Tuesday, December 22, 2009

"Sacred Spain" at IMA

I took some time today to tour the free "Sacred Spain" exhibit at the Indianapolis Museum of Art. It's a collection of paintings and sculptures from Spanish artists that will be housed at the museum through Jan. 3.

Most of the works are from the 1600s. There are moving images of Christ and Mary as well as numerous works portraying saints and monks from that time. The exhibit is confined to about six rooms, so it was a bit smaller than I expected, but given the price of admission - nothing - it was definitely worth seeing.

For $5, you can rent an iPod audio guide to go along with the exhibit.

After the 45 minutes or so it takes to view the exhibit, take the time to check out some of the many other offerings at IMA. My friend and I enjoyed the African Art section.

Overall, the museum houses more than 50,000 pieces, and the grounds are home to walking trails, the Lilly house and a soon-to-be-completed Art & Nature Park that will include 100 acres of woodlands, wetlands, lake and meadows.

Monday, December 21, 2009

First Jesus-era house found in Nazareth

Archaeologists have discovered a house in Nazareth dating back to the time of Jesus.

Click here to read the story in USA Today.

Friday, December 18, 2009

Arbeit Macht Frei

So sad to hear this morning that the "Arbeit Macht Frei" sign has been stolen from Auschwitz. This is a similar sign on the entrance gate to the Nazi concentration camp in Dachau, Germany just outside of Munich. Visiting Dachau was one of the most memorable experiences of my visit to see the Passion Play in Oberammergau in 2000.

In case you don't know, the sign translates to "Work will set you free."

Monday, November 23, 2009

Oberammergau Informational Meeting

The other day I had the great opportunity to participate in a webinar with Mike Adams from the official office of the Oberammergau Passion Play in Oberammergau, Germany.

For those of you who don't know, the village of Oberammergau performs a Passion Play every 10 years as an act of thanks to God for sparing the village from the Plague.

In 1632, more than 20 percent of the village had perished due to the plague. One year later, the townspeople pledged to perform a passion play every 10 years if God would save their town. Not another person died, and the town has been performing the play for more than 375 years.

The next performance comes in 2010. More than 500,000 visitors are expected for the 102 performances between May and October.

I had the great fortune to attend the play in 2000, and I can't say enough about it. It's not just "a play," it's a very intense emotional and spiritual experience. Imagine up to 1,000 people and animals on the open-air stage at one time as Jesus drives the money lenders from the temple, or as he makes his triumphant entry into Jerusalem on the back of a donkey.

The play begins in mid-afternoon and runs for 2 1/2 hours before a three-hour dinner break. After dinner, there's another 2 1/2 hours, culminating in the crucifixion.

If you have the opportunity to attend, you won't regret it.

I'm organizing an informational meeting for anyone who would like to learn more about Oberammergau or who is considering attending.

Please join me at 7 p.m. Tuesday, Jan. 19 at First Baptist Church of Indianapolis (8600 N. College Ave.).

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Free Disney Cruise

Harmony Travel is working with Disney to offer a free 3-night cruise to the Bahamas to families that purchase an Adventures by Disney trip before Jan. 15, 2010. Please contact us for complete details.

Adventures by Disney was created especially for families, with breathtaking guided group vacations spanning six continents - from Alaska to Australia, and from Costa Rica to Canada. With Adventures by Disney, you'll meet enthralling local experts, enjoy backstage access, VIP treatment and other exclusive experiences, including special thrills just for kids.

Monday, November 09, 2009

This is Epic

There are a bunch of new cruise ships debuting in the near future - most of them bigger and better than anything we've ever seen before.

Norwegian's newest ship, Epic, debuts next July with 7- and 14-day sailings alternating between the Eastern and Western Caribbean. This ship feature bigger staterooms, lots of dining options (freestyle of course), and top notch entertainment, including the Blue Man Group.

Check out more info here.

Monday, November 02, 2009

Contest Winner

Congratulations to Jennifer S. of Greenwood, Ind. Her photo from Santorini, Greece won the Harmony Travel Vacation Photo Contest.
Jennifer wins $100 gift certificates from Harmony Travel and My Car Doc, and a free family portrait session from J. Scott Photography.
Thanks to everyone who submitted a photo or took time to vote.

Thursday, October 29, 2009

World's Scariest Runways

Hold your breath if you're flying into one of these airports.

I've flown into #3 (Tegucigalpa, Honduras) twice. As soon as the wheels touch the ground, the pilots are slamming on the brakes to avoid tumbling over the edge of the cliff. The first time I flew down there a plane had slid down the hill just two weeks before I got there.

There's some great videos on these pages.

Did the editors miss any? Where have you had a "scary" landing?

Friday, October 09, 2009

Indiana War Memorial

So, I've lived in Indianapolis more than 15 years and had never been to the Indiana War Memorial. War Memorial - to me the words mean a statue and some plaques. I had no idea.

The Indiana War Memorial Plaza Historic District contains two museums, three parks and 24 acres of monuments, statues, sculptures and fountains in the heart of downtown Indianapolis, making the state's capital second only to Washington D.C. in acreage and number of monuments dedicated to veterans.

The War Memorial Museum actually has three floors, several meeting rooms and an auditorium. I had the pleasure of experiencing it first hand recently while attending a conference at the site.

On the upper level is a massive "Shrine" room, dedicated to the end of World War I, which of course was to be the war to end all wars. The room is 60' x 60' and 110' tall. Portraits of the commanders of the six armies flank the room, which features a large U.S. flag suspended from the ceiling under a large light fixture made of Swedish crystal. A large marble altar sits in the middle of the room.

The building also contains a military musuem.

Admission is free.

Tuesday, October 06, 2009

Vacation Photo Contest

Got a great vacation photo?

Harmony Travel has just launched a Vacation Photo Contest at www.harmonytravelagency.com.

Submit your favorite photo and then come back to vote once per day. Every week one entrant will win $25 gift certificates from Harmony Travel and My Car Doc. Weekly winners will be eligible to win $100 gift certificates from Harmony Travel, My Car Doc and a free family portrait session from J. Scott Photography.

Enter your photo today.

Friday, September 25, 2009

National Parks to garner nation's attention

The nation's national parks come to the forefront beginning Sunday, Sept. 27 with the debut of Ken Burns' documentary. The six-part series highlights our national treasures and the connections those places have with the people who visit.

The series will air on PBS for six consecutive nights. Check your local listings for times.


Wednesday, September 16, 2009

Crow Sweat Lodge

On my recent mission trip to the Crow Indian Reservation in Montana, I had the opportunity to participate in their "sweat" ritual. A number of tribes perform those rituals for a variety of reasons and in a variety of ways. The Crow that I was with use their "sweats" as a prayer ritual for healing.

The sweat "lodge" is a tent-like structure about 10 feet in diameter. It's supported by small branches that have been woven together, and it's covered with heavy blankets.

After stripping out of our clothes, 13 of us crawled inside the front opening of the tent and spaced ourselves out. A fire pit next to the entrance was filled with red hot rocks that had been heated on a blazing fire outside of the tent. Once we were all situated, the leader covered the opening, and it was pitch black inside.

The Crow do their "sweats" in four phases. The first phase involved him throwing four small containers of water onto the rocks. Wow! The heat that sweeps over you is incredible. As I stretched my head toward the floor, where the air is slightly cooler and a bit easier to breathe, I could literally feel sweat pouring out of every pore in my body.

While we all layed there sweating in the darkness, the leader did a series of prayers, both in the Crow language and in English. It was actually a very good time to reflect.

Following a short break for fresh air and some water, we went in for phase two - seven containers of water onto the rocks. That was nearly unbearable. I've never been so glad to hear "Amen" in my life.

We took another short break and then went back in for phase three - 10 containers of water on the rocks. Surprisingly, after making it through seven, the phase with 10 didn't seem all that bad.

The final phase is "unlimited," however since there were four or five of us participating in the sweat for the first time, I think he took it easy on us a bit and didn't go on too long.

After the final phase, you exit and wash off with cool water from a barrel near the fire. Some sweats are held near rivers where the participants jump into the cold water after the final phase.

After all was done, let's just say that I slept very well that night.

Monday, September 07, 2009

is watching a rodeo near pryor, mt.
worshipped at The Little Brown Church and the First Crow Indian Baptist Church Sunday.
worshipped at The Little Brown Church and the First Crow Indian Baptist Church Sunday.
Good morning from montana.
Good morning from montana.

Sunday, September 06, 2009

made it to Billings late last night. That was my first time flying Frontier and i was very impressed. All leather seats, friendly people, DirecTV at every seat ($6 for 24 channels, $8 for movies).

Saturday, September 05, 2009

Ugh. Rough start. Delta flight has mechanical problem. rebooked onto Frontier flight five hours from now.
is getting ready to leave on the church work trip to Montana for the week. Hopefully I'll be able to post some updates from the road.

Tuesday, September 01, 2009

Castaway Cay to get makeover

A sneak peek of new additions coming to Disney Cruise Line's private island Castaway Cay http://bit.ly/AQBSU

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

Gateway Arch and downtown St. Louis

I kicked off a weekend road trip with the family with an afternoon in St. Louis. It's such a beautiful downtown area. I'm always impressed when I get the chance to visit.

We got an early start from our base in NE Indianapolis and arrived in St. Louis by lunch time. It was about four hours of driving, including a stop in Terre Haute for gas. It's an easy drive from Indy - a straight shot on I-70, exiting downtown after crossing the Mississippi.

Drive just past the Arch to its parking garage. You can park for up to 9 hours for $6.

The parking garage is a five-minute walk from the Arch itself. The paved pathways offer numerous benches and ample shade, which was nice on this sunny, 80-degree day.

We had packed our own lunch and carried our cooler all the way to the benches at the base of the 630-foot memorial. Upon arrival we made a quick trip to the underground lobby area to take a restroom break and to make an advance purchase for tickets to the top. It wasn't too crowded on the day we visited, however, lines during the summer are typically much longer. You can also pre-purchase tickets online.

There's also a security line to get into the building. Bags are searched and x-rayed, and all pockets must be emptied. This process went quickly on the day we visited, but I could envision long lines during peak times.

Following our lunch and some wandering/picture taking around the grounds and along the banks of the Mississippi, we went back underground. Officially known as the Jefferson National Expansion Memorial, the underground visitor center includes two theaters and the Museum of Westward Expansion.

The Museum of Westward Expansion was fascinating to me. Much of the exhibit is dedicated to the Lewis & Clark Expedition, which Jefferson commissioned from St. Louis to find a route to the Pacific Ocean. Excerpts from the adventurers' diaries/letters are posted along with wall-sized photographs from the locations where they were written. It was interesting to read about their adventures, hardships, interactions with the native tribes they encountered and how they persevered.

Another eye-catching display was the gold, presidential medals. The medals were given to dignitaries as well as to Indians who had made peace with the white men. The medals featured images of several kings of England as well as the first dozen presidents.

Our visit overlapped with a special exhibit entitled "Baseball's Gateway to the West." The exhibit opened in July in conjunction with the city hosting major league baseball All-Star Game and runs through Dec. 31. Baseball artifacts from 1900 through today chronicle St. Louis' role in the game.

Admission to the Museum of Westward Expansion is free. There is a charge for the movies.

Top of the Arch

After touring the museum, it was time for our trip to the top of the Arch. Eight-car trams, each holding five people, make a four-minute ascent every few minutes. I'm not claustrophobic, but I noticed that the tram cars were well-lit and well-ventilated. I assume that would make it a bit easier for those who might be a bit claustrophobic.

Once at the top, we climbed the last few steps to the viewing platform. There are 16 windows on each side. Looking west, you can look down on downtown St. Louis with a picturesque view of the old courthouse and the new baseball stadium.

Looking east offers a view of the river and back into Illinois.

You can spend as much time as you like at the top of the Arch before riding either tram down - the north tram or the south tram.

Unfortunately, the ride to the top is not handicapped accessible. There are steps to climb, and the tiny cars won't fit anything more than a cane.

Historic Old Courthouse

Two blocks from the Arch is the Historic Old Courthouse open daily free of charge. There are several exhibits. Most noteworthy are some exhibits and a film about the Dred Scott case - a case the ultimately reached the U.S. Supreme Court and played a role in the beginning of the Civil War. The case was first heard in St. Louis' Old Courthouse.

Downtown St. Louis

Just beyond the Old Courthouse lies a bustling downtown area and just a few blocks away is Busch Stadium, home to baseball's Cardinals.

Kiener Plaza features a waterfall, fountain, amphitheater, and a great view of the Arch behind the Old Courthouse.

The area features numerous bars, restaurants and hotels.

Monday, August 24, 2009

Santorini Greek Kitchen (Indianapolis)

I recently had the opportunity to make my first visit to Santorini Greek Kitchen. Located in the Fountain Square area just southeast of downtown Indianapolis, it's a real treasure.

It's close enough to downtown in fact that on the night I went it was filled with Colts fans getting ready to head to the stadium for a pre-season football game.

I sampled a series of appetizers and was thoroughly impressed. My host encouraged everyone in our group to try the eggplant "whether they like eggplant or not." It did not disappoint. Thick slabs of eggplant were fried to a golden brown and then covered with sauce and parmesan cheese. It was absolutely delicious.

I also sampled tiropita - cheese-filled phyllos that are baked to a golden brown.

Of course, there was warm pita bread that I dipped in the hummus, tzaziki and baba ganoush sauces.

For dessert there was galaktabouriko, a greek custard with a light touch of cinammon.

Everything was excellent.

Although I didn't sample any entrees, the menu offers a wide variety of Greek fare, including lamb, beef, chicken and seafood. There is a large wine list, as well.

As I sat and dined and gazed at the pictures and memorabilia, I longed to get on the next flight to Athens for a visit to Greece and its isles.

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

Carnival contest

Carnival Cruise Lines is searching for a child from the United States or Canada (ages 7-12) to serve as the “godchild” for the waterslide aboard the new ship “Carnival Dream.” Children may submit an essay up to 250 words starting with the words “I’m always dreaming up fun stuff. Wouldn’t it be awesome if . . .” between Aug. 17 and Sept. 18 at www.carnivalbookofdreams.com. The winner will christen the slide, and his/her family will win a two-night cruise on the ship at its debut. Also, Carnival will donate $2 to St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital for every essay submitted and $1 for each vote on the Web site, up to $25,000.

Monday, August 17, 2009

TSA requiring name, gender, birthdate

The next phase of the Transportation Security Administration's Secure Flight program starts taking effect Saturday.

When booking with airlines, you may be asked for your gender and birthdate. Your name should match what's on the ID used to travel. The aim is for TSA to identify "No Fly" travelers in advance and stop misidentifications in an anti-terrorist initiative due to be fully implemented in 2010. For now, if you fly on an already-bought ticket with a name that doesn't match your ID but is close, you can clear security, the TSA says.

Friday, August 14, 2009

Holiday World and Splashin' Safari

I made my first trip to Santa Claus, Indiana this week to visit the area's main attraction Holiday World and Splashin' Safari. The amusement park is located just off I-64 in southern Indiana.

It's kind of in the middle of nowhere, but at the same time, it's within easy driving distance of several midwestern cities. It's about 3 hours from Indianapolis, Cincinnati, Nashville and St. Louis, and one hour from Louisville. It's a fun and slightly less expensive alternative to some of the parks in those areas.

Regular admission is $39.95 for adults, although pre-purchasing tickets online cuts $4 off that price. We purchased discount tickets at a CVS on our drive down and got the tickets for $32.95. Regular price for kids and seniors are $29.95, although we found plenty of $2 off offers for those tickets.

At Holiday World, the price of admission includes some nice extras - free parking, free Pepsi soft drinks and free sunscreen.

The parking was very convenient. We got there at 9:30 CT when the park opened and were close enough to the front gates to walk, although there is also tram service. The free soft drinks are a nice benefit. Drink "Oases" are located throughout the park, loaded with cups for the Pepsi fountain drinks. I thought it was great that the machines also included water and orange Gatorade - great ways to stay hydrated on a hot summer day instead of slurping down sugary soft drinks. There is bottled water for sale at the concession stands, but why buy water when you can fill a cup for free at the Oasis.

The free sunscreen was also a big plus. I thought the stations inside Holiday World were a bit few and far between, however I think there was a station outside every restroom inside Splashin' Safari.

We picked the perfect time of year to go. The second full week of August meant that about half the schools in Indiana had already resumed classes for the fall. That translated into a very uncrowded park. We never waited more than 15 minutes in line for any ride, and most of the rides were more like 5-10 minute waits.

Traveling with two young kids, we stuck to mostly pretty tame rides, although the park has a great selection for real thrill seekers.

Just off the entrance to the park is Rudolph's Reindeer Ranch, a collection of rides for very young kids. My boys enjoyed this area last year, but a quick ride on the bumper boats was plenty of time for them this time around.

Our first stop of the day was in the Halloween Section for the Frightful Falls log ride. We also hit the Scrambler.

Also in this area of the park is The Legend, a wooden roller coaster with three dramatic drops and a top speed of 65 mph. It's consistently voted one of the top roller coasters in the country.

Next up, the 4th of July area with the Raging Rapids and Liberty Launch. Raging Rapids was great. We got soaked. Our silly mistake was to do it right before going to Splashin' Safari, so our wet clothes got stuffed into lockers and didn't have a chance to dry.

Past the 4th of July area is another great area for kids - Holidogs Funtown. We rode the Doggie Coaster several times, as well as the Funtown train. There's a great playground here with slides, climbing nets and fountains.

The final section of the park is the Thanksgiving section. The boys almost got their grandmother sick on the Turkey Whirl, another ride similar to the Scrambler. Fortunately, right across the way is Gobbler Getaway, a slow-moving indoor ride. Each person in a four-person car has a laser "gun" to try and shoot turkeys as the car moves from room to room.

At the back of the Thanksgiving section is the park's newest ride - Pilgrims Plunge. It's the log ride on steroids, billed as the world's tallest water ride. Riders board a large boat that is lifted 135 feet into the air on an open-air elevator. Seconds later they hurtle down 131 feet at a 45-degree angle, reaching 50 mph.

My five-year-old really wanted to go, but the rest of us breathed a sigh of relief when we found out he was too short to ride even with an adult.

We ate lunch at Plymouth Rock Cafe, and I must say my overall impression of the food at the park was very favorable. Our group of six ordered a family meal. We got eight pieces of chicken, three sides (mashed potatoes, mac and cheese, and strawberrry glazed bananas) and four rolls for $30. The drinks, of course, were free. According to the staff at the cafe, a hot seller introduced this year has been turkey legs.

As we ate, we watched riders on The Voyage zoom past us. The roller coaster features several tunnels and 24 seconds of weightlessness. Too much for my queasy stomach.

The other half of the day was spent in Splashin' Safari. We took several inner tube trips along one of two lazy rivers, played in a wave pool, rode down water slides and raced each other on a five-story slide with 10 lanes. The area also features several tube and raft rides.

The wave pool had free life jackets for the kids to wear - another nice extra included at the park.

Lockers are available in the water park. It's $10 upfront with $7 of that refunded when you return your key. We learned quickly that the lockers are pretty small and our nice big beach bag was a very tight squeeze. We, and a lot of other people, ended up putting our shoes and towels on top of the locker cabinet and using the locker itself only for our valuables.

One nice extra - the water rides inside Holiday Park offer free lockers to stow your valuables before you get soaked.

Because we picked a date near the end of the season, Splashin' Safari closed at 5:30 and Holiday World closed at 6:30. Normal summer hours are several hours later.

On our way out, we stopped at Kringle's Kafe for pizza.

Overall, it was a great day for everyone.

Wednesday, August 12, 2009

More Indy to NYC flights coming

AirTran will add two daily flights between Indianapolis and LaGuardia beginning Nov. 4.

The airline recently swapped slots with Continental airlines to add flights to NYC and Washington.

AirTran will offer daily nonstop departures from Indianapolis at 9:15 a.m. and 3:31 p.m. Return flights from LaGuardia to Indianapolis will depart daily at 12:32 p.m. and 6:30 p.m.

Introductory fares on the new route, which must be purchased by Aug. 28, are $69 each way.

Other airlines with nonstop service between Indy and LaGuardia include US Airways and Delta. Continental offers nonstop service to Newark.

Tuesday, July 28, 2009

had an Israel flashback during lunch. Falafel, humus, tabuli at a Mediterranean cafe behind Castleton Mall. Mmmm. Thanks, Ali.
just booked clients on a horse and carriage tour through California wine country. Doesn't that sound fun!

Monday, July 27, 2009

McCormick's Creek State Park - Spencer, Indiana

Saturday we made a day trip to McCormick's Creek State Park in Spencer, Indiana to celebrate my son's fifth birthday. The drive took about 1 hour, 15 minutes from the northeast side of Indianapolis, most of it on I-70.

We got to the park around 12:30 and headed to the Nature Center for our first stop. Unfortunately, most of the exhibit area was closed for renovations that will last until the fall, but there were a few exhibits out, including a couple of snakes. We also watched a couple of kid-friendly videos about owls, chipmunks, mice and ants.

At 1:30, a park ranger met us for a guided hike off the beaten path to an overlook of the falls. The theme of the hike was geology and how erosion was working in the park. The ranger kept it interesting even for the kids, with some smooth rock to touch and stopping at some sink holes to let us see for ourselves the effects of erosion under the ground.

As the hike continued, the most interesting thing we saw was the variety of mushrooms growing in various places. I had no idea that there were blue mushrooms, but we saw blue, red and yellow mushrooms in addition to the standard brown.

After the hike, we drove around to the other side of the creek to the official overlook of the falls. There's also a staircase that leads down to the creek. We ventured down and enjoyed wading in the cool, knee-deep water. Quite a few teens and young adults hiked the 100 yards to the falls and were able to stand beneath and behind them as they cascaded down. We walked 30 yards in the other direction where there were no other people so the kids could throw rocks - a favorite pasttime of everyone who has ever been a kid.

Next we headed over to one of the park's 10 shelters and picnic areas for a cookout. There was a playground nearby, so the kids played while we got everything set up. Nothing like hot dogs, really juicy watermelon and some smores to put a smile on everyone's face.

We capped our day with a 45-minute hayride ($4 per person) around the park and through the packed campground.

Our one-day stay allowed us to do a lot, but a weekend camping trip would certainly be merited to McCormick's Creek State Park. There are a total of 10 trails of varying difficulty over the 1,900 acres. Non-campers can find hospitality in the Canyon Inn or one of several family cabins.

There's also a pool and tennis courts.

Wolf Cave, on the northern end of the property, is temporarily closed - as are all caves in Indiana, due to a fungus that is killing bats. We'll have to go back and explore that another time.

Monday, July 20, 2009

Fort Benjamin Harrison State Park

Saturday evening we had the opportunity to reacquaint ourselves with Fort Benjamin Harrison State Park. What a great perk to have a state park just 10 minutes from our house.

We went for a free outdoor concert by the Indianapolis Symphonic Band at the base of the sledding hill. (Don't get me started about the sledding hill. We had a great time there last winter.)

The band, comprised of wind and percussion instruments, put on a 45-minute performance that was very good.

The concert was right across from a playground, shelter and restrooms. We spent half an hour at the playground after the concert to let the kids unwind.

The evening was a good reminder that we should visit the park more often. It's comprised of 1,700 acres and features several walking and jogging trails, fishing access to Fall Creek and two national historic districts. There's also a saddle barn offering horse rides.

Friday, July 17, 2009

Princess adds Oberammergau land tour

Princess cruises is combining a 10-day Scandinavia/Russia cruise with an eight-day land tour through Bavaria that includes tickets to the famous Passion Play in Oberammergau in August 2010.

Click here to read the article

Friday, July 10, 2009

Indianapolis Children's Museum

I just spent the day with my family at the outstanding Children's Museum in Indianapolis. It is continously reported as one of the best in the country. I honestly can't compare it to any others, but it definitely gets an A+ in my book.

A King Tut exhibit opened at the end of June and will remain until the end of October. The exhibit features artifacts and treasures from the "Boy King's" tomb as well as others. Admission to this area is in addition to the regular price of admission - even for members.

For those not willing to dole out the extra cash - $40 in the case of my family of 4 that has a membership - there is a "Take me to Egypt" exhibit separate from the King Tut exhibit that is included in the regular admission.

We spent the first hour of our visit today in this area. A representative of Egypt Air welcomed us at the entry of the exhibit and ushered us to seats in a cut out of a giant airplane. Fortunately, the 13-hour flight from Indianapolis was condensed to a two-minute video presentation about some of the highlights of Egypt and was followed by a very smooth "landing."

The exhibit room includes numerous hands-on exhibits and interactive displays - a currency exchange, ride in a tuk-tuk, design your own bracelet, listen to types of music. There are sample homes from a village and a city, showing what family life is like in Egypt. TVs in various areas place Sesame Street in Arabic and show a soccer game.

Periodically, kids can participate with staff members in a "sebou" ceremony. A ceremony involving dancing, singing and playing instruments to welcome a new baby into the world.

There's quite a lot to experience in the Egypt area.

Of course, we spent a couple more hours at the museum as well. There's currently a Star Wars exhibit with costumes, light sabers, and more that were used in the filming of the movies.

We checked out the trains, dinosaurs, and we had to ride the carousel.

We also spent 30 minutes in Lilly Theater watching an Egyptian-themed magic show.

Great fun at one of Indy's top attractions.

Wednesday, July 08, 2009

Air fares aren't heading up yet

The general consensus among travel experts is that air fares are due to start climbing any time now. The combination of summer travel season and rising fuel prices usually trigger increases. That hasn't happened yet, though. Prices continue to stay low - and a new fare war is dropping fares on some routes even lower.

Read more

Friday, June 19, 2009

My first really bad hotel experience

For the last five years, I've spent about 50 nights per year in hotel rooms. Up to this point, I haven't had any truly bad experiences. That changed tonight.

After returning to the hotel from dinner, I was going to relax on the bed to watch some TV and work on the computer. As I pulled back the covers, I noticed a large yellow-brown stain on the sheet - probably some spilled coffee.

I was taken aback for a second, but thought it could be an old stain - still not a pleasant thought, but better than a fresh stain. Then I looked closer and saw dozens of tiny hairs on the sheets. They looked like dog hairs. Now, I was really grossed out.

I called the front desk - of course they don't have any housekeepers on duty in the early evening. The front desk lady eventually came up herself with a new set of sheets and pillow cases - no extra comforters though.

I feel a bit better, but still not completely at home. I hope I don't have this happen again.

Thursday, June 18, 2009

Silversea Cruises

I had the opportunity to attend a Silversea Cruises presentation this evening given by the regional manager. It's a luxury line that offers great value. Their five ships carry only 300-500 passengers, and they have a crew to guest ratio of 2 to 3.

Silversea is an all-inclusive experience. That means while their fares may look higher, a lot more is included - specifically all beverages, including wine and mixed drinks, as well as gratuities. Those two items alone typically add at least a couple hundred dollars to the bill at the end of a cruise.

All the rooms on the ships are oceanview and are larger than rooms on other cruise lines

For a short time, Silversea is running some fantastic specials - free coach airfare and $1,000 per room onboard credit.

Please let me know if you'd like more information.

Thursday, June 11, 2009

H.R. MacMillan Space Centre (Vancouver)

Our final stop on our vacation was the H.R. MacMillan Space Centre. I’m not sure when it opened, but the architecture makes it look a bit dated. Regardless of the looks, it’s very interesting.

We started our visit with a 40-minute program in the planetarium, “visiting” each of the planets as well as the moon. We also learned about several constellations.

Next up was a mission to Mars on a space ship simulator. It’s a short five-minute ride, but it is fun. The “Cosmic Courtyard” is the interactive area with a number of displays. There’s a moon rock and meteorite that you can touch and several computer games that you can play. There’s also a small rocket ship that you can launch.

The final room in the museum is a stage where six different presentations are made throughout the day. We participated in the 20-minute “A Day in Space” show, learning how astronauts handle daily functions such as eating, drinking and going to the bathroom.

The space centre isn’t a large museum, but we learned a lot in our three hours there. Admission for a family (as many as 5) is $45.00.

The space center is located next to the Vancouver Museum and the Maritime Museum. There is also an observatory on the grounds.

Lynn Canyon Park and English Bay Beach

We spent a leisurely Sunday morning and early afternoon in Abbotsford with family before departing for our first visit to Vancouver. We wanted some more outdoor adventure, so we headed to Lynn Canyon Park. It took just over an hour to get there. The park features a 50-meter suspension bridge swaying over Lynn Creek. I thought my kids might be a little hesitant to go across, but they practically bolted onto the bridge. Stopping in the middle of the bridge offers some nice views of the creek below in both directions.

After crossing the bridge, we continued on the Baden-Powell trail down to Twin Falls and beyond. We actually got all the way down to the creek before hiking back up. Overall, we ended up taking about a two-hour hike before getting back to the bridge and our car.

Lynn Creek Park is free and offers a nice substitute for the better-known Capilano suspension bridge, which isn’t too far away. That bridge is 20 meters higher (70 m high) and 90 meters longer. In fact, it’s the world’s highest and longest suspension bridge, but it costs more than $20 per adult to cross it. I didn’t feel like doling out $50-$60 for the family to walk across a bridge.

We grabbed a quick bite to eat at a Dairy Queen – mainly so the boys could have some ice cream and then headed into the West End part of Vancouver to English Bay Beach.
The beach and the grassy hillside just beyond the beach were filled with people enjoying a beautiful late spring evening. Some played volleyball or horseshoes, while others strummed guitars. The boys took off their shoes, rolled up their pant legs and splashed in the water while we watched the sun get lower and lower in the western sky.

Vancouver Aquarium and Stanley Park

We got off to a decent start Monday from our Abbotsford base, leaving at 9:00 for the drive into Vancouver. Since we missed rush hour, it took barely more than an hour to reach the Lion’s Gate Bridge, a towering bridge that spans the Burrard Inlet and connects directly into Stanley Park.

Stanley Park – named after the same Lord Stanley as hockey’s famous Stanley Cup – is a 1,000-acre park full of cedar, hemlock and firs complete with meadows, lakes and beaches. It was established in 1886.

Our first stop inside the park – where you can buy an all-day parking pass that allows you to drive from parking lot to parking lot for $8 – was the Vancouver Aquarium Marine Science Center. The Aquarium has about half of its exhibits indoors and half outdoors. The first few indoor exhibits included an area of tropical fish and giant fish followed by an Amazon Rain Forest room. In that room, we were treated to a two-toed sloth munching on a snack in the tree above us, some ibises, macaws and other birds.

We ventured outside to see otters and seals. We were quite lucky in the fact that the aquarium’s beluga whale had given birth to a baby the day prior to our visit. While the immediate area was cordoned off, we could see mother and baby just fine from a little further back.

Next we stopped at the dolphin pool, home to three Pacific White-Sided dolphins. They range from Mexico all the way to Alaska and across the Pacific to Japan. We saw a 15-minute show in the early afternoon.

Also outdoors, there was a Birds of Prey show several times a day. Two Harris hawks came out first, flying from platform to platform and catching food in the air. Of course the showstopper was a bald eagle – one of 30,000 that now live in British Columbia after being on the verge of extinction not too many years ago.

We ventured back indoors to an exhibit of marine life along the B.C. coast and into a room full of jellyfish. My personal favorite was the banded archerfish. We stopped by as one of the employees was placing a tube full of crickets into an aquarium of the archerfish. As the crickets crawled down the tube and onto a log six inches above the water, the archerfish would shoot a spray of water and knock the cricket off the log and into the water where the fish would gobble it up. Adult fish can shoot those streams of water as high as 5-6 feet.

We spent a good four hours in the aquarium, including a quick lunch at the café. Admission was $20 for adults and $12 for kids.

A short walk from the aquarium on one of the numerous trails in the park is a Children’s Farmyard and Miniature Railway. Both require separate admission. We took a ride on the train for $3 per person. The 15-minute ride goes through a tunnel and over a couple of small bridges as it passes some old buildings.

While making a brief stop at a playground near the railway, we were greeted by a raccoon, who was out for an early stroll and who didn’t seem to be phased by people at all. We watched as he sat on a limb before climbing down and wandering away – stopping to pose for pictures as he went.

We also took a 1-km loop trail around Beaver Lake. It’s an interpretative trail with informational signs posted at several places. On some of our previous hikes earlier in the week, we had seen both white and yellow water lilies on a pond. This lake featured red flowers on the water lilies. As we hiked, we encountered some black squirrels, several gold finches and a red-headed woodpecker.

We also picked a few salmon berries. They offer a sweet initial taste, but leave a bit of an aftertaste. They reminded me a lot of pomegranate.

We took a drive through some of the rest of the park, stopping at Prospect Point, which offers some nice views from the Lions Gate Bridge area and then further on to the area where about 8-10 totem poles share some of the history of BC’s native population.

As it was approaching 6:00 already, we drove around to The Fish House restaurant located in Stanley Park. How could we come to Vancouver and not get some seafood? Entrees are in the $20-$30 range. We opted for some crab cakes and a blackened Halibut with a lobster tail and pineapple salsa. We left quite pleased.

Our short walk from the parking lot to the restaurant offered a pleasant surprise. As we were walking, we heard the same “clucking” noise that we had heard Saturday at the Great Blue Heron Reserve. Sure enough, with a glance high in the trees above us, we saw dozens of herons tending to their nests.
On our drive back to Abbotsford, the orange glow of the sunset was bouncing off the mountain ranges ahead of us, including snow-covered Mount Baker. It was stunning.

Sunday, June 07, 2009

Othello Tunnels, Bridal Falls and Blue Heron Reserve

Today we set out east of Abbotsford on the Trans-Canada Highway. About an hour drive is the city of Hope, and just past that is the Coquihalla Canyon Park. We were fortunate enough to see several more bald eagles soaring in the sky during our drive.

For a nominal parking fee of $2, you can get out and walk along the former Kettle Valley Railway line along the rushing Coquihalla River and through five train tunnels that were blasted through the mountain. It was a nice walk accompanied by the roar of the river. My sister, an experienced whitewater rafter, guessed these would be Class 6 rapids - practically unnavigable. It was an amazing sight (and sound).

After a two-hour hike, we drove into the city of Hope and had lunch at a nice Greek eatery called Papandreas. We were able to sit outside on their patio in the sunshine and stare up the side of a mountain that was still capped with snow. The food was delicious.

We began our return trip to Abbotsford with a stop at Bridal Falls Provincial Park. A 10-minute hike from the parking lot leads to a wide veil-like, 250-foot waterfall.

Our final stop was near Greendale and the Great Blue Heron Nature Reserve. Four trails lead around the 325-acre site that is home to a colony of great blue herons. We walked along the dyke to an area where there were lots of nests high up in the trees. The air was filled with the "clucking" sound of baby herons. We watched a half dozen or so herons come and go, along with a pesky red-tailed hawk that drew their attention.

It was a great day experiencing "Beautiful British Columbia."

Saturday, June 06, 2009

Mill Lake Park - Abbotsford, BC

Most of our Friday was spent with family preparing for a 75th birthday party, but we took all of the kids to a local park - Mill Lake Park.

The park features 3-4 separate playground areas and a paved trail around the lake. It takes a good 30-40 minutes to walk a lap.

The highlight for me was spotting a nesting pair of bald eagles near the top of one of the trees. One of the eagles was sitting in the tree near the nest, and as we stopped and watched it for a few minutes, its mate flew in, as well.

Since it's spring, the lake also was filled with lots of ducklings and goslings.

Hampton Inn Langley-Surrey (British Columbia)

I've written about Hampton Inns before, so I won't bore you with too many details. This one fits the bill in all the right ways - comfy beds, free breakfast and free wireless internet.

This one is great for families, though, featuring a pool with a waterslide. The pool isn't that big and is shallow for the entire length - never deeper than 3'9". The waterslide at the far end is a two-story, covered tube that does 1 1/2 twists. Wow, it is fast.

We spent a good hour in the pool getting our Friday morning started.

Friday, June 05, 2009

Survived a 22-hour travel day to British Columbia

Our family vacation has gotten off to a good start. Namely, we arrived safely in British Columbia and survived a 22-hour day with our two boys, who are under 7.

We woke up at 3:30 a.m. Eastern time and left our house by 4:30 to head for the airport for a 7:15 flight. It's not exactly how we originally planned it, but we were casualties of the airlines' cutbacks in service.

When I originally bought our tickets, Northwest offered a nonstop flight between Indianapolis and Seattle that didn't leave Indy until 9:30 a.m. and arrived around noon. That would have been perfect. Unfortunately, a few weeks after getting our tickets, Northwest dropped the nonstop flight and changed us to a connecting flight in Minneapolis - leaving Indy at 7:15.

I used the new Park Ride & Fly for the first time since the new terminal opened. I'll have to think long and hard about using it in the future. Coming from the east side of the town, it adds another 15-20 minutes of time to arriving at the airport. The daily rate is slightly less than the airport's economy lot, but there were $6 in access fees, etc., so it would only prove to be less expensive over a long stay.

Our flights were both uneventful. Northwest offers peanuts again, not just pretzels, so that was nice for me. Near the end of our second flight, we started seeing mountains out the window. It's always exciting to see something different from the flat Indiana landscape.

Upon our arrival in Seattle, our bags were available very quickly at baggage claim. We got on a shuttle bus to Enterprise. Although there was a pretty good line when we got there, it moved pretty quickly. We were leaving the Enterprise lot in our Kia Sedona just an hour after getting off the plane. I was pretty pleased with that.

First, we drove about an hour north on I-5 to Everett and made a stop for lunch with some friends in the area. They took us for a quick trip over to Boeing's Future of Flight building. We didn't have the time for the hour-plus guided tour, but we did go up to their lookout platform which offered a view of some their planes and hangars in the distance, as well as their runway. A couple of small planes came in for landings. Word is that two small regional carriers are going to begin offering service to that airport.

Before heading up to Canada, we made a quick stop at Mukilteo, a small town on Puget Sound with ferry service to Clinton. A nice beach gave us the chance to breathe in some fresh air, dip our hands and feet into the cool water and enjoy the unseasonably warm temperatures - almost 90 degrees.

From there, it was back in the car for another two hours to Abbotsford, British Columbia, a city in the Fraser Valley about an hour east of Vancouver. We had a nice dinner with relatives we hadn't seen in 10 years.

Of course, the kids caught a second wind, and we were all up until about 10:00 Pacific (1 a.m. Eastern) when we got to the Hampton Inn Langley-Surrey. I'm not sure a bed has ever felt more comfortable.

Tuesday, June 02, 2009

Weissgerber's Gasthaus - Waukesha, Wisconsin

Just outside Milwaukee in the town of Waukesha is a 25-year-old German restaurant called Weissgerber’s Gasthaus.

A small beer garden full of diners enjoying a spring evening greeted us as we arrived. Inside, the restaurant is large, decorated in German style.

The dinner menu features several appetizers, numerous entrees, soups and salads, and a wide selection of beers (I opted for a Paulaner Hefe Weiss beer).

I opted for the Gasthaus Platter as an opportunity to sample several items, and I was not disappointed. My platter offered Rouladen – a stuffed beef roll, a long, thin smoked sausage with spicy mustard, Wiener schnitzel, spatzle – a German noodle, sauerkraut and red cabbage. It was all quite delicious. My dining companion chose filet mignon on a bed of asparagus.

The dessert menu featured apple strudel, black forest torte, and cheesecake. I was surprised to see Bienenstich, a sweet custard filled pastry topped with almonds and honey, on the dessert menu. It’s always been one of my favorite pastries since my first visit to Germany in 1989. I loved picking one up at a pastry shop in the middle of the afternoon. The Weissgerber version was a little different than I remembered, but quite tasty nonetheless.

Overall, it was a nice reminder of the time I've spent in Germany.

Tuesday, May 19, 2009

Tighter TSA rules in place

New U.S. rules governing the name you use to book air travel have now gone into effect. When you make airline reservations now, you are required to use your full name exactly as it appears on the government-issued ID (e.g., passport, drivers license) you plan to shown when you go through airport security checkpoints. In the near future, minor discrepancies such as using a middle initial on a ticket instead of the full middle name that appears on the drivers license won’t cause problems at the airport; however, the U.S. Transportation Security Administration (TSA) says that, over time, you should begin making every effort to match the names exactly.

Also, airlines are now required to have your gender and birthdate when you make an reservation.

Wednesday, May 13, 2009

Staying connected in the sky

The major U.S. airlines are moving forward with providing Wi-Fi access on flights. AirTran just completed a promotional flight testing its system and says it will have wireless capability installed on all of its 136 jets by the end of July.

Meanwhile, Delta has already installed systems on half of its fleet. Both airlines offer packages starting at $7.95.

Monday, May 11, 2009

Getting sick might be worth it

Thank goodness the media's 24/7 coverage of the "swine" flu has waned a bit in the last few days. And thank goodness it hasn't been as bad as it could have been.

This offer came across my desk tonight, though, and it makes me wonder whether a little battle with the flu for a few days might be a good trade off for three free vacations in the future.

The Dreams, Secrets, and Zoetry resort brands have announced a new “Flu-Free Guarantee” for guests staying at these properties. If a traveler contracts the H1N1 flu virus while staying at one of these branded properties, they will receive three future vacations free. The offer applies to guests booked May 8-June 30 for stays May 8-Dec. 20. Also, the brands have introduced new booking incentives, including discounts up to 55 percent and $200 resort credits (restrictions and effective dates apply).

Thursday, April 30, 2009

Nazareth - bigger than we think?

USA Today had a very interesting article about Nazareth recently, including reference to the discovery of an ancient Roman bathhouse from the time of Jesus that leads some experts to believe the town was bigger than most people imagine.

As the author mentions, most tourists - and myself included from my visit last Fall - don't spend too much time in Nazareth - just enough to see the Church of the Annunciation.

This is an interesting read.


Tuesday, April 28, 2009

Swine flu

If your travel plans entail going to Mexico in the next month, many travel operators are waiving their cancellation penalties and allowing travelers to make alternate arrangements. Please contact if you have concerns.

Friday, April 24, 2009

Baseball road trip

Wow, what a phenomenal night I just had. I'll explain in a minute, but let me first say that this has got me thinking about a perfect baseball road trip for later this summer or early in the fall.

First, I have to admit to being a huge Kansas City Royals fan since I was a young kid in the 1970s. Tonight I had the chance to go to a game in Kansas City that was absolutely perfect.
The weather was great - a bit breezy, but 79 degrees at gametime. The ballpark is almost 40 years old but underwent some renovations in the offseason that make it truly sparkle.

The Royals widened the concourses and added concessions stands. (I had the chili cheese fries at the sports bar in RF - wow) They also added seats and activities in the outfield. Don't worry, the beautiful waterfalls are still there. There's a children's area that features miniature golf, a carousel, baserunning, playground and a miniature baseball diamond. In July, a Royals Hall of Fame is set to open in left field.

As a Royals fan, the game itself was outstanding. I had seats in the second row behind the dugout. Every pitch popped in the mitt, and the crack of the bat as the Royals hit two home runs early in the game was awesome. On the mound, the Royals pitcher struck out 10.

So, driving back to my hotel from the game I started brainstorming about a perfect three-day weekend for later this year.

Starting in Indianapolis, drive four hours to St. Louis on the first day - probably a Friday. Stop in downtown St. Louis to visit the Arch and see the Mississippi River as well as do other things downtown. After dinner drive a couple more hours west.

On Saturday morning, finish the drive to Kansas City and fill the day with activities on the Plaza, the Negro Leagues Baseball Museum and cap it off with a night at the ballpark.

Any other ideas for filling a couple of hours in St. Louis and Kansas City for a young family of four?

Thursday, April 02, 2009

Salvador Dali Museum - St. Petersburg, Florida

With a free evening in St. Petersburg, I decided to visit the Salvador Dali Museum on the edge of downtown. As you might expect if you know anything about Dali, it was interesting and a bit strange.

The museum itself is located near the campus of the University of South Florida next to a marina. A couple that was friends with Dali and his wife started collecting his works in the 1940s, assembling the largest private collection of his works in the world.

When the collection became too large, the couple looked for a museum that would keep the works. The waterfront location in St. Petersburg was their top pick.

I happened to visit on a Thursday night when hours are extended until 8 p.m. and after 5:00 the admission price drops to $5.

The museum is divided into a number of galleries that display Dali’s work chronologically. It was interesting to learn that Dali began painting and drawing as a young child and some of the works displayed are from his early teen years.

Some of Dali’s first works were Impressionist, and he made a brief foray into cubism ala Pablo Picasso.

The bulk of his work though is Surrealism, and as the name suggests, some of it is very different. He uses a lot of waterfront scenes, and some have very sexual content.

I was lucky enough to hear the final few moments of a presentation by one of the staff members in the Masterworks gallery. This area features 8-10 wall-sized pieces. The woman intricately explained the many hidden elements in some of his works, including The Hallucenogenic Toreador, which features numerous depictions of Venus de Milo, a hidden bullfighter and much more.

That piece and two others really caught my eye. I enjoyed Portrait of My Dead Brother, which was comprised mostly of dots, and The Discovery of America by Christopher Columbus.

On the way out of the gallery to the gift shop, the final exhibit is a gallery of surrealist art from are middle and high school students. That too was fascinating.
The exhibit is changed three to four times per year. Regular adult admission is $17.

Friday, March 27, 2009

Is Mexico safe?

The U.S. media has put a focal point on Mexico recently, focusing on the dangerous and deadly drug-related violence. But should you avoid vacationing in our neighbor to the south? At this point, the answer is no.

The media uproar started February 20 when the U.S. Department of State issued a travel alert for Mexico. When read closely, however, this alert related to incidents in the border towns of Tijuana, Ciudad Juarez and the city of Chihuahua. The most popular tourist destinations (Cancun, Rivera Maya, Puerto Vallarta, Riviera Nayarit, Cozumel, Los Cabos, Mazatlan and Acapulco) are more than 600 miles from the affected border towns and remain safe for travel.

The situation reminds me of my own experience back in 1992. I was all set to begin a year as an exchange student in Germany. A few weeks before my departure, a series of bombings by German skinheads targeting immigrants made the news on a nightly basis. One would have thought that the entire country was under siege.

Of course when I arrived I found nothing of the sort. Life continued as normal in the country, and the truth was that the bombings were indeed isolated incidents in one or two cities. Things were fine.

In the same vein, tourist travel to Mexico remains safe.

One of the travel suppliers I work with has helped tens of thousands of travelers visit Mexico over the past couple months. They surveyed 900 people between October and March and 97% said they would return to Mexico for another vacation.

While it pays to be cautious and use common sense even in the best of times, there is no reason not to travel to Mexico’s beautiful beaches and Mayan ruins this year.

Wednesday, March 11, 2009

Cruising the Panama Canal

I haven't done it yet, but seeing - and transiting - the Panama Canal are high on my list of things to do in this lifetime.

Holland America is one of the premier cruise lines to offer sailings through the Panama Canal, and they recently announced that are offering 45 cruises through the canal this year, a significant increase over 2008. The 10- to 28-day cruises will take place on nine different ships departing from five different ports.

Saturday, March 07, 2009

More "First Time in Israel"

The following is further information from fellow travel agent, David Cogswell, who is experiencing Israel for the first time (see Feb. 13 entry) - as I myself did just three months ago. My own reports of some of the things he writes about can be found in entries from November 2008. Here David hits the nail on the head when talking about the value of a good guide to truly paint a picture for you. My own guide, Shalom Langer, was also fantastic.

"Here in Israel, I am learning more in a day than I learned in weeks of classes during my formal education. Tour operators know that a large component of their product is education, though they dare not call it that. They keep any reference to the forbidden word out of their marketing material to avoid evoking their customers’ bad memories of being confined in straight rows of desks and being subjected to sleep-inducing lectures, dull textbooks and homework drudgery.
In fact, learning can be one of the most enjoyable experiences. And there is no better way to learn than travel, which engages all the senses and presents its subjects as parts of a fascinating whole. The things you learn while traveling are deposited in the marrow of your being where no one can take them from you.

I joined two groups of 20 on two motorcoaches, so there was plenty of room for each to have a double seat. The Red Group had its baggage and motorcoach identified with red dots, and the Green Group was identified with green. For some functions we were all together and for others we functioned as separate groups.

I was in the Green group. Our tour guide was Shmuel Hadar, who executed the diverse duties of a tour director admirably, keeping the group organized and entertained as we moved from place to place. As a teacher, he was a jewel. I found myself continually astounded by the range of his knowledge. Many years ago, after his stint in the Israeli military, he taught high school geography for several years. When a recession forced layoffs of the younger teachers, he took a job as a bus driver, which led eventually to a career as a tour guide.

To me, tour guides are the stars of the industry. For tour operators, the tour guide is the face of the company, the person who interacts with customers on the ground at the destination. I have found the standards of their performance to be impressive industry-wide. Shmuel (or “Shmuelly” as he was called) is certainly among the best. He is an effective leader who can rally 20 people together and keep them on schedule, often having to pull them reluctantly from a place they weren’t ready to leave.

He proved to be a spellbinding storyteller and was extremely knowledgeable about history, culture, religion and geology. Born in Egypt, he learned French as a child from his French-speaking mother. He also speaks Hebrew, Arabic and English. He was able to explain the lore of each site from the standpoint of Jews, Christians, Muslims or secularists who may be in any given group. He’s a tremendous asset to Isram and to anyone who wants to visit Israel in order to penetrate through the surfaces of what is flashing by.

On our second full day in Israel we rode up to the Mount of Olives where we could look out over the panorama of Jerusalem. There Shmuel pointed out the layout of the city, including the Christian, Muslim, Jewish and Armenian (Christian) quarters of the Old City; the great golden Dome of the Rock, the sacred mosque of Islam that dominates the skyline; and the seven onion-shaped domes of Russian Orthodox Church of Maria Magdalena. He gave us an overview of the vast and complex history of the area in relation to its present geography. He also described how the Roman emperor Hadrian leveled the city of Jerusalem in 72 A.D. after a Jewish revolt and combined its provinces of Judea and Philistia (of the Biblical Philistines) and called the combined area Provincia Philistia, which later evolved into the name Palestine.

We also visited the Garden of Gethsemane, the olive garden where Jesus spent the night in such anguish that “his sweat was as it were great drops of blood falling down to the ground,” according to the Book of Luke, before he would be betrayed by a kiss from his disciple Judas and arrested by Roman soldiers. We went to the Western Wall, the only remaining portion of the Jewish Second Temple from 500 years B.C., which was razed by the Romans in 70 A.D. after the First Jewish-Roman War. It is considered the most sacred site of the Jewish people. The ruins of the temple now lie under the Islamic Dome of the Rock, which is considered by the Muslims to be the place where Muhammad ascended to heaven.

We visited the Church of the Holy Sepulchre, which is believed to be the place where Jesus was crucified. It was teeming with visitors, including groups of Islamic schoolchildren, whose religious tradition also reveres Jesus. We went to Mount Zion and saw the Tomb of King David. Witnessing this sweeping panorama of historical and religious sites was dazzling, infusing the mind with so much information that it would take years to reflect upon and assimilate. The experience shattered many of the stereotypes and categorizations I had about Israel. Perhaps the most fascinating and lingering impression was the fact that, in spite of all the turmoil that we hear about in the area, all the various groups that lay claims to Jerusalem do in fact coexist most of the time in remarkable harmony."

Sunday, March 01, 2009

$700 question

I got a call the other day from a family wanting to plan a trip to Disney World in October. After investigating, I boiled it down to two options.

The first is for them to stay at one of Disney's resorts. The benefits of doing this include the continual shuttle service between resorts and theme parks, extra hours at selected parks on selected days, and the opportunity to purchase the Disney Dining Plan - which in this case gives them three meals per day for $32.75 per person.

The other option is to stay at an offsite hotel. While this option comes in $700 less and includes a continental breakfast, the question becomes is that $700 worth the trade offs. First of all, there's only limited shuttle service between the hotel and parks - twice a day. So, you're pretty much confined to that time schedule. Second, can four people eat two meals per day at a theme park for five days for less than $700 ($18 per meal)?

That's the $700 question.

Friday, February 20, 2009

$1,000 onboard credits

I joined a new Indianapolis-based travel industry association recently and attended my first meeting last night at the Hillcrest Country Club on the northeast side of Indianapolis.

The main presentation was by the area sales rep from Crystal Cruises. For those of you unfamiliar with Crystal, they are one of three or four cruise lines considered to be in the "luxury" category - and consistently voted top cruise line by the readers of Conde Nast magazine. The line has only two ships, both accommodating about 1,000 passengers and include numerous "extras" that you have to pay extra for on other mass cruise lines.

On about a dozen 2009 sailings, Crystal has recently introduced $1,000 onboard credits per person. This means that a couple traveling on one of these itineraries will have $2,000 to spend on their onboard account (spa treatments, gift shop, shore excursions, etc.).

If you're a fairly experienced traveler, this is the perfect time to step up from some of the "premium" cruise lines and experience the luxury of Crystal.

Indy-Salt Lake nonstop

Delta will add nonstop flights between Indianapolis and Salt Lake City beginning June 4. This is great news for travelers who want to stay closer to home this year and travel within the United States. Not only is Salt Lake a fantastic destination on its own, it's a gateway to many of the fabulous national parks in the west.

Des Moines, Milwaukee and Nashville are other Midwest cities that will gain nonstop flights to Salt Lake on Delta in June.

Tuesday, February 17, 2009

That was quick

Government efficiency. The phrase is typically an oxymoron. But, I was surprised - no make that shocked - today when my kids' passports arrived in the mail. It was only 10 days since we went to the Post Office to submit the application, and that included a Saturday, two Sundays and a federal holiday in between.

Suffice it to say, the turn around time for new passport applications is very good. I still recommend planning ahead as the State Dept. is sure to get busier as summer nears.

Friday, February 13, 2009

First time in Israel

The following is an article I came across today by a fellow travel agent, David Cogswell, who is experiencing Israel for the first time - as I myself did just three months ago. My own reports of some of the things he writes about can be found in entries from November 2008.

"I’m crossing a major threshold on this trip, transforming from someone who has never been to Israel into one who has experienced it first hand. There is a huge gulf between having no direct experience of a place and being there even for a short time. In his book “L’imaginaire,” Jean Paul Sartre wrote of the fundamental difference between an event in imagination and an event in reality. Even if what you imagine is correct in practically every detail, having an actual experience of a place is fundamentally different from hearing about it, reading about it or seeing it in movies on TV. Mental images, Sartre said, are constantly breaking up and dissolving when they collide with real events.

That is exactly what is happening to me in Israel. After being here for 24 hours, most of what I previously thought I knew has dropped away or has been transformed to accommodate the real experience. There is no place where this contrast could be more striking than Israel, because it looms so largely in the imagination of humankind. The Judeo Christian tradition is one of the most powerful elements in Western Civilization.

From our earliest childhood we have heard stories and songs of David and Goliath, Samson and Delilah, Cain and Abel. Judaism, Christianity and Islam all look to the Holy Land for their origins. Beyond those formative experiences, we are all exposed to the news, and though not much larger than New Jersey, Israel is always in the news.

I will be spending the next 10 days traveling around Israel to see it for myself. I’ve joined 40 travel agents in a Seminar at the Source sponsored by IsramWorld. The trip began for me at New York’s JFK airport with an 11:50 p.m. flight to Tel Aviv on El Al airlines. Ten hours later I was in Israel. With the seven-hour time difference it was around 5 p.m. when we arrived at Ben Gurion International Airport. It was rainy, and by the time we got through customs and baggage claim, it was dark. Isram’s ground operation met us at the airport and took us to the famous King David hotel in Jerusalem, about a 35-minute drive.

The King David hotel (http://www.danhotels.com/) lives up to its reputation as an elegant, comfortable hotel, reassuring in its durability and imperturbability since 1931. Like most buildings in Jerusalem, it is built of Jerusalem Stone, a pinkish beige limestone. The King David, of course, has a colorful history. It is known for housing royalty, being a headquarters for governments in exile, and for being located at the center of many of the turbulent events of the 20th century.

On our first evening, we did a hotel inspection with our Isram seminar group and were treated to a fine feast at the David Citadel Hotel, the former Hyatt, not far from the King David. We started our tour of Israel in earnest on Wednesday morning with a trip to the Israel Museum, where we saw pieces of the Dead Sea Scrolls and learned about their history. We also saw a model of Jerusalem in 66 A.D. before it was destroyed by the Romans. The model, about the size of a tennis court, is so detailed and amazingly intricate that you have to make a special note on your photographs to be clear you are looking at a model and not an actual city.

The most memorable experience of the day -- and really one of the most compelling museum experiences of my life -- was our visit to the Holocaust History Museum (http://www.yadvashem.org/). The complex includes several distinct buildings and monuments, including the Hall of Names, which pays tribute to many of the victims of The Holocaust, and The Children’s Monument, which is a dark chamber with a glass case housing five candles reflected with a complex construction glass and mirrors to multiply into thousands of sparks of light like stars. The most powerful part of the complex is the museum’s main exhibit, a vast collection of documents, films, photographs and grisly memorabilia tracing the horrific history of the Nazi’s attempted extermination of the Jewish people.

In a 4,200-square-meter building, the exhibition leads you through a zigzagged trail that depicts the most hideous chapter of history, presented with painstaking detail and graphic force from its earliest glimmers in the early 1930s, through the final destruction of the Nazi regime in 1945. Countless exhibits are on display, presented vividly with imagination and sensitivity. Early in the exhibit, for example, is footage of Nazi Propaganda Minister Josef Goebbels addressing the mob at a 1933 book burning proclaiming, “The age of exorbitant Jewish intellectualism has come to an end. And the German revolution has cleared the way for the German nature in the world once more.” Posted on the exhibit is an ominously prophetic quote written in 1821 by German-Jewish poet Heinrich Heine: “Where books are burned, human beings are destined to be burned.”

The exhibit leads the viewer through the gradual tightening of the screws through Nazi legislation, beginning in April 1933 with the Law for Restoration of the Professional Civil Service, which dismissed all Jews from civil service jobs. It shows portraits of some of the chief Nazi perpetrators, filmed interviews with many of the survivors, and gives maps and descriptions of the Nazi system of death camps in excruciating detail. It would take days to go through the entire museum reading and listening to each piece. It was an exhausting, shocking experience, but one that should be a requirement for every educated person.

We ended the day with a trip to Bethlehem and a visit to the Church of the Nativity, which was said to be built over the stable and manger where Jesus was born. It was a long day’s journey and we had been in Israel for only a day."

Thursday, February 12, 2009

First-time passport

While my wife and I have had passports for years, an upcoming summer vacation to Canada (Yes, Canada) has required us to get passports for our two young sons.

The first thing to realize is that new Homeland Security measures introduced over the past couple of years require a passport for basically every type of international travel these days. The days of driving into Canada or Mexico with a driver's license are gone. The State Department has introduced a new passport card, which is a bit cheaper, but its use is limited to only a couple of countries.

Since a passport is good for 10 years (5 for kids), you might as well get the full-blown passport and be ready to travel anywhere you want.

To get a passport for the first time, you'll have to apply in person at a Passport Acceptance Office - most U.S. Post Offices. There are a couple keys to save some time:
1. Pick up and fill out an application in advance. You can pick them up at a Post Office or download the form at www.travel.state.gov.
2. Make sure you have the necessary documents. For us, that meant original birth certificates for both boys and our driver's licences.
3. Get official passport photos taken in advance. You can wait and do it at the Post Office, but it will cost you more money. We had ours taken at Walgreen's.
4. Go in the middle of the week, or go early on a Saturday. With children, both parents have to go to apply in person, so for us that meant going on a Saturday when everyone else goes. We got to our Post Office about five minutes before the application office opened and were second in line. The people ahead of us weren't nearly as prepared as we were. They needed to get photos taken and fill out the forms, so it took them more than 30 minutes with the Post Office official. Once we went in with our photos and documents, we were done within 10 minutes.

The fee for new passports for kids is $60 plus a $25 execution fee payable to the Post Office. Adults pay $75 for a passport.

If you're an adult renewing a passport, you can fill out the form and send it in with your old passport without appearing in person. No waiting in line!

Final tip - think ahead. Passport processing normally takes 2-3 weeks, and once summer approaches the turn around time can increase. If you wait until the last minute, you'll pay a hefty amount to expedite your application and you risk the chance of missing your trip.

Wednesday, February 04, 2009

Delta and Northwest link frequent flyer programs

Delta SkyMiles and Northwest WorldPerks members now have the ability to link frequent-flyer accounts and transfer miles between both accounts at no charge. Members who link their accounts before March 15 will earn 500 bonus miles. This new feature allows members who have SkyMiles and WorldPerks accounts to visit delta.com or nwa.com, link their accounts and transfer any amount of miles into either account on an unlimited basis. Both accounts will remain open and functioning until late 2009 when Delta plans to merge the two programs to deliver one best-in-class loyalty program for members in 2010.

Wednesday, January 28, 2009

Home2 Suites introduced

Hilton rolled out a brand-new hotel brand yesterday called “Home2 Suites by Hilton.” The new brand is a lower-priced extension of the company’s Homewood Suites brand, focusing on younger travelers seeking budget extended-stay lodging. Home2 Suites locations will charge about $100 a night (compared to $120 at Homewood Suites) for suites that are smaller than the Homewood layout. They will offer amenities such as free Continental breakfasts, outdoor grills, indoor pools, a pantry, and an activity room with fitness equipment, video games, and washers and dryers. The new brand will compete against similar chains such as Candlewood Suites and TownePlace Suites.

Wednesday, January 14, 2009

Record day for Princess

While unemployment has risen above 6 percent, I read an article recently that reminded me that that means that 94 percent of us are still working - and still making plans to travel in 2009.

For Princess Cruise Lines, that translated into the company's biggest booking day in history. On Monday, Jan. 12, the line booked 17 percent more than it had on its previous best day.

“Travel agents have been working hard to deliver the value message in these challenging times, and there’s no more exciting outcome of their efforts than to have a record-breaking reservations day,” said Jan Swartz, Princess executive vice president of sales, marketing and customer service for the line. “The volume of bookings we received on Monday is a testament to the strength of our brand, and also to the success of our many promotional efforts during wave period, most notably our ‘Balcony Bonanza’ program.”

The Balcony Bonanza enables agents to provide a free upgrade to a balcony stateroom for the price of a standard oceanview stateroom, representing a savings of up to $1,200 per cabin. It applies to most 2009 summer sailings to Alaska, Europe and the Caribbean.

Tuesday, January 13, 2009

U.S Visa Waiver Program

If you're expecting guests from another country, now would be a good time to remind them about a new U.S. Dept. of Homeland Security policy that has taken effect.

Travelers from all Visa Waiver Program (VWP) countries are now required to obtain approval through the Electronic System for Travel Authorization (ESTA) prior to traveling to the United States. This requirement applies to all eligible citizens or nationals traveling under the VWP. ESTA is a web-based system, initially launched in August 2008, which determines the preliminary eligibility of visitors to travel under the VWP prior to boarding a carrier to the United States. To date, more than 1.2 million ESTA applications have been received, and more than 99.6 percent of applicants have been approved, most within seconds.

DHS will take a reasonable approach to travelers who have not obtained an approved travel authorization via ESTA, and will continue an aggressive advertising and outreach campaign throughout 2009. Travelers without an approved ESTA are advised, however, that they may be denied boarding, experience delayed processing, or be denied admission at a U.S. port of entry. Visitors may apply for travel authorization via the ESTA website at https://esta.cbp.dhs.gov.

The VWP is administered by the department and enables eligible citizens or nationals of certain countries to travel to the United States for tourism or business for stays of 90 days or less without obtaining a visa. To be admitted to the VWP, a country must meet various statutory requirements, such as more enhanced law enforcement and security-related data sharing with the U.S. and timely reporting of both blank and issued lost and stolen passports. VWP members are also required to maintain high counter-terrorism, law enforcement, border control, and document security standards.

The citizens or nationals of the following countries are currently eligible to travel to the United States under the VWP: Andorra, Australia, Austria, Belgium, Brunei, the Czech Republic, Denmark, Estonia, Finland, France, Germany, Hungary, Iceland, Ireland, Italy, Japan, the Republic of Korea, Latvia, Liechtenstein, Lithuania, Luxembourg, Malta, Monaco, the Netherlands, New Zealand, Norway, Portugal, San Marino, Singapore, Slovakia, Slovenia, Spain, Sweden, Switzerland and the United Kingdom. Eight of these countries joined the VWP in 2008, and their citizens and nationals have been required to comply with an ESTA since their designation as VWP participants: the Czech Republic, Estonia, Hungary, the Republic of Korea, Latvia, Lithuania, Slovakia and Malta.

Wednesday, January 07, 2009

Airfare sales

January is typically a month when airlines put airfares on sale to combat the post-Christmas travel lull. Generally, the discounted fares are only valid for travel during the first couple of months of the year. This year, however, many airlines are discounting fares all the way into June. Coupled with the great deals available from other travel suppliers, now is a great time to plan and book spring and early summer travel.

A quick check this evening found June fares from Indianapolis to Honolulu for less than $700 - about $200 cheaper than July fares. Tickets in June for Indianapolis to Orlando are as low as $160.