NYC cabbie drives 2 guys across US — for $5,000 (AP)

April 22, 2011 by  
Filed under Travel News

NEW YORK – New York City cab driver Mohammed Alam says it beats Manhattan traffic.

He’s being paid $5,000 to drive a couple of guys to Los Angeles.

The trio left Saturday night and had reached Las Vegas by Thursday.

Investment banker John Belitsky, of Leonia, N.J., tells the New York Post that the idea was hatched during a birthday celebration for Dan Wuebben of Queens.

Belitsky said they wanted to do something “magical.”

They found Alam at LaGuardia Airport and brokered the deal.

The two friends haven’t decided how they’ll get back yet.

Maybe there will be a taxi driver who happens to be going their way.


Information from: New York Post,

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American Airlines jet has engine failure in Ariz. (AP)

April 22, 2011 by  
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PHOENIX – An American Airlines flight from Phoenix to Dallas was forced to land six minutes after takeoff due to an engine problem.

A spokesman for the Federal Aviation Administration says the MD-82 passenger jet had just left Phoenix Sky Harbor International Airport on Thursday when it lost power in its right engine for an unknown reason.

Spokesman Ian Gregor says the plane’s captain declared an emergency and the jet circled back to Phoenix. The plane was carrying 120 passengers and six crew members.

A representative with American Airlines says a problem kept the plane’s left engine from receiving full power. It’s being inspected and repaired.

Many passengers were placed on the next flight or received compensation.

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Grammy Museum branching out with site in Miss. (AP)

April 22, 2011 by  
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JACKSON, Miss. – A Grammy museum will be built in Mississippi, the hub of the Delta blues.

Bob Santelli, executive director of the Grammy Museum in Los Angeles, announced Thursday that the museum’s first branch outside California will be built in Cleveland, Miss.

“The state of Mississippi is the cradle of American music,” Santelli said.

He announced the project in Jackson during the annual meeting of the Mississippi Economic Council, a state chamber of commerce. He received a standing ovation from Gov. Haley Barbour and more than 1,000 business people.

Santelli said no timetable has been established for the new museum, which has an estimated cost of $10 million to $12 million.

Mississippi already has a Delta Blues Museum in Clarksdale and a B.B. King Museum in Indianola. Both are near Cleveland.

The state is also home of several noted blues clubs, including Ground Zero in Clarksdale, which is co-owned by actor Morgan Freeman.

Over the last several years, Mississippi has been encouraging blues tourism by placing historical markers at juke joints and other sites that were pivotal to development of the genre.

The state is the birthplace of several Grammy winners, including gravelly voiced blues pianist Pinetop Perkins, who died at age 97 last month at his home in Austin, Texas. Perkins, whose real first name was Willie, grew up playing in clubs set among the Delta’s cotton fields.

The Grammy Mississippi museum will form a partnership with the Delta Music Institute at Delta State University in Cleveland, Santelli said.

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‘Water for Elephants’ puts spotlight on Sarasota’s circus heritage

April 22, 2011 by  
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By Laura Bly, USA TODAY

Step right up, ladies and gentlemen: If you’re enamored with the circus history on display in the new film adaptation of Sara Gruen’s best-selling novel Water for Elephants, Sarastoa, Fla., the longtime winter home of the Ringling Brothers circus, offers a variety of Big Top-themed travel packages and attractions.

The Ringling Brothers were based in Sarasota from 1927 to 1992, and their legacy includes The Ringling Museum, home of the world’s largest miniature circus, Cà d’Zan, a Mediterranean revival estate that served as John and Mable Ringling’s winter home, and legendary circus performer Tito Gaona’s trapeze school.

Among the movie-themed deals: a Courtyard Marriott Ringling Museum Package that includes room and two “Member For A Day” Ringling Museum passes from $129 per night.

Posted Apr 22 2011 6:00AM

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Travel deals: From summit to sea on all-new tour offerings

April 22, 2011 by  
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Last Updated: Apr 22, 2011

Trekking up to the summit of Jebel Mgoun, Morocco. Courtesy of

An eight-day tour takes climbers up Morocco’s second-highest peak, Jebel Mgoun, and back down to Marrakech. Courtesy of

Onwards and upwards

Morrocco’s second-highest peak in the Atlas Mountains, Jebel Mgoun, is the 4,068m-high challenge facing walkers on this new eight-day adventure with the travel company Exodus. The small-group trip rendezvous overnight in Marrakech before beginning the walk in earnest in the remote Bougamez Valley to the north-east. Walking for three-and-a-half to seven hours per day, you’ll ascend and descend Mgoun itself from the Tarkedit Plateau on day four, camping on the way. Beautiful views of the surrounding mountains and down the Draa Valley and the Sahara beyond are compensation for exertions.

On days five and six, descending through high-altitude pastures, passing adobe villages to accommodation overnight. On day seven, back in Marrakech, there’s time to try the more well-known pursuit of haggling in the Djemaa el fna; the trip departs the following day. The walk costs £439 (Dh2,630) per person, land only, including most meals, camping for four nights, hotels for two nights and one night at a gîte, departing in early and late August. To book, go to


Penguins ahoy

Some 460km off the coast of Argentina, the Falkland Islands, or Malvinas, are the destination for voyagers aboard the Sea Spirit on this new Quark Expeditions’ trip. Departing on November 6, for a nine-day sail through the Beagle Channel, looping around the archipelago, the first-class ship carries a maximum of 112 guests in 55 cabins, all with sea views. Stanley, the capital, Saunders and Carcass Islands are on the itinerary.

The islands are a great draw for nature lovers, boasting five species of penguin, dolphins, porpoises, sea lions and elephant seals, as well as 65 species of birds, including peregrine falcons. The expedition is accompanied by a photographer and ornithologist to help you make the most of what you see.

The voyage costs from US$3,990 (Dh14,655) per person, full-board, based on two people sharing a cabin. The price includes transfers and one night’s accommodation in Ushuaia, but not international flights. For further information, visit, or call 001 416 645 8243.


Go beach-hopping

Tour operator Black Tomato is offering a luxury tailor-made tour of some of Indonesia’s most idyllic sights, taking in the most fashionable spots in Bali and Lombok, staying in five-star accommodation. The new trip starts in Seminyak on Bali’s west coast, staying for a few days in your own private villa at the Amala Hotel where a butler will be at your beck and call. Try your hand at surfing or flop on a beach towel.

Next up on the gruelling itinerary is time spent at the Hanging Gardens Hotel in the highlands of Ubud. Take a cooking lesson with one of the head chefs or, for a more adrenalin-pumped occasion, a session of white-water rafting.

From Bali, you’ll head to the beaches of Medana in Lombok and an Indian Ocean pavilion at the Oberoi. After time for yet more resting of limbs on sand, there’s the opportunity to scale Mount Rinjani, a 3,658m-high volcano with a guide. A 14-day stay costs from £1,199 (Dh7,202) land only, including bed and breakfast accommodation, transfers and a guided volcano trek. Book through Black Tomato at or call 00 44 207 426 9888.


Think on your feet

Culture galore rather than torturous physical effort is promised in two new small-group trips being offered by Wild Frontiers. The first, “Under the Anatolian Sky”, is an 11-day trek through this interesting region in northern Turkey, and gives walkers the chance to explore the cave dwellings of Cappadocia, the ancient Hittite site of Corum, the late 13th-century great mosque in the mountain town of Divrigi and Roman mosaics at Gaziantep. The trip costs £1,995 (Dh11,983) per person, land only, full-board, staying in hotel accommodation, and departs on September 15.

The second 10-day guided tour, “Classical India Twist”, takes place in the Indian state of Rajasthan departing on October 14. The emphasis is on exploring rural village life, but there is still time to admire the Taj Mahal in Agra, where the trip begins, and the beauty of Jaipur, staying in heritage properties at Ramathra and Bundi during the course of the walk. The trip costs £1,695 (Dh10,181) per person, land only, full board, staying at luxury hotel accommodation. Book at, or call, 00 44 207 736 3968.

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Save on flights from Los Angeles to Mammoth Lakes

April 22, 2011 by  
Filed under Travel Deals

Mammoth Lakes’ tourism bureau is offering a discount for those who prefer to fly rather than drive to the Eastern Sierra this spring. The offer, in partnership with Alaska Airlines/Horizon Air, takes about 20% off airfares between Los Angeles International Airport (LAX) and Mammoth Yosemite Airport (MMH) through the end of June.

The deal: The airport is a stepping-off point to Yosemite National Park, Mammoth Mountain ski resort, June Lake and, of course, the town of Mammoth Lakes. Use the code “EC9348′ when making a reservation online or by phone; see special note below.

When: Tickets must be purchased by 11:59 p.m. PDT May 1. The deal is good for travel from May 1 to June 30 on Tuesdays, Wednesdays, Thursdays and Saturdays.

Tested: I went to Alaska Airlines’ website, used the code and found fares of $48 plus tax each way for a June 14-16 round trip. Without the discount, the lowest-priced tickets displayed were about $59 each way.

Note that the promotion code and terms of the deal don’t appear on Alaska Airline’s website, but tickets must be booked through the airline to get this rate. Spokesman Clint Ostler explained in an email that the promotion isn’t on the airline’s website because it is exclusive to selected partners such as

Tip: Check out the airline’s national parks page, which also offers deals on lodging, food and other services.

Contact: Go to to view terms of the deal; go to Alaska Airlines, (800) 252-7522, to purchase tickets.

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Most Wyo. ski slopes enjoyed big snow and crowds (AP)

April 22, 2011 by  
Filed under Travel News

CHEYENNE, Wyo. – Thanks to plentiful snow, skiers and snowboarders enjoyed great conditions at Wyoming ski areas this past winter, resulting in more people hitting the slopes at some resorts.

“The snow levels allowed for a more quality skiing through the end of the year,”‘ said Kate Foster, spokeswoman for the Jackson Hole Chamber of Commerce, on Wednesday. “More visitors were able to have a really high quality experience.’”

Most ski resorts reported receiving snowfall well above normal before ending their seasons this month, and several resorts said that resulted in more people skiing.

Jackson Hole Mountain Resort and Grand Targhee Ski Resort in Teton County both received close to 600 inches — about 100 inches more than in an average season.

Grand Targhee extended its normal 25-week season by two weeks because of the snow.

“We ended up opening a week early and closing a week later than our original operation schedule,” said Shannon Brooks Hamby, resort spokeswoman.

Foster said lodging statistics indicated visitation during the ski season to Jackson Hole — Wyoming’s premier destination ski area — was about the same as the previous year, but area residents came out in greater numbers than normal.

Jackson Hole Mountain Resort reported 478,553 skier visits, the second most in its history. For the first time since it opened in 1966, the resort had all of its lifts and ski runs open on the first day of the season because of an unusually early and heavy snowfall.

Some of the smaller ski slopes in the state also reported better-than-normal business this season.

“We definitely had more business because we were open longer,” Nathan Owen, pro shop manager at Pine Creek in Cokeville, said.

Pine Creek, a small, two-lift operation in southwest Wyoming, received about 50 inches more snow than a typical season.

And Snowy Range, a four-lift operation west of Laramie in southeast Wyoming, had about 100 inches more than normal and opened a new terrain park, Cody Marshall, vice president of marketing for the resort, said.

“We were packed every weekend,” Marshall said. “We had people in from Colorado and Nebraska. Our parking lots were bursting at the seams most of the time.”

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District to expand pay-by-phone parking system (AP)

April 22, 2011 by  
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WASHINGTON – The District Department of Transportation is preparing to expand a program that allows parkers in the city to pay with their cell phone.

The pay-by-phone pilot program is already in place in Foggy Bottom, at Georgetown University Hospital and near Nationals Park, but DDOT is expected to begin rolling out the program at more locations in June.

Drivers will have to register their license plate numbers and credit card information online with the city’s contractor for the program. Drivers can then use a mobile app or place a call to start a parking session when pulling into a spot.

A text message reminder will be sent 15 minutes before the meter expires, and drivers can add more time. The transactions appear on hand-held devices used by parking enforcement officers.

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No break this spring at the gas pump (AP)

April 22, 2011 by  
Filed under Travel News

With gas prices above $4 in some states, Americans are canceling spring break plans and rethinking summer vacation, and some tourist destinations are offering gas vouchers of as much as $50 to talk people out of giving up and staying home.

At Mount Rushmore, only about 37,000 people decided in March that seeing the four granite-etched presidential sculptures was worth the trip, down from about 43,000 a year before.

At the Grand Canyon, a marketing executive for one company that offers sweeping helicopter vistas says 10 percent fewer people than last year are driving up and booking tours. The company is counting on international tourists to make up the rest.

And along the Rhode Island coast, where 800,000 people a year show up to gawk at the opulence of Gilded Age mansions, it’s even worse — business is off 30 percent just since the beginning of March.

Memorial Day is still five weeks away, and summer doesn’t officially start for two months. This year, anxiety over high gas prices — and whether the family vacation will bust the family budget — has come early.

“I can’t go anywhere because I can’t afford it,” said Greg Sensing, who works in admissions for the University of Maryland. “It’s kind of nice to take a road trip, to get in the car, you see the country, and now why bother doing it?”

The gas jitters have much broader implications than how many people show up to take pictures of Bryce Canyon, Mount Rainier or the Everglades. Gas prices are closely tied to the health of the overall economy.

A gallon of gas costs an average of $3.84 in the United States, almost a full dollar more than a year ago. The average is above $4 in six states: $4.52 in Hawaii, $4.21 in California, $4.18 in Alaska, $4.11 in Connecticut, $4.08 in Illinois and $4.05 in Illinois.

It’s too early to tell how much of a toll gas prices will take on the summer travel season. The jitters have come so early that AAA hasn’t even put out its summer travel forecast yet.

But there are already signs that the eye-popping prices at the pump are changing Americans’ behavior. In Oklahoma, where gas is a relatively cheap $3.69 per gallon, AAA says it’s getting a lot more calls from people who are out of gas on the highway. National demand for gasoline, which should be rising this time of year, is falling instead.

Some tourist destinations are worried people won’t bother piling the family into the car at all.

Branson, Mo., the Ozark Mountains hotspot that draws people from hundreds of miles away to tour caverns, frolic in amusement parks and see live entertainment, is offering a discount card worth $50 in gas starting in June.

The Preservation Society of Newport County, R.I., which runs several of the Rhode Island mansions, is offering $5 back to anyone who buys two $24.50 tickets to two mansions and shows their car registration.

Lake George, a resort village in the New York Adirondacks, hopes to capitalize on being an easy drive away from New York and Montreal. “We’re in a good position for a `staycation’ when people don’t want to drive farther,” said Luisa Craige-Sherman, head of the visitors bureau.

Among the deals available there: A “Spring Gas Buster” package at the Fort William Henry Hotel, which includes a $20 gas card and buy-one-get-one dinner.

Bill Pott, owner of Jellystone Park Camp Resort in Cave City, Ky., near Mammoth Cave National Park, says he’s had a strong spring season so far, but he’s offering an informal discount to help folks cover their travel costs: Stay three nights in a $70-a-night cabin, and he’ll discount your bill $40 to pay for a tank of gas.

“Most people are driving three or four hours to get here, and I can’t do a thing about national fuel prices or the economy, but I can help the kids have a good spring break,” he said.

All that still may not be enough, especially if — as analysts fear — the price of gas keeps climbing.

“In my mind, if gas goes to $5 a gallon here, all bets are off,” said Linda Schmitt, executive director of the Kansas Underground Salt Museum, which offers a 650-foot descent to see a vintage locomotive, train tracks and ore carts.

Already, economists say, most of this year’s two-percentage-point cut in the Social Security payroll tax, which should bring in an extra $1,000 to $2,000 per household this year, is going straight into the gas tank.

If gas were to go to $5 a gallon and stay there, some analysts believe, it could erase the steady gains the economy is making and tip the nation back into recession because Americans would sharply curtail their spending elsewhere.

For now, though, destinations hope offering gas rebates will be enough to calm would-be travelers. Kalahari Resorts, in Wisconsin Dells, Wis., is bringing back a promotion from last year that offered customers a $40 gas card.

Sarah McPeek is going a step further. She made reservations at Kalahari two months ago, when the average price of gas was about 70 cents lower than it is today. She had planned to drive to the park with her 13-year-old son and meet friends there. Instead, the group of seven will carpool.

“It’s going to be pretty tight,” she said.

And in Fairmont, Minn., Jennifer Brookens is parking the minivan she calls the Mom-Mobile. She, her husband and their two children had hoped to drive the eight hours to visit family in the Black Hills of South Dakota for Easter weekend.

Flying is out of the question — after all, airlines have to buy fuel, too, and fares are going up fast. And Brookens has fresh memories of 2008, during the last gas spike, when filling up the minivan cost $100.

“At this rate,” Brookens said, “there’s no way.”


Associated Press writers Mary Esch in Albany, N.Y., Joshua Freed in Minneapolis, Beth J. Harpaz in New York, Heather Hollingsworth in Kansas City, Mo., Dirk Lammers in Sioux Falls, S.D., Dena Potter in Richmond, Va., and Dinesh Ramde in Milwaukee contributed to this report.

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