Wednesday, December 17, 2008

2009: The year of the deal

While we all have heard plenty of gloomy news regarding the economy recently, most travel experts agree that 2009 will be the year of the deal.

My inbox has been flooded recently with special offers for almost everything - cruises, hotels, tours, destinations, etc. Two months ago I was getting about 20-25 e-mails per day, and a high of about 40 on Thursdays. Now, I'm getting at least 40 e-mails every day.

Yahoo Travel had an interesting article a couple of days ago about "The Year of the Deal." Click here to read it.

As you start thinking about your vacations for 2009, please give us a call, so we can maximize the value you get for your money.

Tuesday, December 09, 2008

Delta, Northwest merge frequent flyer programs

With the recent merger of Delta Airlines and Northwest Airlines having received governemnt approval, the carriers have begun to merge their frequent flyer programs. Both airlines maintain that all members will retain their current mileage balances in the new program.

Last week, Delta announced elite and reward changes to both the Delta SkyMiles and Northwest WorldPerks programs to better align member benefits. Beginning in 2009, the programs will offer segment qualification, currently a WorldPerks benefit, to allow members to reach elite status by flying a designated number of flight segments on either Delta or Northwest flights. Additionally, SkyMiles and WorldPerks members will continue to earn a minimum of 500 Elite Qualifying Miles and base miles per flight, making Delta the only major airline to maintain this minimum for all customers.

SkyMiles and WorldPerks elite members now have the ability to receive complimentary upgrades on both airlines. Complimentary upgrades are subject to availability and offered on most Delta and Northwest flights within or between the 48 contiguous United States, Alaska, Bermuda, Canada, the Caribbean, Central America, Mexico and northern South America.

In an effort to closely align the two loyalty programs’ benefits, Northwest WorldPerks will introduce three-tiered award availability and SkyMiles and WorldPerks members will have the ability to transfer miles between their respective accounts in early 2009. Delta plans to merge both programs in late 2009.

Sunday, December 07, 2008

"Elite" travel experiences available in more countries

My recent trip to Israel was organized by Isramworld, a supplier that's been in business for more than 40 years.

A couple of years ago, the company introduced "Elite" travel packages in a handful of countries. The basis of each program is a series of hotel stays in top-level rooms and suites at the finest hotels. Atop this basic framework is laid a private limousine with driver and a professional escort-guide who are with the passengers from the moment of arrival at the destination to their departure. A suggested touring itinerary is provided, with all entrance fees included, as well as a series of events available only to a privileged few.

Originally available only for India, IsramWorld has expanded to eight destinations. For 2008, the concept was expanded to China, Vietnam, Peru, Central Europe and Israel. For 2009, Brazil and Southern Africa have been added.

Saturday, December 06, 2008

Six more cruise lines drop fuel surcharges

Plummeting oil prices have led the six cruise lines owned by Carnival Corp. to also drop their fuel surcharges.

Carnival, Costa, Cunard, Holland America, Princess and Yachts of Seabourn are the lines affected.

Wednesday, December 03, 2008

Disney Cruise Lines ends fuel surcharges

Disney Cruise Line is eliminating fuel surcharges for all new bookings, effective Dec. 1.

The decision comes as a result of decreasing fuel price trends. For clients already booked, the following guidelines have been established for the refund of fuel supplements paid. If the closing price on the New York Mercantile Exchange of West Texas Intermediate fuel is below $70 a barrel two weeks prior to the beginning of the calendar quarter, the company will refund fuel surcharges paid in the form of an onboard credit. The quarter that the cruise falls in will be based solely on the sailing date. The entire cruise will be considered to be part of the quarter that the sailing date originates in. The elimination of the fuel surcharge for new bookings applies to sail dates through the end of 2010. The company will continue to closely monitor fuel prices. Reinstatement of a fuel surcharge may be necessary in the future.

Tuesday, December 02, 2008

Holland America to debut new pool concept

Holland America Line is adding a new resort-style pool area on the aft of the Lido deck on Statendam, Maasdam, Ryndam, Veendam and Rotterdam. The five ships are undergoing $200 million month-long dry-docks. The main focus of the new pool area will be a shallow area with 44 lounge chairs where guests can dip their toes in the water. Built-in benches are another place for dangling legs in the water.

The Retreat’s pool will be divided into three sections separated by low, curving walls running the length of the pool. The middle section is 16 inches deep so guests can sit on the built-in benches in the water. The two side sections feature lounge chairs in eight inches of water. Waterfalls and spouts enhance the décor. At the aft end of the pool will be a hot tub.

Slice, an upscale pizzeria, will be incorporated into the area, serving whole pies and slices to order. Tables and padded chairs under a sunscreen provide a place to dine al fresco. A stage will be added near the pool for live music. For added entertainment, an LED screen and sound system will be integrated into the ship’s superstructure.

The first dry-dock begins with the Veendam in spring 2009 and the last will be completed on the Maasdam in early 2011. While in dry-dock, ships will also get a new bar concept called Mix that features separate areas -- Martinis, Champagne and Spirits & Ales. Enhancements will be made to all existing staterooms and additional staterooms will be added. The ships will introduce 38 lanai staterooms (39 on Rotterdam) with direct access to the Lower Promenade Deck. New spa staterooms near the Greenhouse Spa and Salon will offer in-room spa amenities. Overall, Holland America Line has committed $525 million to its Signature of Excellence program.

Monday, December 01, 2008

Oberammergau - Passion Play

I was doing some research tonight in anticipation of the Passion Play in Oberammergau in 2010.

For those of you who don't know the story, the town of Oberammergau, Germany was being ravaged by the Plague in the 1630s. The townspeople cried out to God to save their town with the promise to perform a Passion Play about the life of Jesus Christ.

Not one more soul perished and the town has been putting on a Passion Play once every 10 years ever since. In 2010, it will be the 41st performance.

For the first time, the 2010 show will start in the middle of the afternoon. After a couple of hours, there will be a break for dinner. Then the show will conclude in the evening.

I had the opportunity to attend in 2000, and it was amazing. The play is put on by more than 2,000 local townspeople, who begin growing beards, constructing sets and rehearsing more than a year in advance. The outdoor theater - partially covered - offers tremendous accoustics. While the play is in German, translation books are readily available, and it's easy to follow along.

The town itself is nestled in Bavaria and offers many nice dining choices and lots of shops featuring the local woodcarving.

The premier is in mid-May 2010 with 102 performances before the conclusion in early October.

When I went in 2000, we took the opportunity to spend a couple of days in Munich, tour Neuschwanstein Castle and Dachau before heading further north. Many of the organized tours being planned for 2010 include trips through the Alps, Austria, Switzerland, Hungary and France.

Tickets will go fast - more than 500,000 people attended in 2000 - so let me know if you're interested in going, and we can start planning right away.

Thursday, November 06, 2008

Garden Tomb

Wednesday afternoon, we made three brief stops just outside the old city wall for visits to the Room of the Last Supper, King David's Tomb and Dormition Abbey before driving a bit to the Garden Tomb.

The Room of the Last Supper was very simple, undecorated room on the upper level of a church built by the Crusaders. I personally didn't find anything special about any of the three stops.

Our tour of the Holyland ended with a stop that we will all remember for the rest of our lives - the Garden Tomb.

While there are stops on the Via Dolorossa that commemorate possible sites of Jesus' crucifixion, burial and resurrection, the Garden Tomb is another site that could have been the site for all three. During excavations many years ago, archaeologists discovered a large rock in the side of a cliff that looks like a skull (Golgotha). According to the Bible, the place where Jesus was crucified was called Golgotha.

There is also evidence that the location was previously a garden. Later, a series of Jewish tombs (burial caves) were found here, including some for 'wealthier' individuals. Remember, a wealthy man, Joseph of Aramathea, offered up his burial tomb for Jesus.

Anyway, our guide gave us an excellent description of the site - which opposed to the iconic churches is indeed a very quiet and peaceful garden - and its ties to the Bible. As we listened to his powerful explanations, other groups nearby were holding worship services - singing hymns and partaking in communion. Our guide reminded us, 'Don't worry that the tomb is empty. He is risen,' and 'We don't worship a dead teacher, we worship a risen Saviour.'

We went down to an empty tomb.

It was a very emotional experience for all of us, and the ultimate way to end our tour of the Holyland.

Via Dolorossa

We exited the underground tunnels at the end of the Western Wall and the beginning of the Via Dolorossa - a path commerating Jesus' crucifixion from trial to resurrection with 14 marked stations.

The first station is the Church of Flagellation - site of Jesus trial and condemnation. We took a moment inside the church to read Matthew's account of the trial and crucifixion.

In the courtyard, there was a Korean group praying, chanting and singing hymns.

Stations I through VII wind through the Muslim quarter of Jerusalem - narrow alleyways that are a colorful marketplace. Many vendors offer rugs and scarves hanging from the doorways.

The last five stations of the cross are at the Church of the Holy Sepulchre - a church that actually houses six denominations. It is filled with icons from the Orthodox and Catholics. One site has a hole in the ground that is supposedly the spot where the cross was placed in the ground. Another site has a rock slab that is supposedly where Jesus' body was laid to be prepared for burial. Many of the Orthodox were kissing it and rubbing their shoes or souvenirs on it.

As a Protestant, I much preferred the Garden Tomb (described in a later post).

Jerusalem Archaelogical Park

Our final day of touring was Wednesday, and it was a very intensive day inside the Old City of Jerusalem.

We started the morning at the Jerusalem Archaelogical Park exploring the excavations of the ancient city just outside the walls of the temple mount. One of the things that makes the biggest impression is the sheer size of everything. How did these ancient people move rocks that weighed tons and build these walls and structures hundreds of feet high?

The temple mount itself is the size of 12 soccer fields, surrounded by a wall that was hundreds of feet high. In its current state, the wall is only about half of the original height.

The excavations found 54 ritual baths nearby. There were so many, so the huge number of pilgrims coming to make sacrifices at the temple could purify themselves before entering.

The park adjoins the famous Western Wall (Wailing Wall). The current section is only 10% of the original length. The rest is underground.

Earlier this century some British archaeologists discovered ancient pathways underground, and our next adventure involved descending under the current city and walking the remaining length of the wall. At several places, there were people worshipping, because it is the closest point to the Foundation Stone located under the original Temple and now the Dome of the Rock.

The Foundation Stone is said to be the stone that Abraham tied Isaac to in order to sacrifice him to God. Muslims also believe the stone is where Mohammed ascended into heaven.

The amazing thing is that while we were already underground, at certain points you could look down another 30 or 40 feet and see the original ancient road that would have been at the base of the wall.

Israel Museum

Our final stop Tuesday was the Israel Museum. It's a very nice museum with a large collection of exhibits, however, much of it is closed and will be so for the next couple of years for remodeling.

We stopped here to see two things. First, there is a very large model of the city of Jerusalem at the time of the Second Temple (Jesus era). Seeing the model helped us make sense of how things were versus how things are now.

This is also the museum where the Dead Sea Scrolls are housed, although certain scrolls are often out on tours in various countries. The scrolls are housed in a hall that looks like the type of jar in which the original scrolls were stored for centuries.

The museum is located very near to the Knesset (Parliament), Supreme Court and Prime Minister's Office.

Tuesday, November 04, 2008


Next on the itinerary was a trip to Bethlehem. Located just south of Jerusalem, Bethlehem is located in Palestine, which meant we technically had to leave Israel.

Our guide - as are all Israelis - is forbidden to go to Palestine, so he dropped us off at the checkpoint next to the towering wall that has been constructed. Another man met us, walked us to the other side and then drove us to Manger Square and the Church of the Nativity. It's the site where Christmas Eve services are broadcast around the world.

The church itself has three sections - a Greek Orthodox section, Armenian Orthodox section and a Catholic section. Our guide here kind of rushed us, so we did't get a lot of explanations.

The highlight, though, was going down to the Grotto of Nativity, a small cave that would have been a stall for animals and a likely location of Jesus' birth. On the right was an altar with a 14-point bronze star. On the left, a manger said to be the manger that Jesus was laid on. We were down there at the same time as a group from Germay, who sang two verses of "Stille Nacht."

The Palestinians we encountered were very friendly. Several asked about the election. One of our group asked to pose for a picture with some policemen. They invited all of us in to the station for some tea, however, our guide was rushing us back into a taxi.

The obvious difference between Bethlehem and Jersulam is the poverty. The Palestinian side is very poor.

Jerusalem Market

Thank goodness we are a small group with a private guide. I don't think a bus full of 30+ people would have had the opportunity to do what we did next.

We drove to the largest market in Israel - it covers several square blocks - and had lunch.

Most of the market is under cover, but some of it is open air. There are vendors selling every imaginable type of fruit, vegetable, meat, fish and more.

There are a few cafes, and we found a Persian place that offered a plate with two large, spiced meatballs on a bed of rice and vegetables.

Yad Vashem

We spent about 3 hours at Yad Vashem, a Holocaust Memorial that opened in 2005.

You can't really call it a museum. It features a museum as well as several other exhibits and memorials.

One of the first things we viewed was the Children's Memorial, a structure erected to commemmorate the 1.5 million children killed during the holocaust. The couple that paid for it did so after guaranteeing that a motif of their son's face would be the first thing visitors saw as they approached.

Inside a dark room, there are five candles that burn continuously. A system of 500 mirrors reflects their light to make it look like there are 1.5 million candles burning. As you look at the lights, a narrator reads the names, ages and countries of every child killed (in three languages).

We also toured the Historical Museum. Architecturally, it is very attractive. It's a prism-shaped building. On the inside, there is a long corridor down the middle. The exhibits zig zag from right to left chronicling the begin of the Nazi era to the liberation of the concentration camps. There are photos, videos and artifacts telling the story at multiple levels.

The final room is the Hall of Names. A circular room about 50 feet in diameter has shelves and shelves of binders containing the names of people killed. There are 6,000 numbered binders and thousands more on the lower shelves without numbers.

It is very interesting, but also very draining because of its emotional nature.

Ein Karem

We made several stops on Tuesday on one of our longest days of touring yet. We didn't get back to the hotel until about 8:00.

First, we drove just outside of Jerusalem to the hills of Ein Karem, which is the traditional hometown of John the Baptist. We spent a few minutes at the Visitation Church (where the angel visited Elizabeth).

Jerusalem City Center

Our first night in Jerusalem, we just ate dinner at the hotel and then ventured into the Old City for a bit. Monday night, we headed to the New City.

There's an area of several blocks that are for pedestrians only. This area is lined with shops and restaurants. We found a nice cafe and ate outside.

The only thing that was a bit unsettling was the security guard at the entrance who was "wanding" certain people who he deemed suspicious. A gentle reminder that there is a potential for danger.

Ein Gedi Spa

With several days worth of history filling our brains, we had a chance to unwind with a two-hour stop at Ein Gedi Spa.

Floating on the Dead Sea is awesome. We walked out into the water (wear shoes because the lake bed is salt and rock and very hard on the feet). When we got about knee deep, we just kind of sat down and the rest kind of happens automatically. Your feet just kick up to the top of the water, and you just float.

It took a few minutes to feel comfortable and relax. For a while, I could feel that my stomach muscles were really tight, but after a bit I got used to it and relaxed and floated.

After about 30 minutes in the lake - the lowest spot on earth - it was on to the next step.

The mud there supposedly contains lots of minerals that are good for the skin, so it was time to cake ourselves completely in mud. As it dries, the minerals work their way into the skin.

We washed off in a hot sulphur shower from the nearby springs and then made the hour drive back to Jerusalem.


One of the most impressive things we've seen came at our next stop, Masada.

Masada was a large settlement built on the top of an isolated cliff more than 280 meters (700 feet) above the surrounding environment. The very thought of how anyone even today, not to mention, a couple thousand years ago could transport boulders and anything else up the sheer cliffsides to build a community is mind-boggling.

We took a cable car up from the bottom of the red rock and found an amazing settlement.

The top of the cliff is approximately 700 meters by 250 meters and features ruins of bath houses, deep water cisterns, food storage rooms, synagogues and more.

The site is highly regarded by Jews as the site of a last stand of 1,000 Jewish rebels in the Great Revolt against Rome. According to historical records, the Romans came and put the cliff under siege. Evidence of their encampments and a containment wall are still visible from the air. They then built a ramp and tower to the top to prepare to attack. Facing certain death, the Jewish settlers killed themselves on the eve of the attack.

It's a fascinating site with ruins from the Jewish settlers and then the Romans, who built palaces on the top of the imposing cliff.


Monday provided several touring and educational opportunities as well as a great opportunity to relax and have a "vacation."

First, I'll talk about some of the touring we did, and then to the fun in a later post.

Our first stop was Qumran, where the Dead Sea Scrolls were discovered in 1947. Qumran is located about 40 minutes west of Jerusalem, driving back into the desert past Jericho and turning south at the Dead Sea.

An ancient religious community that had separated itself from the main Jewish religious establishment settled there long ago. Some say that John the Baptist may have even been a member.

This group recorded many of the scriptures and their own community "rules" on scrolls. When they faced the advance of enemies, the group hid the scrolls in ancient jars in the caves nearby.

Some Bedouin goat herders accidently stumbled across one of the jars in 1947 while searching for a lost goat.

The area features excavated ruins, hiking trails and a short film explaining how this sect lived.

Sunday, November 02, 2008

First evening in Jerusalem - Garden of Gethsemane

We arrived in Jerusalem at sundown. After a quick panoramic view of the city from the top of the Mount of Olives, we drove down to the Garden of Gethsemane before it closed.

Gethsemane means olive press, and this garden is on the route between Bethany and Jerusalem, so churches have been built on this site since the fifth century as the site of the Garden of Gethsemane mentioned in the Bible - where Jesus went to pray after the Last Supper, the site of his betrayal and arrest.

Several of the olive trees in the garden have trunks 5-6 feet in diameter, so scientists estimate they could be 2,000 years old.

It was very powerful to pray in the Garden like Jesus did so long ago.

Driving to Jerusalem

Shortly after leaving Bet Alpha, we entered the West Bank in our drive to Jerusalem. The landscape shifted to desert with very rocky, sandy and hilly terrain.

We witnessed very poor Palestinians toiling in their fields, including shepherds herding sheep and goats on the back of donkeys.

We drove past Jericho. It is not permitted to stop there - some of the interesting politics that we are learning about first hand.

Just past Jericho, we turned west for the final 30 minutes to Jerusalem. As we climbed fro 300 meters below sea level to more than 700 meters above sea level, we passed numerous bedouin encampments - basically very poor shanty towns with no electricity or running water with shacks or tents as living conditions.

Bet Shean and Bet Alpha

The remainder of Sunday consisted mostly of some interesting history lessons.

We drove south to Bet Shean where 17 layers of civilizations have been built upon each other over a period of 7,000 years. An important biblical event from the area - this is where the Philistines hung Saul's body after defeating his army.

More than 400 acres have been excavated of ancient Bet Shean and Scythopolis. Most is an expansive Roman city built on top of an earlier civilization. There are wide roads, shops, bath houses and temples. Archaeological evidence points to the city being destroyed by an earthquake because all of the columns and arches toppled in the same direction.

Thirty minutes further down the road is Bet Alpha, the site of an ancient synagogue discovered in 1928. The critical find here was an intricate mosiac floor dating back to the 6th century that was completely intact except for one small corner.

We also watched a 12-minute film that helped clarify the history of the area.

Jordan River baptismal site

We left Nof Ginosar and drove south along the Sea of Galilee back past Tiberias to where the Jordan River flows out of the lake. About 30-40 years ago, a local kibbutz built a baptismal site here. Previous pilgrimmage baptisms often took place further south, however, the damming of the river led to low water levels.

Our stop here was one of the most emotional of our journey so far as one of the members of our group decided to get re-baptized in the river. She joined a group of about 20 that had traveled there with a minister from the U.S. The service started with the singing of "Amazing Grace" and reading of the scriptures before the series of baptisms. It concluded with the group singing "I Have Decided to Follow Jesus."

Nof Ginosar

Another gorgeous day dawned on the Sea of Galilee. It's the first day of the work week here, so traffic was a bit heavier, although Tiberias isn't that big of a city so it wasn't too bad.

We drove first to Nof Ginosaur, a kibbutz that offers boat rides on the lake and has a museum that holds a boat from 2,000 years ago.

We joined a French tour group for a 40-minute ride on the lake, heading over to look up the hill at the Mount of Beatitudes church.

Back at the museum, we watched a short film about the boat that was discovered in 1986 during a drought when the water level in the lake was very low. Two fisherman discovered the nearly intact boat. Carbon dating proved it came from Jesus' time.

Saturday, November 01, 2008


It was now early afternoon on Saturday and we headed back from the north - Caesarea Phillippi - to Galilee.

We stopped for lunch at a restaurant on the shore and ordered the special - St. Peter's Fish, a light, white fish that is the biggest and most common fish in the lake.

Can you imagine Peter and his fellow disciples fishing all night on the lake, catching nothing and Jesus telling them to cast their nets on the other side of the boat?

After lunch, we went just a few hundred yards from the restaurant to the ruins of Capernaum. Their are several sets of ruins - as we have seen in lots of locations, its one site built on another, built on top of another, etc. These ruins feature some ruins from the 5th century built on top of ruins from Peter's house. In fact, inscriptions have been found identifying the site as the home of Peter, who played host to Jesus.

Most fascinating were ruins from the time of Jesus. Several levels of ruins that had been built above it had been cleared away to get to black stone blocks that had formed houses for 100 or so families at the time.

A white-stone synagogue from the 5th century sits on top of more black stones nearby - likely the remnants of the local synagogue/temple where Jesus and Peter worshipped.


More to come in the next couple of days as we head to Jerusalem.

Dan, Golan Heights and Caesarea Philippi

From the Mount of Beatitudes, we left the Galilee area for the next couple of hours and drove to the northwestern tip of Israel - in fact, it kind of sticks up like a narrow finger with Lebanon on the left and Syria on the right. Needless to say, the area has seen a lot of conflict in the not-so-distant past.

The drive north featured the Galilee mountain range on the left and the Hula Valley on the right.

Our first stop was Dan - one of the tribes of Israel that was pushed to the north to settle. Genesis 14:14 references the fact that Abram chased some enemies as far as Dan.

There are some old archaelogical digs from ancient cities here, although we didn't spend much time looking at that. Instead, Dan is also one of three sources of the Jordan River. There was rushing water in numerous places, a sound that our guide said can only be heard in a handful of places in the entire country.

From there, we took a short drive to Caesarea Phillippi. After Herod died, his territory was divided among his three sons. Phillippi ruled the area in northeastern Israel. The site at Banias is mostly pagan ruins where the Romans and others built numerous temples to worship their many gods. Caesarea Phillippi is also the location where Jesus told Peter to build his house on the rock - fitting since the pagan temples are at the base of a solid, rock cliff.

Mount of Beatitudes

After visiting Tagbha, we drove to the Mount of Beatitudes.

It's not always easy during the tour to feel a special connection to God and the scriptures. The guide is explaining so many things, there are so many other tour groups walking around - it can be difficult to slow down and enjoy a quiet moment and reflect on the significance of each place.

We did our best to create such a moment at the Mount of Beatitudes - a site up a hill on the north shore of the Sea of Galilee where Jesus is believed to have preached the Sermon on the Mount.

After looking briefly at the church and the view of the lake and surroundings, we took a few minutes to read the teachings from the book of Matthew. It was very meaningful.

Sunrise over the Sea of Galilee

The trip is starting its third day and already it has featured several incredible moments.

One was watching the sun set over the Mediterranean on our first day in Tel Aviv. Saturday morning, it was waking up at 6 a.m. and watching the sun rise over the Sea of Galilee.

It's the Sabbath here in Israel, which means some things are closed, but it also means much less traffic.

We started the day just a mile or so from the hotel at the ancient hot springs bath and the ruins of one of the oldest synagogues in Israel, dating back to the 3rd-4th century AD.

After a brief visit, we drove past Migdhal (in Greek Magdala), the home of Mary Magdalene. From there, we continued to Tagbha where a Benedictine Monastery is located on the traditional site of Jesus multiplying the fish and the loaves. Under the altar of the simple monastery is a rock that is said to be "the" rock that the disciples used to cut the fish and the bread before distributing it to the crowd.

The monastery is on a site that has housed a church since at least the 5th century, and prior to that it was a Christian gathering spot.

Cana to the Sea of Galilee

We left Nazareth en route for Tiberias on the shores of the Sea of Galilee. Our drive took us past Cana, the site of Jesus' first miracle when turned water into wine.

As we drove through the hilly and rocky terrain, I couldn't help but think of Jesus spending 30 days in the wilderness.

Our drive wound us around the northwest side of the Sea of Galilee descending further and further. The lake is located 200 m below sea level. The drive, which took less than an hour, would have been a full day trip on foot or by donkey for Jesus.

We arrived in Tiberias just after sunset, and were immediately in awe of the Sea of Galilee. It's 12 km wide and 23 km long and provides 1/3 of Israel's fresh water.

With darkness setting in, we checked in for the first of two nights in the Holiday Inn. The hotel is very nice, comparable or better to most of the Holiday Inns in the United States. The rooms are fairly spacious, featuring a couch, desk and refrigerator - and best of all, a balcony with a view of the lake.

The dinner buffet featured three amply-supplied stations of salads, pastas, meats, desserts and more.

There is also a spa here, fed by the local hot springs, however it closed at 5:00 and we weren't able to take advantage.

Our final trip for the day was a five-minute walk down to the shore. It was a clear, starry night, and it was easy to think of it as the place where Jesus called his disciples to be fishers of men, walked on water and did much of his teaching.

A Druze lunch

After visiting the monastery, we drove toward Haifa, stopping a small Druze town called Dalyat el Carmel for lunch.

The lunches have been fairly expensive to far - $25 - but this one was definitey worth it, because our guide was with us to help introduce us to authentic local food.

We started with a round of "salad" which included several small plates featuring olives, pickles, hummus, eggplant, something similar to salsa, tabuli, and falafel - a ball of fried chickpeas. It came with pita bread and another very thin bread - thinner than a tortilla.

I especially loved the falafel, tabuli and hummus.

Following the salad round, we had a choice of chicken kebabs or lamb kebabs. We tried both and both had favorable reviews.

Our lunch was topped off with small pieces of baklava - delicious.


Following our lunch, we continued east toward Haifa and had a beautiful panoramic view of the city and bay from the Mount Carmel mountain range before looping back east and heading to Nazareth. Most of the Mount Carmel range is recognized as a nature preserve. We saw lots of people on bicycles.

It took about 30-40 minutes to reach Nazareth, which in the last 50-60 years has grown into the largest Arab town in Israel with about 70,000 inhabitants. Compare that to Jesus' time when it's estimated that perhaps 100 families made up the village.

With all of the hustle and bustle in the town, it was difficult to get much of a spiritual connection, even as we visited the Church of the Annunciation. The church is built on a site where there has known to be a church since the fifth century. The center of the lower basilica sits above a cave, which is believed to be the home of Mary and the location where she was visited by the angel Gabriel, who told her she would give birth to the Christ child. Under the altar in the cave are inscribed the words "it happened here."

We were fortunate to witness a private communion service in the lower basilica. It gave us a brief opportunity to listen to their prayers and reflect.

Around the courtyard of the church and the inside of the lower basilica are large murals from many countries, donated by Catholic communities.

One interesting item that our guide pointed out to us as we looked at the bronze door at the entrance is that some scholars believe that Joseph's occupation has been mis-translated. They think that he was more likely a stone mason rather than a wood mason (carpenter) because the local topography is very rocky and features very few trees.

Mount Carmel

From Caesarea, we headed north and west to Mount Carmel. It's actually a range of mountains and not one specific peak. As we ascended, the transitioned from the sandy dunes along the coast through pines, firs and cypress trees - many of them planted during the last century.

As we drove, we also found it fairly easy to identify different communities. Jewish communities tend to be a bit more spread out, while the Muslim and Arab communities have houses "stacked" upon each other. The difference between those two is that the Muslim communities feature the minarets of the local mosques sticking above the "skyline."

There are also several Druze communities in the area. The Druze have been accepted into Israel because they are known to be loyal to whatever government they are living under.

Our stop in the Mount Carmel area was at the Carmelite monastery in Muhraka. It is the site that honors and Elijah and the story from I Kings 18. As you may recall, Elijah challenged the worshippers of Baal to build an altar and call upon their god to light it on fire. After several attempts, they failed.

Elijah, meanwhile, built and altar and ordered it soaked with water. He called out to God who made it burst into flame.

Our guide, and the statue in the garden, reminded us that Elijah then ordered the slaughter of the priests who had led the people to worship Baal.

From the top of the monastery, we could look out in every direction. To the east, we could see the Mediterranean. To the southeast, our guide said Tel Aviv can be seen on a clear day (about 90 km away), however it was too hazy for us to see. To the west was a fertile valley, and to the northwest was Haifa.


Our official tour of Israel began Friday morning around 8:30 when we were met by our guide Shalom. As he explained to us later in the day, he was born during a time of war. He was going to be named after his grandfather, but his mother chose the name Shalom instead in hopes of peace.

We drove north out of Tel Aviv along the Mediterranean coast. Much of the coast is lined with huge sand dunes although there were numerous orchards of fruits and vegetables. Israel is small, but it has several climates and many varieties of plants have been successfully domesticated here.

An hour north of Tel Aviv is Caesarea, an ancient port city with ruins from the time of Herod the Great. Shalom pointed out that to this day, the Romans are still regarded as the most prolific builders in Israeli history.

The ruins at Caesarea include an amphitheater, palace, hippodrome and more.

From a Christian point of view, it was interesting to learn that Paul was imprisoned here prior to being sent to Rome to plead his case as a Roman citizen. It was here that he encountered Cornelius, a commander in the Roman army, who became one of the first converts to Christianity (Acts 10).

Another interesting find on the site was a tablet with the inscription of Pontius Pilate, the ruler who ordered the crucifixion of Jesus.

Friday, October 31, 2008

Israel - First impressions

I suppose our first impression was - this isn't how the U.S. media portrays it. No soldiers anywhere to be seen - even at the airport.

Beyond that, it has the feeling of Florida - palm trees, lots of blooming flowers. It was easily already 70 degrees when we got out of the airport around 9:30.

From the airport, which is on the southwest side of Tel Aviv, it took about 45 minutes to navigate traffic to the center of the city where our hotel, Prima Tel Aviv, was located at Frishman Beach on the coast of the Mediterranean. Several other major hotels, such as Dan and Sheraton, are also nearby. It's also about 2 blocks from a major shopping street - Ben Yehuda.

The city has a very European feel - narrow streets, family-owned shops at street level with owners that likely live upstairs, lots of little cafes and restaurants.

There is a long Promenade that runs along the beach, so we took a nice walk and had lunch at a cafe along the water. That was delightful. Our entrees included fish and chips, a polish kebab and St. Peter's fish. I had the St. Peter's fish which is similar to talapia. For those of you who have had fish in another country before - yes, I got the whole fish, head staring back at me and everything.

We took a walk, letting our feet get soothed by the cool water. After a full day of travel, it was nice to get the shoes off. There are a couple of break waters set up to keep the waves on the beach very calm.

Since we're closer to the equator here, the sun sets early. The sun dipped below the horizon by 5:00.

Getting to Israel

We had a pretty uneventful time getting to Israel. We anticipated some extra screening and scrutiny, but didn't experience anything too threatening. The only extra security came at the airport at Newark where the Tel Aviv flight was in a secure boarding area. To get into the area, they checked your boarding pass, "wanded" you and looked quickly through your carry-on bag.

The flight itself went well. It's about 10 1/2 hours from Newark to Tel Aviv. We flew on a Continental 777 that featured 3-3-3 seating. The best part was that every seat featured it's own entertainment system with access to more than 250 movies, 300 TV programs, music and games.

The movies and TV programs were of a variety of genres, suitable for every interest -new releases, movies from the '50s, comedy, action, sitcoms, HBO shows, etc.

We also were all pleasantly surprised when we landed in Tel Aviv. We expected a lot of scrutiny, but all we got were 3-4 questions about the purpose of our visit and where we would be going.

The Tel Aviv airport was also surprisingly not crowded. Also, there was no food court, just a couple of "fast" food type places and only a handful of shops.

From landing to leaving the airport, it only took about 45 minutes.

Wednesday, October 22, 2008

Fewer flights during holidays

USA Today reported recently that airlines will offer almost 3,000 fewer domestic flights a day during the Thanksgiving season, translating into fuller planes and higher fares.

According to the report, there will be 11% fewer flights — 2.6 million fewer seats — on non-stop domestic routes from Nov. 20, the Thursday before Thanksgiving, through Nov. 30, the Sunday afterward.

Travelers with plans to fly during that time period should book early. It’s also a good idea to make parking reservations in advance.

Tuesday, October 21, 2008

Amtrak USA Rail Pass

Amtrak is making its USA Rail Pass available for purchase in the U.S. Previously, the pass could only be bought by travelers who lived outside the country.

The passes are available for 15, 30 and 45 days of travel. The 15-day pass offers eight segments of travel for $389. The 30-day pass offers 12 segments of travel for $579. The 45-day pass offers 18 segments of travel for $749.

Each time a passenger boards a train or connecting Amtrak Thruway bus counts as one segment.

The passes are priced the same regardless of when you travel, but you must begin your travel within 180 days of purchase. Passengers must also have a ticket and reservation for each train they board.

Sunday, October 12, 2008

New terminal coming to Indianapolis International Airport

A new terminal will open at the Indianapolis International Airport in early November. I recently had the opportunity to tour the state-of-the-art facility.

Getting there/Parking

The new “midfield” terminal is located a few miles west of the current terminal. Passengers traveling from downtown Indianapolis need to continue past the current exit 75 to exit 68. This actually takes you about a mile past the new terminal before looping you back. As you enter, one of the first changes you’ll notice is a cell phone lot – a free lot with 49 spaces for drivers waiting for arriving passengers.

Continuing to the terminal are options for long-term parking, economy parking, a five-level parking garage and rental car return.

Opening rates for parking are:
Economy: $7/day
Long-term: $11/day
Garage: $16/day ($2 every 30 minutes)
Uncovered valet: $15/day
Covered valet: $18/day

We continue to have a strong relationship with Indy Park Ride & Fly, offering discounts and free days of parking for that company’s new location near the new terminal.

Ticketing Hall/Civic Plaza

Departing passengers will enter the new terminal in the Ticketing Hall, featuring four “islands” for purchasing tickets and checking in. From there, you can proceed into Civic Plaza, a circular open area between the two concourses. A number of shops and restaurants are available so families can remain together before passengers go through security and enter the concourses. Civic Plaza is bright and open with large windows that will allow people to see airplanes at the gates and even see downtown in the distance. Special lighting creates airplane shapes “flying” on the walls.

Restaurants in Civic Plaza include:
Naked Tchopstix
500 Grill
Café Patachu

Security Lines

The entry to both concourses feature seven security screening lanes. Not only is this an increase from the 3-4 lanes at most of the concourses in the current airport, but the security area is very large and open. There also will be special family lanes for passengers who want to move at their own pace and not feel rushed to get through the line.

The new terminal will feature the controversial Millimeter Wave screening equipment. The new technology creates a very intimate image of passengers in an effort to detect weapons concealed beneath clothing. The Millimeter Wave will be optional for passengers not comfortable with the technology, however, those who decline may be subject to pat-downs instead.

Concourse A

Concourse A features 16 gates and will serve Continental Airlines, Delta Airlines, Midwest Airlines and Northwest Airlines.

I was impressed by two specific features of both concourses. First, there are recycle bins located at numerous locations for cans, bottles and newspapers. Second, there are an abundance of electrical outlets along the outside walls. One of the most frustrating parts about most airports is the lack of outlets in most gate areas. With so many people working on laptops these days, finding an empty outlet can be very challenging. The new terminal features outlets nearly every 8 to 10 feet.

Restaurants in Concourse A include:
Harry & Izzy’s
Fruits & Passion
Chocolate Café
96th Street Steakburger
Bananas/Green Leaf’s
TGI Friday’s
Cold Stone Creamery

Concourse B

One other change from the current airport – the concourses are connected, so once you go through security you can go into either concourse for shopping or eating.

Concourse B also features 16 gates and will serve AirTran Airways, Frontier, Southwest, United and US Airways.

The concourses are 1,300 feet long by 100 feet wide – nice and roomy – and feature moving sidewalks to help you cover the distance.

Restaurants in Concourse B include:
Champps Americana
Copper Moon World Coffees
Wolfgang Puck Express
Shapiro’s Delicatessen
King David Dogs
Natalie’s Candy Bar
Cold Stone Creamery
Camden Food Co.

Concourse B also houses En Route Serenity Spa offering several types of massages, as well as pedicures and manicures.

Baggage Claim

Baggage claim should run much more efficiently at the new terminal. Behind the scenes, the airport has put in a system that can handle 8,000 bags per hour. Currently the aiport averages 15-20,000 bags per day.

Baggage claim is on the lower level of the airport. Six carousels, much bigger than the ones at the old airport, are available. Each carousel features a digital screen showing which flight is located at that particular carousel.

Ground transportation

Signs at the exit of baggage claim offer two options. 1) Go straight out the doors for airport parking shuttles and taxis, or 2) go up one level for rental cars, off airport shuttles, buses and garage parking.

Like many other airports, Indianapolis will now house rental cars in one central location instead of riding a shuttle to individual businesses. Eight companies will be represented in the airport garage.

Friday, September 19, 2008

Happy Birthday from Disney

Walt Disney Parks & Resorts announced its marketing theme for 2009 will be “What Will You Celebrate?” encouraging guests to visit the parks for birthdays, anniversaries, family reunions, honeymoons, weddings and other celebratory gatherings. As part of that campaign, everyone who visits a Walt Disney World Resort or Disneyland Resort theme park on their birthday in 2009 can get in free.

At Walt Disney World Resort, guests can choose from more than 200 experiences ranging from such adventures as magical fireworks cruises, sunrise safaris, and diving the depths with undersea creatures. Other unforgettable experiences include the popular character dining, pirate adventures and princess fantasies at the Bibbidi Bobbidi Boutique. At Disneyland Resort, there are more than 50 magical experiences for celebrants, including “My Disneyland Birthday,” Disneyland guided tours and Fantasmic! dessert packages.

At Walt Disney World Resort, birthday guests can sample an enormous sundae – scoops and scoops of ice cream smothered in many tasty toppings – served at Disney’s Beach Club Resort, one of more than 200 ideas for customization that guests can add on to their itinerary for a celebratory visit to Disney’s Vacation Kingdom in central Florida.

Wednesday, August 13, 2008

Holyland Journey - Trip Forming

Harmony Travel will be leading a group to Israel Oct. 29-Nov. 7. The 10-day, 8-night Holyland Journey includes daily breakfast and two dinners.

The pages of the Bible will come to life as we walk the paths that Jesus walked. We will visit the Mount of Beatitudes, Jordan River, Bethlehem and the Church of the Nativity. We will sail on the Sea of Galillee and walk the Via Dolorosa. Our 10-day stay concludes in Jerusalem where we’ll visit the Room of the Last Supper and the Garden Tomb.

There's much more of course. Call Harmony Travel today for more information (317-242-9545)

Monday, August 04, 2008

West Edmonton Mall

Wow! How else do you describe a mall with more than 800 stores, two hotels and the world's largest indoor waterpark. Oh, there's also a to-scale model of Christopher Columbus's Santa Maria ship, miniature golf and an ice hockey rink.

I made two visits to the mall. I'm not much of a shopper, so I got bored pretty quickly on my second visit. But for a shopper, this place has it all. Lots of clothing and shoe stores and everything else you typically find in a mall.

If I were to return, I would recommend staying at one of the hotels attached to the mall. You could literally spend every moment in the mall. Eat at one of the restaurants or food court (yes, there is a Tim Horton's here), and then play all day.

The waterpark would be my first stop. Covering 6,000 square feet, it has 12 slides for all levels of adventure - from beginner to extreme. There's a large wave pool, kids play area, hot tubs and more.

There's also Galaxyland amusement park. There are 26 rides for all ages, including a triple-loop roller coaster.

Don't forget - the sea lions perform daily at 2 and 4 p.m.

Shopping? Who has time to shop?

Saturday, August 02, 2008

Dining in Edmonton

Edmonton is a very diverse city, so there are lots of dining options. The downtown area isn't loaded with high-end restaurants but there are several nice choices.

On my first night in town, I walked about a third of a mile from The Sutton Place hotel to a place called the Blue Plate Diner. Later, when I mentioned to two locals that I had eaten there, they both raved about it and suggested I return for brunch for the best eggs benedict I would ever have.

The dinner menu offered a very healthy fare - very vegan-friendly and lots of organic ingredients. I chose the baked tandoori chicken, which featured oven-roasted chicken thighs marinated in yogurt, garlic, ginger and tandoori spices. Very delicious. My two dining companions opted for a meatloaf made with lean ground beef, oats, fresh herbs, onions, carrots, celery and buttermilk and studded with dried cranberries and cheddar cheese, and a hamburger.

My second night featured a trip to West Edmonton Mall. The Bourbon Street area of the mall houses about a dozen restaurants ranging from family restaurants, pubs and sports bars to higher-end dining options. I chose a place called Earl's, which had a dining area and a lounge. We sat in the lounge on a comfortable, cushioned bench that curved around small round table. The menu offers a lot to choose from - chicken, pasta, steaks, ribs - in an elegant atmosphere.

I chose the spicy thai green curry with coconut cream curry with zucchini and sautéed shrimp on coconut jasmine rice, topped with roasted pineapple and crushed pistachios. The menu had two peppers next to it to indicate its spicyness, and it definitely had some kick. It was quite delicious.

Night three found me at Moxie's, which surprised me once I got there. There are several street-side location that give the look of any typical family restaurant or grill. I thought it could easily fall into the "Applebee's" category. Instead, Moxie's also offers a very wide-ranging menu. I had chicken enchiladas that were some of the best enchiladas I've eaten in recent memory.

One final dinner stop came at Hardware Grill located near the Shaw Convention Centre on Jasper Ave. It's a pricy place with entrees ranging from $35-$55. A companion chose an elk, spare ribs combo that was divine. I had beef tenderloin that was delicious. The "beef stew" potatoes that accompanied it tasted like they had been cooked with a roast all day. We topped off the meal with a dessert sampler that included 7-8 bite-sized desserts, including two chocolate truffles and some chocolate mousse.

I wouldn't say Edmonton is a hot bed of high-class dining, but for a visitor, there are certainly enough options for a brief stay.

Sunday, July 27, 2008

Edmonton, Alberta

As a native of Indianapolis, a laid-back Midwestern city, my first visit to Edmonton has made me feel at home. The sixth-largest city in Canada is similar in size to Indy (a little over 1 million), and the people are very friendly.

It takes some effort to get to Edmonton - it's almost four hours north of Calgary - but a visit, especially in the summertime, is worth it.

I visited in late July when the city was buzzing was several of its biggest events of the year - although I'm not sure anything tops Oilers hockey in the winter in the mindset of Edmontonians.

Edmonton's CapitalEx, a 10-day "state fair", was in mid-swing. I didn't see any pigs or other livestock common to the Indiana State Fair, but there was a lively midway with games and rides, several concert areas and exhibition halls filled with various vendors. One of the most unique attractions was a butterfly exhibit, where visitors could walk in a large area covered by netting and mingle with thousands of exotic butterflies.

Another area drawing a large crowd at CapitalEx was Sip!, a wine and food-tasting experience. This area offered fair goers the chance to sample wines, beers, spirits and food from some of the areas restaurants and breweries. I two very interesting beers brewed by Amber's Brewing Company. The first was Australian Mountain Pepper Berry Lager. It was quite tasty, and it had just a hint of a pepper flavor. I also sampled the Sap Vampire Maple Lager, which was quite different from any beer I had tasted before due to its maple taste.

CapitalEx takes place at Northlands, which also houses the Oilers' arena and a horse track.

Another event taking place in Edmonton during my visit in July was Taste of Edmonton. Forty restaurants set up booths in Sir Winston Churchill Square, located downtown just a block from my hotel - Sutton Place. Visitors could sample nearly 80 menu items from the different restaurants.

Two major sporting events were also occuring in Edmonton during my visit, an Indy car race at the City Centre Airport and a rodeo. The city also has an independent minor league baseball team and a Canadian Football League team.

I didn't have time, but the city also offers numerous parks, hiking and biking trails to take advantage of on the long summer days. With its northern location, the sun rises around 5:30 a.m. and doesn't set until around 10:30 p.m. Bring sunscreen. The northern location makes the sun feel more intense. I noticed my skin starting to feel hot after only a limited amount of time outside.

Thursday, July 10, 2008

Hickory Falls Wood-Fired Grill

I recently made a return visit to Hickory Falls Wood Fired Grill in Smyrna, Tennessee just outside of Nashville.

While I don't have strong memories good or bad from my visit about a year ago, this visit definitely left me disappointed. I started with a salad, which was very good. My entree, however, an 8 oz. sirloin had very little taste - other than a hint of smoky flavor from the grill. My companion gave the same report for the pork chops.

I was also disappointed by the service. It seemed rushed and insincere.

The best part of the meal was getting out of there in only 35 minutes.

Saturday, July 05, 2008


My wife and two young children recently joined me for a day in Baltimore. It was the first visit to the city for all of us, and I must say Baltimore seems like a city easily worth 2-3 days of sightseeing.

As we researched some options before going to Baltimore, the kids overwhelmingly voted for the B&O Railroad Museum. This proved to be a great choice.

We spent about two hours at the museum located about 10 minutes from the Inner Harbor. A huge roundhouse houses engines and coaches from many eras, including several that have been used in films. Numerous volunteers are available to answer questions, provide historical insights and give tours. There's also the opportunity to board several of the trains. We went on a Tuesday which precluded us getting to ride on a train - the rides are offered Wednesday through Sunday.

After the B&O Museum, we drove down to the Inner Harbor. This is an area with many options.

The National Aquarium houses more than 5,000 creatures. The Science Center features three floors of exhibits, including a planetarium and an IMAX theater.

Four ships from different eras can me toured: a Coast Guard cutter that survived Pearl Harbor, a submarine from World War II, the USS Constellation from the Civil War and the Lightship Chesapeake, a floating navigational lighthouse.

Fort McHenry, which inspired the writing of the Star-Spangled Banner, is also nearby.

Of course, a lot of the fun comes from just sitting and watching different boats come and go.

We rented a paddle boat and spent 30 minutes on the water.

We were also entertained by some street performers as we walked past numerous restaurants and bars.

The area is close to both Camden Yards and M&T Stadium, the homes to baseball's Baltimore Orioles and football's Baltimore Ravens. We took in a game at Camden Yards. It's a beautiful ballpark that seems to stick to baseball - not a lot of fancy gimmicks around the park or between innings. There is a street (Eutaw Street) located beyond the right field fence that features food vendors, restaurants and bars.

Friday, June 27, 2008

Comfort Restaurant - Richmond, Virginia

Need a little southern comfort food? The Comfort near the campus of Virginia Commonwealth University in Richmond, Virginia is the right place. Located at 200 W. Broad St., the simple restaurant features a menu with a handful of appetizers and entrees and a well-stocked bar.

Meatloaf, pulled pork, marinated venison and grilled trout are among the entree. I opted for the trout, filleted and wrapped in bacon. It was delicious. Each entree comes with either two or three sides. The cheesy grits were outstanding as was the fried okra.

The restaurant has been featured in Southern Living magazine and earned Best Downtown Restaurant honors in Richmond in 2007.

A second Comfort is located in Portsmouth, Va.

Friday, June 20, 2008

But I did stay at a Holiday Inn Express last night

Until now, my frequent business travels had not included a stay at a Holiday Inn Express. That changed recently on a trip to the Des Moines, Iowa area. I stayed at a fairly new Holiday Inn Express in Ankeny - two exits north of I-80 on I-35.

I was checked in by the general manager, who joked that I was in the bridal suite with a heart-shaped bed. My hopes were dashed, however, when I got to my room and found a standard king-sized bed.

The room was large, featuring a work desk, chair, refrigerator and microwave. Two essentials for hotel stays were also free of charge - wireless internet access and breakfast.

A final surprise awaited me when I logged on to the internet service. After agreeing to the provider's terms, I was taken to a page offering free access to Major League Baseball game broadcasts. What a bonus! I enjoyed listening to several innings of my favorite team.

The Ankeny area is developing quickly. The area around the hotel features a business park and is across the street from Outback Steakhouse and Chip's. A couple of blocks away are a variety of restaurants and shops.

Tuesday, May 13, 2008

King's Fish House - Long Beach, California

If you're looking for a great restaurant serving fresh fish in the heart of Long Beach, King's Fish House is the place. The restaurant is within a few blocks walk of the World Trade Center, Convention Center and attractions such as the Aquarium of the Pacific.

Menus are printed daily, but the selection is large. I had coconut encrusted mahi mahi. It was mouth-watering.

Many of the entrees such as lobster and clams seem to be less than what "market price" seems to be at other fine dining locations.

Tuesday, April 08, 2008

Starwood introduces "Love Your Family"

Beginning this summer, Starwood Hotels & Resorts Worldwide, which includes Sheraton, Westin and St. Regis brands, will unveil a new family-friendly program with signature services and curated experiences designed for kids and grownups alike. "Love Your Family" will launch in 29 resort locations first in the U.S. and the Caribbean.

The core elements of "Love Your Family" include three signature experiences -- Fireside Storytelling, Stargazing, and Dive-In Movies -- as well as other features that will be indigenous to each respective property. Additionally, "Love Your Family" includes services designed to appeal especially to parents, including connecting rooms, food and beverage discounts, and other unique packages and offers, all coordinated by the resort's newly appointed "Director of Fun." Each participating "Love Your Family" resort will feature a director of fun, a family ambassador of entertainment, who will make sure that all elements of a family hotel stay are in place to make the vacation a memorable one. In addition, the director of fun will oversee a "fun staff" responsible for coordinating activities and experiences throughout guests' stay.

Contact Harmony Travel today to book this unique package.

Friday, April 04, 2008

Another airline bankruptcy

ATA Airlines ceased all current and future flight operations in the early morning hours of Thursday, April 3. The company filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection late yesterday in Indianapolis.

This comes on the heels of the closing of Aloha Airlines.

Harmony Travel LLC advises to always consider purchasing the proper travel insurance to help protect yourself against many kinds of travel difficulties, including the bankruptcy of travel suppliers.

Wednesday, April 02, 2008

New NWA routes on sale

Northwest Airlines new routes between Indianapolis and Austin, Texas and San Antonio, Texas are now on sale. Sample fares are $89 each way to Austin and $113 each way to San Antonio for travel between May 2 and June 7.

The Watering Hole - Sebring, Florida

It's fascinating how sometimes the strangest places seem to thrive.

Sebring, Florida is a small town in central Florida about two hours south of Orlando. Located a few miles outside of town, and looking like a "hole in the wall" type of place is a restaurant called The Watering Hole - complete with sign promoting its live 14-foot gator.

I went on a Wednesday night, and the place was busy.

The first thing you notice when you walk in is an overpowering odor of garlic hanging in the air. Nearly every meal comes with garlic bread, and nearly every meal is served with garlic.

The food at The Watering Hole is good and the prices are reasonable.

For an appetizer, I had sauteed mushrooms while my dining companion had a bowl of clam stew. The bowl of mushrooms was large, and it was half full of mushrooms and half full of garlic. The clam stew was thin - more like a soup than a stew - but my friend said it was delicious.

There are a wide variety of entrees available - chicken, pasta, seafood and steaks. I saw a few filets at nearby tables, and they looked delicious. I opted for a Walleye filet, and it was very good. It came with a bowl of fruit and roasted red potatoes.

It may look like a hole in the wall, but The Watering Hole is definitely worth a visit.

Oh yeah, Bully, the 14-foot alligator, remained safely in his cage the entire time.

Monday, March 24, 2008

Aloha Airlines files bankruptcy

Aloha Airlines, an inter-island carrier in Hawaii, has filed for Chapter 11bankruptcy protection. At this time, the airline plans to continue flying and honor future reservations. Harmony Travel customers can be assured that we will continue to monitor the situation.

Monday, March 10, 2008

Northwest adds Indy flights

Northwest Airlines will add service between Indianapolis and both Austin and San Antonio starting May 2. Call us today for special rates and promotions.

Tuesday, March 04, 2008

Bosphorous Istanbul Cafe - Indianapolis

In a country of chain restaurants, it can be challenging to find good, independent places to eat. I had the fortune of visiting a independently owned Turkish restaurant on the southeast side of downtown Indianapolis recently.

I learned about the Bosphorous Istanbul Cafe on the internet while searching for Döner Kebaps. I fell in love with Döner Kebaps when I lived in Germany in the early 90’s, and I happily renewed my acquaintance with them last fall in Portugal.

A marinated combination of beef and lamb is grilled on a rotisserie throughout the day. The meat is then shaved into a pita and topped with lettuce, tomatoes, onions and a yogurt-like sauce. It’s absolutely delicious.

My google search for Döner Kebaps in Indianapolis led me to the Bosphorous Cafe, tucked into an old house on S. East Street across from Eli Lilly. It opens for lunch and features a lunch and dinner menu.

Of course, I opted for the Döner Kebap with french fries, and I wasn’t disappointed.

The menu features a Bosphorous Special, which provides a sampling of several entrees with enough food for two.

Friday, February 22, 2008

U.S.-Australia open skies agreement

Officials in the United States and Australia have reached a new “open skies” aviation agreement that should eliminate restrictions on air travel between the two countries. U.S.- and Australian-based airlines will be able to set their own routes and destinations between the two countries with no flight limits, and they’ll have more leeway to cooperate on marketing (including codeshares).

Monday, February 18, 2008

Car rental companies offer carbon offsets

Enterprise Rent-A-Car, National Car Rental and Alamo Rent A Car launched the car rental industry's largest customer carbon offset program. Designed to give customers a simple but meaningful way to address the environmental impact of renting a car, the program is the first consumer initiative to be launched under all three brands. Enterprise, National and Alamo are owned by the Taylor family of St. Louis. Collectively, the Taylor family owns and operates the world's largest automotive fleet, employing more than 1.1 million vehicles.

Under this new program, customers of all three rental car brands can benefit the environment by offsetting the carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions generated by the average car rental. When reserving a car through the company's call-in reservation centers or online, customers can opt in to pay $1.25 per rental (plus applicable taxes) to purchase a carbon offset. Under this new program, in partnership with TerraPass, a leading provider of carbon offsets, the funds will be used to purchase certified offset projects that work to remove CO2 from the atmosphere. According to TerraPass, for every 100,000 customers who choose to take part, this effort will offset more than 30 million pounds -- or 13,500 metric tons -- of CO2. In the pilot phase of the program, which began on Jan. 1, 2008, the company reported that across all three brands, approximately 1,000 customers per day agreed to buy carbon offsets when reserving a vehicle.

Monday, February 11, 2008

Rathskeller Restaurant - Indianapolis

The Rathskeller is located on the northeast side of downtown Indianapolis adjacent to a thriving arts district, across the street from the Murat Theater and in the same building as the American Cabaret Theater.

The menu boasts many hearty traditional German dishes as well as steaks, seafood and more. The Rathskeller features more than 60 beers from around the world as well as an extensive wine list.

In addition to the restaurant, there's a bar with live music and a biergarten for outdoor fun in the summer.

On a recent visit, my wife and I opted for two meals from the German section of the menu. We started with mushroom caps stuffed with cream cheese, bacon bits and chives topped with two melted cheeses. That was followed by two house salads, although we were left wondering if we were supposed to have bread served along with it. We both had bread plates, butter knives and butter, but we never got any bread.

No matter, there was more than enough food to satisfy us. For the main dish, I opted for one of my long-time favorites from the year I lived in Germany - Jaegerschnitzel. It's a pork tenderloin topped with mushrooms in a red wine sauce. For my two side dishes I chose the Bavarian Spaetzle noodles and a potato pancake. All were quite delicious.

My wife chose the Beef Roulladen, a rolls of tender beef stuffed with bacon, onions and mustard slowly cooked for tenderness. She enjoyed it immensely.

For dessert, we split a piece of Black Forest cake.

Most entrees run $25-30, so expect dinner for two to approach $100.

Wednesday, February 06, 2008

United adds baggage fee

As air travelers, we're gradually growing accustomed to receiving fewer services such as no more complimentary snacks on flights or extra charges for advance seat assignments.

United has taken another step and will begin charging customers who purchase nonrefundable domestic economy tickets and who do not have status in Mileage Plus or Star Alliance a $25 service fee for checking more than one bag.

We'll keep you posted on further developments like these.

Monday, February 04, 2008

New cruise boarding guidelines set

New cruise boarding rules go into effect on Feb. 18. Starting that date, passengers must board at U.S. ports at least one hour prior to the ship’s scheduled departure. We recommend that you use any online check-in systems offered by cruise lines to submit your information as soon as possible before arriving at the departure port.

Another good idea is arriving at the departure port the night before the sailing date, to avoid any problems with flight delays on the date of departure. If passengers fail to make it to the ship by the hour-before-departure deadline, they may be denied boarding without any refund of their cruise payments.

For Royal Caribbean, Celebrity, and Azamara sailings, passengers must complete their online check-ins no later than three days prior to the cruise departure. If they don’t, they will be required to complete the process at the pier at least two hours prior to the published sailing time. If passengers are not checked in and onboard the ship at least 90 minutes prior to that time, they will not be permitted to sail.

Friday, February 01, 2008

Travel Alert for Kenya

The U.S. State Department issued a Travel Alert to warn American citizens of the risks of travel to areas of Kenya following disputed elections in Kenya. On Jan. 30 the Department of State authorized non-emergency personnel and family members to relocate from Kisumu to Nairobi. The government warned U.S. citizens to avoid all travel to the cities of Kisumu, Nakuru and Naivasha, and defer all non-essential travel to the remaining portions of Nyanza, Western, and Rift Valley provinces, asserting that the situation in Kenya is volatile and subject to change on short notice. U.S. citizens can monitor U.S. Embassy Nairobi's website at for the latest security information. The Travel Alert updates the Jan. 11 Travel Alert, supplements the Oct. 18, 2007, Kenya Travel Warning, and expires Feb. 29.

Although widespread violence, demonstrations, and looting have subsided, a recent outbreak of protests in Nairobi and violent civil unrest in Kisumu, Nakuru, and Naivasha demonstrates the potential for spontaneous violence in the current political climate, the State Department said. Several official Americans have been temporarily relocated from Kisumu to Nairobi. Americans in Kenya should be prepared for a large police presence and potential outbreaks of hostile clashes between police and demonstrators, and between rival groups of demonstrators. International and domestic airports are operating normally, but this may change on short notice.

The Travel Alert warned that road travel in western Kenya remains unsafe. Sporadic illegal road blocks by gangs or criminal elements may make travel possible only with police escorted convoys, the State Department said. Even demonstrations intended to be peaceful can become violent. Americans should therefore avoid all demonstrations, protests and large public gatherings. The State Department urged American citizens who travel to Kenya to register with the U.S. Embassy at, and to monitor the U.S. Embassy website at for updates on this volatile situation. The department shares credible threat information through its Consular Information Program documents, available on the Internet at Travelers may also obtain up-to-date information on security conditions by calling 888-407-4747 toll-free in the U.S. and Canada or outside the U.S. and Canada at 202-501-4444.

Tuesday, January 29, 2008

Celebrity's Solstice features real grass

Celebrity Cruises unveiled another first in the cruise industry this week: real grass growing aboard a cruise ship. The new “Celebrity Solstice” (due in December) will feature a country-club-type area on its top deck called “The Lawn Club” – a half-acre setting with an actual lawn for bocce ball and croquet, golf putting, and picnics. Next to the lawn will be another first-time activity: a glass blowing center, with live demonstrations for passengers. The Lawn Club will also feature a patio, a club shop, and a bar.

Saturday, January 26, 2008

Document rules take effect Jan. 31

The U.S. Department of Homeland Security (DHS) is reminding travelers that beginning Jan. 31 border crossers will be asked to present documents denoting citizenship and identity when entering the United States through land and sea ports of entry. This change primarily affects United States and Canadian citizens, who have previously been permitted entry by oral declaration alone, and marks the transition toward standard and consistent documents for all travelers entering the country. It is also the start of a more robust and concerted public education campaign, intended to inform travelers of document requirements which will be implemented next year.

Beginning Jan. 31, travelers will be asked to present documentation from a specified list of acceptable documents when entering the U.S. at land and sea ports of entry. Examples include birth certificates and driver's licenses.
Travelers who do not present one of these documents may be delayed while U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) officers attempt to verify their identity and citizenship. Children ages 18 and under will only need to present a birth certificate.

Wednesday, January 23, 2008

Costa Maya port ahead of schedule

The cruise port of Costa Maya in Mexico – damaged heavily last August by Hurricane Dean – will re-open three months earlier than scheduled. Its two existing cruise ship berths will be ready for business at some time this summer, while construction continues on a third berth. There’s no word yet on which cruise lines have decided to return to Costa Maya, but local tourism officials say they hope to announce names next month.

Saturday, January 19, 2008

Online check-in for hotels

Much like airlines have done over the past few years, now hotels are starting to allow advance check-in online.

Hyatt unveiled a new online check-in, check-out system called “Web-In” and “Web-Out” recently. The program is available at more than 100 North American properties now. (Web-Out is brand new, while Web-In was previously reserved for Gold Passport members only.) You can go to and click the Check-In button to check in after 1 pm on your arrival date (picking up keys at a kiosk in the hotel lobby). Later, you can check out via the Internet and have a copy of your bill emailed to you. Later this year, Hyatt will introduce another function: allowing guests to choose their rooms via the Web.

Monday, January 14, 2008

Holiday Cruise

A three-generation family recently returned from a holiday cruise aboard Holland America's ms Veendam. The ship sailed from Tampa to Key West, Belize, Guatemala and Cozumel.

"We liked it a lot, even though we missed a complete day due to bad weather in Belize. The sea was too rough for us to tender into the port, but Holland America refunded our port charges and offered everyone a complimentary glass of champagne at dinner."

"We really liked the smaller ship compared to Princess. It didn't feel as crowded. We didn't have to wait in lines at the buffet, theater or pool. We ate very well. The food was wonderful. Our room steward and the wait staff at dinner were terrific."

"In Guatemala, we found a wonderful tour guide right on the dock. He took us to the markets and all around. Key West was more of just a big tourist trap."

"New Year's Eve was fine. It was a bit subdued compared to the one we experienced previously on Princess, but it was alright."