National Parks Week deals: There's more than just free admission
Buy-one-get-one-free scenic cruises and promotions granting a second night free at hotels are among the many discounts offered at national park and recreation areas next week.
April 17 to 25 is National Parks Week, when, as we've mentioned before, admission at all parks is being waived. But free admission is just the beginning of the deals. A long list of park partner businesses are getting in on the action with specials of their own. Examples:
GLEN CANYON, ARIZ.
Guests of Lake Powell Resorts & Marinas, located in Glen Canyon National Recreation Area, can buy one ticket for Lake Powell's Canyon Adventure Cruise or Rainbow Bridge Cruise and receive the second ticket FREE during National Park Week. The Canyon Adventure Cruise departs daily at 9 a.m. and 1 p.m. and is priced at $52.50 for adults and $30 for children. The Rainbow Bridge Cruise departs daily at 7:30 a.m. and 12:30 p.m. and is priced at $100 for adults and $72 for children.
MESA VERDE, COLO.
Guests of Mesa Verde National Park in southwestern Colorado can book one night at the Far View Lodge, priced at $99, and get the second consecutive night FREE. This offer is valid April 22–April 30. Please note, entrance to Mesa Verde National Park is free through the end of April.
Guests of Olympic National Park in Washington can book one night starting at $157, at any of three Olympic National Park properties managed by ARAMARK Parks and Destinations, and receive the second consecutive night FREE. Promotion includes stays at Sol Duc Hot Springs Resort and Kalaloch Lodge during April 17-25 and stays at Lake Crescent Lodge May 7-31, 2010. Guests must book their stay for Lake Crescent Lodge by April 25, 2010.
Guests of Shenandoah National Park in Virginia can book one night at Skyland Resort, priced at $125, and receive the second consecutive night FREE. This offer is valid April 18-29, 2010.
San Francisco: This summer, head out to the ball park
Baseball fever has officially hit San Francisco, especially after two Opening Weekend wins over the Atlanta Braves this past weekend. A summer trip to the city just isn't complete without a visit to our famously beautiful stadium. AT&T; Park (or Pac Bell Park, as many locals still call it), sits just by the Bay and offers postcard-quality views, gourmet food, a 56-foot-long Coca-Cola bottle-shaped superslide, and the excitement of a home run splashing into the water. Even non-baseball fans will have a blast. An exciting opening coincides with the 2010 season: Traci Des Jardin, the James Beard award-winning chef of Jardiniére, is debuting two brand new restaurants adjacent to the park. Mijita will serve Mexican food like mahi mahi tacos and jicama, grapefruit, and avocado salad. Next door is Public House, a high-end sports bar serving gourmet takes on classic bar food like grass-fed burgers with avocado, bacon, Grafton cheddar cheese, and house-made pickles. Plus, Public will have one of the largest menus of draft beer and cask ales in town, including local Magnolia brews. It's all perfect for a pre- or post-game noshing adventure—or if you can't score tickets, just enjoy the game atmosphere right next to the park (24 Willie Mays Plaza, 415/644-0240). Surely we've convinced you to go by now! If so, check out our handy tips on everything from how to get there to what to eat. Getting there: By public transit: Take BART to the Embarcadero stop and then transfer to the N and T Muni trains, which stop right next the ballpark. Buses 10, 30, 45, and 47 stop one block away. See more at sfmta.com. On game days, public transit will be jam-packed, so it's often better to just make the 15-minute walk from Embarcadero. By bike: It's an easy and scenic ride along the Embarcadero from either Fisherman's Wharf or downtown to the ball park. The stadium even offers valet bike parking, located on the Port Walk between the CHW Health Center and the foul pole. Scoring tickets:This year the park is introducing dynamic pricing, similar to the stock market, where ticket prices will increase with demand. So you should buy early online or plan to attend one of the less-popular games. Where to sit: To get the best bang for your buck, sit in a bleacher seat (from $9.50), which offers the best views and a chance to catch a home run, particularly in sections 137-139. For less hardcore fans, the reserved sections offer stunning views of the Bay with gorgeous sunsets (from $8). If you can't score a seat, you can always catch a glimpse of the game from the right field wall outside the stadium for free. Usually people just stop by this area instead of staying to watch all nine innings, but important games do draw a line (like when Barry Bonds was trying to break the home-run record.) Grub to get: Garlic fries are a must, and forget Budweiser—the park is all about locally brewed Gordon Biersch and Anchor Steam. If you want to splurge, the fresh crab sandwiches are worth the $15. To save money, you can also bring in outside food and drink (just no glass or metal bottles). Also good to know: The shortest lines for concessions and bathrooms are at center field. What to wear: Black and orange, of course! For night games, layers are essential—it can get chilly, especially in the reserved sections. Stay connected: That's right, in this tech-obsessed town, our whole ballpark has Wi-Fi. There's even a Digital Dugout app, available for download only inside the stadium, that features instant video replay, scores, stats, a pitch tracker, and player profiles, plus interactive games (in case the live game isn't exciting enough.) Use the included food finder to locate the closest food and drink options from your seats.
London: 5 best April values
The buds, birds, and butterflies of spring are waking from the harshest winter in a generation. Londoners, too, are waking…etiolated maybe, but all set to enjoy the pleasant April weather. Here are 5 ways to join them in having a good time—without breaking your budget. Bluebell woods, mid-April–mid-May England's ancient woodlands are bursting into blue bloom and forest floors are carpeted with hundreds of thousands of wild bluebell flowers. This tiny, brilliant hyacinth is a specialty of southern England. The best place to see the floral display is West Sussex—less than 40 miles south of London. woodlands.co.uk, free.x The London Marathon, April 25 The starting gun for the key sporting event of the new season fires at 9 a.m. on April 25, when some 40,000 runners will take to the streets of south London and the city center. The event is one of the World Marathon Majors (a series which also includes Boston, Chicago, New York, and Berlin), meaning that the world's best athletes will be competing alongside thousands of amateurs raising money for myriad charities. Many runners will be dressed in bizarre costumes. See the site for the Virgin London Marathon to find a route map and a table with estimated timings for runner arrivals, gauged by ability. virginlondonmarathon.com, free to watch. St George's Day, April 23–25 While the Irish, Welsh, and Scots joyfully celebrate their national saints's days, the English have traditionally been more rueful. Celebrations in the capital this year buck that trend, with a host of events on and around Trafalgar Square. These include concerts, English food-tasting (avoid the boiled vegetables and opt for the puddings), cabaret, comedy, and street theater—all free. Plus, a St. George's day Rugby match at the national rugby stadium in Twickenham. visitlondon.com, free to watch. The Enchanted Palace, through June 2012 First-time visitors to London may think that the capital's only royal palace is the Queen's residence. But Buckingham is merely one of several. Kensington Palace has been a royal residence since William of Orange moved here in 1689, and Queen Anne and George II lived and died here. More recently, the palace was the erstwhile home of Diana Princess of Wales, and in honor of her fashion-conscious spirit, the palace is now staging a phantasmagorical exhibition of quirky British clothing. Exhibits include "a dress of tears" by Aminaka Wilmont, based on the ancient tradition of collecting tears at times of mourning; an installation of hats by milliner Stephen Jones, inspired by 18th-century busts of great philosophers and scientists; a Vivienne Westwood dress inspired by the spirited Princess Charlotte (1796–1817); a soundscape of ticking and chiming clocks by Boudicca, accompanied by "dresses the colour of time" circling the room; and an origami dress by William Tempest, which appears to vanish into its surroundings. hrp.org.uk, entrance to the exhibition is included in the admission fee for Kensington Palace, about $18. La Linea London Latin Music Festival, April 22–30 You'll hear more languages spoken in London than perhaps any other city on Earth. A great way to experience this is to attend the La Linea festival. While you'll find no Luso, Spanish, Italian, or Brazilian acts playing, you'll discover that it's a lovely excuse for watching the city's increasingly numerous Latin-American Spanish-speakers to kick off the winter blues and warm-up with tango, salsa, and meringue. Highlights this year include Kid Creole, the Gotan Project's Victor Villena, and Amparo Sanchez. comono.co.uk/lalinea, free. MORE FROM BUDGET TRAVEL Our London City Page
Cuba prepares for an end to the travel ban
A year ago, we blogged about Congress's debate over lifting the travel ban for Americans to Cuba. Here's an update… Cuban officials are banking that the ban will end soon, and they have begun to prepare for a boom in business. The country recently announced plans to open nine new hotels this year, adding about 50,000 rooms to the island. (For perspective, consider that Las Vegas added only 14,000 rooms in the past year.) Unofficially, travel to Cuba has already picked up. More and more Americans are visiting thanks to legal loopholes that allow "research trips." Two years ago, the State Department were very selective about who was obtain to visas for these trips, and few citizens were allowed to go. But today, Americans who aren't specialized academics, musicians, or full-time missionaries are often being granted visas because of more lenient U.S. officials, says The Miami Herald. A few tour groups use websites to tout their expertise in making the system work. Illegal travel also appears to be on the rise, too. By not having their passport book stamped in Cuba, travelers can avoid U.S. punishment. "U.S. customs officers don't issue citations for violations of the U.S. Cuba policy, but rather refer cases to the Treasury Department's Office of Foreign Assets Control," reports the AP. Interestingly, the Treasury Department has not prosecuted any American in recent years for violating the law. Sadly, the dictatorship's mistreatment of dissidents continues. And that angers U.S. officials, delaying the effort to lift the ban. On the one hand, the Senate's Freedom to Travel to Cuba Act has the 60 votes needed to pass, according to its champion, Sen. Byron Dorgan. But the companion bill in the House of Representatives faces an uphill battle. It has 178 supporters so far, and it needs 40 more votes to pass. President Obama has not said where he stands on the issue. It doesn't look like the ban will be lifted for another year or two. But many more Americans will be visiting thanks to lax enforecment of the law. Would you be eager to visit? EARLIER Cuba: Change travelers can believe in? (41 comments)
Security: Can new technology read a flier's mind?
The attempted Christmas Day bombing of a Northwest Airlines jet showed that airport security remains flawed. The TSA is trying to come up with new tactics to keep terrorists off of our planes. Is there anything smarter than can be done? We've blogged in the past about pre-screening passengers by filtering info from law enforcement databases, collecting "biometric data" with iris scans and other tests, and making passengers walk through whole-body scanners instead of mere metal detectors. Here are a few technologies that could help spot potential terrorists before it's too late, similar to the systems for detecting "pre-crimes" used in the Tom Cruise movie "Minority Report." ROBOTIC MIND READING Under this system being tested in Israel, passengers would be shown photographs of known terrorists and studied for how they react. Passengers with guilty consciences or a touch of paranoia may react to the stress physically. Infrared cameras would measure jumps in a traveler's heart rate and breathing rate. If the passenger's vital signs reveal hidden nervousness, the passenger may be questioned further by officers. POP QUIZ STRESS TEST Imagine you're approaching the airport security gate. You step up to a machine and put your passport on a scanner and rest the palm of your hand on a sensor. Then you answer a series of written questions that are flashed on a screen (or are spoken to you in audio mode, if you prefer). A machine measures your body's reactions during this question-and-answer session. Are you acting suspicious? You'll be pulled aside for further questioning. Such a scenario may not be a sci-fi fantasy anymore. New technology, memorably named SDS-VR-1000, is being tested to do precisely this. KEEPING TABS ON THE SECURITY WORKERS A tragedy might go unprevented if an officer is distracted and daydreaming while the image of a bomb comes across their X-ray screen. But new monitoring equipment—similar to cardiogram machines—would continuously study employees to spot check their competency and help managers know when their employees need to take breaks. The technology, being develped by Eltel, is similar to the camera-monitoring system used by casinos to catch any signs of suspicious behavior by their staff or customers. Do any of these programs work? The verdict is still out. Consider those infrared devices used to tell if a passenger's heart rate is speeding up. The machines sound awfully similar to those thermal imaging devices that are supposed to detect whether a passenger is running a fever—and which are not effective, according to a recent study. False alarms are another worry. Many innocent passengers are bound to be mistakenly fingered as possible bad guys. Even if the devices were 99.999 percent accurate—which would be surprisingly good—they would set off about 20 false alarms a day nationwide. Yet for many Americans, the inconvenience and added expense could be worth it. What do you think? How would you feel about being exposed to "incriminating stimuli" at the airport security gate to see how you react?