Today's travel intel

By Sean O'Neill
October 3, 2012

The National Park Service plans to hike entrance fees at more than 100 parks, monuments, and other areas within the next few years. But popular protests could forestall the price hikes. "Park superintendents can recommend that the agency director, Mary Bomar, rescind the increases if enough people protest," says this Associated Press story. This summer, higher park passes and vehicle fees are set for 11 parks, such as Muir Woods and Bryce Canyon. Scores of other parks will see fee hikes after that. By 2009, the most popular parks, such as Yosemite and Glacier (in Montana), will charge up to $50 for annual passes. Fees per person would range from about $5 to $12. Per vehicle, they would be about $10 to $25. To protest, contact the site manager of individual parks. You can find the email or mailing addresses of site managers by looking for individual park webpages, which you can find at the National Park Service's main website, (Thanks to Kurt Repanshek, author of National Parks of the American West for Dummies, for giving this heads-up on his National Parks Traveler blog.)

Overnight train travelers can often get themselves upgraded to sleeper seats at little cost. On its long-distance routes, Amtrak offers private rooms with seats that fold out into beds. (You'll find Amtrak's description of these rooms by clicking here.) The cost of a roomette is typically several hundred dollars more than a coach seat. But you can often buy an upgrade from coach to this more comfortable spot by paying only about $100 more, according to this story by James Gilden in the L.A. Times. Gilden recommends you take the following three steps to score a comfortable roomette at a low price. First, travel mid-week and at a non-holiday time because demand for upgrades will be weaker. Next, check online at and buy an upgrade. "See what room you are assigned. If it is a single-digit number, it's likely sleepers are available on that train; Amtrak assigns rooms starting with the lowest numbers first. Then you can cancel the upgrade and take your chances at the station or onboard." For the full article, click here. For other tips and strategies on bargain train rides, see this Budget Travel interview with a top train expert. For tips on Canadian train travel, click here.

Fare sales to Las Vegas and Orlando are getting better at a little-known airline. Allegiant Air is a low-cost airline that focuses on leisure travelers and operates primarily out of Las Vegas and Orlando. Its fares don't show up at the major online travel websites, such as Expedia. But this young, profitable airline uses new jet planes to provide non-stop service to more than a dozen less-trafficked airports, such as Billings, Des Moines, Fargo, Knoxville, and Missoula. Recently, Allegiant has been "slashing fares on the weekend for travel two or three weeks ahead," reports If Allegiant serves your city, you may be able to travel to Sin City or one of the Sunshine State's most popular destinations at a low cost. But you'll have to visit Allegiant's website,, to check its routes, schedules, and fares. For information on two other little-known airlines, Eurofly and Condor, read this blog post at This Just In.

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Morocco's national drink: Berber whiskey

Melissa Kronenthal, who runs the blog Traveler's Lunchbox, recently visited Morocco. Here, she shares an anecdote from her trip and offers an insight into that country's culture. By the time we arrived at our riad, it was early evening in Marrakesh and we were starving. We were desperate to drop our bags as quickly as possible and set out in search of dinner, but the riad manager, Omar, had other ideas. He assured us we couldn't leave without first accepting some traditional Moroccan hospitality. "Our custom in Morocco is to offer all guests some refreshment," he said, escorting us up to the riad's expansive roof terrace, "and customary for all guests to accept it." "Alright," we acquiesced, certainly not keen to start our trip by contravening tradition, "what kind of refreshment do you offer?" "A glass of whiskey berbere, naturally," he said with a grand gesture, and disappeared. "Uh, okay," we said exchanging confused looks. Wasn't it awfully risqué to offer alcohol in a Muslim country, particularly with the mosque next door in plain sight? But before we could ponder the mystery further Omar was back, carrying a worn steel tray, two small glasses, and an ornate silver teapot. Of course, we should have guessed - whiskey berbere is nothing other than the tongue-in-cheek name for mint tea. The joke may have been casual, but the analogy isn't actually so farfetched, as we would soon discover. Like whiskey in Scotland, mint tea isn't a quaint tourist gimmick - it's a national obsession. Hot, sweet, and bracingly bitter, it punctuates Moroccan life like clockwork: mint tea to wake up, mint tea with pastries in the afternoon, mint tea to round out every meal. It's served with panache, poured from a great height out of bulbous silver pots into glasses barely bigger than thimbles; the aeration is important for developing the flavor, we were told, and the size of the glasses insures your tea will never get cold (and makes it easier to down the three obligatory cups that tradition dictates, I imagine). In a country where alcohol is forbidden and water is often of questionable quality, it's a beverage that has acquired tremendous practical and symbolic value, functioning as digestive aid, pick-me-up, negotiation facilitator and simple sustenance. I wouldn't be surprised if Moroccans have it running through their veins instead of blood. As we sat there in the growing twilight, sipping our tea and listening to the call to prayer reverberate across the rooftops, it seemed about as perfect a first taste of the country as we could have asked for. You can read more about Melissa's trip to Morocco by clicking here. For Budget Travel's advice on visiting Morocco and the Sahara Desert, click here.


All the cool kids are Zorbing

When one of our readers, Eric Tennen, recently went on vacation in Rotorua, New Zealand, he tried out a new thrill called the Zorb. As you see here, Eric was strapped into a small spherical chamber, which is cushioned by two feet of air inside a larger inflated ball.The ball was then pushed down the hill. Eric says, "It sounds simple, but it is scary, nauseating, and thrilling all at the same time. The hill itself is not entirely smooth, and in addition to rolling, it bounces, too. The scariest part is that you are by yourself, and once the ball starts rolling, there is no escape. While it is quicker than a roller coaster, it is much more intense because the speed and twists are magnified."Later this year, the Zorb will come to American shores, debuting at a theme park in Pigeon Forge, Tenn., near the Dollywood amusement park. For Eric, the cost of the ride in New Zealand was about $30. If you can't wait and need to Zorb right now, you can find the ride in roughly a dozen countries, including Argentina and Hungary. Find a list of locations here.