up inside an aquarium, we rounded up some of the world’s coolest hotel elevators that make for an entertaining 15 seconds.

Marriott Marquis New York

Stepping inside the space-age elevator at this Times Square hotel is the closest you’ll get to time traveling to the future — or at the very least starring in an episode of The Jetsons. The glass-enclosed, neon-glowing pod launches from the hotel’s atrium lobby and zips up 49 floors at 1,000 feet per minute. The journey to the top brings great views of the expansive lobby, but watching the futuristic car rise and fall from the ground floor is just as mesmerizing.

The Morgan, Dublin

Leonardo da Vinci’s Mona Lisa painting at the Louvre might be one of the most recognizable pieces of art in the world, but this mural of the iconic character mooning visitors at The Morgan hotel might just be the cheekiest. Inspired by Banksy’s graffiti design, this creatively naughty painting will have guests giggling (and doing a double take) every time they retire to their rooms.

Pera Palace Hotel, Jumeirah, Istanbul

From the Belle Epoque décor to the sedan chair that once transported guests from the Orient Express stop at Sirkeci Train Station, everything about this 121-year-old luxury hotel harkens back to its glory days. The historic touches even extend to the hotel’s elevator, which just so happens to be the OG electric elevator in Turkey. The cast iron and wood contraption still shuttles guests from the lobby to their rooms and suites, many of which are named after famous former guests, including Agatha Christie, Ernest Hemingway and Greta Garbo.

Borghese Palace Art Hotel, Florence

Gone are the days of awkwardly standing still and staring at the button panel as the floors ding by. When guests board the elevator at this upscale Florentine hotel, they’ll be embarking on an exciting ride. Surrounded by a winding set of steel stairs, the circular glass enclosure offers 360-degree views, including some of the outdoors, as it ascends.

Radisson Blu Hotel, Berlin

At 82 feet tall, the AquaDom in Berlin’s Radisson Blu Hotel is the largest cylindrical aquarium in the world. But its size isn’t the only way it takes things to new heights (or rather, depths). Guests can get a unique interior panorama of the underwater lair thanks to a transparent built-in elevator that leisurely runs up the center of the tank. Ooh and ahh over nearly one hundred different fish species that swim in more than one million liters of water.

Hotel Palomar Philadelphia

For many of the aforementioned elevators, the highlight of their ride is the fancy façade, which often allows passengers to peep outdoors. For the elevator pod at Hotel Palomar in Philadelphia’s Rittenhouse Square, though, it’s what’s on the inside (hint: a sense of humor) that counts. Once the doors open, quirky mustached portraits keep guests company as they ascend to and descend from their stylish rooms, which are outfitted in 1960s-inspired furniture.

Hotel del Coronado, San Diego

The elevator at the historic, red-roofed Hotel del Coronado in San Diego is as much about function as it is about form. Take a moment to admire the ornate design adorning the exterior of the elevator, which also happens to be the original from when the hotel first swung its doors open in 1888. Formerly powered by steam hydraulics, the now electric-powered elevator goes by the name of Otis No. 61. Step inside and let the elevator operator take you on a trip to yesteryear.

Luxor Las Vegas

The elevator inside Sin City’s pyramid-shaped Luxor hotel might not be the flashiest or fastest of the bunch, but it still stands out. The car, which is outfitted in hieroglyphics, careens up 30 floors at a 39-degree angle, offering passengers a unique vantage point of the hotel’s atrium. Tip: Hop aboard after dark when the lights and decor of the ancient Egyptian-themed lobby dazzle below.

Posted in fun, quirky, travel

Why the Airline Boarding Process Is All Wrong...

Posted on February 25, 2016 by Guy Paquette

There is an art to boarding a plane efficiently, but that's not always best for business!

Frustrated by how long it takes to board a plane? Don’t blame airlines. Research is clear about how to speed up the boarding process, and airlines could implement new procedures to save time. Passengers probably wouldn't like the changes, however, so most airlines stick with what they have.

Consider the most obvious source of boarding delays: overhead bins. "Putting your bags up is more of the problem than taking your seat," says Hani Mahmassani, director of Northwestern University's Transportation Center. Remove half the carry-ons—the easiest fix would be to charge for them—and everyone would get into their seats faster. Frontier, Spirit, and Allegiant charge for overhead space, and while customers see it as a cash grab, it speeds up the boarding process.

Early boarding is another problem. Many airlines use systems that should be speedy, but before they start with their scientifically-proven approaches, they invite top customers aboard. Since frequent fliers often sit in the first rows of coach, they can slow everyone seated behind them. But airlines don't want to stop early boarding because passengers like it. “Our top-tier customers spend a lot of money to support our business,” says American Airline's Tim McMahan.

In a perfect world, how would airlines get passengers onboard faster? Mahmassani recommends a two-pronged approach. First, airlines should board from the back and move forward, but instead of calling each row, they should skip one row each time, so fewer passengers compete for overhead bin space. Second, he says, airlines should call window seats first, then middles, then aisles. "You want to load from the back-to-front, outside to the inside," he says.

That might be too complicated to implement, so Mahmassani suggests completely random boarding—a free-for-all similar to Southwest's approach. And the slowest system? It's likely back-to-front, since it concentrates boarding passengers in one area, with many travelers fighting over the same bins.

11 airlines were asked about their strategies. Most permit top customers to board early, but each has a system for other travelers. Here's what they do.

Random

American: American uses an algorithm to assign zones, and while representatives won't say exactly what the system looks for, its goal is to ensure as many passengers can sit and stow bags simultaneously as possible. "It's more complex than I can even recite," says American's McMahan.

Virgin Atlantic: It tested many schemes, but decided boarding everyone at once works best. "We worked with the airport teams to look at what our customers really want—the ability to walk straight onboard, when they’re ready," says Mark Croucher of Virgin Atlantic's customer experience team.

Southwest: Southwest boards in order of check-in time. But because it does not pre-assign seats, it is essentially a free-for-all, with passengers taking seats in various places all at once. Southwest once tested assigned seats, but it was a flop. ”Our most frequent customers understand the process and like it," a spokeswoman says.

JetBlue: JetBlue boards from the back, five rows at a time. An airline spokesman acknowledges this may not be the fastest approach, but says passengers like the “structure and predictability” of it.

Air China, Korean Air, Japan Airlines, Eva Air: Back-to-front remains popular in Asia, though it does not necessarily slow boarding. Asian carriers fly more wide-body aircraft than U.S. airlines, and because these planes have two aisles, they board faster. Korean Air says 400 passengers can board an Airbus A380 in 20-25 minutes.

Miscellaneous models

United: Window seats board first, followed by middles and aisles—an approach called WILMA. “It helps people sit and stow their luggage quicker than other options," a spokesman says.

Delta: Coach passengers with higher-priced tickets board first, followed by customers on cheaper fares.

Lufthansa: The German carrier has no official system, but often boards either by rows, or all at once. Interestingly, the airline also relies on local culture to determine what works best. "There are situations where the people of a certain country are more used to random boarding and prefer it to row boarding," a spokesman says. Lufthansa admits faster methods exist, but says they're "lacking when it comes to practical implementation."

 

Fast airborne WiFi still elusive, but tech advances due this year...

Posted on February 22, 2016 by Guy Paquette

In an annual survey released last month, the flight amenities-ranking website Routehappy (<-- great stats found here) found that just 6% of WiFi-equipped flights worldwide offer the reliable, fast service that the site classifies as “best WiFi.”  

But technologies being introduced beginning this year should increase that number before 2017 rolls around, and more innovations are in the works for next year.

“We have to wait and see how fast airlines can install it on their aircraft, but the direction is definitely up,” said Jason Rabinowitz, Routehappy’s data research manager.

The most recent provider to roll out an in-flight WiFi upgrade was market leader Gogo, which introduced its new 2Ku satellite-based technology late last year. Until then, the company offered two earlier and slower WiFi technologies: air-to-ground, which offers speeds up to 10 megabits per second (Mbps) but can only be used over land, and Ku, an air-to-satellite system that offers speeds between 3 and 8 Mbps but can be used over water.

2Ku differs from Ku in the number of antennas it uses: one for Ku and two for 2Ku, which more than doubles Ku bandwidth, according to Gogo.

So far, 2Ku deployment has been slow. Gogo has equipped approximately 2,500 planes with WiFi connectivity: 2,300 with ATG systems and 200 with Ku systems.

Upgrading planes to 2Ku from Ku is a much simpler process than retrofitting them from ATG to 2Ku. Making the latter switch is a costlier installation and puts a plane out of commission longer.

At the moment, Gogo said it has an 800-order backlog for upgrades to 2Ku service, though Aeromexico has already begun employing 2Ku technology, Gogo spokesman Steve Nolan said.

Next in line for Gogo’s 2Ku rollout is Virgin Atlantic, Nolan said, and he added that Delta, which plans to equip more than 250 aircraft with 2Ku antennas, is also slated to begin its rollout by the end of March.

Gogo claims that 2Ku’s performance will be similar to what a person would experience with land-based WiFi, including the ability to stream videos.

Rabinowitz was a bit less bullish, saying that during a test flight he was on last fall it worked “moderately well.”

“It was definitely better than your traditional global-coverage WiFi,” he said.

With Gogo’s 2Ku now already entering service, the next in-flight WiFi innovation to launch is expected to come in April from Panasonic Avionics, which spokesman Brian Bardwell said counts United, American, Emirates and Lufthansa among its airline customers.

Through a service contract on a newly launched satellite, Panasonic plans to offer a five-fold upgrade in bandwidth, to as much 200 Mbps, on any route that flies any city pair that lies between the West Coast of the U.S. and Europe.

The new satellite, called a High-Throughput Satellite, enables Panasonic to deliver its WiFi signal via spot beams targeted at portions of the world that get the most airline traffic.

That efficiency won’t just improve speed, Bardwell said; it will also reduce cost. Panasonic is selling the service to airline clients at prices that are less than half its current rates.

He also said that deployment by the airlines should happen as soon as the service becomes available, since High-Throughput technology will work with the equipment already installed on clients’ planes.

A second High-Throughput Satellite launch will enable Panasonic to extend the service to the Middle East in October, Bardwell said, with service farther into Asia slated for the second half of 2017.

The other primary providers of in-flight WiFi in the U.S. don’t have any major technology upgrades planned for this year, though the satellite company ViaSat, which provides what is currently regarded as the fastest WiFi in the sky, is adding Virgin America to its client base.

Working through the provider Thales, ViaSat already supplies WiFi to JetBlue and the old Continental portions of United’s fleet. The service is delivered on Ka-band satellites, which operate at a higher frequency than Ku satellites.

But while the ViaSat service is fast, customers on JetBlue flights to the Caribbean can tell you that it’s limited by its spacial coverage, which is confined to the continental United States and the nearest edges of Mexico and Canada. ViaSat will offer a partial fix to that problem this year in the form of a hybrid Ka/Ku satellite that Virgin America, pending federal certification, will put to use on routes between the mainland and Hawaii as soon as this summer.

But ViaSat plans to offer much more comprehensive improvements in mid-2017 with the launch of its next generation ViaSat-2. The satellite will double ViaSat’s WiFi speed, said Don Buchman, the company’ s vice president of commercial mobility, while increasing its geographic coverage sevenfold. Along with the continental U.S., ViaSat-2 will cover Canada, the Caribbean, Mexico and Central America as well as the North Atlantic routes to Europe. In addition, ViaSat has entered into a joint venture with a European satellite provider that will connect its network as far east as Istanbul. ViaSat-2 is slated to be followed in 2019 by the launch of ViaSat-3, an even faster broadband platform that will make the satellite provider’s Ka-band global.

Global Eagle, the final major provider of airline WiFi in the U.S., counts Southwest as well as several international carriers among its customers. Like Panasonic, Global Eagle plans to roll out a fast Ku-band service via High-Throughput Satellite technology. The satellite will launch early next year, company spokesman Paul Sims said.

In its Annual Global State of In-Flight WiFi report last month, Routehappy wrote that U.S. airlines now offer at least spotty service on 78% of their available seat miles. While coming upgrades should make that spottiness less common, Rabinowitz said only time will tell for sure.

“It all sounds great,” he said. “But we’ll have to wait and see once we get on an aircraft.”

In the meantime, passengers for whom WiFi is crucial can check the quality of the service on individual flights at Routehappy.com.

Photo Credit: Shutterstock  -  Written by Robert Silk

Airline Legroom May Soon Become Your Legal Right! (Written by Katherine LaGrave)

Posted on February 22, 2016 by Guy Paquette

Mandatory size standards for airline passenger seats may be on the horizon.

While airlines have amped up the amenities over the years—inflight Wi-Fi; hundreds of channels at your fingertips—and designed suites like never before, they've also put the squeeze on economy passengers by shrinking seat size and charging for carry-ons. And while most of us complain about our lack of legroom, one U.S. lawmaker is actually doing something about it.

U.S. Government Representative Steve Cohen (D-Tenn.), a member of the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee, plans to propose mandatory minimum-size standards for airline passenger seats, claiming that seats have been narrowed and pitch has been reduced at the cost of the consumer. By shrinking seats and the space between them, airlines are able to fit more people into planes, lower fares, and—yep—make more money. The average seat, said Cohen, "has shrunk from 18 inches in the 1970s to about 16.5 inches today." Pitch, the measurement of the distance from a seat to the one behind it, has shrunk from "35 inches during the 1970s to about 31 inches today."

But Cohen's bill isn't about comfort—it's mostly about safety: In his view, there hasn't been adequate emergency evacuation testing of airline seating with rows that have a pitch under 29 inches. Cohen will propose the legislation as an amendment to an FAA reauthorization bill on Thursday, which brings with it other potential game-changing laws in the aviation industry. Among them? Privatizing air traffic control, which would be a major shift.

Written by Katherine LaGrave - Conde Nast Traveler

Dealing With The Zika Virus: Plane, Cruise, Hotel, Travel-Insurance Updates by Lea Lane...

Posted on February 04, 2016 by Guy Paquette

So how is the travel industry reacting, as tourists flock to these warmer climate destinations to escape Northern Hemisphere cold?

Most airlines are offering refunds to those with special risk — usually pregnant or possibly pregnant customers — who hold tickets to regions that the C.D.C. says are affected by the virus; they can usually postpone trips or receive refunds. United Airlines, American Airlines, JetBlue, Virgin America and Delta are among the air carriers offering full or partial refunds. As information is updated, offers may change, so check before booking.

Cruise lines who sail in the Caribbean, Mexico, Central and South America, including Princess Cruises, Royal Caribbean and Norwegian, are allowing pregnant travelers leeway to cancel and get credits. Again, this policy is adapting to further information, so be sure to ask.

Most hotel chains in affected regions are not yet offering refunds and have not implemented cancellation policies. Right now they are collecting info about the virus and providing mosquito repellent and warnings. Some chains, including Hilton Worldwide, Hyatt hotels and Four Seasons Hotels and Resorts, are considering waivers for cancellations on a case-by-case basis.

Tour providers are getting questions, and cancellations are increasing, especially with clients planning trendy “babymoons,” vacations scheduled before baby arrives. Some are rebooking in the US or other northern climes. And hotels are negotiating refunds on a case-by-case basis.

Most insurance plans are treating the virus as any other illness in the policy’s terms and conditions: if travelers contract the virus while traveling, they are covered for emergency care, medical evacuation and trip interruption benefits under most plans. But for now travel insurance providers don’t consider the C.D.C. warning a reason to cancel a trip to an affected country. Check with TravelInsurance.com. For safest options, it’s best to use a plan with a Cancel for Any Reason (CFAR) option, such as  RoamRight,  or Travel Insured International.

To sum up, if you’re already pregnant or think you might be, talk to your doctor, and consider postponing visits to countries where Zika transmission has been reported. And if you’re not pregnant, while traveling in these areas, use dependable birth control.

And for precaution, in areas where the virus has been reported, cover exposed skin with long-sleeved shirts and long pants, use insect repellent like DEET and use permethrin-treated clothing and equipment.

The Real Reason Why Food Tastes Different On An Airplane...

Posted on February 03, 2016 by Guy Paquette

You're not crazy: tomato juice does taste different when you're cruising 40,000 feet in the air. And it's not just tomato juice—food in general is going to be a little different when you eat on an airplane and there's science to back it up. Before we dig into the facts, let's get one thing straight. Those mass-produced in-flight meal recipes are partly to blame—all of that freeze-drying and vacuum sealing has to mess with taste a little bit. But airline chefs have made leaps and bounds in how they combat tricky airplane cabin climates to keep passengers full and happy about their meal choices.

An airplane cabin is actually drier than some deserts—humidity can measure in at less than 12 percent, in some cases. In an environment like this, your taste and smell start to drift. Scent actually starts to deteriorate the minute you step on to a plane, but nosedives once your airplane climbs. Sweet and salty foods are the ones that suffer the most. According to a study from the Fraunhofer Institute for Building Physics, the atmosphere in an airline cabin reduces your ability to detect these tastes by about 30 percent—think of it as your taste buds going numb. The good news: All of those other delicious flavors (spicy, bitter, sour) are still going to make an appearance mid-flight. So what to do when you're looking to make up for lost taste? Add more salt, of course—and that's exactly what the airlines do.

Your body tastes wine—and other alcohol—differently as your body dries out, as well. Liquids tend to expand and contract as the environment changes. On an airplane, wines can thin out and taste more acidic than they would on the ground at your favorite restaurants (even if it's the same wine!). One way around this: if you're going to have a glass of wine on your flight, do it early when you're less dehydrated. 

Low pressure and humidity may not be the only things to blame: BBC also shared that people eating while enduring an increase in noise reported food to be less salty and sweet than they do when eating in a more quiet setting. That being said, umami—the magical fifth taste that adds another dimension to "savory"—is said to be intensified in noisy areas. In fact, many airline chefs use this to their advantage by integrating umami foods (think seaweed added to crusts) into what would otherwise come out bland and unsatisfying. Another thing to keep in mind when ordering: some flavors—like cardamom, curry, and lemon grass—taste more intense at cruising heights. File this under: "Now You Know." 

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