Clark Howard: Travel e-Scapes Newsletter November 30, 2010


Travel Tips, Tidbits & Trivia

The constellation ceiling inside the Main Concourse of New York City’s Grand Central Terminal is now lit with long-lasting, cool-burning LED lights. Fifty-nine of the brightest stars in the winter sky were originally lit with bare 10-watt incandescent bulbs – considered state-of-the art when the terminal opened in 1913. As the bulbs burned out, replacing them was labor-intensive. The barrel vaulted ceiling – 50 feet from the top of the cornice to the zenith of the arc – is accessible only through the attic above the sky ceiling. Workers would have to crawl on all fours to reach the incandescent fixtures and screw in new bulbs. The portion of the universe depicted in the mural shows the wintertime zodiac and associated constellations such as Pegasus, Triangulum and Fly, as they appear in the northern hemisphere, not as seen from Earth, but as seen from above. When the Terminal opened, there was a civic debate about the sky being reversed, but the builders insisted it was intentional and showed the stars from the gods’ perspective. When gazing up, 125 feet above the Tennessee pink marble floor, one cannot see all the lighted stars at once. As people walk across the Concourse floor and their vantage point changes, different stars appear, giving a twinkling impression.

Searching for the ultimate holiday gift? Head to the North Pole! In 1991, Quark Expeditions sailed to the North Pole for the very first time. The polar expedition specialist’s 15-day, 20th anniversary cruise to the top of the world begins June 23, 2011 in Helsinki, Finland. A cabin for two costs $48,760 for the ultimate Arctic cruise experience under the midnight sun. Travelers cruise to the North Pole in the most-sophisticated icebreaker on the planet – 50 Years of Victory. The pride of the Russian nuclear-powered icebreaker fleet can cruise at 21 knots in open water and crush through ice 10 feet thick. The icebreaker carries a maximum of 128 guests in cabins with exterior views and facilities ensuite. Public spaces include two bars, a library, gym, saunas and a swimming pool. When Victory is not acting as a passenger vessel, the ship escorts merchant vessels through the treacherous Northeast Passage, during the uninterrupted polar darkness of winter. All meals, accommodation, activities, charter air transportation between Helsinki and Murmansk, Russia (the embarkation and disembarkation point) and helicopter sightseeing is included. The champagne toast and barbecue on the ice is a highlight of the adventure. Southbound shore landings will be made in Franz Josef Land, remote islands just 10 degrees from the North Pole. Polar bear and walrus inhabit the Arctic paradise. Because a voyage to the North Pole is rare and there is no commercial traffic to Franz Josef Land, photo opportunities during this voyage result in truly rare images.

Today’s HOT Domestic & International Bargains

The following rates could vanish at any time. HOT deals have no ticket-by date – meaning the airlines can ‘pull’ the rate when they deem the offer a sell-out or an error. Act fast!

One-way from Atlanta:
$90 each way, Seattle or Portland, OR
A 7-day advance purchase required
Add $20 for Friday, Sunday travel
Complete travel by March 10
Valid on Continental via Houston or United via Denver
Inclusive rate: $111.40.

Round-trip from Atlanta:
$158 Salt Lake City
No advance purchase required
Depart any Saturday
Return the following Monday or Tuesday
No expiration of travel
No blackouts
Valid on American via Chicago or Dallas
Inclusive rate: $200.80

Great Domestic & International Deals

One-way from Atlanta:
$57 West Palm Beach
Valid on trips started on or after January 5
Complete travel by February 15
Travel any available day
Valid on nonstop AirTran flights
Add up to $12 for inclusive rates

One-way from Atlanta:
$125 each way, Seattle
$129 each way, Spokane
$139 each way, Redmond-Bend
$155 each way, Portland OR
$170 each way, Eugene
$177 each way, Vancouver BC
$201 each way, Calgary
Add $20-$25 each way for Friday, Sunday travel
Depart on or after December 6
Complete travel by March 10
Purchase by December 6
Valid on Alaska Airlines with other carriers matching.
Add up to $40 each way for inclusive pricing

Round-trip from Atlanta:
$346 Cabo San Lucas-Los Cabos, Mexico
Travel any available day
Depart on or after January 1
Complete travel by January 31
Purchase today, December 2
Valid on Delta, nonstop
Inclusive rate: $644.63

Round-trip from Atlanta:
$429 Providenciales, Turks & Caicos
Valid Saturdays only
Depart on or after February 1
Complete travel by April 17
Purchase today, December 2
Valid on Delta, nonstop
Inclusive rate: $581.20

Round-trip from Atlanta:
$458 Liberia, Costa Rica
A 14-day advance purchase required Travel any available day
Stay 3-30 days
Complete travel by January 31
Purchase today, December 2
Valid on Delta, nonstop
Inclusive rate: $792.44


Top 10 List!

Lonely Planet has drawn on the knowledge, passion and miles traveled by its staff, authors and online community to present the Top 10 Countries to Visit in 2011:

  • 1. Albania: Since backpackers started coming to elusive Albania in the 1990s, tales have been told in ‘keep it to yourself’ whispers of azure beaches, confrontingly good cuisine, heritage sites, nightlife, affordable adventures and the possibility of old-style unplanned journeys complete with open-armed locals for whom travelers are still a novelty. Sick to death of being dismissed with blinged-up crime-boss cliches, Albania has announced ‘A New Mediterranean Love’ via its tourist board. The jig is almost up – Albania won’t be off the beaten track for much longer.
  • 2. Brazil: Winning the bids to host both the 2014 FIFA World Cup and the 2016 Summer Olympics in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil is undertaking a flurry of new projects, with billions of dollars earmarked for infrastructure. Despite the strong Brazilian real, travelers should benefit from the addition of thousands of new hotel rooms, while increased competition from low-cost airline carriers should make travel across this vast country more affordable.
  • 3. Cape Verde: On the surface the country appears to be nothing but a blink-and-you’ll-miss-it dot of dust floating off the coast of Africa, but the islands have recently started catching sideways-glances from European winter-sun tourists. This growing international interest is bringing enormous changes to an archipelago that looks and feels as if it were born from a Caribbean mother and an African father.
  • 4. Panama: Panama has rhythms that hip-hop between modern and primitive, such as the line of skyscrapers and container ships set against clear seas and dense, dark rainforest not so far away. Yet its treasures – from millennial indigenous cultures to a biodiversity that astounds – run far deeper. Panama occupies a continental crossroads where the 21st century meets the dawn of the ages.
  • 5. Bulgaria: Bulgaria has always had its moments – in its biggest cities, on its snow-capped peaks and great-value ski fields, on its golden-sand beaches and in ancient Black Sea port towns. Yet, over the years Bulgaria has got lost amid its more famous neighbors. But things are changing. Now proudly part of the 21st-century EU, Bulgaria has enjoyed more attention and self confidence. Its ski slopes are de facto destinations for Europeans looking for cheaper alternatives, empty patches of lovely Black Sea beaches can still be found, and its quietly brilliant wine industry is flourishing.
  • 6. Vanuatu: For authentic experiences, Vanuatu is hard to beat. From mighty mountains and thunderous waterfalls to remote villages, from huge lagoons to tropical islets, there’s so much on offer, far from the crowds. Don’t expect ritzy resorts and Cancun-style nightlife; with a good choice of family-run guesthouses in traditional villages and a smattering of comfortable, romantic hideaways, it’s tailor-made for eco-tourists. With 83 islands, you’re spoilt for choice. Vanuatu has recently seen an increased number of direct flights from Australia, New Zealand, New Caledonia, Fiji and the Solomon Islands – go now, before the secret’s out.
  • 7. Italy: Italy is a beguiling, beautiful, charismatic mess. But this is still one of the world’s most magnificent places to be. The food is delicious, sunshine is plentiful, scenery and towns are sublime, and there is millennia-worth of art to look at. There are 44 Unesco World Heritage Sites here, more than in any other country.
  • 8. Tanzania: The Serengeti, Ngorongoro, Kilimanjaro, Zanzibar… that’s not all. It also has great herds of elephants in Ruaha, tree-climbing lions around Lake Manyara, chimpanzee sanctuaries in Gombe and Mahale and packs of wild dogs in Selous. There are also sunsets on the Rufiji River, when the water boils with hippos and crocodiles. In fact, the country has the whole panoply of east Africa’s wildlife – including such rarities as the red colobus monkey, black rhino, hawksbill and leatherback turtles and Pemba flying foxes – concentrated in an unrivaled collection of parks and reserves. Think you’ve seen it all? Tanzania still has a surprise or two for you.
  • 9. Syria: Heard the one about Bashar al-Assad and the US Ambassador? Well it’s no joke. After five years of cold-shoulder treatment relations have thawed and Syria is officially off the naughty step. There’s a definite upwardly-mobile attitude taking over the streets, thanks in part to the state-controlled economy slowly being overhauled and the noose of the ‘Axis of Evil’ tag no longer hanging around the nation’s neck. Savvy tourists can lord it up like a pasha, staying in lovingly restored Ottoman palaces and sipping cappuccino after shopping it up in the souq. But with all this modernization it’s good to see some things are still the same. Out east the Bedouin still herd their scraggly sheep and welcome strangers into goat-hair tents for tea.
  • 10. Japan: Japan has an ill-deserved reputation as an expensive destination where the English language is in short supply. However, Japan is surprisingly affordable and user-friendly. Before you go, stop by your local travel agency and purchase a Japan Rail Pass, which grants you unlimited access to the country’s sophisticated transport network. While Tokyo was ultimately unsuccessful in its bid for the 2016 Summer Olympics, the campaign resulted in increased English signage across the country. So, if Japan has been on your travel wish list for a while, make this the year that you finally see the birthplace of sushi, sake and sumo.

    This is an edited extract from Best in Travel 2011© Lonely Planet. 2010. RRP: $24.99.

  • The Best Hotel & Resort Deals

    Check out the new digs in New Orleans… The chic Hotel Le Marais has reopened after a multimillion dollar renovation, resulting in a charming oasis located in the most vibrant district on Conti Street in the French Quarter and one-half block from Bourbon and Royal Streets. Hotel Le Marais takes its name from the famous Marais district, one of the oldest and most architecturally significant areas of Paris. The newly designed 66-room hotel offers amenities such as complimentary Wi-Fi, breakfast, newspapers and a welcome refreshment. On-site is a private courtyard with heated saltwater courtyard pool and fitness center. The new lobby lounge, a new French Quarter hot spot for both locals and visitors, is a wine and tequila bar adjacent to the tropical courtyard and offering a trendy, upscale decor, happy hour, light and savory small plates, specialty tequilas, mixed drinks, and a wide variety of wines available by the glass. Nightly rates start from $109.

    The sprawling Gaylord Opryland Hotel and Resort of Nashville, reopened this month following a six-month shutdown because of flooding. Early May flooding from the nearby Cumberland River caused approximately $200 million in damage. More than 1,700 employees were laid off, but rehiring began in October and the hotel is now fully staffed again. To greet visitors for the many upcoming holiday events, the hotel is decked out with 2 million Christmas lights. Through January 2011, the resort presents unique holiday decor and entertainment, including ICE! featuring the classic holiday special Santa Claus is Comin’ to Town — an indoor wonderland of 10 different holiday scenes created entirely of two-million pounds of ice, including thrilling ice slides that stand more than 2 stories tall. ICE! is hand-sculpted by 40 international artisans and kept at a chilling 9 degrees. A overnight holiday package, priced at $119 per person, includes accommodations, a ticket to ICE!, a souvenir ICE! photo (one per room), self-parking and the daily resort fee. The Grand Ole Opry House, reopened in late September is adjacent to the Gaylord Opryland Hotel.

    Travel Quotation

    Traveling is a brutality. It forces you to trust strangers and to lose sight of all that familiar comfort of home and friends. You are constantly off balance. Nothing is yours except the essential things – air, sleep, dreams, the sea, the sky – all things tending towards the eternal or what we imagine of it. / Cesare Pavese, Italian poet, novelist, literary critic (1908-1950)

    Note: Unless otherwise stated above, follow these guidelines when booking special airfares from Clark Howard’s e-Scapes newsletter:

    • No expiration of travel means the rate is valid on trips taken over the next 331 days, or the advance booking window allowed on most airlines
    • International rates are based on mid-week travel days, or with most airlines Monday-Thursday. (one exception is Monday-Wednesday to London).
    • Economy class airfares to Europe require a minimum stay requirement of a Saturday night and a maximum stay of a month.
    • Economy class airfare to Asia, Africa, India and the Middle East typically require a 6-day minimum stay; 30-day maximum.
    • Most domestic coach class airfares, including Canada and Hawaii, are based on mid-week travel.
    • Weekend travel days are typically $10-$30 higher, per direction, for both domestic and international destinations.
    • All airfares shown on e-Scapes are exclusive of taxes, fees, unless noted otherwise.
    • Fuel surcharges on international trips can add from $180-$400 to base rates shown above, varying by continent.

    Clark Howard’s Travel e-Scapes Team reminds you that the information in this newsletter is researched on the same day that you receive it. It can happen that by the time you read your copy a particular airfare may already have expired, especially the “HOT” deals listed. Airlines can publish and then ‘pull’, or discontinue sales without warning. Timing is everything!

    Buy tickets at the offering airline or at your favorite travel Web site.

    Get more of Clark’s best travel deals Mondays through Fridays here.

    Travel credit cards can earn consumers rewards for their spending. Best Travel Credit Cards: Top Rewards Picks for 2021 - The best travel rewards credit cards! Compare the latest sign-up bonus offers to start earning free flights, hotel stays and more.