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August 2008

August 22, 2008

Hong Kong for Less

PEARL OF THE ORIENT: Central Hong Kong as seen from the "Peak" (Digital Vision)

We don't usually promote package deals here on Blog Central, but we couldn't resist the savings on this all-inclusive tour to Hong Kong, which is being touted by, of all people, the Irvine Chamber of Commerce in California. Sign up by September 1 to book a spot on a nine-day guided swing through Hong Kong, Macau, and South China's Guangzhou province, departing on November 2. Included in the $2,399 per person rate (inclusive of tax and based on double occupancy) are roundtrip airfare, all hotel accommodations, most meals, transfers, transport, and tour guides. By comparison, we ran a quick search of comparable self-built packages via the usual online suspects (Orbitz, Expedia, Travelocity) and the cheapest air-hotel deals hovered at $2,000 and up. So factoring in extra daily meal costs, ferry transfer to places like Macau, and other organized tour costs you might bite off, you'll definitely come out several hundred dollars ahead with this custom package.

Continue reading "Hong Kong for Less" »

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August 20, 2008

Biking and Dining in Vancouver

TRUE NORTH: Vancouver, British Columbia (courtesy, Tourism Vancouver)

family travel expert: Steve JermanokOffering a slew of activity on its Pacific shores, Vancouver is one of North America's favorite family getaways. Certainly one of ours. Last summer, we biked through the forest and along the seawall of Stanley Park to the beluga whales and black-tip reef sharks found at the Vancouver Aquarium. Another day, we took the short jaunt across False Creek on the Aquabus to Granville Island, home to the Public Market. The kids ran from stall to stall, amazed at the bounty of goods that stood before us. Of course, there were the fish for which the Northwest is famous—halibut, tuna, and every type of salmon available. Bins of fruit overflowed with fresh figs, quarts of blueberries, freshly picked gooseberries, and yellow golden berries. Then there were the miscellaneous items like French baguettes, assorted patés, and sweets such as almond horns, their ends dipped in chocolate, and homemade fudge. Within walking distance to Stanley Park and many of the best restaurants in town, Pacific Palisades Hotel offers spacious rooms that are ideal for families.

British Columbia reigns the mountain-biking scene for one very simple reason: it's just that good. profiles some of the best—and some of the least-known—fat-tire hot spots, including Vancouver's North Shore.

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Run the World in 26.2 Miles

RUN THE SIGHTS: Buckingham Palace and the London Marathon finish line (courtesy, Flora London Marathon)

The ultimate runner's high—26.2 miles, to be precise—doesn't come cheap. Add up those six-plus months of training, countless pairs of beat-up running shoes, mounds of carb-heavy spaghetti, and of course, those cantilevered joints on race day... And wait, that's not all! Race registrations and travel expenses will easily push the final tab into four figures, especially if you plan to run the race of your life in a foreign country. But now for the good news: not only do you get to boast that you're a member of the marathon club, you also get to pound pavement in some of the best travel locales on Earth. Go there for your 26.2 miles and stay to savor the charms of places as diverse as Beijing to Buenos Aires, Edinburgh to Easter Island.

Continue reading "Run the World in 26.2 Miles" »

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August 15, 2008

Ensure That Your Luggage Arrives With You

family travel expert: Steve JermanokI've been a full-time travel writer for 15 years now, flying all over the globe, but until this past year I have never had major luggage problems. That all changed last November when American Airlines left me without clothes for four days in Costa Rica. Several weeks later, United couldn't find my daughter's bag on a trip to Chicago. Then, this past week, I arrived in Boston after a flight from Philly on US Airways to a third-world situation where luggage was everywhere, yet no one could find their particular bag. Not surprisingly, I left the airport empty-handed. Add extra airline charges now associated with checking your bags and luggage delivery services no longer seem so extravagant. In business since 2004, Luggage Forward picks up your bags at home and makes sure they are at your final destination safe and sound, thus eliminating the hassles of lost bags or airline fees. Fees vary depending on the number of bags, type of luggage, your end destination, and so forth. When I have to schlep all those skis to Park City this coming winter, I might be giving them a call.

Do you have other tips on ways to avoid lost luggage headaches? Tell us in the comments section below..

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A Taste of Scotland: Loch Fyne Oyster Bar

SO GOOD, SO FINE: Oyster racks at Loch Fyne, Scotland (courtesy, Loch Fyne Oysters)

Some may equate Scotland's culinary rep with haggis, shortbread, or even artery-clogging deep-fried Mars bars, but foodies salivate more over its farm-fresh local produce and abundant seafood. (To prove our point, check out this recent article from The New York Times.) And if you're looking for an authentic and mouthwatering taste of Scotland, look no further than the shores of Loch Fyne and the Loch Fyne Oyster Bar. Located just off the main road that runs northwest past Inverary and toward the tourist town of Oban, this restaurant and seafood market is stocked with delicious oysters (grown in the waters of Loch Fyne, a 40-mile-long sea loch on the west coast of Argyll and Bute), salmon, kippers, and other fresh local fare. Stop for a bite on your way north to the Scottish Highlands and Islands, and chances are you won't be able to get that taste out of your system. My wife and I first stopped there in 1999 during a trip to Loch Awe, and I've been stocking up online ever since.

Have you discovered a hidden restaurant, bar, or shop in some far-flung realm? Care to share with the masses? Tell us in the comments section below.

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August 14, 2008

Two Sides of Lake George

BY GEORGE!: Lake George and the Adirondacks, New York (Corbis)

Most people associate Lake George with the honky-tonk T-shirt and fudge shops that line Lake George Village. That's unfortunate, because the middle section of this 31-mile-long lake, near Bolton Landing, has far more of that Adirondack appeal. On the opposite shore, waves of rolling summits form a silhouette against the sky that, due to the lake's narrow width, hems you in snugly between the peaks.  This is a popular region for sailors who tack around Dome Island, a round, uninhabited forest of firs that looks almost tropical. Or rent sea kayaks to circumnavigate the island that's home to the historic Sagamore Resort. Inland, you can climb tall pines, walk across cable bridges, and zipline back down to the ground at Adirondack Extreme's new aerial adventure course.  Icing on the cake is a hike atop Tongue Mountain with glorious vistas of the lake, one of Backpacker magazine's top trails in the Northeast. Spend your nights at the Sagamore Resort and you'll be staring at the peaks.

New York isn't just limited to the five boroughs—stretch beyond Manhattan with's interactive seasonal guide to the Empire State.

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August 13, 2008

The "Other" Key West: Beachside Resort

FIREWALKER: Key West busker at Mallory Square (Bob Krist/Florida Keys News Bureau)

Typically, families stay in the heart of a destination to minimize car-seat maneuvering and travel time to top sights. But sometimes a hotel off the main drag is best. For family vacationers in Key West, bunking far from Duval Street makes sense. Sure, Duval has its charms. During the day. Come night, the emphasis is on partying, and it's more in your face than "family-oriented." A relatively new Key West hotel is Beachside Resort, a 15-minute drive from downtown. It's not like you'll miss out on Duval; the resort's free shuttle to the anything-goes mecca runs hourly until 10 p.m. Honestly, much about Beachside says "convention" rather than family, but accommodations, ranging from king bedrooms to three-bedroom, three-bath suites, are spacious—some with full kitchens—and there are family packages. There's also a small beach, laze-the-day-away hammocks, and poolside private cabanas for shade. Oddly, most guests must walk through a parking garage to reach the water or (excellent) restaurant. Downtown, check out the very cool (if pricey) Pirate Soul Museum and Butterfly and Nature Conservancy. The Hemingway Home with its 50-something resident cats is great for older kids, too. Sunset sail? Definitely.

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Related Topics: Family Vacation · Florida Vacation · Places to Stay

August 12, 2008

Cenote Excursions: Perfect Rain or Shine

By Liza Prado

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LIGHT IN THE TUNNEL: Cave diving, Riviera Maya, Mexico (courtesy,

The Riviera Maya is world renowned for its spectacular white sand beaches, where you can spend weeks on end laying in the sun, margarita in one hand, trashy novel in the other. But there will be days when it rains. Or simply days when you want a break from the beach. Cenote diving or snorkeling is a perfect alternative if you're looking to do something different.

Cenotes are sinkholes that are carved out of the Riviera Maya's extensive underground river system. They line the coast from Playa del Carmen all the way to Tulum. All are filled with crystalline water and often are connected to one another by tunnels. Some are open air, but the best, at least in my opinion, are those in caves and caverns.

Continue reading "Cenote Excursions: Perfect Rain or Shine" »

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Related Topics: Beach Vacation · Mexico Travel · Scuba & Snorkeling

August 11, 2008

Discover England's Lake District

SCENIC MUSE: Countryside in the Lake District, England (David Toase/Getty)

family travel expert: Steve JermanokWordsworth, Shelley, Keats, and Lord Tennyson have all waxed lyrical about the pastoral splendor of Britain's Lake District. And so will you once you step foot in this compact region of lakes, rolling countryside, woodlands, and historic villages that has been a popular summer retreat for centuries. Stay at the stately Armathwaite Hall Hotel that dates back to the Middle Ages. Not only are you near the shores of one of the largest lakes in the region, Bassenthwaite, but the resort features kids' activities and Trotter's World of Animals, a small zoo of endangered animals and birds of prey. As hard as it might be to leave the premises, take time to visit the other family-friendly attractions in the region like a cruise on the longest lake in the UK, Windermere, and a visit to the nearby Windermere Steamboat Centre, featuring the largest collection of steamboats in the world.

Sticker shock on European travel getting you down? Read's guide to scoring big savings when traveling to Britain in the shoulder seasons.

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August 07, 2008

Travel Rebate Programs: Save Money, Keep Traveling

By awayblog

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Globephotodisc_2Between the price of gas to fuel your summer road trip and airlines charging for once complimentary services, summer vacations can put quite a strain on your pocketbook these days. Even low-fare carrier JetBlue just announced that formerly free blankets and pillows will now cost $7. However, the non-airline tourism industry has responded with incentive programs to temper the cost of traveling. Check out the following reimbursement opportunities, and whether you plan to hit the road or book a flight, save your receipts. You might just get some of your money back.

Continue reading "Travel Rebate Programs: Save Money, Keep Traveling" »

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