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Pandas, visiting with locals, and more things we love

By Kate Appleton
October 3, 2012
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The spa and adventure packages profiled as today's Real Deal got us thinking about all the neat perks and packages in our Girlfriend Getaways issue. There's one in particular we wouldn't want you to miss--a women-oriented tour of China created specially for Budget Travel by Champion Holidays for the second year in a row. (Here's a photo of reader Linda Henriques, in the back far left, who went on last year's trip with four girlfriends.)

Participants get to befriend pandas at the Beijing Zoo, learn about the Chinese art of paper cutting, visit with a family, and tour a silk factory, where you can choose a fabric for your own custom-made, traditional qipao dress. Champion Holidays also covers the blockbusters you'd expect: guided tours of the Great Wall and the Forbidden City, a Grand Canal cruise, and so on. You can find more details about the 12-night trip priced at $1,799 here.

And to spot some pandas closer to home, check out our adorable Zoo Babies feature, with fun facts and photos from five top U.S. zoos.

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Is the Grand Canyon Skywalk a tourist trap? For those who haven't heard about it, the Skywalk is "a glass-bottomed, horseshoe-shaped walkway over the Grand Canyon--protruding 70 harrowing feet," as Budget Travel described it this past winter. Unfortunately, since we reported on it, the owners of the Skywalk have hiked the price of admission. The total bill is now $75 a person--53% more than what we had told readers to expect. I'm personally skeptical that the Skywalk is worth $75. But you be the judge: The pop-culture travel blog Jaunted has a video of what the tour is like. (See here.) And if you've toured the Skywalk in person, please share your opinion of it with our readers by posting a comment below. Borat is writing a travel guidebook. According to this AP story, "Borat, the fictional ambassador from Kazakhstan has a book, with two titles, coming out this fall: Borat: Touristic Guidings To Minor Nation of U.S. and A. and Borat: Touristic Guidings To Glorious Nation of Kazakhstan." I wonder which travel magazine will bid to publish an excerpt? Scuba diving in Paris? "Between now and June 10, professional scuba instructors are offering one-on-one lessons in the heated, above-ground pool at the foot of the tower," according to this AP story. Bizarre.

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As This Just In anticipated a month ago, a Harry Potter theme park will be opened by Universal Studios in Florida in 2009. Hip, hip, hurray! Nickelodeon said today that it's teaming up with Marriott in creating new kid-friendly family resort brand. It'll take about a dozen years to build about 20 properties, each with a water park. The first resort, a 650-room property in San Diego, will be open within a couple of years. Of course, Nickelodeon already offers Nick Hotels via Holiday Inn. Tomorrow, the Operation Spy experience debuts at the International Spy Museum in downtown Washington, D.C. Participants ages 12 and older assume the role of U.S. Intelligence officers on an intrigue-filled international mission. The exhibit combines live-action, video characters, special effects, and hands-on activities to simulate what it's like to be a spy. Sounds pretty neat. Be sure to book your timed tickets in advance. Details here. Ireland price break: $800 per person, air/hotel/car for six nights. Last-minute planners may find that vacation packages offer a way of cutting some of the costs of a trip to Ireland--where Guinness now goes for $7 and Dublin hotel rooms are reaching $400 a night because of the watery value of the dollar. Dooley Vacations is offering a vacation package, starting at $800 per person for travel during peak-season--a savings of about 20 percent off the cost of buying the airfare, hotel and rental car separately. The package includes round-trip airfare on FlyGlobespan from New York or Boston to Knock, Ireland, a six-night stay at multi-room inns, and car rental with unlimited mileage. Book by June 8. For details, call 877/331-9301 or click here. Starting today, it's easier to plan and take a Segway tour. As editor Erik Torkells noted when he recently took such a tour in Bermuda, Segways are those electric scooter-like contraptions that you move by shifting your weight." (Fun fact: Most of the world's 23,500 Segways are used for tourism.) Starting today, Segway tours are conveniently listed on a single webpage -- here. Editor's note: Per the comment below, "Actually, that link for tours on a Segway only shows those tours certified as "SegwayAuthorized Tours" by Segway, Inc. To see a list of all tours featuring the Segway PT worldwide (almost 200 so far!), visit www.SegwayGuidedTours.com next."

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European trains on sale. Online ticketing service Rail Europe is offering this promotion: One-way full-fare tickets on all routes of the high-speed Thalys train connecting Paris-Brussels-Amsterdam are now on sale at 50% off the standard rates. Tickets must be booked here by August 15 for travel between June 1 and August 31, 2007. For example, between Paris and Amsterdam the discounted round-trip ticket will cost $170 for economy-class service. Meanwhile, graduation gifts for student travelers are for sale from competitor website Railpass.com. The gift packs include international cell phone and minutes, a map, and a language book. Details here. Medal of Honor Museum to open in Charleston, S.C. On May 25, the historic World War II aircraft carrier U.S.S. Yorktown will become a floating museum celebrating the lives and heroics of the 3,462 Congressional Medal of Honor recipients. The museum will feature four exhibits including The Wall of Honor, Combat Tunnel, Freedom Isn't Free, and Hall of Heroes. Learn more at Patriotspoint.org. Memorial Day trip planning. If you want to get out of town for the long weekend, you'll find some deals on rooms with this promotion at Hotels.com. Codzilla strikes Boston. This summer's newest attraction in Beantown is Codzilla, a 135-passenger cruise ship that will tour Boston Harbor. The 40-minute cruises on Long Wharf begin on Saturday, June 30, with near-hourly departures. Adults pay $17 each; kids 12 and under pay $13 each. A customer is suing the Phoenician Hotel about hidden charges on his room bill. The class action suit against the Scottsdale, Ariz.,-hotel could set an industry precedent. Details here, at our partner site WashingtonPost.com's Travel Log. Here's a hotel that's too pricey to visit, but looks very cool: Aqua Dome. This new 140-room luxury hotel in the Tirolean Otztal region of Austria has been designed by winners of the Pritzker price, the Oscars of architecture. Rates start at $215 per night in high-season. Read details at its website and at The Cool Hunter blog.

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MAXjet is offering new nonstop flights between L.A. and London. Starting at the end of August, the all-business-class carrier will offer fares starting from $1,398 round-trip, plus taxes of about $300, according to a press release. These fares are considerably lower than the current business-class fares on this route. MAXjet will fly between Los Angeles International airport and Stansted airport, the latter of which is a 45-minute train ride away from central London. Last fall, Budget Travel gave MAXjet an Extra Mile Award for offering "champagne cocktails and spacious leather seats with no middle rows" and airfares that tempt middle-class travelers. MAXjet also has gateways in Las Vegas, New York City, and Washington, D.C. The 25 travel wonders of the British Isles have been picked by the U.K.'s most prestigious newspaper, The Times. Britain's popular airline BMI is planning to add flights between the U.S. and the U.K. next March, according to London's Guardian Unlimited. Let's hope that this move will spark a fare war that makes it more affordable to see some of those 25 travel wonders. New Mexico has launched the wackiest state tourism campaign ever. Check out its new website, which is riffing off the state's association with Area 51 and UFO sightings. TV, print, and online ads are being rolled out. At the new website Newmexicoearth.org, you can click on one of the links to see one of the "out of this world" videos and learn about some off-beat tourist attractions. (via TripCart)

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