Sunday, December 23, 2007

Stress-free travel tip no. 12

Be patient. Most travelers are stressed, just like you, and want to reach their destination on time. Be patient. After all, getting upset will not get you there faster.

Saturday, December 22, 2007

Stress-free travel tip no. 11

Charge your cell phone. Before you leave home, make sure your cell phone is completely charged, and don't forget to pack your charger in your carry-on bag. Make sure to write down all important phone numbers, too, especially contact information for your airline, hotel and family.

Friday, December 21, 2007

Stress-free travel tip no. 10

Check-in before you leave home. Many airlines now allow travelers to check-in for their flights from home. Often times, you can check in up to 24 hours before your flight, select your seats in advance and indicate how much baggage you'll be checking. This new feature allows you to print your boarding pass at home, and skip the long check-in lines at the airport. Check with your airline to see if they offer this time-saving option.

Wednesday, December 19, 2007

Stress-free travel tip no. 9

Try the suburbs. If you need to book a hotel room, hotels located in central areas tend to have very high prices during the holidays. Look for less pricy hotels on the outskirts of the downtown core, or the suburbs.

Tuesday, December 18, 2007

Stress-free travel tip no. 8

Check the weather and traffic reports. The weather and traffic conditions can be unpredictable at times. Plan ahead to avoid any delays.

Monday, December 17, 2007

Stress-free travel tip no. 7

Bring any essentials, valuables and medication with you. Should your luggage get lost, or if your flight gets delayed or cancelled, leaving you stranded in the airport for hours, you won't have access to these important items. Pack them in your carry-on bag, for easier accessibility.

Saturday, December 15, 2007

Stress-free travel tip no. 6

Pack accordingly. Airport security is tight! Items not permitted in your carry-on luggage could cause long delays, which could result in missing your flight. Remember, wrapped gifts could also be checked by security, so if you must pack them in your carry-on, leave them unwrapped, or put them in gift bags to make for easier inspection.

Friday, December 14, 2007

Stress-free travel tip no. 5

Arrive early. On your departure date, arrive at the airport early to allow plenty of time to check-in, go through the security check-point and get to your gate. Plus, you could avoid long, last-minute lines.

Tuesday, December 11, 2007

Stress-free travel tip no. 4

Get up at the crack of dawn. If you can help it, aim for early morning flights. Should your flight get cancelled, there's a greater probability that you could still get to your destination on a later flight that day.

Monday, December 10, 2007

Stress-free travel tip no. 3

Avoid peak travel times. If you can help it, travel on less busy days. During the holidays, every day is a busy day, but Christmas Eve, Boxing Day and New Year's Eve are amongst the busiest.

Thursday, December 06, 2007

Stress-free travel tip no. 2

Reserve your airport parking in advance. Spots are limited at the airport and some dates are already blacked out. Some lots are not even accepting reservations anymore! Avoid circling for a spot at the last minute, and book your parking in advance.

Wednesday, December 05, 2007

Stress-free travel tip no. 1

Book your flights early. Holiday flights get sold out quickly, so don't miss out on seeing your loved ones this holiday season. Plus, the later you book, the pricier your ticket might be.

Friday, November 30, 2007

Buttermilk Falls - Ithaca, NY

Buttermilk Falls State park is located on the outskirts of Ithaca along Highway 13. A series of 10 waterfalls drops the Buttermilk Creek more than 600 feet with the water eventually finding its way to Cayuga Lake. Between the waterfalls, pools are formed. At the entrance to the park, swimming is allowed in the pool at the bottom of the falls.

There are several trails to hike. We took most of the Gorge Trail, which is a ½-mile trail with some steep climbing. It stays alongside the river past several falls and pools - very nice and peaceful.

This a great place to stop for 3-4 hours to enjoy a picnic and some hiking.

Wednesday, November 21, 2007

Hawaii cruise

Client report following seven-day cruise on NCL's Pride of America

Cruising is the way to do Hawaii. You get to see all of the islands, and we spent about as much time off of the ship as on the ship.

I would compare sailing on Norwegian Cruise Line’s Pride of America with our best cruise ever, the Golden Princess. It’s just a notch below. The ship was a bit smaller, but had about the same number of passengers, so it seemed a bit busier. It also seemed to be much more of an adult cruise – fewer kids, fewer pools, lots of drinking.

The other thing I noticed, since it was an American-registered ship and had more Americans as staff, they didn’t seem to hustle as much as the staffs of other ships we’ve been on before.

We applied for five shore excursions before we left and got three. Two of them were sold out. I think on our next cruise we won’t pre-book the excursions. It’s kind of hard to know exactly what they are and exactly what you want to do so far in advance. Also, some of the excursions seem to be overpriced. The excursion to Pearl Harbor was $70 per person, yet admission to that area is free. We did that one on our own.

We rented a car on our own one day, spent a lot of time shopping, eating at restaurants and seeing a lot of sites. It was a great trip.

Wednesday, October 31, 2007

Atlantic City

Atlantic City is enjoying a resurgence and a renewal (even though a drive down its streets seems like a step back in time as you pass the "Monopoly" streets of Ventnor Ave, Pacific, Atlantic, Boardwalk, etc).

I flew into Philadelphia, which is just a one-hour drive from Atlantic City. The city is also within two hours of New York City and three hours of the Washington, D.C. area.

In the past few years, many of the major casinos have undergone renovations and expansions, including not only additional rooms and gaming opportunities, but also upscale dining and shopping opportunities.

The city is marketing much more than the gaming, including golf, the boardwalk, spas and first class shows.

I attended a convention at the Trump Taj Mahal located on the Boardwalk. The Taj features 1,250 rooms, but is building an additional tower that will have an additional 800 rooms. The Taj Mahal also features 10 restaurants, five bars/nightclubs and more than 400 slot machines and 200 gaming tables. It has an arena and showroom and more than 150,000 square feet of meeting space.

The boardwalk itself is undergoing a $100 million facelift to its facade.

Other areas of note are The Walk - a walking district featuring more than 100 stores, including high-profile outlets and the Pier Shops at Caesar's, featuring high-end shops, dining and entertainment.

Tuesday, October 23, 2007

Riu Palace Mexico (Playa del Carmen)

Several clients just returned from an all-inclusive vacation getaway to the Riu Palace Mexico in Cancun. The resort feature 434 rooms and is perfect for a romantic getaway or for families. The resort has kids activities throughout the day.

As my clients said, “It was kind of like being on a cruise.” There were activities throughout the day, certificates for the winners, and a nightly show.

The resort is located on the beach and is adjacent to several other Riu properties, allowing guests to sample several resorts at once. There are five restaurants on the property. Advance reservations are needed for dinner.

The rooms themselves were very nice, featuring a sleeping area with two double beds put next to each other. A separate living room with a couch and television was two steps down and a private balcony was attached. The in-room mini-bars are also complimentary.

A free scuba diving training session was included, and other non-motorized watersports such as snorkeling were also free of charge.

There are two pools and a spa, plus a separate children’s pool.

One thing to note: the guests were very international and some sunbathers were topless.

Sunday, October 21, 2007

Splash Harbor Indoor Water Park (Bellville, Ohio)

The Comfort Inn & Suites at exit 165 on I-71 in central Ohio is home to the Splash Harbor Indoor Water Park. The hotel features a 6,000 square foot atrium indoor water park with a 49’ looping water slide, shooting water geysers, pool with basketball goals, toddler pool area, two hot tubs and a snack and arcade area.

The hotel also offers bike rentals for a 21-mile paved bike path adjacent to the property. Also next to the hotel are a golf course, Amish restaurant and miniature golf course.

The hotel itself is comfortable – a bit dated, but adequate. There’s free internet access and continental breakfast.

Thursday, October 18, 2007

Cabo da Roca, Portugal


From Sintra, take Bus 403 on a 40-minute journey to Cabo da Roca, continental Europe's westernmost point. A lighthouse and monument sit atop a cliff with a sheer drop to the Atlantic hundreds of feet below.

Reboard the 403 bus to continue to the coastal town of Cascais. A regional train runs along the coast past the popular beaches and resort areas of Cascais and Estoril and back into Lisbon.

Wednesday, October 17, 2007

Sintra, Portugal


One of our best experiences came in a side trip to Sintra, which is about 20 miles northwest of Lisbon. The city itself is charming with quaint little streets dotted with shops. The city is in the mountains, so the streets rise and fall.

Bus 434 picks you up right outside of the train station and a makes a round trip stopping at downtown Sintra, the Moorish Castle and the Pena Palace. We bypassed the Moorish Castle, although from Pena we had an excellent view of the walls of the castle that was built in the ninth century.

Pena Palace is a beautiful castle with turrets and domesin pastel colors. The walk around the top of the wall affords breathtaking views of the countryside in one direction, the Atlantic Ocean in another, and all the way to Lisbon in another.

The palace was built from 1840-1885 and was the home to Portugal's king as late as 1910. A tour of the interior features glimpses into various rooms showing how the kings and queens lived. It's also interesting to contrast it to Queluz which was used a century earlier. The differences in styles and amenities in very noticeable.

The palace also features a very large park with numerous trails. Hike to the Queen's Throne lookout for a fantastic view of the palace from a distance. Among the trees on the grounds are sequoias, western red cedars and tree ferns. Hike down along the Lakes of the Gates toward the exit to see ponds with beautiful swans (white, black and mixed), ducks and cranes.

Tuesday, October 16, 2007

Queluz, Portugal

Just northwest of Lisbon is a beautiful area called Sintra. Trains run from the Jardim Zoologicolo metro station / Sete Rios train station every 10 minutes on weekdays and every 15-20 minutes on weekends.

Halfway to Sintra is the small town of Queluz which features the National Palace. The palace is about a 1/2-mile walk from the train station and is modeled after Versailles.

Our first impression on our Sunday morning visit was a bit disappointing. From the front, this is no Versailles. It looked really run down, and by the complete lack of people around we wondered if it was still open. Fortunately, it was, and it was one of many museums in Portugal that is free of charge on Sundays.

The inside of the palace is nice - again not quite like Versailles, but it is similar. A walking tour leads through various halls that are mostly decorated with original artifacts from the 18th century.

The gardens are very well taken care of, although during our visit a good portion were blocked off. Allow about an hour for a visit.

Monday, October 15, 2007

The Docas - Lisbon

Dinner tonight was at the Docas (docks) - an upscale collection of 20+ restaurants and clubs along the Tagus River and almost directly underneath the Ponte 25 Abril bridge - a replica of the Golden Gate bridge.


The restaurants featured two levels of seating indoors as well as riverside seating under umbrellas. We enjoyed the outdoor dining atmosphere gazing at the hundreds of boats in the marina as well as schools of large fish that occasionally received a morsel tossed from above.


An Irish pub was packed with the TV turned to a live World Cup rugby contest. Other restaurants were Italian, Spanish and Portuguese among others.

Saturday, October 13, 2007

Castelo de Sao Jorge - Lisbon


A beautiful Saturday was spent exploring Lisbon on foot. We spent nearly two hours at the Castelo de Sao Jorge built upon the highest hill in Lisbon.

Ruins found on the grounds date back to the sixth century B.C., although the castle itself was built in the 10th and 11th centuries by the Moors. From along the walls and the many towers, you can look out over all of Lisbon. There's also a multimedia show that offers a real-time 360-degree view of Lisbon thanks to an optical system invented by Leonardo da Vinci in the 16th century.

The walk from the castle back to Rossio Square is all downhill through charming streets and alleyways featuring cafes and souvenir shops at ground level and apartment balconies with their full clotheslines up above.

Beware of pickpockets! The same boy - about 10-12 years old - was caught trying to pick pockets on two different trams we were on during the day. There are a lot of tourists hers, and that also translates into plenty of beggars and other "shady" characters. One man discreetly opened a shopping bag while walking past us and offered to sell us a very nice camera (wonder who he had stolen that from), while another man opened his hand with a fist full of drugs saying it was the best stuff around.

Friday, October 12, 2007

Lisbon city tour


Day 4 was a busy yet very worthwhile day. We got an early start from Porto and five hours later were checked into the Vila Gale Opera in Lisbon located between the Alcantara and Belem quarters beneath the Ponte 25 Abril bridge. The bridge is a replica of the Golden Gate bridge in San Francisco and connects Lisbon with Almada across the Tagus River.


The hotel is very nice, but is a bit further away from the city center than most of the tourist hotels. It is however, adjacent to the Congress Center and the Docas - an area of restaurants and night clubs along the river.


While Porto was a small, condensed city, Lisbon immediately gives an impression of being much more metropolitan.


We acclimated ourselves to the city with a 3 1/2-hour tour with CityRama. Our bus of 30 was diverse, and our guide did an incredible job of narrating in four languages. A city tour like this gives a good opportunity to familiarize oneself with a city. You drive by many of the sites, stopping at a few, and you get detailed history and background of everything you see.


Most of our time was spent in Belem, Portuguese for Bethlehem. Our first stop was Monasteiro dos Jeronimos - a monastery began in 1502 and financed by Portugal's explorations and trade with Africa, Asia and South America. Famous explorer Vasco da Gama is entombed there.


Lucky for us, our visit coincided with a national holiday and we were treated to a parade of bands and soldiers on horseback in front of the pink presidential palace right next door.


We continued past the palace to the Museum of Coaches, which houses a collection of 57 coaches more beautiful than Cinderella's. The oldest coach is from the 16th century while others that carried gifts to the Vatican are covered in gold.


Nearby, the Torre de Belem served as a lookout point into the Atlantic to defend the port entrance.


Also in Belem is the Monument of the Discoveries erected in 1960 to celebrate the 500th anniversary of the death of Prince Henry the Navigator. Both sides feature seven explorers, each 21 feet high, looking forward over the bow of a boat.


Next we drove to the Alfama quarter, one of the oldest parts of the city especially known for its narrow alleyways and streets. The Moors of the 8th century heavily influenced the layout of the area.


The tour ended at Rossio Square, the city's main square since the middle ages. Lots of people were enjoying a beautiful evening at the many cafes, and the teenagers were skateboarding around the Dom Pedro IV statue.

Wednesday, October 10, 2007

Douro River cruise

We capped off our visit to Porto with a one-hour river cruise to see the city's six bridges - of which they are very proud.


Starting at the Praca da Ribeira, we sailed inland first under the Ponte Luis I, a double-decked bridge completed in 1886. The upper level is strictly for the metro, although there is room enough to walk too (barely), while the lower level is for vehicles and pedestrians connecting Porto to Vila Nova de Gaia.


Further up river is the Maria Pia bridge designed by Gustave Eiffel. It was completed in 1877 and was the first to connect both sides of the river.


Two other bridges feature some of the longest arches in the world. The Arrabida bridge's 270-meter arch was surpassed in 2002 with the completion of the Infante D. Henrique bridge and its 285-foot arch. The views of the cities on both sides was very nice. The cruise, accompanied by sunshine for the first time in two days, was a perfect way to end our stay in Porto.


Following the cruise, we did some souvenir shopping and had lunch in the port area. There are numerous options for both.

Tuesday, October 09, 2007

Afternoon in Porto

After a short rest, we set about on a two-hour walk around Porto to take in the sights, sounds and smells of the city. Shops, cafes and bakeries are set along narrow sidewalks with traffic hustling past just inches away. We stopped in at a couple of cathedrals, walked onto a bridge high above the Douro River and then headed back to the hotel as a light rain began to fall. By 5 p.m., we needed a bit of down time.

We headed to dinner at about 6:45 and discovered that many restaurants in Portugal don't re-open for dinner until 7:00 or later. A restuarant across teh street from the hotel, Trinufante, came with good reviews for excellent food at very reasonable prices. That proved to be true. A dinner of soup, two entrees (turkey with tomato rice and curry chicken with rice), two desserts and two drinks came to 16.65.

Saturday, October 06, 2007

Full day in Porto

Day 2 in Porto, the first full day, started with a complimentary breakfast buffet at the hotel, which offered a selection of cereals, fruits, cold meats, breads and hot dishes.

At 9:00, we were picked up in a minivan for a half-day city tour. We first drove to some parts of the city outside the city center, which has UNESCO World Heritage status. We saw the new diamond-shaped Casa Musica, which was designed by a renowned Dutch architect and features several acoustically-tuned theaters.


The 5 m Avenida Boa Vista is the longest continual street in the city and features million dollar villas alongside the major businesses. The Avenida leads to the Atlantic Ocean where there are several nice beaches and some new clubs and restaurants in development. The beaches are all lower than street level to help you feel that you have escaped the city.


We followed the coast for a few minutes until we hit the mouth of the Douro River, which led us back to the city center. Once parked, we visited the Igreja dos Carmelitas, two adjoining churches. The one on the left was built in the 17th century in Baroque style while the right half was built in the 18th century in Rococco style.


Next we headed to Torre dos Clerigos, which features the highest tower in Portugal, rising 76 meters in the air. We paid 2 Euros each for the privilege of climbing the 225 steps to the top. Although still cloudy, the views were very nice.


Our next stop was the city's main Cathedral located on the hill overlooking the river - an excellent place, of course, to look out for invading armies. The inside of this cathedral was fairly plain.


Our final tour stop was across the Douro in Gaia where the port-making companies moved their warehouses centuries ago to avoid paying taxes to the Porto bishop. Grapes harvested in the Douro Valley are brought here to be turned in to port wines. After a tour of Graham's, established in 1820, we were afforded the opportunity to taste four of the company's ports - two whites, a late-bottled vintage, and a 20-year port. All had very unique characteristics and boasted an alcohol content of 20%.


That was the end of our city tour, however, we stayed in Porto's city center and strolled down Rua de Santa Catarina - a pedestrian only shopping area. In the midst of all these small shops, one door opened to a three-story mall.


Our day also included a quick metro ride to Dragon Stadium - home to Porto's soccer team. The stadium opened in 2003 and is very state-of-the-art. Unfortunately, they wanted 7 Euros per person for a tour and another 5 Euros to take a picture. We didn't want to see it that badly.


Dinner was at Majestic Cafe back on Rua de Santa Catarina. This was my opportunity for cod fish (bacalhau), a favorite of Portugal. Mine was served with thinly sliced onions atop eggs and potatoes. Dinner for two came to 37.25.

Thursday, October 04, 2007

Vila Gale Porto




We stayed at the Vila Gale Porto near the Campo 24 Agosto square metro station for the first three nights of our trip. The hotel is the city's largest, and our suite on the 18th floor gave us a view of the Atlantic Ocean, Douro River and the city. We had a large room with entryway, king-size bed, leather couch and work desk. The bathroom featured a dual vanity and a shower/tub that was literally a small swimming pool.

We checked into the hotel by about 1:30 and learned the hotel restaurant served a buffet lunch until 2:30. We knew this would be an expensive option, but after 18 1/2 hours of travel by plane, train, bus and subway, we needed something easy.

The buffet was decent - a selection of salads, cold vegetables, fruits and cheeses; several hot entrees including pork, salmon, tortellini, potatoes and rice; soup and rolls; and several desserts. It did set us back 32.00 Euros.

Wednesday, October 03, 2007

Arrival in Lisbon; train to Porto

Arrival in Lisbon was at 8:15 a.m. Unfortunately, heavy cloud cover prevented much of a view. There was a long line at customs, but with eight officials working we were through the line in about 25 minutes. By that point, our bag was already on the carousel.

We checked in at a tourist information booth to verify which bus we should take to the Oriente train station then we exchanged some money. Ouch! The dollar is at its weakest point ever with the Euro. Perhaps next time we will just use our ATM card to get the best rate possible.


We got on a bus right outside the airport for 1.30 each, and seven stops later we were at the train station.


I had pre-purchased our train tickets as well, doing so conservatively for the train at 11:39. Since we were at the station before 10:00, we decided to change our ticket for the 10:09 train. This saved us two hours in time since the earlier train was the faster Alfa Pendular instead of an InterCity.



The coaches were comfortable and quiet as we cruised across the countryside at speeds up to 220 km/h (136 mph). We got into Porto, the country's second largest city with 235,000 people, at 12:45. The ride was actually kind of boring. I had hoped for some interesting scenery and changing landscapes, but it was mainly hilly farmland with a lot of poor-looking towns. The houses were white, but some were a pastel yellow or green. All featured tile roofs. A lot of them had laundry hanging from the balconies.


From the Porto Campanha train station, we walked a block to the metro and for 2.20 took the three-minute ride to the station near our hotel.

Tuesday, October 02, 2007

Travel to Portugal

I wouldn't necessarily recommend this strategy, but it seemed like a pretty low-risk gamble. I booked our flight to Lisbon with just a one-hour connection time in Newark. Any delay would make it difficult to make our flight. The deciding factor, however, was the fact that Continental has two evening flights to Lisbon. If we had missed our connection for the 8:15 flight, we probably could have gotten seats on the 10:15 flight - not necessarily a good back-up plan for other destinations with flights that might be more full.

As it turned out, we landed early and were off the plane and at our gate a full hour early. The view coming into the Newark airport was fantastic - the New York skyline and the Statue of Liberty.

Thursday, September 27, 2007

New air routes to China

China has become one of the hottest travel destinations for Americans. The upcoming Olympic games in the country have only fueled the demand. Travel to China just got easier as several U.S. airlines received approval to fly new routes to the country.

Delta Air Lines and United Airlines received the go-ahead from U.S. regulators to begin new routes to China . By the end of March 2008, Delta will fly nonstop between Atlanta and Shanghai , and United will fly nonstop between San Francisco and Beijing . Meanwhile, four other carriers have received tentative approval for new China service in 2009, pending further regulatory reviews and public comment periods: American (Chicago/O’Hare-Beijing), Continental (Newark-Shanghai), Northwest (Detroit-Shanghai), and US Airways (Philadelphia-Beijing).

Thursday, September 13, 2007

More Portugal preparations

Thank goodness for Google maps. I spent a few minutes online today and was able to locate the airport in Lisbon and its proximity to the train station (about 2 miles). Once we land in Lisbon, we need to get to the train station for a 3-hour ride to Porto where we'll spend our first three nights.



In Porto, the station is only about 1 mile from our hotel - either very walkable or a short, inexpensive taxi ride.



When we get back to Lisbon, our hotel is about 8 miles from the train station - and it's right on the river, should be pretty. It's also only about 8 miles from the airport - good to know for the morning of our departure back to the States.

Portugal preparations

I have to admit I started a travel business because I love to travel and I love to research the way to make a trip the best it can be. Of course, I also have to admit that it's a bit more fun when you're planning a trip for yourself - but that also serves as a good reminder of all of the little details that need to be taken care of for any vacation.

My wife and I are heading to Portugal in a few weeks, so the planning and preparing has started in earnest. The airline tickets were booked a few weeks ago - one for cash and one with frequent flyer miles. (BTW, Continental's website is very easy to use to check on the availability of award seats). The hotel has also been arranged.

Now onto some of the other details. First, I called my bank and credit card providers to let them know that we'll be out of the country. This way they won't be surprised when we try to charge something over there and decline it. Second, I called to inquire about the fees they charge for foreign transactions. Our bank charges $1.50 per transaction at ATM machines, so we'll plan to take some cash with us to exchange when we get there, and then we'll try to use our ATM card for more cash only once if necessary.

I also called our credit card companies. One of them charges a 3% conversion fee while the other only charges 2%. Guess which one we'll be using.

Thursday, June 21, 2007

Brookfield Suites Hotel and Convention Center

This is a very nice hotel located about 20 minutes from downtown Milwaukee and the Milwaukee airport. It used to be an Embassy Suites and is laid out as such.

The 200 guest rooms are all two-room suites. A living room features a large TV, table with chairs, cushioned chair and a sleeper sofa. The main bedroom features a small desk and TV. The rooms also have a refrigerator, microwave and coffeemaker.

The hotel features a five-story atrium, fitness room with new equipment and a pool. There is a complimentary cocktail reception in the evenings and a cooked-to-order breakfast in the mornings.

High-speed wireless internet access is also free.

Thursday, May 31, 2007

Village West (Kansas City, Kansas) - Lodging

(This entry continues a series on the Village West area in Kansas City, Kansas)

I already mentioned the Great Wolf Lodge in a recent posting. That would have to be the number one option for families in this area.

Of course, the Kansas City area has dozens of hotels within a short drive of Village West, but if you’re looking specifically at this area, there are four to choose from.

In addition to Great Wolf, there’s a Holiday Inn Express, a Hampton Inn and Chateau Avalon, featuring 62 luxury suites styled after a French chateau.
I stayed at the Hampton Inn with a large king room featuring a spacious bathroom, free internet and a complimentary breakfast.

Saturday, May 19, 2007

Village West (Kansas City, Kansas) Dining

(This entry continues a series on the Village West area in Kansas City, Kansas)

Well, I already mentioned Ted’s Montana Grill a few days ago, but when it comes to dining, this area is loaded with options.

There are some national chains – like Applebee’s, Hooters and Outback, but you’ll be much better off sampling a variety of other options.

For barbecue, there’s Famous Dave’s and Arthur Bryant’s. You can check out the Louisiana Jazz Kitchen or the Saddle Ranch Chop House. Sushi or hibachi, covered at Stix. Other options include Dave & Buster’s, Cheeseburger in Paradise, T-Rex CafĂ©, Caliente Cuban Restaurant.

Tuesday, May 08, 2007

Village West (Kansas City, Kansas) Entertainment

(This entry continues a series on the Village West area in Kansas City, Kansas)

What do you want to do this weekend? If you’re at Village West, the options are numerous. Pick the right weekend and you can head to Kansas Speedway, home to NASCAR Truck, Busch and Cup races as well as Indy Cars and more. The track also offers several driving schools where you can take your own high-speed laps around the 1.5-mile oval.

From June-September, the Kansas City T-Bones, an independent professional baseball team, play here. Tickets are just $10 and parking is free at the 4,300-seat stadium.

The open-air mall includes a 14-screen theater, T-Rex restaurant where kids can dig for dinosaur bones, and much more.

Covering both the entertainment and lodging category is the Great Wolf Lodge, one of about a dozen around the country. In addition to upscale accommodations in a northwoods-themed retreat, the lodge features a 49,000-square foot indoor entertainment area, including a 2000,000 gallon waterpark.

Tuesday, May 01, 2007

Wyandotte County, Kansas (Overview & Shopping)

(This entry continues a series on the Village West area in Kansas City, Kansas)

Visit this county that includes Kansas City, and you won’t feel like you’re in Kansas anymore.
Wyandotte County is thriving, and home to quite a few attractions. Village West, located at I-70 and I-435 encompasses 400 acres of shopping, dining and entertainment options.

In today’s blog, I’ll take a look at the shopping option with more to come on some of the other area attractions in the coming days.

The shopping at Village West entails just about anything you could imagine. The two biggest stores, attractions in their own right, are Cabela’s and Nebraska Furniture Mart. Cabela’s has 180,000 square feet of outdoor gear while Nebraska Furniture Mart sells furniture, electronics, flooring, appliances and more on an 80-acre site. The Legends at Village West, complete with fountains and open-air corridors for strolling, has 90 stores and restaurants. You’ll find Cavendar’s, a large Western store, among the many specialty shops. I did my shopping at Sports Nutz, where they have gear and memorabilia from many professional and college teams.

Friday, April 27, 2007

Ted's Montana Grill

Ted’s Montana Grill is a relatively new restaurant chain owned by Ted Turner. There are about 50 locations in 18 states. I ate at the one in Kansas City, Kansas.

Ted’s boasts about two things – fresh ingredients and eco-friendly. Our waitress informed us that there are no microwaves at Ted’s and no freezers (except for the ice cream). Everything is freshly prepared. The restaurant also uses recycled paper for its menus and no plastic – not even the straws.

There are basically three meats to choose from at Ted’s – beef, chicken and bison. They also have a couple of fish entrees. You can choose from almost 20 ways to get a burger – beef or bison – and about 15 ways to get a chicken sandwich. They also offer bison and beef steaks.

As an appetizer, I opted for the chili fries. Homemade fries covered with bison chili, cheese and dried jalapenos. They were very tasty and also very filling.

Because of the filling appetizer, I was tempted to opt for just a soup and salad for dinner, but my eyes got the better of me and convinced me to order the 7 oz. fillet. It was very tender and flavorful and came with a vegetable and potato. I opted for squash casserole, which I did not care for, and a sweet potato.

I was too stuffed for desert, although the waitress tempted me with strawberry shortcake.

My beverage of choice throughout the meal was freshly squeezed lemonade. Delicious.

Overall, pretty good food, but in my opinion nothing that really separates it from other steakhouses.

Wednesday, April 18, 2007

2007 Corvette

Taking a page from the most recent issue of Conde Nast, where they included a review of a Cadillac in conjunction with a story about a driving tour through the Alps , I’ll add my insights into the 2007 Corvette, which I had the privilege of driving for about 90 minutes recently.

Opting for a more scenic drive from the Cincinnati area to Indianapolis versus an all interstate route, gave me the opportunity to put the car through some paces on some narrow two-lane highways. The car has power. Of course it does, it’s a Corvette. What it also has is a lot of grip. I put the car through some 30-35 mph curves at 65-70 mph, and the car hardly felt bothered by it one bit. It sailed through the turns with ease. The unobtrusive heads-up display on the windshield allowed me to monitor both my speed and the number of g’s (never much above 0.2) while keeping my eye on the road.

Of course, you don’t get into a Corvette expecting to have the roominess of a sedan, but there’s really no extra room at all. If it won’t fit in the center console, it needs to go in the small trunk. My one “complaint” if you will. The Corvette seemed fairly noisy, especially on the highway – granted it was a convertible, but it still seemed a bit too loud.

All in all, it was a great drive, and I’d do it again in a heartbeat.

Monday, April 09, 2007

St. Petersburg, Florida

I've made three trips to St. Petersburg recently on business and have decided I'm definitely going back on vacation. In late March/early April, the sun always seems to be shining in St. Pete. Temps have been in the 70s, and the humidity hasn't been as unbearable as later in the year. The St. Pete area has several of the states top-rated beaches, and it's less than two hours from Disney World.

My hotel stays have always been at the Radisson on Roosevelt Boulevard. While it's not really within walking distance of anything, it's less than a five-minute drive to several restaurants, and it's about 20 minutes from downtown St. Pete. The Radisson features large rooms with two sets of doors to increase the feeling of privacy. During my last stay, I was right next to a reception hall with a wedding reception. The front desk staff graciously helped me move to a room on a higher floor.

Monday, March 19, 2007

Palm Beach, Florida

I've made several trips to Florida, however, this was my first trip to the Palm Beach area, one of the most expensive areas in the state. Palm Beach has its own international airport, however, due to fewer flights I opted to fly into Ft. Lauderdale and drive the 50 miles north.I had always heard good things about the Ft. Lauderdale airport - smaller, clean, quick access to luggage and rental cars - and I found all of those things to be true.

The weather, of course, was gorgeous. I drove down Okechobee past the Convention Center to City Place. City Place is an outdoor mall stretching over an area approximately 10 city blocks by 3 city blocks. It's loaded with upscale boutiques and restaurants.

From there, I continued east on Okechobee over the Intercoastal waterway with its $1 million yachts tied to their docks and out to Ocean Drive. There's plenty of metered parking along the street, so you can park and walk along the wide, sandy beach. Nearby is Worth Avenue, a half-mile or so stretch of more than 250 upscale shops that include Saks and Nieman Marcus.

Taking the A1A highway north, one passes one of the several championship golf courses in the area before arriving at Singer Island. While high-rise hotels and condos block the view of the ocean, their are many places to stay. John D MacArthur State Park is also located here. The park protects more than 400 acres of various habitats and features bike trails and hiking trails as well as water activities.

Further north on the A1A is Juno Beach. For $1, you can walk out over the Atlantic on a 300-yard pier. In addition to numerous fisherman, I encountered two pelicans perched on the rail paying no attention to the visitors studying them from just feet away.

All in all, Palm Beach County has something for everyone. Plenty of outdoor activities in the sunshine as well as upscale shopping and dining.

Sunday, February 25, 2007

Miami Beach - Joe's Stone Crab

Talk about an upscale restaurant with atmosphere. This restaurant in the heart of Miami Beach opened as a lunch counter restaurant in 1913. Now it's well known for its stone crabs as well as many other items on the menu. My party of four got there on a Tuesday night at 8:30 p.m. and was told to expect a 2 1/2 hour wait.

Lucky for us, some inside connections got us to a table within 30 minutes. Waiters and hosts were all dressed in tuxedos, and the service was first class. This is a tablecloth and fine china type of place.

I started with a hearty bowl of Manhattan Clam Chowder to go along with the basket of bread they brought out. This was followed by an order of "Jumbo" stone crabs. Wow! Were they ever big and good - served with butter and a creamy sauce for dipping. We also ordered hash browns, creamy spinach and sauteed mushrooms. We topped off the meal with some very tart Key Lime pie.

Buyer beware - the tab for this dinner of four came to more than $400.

But, the menu is extensive and there were several entrees available for less than $10.

Monday, February 05, 2007

Philadelphia

I've never had a burning desire to spend much time in any of the major cities on the East coast, however, a trip a couple of years ago to Boston and a recent trip to Philadelphia have me changing my mind. The area is full of U.S. history.

I only had about an hour to kill on a recent Saturday morning in Philadelphia so I decided I would go downtown and see the Liberty Bell. As I pulled into the area, I noticed that security was very tight. There were 2-3 police officers standing on every corner and a police car parked at every traffic light.

I turned into a parking garage underneath the Independence Hall Visitor Center and ventured toward the Liberty Bell. Much to my chagrin it was cordoned off and closed.

Turns out my short visit to Philadelphia coincided with a visit from Prince Charles. All the sights were closed until after his visit. I was able to see the Liberty Bell through the large glass windows from the street corner, and I took a few minutes to walk over to the courtyard behind Independence Hall. After that I returned to the Visitor Center where I spent 30-45 minutes. The short visit whetted my appetite for a chance to come back and spend more time in the area where our country's forefathers forged our nation.

Note: Most of the attractions around Independence Hall are part of a national park, and there is no charge for admission. The only cost I had was for my parking.

Wednesday, January 24, 2007

Ecuador

Submitted by RW

After our week-long cruise in the Galapagos and several days of scuba diving, we returned to mainland Ecuador. Our first stop was a small organic cacao farm just outside of Puerto Quito, near the Choco rainforest. Well, I say ¨first stop¨, but getting there was an adventure in itself.

We had always planned on making some chocolate as part of our honeymoon, but when we arrived in Ecuador we discovered that the farm recommended in our guidebook was no longer operating. Going by word of mouth, we were told to take the bus to Puerto Quito, hop off at the pharmacy and ask for Yamile. What we had thought would be a 2-hour bus ride turned into 5 hours. We accidentally passed Puerto Quito, had to hop off at the next town, return on the bus in the opposite direction, get off at the correct location, find a pharmacy, ask for Yamile, find the OTHER pharmacy, ask again, be assured that every taxi in town knows Yamile, flag a taxi, flag a taxi that worked (the other one just got pushed down the street for about a quarter mile and never started), figure out that we didn´t know where we were going, return to the pharmacy for directions, drive about 20 minutes down a dirt road, and show up at a completely dark house at night. Hmm.

But the taxi driver honked and hollered until people at the house heard us, and Yamile, the owner of the cacao farm, came and gave us a warm welcome even though we had shown up with no notice. We stayed for several days and were able to toast and grind cacao beans, then press the paste into bars which we were able to take with us. While there we also ate a lot of fantastic food, went swimming in the river, and took a tour of a local shade-grown cacao farm with over 40 types of fruit trees and a tour of the local cacao cooperative´s processing plant in town. We had a fabulous time and were sorry that we had to leave so soon, but we had already booked a trip to the Amazon.

After 8 hours on an overnight bus, 2 hours by truck, and 5 hours by motorized canoe, we arrived at our camp in the Cuyabeno National Park. For the next four days we spent our time hiking, motoring, and paddling through tropical rainforest, and we were very pleased by all of the animals that we saw. Some of the highlights include two species of river dolphin (the pink dolphin, which looks like a prehistoric beast with a bump on its forehead and a keeled back, and the gray dolphin, which is just like a miniature bottlenose - cute!!!), six species of primates, a tiny juvenile poison dart frog, and best of all, two river otters (not the giant species, but a smaller species) that we were able to view for several minutes swimming around and catching fish and squeaking. We left feeling that we had seen as much as we could reasonably expect, although one always hopes for the best (We really wanted to see a sloth, which apparently we only missed by a couple of days, and the same happened with an anaconda that had been regularly sighted in the area). Now we have a lot of good memories and hopefully no malaria, despite the weight loss incurred due to our inadvertent blood donations to the mosquitoes!

The days have been flying by, and with a month of travel under our belts, we decided we better get ourselves to Peru ASAP. We flew from Quito all the way to Cuzco (overnighting in the airport in Lima).

Monday, January 08, 2007

Galapagos Islands

Submitted by RW

Galapagos - what a great place both for wildlife and scuba!We saw lots of great things, and about all of them up close and usually avoiding stepping on them including but not limited to sea lions, giant land tortoises, land and marine iguanas, magnificent frigate birds, albatrosses, masked and blue-footed boobies, a Galapagos hawk, many-a-Darwin finch and some other stuff. Scuba diving we saw green and hawk's-bill sea turtles, spotted eagle and sting rays, white-tipped reef, Galapagos and hammerhead sharks, sea horses, moray eels, scorpion fish, frog fish, tuna, pipefish, barracuda, and more!!

Saturday, January 06, 2007

Passports

If you don't already have one (and only 27% of U.S. citizens do), it's time to get a passport. Beginning January 23, passports will be required for all air travelers returning to the U.S. from Canada, the Caribbean and Mexico. Land and cruise passengers will face the same requirements within the next two years. Visit travel.state.gov for information on applying for or renewing a passport.