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Sunday, February 27, 2011

TAKE A HIKE: Exploring Missouri's 10 best state park trails

The River Scene Trail at Castlewood State Park heads to bluff-top overlooks with views of the Meramec River Valley.

TAKE A HIKE: Exploring Missouri's 10 best state park trails

After being cooped up all winter, most people are ready to get outdoors. Missouri's state parks offer a variety of hiking trails that are perfect for exploring nature and stretching your legs.

And spring, with its longer days and warm temperatures, is a great time to explore before insects and humidity arrive with summer.

Here are 10 of the best hikes in the state.

1. Whispering Pines Trail, Hawn State Park: One of the best hiking and backpacking trails in the state, the two loops follow Pickle Creek and the River Aux Vases by sandstone bluffs. Shortleaf pines combine with hardwoods to put on a glorious fall color show. In winter, the seeps in the bluffs form ice sculptures. 10 miles.

2. Mudlick Trail, Sam A. Baker State Park: Another popular long hike, the Mudlick goes through one of the most significant undisturbed natural landscapes in Missouri. The trail begins in the Big Creek Valley, and climbs to the top of Mudlick Mountain. 11 miles.

3. The Ozark Trail through Taum Sauk and Johnson's Shut-ins state parks:This rugged and scenic section of the trail crosses several mountains and streams, and features the state's highest point and tallest waterfall. 13 to 33 miles.

4. Colosseum Trail, Ha Ha Tonka State Park: The short hike highlights the features of the karst geology, including a natural bridge and sinkhole. It climbs to the top of a ridge, with views of the spring and castle ruins. Seven-tenths of a mile.

5. Rocky Top Trail, Lake of the Ozarks State Park: The trail leads to one of the largest glades in the park, then heads through woodlands to a bluff offering a panoramic view of the Grand Glaize arm of the lake. 2 miles.

6. Devil's Icebox Trail, Rock Bridge Memorial State Park: This short walk follows a boardwalk that takes visitors to the 63-foot-high natural tunnel known as the Rock Bridge, and to a double sinkhole entrance to Devil's Icebox and Connor's Cave. One-half mile.

7. Wilderness Trail, Meramec State Park: The long hike goes through upland forest with rocky glades and views of the river, especially when leaves are off the trees. There are eight backpacking camps. 8.5 miles.

8. Drover's Trail, Prairie State Park: Named for the cowboys who once drove cattle across the prairie, the trail winds through the wildflowers and tall grasses to a hill that provides a sweeping view of the landscape. Look for the park's bison herd. 3 miles.

9. River Scene Trail, Castlewood State Park: The trail may give the most bang for the buck of any in the state. It follows the edge of a bluff with commanding views of the Meramec River Valley, then descends through bottomland forest along the river. 3.25 miles.

10. Boardwalk Trail, Pershing State Park: The boardwalk leads visitors through bottomland forest, shrub swamps and marsh to a wood tower overlooking a rare remnant of wet prairie. A great way to explore the wetlands and wildlife. 1.5 miles.

Friday, February 25, 2011

Royal Caribbean crewmembers arrested for cocaine possession

Royal Caribbean crewmembers arrested for cocaine possession

A pair of Royal Caribbean International crewmembers were busted for drug possession yesterday in Montego Bay, Jamaica.
The crewmembers were both Jamaican nationals working on the 1,950-passenger Grandeur of the Seas, according to a report that first surfaced in the Jamaican Observer.
The bust was confirmed yesterday by Royal Caribbean, which said that while the Grandeur was docked in Montego Bay on Feb. 24, Jamaican authorities detained a crewmember and found that he was in possession of 18 kilos of cocaine.
Authorities then boarded the ship and found an additional 15 kilos in the cabin of a different crewmember, Royal Caribbean said.
The cruise line said it was cooperating fully with authorities during this investigation and "will continue providing any assistance necessary to prosecute these individuals to the fullest extent of the law."
The Grandeur, sailing a seven-night itinerary from Colon, Panama, had arrived from a call the day before in Cartagena, Colombia.
This is the fourth time since December that Royal Caribbean has been in the news for drug busts on its ships.
In early February, an American passenger on the 5,400-passenger Allure of the Seas was arrested in St. Thomas for allegedly selling drugs to fellow passengers on a the largest ever gay cruise, a full charter of the world's biggest cruise vessel.
There have been two incidents in the past two months of drugs and the 2,252-passenger Enchantment of the Seas.
Customs agents allegedly found heroin and cocaine in the possession of an Enchantment crew member after getting a tip from a ship's security officer in late December, and less than a month later, federal agents have found nearly $100,000 worth of heroin and cocaine in a locker on the ship in an employee area.
Royal Caribbean said in a statement that it "maintains a strict zero tolerance policy regarding illegal drugs on its ships. We take various steps to prevent the transport of illegal narcotics, including working closely with law enforcement in all of our ports of call."

Wednesday, February 23, 2011

Hawaii deal: 5 nights on Big Island + airfare from L.A. starts at $775

Hawaii deal: 5 nights on Big Island + airfare from L.A. starts at $775

Here’s a sweet Hawaii bargain for spring that combines a five-night stay with round-trip airfare.

The deal: I found this offer while trawling through the "Hot Deals" section of the Funjet Vacations website. (You can find the entire list by going to the Hot Deals Web page and entering "Los Angeles" as the departure city.) The deal, which starts at $775 plus tax per person, based on double occupancy, includes five nights at the Royal Kona Resort on the Big Islandand round-trip airfare from Los Angeles.

When: Flights for this deal leave Wednesdays and Thursdays only, on selected dates March 2 through May 26.

Saturday, February 19, 2011

Faking a vacation? Florida hotel will hook you up

Faking a vacation? Florida hotel will hook you up

Are you faking it when you go on vacation? Many people are, according to TripAdvisor's 2011 Travel Trends Forecast. The website, which features user reviews of hotels and other tourist sites, surveyed more than 3,000 of its users last year and reported that 69% said they connected with work while on vacation, and 62% said they checked their work e-mails.

Blurring the lines between work and vacation isn't new, but job creep might lend credence to a decidedly underwhelming travel trend: the "fake-ation." And the marketing already has begun.

Witness the Perfect Fake-ation package from the Shores Resort & Spa in Daytona Beach Shores, Fla. It starts at $119 per night, according to the hotel, and offers Wi-Fi throughout the site , including poolside; access to a 24-hour business center; endless cups of coffee; a copy of the Wall Street Journal; and a private office available for conference calls. Um, whatever happened to "come unwind in our luxurious spa"?

Shores Resort & Spa in Daytona Beach Shores, Fla.
Are you really going to open your laptop at the tiki bar? The Shores Resort & Spa in Daytona Beach Shores, Fla., welcomes workaholics with a "fake-ation" special. (Shores Resort & Spa)

"Good or bad, it’s obvious that a lot of travelers want or need to keep one foot in both worlds," David Rijos, manager of theFlorida hotel, said in a statement about the offer. "By providing conveniences to our guests who still need to conduct business while enjoying the exceptional amenities of our resort, we are hopefully able to cut down on the work portion of their fake-ation."

I'm not sure I want my resort-spa worrying about my workload. But the Shores Resort package does hit my weak spot: I took three "fake-ations" last year, and ubiquitous Wi-Fi was vital to juggling my workload and time off.

At least I took a vacation, real or not. More than half of Americans last year didn't use up their vacation time, according to a Reuters story. So maybe we just need some ground rules, such as no laptops in the spa. For now.

Do you like the article? Feel free to forward and re-post 

Wednesday, February 16, 2011

U.S. airlines bump up fares for premium classes

U.S. airlines bump up fares for premium classes

Major U.S. airlines raised prices again this week on their most expensive fares by up to $120 for a round trip, a sign they think a rebound in business travel is here to stay.

Delta Air Lines initiated the increase Monday on its premier class and last-minute fares favored by business travelers. Other network carriers —American AirlinesUS AirwaysUnited Airlines and Continental Airlines— subsequently matched it by raising prices on first-class, business-class and seven-day advance-purchase tickets that can cost as much as $900 for a domestic round trip.
It was the second big increase in high-end fares in as many weeks.
Ed Martelle, an American Airlines spokesman, told the Associated Press his carrier was raising fares to match Delta. Flights up to 500 miles were raised $20 each way. Fares for trips from 501 to 1,500 miles were raised $40 each way. The price of flights longer than 1,500 miles increased by $60 each way.
"People are up in arms about this business travel hike," says Rick Seaney, CEO of, who closely monitors fares. "But airlines do what they do, which is squeeze as much as they can from each seat; $120 is a little more than I expected."
By raising fares on tickets sought by business travelers, airlines are banking on more profit from those who are more likely to buy on short notice and often seek non-stop itineraries. An increase in premium-class tickets by network airlines also has a better chance of sticking as a permanent increase, because low-cost competitors derive most of their sales from inexpensive coach seats.
Last week, United and Continental increased many of their high-end fares by $20 to $60 round trip. Delta and American matched their price moves the following day.
Seaney says the newest increase was "broad-based," meaning it applies to hub flights and other routes frequented by road warriors. "It's a pretty big adjustment," he says. But, he adds, if bookings fall off in the next few days, the airlines may reconsider the increase.
Few expect the rebound in business travel to ease, however. Business travel spending will increase 5% this year, following a 2.3% increase in 2010 and a 14.1% decline in 2009, the Global Business Travel Association estimates.
The new increases follow a series of price bumps — five since December — aimed more at leisure fliers. Airlines say fares are higher because they need to keep pace with escalating fuel costs.

Saturday, February 12, 2011

Hot Spring Travel Deals

Hot Spring Travel Deals

On Groundhog Day, Punxsutawney Phil didn’t see his shadow, setting in motion speculation that the next six weeks of winter will be mild as we ramp up toward the first day of spring on March 20. Whether you think winter’s fading, escalating, or never ending, one thing is certain: spring is coming, and there’s nothing you can do about it. And since that’s the case, I picked the brains of six travel industry experts to determine where the travel deals and value destinations are this spring.

Watch these airlines and cities for flyaway deals

Good news is on the horizon for the New York-area airports, according to Jeff Pecor, senior communications director at, who says there “will definitely be rock bottom prices on flights originating out of JFK, La Guardia, and Newark Liberty this spring, since “Southwest Airlines will begin flying out of Newark on March 27th -- in addition to existing flights offered out of La Guardia -- and will have a significant pricing influence on competitors such as Delta, Continental, American, and JetBlue.” He adds that “travelers should expect to find a deal on spring flights to Chicago, Denver, Houston, and Phoenix as these are all routes that Southwest will fly out of Newark.” With Southwest horning in on Newark, competing airlines’ prices to New Orleans, the west coast, and Las Vegas may also drop, says Justin Soffer, vice president and general manager of, who adds that already reasonable “Las Vegas fares will continue to be low going into the spring and early summer due to a combination of seasonal drop-off and historically low demand.”

Pecor also notes that with Southwest’s acquisition of AirTran, slated to happen during the first half of 2011, “JetBlue will have to compete harder for the economy traveler. AirTran and JetBlue already have a number of competing routes -- such as Boston to San Juan -- that will only become more hotly contested in the coming weeks and months as Southwest-AirTran flexes its pricing muscle. Again, with increased competition come more opportunities for travelers to save. Look for JetBlue to dig its heels in this year and offer spring travelers some nice sale prices and earn some customer loyalty points.”

Also watch Spirit Airlines, suggests Airfarewatchdog founder George Hobica. While the carrier is “reviled because of its cabin bag fees, it has some of the most amazing airfares,” he says, noting that if you sign up for Spirit’s $9 Fare Club – which requires a $59.95 annual membership fee –“almost every week they have a $35 or $50 off coupon,” and while there are additional fees, the overall savings are substantial. One strategy for gaming Spirit as well as other airlines is to try to book on a Tuesday or Wednesday, as “that’s when the best deals are,” but that said, you also have to watch Fridays -- I spoke to Hobica on a Friday, when a round-trip Spirit fare to Vegas was $168, which he said was much higher on Tuesday of the same week. “Any minute there could be a wacky, wacky sale,” Hobica says. “The best deals are often on the airlines’ own Web sites.”

Price out hotels carefully

The first step to spotting a spring hotel deal is knowing the average room rate you’ll need to beat, suggests Genevieve Shaw Brown, senior editor at Travelocity, who says “the average daily rate (ADR) on domestic hotels this spring is $169. Places with spring ADR below the average include Las Vegas, Orlando, San Francisco, Los Angeles, Tampa /St. Petersburg, and San Diego. These destinations should be considered great values for spring.” Likewise, with the ADR on overseas hotels coming in at $197, “international destinations coming in below the average are Hong Kong, Tokyo, Melbourne, and Sydney.” Brown adds that Travelocity’s primary spring sale is happening right now, with many hotels offering 30 percent off stays from February through June.”

Both Brown and Hobica point to the potential savings gained from booking a hotel and airfare together as a package – “hotels are more likely to lower their rates in vacation packages than they are their stand-alone rates,” Brown says, and at sites like Travelocity as well as other online travel agencies (OTAs) like Expedia or, Hobica says in some cases the combined cost of “airfare and hotel is about the price of a last-minute airfare alone,” on top of which he says the OTAs often offer promo codes that can be applied to already reasonably-priced packages.

However, while an airfare-hotel bundle “can save you a lot of money, sometimes it doesn’t,” says Anne Banas, executive editor at SmarterTravel, noting that to create their packages, OTAs are “pulling together components they are already selling,” and you should be able to price out each of those elements individually. Also, if you’re shopping on a hotel’s Web site and notice room packages -- specials aimed at couples, families, spa and golf lovers, and virtually every other constituency -- ask yourself if the extras included have any face value or actual value to you. “Hotel packages throw in a lot of extras,” says Banas, so find out what they cost and bear in mind that however appealing some package extras may appear you can, for instance, “always buy your own bottle of champagne,” says Banas.

Watch these destinations for deals

Caribbean and Mexico. “It's an old, well-known fact that the price of travel to the Caribbean and Mexico can take a big drop in late spring as the winter demand for warm beaches and sunshine begins to decline,” Pecor says. “Every year, around mid-April, hotel rates and flights to a number of Mexican and Caribbean destinations take a nose dive. Jamaica is one such destination that should be on the radar for frugal travelers.” Adds Brown, “the U.S.V.I., Bahamas, and the Dominican Republic have the lowest average prices” during the spring.

Europe. Airfares to Europe are historically high in spring, but Soffer points out that “we saw quite a few good Europe fares for fall travel popping up in late April and early May. Travelers looking for deals to Europe should look for similar price drops this year.” TripAdvisor Flights director Allison Danziger notes that on her site she’s “seeing round-trip airfares from the U.S. for under $600 in March and April to great European destinations like London, Paris, Milan, Brussels, and Dublin, which are certainly lower than we expect to see during the summer season. Banas adds that she’s been recently monitoring good deals from the U.S. to Spain and that travelers will also want to keep an eye out for promotional airfares to Iceland, as  “this year Delta will start flying to Iceland” and will be the “first U.S. carrier flying into Reykjavik.” Likewise, look to Iceland Air for some good values, Banas says, as the carrier’s partnerships with Iceland hotels has historically yielded some excellent air and hotel packages.

Florida. “For travelers looking to take off soon,” Soffer says, “there are still quite a few good fares to be had to Florida for pre-Spring Break dates, through roughly March 13.”

Greek Islands. Spring’s a great shoulder season and a time for potential values “for some of the best summer destinations, like the Greek islands,” Danziger says. You may not have a week of beach weather, but you will likely be warm.”

Hawaii. The islands have seen their “share of unadvertised cuts over the last few months that we would expect to continue,” says Soffer. “This is primarily happening in hub markets like Chicago, Dallas, New York, Houston, Phoenix, and Denver. Competition in these cities has been strong, with some airlines offering one-stop fares often at half the price of the nonstop offering,” adding that “routes that normally sell for $850-$1,000 nonstop have been popping up with regularity around $450 with a stop.”

Monday, February 7, 2011

American Airlines-Orbitz-Expedia Feud & 2 Min Travel News / Updates

American Airlines-Orbitz-Expedia Feud & 2 Min Travel News / Updates

The recently sparked feud between American Airlines and the travel websites Orbitz and Expedia has business travel managers worried that the dispute may end up making plane tickets cost more money.

It all started last year when American Airlines yanked its ticket sales from Orbitz to save on the commissions and fees it pays to sell tickets through travel websites. Expedia jumped into the fray by withholding American Airlines ticket information from its site.

At the heart of the quarrel is a complicated revenue-sharing arrangement between the airline, the travel website and the global distribution systems that dole out ticket information.

The bottom line is that American wants travelers to buy directly from its website, where they will be encouraged to buy seat upgrades and extra goodies such as lounge access and fast check-in services. Industry analysts expect other airlines to follow American's example.

But nearly 90% of business travel managers expect higher travel costs if that shift occurs throughout the airline industry, according to a poll of 244 travel managers conducted by the Global Business Travel Assn., a trade group for travel professionals. The travel managers say the current online ticketing system makes it easier to compare prices and negotiate rates.

"Business travel buyers have spoken, and they overwhelmingly indicate that the 'direct connect' approach for airfare distribution is a pricey strategy that will result in higher costs for companies," said Mike McCormick, executive director of the association.

American Airlines disagrees, saying travel costs will go down if airlines eliminate the online distribution systems that act as middlemen.

Said airline spokesman Ryan Mikolasik: "The current system already adds unnecessary costs to the business travel industry as a whole."

• TSA scanner upgrade may end 'naked' images

Airport scanners that create naked-looking images of screened passengers may soon be a thing of the past.

The Transportation Security Administration announced last week that it is testing a software upgrade that changes the way the scanners depict objects hidden under clothing.

Instead of creating what looks like a naked image of the screened passengers, the new software has the scanners point out any anomaly, such as a foreign lump under the clothes, on a gender-neutral avatar shown on a screen.

If tests go well at airports in Las Vegas, Atlanta and Washington, the upgraded system could be used nationwide within six months, said Tom Ripp, president of L-3 Communications' Security and Detection Group. L-3 developed nearly half of the 500 scanners used nationwide.

Ripp said a similar software program has been used on L-3 scanners in Europe for the last year.

The goal of the new software, he said, was to address complaints that the scanners the violate privacy rights of passengers.

But the upgrade has not appeased the Electronic Privacy Information Center, a Washington nonprofit that sued the TSA in November to halt the use of the scanners. Ginger McCall, an attorney for the group, said she wants proof that the scanners can't record and store "naked" images despite the software upgrade.

Still, McCall said, the new upgrades "indicate the TSA has felt substantial pressure and they feel the need to make some changes."

• Is your hotel really on the beach?

For more than 40 years, Australian John Everingham has made a name for himself as a top-notch freelance photographer based in Southeast Asia.

Hotel owners occasionally would hire him to take photos to make it appear as if their hotels were right on the beach instead of a few blocks away.

Last week, Everingham launched, a website that uses GPS technology and satellite photos to confirm whether a hotel is directly on the sand.

"I used to be part of the problem, and now I want to be on the outside, making it better," he said in a phone interview from his home in Bangkok, Thailand. The website now includes 7,500 verified beachside hotels, and Everingham said he is adding new hotel data every day.

"Now," he said, "you can use technology to tell people the absolute truth."

Sunday, February 6, 2011

Going solo on a cruise

Going solo on a cruise

Q: I want to go on a cruise because I like the idea of seeing several places but unpacking only once. I am hesitating, though, because I...

Going solo on a cruise
Q: I want to go on a cruise because I like the idea of seeing several places but unpacking only once. I am hesitating, though, because I will be traveling alone. Will I feel like the odd one out?
A: If you choose wisely, you should fit right in. Carolyn Spencer Brown, editor of, says cruise lines now are courting a younger, hipper single traveler. Norwegian Cruise Line's ship Epic is the first to offer not just single cabins but also a bar and lounge just for single passengers. (For a story on going single on the ship, go to and search for Norwegian Epic).
To enjoy a solo cruise, Brown suggests:
• Look for ships with well under 2,000 passengers. "They're more conducive to meeting others than are big ships," said Brown.
• Look for a ship that offers set-seating options — assigning passengers to a table for dinner. That way you have built-in company.
• Go with a cruise line that is geared to singles. Beyond the Epic's single cabins, you'll find "gentleman hosts" on lines such as Crystal, Holland America and Cunard who are on hand to dance with single women.
• Consider a theme cruise that gives an interest with others on board

Wednesday, February 2, 2011



Never accept the first fare quoted. Half the time, some other airline's flight within hours of the one you booked has a special, less expensive deal.

Take advantage of "illegal" connections. These are connecting fights usually less than 45 minutes apart-too close for airlines to feel safe in making them connect. Result.- These flights usually do not even show up on the computer when your trip is being routed. Way out Have your agent write up your flight on two separate tickets. The second is for the illegal connection that originates at your transfer point. 

Example: You arrive at O'Hare in Chicago on the way to San Francisco. Instead of waiting three hours for the safe connecting flight, you already have a separate ticket from O'Hare to San Francisco on an illegal connection. If you miss the connection, you turn that ticket in for the next available flight. Cost for two separate tickets.- No more than one through ticket. Baggage.- Waiting for it to be unloaded can cost you valuable time on this tight schedule. Best.- Travel with carry-on luggage.

Some supersaver fares are so low that even if you can't stay as long as their requirements (some ally seven days), you will save by buying two round-trip tickets-one from your home to your destination for the day you want to leave and one from your destination to your home for the day you want to return. The total may be less than the regular round-trip fare.

If you miss your flight and there's just time to catch another, go right to the other airline's departure gate instead of to its ticket counter. If it has an empty seat, the second airline will usually honor the ticket for the flight you missed.

Best seat in the plane. After first class, the choices center on your priorities. For comfort and a smooth ride, pick a seat over the wings. For silence, sit as far forward as possible, but avoid the galley and rest rooms. For leg room, try the first row or seats beside the emergency exits.