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Are fees to the national parks getting too high?

By Budget Travel
October 3, 2012

Readers have reacted to This Just In's recent blog post about proposed hikes in National Park admission fees. Here are some of your comments:

"I know this site is about budget travel, but you should be pointing out what an incredible bargain the parks are, even with the fee increase, rather than whining about it. The parks are being loved to death and are in severe need of additional funding for maintenance and repair projects. Without an increase in fees, your next whine will be about the poor conditions in the parks."--anonymous reader, Oregonian

"As a big fan of our great parks, I am always concerned about maintenance. It seems like more is always needed so a hike may be justified if properly used.--Richard Reina

"Although more money is needed for the National Parks, they were established for all people regardless of ability to pay and they should have a minimal entry fee but since we already pay dearly through taxes, there should only be very small to no raises."--Earl

Meanwhile, the leading author and expert on the National Parks, Kurt Repanshek, clearly explains "the real cost of visiting a national park" in this blog post at National Parks Traveler. The money quote: "If we don't do something, it seems the Park Service chances pricing vast numbers of Americans out of the national park landscapes and experiences. And that not only will cut down on the ranks of park advocates, but it will surely increase the costs for those few who can afford the price. And where will that leave the parks?"

By the way, you can discuss this issue with Kurt--as well as ask other questions about how to plan a visit to a national park--in a live chat at BudgetTravel.com on Tuesday, May 22. You can submit your questions now by clicking here.

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Today's travel intel

Fly to Germany on a $500 round-trip airfare (after taxes). The little-known German airline LTU International Airways is holding a fare sale for departures this month from Ft. Myers, Las Vegas, Los Angeles, Miami, and New York City. For example, round-trip flights departing this month between New York City and Munich start at $318, plus taxes of about $120. Or fly between Miami and Berlin for round-trip fares starting at $368, plus taxes of about $150. Details here. One downside of LTU is that its departures are infrequent. For instance, it flies merely twice a week from Las Vegas to Germany. Its fares also do not show up in the search results of many online travel websites, such as Kayak.com, so you may want to comparison shop at LTU.com when researching a trip to Germany. (Related note: You can read about Germany's Fairy-Tale Castle Hotels by clicking here.) Freebies in Delaware. On Saturday, May 19, residents can flash their driver's license or student ID to get free access to any of 48 attractions in the state, such as Monster Racing Excitement at the Dover Speedway, Governor Ross Mansion, Fenwick Island Lighthouse, and the Museum of Small Town Life. Alas, the state's prime jewel, Longwood Gardens, isn't participating and will charge $14 per ticket as usual. Editor's Note: There's a good reason why Longwood Gardens isn't participating. It's in Pennsylvania, not Delaware. I regret the error, and thanks to reader Mike for pointing out the mistake. Memorial Day bed and breakfast deals. You'll find packages for stays in California, Connecticut, Michigan, New Hampshire, and Ohio by clicking here. For other deals in these and other states, visit the excellent website BnBFinder.com. Hint: Click on its "Specials" page to find its most surprising deals. Jump-start your trip-planning for the 2008 Summer Olympics in Beijing... Sales of event tickets don't start until September from the official source, CoSport.com, but tour companies are already planning their travel itineraries. Only one company is expected to be able to sell tour packages that include tickets, and that's Cartan Tours, which has debuted its 32-page brochure of packages. Find it here. (A tip: Despite its confusingly-worded instructions, you don't have to submit your personal information to see the brochure. Just click "next" on this website page.) The rates don't exactly shout "budget travel." The starting price for an air/hotel package, not including tickets, is $5,395 per person, plus taxes, which includes a four-night stay at a Courtyard by Marriott in Beijing.

Changes at JetBlue

Discount airline JetBlue booted its founder, David Neeleman, today. The company's board of directors removed Neeleman from his chief executive role as punishment for his recent poor management, which led to last February's canceled-flights fiasco. Let's take a moment to pause and thank Neeleman for having invented JetBlue and many of its innovative perks, which Budget Travel recognized last year with a 2006 Extra Mile Award: "Rather than removing amenities and nickel-and-diming customers with $7 sandwiches and $25 excess baggage charges, JetBlue actually added perks. The airline gives every passenger on an overnight flight a free Bliss Spa kit with earplugs, eye masks, mint lip balm, and a small tube of lemon-and-sage body butter moisturizer." More recently, Neeleman had his airline reconfigure the seats on its aircraft to provide between 34- and 36-inches of legroom. Travelers nationwide ought to be grateful to JetBlue for setting such a good example for the proper treatment of coach-class passengers. One more thought: Neeleman, 47, had an inspiring personal story. Growing up in Utah, he was the guy many teachers never thought would amount to much. Yet he overcame a debilitating brain disorder to eventually found a multi-billion dollar airline company, as detailed in this Fortune profile. All that said, JetBlue's handling of passengers last February was unconscionable. So let's hope this management change, justified or not, lets the airline get back on track soon.</p> <p> </p> <p>_uacct = "UA-1844627-1";</p> <p>urchinTracker();</p> <p>

Cool lodgings

Sleep in a cave house. Thousands of residents of the cathedral town of Guadix, Spain, live in cave houses, carved out of the surrounding sandstone mountains. These cave homes feature all of the standard modern conveniences, as you can tell by the TV satellite dishes that most of the cave dwellers have stuck above their doors. Curious? Then try renting one of these cave homes for a short stay. One agency, Cuevas Pedro Antonio, offers 19 rental units, each with a kitchen, a terrace view of the Sierra Nevada, and access to a pool. Room rates are about $120 a night, assuming a four-night stay. Details here. Guadix makes a convenient stop on a typical circuit of the popular destinations in Mediterranean Andalusia. (Hat tip to the Times of London) Sleep inside a windmill. On the Greek island of Zakynthos, two cape-top windmills are romantic places to stay, says Eleni Gage, a Budget Travel contributor. From the balconies of either of these windmills you can take in glorious views of the Ionian Sea. Rates vary by date, but expect to pay about $200 a night per family. Details here. The owners also offer small boat tours of the area's most popular attractions--including the Blue Caves, which are unusual rock formations over the Ionian Sea--at times of day when larger tourist boats aren't disturbing the scenery. Trips cost about $14 per person, and you don't have to stay at a windmill to take the trip. Details here. (On a related note, you can read about the secret hotels of the Greek Isles by clicking here.) </p> <p> </p> <p>_uacct = "UA-1844627-1";</p> <p>urchinTracker();</p> <p> Stay on your own private island in the South Pacific for about $200 a night.... This is a tip that's been passed along by an Australian real estate broker, Cheyenne Morrison, who travels four months a year by helicopter, seaplane, and occasionally boat to sell and inspect private islands. Since 2000, he's been Coldwell Banker's only international private island broker, with the whole world as his sales district. His islands fetch prices ranging from $67,000 to $75 million. Morrison brokers one island a month an average. And like everyone else these days, he blogs. Morrison recommends you consider visiting One Foot Island, a 5,000-square-foot islet in the Cook Islands in the South Pacific. One Foot Island (a.k.a. Tapuaetai Island) offers a single lodging option, called the One Foot Island Hideway, for merely $200 a night. "Almost nobody knows that you can rent this house and have your very own island at night," says Morrison. During the day, sailing cruises of nearby islands drop anchor and daytrippers stroll One Foot Island. Besides its quintessential tropical views, the island's lone attraction for tourists is a post office that is called the "smallest post office in the world." (The daytrippers generally come from nearby New Zealand and Australia, and visit on tour boats that stop at islands throughout the Aituitaki atoll.) At night, the sailing cruise ships shut down. With sunset, you become sole occupant of the island, commanding its 360-degree views. Morrison explains the island's personal appeal: "As a teenager, I read a great book called An Island to Oneself. It was written by Tom Neale, who lived 16 years alone on the remote Suwarrow Atoll. No amount of trying allowed me to say on privately-owned Suwarrow, but at least I can have the pleasure of having One Foot Island all to myself." Andrew McBirney and his wife Moyra rent out the two-story house. The seaside lodgings are Spartan, featuring a modern shower and flush toilet, kerosene lamps, and a gas oven and a BBQ grill. You need to bring your own food supplies from Rarotonga or you can order food supplies from Aitutaki Lagoon Adventures for next-day delivery. Unless you're intrepid enough to hire a local boat from Rarotonga, you'll probably rely on Aitutaki Lagoon Adventures to also provide your transport back and forth to One Foot Island for about $50 each way per couple. As already noted, rates start at $200 a night. (For booking information, click here or here.) Morrison has been to One Foot Island three times -- most recently last year. He says, "I remember waking up early one morning thinking the house was on fire. The walls were bright red and orange. Half-asleep I went outside to investigate, and I saw that the most magnificent tropical sunrise had painted the skies with a palette of blazing colors. The dazzling fire show lasted only 15 minutes, but--sitting on the veranda of my own tropical island--that was a perfect moment." Off the island's shore is one of the best places in the Aitutaki atoll, which the island belongs to, for snorkeling. "You can spend hours drifting through the shallows over the coral gardens, watching the fish dart around. It's like having a life-sized aquarium on your doorstep." Among the available day-long cruises of the area islands, Morrison recommends Paradise Islands sailing tours (aitutaki.net; $53 per person). Among restaurants on nearby islands, he recommends Tauono's Garden Cafe in Upper Amuri. "It's not a real restaurant in the proper sense," he says, "but actually someone's house. If you let her know in advance, the owner will serve you up a 'catch of the day' fish dinner with fish caught straight of the lagoon you were snorkeling in that day. You can dine out in the garden behind her house on one of a pair of picnic tables. This is real local style cooking, and a great chance to mingle with real locals." (Phone, 011 (682) 31-526) Before leaving the Aitutaki atoll, be sure to stop at "Island Night" at Samades Beach Bar because the local dancers insist they're the best in the Pacific, and they very well may be. (See Morrison's cool blog on private islands here. His recent blog post on One Foot Island can be found here.)

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