Saturday, January 12, 2008

New Year's Eve, Southern-style

From the Orlando Sentinel:

It's time to start thinking about travel in 2008, and several new books are out to guide you around the world.

Travel + Leisure's 100 Greatest Trips offers offbeat itineraries in otherwise familiar places. In New York City, go shopping in Harlem at Atmos, the Japanese sneaker store, and N, a designer emporium. In Mexico, follow the tequila trail in Jalisco, where the agave plant used to make the drink is grown. And in London, take the tube to the London Bridge stop and eat your way around Borough Market, where you can grab a venison burger at Westcountry Venison and a house ale at Brew Wharf.
The Practical Nomad: How to Travel Around the World by Edward Hasbrouck, an updated fourth edition, is described by the author in his preface as a "how-to handbook of advice and tips for independent, on-your-own travel . . . especially suitable for anyone planning -- or dreaming about -- the big trip: 'gap year,' 'wander year' or 'trip of a lifetime' around the world."

The book offers information on everything from budgeting to luggage to health issues to air travel. It can even help you make the decision to get up and go, arguing that world travel will enhance your career, be good for your children and cost less than you might think.

Lonely Planet's Bluelist: The Best in Travel 2008 is a planner, an inspiration and ultimately a conversation, since fans can visit to submit their own lists of must-see places. The book includes a section on events around the world by month, such as the mimosa festival in January in Montenegro and the snow rodeo in Essex, Mont., in March. A "Golist" of places includes profiles of Mumbai, India; Chengdu, China; Cordoba, Argentina, and in the U.S., Miami, Colorado and Glacier National Park. A special chapter on "Travel Islam" explores cultures and countries of the Muslim world.

Strategies To Avoid Crowds

Beth writes:

Frank and Sandy Sullivan, for instance, have mastered the Disney strategy in the 20-plus years they've been visiting the park. The Hauppauge couple only goes in the off-peak seasons - fall, winter and early spring, excluding holidays and school breaks - to minimize the hassles of crowds. They stay only at hotels and other accommodations owned by Disney so they spend less time getting to the parks. And they always rent a car so they can see what they want when they want without having to wait for a tram.

Even after more than 75 visits to Walt Disney World, the experience is still magical for the couple. ("When I saw Cinderella's Castle for the first time, I started crying," Sandy recalls.) The Sullivans continue to go at least twice a year, even though their boys, who first visited Disney World when they were 3 and 5, are now grown.

"We hardly go on the rides anymore," says Sandy, 57. "We just go to enjoy the scenery and relax."

They also try to catch one of parks' many shows, such as Mickey's PhilharMagic and the Hoop-De-Doo Musical Revue, and to treat themselves to dinners at the resort's finest restaurants. Besides visiting all four Disney theme parks (Magic Kingdom, Epcot, Disney-MGM Studios and Animal Kingdom), the Sullivans have golfed at all six Disney World courses and taken three Disney cruises.

The holidays are particularly special at the resort, Sandy says. "Anytime after Thanksgiving, the parks and hotels are all decorated for Christmas, and it's awesome," Sandy says.

Christmas comes up frequently among Disneyphiles.

Roy and Joan Erni of St. James have visited Disney World 40 to 50 times and note the Candlelight Processional at Epcot, during which the Christmas story is told with the help of a celebrity narrator, a full choir and a 50-piece orchestra.

"It's just beautiful," says Joan, 47, whose favorite narrator is actor Gary Sinise.

Beyond Christmas, the Ernis have visited Disney World for all kinds of events and holidays - the annual Food & Wine Festival at Epcot, Mickey's Not-So-Scary Halloween Party and Mother's Day. But the one they never miss is spring training, when the couple can catch a game between the Atlanta Braves and the New York Mets at Disney's Wide World of Sports Complex.

Roy, 49, is the planner in the Erni household. Long before any scheduled trip, Roy sits down with Joan and their son Brian, 23, who occasionally joins them for Disney trips. They decide what they want to see and where to eat. Then Roy makes reservations at least four to five months before they go. They enjoy sampling the ethnic cuisine from restaurants in Epcot's World Showcase pavilions.

"As you get closer, the reservations are hard to come by," Roy says. "If you wait too long, you may not be able to eat in Japan. You may have to settle for China."

Number of visitors to Orlando down in 2006, new report says

Jason Garcia writes:

The number of visitors to Orlando tumbled by 1.5 million people in 2006, according to data included in a report released Wednesday by the region's tourism bureau.

The 47.8 million people who traveled to Orlando last year was 3.1 percent less than the 49.3 million visitors in 2005, the figures showed. That's the first drop in total travel to Orlando since 2001 -- a year that included a recession and the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks -- and only the second decline in at least 15 years.

But the tourism industry nonetheless injected more than $29.8 billion into the Orlando economy last year and directly employed more than 224,000 people, according to the report, which was commissioned by the Orlando/Orange County Convention & Visitors Bureau.

Visitors bureau spokeswoman Danielle Courtenay attributed the drop in visitors to pocketbook issues that hit consumers in 2006, such as the start of the housing slump and then-record fuel prices.

"There wasn't one clear-cut reason, but [indications] pointed to the economic situation," Courtenay said.

Travel to Orlando was down in a host of categories in 2006 compared with 2005.

New Firm Offering Club Delivery Service for Florida Golf Vacations

Craig Better writes:

You're probably already aware that FedEx, UPS, DHL, and a variety of luggage-only shipping services make it easier to get your golf clubs to your golf vacation destination rather than lugging them yourself.

But when it comes to short trips, or business trips, is it really worth paying upwards of $100 to ship them when you might only play a round or two?

A new firm, citing the high cost and low quality of golf course rental clubs, thinks its golf club delivery service provides a good solution for those on brief Florida golf vacations or business trips.

Called, the company will deliver a full set of late-model Nike or Callaway clubs (including a putter) to your hotel or the golf course by 7 am and pick them up from the same location around 8 pm. The per-day cost, which includes the use of the clubs and a sleeve of Nike balls, is $35 for Nike and $45 for Callaway.

For now, the company offers its service only in southeast Florida's tri-county area (think Miami, Fort Lauderdale, and West Palm Beach) but it has plans to expand into Orlando in early 2008.

While the idea itself seems sound, I really think this is a case of a solution looking for a problem.

First, the company claims its rental prices represent, "a fraction of the cost of golf course rentals." This may be true with respect to the top-tier Florida golf resorts (keep in mind that even a small savings can technically be called "a fraction"), but most public Florida golf courses in the area, even the upscale, daily-fee variety, charge between $45-$65 for comparable clubs (I called around and checked).

In Orlando, the hustle-bustle of seasonal travel brings smiles and sighs

The Orlando Sentinel writes:

Tens of thousands of travelers will begin pouring into and out of Orlando this weekend, as locals head home for the holidays and tourists arrive for winter-break vacations.

It's an annual ritual that could be even more pronounced than usual this year because most Central Florida school districts won't release their students until Friday -- leaving families just three travel days before Christmas.

Nationally, the American Automobile Association predicts that 53 million Americans will drive at least 50 miles this holiday season and another 8.9 million will fly. The organization says Floridians alone will account for 3.4 million of those drivers and 639,000 of the airline passengers.

Many of those on the road or in the air will be coming to Orlando: Booking data from the online travel agencies Yahoo Travel and Orbitz rank Orlando among the top 10 destinations for Christmas and New Year's Eve travelers this winter.

A separate survey of 34 hotels by the Orlando/Orange County Convention & Visitors Bureau found that 38 percent of them expect higher room occupancy than a year ago, compared with just 15 percent who expect bookings to fall.

Florida resorts and cruises offer romance for Valentine's Day

Georgina writes:

Instead of splurging on the box of fancy chocolates and bunch of roses, book a night's stay at a Florida resort for Valentine's Day.

Or if sweetheart isn't prone to sea-sickness, there are a couple of cruise lines departing from Miami that offer romantic getaways on the high seas for about $200 a night.

Here are some ideas for various wallets -- from $150 a night to $500 a night -- on where to go in Florida:

The Park Plaza Hotel is a B&B with flower-filled balconies on Park Avenue in Winter Park near Orlando. The hotel faces Central Park and it's steps away from boutiques and shops and the Charles Hosmer Museum of American Art with its Tiffany glass treasures.

"Chocolates are nice, but nothing is sweeter than a getaway where you can buy not only chocolates but other treats too," said Jill Campbell, a visitor from New York, who came to the Park Plaza Hotel with her significant other, attracted in particular by Park Avenue shopping.

Rates at the Park Plaza Hotel include continental breakfast served in bed or on your balcony. Call 407-647-1072.

Port Orleans French Quarter (themed to New Orleans) and Riverside (themed to the legendary South of the U.S.) are romantic, with gardens, fountains and a "river." Moderate prices at Walt Disney World in Orlando make it even more appealing.

Resolve to Stress Less Over Your Vacations

Eileen writes:

No matter how well I plan - and remember, I'm an expert - I always forget something. Once, it was my youngest daughter's parka on a ski trip. (We bought another at an outlet mall on the way.) Another time, when we drove to Cape Cod for a week, we forgot my older daughter's duffel. (Thank goodness, a friend was coming the next day.) Then there was the California hike when I forgot the first-aid kit (a fellow hiker offered his).

That brings me to my first 2008 travel resolution (Listen up, moms): I'm going to "chill," as my kids would say. I'm no longer going to fret every detail. I'm not going to get unduly upset when plans go awry and itineraries change, as they invariably will. I'm going to embrace such changes as part of the adventure. I'm going to try.

RESOLUTION 2: I'm going to ask for help from the rest of my family.

RESOLUTION 3: Let go of the guilt! Wherever we go, I'm going to plan some just-for-me time.

RESOLUTION 4: I'm going to book nonstop flights whenever possible, even if they cost a little more and especially when I'm sending a child or teen unaccompanied.

RESOLUTION 5: Wherever we go, I'm going to find something for us to do that we've never done before - snowshoeing in Yellowstone National Park (, scuba diving in the Bahamas (, swimming with dolphins in Orlando ( or surfing in California (

RESOLUTION 6: I won't force everyone to be in lockstep the entire trip.

Resale woes leave Orlando-area time-share owners in limbo

The Orlando Sentinel writes:

Time shares are often marketed as lifestyle investments, but some buyers are surprised to learn that they might as well be lifetime purchases. Although the industry boasts a very high buyer-satisfaction rate, people who want out often discover that they can sell only at very deep discounts -- if they can sell at all.

"I think the problem is that people confuse this product with other real-estate products," Nusbaum said. "This is a use product. It's like a car: It depreciates."

Time-share developers focus on churning out new units and selling their annual weeks through highly polished sales operations. Many aren't interested in resales, which compete with their own offerings.

'Most go down over time'

Michael Fine, president of Vacation Time Share Resales, notes that after-market time shares often cost far less than new units. His company is one of many that offer sellers an online market for their units.

"Buying a time share is like buying a luxury automobile," Fine said. "Some hold their value, but most go down over time."

The market itself is a patchwork. Some resale companies, such as Vacation Time Share Resales, charge a commission when a unit sells, but others demand upfront listing fees.

"In the case of time-share resales, it is a case of buyer beware -- and seller beware, too," said Lisa Ann Schreier, an Orlando time-share expert and author of Timeshare Vacations for Dummies. "One thing I tell everybody who wants to sell: Don't ever pay anyone a listing fee to sell your property."

Schreier also said buyers should not think of time shares as real estate but rather a long-term investment in future vacations.

"Technically, this is real estate, but it's not Donald Trump real estate," Schreier said. "The time-share industry has used the real-estate-investment ploy for a long time. Is it really real estate? Yes. But it just doesn't behave like it."

Advance bookings give hoteliers reason to smile, at least for now

Christopher Boyd writes:

Hoteliers expect a strong start to 2008, with reports of solid advance bookings following a run of rising occupancy levels during the final months of 2007.

But the confidence begins to buckle when industry leaders look further into the future. Uncertainties about the economy and gasoline prices could turn a strong start into something less hearty -- especially in an era when people seem more inclined to make travel plans at the last minute.

"I think everybody is very cautious about 2008," said Laura Sherman, incoming chairman of the Central Florida Hotel & Lodging Association. "For now, cold weather in the Northeast and gas prices going down are positives."

Momentum, marketing are key for parks -- with few new waves

Scott Powers writes:

Most of Orlando's theme parks will be counting on momentum and marketing, more than new attractions, to overcome any potential economic woes in 2008, so the opening of Busch Entertainment Corp.'s Aquatica should produce the biggest waves this year.

When that next-generation water park opens in the spring, it will give Busch Entertainment another full-size park and -- if it matches the best of Central Florida's other water parks -- perhaps 2 million admissions to go along with SeaWorld Orlando and Discovery Cove here and Busch Gardens Tampa Bay. Aquatica also gives Busch more options to offer multi-day, multi-park ticket packages.

The Busch parks, Walt Disney World and Universal Orlando should all expect another year of attendance and financial gains following a strong showing in 2007, said Ady Milman, a theme-park professor at the University of Central Florida's Rosen College of Hospitality Management.