May 2015 Travel Column

Top Hot Spots for Independence Day

The Fourth of July is all about celebrating the best of America. And what better way to do that than by checking out some of the country’s best Independence Day celebrations.

Boston and Philadelphia are great choices for travelers who want to take in some history along with their fireworks on the United States’ 239th birthday.

Boston’s 2½-mile Freedom Trail passes by 16 historic locations such as the Old North Church where, in 1775, lanterns were hung in the steeple to warn patriots of advancing British soldiers. Boston’s Harborfest runs from July 1 to 5, with events for all ages, including historic reenactments, musical performances, cruises and museum exhibits. On the Fourth, the Boston Pops Orchestra performs a free concert along the Charles River, culminating in a dramatic “1812 Overture” accompanied by booming cannons and fireworks.

A tour of Independence Hall, where the Second Continental Congress adopted the Declaration of Independence on July 4, 1776, is a must-see for visitors to Philadelphia. The Wawa Welcome America Festival returns June 27 to July 4, with a full slate of events, including Hoagie Day to celebrate the city’s iconic sandwich and a Philly Pops performance. It all leads up to a parade and the Fourth of July Jam, a concert and fireworks grand finale in front of the Philadelphia Museum of Art.

Dazzling fireworks lighting up the sky are a Fourth of July tradition from coast to coast. In New York, the Macy’s show has the Brooklyn Bridge as a backdrop. Nashville’s Let Freedom Sing has events for the whole family, with 27 minutes of fireworks set to music from the Nashville Symphony. Visitors to San Francisco can sway to the sounds of an American art form at the Fillmore Jazz Festival, then head to Pier 39 for dining, ferry rides and fireworks over San Francisco Bay.

Of course, there are terrific celebrations in small towns across the United States.

The Bristol, RI, parade is part of the nation’s oldest Fourth of July celebration, dating back to 1785. The boyhood home of Mark Twain in Hannibal, Mo., hosts the 60th Annual National Tom Sawyer Days July 2 to 4, including fence-painting and frog-jumping contests. At majestic Mount Rushmore, actors portray George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, Abraham Lincoln and Theodore Roosevelt, the presidents whose heads are carved into South Dakota’s Black Hills. For a Western twist, Steamboat Springs, CO, celebrates with the 112th annual Cowboys’ Roundup Days July 2 to 5, including a rodeo, block party and a parade on the Fourth.

Finally, Washington, D.C., always puts on a big show for July 4th. The National Independence Day Parade features marching bands from across the country, patriotic floats and military units. At the National Archives, a Fourth of July program includes a reading of the Declaration of Independence. The day ends with a concert by the National Symphony Orchestra on the West Lawn of the U.S. Capitol and a fireworks display on the National Mall.

For help planning a Fourth of July vacation, contact your travel agent.


Celebrating Sensational Singapore at 50

Singapore’s rapid development and robust economy have made it one of Asia’s “tigers.” But this center of global commerce has also become known as one of the region’s top vacation destinations. That’s especially true in 2015, as the island nation marks its 50th anniversary of independence.

To celebrate, Singapore is throwing itself a party including a Jubilee Weekend August 7 – 10 that’s packed with events. Highlights include a parade, fireworks and aerial acrobatics by the Singapore Air Force on August 9, the anniversary of the date in 1965 when Singapore became independent from Malaysia. Special programs, including a carnival, are planned at the Botanic Gardens, known for its hundreds of varieties of orchids.

In addition, this fall the country will unwrap two anniversary gifts. A National Gallery, designed as a showcase of Southeast Asian art, opens in November in the old City Hall and Supreme Court buildings that date to the early 20th century. And a Jubilee Walk through the heart of old Singapore will include markers at areas of historical interest.

While the jubilee is a great time to discover Singapore, there’s always something to celebrate including an International Festival of Arts from August 6 to September 19 featuring theater, dance, music and film; the Singapore Grand Prix September 18 – 20, a Formula One street race held at night; and ZoukOut, a dance and music festival in December that’s one of Asia’s biggest beach parties.

A country of 5 million people, Singapore has been shaped by a mix of Chinese, Indian, Malay and European cultures. It’s a place where visitors can dine at gourmet restaurants or try “hawker centers” filled with food stalls; they can window shop along fashionable Orchard Road or hunt for souvenirs at an outdoor market. In the evening they can head to Clarke Quay, filled with restaurants, bars and clubs, or try the Night Safari for a unique look at the animal kingdom.

One of the island’s newest developments is Marina Bay, a center for dining, shopping and entertainment. The Marina Bay Sands Resort has three 55-story towers capped by an observation deck offering a breathtaking 360-degree view. Other attractions include an 18-hole golf course, a casino, the Singapore Flyer observation wheel and the futuristic-looking Gardens by the Bay.

Afterward, visitors can take a step back in time and visit the Colonial-style Raffles Hotel. Built in 1887, the hotel has played host to famous writers and artists over its long and storied history including Rudyard Kipling, Alfred Hitchcock and Ernest Hemingway. Of course, no visit would be complete without a stop in the hotel’s iconic Long Bar, where the Singapore Sling cocktail was invented in 1915.

Finally, be sure to stop by Merlion Park to see the water-spouting statue with the head of a lion and the body of a fish that’s Singapore’s national icon, symbolizing its humble roots as a fishing village. The head represents Singapore’s original name, “Singapura,” or lion city, in Malay.

For help planning a trip to Singapore, contact your travel agent.

Summer Travel Tips

With Memorial Day fast approaching, it’s time to start thinking about summer travel plans, that is, if you haven’t already, to lock in the best fares and rates.

There are three elements to ensuring a great vacation: Decide where you want to go, figure out how to get there and where to stay, and determine what you want to see and do once you arrive.

Everyone has a dream trip. It could be across an ocean or closer to home, on a cruise ship or at a beachfront resort. Maybe there’s a place you’ve longed to see ever since you were a kid, or a spot you visited years ago and want to return to show your own children, or a romantic location you and your significant other have wanted to experience in person ever since you saw it in a movie. Or, it could be someplace you hadn’t even considered.

Once you’ve picked a destination, think about transportation and lodging. Is a direct flight better if you’re traveling with young children? Will you need to rent a car and what size? Since it’ll be your home away from home during the trip, deciding what you want from a hotel is important. Do you need a pool or a restaurant on-site? Do you mind a high-rise or would you rather be in a smaller hotel? Some people want to step outside and be in the middle of shopping, dining and attractions, while others prefer a quieter spot.

The weeks and months leading up to a trip are filled with anticipation. Put that excitement to good use by researching the can’t-miss attractions. If possible, buy tickets before you go to save money and time waiting in line. Wherever you go, summer is a time for outdoor events of all kinds. Find free or low-cost things that the whole family will enjoy. For example, many places have free concerts and festivals or walking tours.

But don’t let the itinerary be your only guide. At least once during your vacation try something new, whether it’s a recreational activity or a restaurant that serves up cuisine you’ve never eaten or a sporting event or performance you might not necessarily attend at home.

Just be adaptable and give yourself room to breathe. When you have a short amount of time, it’s natural to want to try and see as much as possible. There’s nothing wrong with slowing down and relaxing on the beach or by the pool, sitting in a café and watching the world go by or taking in a spectacular sunset. It’s the quiet moments that you’ll remember as much as the jam-packed ones.

Whether your travel plans involve going solo or with friends or loved ones, getting away for one week or two, a travel agent has the expertise to help you plan your vacation with an eye on your budget. That includes picking from a wide array of lodging choices, to figuring out the best route for reaching your destination, to recommending the experiences that will make the trip linger long after you’ve returned home.

Europe’s Top Up and Coming Destinations for 2015

Europe is always a popular destination for American travelers but this year, the strong dollar makes it a great time to go beyond the continent’s usual favorites when planning a trip.

As part of its authoritative Travel Trends Survey, Travel Leaders Group polled 1,226 U.S.-based travel agency owners, managers and frontline agents on the trends they’ve spotted for the coming year, including the top up-and-coming vacation destinations around the world. For Europe in 2015, Croatia tops the list, at 25.2 percent; followed by the Greek Islands, 21 percent; Iceland, 17.8 percent; the Czech Republic, 10.3 percent; and Portugal, 8.8 percent.

Visitors to Croatia will find a country rich in historic sites dating to the Roman Empire and blessed with miles of coastline along the Adriatic Sea that offers opportunities for recreation and relaxation. Dubrovnik, once a maritime power in its own right, is home to one of the world’s best-preserved medieval walled cities. “Game of Thrones” fans will want to take a tour of spots where the HBO series is filmed. The city plays host to a summer festival of classical music, ballet and theater that will be held this year from July 10 to Aug. 25.

The sun-splashed Greek Islands are places to revel in some of Europe’s most romantic locations. Santorini is a popular destination for honeymoons and weddings. Created by volcanic eruptions thousands of years ago, it’s famed for gorgeous sunsets, cliff-side villages and ancient ruins. On Crete, the largest of the islands, travelers can explore the maze-like Old Town and the breathtaking Samaria Gorge. Visitors to Skopelos can see where “Mamma Mia!” was filmed.

Iceland’s rugged landscape beckons travelers who want to get close to nature. From Reykjavik, the lively capital, it’s easy to take in a whale watching excursion or a trip to the soothing waters of the Blue Lagoon geothermal spa. In June, Ice Cave Iceland opens at Langjokull, giving visitors a chance to explore Europe’s second-largest glacier from the inside. September to April is a great time to view the dazzling nighttime display of the aurora borealis, or northern lights.

The Czech Republic is a place to soak up the old-world charm of Central Europe. On the must-see list in Prague, the capital, are the 9th-century Prague Castle, which towers over the city; the well-preserved Old Town; and the Charles Bridge, with its stunning views. For classical music lovers, the Dvorak Festival, honoring one of the Czech Republic’s most beloved native sons, will be held in Prague Sept. 7 – 23.

Portugal, with its sunny climate, is a year-round holiday destination. The Algarve, in the south, is known for its sandy beaches, while Porto, in the north, is the home of port wine and offers a fascinating mix of ancient and modern architecture. The Feast of Trays takes place July 4 – 13, in Tomar, in central Portugal. It’s an ancient tradition in which young girls parade through the streets wearing headdresses made from loaves of bread.

For help planning a European vacation, contact your travel agent.


Business Travel: Sustainability and Business Travel Aren’t Mutually Exclusive

Sustainability has been a guiding principle for businesses for some time. Everything human beings need for survival depends on protecting the environment, on making sure that natural resources, clean air and clean water are preserved for future generations.

Forty percent or more of American and European companies report that their sustainability efforts have brought them a stronger public image, improved employee morale and a more efficient operation.

Now, that emphasis is increasingly expanding to include business travel.

More U.S. and European companies are incorporating sustainability into their travel policies, according to a new study by the Global Business Travel Association (GBTA) and sponsored by Enterprise Holdings, which owns the Enterprise and National Car Rental brands.

A survey of nearly 300 travel managers found that 57 percent of companies based in Europe and 19 percent of U.S.-based organizations have sustainability initiatives. That’s up from 39 percent in 2012 for European companies and up from 11 percent in 2011 for U.S. firms.

Interestingly, European companies tend to focus on financial and environmental benefits while American firms tout the human relations aspect of sustainability efforts.

For business travelers, sustainability means putting the same emphasis on the three “R’s” – reduce, reuse and recycle – while they’re on the road as they do when they’re in the home office, or even at home.

It means being more eco-conscious during every step of the planning process for a trip, from the selection of transportation – be it airlines, rail travel or rental cars – to the choice of hotels and meeting spaces. Travel agents have the expertise to find the sustainable options that business travelers increasingly require.

The “travel” part of business travel is a major concern for companies.

According to the GBTA survey, among companies that track their environmental footprint more than 90 percent measure air travel. For employees, that may mean taking nonstop flights or traveling by train instead of plane when feasible, as well as using public transportation or renting a more energy efficient vehicle, or even choosing hotels and meeting sites that minimize use of a car.

Corporate policy may also require that employees who travel for business stay in hotels with sustainability programs. And that doesn’t mean sacrificing comfort, location or the services that business travelers need. Major chains including Hyatt, Hilton and Starwood have them in place. They’re all working to increase recycling and to reduce waste, as well as water and energy use.

Business travelers can do their part as hotel guests by forgoing a daily change of bed linens and reusing towels, as well as turning off lights, turning down the thermostat and unplugging chargers and small electronics when not in use.

For travelers who will be using meeting space some chains, such as Hilton, even have calculators that measure the environmental impact of those sessions in terms of energy and water usage. And many hotels have programs to help recycle material left over from meetings, whether it’s unused pens and paper or food and beverages.

All of this means that it’s much easier to go greener when traveling as a road warrior.

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