3 bold new summer thrills for '09
Opening this summer: America's highest glass ledge, the world's fastest roller coaster, and the world's longest zipline.
America's Highest Skydeck
Imagine walking on air—1,353 feet high that is. Well, starting in June, you'll be able to do just that at Sears Tower (soon to be re-named Willis Tower) in Chicago. In a few weeks, the tallest building in the U.S. will debut The Ledge, a set of sturdy glass boxes extending more than 4 feet from the Skydeck on the 103rd floor. Admission to The Ledge is included in the price for a General Admission ticket for the Skydeck, which is open year-round, including holidays. For the best shot at beating the crowds, go after 5 p.m. and buy your ticket online, says a representative. Summer hours are from 10 a.m. to 10 p.m. (Summer tickets cost $15 for adults and $10.50 for kids ages 3-11 without the audio tour, The Ledge, 233 S. Wacker Drive, Chicago, 312/875-9696) —David Cumming
The World's Fastest Roller Coaster
Opening this July in Nürburg, in central Germany: The Ring Racer, a monster that can high-tail it to 135 mph in under three seconds. The coaster is near Nürburgring, an auto racetrack that has long been considered one of the world's toughest (Jackie Stewart famously called it "The Green Hell"), but its new Ring Racer coaster, slated to open in July, promises to give you that Formula 1 feeling without the hazards of spinouts, diesel fumes, or cranky pit crewmembers. Once it opens, it will take home the trophy for fastest roller coaster in the world (nosing out its nearest competitor, previous record holder Kingda Ka, at Six Flags in New Jersey, by about 6 mph). When the crazy 75-second ride is over, you'll be pulling up parallel to the track's actual Grand Prix finish line. Take that, Ricky Bobby. (adults about $26, nuerburgring.de, 011-49/2691-3020) —Mike Iveson
The World's Longest Zip Line
Fly across the sheer cliffs of Eagle Canyon with Thunder Bay's new zip line—the longest in the world. The zip line, which opens in June, spans a half mile across the center of the canyon. Visitors must pay an entrance fee as well as extra for the zip line. The park is open from 9 a.m. to 9 p.m., seven days a week, and from mid-April to mid-November. Pricing is not yet available for the new zip line, according to park managers. (eaglecanyonadventures.ca, 275 Valley Road, Dorion, Ontario, 807/857-1475) —David Cumming
How to see a space shuttle launch live
Worth reading: Travel along the Buddhist Circuit
Some of our favorite items from around the Web this week: One couple finds enlightenment on a journey around the Buddhist Circuit, four sacred sites in southern Nepal and northern India. [The New York Times] Mexico's rough few months—financial crisis, drug violence, and swine flu—means deals for travelers through this summer and fall. [CNN] Taking the kids on a vacation this summer? Check out this list of kid-friendly travel gear. [Gadling] The world's first five-star hotel beside a Formula One racetrack is nearing the finish line in Dubai (where else?). [HotelChatter] Henry Moore at the Atlanta Botanical Garden: The largest outdoor display of the British sculptor's work in the U.S., with 20 sculptures. [Design Public] For more travel blogs, go to Alltop.
New York City: The stylish Ace Hotel opens, with rates from $99
Naturally, when Budget Travel heard that a new hotel was opening up in a great location in the heart of midtown New York, we were curious about it. But as soon as we found out that it is offering hip rooms for as little as $99 a night (for a short-term promotional rate), we had to check it out in person. Like three other Ace Hotels in Portland, Seattle, and Palm Springs, the Ace Hotel in Manhattan aims to embody the historical vibe of its building and neighborhood. The lobby shows off the original, key-pattern mosaic flooring of the restored 1904 building. Its east wall is covered in a collage of old stickers and graffiti tags from 90s street culture. A working photo booth sits directly under the collage, adjacent to the lounge, which has plaid colored chairs and cow-skin rugs. Overall, the lobby successfully blends punk music, local canvas and Japanese art, and a strange assortment of birds taxidermies. Ace is offering twin-size Bunk Bed rooms, recommended for two, starting at a special introductory rate of $99 per person. These include private bathrooms and a black concert roadie case turned refrigerator. The price will eventually go up to $169. For between $169 and $219, Standard and Cheap rooms offer queen or full-size beds. In these, you can play a custom Epiphone acoustic guitar or spin some vinyl records on a set of turntables. (Don't worry, you don't have to tote your own records around town. They provide some.) There are 258* rooms styled in various ways by local and international artists. Rooms come with private bathrooms and generally feature views of the NoMad neighborhood or the Empire State Building. The rooms also are equipped with free wireless Internet and a Philips flat screen TV. You can also gain access to four computer lab rooms, one on about every other floor. The hotel is home to Stumptown Coffee Roasters—the famous coffeeshop of Portland, Ore., which has chosen to open its first NYC branch on-site at the hotel. The hotel also houses the new Le Breslin restaurant. Finally, with the lobby bar serving the community from 5 p.m. to 2 a.m., Ace Hotel leaves you a feeling a bit more stylist than when you walked in. 20 W. 29th Street, New York, NY, 10001, 212/679-2222. —David Cumming MORE FROM BUDGET TRAVEL 7 New York City hotels at a price that's right *Editor's note, May 22: We incorrectly reported the number of rooms the first time. There are 258 rooms at the Ace Hotel in New York City, and 58 different styles of decoration. We regret the error.
New York City: Free bikes for downtown visitors
From May 13 to September 30, The Alliance for Downtown New York is providing free loans of bicycles for two-and-a-half hour periods. Hundreds of bikes are available for pickup at South Street Seaport, at Piers 16 and 17, by Fulton St. and South St. (In case you don't know, The Seaport a tourist-friendly shopping area with a discount Broadway TKTS booth and access to Hudson River ferry rides.) But you're free to ride throughout the city. Guests are required to become a member by first visiting The Alliance online and registering. It's easy. Create an account by typing in your name, address, and credit card number. (Your card will be charged if you don't return the bike.) Then reserve a time to ride, or call the shop at 212/260-0400. Registering at least a day before you plan to bike is recommended, but not necessary. Sessions run on a first-come, first-serve basis from 9:30 a.m. to 12 p.m., 12:30 p.m. to 3 p.m., and 3:30 p.m. to 6 p.m. During our mid-afternoon weekday visit to a pick-up site yesterday, we saw plenty of bikes available. The process looked as easy as advertised. A family of four, after a few instructions from the bike shop owners, quickly strapped on helmets and rode off. After your two-and-a-half hours are up, you can return the bikes wherever there's a Bike And Roll location, such as at Pier 84 at Hudson River Park and at Battery Park by Pier A. Need more time? Pay an hourly fee of $12. Baby on-board? No problem. The equipment rental shop can hook you up with a Tag-a-long, wagon or baby seat to go along with your Comfort Hybrid bike. Kid size bikes and helmets are also available for no charge as well as bike locks. The Greenway may be a logical first route to take instead of maneuvering through Times Square or some of the other crowded areas. And you may not be able to return the bike in time if you venture too far into the city. But all NYC bridges have bike paths, so there are technically no limits to your summer cycling aspiration—and perspiration. —David Cumming
This weekend: Get a little culture at the Spoleto Festival
The Spoleto Festival USA in Charleston, S.C., does not involve cow chips or crawfish like other festivals we've written about. Quite the opposite. It's a 17-day feast of cultural events, ranging from rock opera to chamber music. The 33rd season kicks off Friday, and more than 120 performances will take place through June 7. The festival is known for focusing on emerging and edgy artists. Since 1977, there have been more than 100 world premieres and 93 American premieres at the festival, with visionaries like Twyla Tharp and Yo-Yo Ma performing early in their careers. Notable productions this year include the debut of Cedar Lake Contemporary Ballet, a tribute to the Spoleto Festival's longtime chamber music artistic director Charles Wadsworth, and the cabaret-style, punk-rock operetta Addicted to Bad Ideas: Peter Lorre's 20th Century, which explores alienation in the 20th century. Also interesting is Gustave Charpentier's opera Louise, sometimes called "the French La Boheme," rarely performed because of its complicated plot—there are more than 30 characters. Plus the Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater performs this weekend and celebrates its 50th anniversary. Tickets range between $10 and $180. Also going on is the Piccolo Spoleto festival. It's the same idea—cutting edge fine arts performances—but many of the activities are free. So why the funny name? The event originated in the Italian town of Spoleto before a version was launched in the states. The Festival of the Two Worlds is in its 52nd season. The Spoleto Festival USA runs until June 7. You can buy tickets online. Hotel packages available through Charleston's CVB.