Archive for July, 2010

Postcard Inn on St. Pete Beach is Perfect Getaway

July 26, 2010
Postcard Inn on the Beach

Picture postcard perfect place: the Postcard Inn on St. Pete Beach © 2010 Karen Rubin/news-photos-features.com

If ever you wanted a place to get away from it all, to an oasis of simple pleasures, visually pleasing, perfectly relaxing, laid-back, the Postcard Inn on St. Pete Beach on Florida’s Gulf Coast is the place.

It’s 1950s retro done with a hip flare. Kitschy and clever, and aesthetically marvelous – it’s amazing what design can do to create an atmosphere. Shapes, lights, colors – a chandelier is made from rope and sailors’ knots; painted skateboards and buggie boards provide the decoration, vintage lamps, 1950s photos of beach, a giant photo of waves breaking on the surf covers the entire wall..There is whimsy and humor which makes you smile a lot.

Postcard Inn on St. Pete Beach

The Postcard Inn on St Pete Beach is 1950s retro combined with modern flare with a feel-good result © 2010 Karen Rubin/news-photos-features.com

The Postcard Inn occupies prime beachfront in St. Pete Beach on Florida’s Gulf Coast – you can walk for miles along the beach, or float in the warm, green waters of the Gulf, very likely a dolphin or two not too far away.

In addition to the Olympic-sized swimming pool (heated if necessary), there is a kiddie pool, two well-outfitted fitness rooms, a pool table and a ping-pong table, arcade room, beach volleyball court, and central garden areas where you can lounge in Adirondack-style chairs under the trees as music emanates from speakers.

Postcard Inn on St. Pete Beach

The Postcard Inn on St. Pete Beach is designed for relaxation © 2010 Karen Rubin/news-photos-features.com

There is WiFi throughout; the rooms have flat-screen TVs; the rooms have views of pool, or Gulf, or garden.

You can go for a swim in the Olympic-size pool in the morning or take a walk or a dip in the Gulf, before hopping on a trolley-style bus, to ride into downtown St. Petersburg in air-conditioned comfort, to enjoy the plethora of cultural and heritage attractions, including the Dali Museum, the newly opened Chihuly Collection, the Holocaust Museum, the Fine Arts Museum to list but a few (all linked with a charming system of trolley buses, the downtown ones offer a narrated commentary), then return to the Inn in time to linger on the sand beach, float in the warm Gulf waters (perhaps to see a pod of dolphins swim by, or pelicans diving for fish).

The trolley also goes to south to Passe-a-Grille, an absolutely charming beach village with the prettiest parcel of beach on the island, and north into Clearwater, hitting all the other beaches along the way.

For more ambitious exploring, you can visit Fort DeSoto or go kayaking at Weedon Preserve (rent from Sweetwaters Kayaks, 727-570-4844; www.sweetwaterkayaks.com).

In the evening, you might cross the street to the Cockney Rebel Pub where there is karaoke Friday-Sunday.

The Postcard Inn (the former Travelodge that was the first motel here in 1958)  is as casual as a motel, as swank as a boutique hotel, with the charm and personal attention of an inn – including a marvelous continental breakfast.

It also offers the Wildwood BBQ – a casual restaurant that brings BBQ to new culinary heights, specializing in multiple regional variations including Memphis-style, Carolina-style, St. Louis-style spare and baby-back ribs, dry-rubbed or wet, plus the most sensational nachos and skillet cornbread, as well as fish-of-the-day, burgers, sandwiches and salads, presided over by NYC’s Executive Pitmaster “Big” Lou DElrose. The bar is known for its Pina Coladas, Rum Runners and selection of Bourbon.

There is also a Beach Bar where there is live music, a snack shack, and a banquet room accommodating up to 150 people, as well as catered beach functions for as many as 750.

The restaurants and the inn, itself, is managed by BR Guest, which has more than a dozen restaurants in New York City (Blue Fin, Ruby Foos), plus two in Las Vegas, but this is its first in Florida.

The Postcard Inn is a partnership between BR Guest and Starwood Capital Group (we hear they are talking about another Postcard Inn in Key West, Las Vegas or California).

Rates are affordable: $99 in the summer, $189 at the height of tourist season.

For all the right reasons – charm, services, amenities, affordability/value, location – the Postcard Inn on the Beach is  becoming a wedding destination, and is superb family reunion place (they even accommodate pets, 50 lbs. or less, for a $50 pet fee per stay).

Locals can take advantage of its “staycation” deals – special discounts for Florida residents, and a day rate (half the regular rate), enabling you to rent a room up until 5 pm., to use while you are at the beach and enjoying the hotel’s amenities.

In another nice touch, there are vintage-looking postcards which they are happy to post for you.

Here’s mine:

Dear Family: The Postcard Inn is picture-postcard perfect. Wish you were here.

Postcard Inn on the Beach, 6300 Gulf Blvd, St. Pete Beach, FL 33706, 727-367-2711 main line, 800-237-8918 reservations, 727-369-4950 Wildwood, www.postcardinn.com.

See more of our coverage at www.travelwritersmagazine.com/TravelFeaturesSyndicate

–Karen Rubin, Travel Features Syndicate

Chihuly Collection Opens in St. Petersburg, Florida

July 26, 2010
Chihuly's Ruby Red Icicle Chandelier

Dale Chihuly's Ruby Red Icicle Chandelier is the signature piece for the newly opened Chihuly Collection in St Petersburg, Florida © 2010 Karen Rubin/news-photos-features.com.

The opening of the Chihuly Collection further cements St. Petersburg, Florida’s position as a Top Arts Destination.

There are only 20 museums in the world dedicated to a single artist, and St. Pete already has one of them: the Salvador Dali Museum. Now, with the opening of the Chihuly Collection, it has the 21st.

The Collection is housed on the ground floor of a new office/retail building on the north end of Beach Drive. (The Salvador Dali Museum is moving to a new building that is being constructed at the south end of Beach Drive, scheduled to open Jan. 11, 2011, so there will be wonderful end-to-end balance, with the Museum of Fine Arts in between.)

Dale Chihuly – the Louis Comfort Tiffany of our time – is a pioneer, a visionary, and a master of glass-making, the student of the legendary Murano glass works in Venice who returned as a teacher. The variety of techniques, the use of color and texture and shape, are marvelous to behold and are fabulously displayed here.

Glass making goes back 5,000 years, and glass-blowing 3,000 years. Chihuly takes the art to new frontiers.

The Chihuly Collection is presented by Morean Arts Center, an arts-education institution, where there is a glass studio and hotshop that can also be visited (separately, as well as with a combination ticket).

Make time to see a DVD about Dale Chihuly which is more about the creative process than a straight-forward biography – and follows the development of four major installations around the world: Ireland, Jerusalem, Venice. The whole film takes about 90 minutes, but you can visit at any point and pick up the story. But here is where you get a much fuller appreciation for how he incorporates the culture and texture of different places.

Dale Chihuly Float Boat

Chihuly got the idea for "Float Boat" - a boat filled with glass-blown balls and objects after his "River of Glass" project, when kids picked the glass objects out of the river and put them into their boat © 2010 Karen Rubin/news-photos-features.com.

Then you follow some 16 different major works – each one made up of as many as hundreds of separate pieces – so there are some 4,000 pieces in all.

The Collection – the basis is $6 million in acquisitions by Beth Ann Morean – includes Chihuly’s spectacular large-scale installations such as Ruby Red Icicle Chandelier, created specifically for the Collection, as well as several popular series works including Macchia, Ikebana, Niijima Floats, Persians and Tumbleweeds, which have been exhibited around the globe.

Each space has been designed individually to complement the installation – the lighting arranged to produce the most spectacular visual effects emanating from the glass, and best appreciate the artistic elements.

Some of the most marvelous works, Studio Edition Glass produced at his Portland Press factory, are available for sale in the shop (ranging in price from $4,500-$8,000; seven pieces were sold in the first week the Collection was open), as well as the stunning drawings that reveal Chihuly’s creative process as well as his extraordinary talent in this medium.

Chihuly Collection

Dale Chihuly's Studio Edition Glass is available for sale at the Chihuly Collection shop © 2010 Karen Rubin/news-photos-features.com.

The Collection is open daily (tickets are for timed entry); docent-led tours are available every half hour on the quarter hour, beginning at 10:15 a.m. (though these were still being put into place when we visited).

The Glass Studio & Hot Shop, housed at the Morean Arts Center, provides an opportunity to see working artists in the visually exciting process of creating lass pieces. The artists provide running commentary on the steps they are following, the science behind glass, and the artistic vision guiding the process. You sit in stadium-style seats watching the artist working in front of the furnace (extraordinarily hot, this is not recommended in summer). there are also opportunities to make your own glass piece, working with one of the Morean instructors (Morean Arts Center/Glass Studio  & Hotshop, 719 Central Avenue, 727-822-7872, www.moreanartscenter.org, $8/A, $6/Seniors, $5/students and children over 5).

The Collection is walking distance of the Renaissance Vinoy Resort & Golf Club (the hotel has a Chihuly chandelier of its own), the Museum of Fine Arts, a multitude of galleries, restaurants and shops, and soon, the Salvador Dali Museum.

The Chihuly Collection, 400 Beach Drive, St. Petersburg, Florida, 727-896-4527, www.chihulycollectionstpete.com ($15/A, $13/Seniors, $12/students & children over 5; combination ticket with the glass studio is $20, $16 and $14).

See our complete story at www.travelwritersmagazine.com/TravelFeaturesSyndicate

–Karen Rubin, Travel Features Syndicate

St. Pete Beach on Florida’s Gulf Coast is as Glorious as Ever

July 26, 2010
Postcard Inn on St. Pete Beach

From our room at the charming Postcard Inn on the Beach, we stroll out to St. Pete Beach © 2010 Karen Rubin/news-photos-features.com

Just back from St. Pete Beach, Florida, where we had the most delightful stay at the Postcard Inn, right on the beach (more in stories to follow). The Gulf Coast beach is as beautiful as ever.

One evening, as we were awaiting the nightly spectacular – the sunset – we saw a pod of dolphins swimming past just beyond where the buoys marked the edge of swimming area. Brown pelicans were diving for fish just near where we were swimming.

Just beyond where a couple swims in the Gulf of Mexico, a pod of dolphin pass by © 2010 Karen Rubin/news-photos-features.com

From our room at the  Postcard Inn on the Beach, chic, remodeled 1950s-era motel with the charm of an inn and the amenities and service of a boutique hotel, we stroll out to the beach.  (More on the Postcard Inn, 6300 Gulf Blvd, St. Pete Beach, FL 33706, 727-367-2711 main line, 800-237-8918 reservations, www.postcardinn.com, to follow).

There are scores of phenomenal beaches all along this spit of Florida, between St. Petersburg Beach, with Fort DeSoto (you can visit the Spanish-American War era fort) and Pass-a-Grille which is a quaint, historic village with what I considered the most beautiful, white-sand beach of all,  at the southernmost point, up through Treasure Island, Indian Shores, Clearwater Beach, Caledesi Beach, and Tarpon Springs.

A delightful way to visit is by the trolley bus that goes from Pass-a-Grille in the south, up to Clearwater Beach.

Pass-a-Grille turned out to be one of our favorite places to idle away. You follow Gulf Boulevard passed the famous “pink castle” of St. Pete Beach, the 1920s era Don Cesar hotel, and find yourself in Old Florida – charming houses lining a narrow street that ends in a historic village. Four miles of undeveloped public beach along Gulf Way on the Gulf of Mexico wrap around the end of the key to meet Boca Ciega Bay on the harbor side of Pass-a-Grille. You can go on a shelling or snorkeling excursion to Shell Key, watch the dolphins play; or enjoy gentle sea breezes on a sunset cruise. Take a stroll on 8th Avenue, where you’ll find galleries, boutiques, and restaurants and an adorable ice cream shop, Paradise Sweets.

To plan a trip, contact St. Petersburg/Clearwater Area Convention & Visitors Bureau,  13805 58th Street North, Suite 2-200, Clearwater, Fl 33760, 727-464-7200,  877-352-3224,  http://www.visitstpeteclearwater.com/.

See our full coverage of St. Petersburg and the Gulf Beaches at www.travelwritersmagazine.com/TravelFeaturesSyndicate

–Karen Rubin/Travel Features Syndicate

Students Worldwide to ‘Fly Ideas’ for Greener Flight, €30,000 Prize in Airbus Competition

July 25, 2010

University students worldwide can shape the future of flight and win €30,000 (about $44,000) in a global competition launched today by Airbus at the Farnborough International Airshow in the United Kingdom.

The Airbus Fly Your Ideas (FYI) competition challenges students worldwide to develop new ideas for a greener aviation industry. The biennial contest involves three progressively challenging rounds judged by a panel of Airbus and industry experts. It concludes with a final at next summer’s International Paris Airshow – Le Bourget, France. The winners will share the top prize of € 30,000; the runners-up €15,000 (about $22,000).

Announcing the launch of FYI 2011, Charles Champion, Airbus Executive Vice President Engineering and FYI patron, said: “Fly Your Ideas is a unique opportunity for students to be part of Airbus’ vision for an eco-efficient aviation industry of the future. The competition is designed to stimulate ideas for both a more connected and sustainable world. It also enables Airbus to engage with students and research teams to identify R&T opportunities to balance the increased demand for air travel with a better environment.”

Students of any age, nationality, gender or discipline – from engineering to marketing; business to science; philosophy to design – are invited to take part. Proposals are welcome on all aspects of the ‘Environmental Life Cycle’ – an innovative approach Airbus uses to improve the environmental performance of an aircraft and its production process. It consists of five stages: design; supply chain; manufacturing; aircraft operations and aircraft end-of-life.

FYI 2011 follows the success of the inaugural contest launched in October 2008. Some 2,350 students from over 80 countries took part with the multinational team COz from the University of Queensland, Australia, judged eventual winners at Le Bourget 2009. Their project focused on the use of a pioneering natural fibre composite – made from castor plants – in aircraft cabins.

Benjamin Lindenberger (27), who was part of the FYI 2009 winning team “COz”, added: “Winning the FYI challenge 2009 was a great experience. But the opportunity to work with Airbus experts, gain industry insight and develop transferable skills was just as valuable.”

To enter FYI 2011 students must register as a team of three to five members on the competition website by 30 November 2010. For further information and to register visit: www.airbus-fyi.com

Registration closes November 30, 2010. Project proposals must be submitted by December 10, 2010. Those shortlisted for Round 2 will develop their ideas into more detailed submissions with support from Airbus staff. Five finalist teams will win a VIP trip to Paris in June 2011 and make presentations to an independent jury – including industry experts – who will announce their decision at the FYI 2011 awards ceremony.

Alva Vanderbilt Belmont’s Marble House Marks 90th Anniversary of Women’s Suffrage, Aug. 26

July 25, 2010
Marble House Celebrates 90th Anniversary of Women's Suffrage

Alva Vanderbilt Belmont, a noted suffragist, called Marble House her "temple to the arts," and used the house as a setting for suffrage rallies. On Thursday, August 26, there will be a free event to mark the occasion © 2010 Karen Rubin/news-photos-features.com.

Alva Vanderbilt Belmont, a noted suffragist, called Marble House her “temple to the arts,” and used the house as a setting for suffrage rallies. On Thursday, August 26, there will be a free event to mark the occasion © 2010 Karen Rubin/news-photos-features.com.

On Thursday, August 26, Marble House, on Newport’s tony Bellevue Avenue, will be the site of a commemoration of the 90th anniversary of the 19th Amendment, giving women the right to vote. The festivities will begin at 11 a.m., and the event is free and open to the public.

Taking place on the terrace of Marble House, where Alva once hosted rallies to raise funds for the suffrage movement, the celebration will include poetry, music, and readings from historical documents.   Participants will include Rhode Island State Senator June Gibbs; the state’s Poet Laureate, Lisa Starr;  Amber Rose Johnson, the 2010 Poetry Out Loud National Champion from Classical High School in Providence, RI; and Lt. Colonel Jayme M. Sutton, Naval War College Military Professor of National Strategy Decision Making.

Why would a Gilded Age mansion in Newport be the scene to mark Women’s Suffrage? The House, so opulent in its architecture and decoration, was built by Alva Vanderbilt Belmont, as her “temple of the arts.” But Alva was a pioneer feminist – the decorations are loaded with imagery of goddesses and feminine symbols of learning and art. She became a vigorous sponsor of the Women’s Suffrage Movement, and held suffrage rallies at the House, attended by women of all classes (there are some wonderful photos and audio about them as you tour the house). Visiting the house, you can sense Alva’s frustration and longing for a society in which women had the right to pursue their talents and ambition, but in her day, the way to power was to marry wealth.

“Alva Vanderbilt Belmont was a rebel right from childhood, and despite becoming one of the leaders of Newport and New York high society, she never lost her independent spirit,” said Preservation Society CEO and Executive Director Trudy Coxe.  “Alva used her position in society to raise money and lobby for the right of women to vote, so she would be very proud to see her beloved Marble House hosting this celebration today.”

“Women got the vote through struggle, by organizing themselves, talking with politicians and marching in the streets.  The League of Women Voters continues the struggle by telling all that voting is the mainstay of democracy,” said Joanne DeVoe, President of the League of Women Voters of Rhode Island.  “We also work out consensus positions on issues and then publicize and lobby for these positions.  The League thanks the Preservation Society for opening the grounds of Marble House to remember the women who were part of the struggle. Could there be a better place in Rhode Island for this celebration?”

“The example that Alva Vanderbilt Belmont set for women of her day, and the women of ours, is unmatched,” said Marcia Coné, Executive Director of the Women’s Fund of Rhode Island. “The Women’s Fund of Rhode Island is so pleased to be a part of this important event and to celebrate her legacy.”

“Alva Vanderbilt Belmont was a force who championed the cause for the 19th Amendment’s passage. Imagine what our lives would be like today if the passage had not been won,” said Deborah L. Perry, Executive Director of YWCA Northern Rhode Island. “It is an honor for the YWCA to be part of this celebration.”

“We sometimes forget that Newport in the 19th century was a stage for more than just social entertainment, but was also a backdrop for many dramas of national consequence,” said Pieter Roos, Executive Director of the Newport Restoration Foundation. “Alva used Newport’s glamour and prestige to advance one of the most important social movements of the era, and this event will highlight that for contemporary audiences.”

Marble House was the summer cottage built for Alva Vanderbilt in 1892 to cement her place in high society.  But in later life, she moved from socialite to social reformer, using Marble House as a stage from which she rallied women to the cause of equal rights.  In 1921, Alva was elected President of the National Woman’s Party, and was the founder of the Political Equality League.  She is credited with the original advice, “Pray to God.  She will help you.”

Alva even partnered with songwriter and columnist Elsa Maxwell to write a light-hearted, one-act operatta entitled Melinda and Her Sisters to convince New York and Newport high society that the time had come to grant women equal rights. The play was performed at the Waldorf-Astoria Hotel in New York in 1916, and was re-staged by the Preservation Society at Marble House in 2003.

The Suffrage event is free and open to the public at Marble House, 596 Bellevue Avenue.  Call 401-847-1000, ext. 169 or visit www.NewportMansions.org.

For more about the Women of Newport, Gilded Age Mansions and visiting Newport, visit http://www.travelwritersmagazine.com/TravelFeaturesSyndicate.

–Karen Rubin, Travel Features Syndicate

Bethlehem, PA Hosts 27th Annual Musikfest, Free Festival Featuring 300 Acts on 14 Stages, Aug 6-15

July 25, 2010

Over the course of 10 days, from Aug 6-15, some 300 musical acts will be showcased on 14 stages throughout Bethlehem, Pennsylvania, for the 27th edition of Muskfest, a  free musical extravaganza  held each August.

Musikfest has grown from a small community event started in 1984 to one of the nation’s largest free music festivals. Each year, more than a million people descend on the city’s historic downtown to enjoy a kaleidoscope of sensational sounds from artists and musicians who hail from every corner of North America.

At this year’s festival, more than 300 different performers will take to 14 different stages – 11 of them free – woven throughout the city’s charming downtown district, delighting audiences with musical styles ranging from Afrobeat to Zydeco. Visitors can wander down cobblestone walkways, past gorgeous 18th century buildings and through the lush, green city parks to discover sultry salsa dancers, impromptu jam sessions and singer-songwriters accompanied only by their guitar and the words in their heart.

Headlining this year’s festival at the Sands RiverPlace stage are Counting Crows’ Traveling Circus and Medicine Show featuring Augustana Aug. 6, Norah Jones Aug. 7, Martina McBride Aug. 8, Lynyrd Skynyrd Aug. 9, Heart Aug. 10, The Doobie Brothers Aug. 11, Styx with Blue Öyster Cult Aug. 12, Adam Lambert with Orianthi Aug. 13, Selena Gomez with special guests JLS and Hot Chelle Rae Aug. 14 and Sublime with Rome, with special guests The Dirty Heads and The Movement Aug. 15.

At the Musikfest Performing Arts Series, audiences can dance to the free-flowing, improvisational music of the Grateful Dead, Aug. 9,  performed by Dead tribute Dark Star Orchestra  and experience the unique sound of rising alt-country stars The Avett Brothers on Aug. 11.  World-class artists abound at the PNC Bank Candlelight Concert Series, with performances such as “The Music of Simon & Garfunkel” by A.J. Swearingen and Jonathan Beedle Aug. 6, the jazzy Joe Lovano and John Scofield Quartet Aug. 7, legendary folk singer Richie Havens Aug. 8, all-female Celtic group Cherish the Ladies Aug. 12, rock legend Dave Mason Aug. 13 and country’s Suzy Bogguss Aug. 14.

Great music is also found in abundance on the festival’s 11 free stages, where visitors can see nationally-known blues, rock, world and swing acts, as well as up-and-coming artists that are sure to surprise with their talents and musicianship. For example, on Aug. 11-12 audiences will be treated to Toronto-based Elvis Bossa Nova, which offers quirky and eccentric arrangements of classic Elvis Presley tunes. Experience “Viva Las Vegas,” “Hound Dog,” “I’m All Shook Up” and “Are You Lonesome Tonight” in a completely different way as vibraphone, electric guitar, drums and bass breathe new and unique life into Presley’s hits.  And on Aug. 12 Lachi, a quartet of legally-blind alt rockers fronted by the talented vocalist of the same name, takes to the stage. Don’t miss this dynamic mix of impassioned vocals and original tunes as this group shares its inspired vision for music.

Just a few of the many other artists that audiences can experience for free at the festival include rising funk and R&B star Trombone Shorty & Orleans Avenue on Aug. 11-12, New York City’s sensational George Gee Swing Orchestra Aug. 7, 18-time Grammy Award-winning polka legend Jimmy Sturr & His Orchestra Aug. 7, Texas blues-rocker Chris Duarte Aug. 11, former Dispatch singer Pete Francis Aug. 10 and the multi-WC Handy Award winning and Grammy-nominated Rod Piazza & the Mighty Flyers, who dish out a groovy mix of West Coast and Chicago-style blues, on Aug. 8.

While music is the main focus of Musikfest, it’s hardly the only thing guests will find at the world-class event.  Forty-five vendors serve up a wealth of delectable foods and decadent desserts, while 50 of the nation’s finest artisans are on hand showcasing jewelry, handmade crafts and home décor items. Family fun is found around every corner, with dozens of delightful children’s performers, art & craft activities and timely appearances by entertaining buskers, amazing street performers who present logic-defying escape tricks, funky skateboard feats and marvelous magic acts, all in an effort to elicit shrieks, oohs and aahs from the crowds.

Musikfest 2010 hours are 5-11 p.m. Aug. 6 and noon-11 p.m. Aug. 7-15. For more information or tickets to the Sands RiverPlace, Performing Arts Series or PNC Bank Candlelight Concert Series shows, visit www.musikfest.org or call 610-332-3378.

ArtsQuest is a Bethlehem, PA-based nonprofit dedicated to presenting music, arts, cultural experiences and educational and outreach programs that aid in economic development, urban revitalization and community enrichment. Through festivals such as its flagship event, Musikfest™, and the Banana Factory® cultural arts and education center, ArtsQuest’s programming currently reaches more than 1.3 million people annually.

ArtsQuest is furthering its mission of celebrating arts and culture through the development of the ArtsQuest Center at SteelStacks. The 65,000-square-foot building, set to open in May 2011, will feature live music, independent and scientific films, new festivals and community celebrations year-round, reaching an additional 750,000 people each year.

For more information on ArtsQuest, visit www.artsquest.org or call 610-332-1300.

Walt Disney World’s Summer Nightastic is Fantastic

July 24, 2010

Walt Disney World's Summer Nighttastic Fireworks Show at Magic Kingdom is spellbinding (© 2010 Karen Rubin/news-photos-features.com).

I admit it: I was as thrilled as any six-year old to see the bursts of fireworks over the magical Cinderella Castle at Magic Kingdom.

Summer Nightastic! Fireworks Show, on through August 14, is truly one of the phenomenal spectacles that only Disney Imagineers could pull off (when the bursts formed the pirate skulls, that was jaw-dropping amazing).

We very cleverly checked the schedule of activities in order to make the best use of our two days of Park Hopper tickets, spent our first day at Hollywood Studios (it was open until 8 p.m. that night, then we were too tired to go to another park); then spent our second, amazing day at Animal Kingdom knowing that Magic Kingdom was open until 11 pm., with the Electric Parade on at 9 and 11 pm. and the fireworks at 10 pm.

We took the ferry over from the parking lot (instead of the Monorail), for an exquisite view of Magic Kingdom, and arrived just as the Main Street Electrical Parade was getting underway, miraculously managing to get a spot right on Main Street.

Magic Kingdom's Main Street glitters at night, with Cinderella's Castle in the background (© 2010 Karen Rubin/news-photos-features.com)

And then to have Magic Kingdom almost to yourself at night, in the dark, to do the rides and attractions! We got to do the Big Thunder Mountain Railroad (my favorite coaster), then dashed to Tomorrowland (it makes you smile to see a 1950s “vision” of the future) to Space Mountain coaster, getting in the last ride of the night. Coming back, the 11 p.m. Electrical Parade was underway and we got to see the end from a different perspective, right in front of Cinderella’s castle.

Magic Kingdom’s Main Street Electric Parade comes to Cinderella’s Castle making a spectacular sight (© 2010 Karen Rubin/news-photos-features.com).

At Epcot’s nighttime display, the skies explode with lasers, fireworks and music for the IllumiNations: Reflections of Earth that glitters and glows over the World Showcase Lagoon.

There’s no question, Disney’s got it.. The Magic. You can’t even put your finger on it. As an adult, you appreciate the artistry, the creativity, the imagination, and then simply get lost in a child’s delight. You are swept up in the enchantment, taken to other worlds, no matter how old you are or where you are in your life, or where you are from.

In fact, walking with the crowd as Animal Kingdom was closing for the night, you sense that there is no place on earth that has such a conglomeration of humanity. As it happens, it was around the Tree of Life, but we felt it again on Main Street in the Magic Kingdom. For the time you are under Disney’s spell, it almost seems that there is nothing else beyond these magical worlds.

During our two-day visit using the Disney Park-Hopper ticket, we were able to enjoy three of the parks:

Some of the highlights of our visit:

Hollywood Studios (the Extreme Stunt show is not to be believed; the Rock ‘n’ Roller Coaster Starring Aerosmith is a music-charged zoomfest that takes you through loops, twists and turns inside; a new addition is the American Idol Experience); Animal Kingdom (Expedition Everest is an amazing coaster set in a realistic re-creation of Nepal; Harambe safari is stunningly realistic; we had an amazing trek of our own seeking the silverback gorillas on the Pangani Forest Exploration Trails, the daytime Mickey’s Jammin’ Jungle Parade is wildly creative, and the new “Finding Nemo” Broadway-style musical is Tony-Award caliber that will delight everyone; and “Tough to be a Bug” 3-D experience in the base of The Tree of Life is as marvelous as ever); and Magic Kingdom.

Planning tips: Wednesday is the least crowded day at the theme parks. Check the Walt Disney World website to get a schedule for the parks – which are open late, when the parades and the fireworks are scheduled, or special events.

I suggest, if possible and the schedule works out, save your favorite park for the second day in order to get the full enjoyment: you are tired after traveling and it takes a day to get oriented to the Disney way the parks operate.

Take advantage of Disney’s FastPass system – where you can get a time to return (it spans an hour) and you just breeze in, so you don’t have to wait on the standby line. You can only use the pass once an hour, though.

Get all the info you need and do your vacation planning at http://disneyworld.disney.go.com/

See our full story at http://www.travelwritersmagazine.com/TravelFeaturesSyndicate.

–Karen Rubin, Travel Features Syndicate

HostelBookers has summer sale deals worldwide

July 24, 2010
NYC Times Square

Hostelbookers even has summer deals in New York City, close to Times Square (© 2010 Karen Rubin/news-photos-features.com)

HostelBookers, the budget accommodation specialist, has just launched its big summer sale campaign by offering customers the possibility to book selected hostels at discounted prices – from 20% to 60% off their normal rates.

Travelers can choose from some 200 quality properties across 28 top destinations worldwide. Bookings need to be made by July 31 and travel completed by September 30.

Three examples of European-based properties participating in the campaign are Brianza Hotel, centrally located and only 10 minutes from the Duomo, Milan’s cathedral.  Restaurants, shop, entertainment and must-see local attractions such as the Sforza Castle and the Saint Ambrogio Basilica are all close by. The hotel features tastefully furnished guest rooms equipped with every modern comfort and now with 50% off. There is a charming lounge bar providing the ideal location to relax.

In Germany, Jugendherberge Berlin – Am Wannsee is offering 40% off. The hostel overlooks Wannsee Lake and is only 15 minutes away from Berlin city center, the vivid metropolitan German capital with unique shopping, culture and parties. The city of Potsdam with its famous Sanssouci castle is within easy reach. The hostel offers 4-bed rooms and a number of single and double rooms to cater for independent travelers, couples, families and groups. It is the ideal place for activity enthusiasts to skate or swim, walk in the forest, hire bicycles or enjoy a cruise on the lake.

Lisbon Calling is offering 60% off. This newly established hostel, fully renovated is located in the heart of Lisbon’s historic city center. The main tourist attractions, popular shops and the Bairro Alto nightlife are all within walking distance. The decor is stylish down to the last detail and combined with the staff’s warm welcome, it’s not surprising this is one of HostelBookers’ top properties (http://www.hostelbookers.com/hostels/portugal/lisbon/)

There are even deals in New York City, including the Sohotel, located off the historic Bowery Boulevard in the heart of downtown which is offering 20% off; AAE Hostels New York-JFK, and Days Inns  (http://www.hostelbookers.com/hostels/usa/new-york-city/).

“This campaign confirms, once again, our aim to provide further value to our customers and reinforce our great relationship with the properties,” says David Smith, COO at HostelBookers. “HostelBookers is the only major budget accommodation website in the travel industry that doesn’t apply a service charge, so there are no additional fees or hidden costs attached to its summer sale – just great value and some of the lowest prices for summer accommodation around”

See: http://www.hostelbookers.com/summer-accommodation-deals/

–Karen Rubin, Travel Features Syndicate

See destination reports at http://www.travelwritersmagazine.com/TravelFeaturesSyndicate

Kyoto’s Endangered Historic Townhouses Being Revived to Accommodate Foreign Tourists

July 24, 2010
Tojuro performing Kabuki in Tokyo

Staying in a Machiya historic townhouse gives tourists an opportunity to become immersed in Japanese culture and heritage, such as the Kabuki theater (© 2010 Karen Rubin/news-photos-features.com)

Living history takes on new meaning in Kyoto, Japan’s city most famous for its ancient temples. Thousands of Machiya, Japan’s historic townhouses, are being turned into inns to accommodate foreign tourists, affording visitors an incomparable opportunity to be immersed in Japanese culture and heritage.

The historic townhouses were listed under the “2010 Watch List of Cultural Heritage Sites at Risk” by the World Monument Fund, a private organization dedicated to saving the world’s historical heritage, but a company, Machiya Residence Inn Group, has found a way to sustain them, and keep them from the wrecking ball, through a new use as accommodations for tourists.

Serving as both residences and workspaces for merchants and craftsmen, Machiya are Japan’s traditional townhouses that developed after 794 AD predominantly in Kyoto. There are approximately 48,000 Machiya within Kyoto, and most of them are more than 100 years old.

However, much like many other traditional architecture throughout the world, Machiya are rapidly disappearing. Every year, around 1,000 Machiya are demolished and replaced by new buildings due to maintenance being difficult and expensive, and their style considered outdated and old-fashioned in the minds of many. Unfortunately, reconstruction of Machiya is extremely difficult under the current Japanese building regulations, and as a result, the traditional townscape of Kyoto is on an inevitable path to extinction.

Amid mounting concerns in the local communities over the destruction of Kyoto’s traditional townscape, Machiya Residence Inn Group is refurbishing the Machiya that are about to be demolished and reviving them into life as accommodation facilities for foreign tourists.

Kohakuan, their latest accommodation facility, opened July 14, 2010. The facility rents out one entire townhouse for one group, and it is fully equipped with kitchen, washing machine, cloth dryer, computer and Internet, making it suitable for both short and long-term stay. In addition, English-speaking staff will be on hand to attend reservation and customer service inquiries.

The facility plans to organize various cultural activities for the guests such as tea ceremony, pottery class enabling foreign travelers to experience Japanese culture on request.

Machiya Residence Inn Group aims to revive the number of Machiya by developing five of these accommodation facilities each year, ultimately offer them in the real estate market as investment properties and, using refurbished Machiya as a model, promote usage and utilization of Machiya.

For further information on Machiya or reservation, contact via telephone, fax or e-mail: Mahchiya Residence Inn /AJ InterBridge Inc., tel: +81-75-708-5610, fax: +81-75-708-5611, email: info@kyoto-machiya-inn.com, or visit http://www.kyoto-machiya-inn.com.

See also:

TOKYO: TURNING A STOPOVER INTO A SOJOURN
How to Tackle One of the World’s Great Cities With Only Two Full Days
Day One: Hitting Tokyo’s Tourist Highlights

TOKYO: TURNING A STOPOVER INTO A SOJOURN
How to Tackle One of the World’s Great Cities With Only Two Full Days
Day Two: A Day in Tokyo Spanning all the Days of Japan

–Karen Rubin, Travel Features Syndicate

http://www.travelwritersmagazine.com/TravelFeaturesSyndicate

WLC Vacations River Cruise Company Promotes Family Cruising to Europe, Galapagos

July 23, 2010

A river cruise of Europe’s important cities may be one of the fantasy trips you might think to put off until you are an “empty-nester” and the kids are off on their own, but now, such experiences are being tailored for families.

World Luxury Cruise Vacations (WLCVacations) is now offering a variety of family cruises – essentially, introducing special activities into the itinerary that are engaging to young travelers.

“Experiencing a vacation with family can be one of the best ways to learn about each other and make life long memories,” says Jean-Francois Dabrowski, co-founder of World Luxury Cruise Vacations and France Cruises. “WLCVacations recommends trying a riverboat cruise. These cruises can be conveniently tailored to any family, making vacationing a breeze. And there are always many activities to keep everyone completely satisfied.”

For example, Dabrowski is recommending families consider the Castles Along the Rhine cruise aboard the magnificent River Ambassador. This package includes the seven-night cruise in a river-view stateroom; a children’s walking tour in Koblenz with characters, a scavenger hunt and an ice cream treat; a visit to the Technik Museum in Speyer with more than 3,000 exhibits, including walk-in exhibits of aircrafts and a German submarine; a visit to the Siegfried Mechanical Music Museum in Rudesheim, showcasing a collection of mechanical musical instruments; a visit to the Chocolate Factory Museum in Cologne; an onboard cooking class with the pastry chef where kids can make their own desserts; a ship tour for the children and family members with the captain; games, movies and a playroom with a PlayStation; and German language classes onboard. Prices for this 7 day cruise start at $1,899 per person (50% off for all children 4 – 18 on the European cruises)

An optional excursion to Europa-Park, a theme park in rust, Germany, can be purchased onboard. The excursion departs from Strasbourg.

WLCVacations has partnered with Metropolitan Touring to promote the new Young Pirates program to the Galapagos. This program is for young Galapagos Explorers between ages 7 to 12 years old.  It showcases a fun and exciting way of absorbing Galapagos kids’ style. Children enjoy specially designed menus and earlier dinner hours. The chefs and kitchen staff have created a “kids’ continental breakfast” with Galápagos muffins, fruit yogurt, orange juice and chocolate milk, and for dinners a choice of meals children all over the world enjoy, such as hamburgers, hot dogs, chicken nuggets and fish and chips, plus vegetarian options. The children are provided a Journal of Expedition and Young Pirates booklet. Activities will include bracelet weaving, molding with play-dough and bead necklace making, coloring (Multicolored Ecuador and Galapagos: Discover it and Paint it), Ecuamemory cards, maps (Where am I?), animal puzzles, Galapagos videos and movies for children, treasure hunts, Galapagos trivia, reading time, stargazing and conversations (What have I learned?).

Prices for the Santa Cruz 3 Night Galapagos Islands Cruise start at $1,500 per person; prices for the Isabela II 4 Night Galapagos Cruise start at $2,143 per person; prices for the La Pinta 7 Night Luxury Galapagos Islands Cruise start at $4,656 per adult, with 50% charged for the first child and the second child goes free.

Also, a cruise aboard the canal barge Magna Carta can be customized for any family. This program is distinguished by an onboard chef who prepares meals according to the tastes of the family. There are always many activities to keep everyone’s interest. Adults can relax in peace and quiet with coffee and liqueurs while a few feet away, children may find themselves steering the vessel along a tree-lined canal, perhaps in the barge jacuzzi or biking together. Ashore, in addition to traditional cultural visits, families can arrange for horse riding, water sports, tennis and many other activities. Child equipment such as high-chairs, car seats, child bike seats, travel cots, children’s bicycles and more are available on request at no extra cost. Prices for this 6 day cruise start at $3,800 per adult, 50% less for children.

Complete details and prices for these cruises and more can be found at www.WLCVacations.com and www.FranceCruises.com.

World Luxury Cruise Vacations (WLCVacations), founded in 2008, is a global business model approach to luxury canal and riverboat cruises that was initiated nearly a decade ago by industry leader France Cruises (FranceCruises.com). The founders, Jean F. Dabrowski and Ana P. Valente, have traveled on ships throughout the world to bring tailored, in-depth research to their clientele. Since 2000, they have created and customized tours and cruises in Europe to meet the needs of sophisticated travelers who expect the best. Now the team applies its expertise by launching WLCVacations, offering unparalleled, personalized service combined with magnificent itineraries on the fascinating waterways of the world.

Visit www.wlcvacations.com, 877 579 SHIP (7447), or email: info@wlcvacations.com

–Karen Rubin, Travel Features Syndicate

See complete travel features at: www.travelwritersmagazine.com/TravelFeaturesSyndicate