by Troy Petenbrink
Orlando, the home of Mickey Mouse and sunshine, is the No. 1 tourist destination in the US. It attracts over 50 million annual visitors — and it’s gearing up for more. As Orlando approaches its summer season, it is launching many new and exciting upgrades to its amusement park attractions.
At SeaWorld Orlando, Orca has some new friends, with the introduction of TurtleTrek, a mix of uber-technology and naturalistic habitats. On the tech side, visitors can experience a 3-D/360-degree film in a cool dome theater that uses dozens of projectors to immerse the audience in an underwater journey of a sea turtle’s life. Real rescued sea turtles, along with thousands of fish and manatees, can also be seen as are part of 2 new habitats — one saltwater and one freshwater.
Fans of roller coasters might enjoy The Rattlesnake at Forever Florida EcoSafaris’ expanded EcoPark. The roller coaster-style zipline launches from a 65-foot-high platform before whipping around a 1,000-foot course and reaching speeds of up to 20 miles per hour.
by Bill Burke
Go for a swim at Walt Disney World’s new Art of Animation Resort, and you’ll hear characters from the Disney/Pixar film Finding Nemo talking to you — from under the water. It’s just one of the details the Imagineers at Disney have added to this newest resort to make it as immersive as possible.
Disney’s Art of Animation Resort is the central Florida vacation kingdom’s newest hotel — featuring 1,120 family suites and 864 studio rooms slotted into Disney’s “value” level pricing.
Spacious Family Suites
Guests enter through Animation Hall — a lobby festooned with giant reproductions of early concept drawings of Disney/Pixar characters. Cast members (that’s Disney-speak for employees) wear paint-spattered vests, representing the artist’s creative process. Entering into the resort-proper just outside the lobby plunges visitors into a vividly colorful world of animated features. The “Finding Nemo”-themed pool — Disney’s largest outside of its water parks — is designed to make guests feel as if they’re living in the undersea world of Nemo, Dory and friends.
The family suites sleep 6 with a master bedroom, a pull-out couch in the living room area and a pull-down bed that also doubles as a small dining table. The suites also include a microwave, small refrigerator and counter space for preparing small meals. The resort, like all others on Disney property, is serviced by Disney’s motor-coach transportation system — which will ferry guests to and from theme parks — and the free Magical Express service, which brings guests to and from Orlando International Airport to their resort.
by Jimmy Im
If you didn’t think hotel discounts could get any more attractive, think again. Launched few weeks ago by TripAdvisor, Tingo is a new booking site that promises users an instant refund of the price difference if the rate at which they reserve a room drops. Sound too good to be true? It’s not.
Here’s how it works: Tingo allows users to book virtually any hotel available on Expedia and then automatically tracks the rates of the property. This means that users don’t have to watch prices on their own to get a better deal, so you’re guaranteed to get the lowest possible rate on the hotel booking. Tingo is the first site to automatically rebook a hotel reservation if the price drops, and consumers save on the difference with a refund (Orbitz has a price assurance policy with a similar plan, but unlike Orbitz, you qualify for a refund at Tingo regardless of whether another traveler has also booked the lower rate).
The company says about a third of rooms drop in price between booking and check-in, and because you’re so busy, you’re not monitoring this. In comes Tingo to watch the prices for you and give you the difference provided there is a price drop (if the price never drops, obviously nothing happens).
by Jimmy Im
Has your plane ever been stranded on an airport runway? Not fun, considering the number of hours you could potentially remain seated. But now there’s a way you can move freely at your own discretion — and you won’t be asked to return to your seat. But you better wear your running shoes.
Run on the Runway at JFK Airport
Running enthusiasts are sprinting over to the JFK Runway Run 2012 on April 15. Portions of the race include the longest and main airport runway at JFK, which is a good 14,000 feet.
Don’t worry; it’s safe. Aircrafts are being rerouted to land on a different runway during the race, so there’s no need to crane your neck to potentially dodge oncoming planes. And you don’t have to be Carl Lewis to sign up. The race is very family-friendly, open to all ages and types of people — even strollers are permitted on the runway! According to the JFK Rotary Club, which sponsors the Runway Run, the race has been going strong for about 30 years. Who knew?
The JFK Runway Run 2012 is still open for registration and is only $25 ($30 on race day).
by Jimmy Im
Any history buff will most certainly know that Amelia Earhart has been making international headlines again — this time, with new clues to the disappearance of her plane. And any Amelia Earhart fan will remember the last leg of her flight leaving from Papua New Guinea.
This may be once in a blue moon that Papua New Guinea has garnered worldwide attention (in addition to the fact that James Cameron succeeded 2 weeks ago in undertaking the world’s deepest solo submarine dive in the Mariana Trench off New Britain Island of PNG). But it won’t be the last time you hear of Papua New Guinea and, soon enough, it will be making headlines of its own.
Papua New Guinea is the “land that time forgot” but travelers are starting to pay attention to this off-the-radar destination, thanks to the current trend of “ends of the Earth” journeys, where intrepid travelers are looking beyond “hot spots” to explore rarely visited destinations.
by Jimmy Im
It’s not all about tacos and margaritas anymore.
Last week in Cancun, spring-break revelers flooded the bars and clubs for a Mexican-style St. Patrick’s Day, while Jersey Shore‘s Snooki and JWoww filmed scenes for a new show at Beach Palace Resort. But while nightlife remains an iconic fixture of the destination, Cancun has been luring a new type of traveler: foodies. From March 15 to 18, hundreds of visitors participated in the inauguration of the region’s first food and wine festival, a boon for Cancun’s growing culinary scene.
The Cancun-Riviera Maya Wine & Food Festival proved that Mexican gastronomy is no joke — in fact, traditional Mexican cuisine has been named to the UNESCO Intangible Cultural Heritage list — as almost 30 world-renowned chefs from Argentina, Chile, Brazil, Canada, Mexico and the US brought their culinary flair to the region to celebrate the local cuisine and introduce their own techniques to an emerging culinary destination.
Headlining the event was Ferran Adria from the highly touted elBulli restaurant, universally known as the world’s best restaurant for several years. (It closed in 2009.) While the festival honored Ferran at a gala reception and dinner, more than 30 culinary events were also open to the public.
by Troy Petenbrink
Philadelphia has long been known as the City of Brotherly Love, but if the city’s tourism officials have their way, it may start being known as the City of Art. A new $2 million, 2-year marketing campaign was launched this month to try to position Philadelphia among the world’s great art destinations.
So can Philly hold its own against the likes of Berlin, Florence and New York City? Travel Channel takes a fun look at the numbers to help you decide:
1805: The year that the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts was founded, making it the first art school in the United States. Philadelphia is actually home to one of the nation’s largest concentrations of art schools, many of which operate galleries and hold annual art shows. This might be your chance to discover the next Picasso.
3,000-plus: The number of murals produced by the Philadelphia Murals Arts Programs over the past 25 years. Originally begun as an anti-graffiti effort, this public arts program not only produces beautiful and moving murals across the city, it helps thousands of Philadelphia’s at-risk children, youth and adults find their artistic voice. In addition to the murals, Philadelphia boasts more outdoor sculptures than any other city in the country. And the best thing — all this public art is free to visit.
Aspiring travelers flocked to the Convention Center in Washington, DC, for the Travel & Adventure Show this weekend, and today is the last day to catch Travel Channel host Sam Brown chat about her travel mishaps. Former Taste of America host, Mark DeCarlo, will be signing his new book, “A Fork on the Road,” and hosting an Interactive Cooking Class on the Culinary Stage.
The annual event has dozens of booths to inspire travelers to visit specific destinations and to tap into their sense of adventure by offering people with an opportunity to experience diving in a Scuba Dive Pool, experience the rock climbing wall, strap up for a zip-lining adventure and feel the motors revving with a NASCAR video game. A few tour companies are on hand to help you plan your wildlife safari, whitewater rafting trip and more.
And there’s not a shortage of destinations to plan your next fun-filled getaway. The Show has reps from popular destinations, both near and far, including Fiji, Maryland, Tibet, Spain, US Virgin Islands, Australia, Orlando, Belize, South Africa, Hawaii, West Virginia, Singapore, Universal Studios, Busch Gardens and Water Country USA.
So plan your next water park trip now, and don’t miss the last day of the Travel & Adventure Show in DC or check it out in a city near you.
by Jimmy Im
Sure, it’s not uncommon for a Caribbean island resort to make groundbreaking announcements about its property. But in Turks and Caicos, it’s incidentally quite rare. Just consider the Turks and Caicos island of Providenciales: A handful of fine resorts perched along its sandy 12-mile stretch of beach known as Grace Bay seldom blare any headline-making news. Perhaps it’s because they’ve already exceeded expectations with their high volume of return visitors. If it’s not broke, don’t fix it, right?
Maybe not …
These days, one Turks and Caicos island resort is bucking the no-announcements trend.
Recently, Regent Palms decided it was time to give their much-loved resort a facelift to further enhance its guests’ resort experience. Repeat and new visitors will not only find touch-ups in guestrooms, and a major revamp in the spa, but soon enough a brand-new oceanfront restaurant-bar, and more.
This past weekend, Regent Palms celebrated its new look with a private event in its revamped 25,000-square-foot spa. Both ex-pat locals and visitors alike sampled the new spa menu concept (East-meets-West philosophy: Caribbean influences merge with Asian foundations — fitting given the Regent brand is based out of Taiwan). The new spa will now be a “destination spa,” one of the first in Turks and Caicos, where guests don’t ever have to leave the spa to enjoy additional perks … like food. The spa now serves healthy lunch menu items by Michelin-rated chef Eric Vernice.
by Jimmy Im
It’s not all about free meals and a salsa class anymore.
All-inclusive hotels and resorts are hot right now. In fact, they’re so popular, Starwood opened its first all-inclusive resort, Westin Playa Conchal in Costa Rica last May and, more recently, Sheraton Bijao Beach Resort in Panama in October. According to Trip Barrett, Vice President, Brand Management Latin America: “The opening of the 2 Starwood all-inclusive properties was in large part a response to demand for more vacation packages from our customers.”
All-inclusive resorts are generally booked for their tremendous savings and hassle-free vacations. But with the recession and various sites offering deep-discount deals on hotels with value-added packages, travelers want their money’s worth — and, well, they’re getting it.
This Saturday, Palace Resorts in Cancun is offering guests free tickets to see Enrique Iglesias, who’s actually performing on their property (blame it on the success of Palace Resorts’ first in-house concert last year with Shakira). Guests have priority to see Enrique live; discounted tickets are offered for all guests but those staying 7 nights receive complimentary passes (average ticket costs $300). Similarly, Grand Oasis Resort, another all-inclusive property in Cancun, is having a Dance U Festival. From Feb. 28 to March 31, the hotel has been bringing together a series of acts and parties from famous artists in electronic music, hip hop and dance, with a lineup that includes Kelly Rowland (March 23) and Pitbull (March 30). This is inclusive for all guests no matter how many nights they stay.
Other great all-inclusive perks that are even better than “premium liquor?”