Two "Disney Dweebs" Spill Their Juiciest Secrets
You'd be hard-pressed to find grown men who love Disney more than Jim Hill and David Koenig. The two "Disney Dweebs"--Hill said it, not us--have devoted much of their lives to chronicling the parks. They're the kind of obsessives who get excited when news breaks that another mechanical cobra has been added to the Jungle Cruise.
Disney, however, doesn't feel quite the same way about them. In March, Disneyland staffers stopped Hill from leading an unauthorized tour of the park--and worse, charging for it. Afterward Hill admitted he was flat-out wrong for making a buck on private property, noting that "security was unfailingly polite and professional."
A month later, Disneyland guest relations trailed Koenig down Main Street, U.S.A., as he led his own unofficial tour, gently interrogating him in front of the faux City Hall. Because security couldn't prove that any money had changed hands, Koenig was allowed to continue. (A park spokesperson clarified that Koenig should've been stopped because his "free" tour was only for people who had purchased his book: "Only qualified Disneyland Resort cast members are authorized to provide tours.")
Anyone hoping that Disney was trying to cover up tales of scandal and sleaze will be disappointed: The renegade guides' spiels are mostly G-rated fun. We found that the Dweebs' tours add one more interesting layer to the experience of visiting the parks--a totally unofficial, undeniably dorky glimpse behind the magic that is Disney. --The Editors
As is our policy, we tried to confirm every fact in this story. Disney doesn't comment on rumors and certain historic and financial details, so we verified info through third-party sources whenever possible.
David Koenig's tour of Disneyland
Start on Main Street, U.S.A., where the "eternal lamp" still burns in the window of Walt Disney's private apartment over the fire station. The entrance is via a back door at the top of a green wooden staircase, though as in Walt's day, the single-room sanctuary is off-limits to visitors. The brass fire pole in the station used to serve as a second exit to the apartment, but the hole was closed off years ago after a boy shimmied up and surprised Walt.
Anyone can get inside the more luxurious apartment Walt had built above the Pirates of the Caribbean. The Mousetro died before the apartment was completed, and it's now an art gallery--and a great place to escape the crowds. You'll find a shaded courtyard and a spacious balcony overlooking the Rivers of America.
Below the balcony, next to the Blue Bayou restaurant, there's an inconspicuous green door with a plaque reading "33." Inside, a select group of VIPs regularly wine and dine at the Club 33. In the 1960s the club replaced a private room at the rear of the Red Wagon Inn (since remodeled as the Plaza Inn) as the top-secret spot for Disney executives to entertain big shots. Known as the Hideout or the Hideaway, the room had a fully stocked bar, even though the park has always prohibited alcohol.
Toward the end of Main Street, on the right, look for a porch in front of a china shop. When Disneyland opened in 1955, this is where a cash-starved Walt allowed Hollywood-Maxwell to sell corsets and lingerie. Walt took the rent money, but didn't want impressionable young eyes staring at women's undies in the window, so he discouraged business by situating the shop back from the street and installing a giant porch out front. The ploy worked: The so-called "Wizard of Bras" packed its bags in 1956.
Likewise, most of the original Tomorrowland is gone; it was once filled with cheesy corporate exhibits--Monsanto's chemistry hall, Kaiser's aluminum museum, the Crane Bathroom of Tomorrow. The latter had a bidet display; to shield it from kids, Walt had the bottom part of the glass in front of it frosted.
Except for the Autopia car ride, everything in the original Tomorrowland has been gutted and replaced several times over. The new Buzz Lightyear Astro Blasters, restored Space Mountain, and Submarine Voyage (soon to return with a Finding Nemo twist) disguise the fact that a $100 million makeover of Tomorrowland, done just seven years ago, was a total bust.
Two telling relics remain: an abandoned overhead track and a giant marble ball on a blue mat. The track was built in the 1960s for the PeopleMover tramway. Once the PeopleMover felt more like Yesterdayland than Tomorrowland, Disney tried to save money by using the track for the high-speed Rocket Rods, introduced in 1998. The vehicles were ill-suited for the winding, unbanked rail, and after two years of breakdowns, the Rocket Rods vanished. The giant ball marked the center of a water fountain called Cosmic Waves. Designers figured guests would enjoy dodging the five-foot spurts of water. Wrong! Children preferred to get as wet as possible, splashing around in their underwear, or even naked. As the area devolved into a public bath, it began to smell like one, and Disney turned off the tap.
Other recent additions that have already started disappearing are Fastpass machines. The ride reservation kiosks, which allow guests to sign up for a specified entrance time rather than wait in line, seem to have grown too popular. I'm guessing that Disney officials removed Fastpass dispensers at rides such as Winnie the Pooh and Pirates of the Caribbean because they were sick of visitors milling around the machines--and clogging up the walkways--instead of waiting in the standby lines.
One activity you never have to wait for is tracking down all eight graveyards inside the park. Here are hints: There's one in Storybook Land, another in the shooting arcade, two on Tom Sawyer Island, and four in and around the Haunted Mansion. One at the Mansion is particularly tough to see--it's a pet cemetery, on the right side of the house, if you're looking at the front. Rumor has it, by the way, that a pet grave near the entrance is real. During construction, an employee reportedly buried the remains of his pet under the doggy tombstone.
Stranger yet, three years ago a family is said to have smuggled the ashes of their late son into the Haunted Mansion, his favorite ride, and began distributing his remains. Attendants watching via hidden cameras feared the powder might be anthrax. They quickly evacuated the ride and called in a HazMat crew.
Jim Hill's tour of Walt Disney World
In the fall of 1963, Walt Disney was up in the corporate plane scoping out central Florida real estate for what was then known as Project Sunshine. He spied a pretty little island among the cypress-filled swamps and imagined taking guests there for treasure hunts. "Treasure Island" was a big reason why Walt bought more than 40 square miles of land outside Orlando. Walt died in 1966, and the 11-acre retreat eventually became known as Discovery Island-- spot for hiking and observing flora and fauna, not treasure hunting. The island, which never drew the biggest crowds, has been off-limits to guests since 1999, around the same time Disney began steering visitors to the newly opened Animal Kingdom. The latest rumor has it that the island will open as an attraction based on the ABC series Lost.
Treasure Island isn't the only one of Walt's ideas not to work out as planned. The apartments he wanted inside the spires of Cinderella Castle were never built. And a much bigger project, Epcot, has almost nothing to do with the futuristic city Walt envisioned. You can catch a glimpse of what Walt had in by mind riding the Tomorrowland Transit Authority. Before speeding toward Space Mountain, look on the left at the model of Progress City, used in the 1964 World's Fair--a sleek, Jetsons-style city with a prominent tower in the center. Walt wanted Epcot to be the most technologically advanced town in the world, with its own actual residents, not a park for day visitors. (It's also worth noting that Walt's ideas for urban planning have little in common with Celebration, the early-20th-century-style planned community Disney opened in 1996.)
One battle Walt did win, posthumously, was for the location of the Magic Kingdom. Walt believed it should be constructed far from the highway, so that visitors driving in would get a dramatic view of Cinderella Castle rising out of the forest. Building a five-mile access road through a swamp was going to be costly, however, and for a while after Walt's death this and other ideas were scaled back. Walt's brother, Roy, convinced the board of directors to build the Magic Kingdom right where Walt wanted it.
While the cost of the Florida park ballooned from $100 million to $400 million, the company tried to save money by canceling plans for new rides in Fantasyland based on Sleeping Beauty, Mary Poppins, and The Legend of Sleepy Hollow, and instead building replicas of rides at Disneyland--Snow White's Scary Adventure, Mr. Toad's Wild Ride, and Peter Pan's Flight. The accountants trying to pinch pennies, however, didn't keep a close enough eye on the designers. Known as Imagineers, the designers built bigger, more elaborate versions of the originals, negating any savings netted by attempting to use carbon copies. The folks in Disneyland, in turn, tore down the original Fantasyland in 1983 for a full redesign.
Fantasyland in Orlando has changed over the years as well. The Snow White ride originally had no Snow White--you were supposed to experience the story from her perspective. Not everyone appreciated the concept, and the Imagineers eventually placed a Snow White figure in the opening scene. Fans of Mr. Toad's Wild Ride wrote letters, held "toad-in" protest rallies, and wore green T-shirts saying Ask Me Why Mickey Is Killing Mr. Toad, but that didn't stop the ride from closing in 1998 to make way for The Many Adventures of Winnie the Pooh. There are tributes to Toad inside the new ride: As you're cruising along in a "hunny pot" through Owl's house, look for two paintings. There's one of Toad handing over the deed to Owl, and another of Winnie standing next to Toad's friend Mole.
Another mainstay that will soon disappear is the Swiss Family Robinson. The tree house, boat wreck, and other backdrops will become part of a Tarzan area. Robinson family props will be replaced by Jane, Kala, and other characters from Disney's 1999 animated feature. The cross-promoting doesn't stop there: Look for an animatronic Johnny Depp, dressed as film character Captain Jack Sparrow, to be staggering around the final sequence of the Pirates of the Caribbean ride in 2006. (Something tells me Eddie Murphy won't be doing a similar cameo in the Haunted Mansion ride.)
Disney plays up its magical image, as if every detail in the park was and always will be perfect. The truth is that rides are always getting tinkered with. Young kids found Stitch's Great Escape confusing and frightening, so Imagineers removed scary moments and added audio of an unseen child saying such things as, "Look, Stitch is headed for the ceiling."
Like the rides, Disney staffers aren't always perfect, or particularly well-behaved. During the Watergate hearings, prankster employees in the Hall of Presidents would tie Nixon's hands behind his back--like, well, a crook. And in the midst of the Monica Lewinsky scandal, the statue of Bill Clinton invariably wound up with condoms stuffed in his pockets.
1. Mail your souvenirs. Sending a flat-rate Priority Mail box costs $7.70, no matter how much it weighs or which state it's going to. After accumulating too much stuff to fit in my suitcase during a trip to Atlanta, I filled a box with laundry, souvenirs, and gifts for my grandchildren, and mailed it to my home address.--Eleanor Waterhouse, Kailua, Hawaii 2. Pack binoculars. To avoid walking around gawking at skyscrapers while sightseeing in cities like New York, I pack a small pair of binoculars. When I spot an interesting building, I step out of the flow of traffic on the sidewalk, back up to a wall, and enjoy the architectural details or read inscriptions with my binoculars.--Virginia Hendley, Rio Rancho, N.M. 3. Exercise before your trip. I always try to work out before heading to the airport. It usually gets me tuckered out enough that I can relax and sleep on the plane. If I don't have time for pre-travel exercise, I take a brisk walk through the terminal before boarding or find a quiet spot in an empty gate and practice a little yoga. --Kimberly Gilbert, Raleigh, N.C. 4. Create an instant washing machine. Pack a one-gallon Ziploc bag and a travel-size shampoo container refilled with detergent. They come in handy when you need to wash hosiery, bras, and other delicate undergarments. Put a few drops of detergent into the bag and fill it part way with water. Place the item you want to wash in the bag, close it up, and shake it around for a few minutes. Instant washing machine! For larger pieces of clothing, I've used the plastic laundry bags supplied at most hotels. Just hold on to the open end tightly.--Erika Kumada, Mount Prospect, Ill. 5. Find the best airfares. When looking for the lowest airfare, I've found that in some cases the best rates pop up when searching for one traveler instead of two. Recently, I wanted to buy one-way tickets from New York to Orlando for two people and came up with $87 per person. But when I selected one traveler, the fare dropped to $72. I went back and forth several times, but the results didn't change. If the best rate disappears during the process, delete all relevant cookies and try again.--Yoshi Matsuda, Rego Park, N.Y. 6. Take a tape recorder. During a visit to Mexico City, I was sitting in a plaza near a fountain, watching the locals stroll around in their Sunday best. Nearby, an older gentleman was playing a concertina; his music perfectly framed the scene. I took lots of pictures, but I didn't have a way to capture that music. Now, whenever I travel, I pack a small tape recorder along with my camera.--Kieran Sala, Pasadena, Calif. 7. Mix and match your wardrobe. Pack lightly by picking two colors to mix and match throughout your trip. You'll cut down on luggage and you won't have to bring a bunch of shoes to match an assortment of colors.--Lori Fields, Salisbury, Md. 8. Rebind your guidebook. Before setting off on one of my many backpacking excursions, I head to Kinko's to rebind my guidebook. I replace the cover with a plain black or navy one. It costs about $6 and allows me to blend in much better while traveling. People think of my new book as a journal or novel, not a travel guide that labels me a tourist.--Michelle Johnson, Mountain View, Calif. 9. Check your e-mail for free. I was in the international departure area of Tokyo's Narita Airport (Terminal 2, 3rd Floor) and found a great place to kill time before my flight home: the Yahoo Internet Café. You can check your e-mail and surf the Web for free. There's no time limit; just flash your passport to get in.--Ann Ruby, Honolulu, Hawaii 10. Pick up a Pariscope. When visiting Paris, make sure you pick up a copy of Pariscope at a local newsstand (50¢). It's a cheap little guide that'll clue you in to all the cultural events going on that week. There's an English-language section too, so you won't miss out on all the great tips if you don't speak French.--Mary Cheely, Chicago, Ill. 11. Stash away some traveler's checks. Some people think that traveler's checks aren't necessary anymore, but they really can be useful in a variety of situations. My ATM card wouldn't work on Easter Island, where most restaurants did not accept credit cards and wanted to be paid in pesos. Luckily, our hotel cashed my traveler's checks and gave me the pesos I needed. On Dominica, my purse was stolen. But because I had traveler's checks stashed away in my luggage, the vacation wasn't ruined. I always travel with what I call the "trusty four": American dollars (lots of ones and fives divided up and hidden in several locations), traveler's checks, an ATM card, and a credit card.--Jeanette Cantwell, Poughkeepsie, N.Y. 12. Keep clothing fresh. Place a fabric softener sheet in your suitcase when packing. It'll absorb odors and dampness and keep clothing fresh. It's most beneficial in warm, humid climates and while at sea. I found this tip quite useful during my 23 years in the navy.--Edward Jewell, Washington, D.C. 13. Map your trip. Every summer, we drive out West from Pennsylvania with our two kids. In order to avoid that infamous road trip question ("Are we there yet?"), I give each child a map with our route highlighted on it. They can match up the town names with road signs and always know exactly where we are and how much further we have to go to get there. --Machell McCoy, Carlisle, Pa. 14. Keep track of your transportation. Have you ever lost your tour bus, van, or rental car in a crowded parking lot? Before setting off, take a photo of the vehicle and license plate with your digital camera. This strategy proved exceptionally practical for us in bustling Ho Chi Minh City.--J.L. Pasztor, Midland, Mich. 15. Bag your accessories. When I go on a trip that requires me to accessorize a number of outfits, I buy those little zip-top baggies and place the appropriate jewelry/scarf/panty hose in the bag. Then I punch a hole just big enough to slide the bag over the outfit's hanger. This way, my panty hose stay snag-free and my jewelry never gets lost.--Gina Beyer, New York, N.Y. 16. Save some water. When I was in China, the water shut off while I was taking a shower. It was only then I realized that the empty bucket in the bathtub was there for a reason. I should have filled it with water to prepare for just such an emergency.--Ned Clem, Carefree, Ariz. 17. Pack an extra Ziploc bag. When carrying around my small umbrella, I put it in a Ziploc bag. After using it, I can put the umbrella back in the Ziploc and into my shoulder bag without getting everything else wet.--Sandy Sussman, Princeton, N.J. 18. Join South American Explorers. Planning a trip to South America? Join the nonprofit group South American Explorers (saexplorers.org) before you leave home. For $50, or $80 per couple, you'll get access to information on everything from volunteer opportunities to tour operators' deals, as well as a place to store luggage at offices in Quito, Lima, and Cuzco. Best of all, the discounts will easily cover the cost of membership. We were home free after the savings we received on our first reservation with an eco-lodge. The 10 percent we got off at our other hotels and some restaurants was gravy!--Molly Ogorzaly, Austin, Tex. 19. Ask a young person. While in Paris, I always asked for information from a young person because I found that most of the older Parisians were usually not interested in conversing in English. A few years ago, the French education requirements were changed to include a second language, and fortunately for us, the majority of students in the Paris area chose English. Even though my hotel was in a remote arrondissement where English speakers were quite rare, my strategy never failed.--Hal Turner, Sun City Center, Fla. 20. Make your own beach blanket. We pack a sheet to use as a beach blanket. I sewed loops made from a shoelace to each corner and use plastic tent stakes to anchor the sheet in the sand. It's easy to pack and takes up less space than those bulky beach towels.--Beverly Russo, N. Massapequa, N.Y.
Moscow Made Easier
Most of the stereotypes about Moscow aren't true anymore. Sure, there are lines--outside nightclubs. Street crime is insignificant. The mafia is too busy planning its next weekend in Monte Carlo to bother with tourists. In architecture and people, gray and staid are in a slow but steady retreat. This is a fast-changing city awash in oil money, a magnet for those with talent and ambition from all over the Russian-speaking world. In short, today's city of 10.6 million bears little resemblance to the Soviet capital of 15 years ago--much less to its 1147 origins as a hunting lodge on the banks of the Moskva River. The attractions you really must see Red Square, where St. Basil's Cathedral rises from the cobblestones like a mirage, is one of the most spectacular sights in the world. It also offers a quick course in the contradictions that are today's Russia--the near-absolute power behind the high-walled Kremlin, and the obscenely expensive shops in the GUM department store across the square. The Kremlin itself is the brick fortress, dating from the 12th century, where tsars were married and buried, where Soviet leaders mapped out Cold War strategy, and where Russia's president works. Tourists enter the Kremlin through the western Kutafya Tower, buying tickets for the museums and cathedrals within. Foreigners have to pay extra but the prices are still reasonable: The Armoury, at $12.25, is the most expensive. (Don't be tempted by scalpers offering Russian tickets to foreigners.) The Armoury, with its tsarist treasures dating back beyond the time of Ivan the Terrible, displays more of the Russian emperors' accumulated opulence than any other museum in the world. Such extravagance makes the Russian Revolution of 1917, which overthrew the tsars, a bit more understandable. The Kremlin is open every day except Thursday, from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. 011-7/095-202-3776 (in Russian only), kreml.ru. Metro: Aleksandrovsky Sad. Upon exiting the Kutafya Tower, turn right and walk 100 yards to the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier, where an eternal flame burns for the more than 20 million Soviets who died in World War II. The scene is especially moving on weekends as dozens of newlyweds lay flowers at the national shrine, a monument to the one Soviet achievement that all Russians still embrace. The cult built around the victory in WWII helped fill a vacuum created by the near extinction of the Russian Orthodox Church. During Soviet times, few weddings were church weddings, and a visit to an eternal flame--which almost all cities still have--was a way of satisfying religious urges without threatening the state. Lenin's Tomb is just that: a squat granite mausoleum holding the mummified body of Vladimir Lenin, who founded the Soviet state following the revolution. Lenin's waxen features, tended to by embalmers, are holding up well 81 years after his death. Many visitors have come out of respect; more than a few others, out of macabre curiosity. It's free and the lines require a wait of minutes--not, as they used to, hours. The tomb is open from 10 a.m. to 1 p.m. (except Mondays and Fridays, when it's closed). Those are also the hours when access is granted to the graves of Communist leaders buried nearby in the Kremlin wall. Judging from the number of red carnations left daily, dictator Joseph Stalin is hands down the most popular. His admirers, most of them elderly or historically ignorant, yearn for a return to the time when Russia was a great power and crime was nearly nonexistent. Hearty, filling food--for less Long gone is the time when Western prison fare compared favorably to the food at Moscow restaurants. Flush with oil money, Muscovites are demanding the best--and paying for it. You can easily drop several hundred dollars on dinner for two at places specializing in Thai seafood or Argentinian steaks. Fortunately, that's not necessary, especially at restaurants serving regional cuisines (which are often much more appealing to Westerners). Once shoehorned into the basement of a central Moscow apartment building and favored by foreign journalists and mid-level diplomats, Mama Zoya's recently expanded and moved to a barge anchored in the Moskva River across from Gorky Park. There's nothing Russian about the restaurant: It features spicy, healthful Georgian cuisine--the lobio bean salads, $3.50, are the best value--and guitarists from the Caucasus region. Waiters will guide the uninitiated through the labyrinthine menu to the gems, including sturgeon tsatsivi in walnut sauce ($7) and khachapuri, Georgian cheese bread ($2.80). Frunzenskaya Naberezhnaya 16D, 011-7/095-242-8550. Metro: Park Kultury. Upscale Guilly's becomes quite affordable every weekday afternoon with a "biznes lanch" menu. Quiet, dimly lit, and with superb service, the restaurant is way off the beaten tourist path but is a superb intro to Russian cooking done right. The chefs have mastered Russian staples like pelmeni (dumplings, $7) and blini with red caviar ($9.50). It's on the northern edge of one of the city's restaurant districts, around Ulitsa Tverskaya, so, after lunch, do some exploring and plan another meal. Stoleshnikov Pereulok 6, 011-7/095-933-5521. Metro: Pushkinskaya. Named after a resort community on the Latvian coast, Apshu is decorated like a Soviet cottage circa 1960. The prices are retro, too: Soups start at $1.60, salads at $3.40. Most people don't come here for the food alone, though. The restaurant has local bands playing folk and jazz nightly, often with no cover. Klimentovsky Pereulok 10/1, 011-7/095-953-9944. Metro: Tretyakovskaya. The Yolki-Palki chain of family restaurants features dishes that a babushka (grandmother) would deliver; they're filling but not fancy. Russian cooking leans heavily on meat but Yolki-Palki also has a well-stocked salad bar. A full meal with a local beer runs about $15. Ulitsa Bolshaya Dmitrovka 23/8, 011-7/095-200-0965. Metro: Chekhovskaya. Where to sleep like a bear Moscow has a severe shortage of hotel rooms for individual tourists on a budget, because city development authorities have focused their energies on the more lucrative business travelers. Below are four of the safest and best values in the city. Less expensive options exist but they typically cater to traveling merchants and itinerant workers and would offer little assistance to the non-Russian-speaking visitor. Prices quoted are for a basic double room including a private toilet, TV, and phone. Male guests should prepare to field at least one call from a friendly female voice offering "companionship." Hint: Politely decline. One of the city's best-kept lodging secrets is Alexander Blok, a cruise ship anchored just west of the city center, in the usually waveless Moskva River. It caters to locals who party and gamble on the ship and don't want to schlep home. The 30 rooms go fast, so reserve well in advance. Krasnopresnenskaya Naberezhnaya 12A, 011-7/095-255-9278, doubles $75. Metro: Ulitsa 1905 Goda. A 10-minute walk from southern Moscow's Universitet metro station, the high-rise Hotel Universitetskaya is operated by the Russian Orthodox Church. Rooms are small but neat, and they have views of the sprawling Moscow State University. Michurinsky Prospekt 8/29, 011-7/095-939-9663, doubles $69. Quaint it's not, with a capacity for 10,000 guests spread over five high-rise buildings. But the simple rooms at Izmailovo Tourist Hotel Complex are well-kept and the location can't be beat: The city's best souvenir shopping (Izmailovsky Market) and the metro (Izmailovsky Park) are a three-minute walk away. Izmailovo was built for the 1980 Olympics and still has a Soviet feel, fostered by endlessly long, poorly lit corridors. Specify the Delta building, where the staff speaks English, when booking. Izmailovskoye Shosse 71, 011-7/095-737-7055, izmailovo.ru, doubles $56. With breakfast included, Hotel Molodyozhny is a superb deal. The drawback is the location, in northern Moscow and a 10-minute walk from the nearest metro station (Timiryazevskaya). The least expensive rooms haven't been significantly refurbished for at least a decade, so it's best to think of a stay here as a kind of urban camping. Still, the staff is friendly. Dmitrovskoye Shosse 27/1, 011-7/095-782-9001, hcm.ru, doubles $68. Or take a pass on the hotels altogether and rent yourself an apartment. City Realty has a collection of 25--30 in downtown Moscow and charges a flat fee (from $85) for up to four people. With fully equipped kitchens and discounts kicking in after the first night, this is a clever way to sidestep the hotel crunch. Note: The company also has flats in St. Petersburg. 011-7/095-517-9846, cityrealtyrussia.com/moscow_apartments.html. What to skip (and what to do instead) Once billed as a bohemian artists' quarter, Stary Arbat was an obligatory stop for tightly chaperoned Soviet tour groups. Today the pedestrian walkway more closely resembles a relatively sober Bourbon Street populated by an eclectic mix of sketch artists, souvenir hawkers, and mediocre restaurants. A more refreshing outdoor activity is a 90-minute cruise on one of the small boats that ply the Moskva River from April through September, 11 a.m.--9 p.m. The route starts at the pier opposite Kievsky train station (metro: Kievskaya) and ends at the Novospassky Monastery (metro: Proletarskaya), with four stops in between; you can go either direction. The boats, which depart about every 20 minutes, offer some of the best views in the city--including ones of St. Basil's Cathedral, Gorky Park, and the towering gothic Moscow State University building--and a feel for Moscow's sheer size. The operator, Capital Shipping Company, has a Russian-language site that's worth checking out for a pictorial preview. 011-7/095-257-3484, cck-ship.ru/ru/main/, $7. If you want to get a sense of the the Russian soul, take a pass on the dry State Historical Museum, with its frescoes of early Russians eating raw mammoth meat. A far better option is a Russian bathhouse. The city is dotted with public bathhouses--called banyas--but two of the more venerable are the ornate Sandunovskiye Bani (Ulitsa Neglinnaya 14, 011-7/095-925-4631. Metro: Kuznetsky Most) and the humble, hard-core Seleznyovskiye Bani (Seleznyovskaya Ulitsa 15, 011-7/095-978-9430. Metro: Novoslobodskaya). Admission at the more authentic of the two--Seleznyovskiye--is $14 for women and $17 for men for a two-hour weekend session. Pay another $5 or so to rent slippers and sheets for sitting on and drying off. A few things to know: Men and women steam in the nude, and separately; the upper reaches of the steamroom are hot enough to scorch bald pates, while the dipping pool is frigid; groaning patrons can beat each other with birch branches. At the end of it all--feeling clean, reinvigorated, and a lot closer to the Russian soul--be sure to leave with a parting "S lyogkim parom," which translates roughly as "May the steam be with you." Finally, the two famous circuses are typically jammed with screaming children--and really, wouldn't you rather spend an evening at the Kuklachyov Cat Theater? A cast of cats and a few dogs perform highly abridged Russian classics, such as Tchaikovsky's Nutcracker. The dialogue, as one would expect, is nonexistent--which means you don't have to worry about a language barrier. Not only is the cat theater a cultural institution unique to Moscow, it also lacks the undercurrent of violent domination that colors most Russian circus acts. Stick around after the show has ended, when the actors come out and mingle with the crowd. Tickets start at $13 (popcorn and cat-shaped balloons are extra). Kutuzovsky Prospekt 25, 011-7/095-249-2907. Metro: Kievskaya. Where to find crafts and kitsch Sprawling Izmailovsky Market is the leading place to find Soviet memorabilia, icons of Russian saints, fur hats, matryoshka dolls, and more. (Metro: Izmailovsky Park. Just follow the crowds or ask for the "vernisazh.") Prices are usually the lowest in the city. Admission to the warren of outdoor stalls is 35¢. Most of the hundreds of vendors speak a smattering of English, accept dollars, and are ready to knock down prices by up to 25 percent for those spending over $30 on multiple items. One notable exception to the deals is amber jewelry, which is significantly cheaper in the kiosks of the pedestrian underpasses in central Moscow. Beyond city limits As the truism says, "Moscow is not Russia." Sergiev Posad--a 60-minute, $9 express train ride away--is a medieval town built around a monastery, the Trinity-St. Sergius Lavra, that's one of the holiest sites in the Orthodox Christian world. Pilgrims from across the former USSR come to kiss the coffin holding the 600-year-old remains of Saint Sergius of Radonezh, sip a bit of holy water, and attend services. The city itself is a blend of bland Soviet architecture and fetching low-rise buildings in the 19th-century neoclassical style still evident in regional cities across what was the Russian Empire. People are poorer and life is slower, but there's also a kindness and hospitality that Moscow lacks. Trains for Sergiev Posad leave from Moscow's Yaroslavsky Station (metro: Komsomolskaya) at least once an hour all day long. Stay at the ski lodge--like Russky Dvorik Hotel (Ulitsa Mitkina 14/2, 011-7/096-547-5392, $67), where the room rate includes an ample breakfast. Opposite the monastery's main entrance, a restaurant also called Russky Dvorik has an interior like a pre-revolutionary tavern and a kitchen that outclasses many a traditional Russian restaurant in Moscow, at a fraction of the price (Prospekt Krasnoy Armii 134, 011-7/096-547-3852, baked sturgeon $7). Help from the experts A one-month tourist visa issued by the Russian consulate is $100, and you need at least two blank passport pages. Look over the rules at russianembassy.org, then do what everyone else does and hire a pro ($40--$50) to get the visa. Most tour companies that specialize in Russia will handle the paperwork; others hook you up with a service like Travel Document Systems (800/874-5100, traveldocs.com) or Travisa (800/222-2589, travisa.com). Visitors must register with authorities within three days of arrival. Although your hotel is legally required to do it, you may be charged $20 for the "courtesy." Carry your passport at all times, and if you have problems, contact the nearest Russian Passport, Visa and Registration office (OVIR or PVU) for help. The U.S. Embassy in Moscow has a list (011-7/095-728-5000, usembassy.ru). And do yourself a favor and pick up a Russian phrasebook. At least learn to sound out the Russian alphabet, which helps make simple words like "telephone" and "metro" become decipherable. Another good resource is Russia specialist Eastern Tours (800/339-6967, traveltorussia.com), which will arrange any combination of discounted airfare, lodging, and private guides. The company also sells package deals to Moscow that start at $999 (including flights from New York City, seven nights' hotel, and guided sightseeing). If you want a fully escorted tour, Gate 1 Travel's six-night program visits St. Petersburg, Novgorod, and Moscow (800/682-3333, gate1travel.com, from $1,649). Resting your feet Once a pathetic showcase of Soviet goods, GUM (it stands for State Department Store) is now a glitzy example of Russians' new wealth and, sometimes, strikingly bad taste. The hard-to-find Bosco Café (011-7/095-929-3182)--it's reachable through the Marina Rinaldi store on the southeast side of GUM's first floor--is a prime people-watching spot: Thousands of Red Square visitors pass by the windows. Borscht is $9.50, so stick with a soft drink (from $4). Changing money A deep distrust of the Russian banking system has made the U.S. dollar the unofficial second currency; some $70 billion are in circulation. You'll find restaurant prices are often quoted in dollars, and there are plenty of places to change dollars for rubles. (Money changers, however, only accept crisp, new notes.) And while ATMs are prolific, many have fallen prey to scammers. Stick to the ones that are operated by Alfa-Bank, Sberbank, and Citibank. Getting around Simply put, every vehicle is a potential taxi--even ambulances and buses have been known to stop. Two important rules: Never get into a car that already has a passenger, and always negotiate a price before you set off. The same rules apply for "official" yellow cabs and their notoriously capricious meters. During rush hour though, the superb metro, with its museum-like stations in central Moscow, is almost always faster than surface transport. Best of all, it's just 45¢ a ride. Bringing stuff home No matter what the salespeople say, antique carpets, samovars, icons, and paintings require permission from the Ministry of Culture for export. Make sure the necessary paperwork is included with the purchase, or you will get busted at the border.
Trip Coach: August 2, 2005
Budget Travel Editors: Welcome to this week's Trip Coach. Let's get started... _______________________ Anchorage, AK.: With passports being required for all cruises beginning Dec. 31, 05, I am wondering children under age 18 will also need a passport. Thank you. Budget Travel Editors: Yes, children under 18 will also need documentation, but first a word about the Department of State's new policy. If you don't have a passport and have plans to travel to the Caribbean, Bermuda, or Central and South America anytime soon, get one now. The State Department has mandated that all travelers in and out of these regions (by air or sea) must have a valid passport by December 31, 2005. And the restrictions will only get tighter. By December 31, 2006, a passport will also be required for all air and sea travel to or from Mexico and Canada, and by December 31, 2007, a passport will be required for all air, sea, and land border crossings. Considering a majority of Americans do not have a passport, it's best to get one now before the rush. If your child is under age 14, he/she must appear in person to apply for documentation with the consent of both parents or legal guardians. If your child is age 14 to 17, he/she also must appear in person (for security reasons, parental consent may be requested). If your child does not have identification of his/her own, you'll need to accompany your child to present I.D. For more information on obtaining passports, visit the State Department's website at, http://travel.state.gov/. _______________________ Wellsville KS: What is the most economical time to travel to the Caribbean? Budget Travel Editors: Now! Airlines and hotels drop their rates to/in the Caribbean drastically between August and October -- hurricane season. While prices are nice, the "travel at your own" risk rule of thumb applies. Some of the best deals can be found to/on islands in the Caribbean that are outside the hurricane belt, like Barbados. If you're willing to brave the possibility of bad weather, then I'd suggest the Dominican Republic. If you're traveling with a group (usually 6 or more people), some discounts may be available. Check out Groople.com, a travel website for groups that finds discounts. _______________________ Tobyhanna, PA: How can I get from NYC to LA to San Miguel de Allende and back to NYC on a budget? Budget Travel Editors: There's no secret, cheap way to get to San Miguel de Allende. Period. However, the airport options have increased. Queretaro, 45 minutes away, just opened a small international airport, which received Continental flights daily. While the flight times and the road from SMA to Queretaro are great, the flights are still so new, they're expensive. I still think the most economical option is to fly American or Continental from NYC via LA to Leon, one hour and 15 minutes away in Guanajuato. There are car rental agencies at the airport, or you can hire a taxi to take you to SMA. Expect to spend an average of $450 for NYC-SMA flights in winter and spring, and $650 in summer and fall. As with most travel, the bulk of your expense will be flights. Once on the ground in SMA, there are loads of affordable accommodations and dining options. _______________________ Rockville, MD: My friend and I are planning a trip to Paris in January. We have already reserved a great apartment to stay in for 10 days. We need to find a low airfare from Washington, D.C. to Paris, but the lowest fares right now for our dates (January 12 - 22) are about $600. Would we have a better chance of getting a lower airfare if we wait until the Fall to book? It seems to me there are always bargain fares to Europe for the winter months. Budget Travel Editors: I would definitely recommend waiting until Fall to book your airfare to Paris. January is when fares to Europe are the lowest, but nothing is on sale yet. But just as we can expect snow during winter, we can expect a flurry of airfare sales to Europe. It's just a matter of patience, and timing. Come October, use SideStep.com to start your search for the most affordable ticket for the days you plan to travel. _______________________ Portland, OR: Why is it that Portland Oregon is never listed as a gateway city? We, here in the pacific northwest, have to travel to a gateway city in California to get the "deals" listed. Budget Travel Editors: We know, it can be frustrating. Your problem is not unique to Portland, Oregon. Your namesake in Maine, as well as many other B-list cities (no offense) such as Cleveland, St. Louis, Fort Lauderdale, Boise, and many many others may have airports, but don't really have all that many international routes. So if you want to fly to Asia, South America, or any other far-flung destination chances are you have to fly through what's considered a major gateway: Los Angeles, San Francisco, New York, Boston, Houston, Miami, Chicago. That's just how most of the big international carriers work. The prices on most packages are based on airfare from one of these major gateways, and you sensibly have to pay extra for the extra flight into and out of the smaller airport, such as PDX in Portland. Things will probably stay this way until a big airline makes Portland one of its hubs and starts flying lots of direct international routes out of the city. _______________________ Whittier, CA: I have a very simple question. Is their a website that lists the items that you cannot board a plane with? My husband and I will be flying for the first time this fall, since 9/11 and I'd like to see an actual list of the items that are not allowed. Don't want to be responsible for holding up the lines. Budget Travel Editors: The TSA (Transportation Security Administration) has a list of prohibited items on their website: http://www.tsa.gov/public/display?theme=177 _______________________ St. Joseph, MI: I'll be staying in Gig Harbor, WA for about 10 days in September - would like to visit the Olympic Penninsula, Vancouver, Victoria and the San Juans on day trips or possibly with an overnight or two - is this doable or am I trying to cram too much in?? Anything else I should be including??? ME Budget Travel Editors: You should be able to see everything in a 10-day trip, provided you have your own transportation. You'll definitely want to stay overnight in Victoria/Vancouver, as it will take about 3-4 hours to drive up to Canada and the wait at the border can be unpredicable. In addition to the sights you mentioned, you should also visit Seattle. It's an hour's drive from Gig Harbor, or you can drive to Bremerton and take a ferry--Seattle is a very walkable town (plus city buses are free downtown), and parking can be expensive. _______________________ Budget Travel Editors: Thanks for all of your questions. _______________________
A quick glance around Arizona State University's campus in Tempe--where a majority of the 40,000-plus student body appears to be minoring in tanning--and it makes sense why the school's mascot is the Sun Devil. The 160,000-person town's hub is Mill Avenue, which runs alongside the campus and offers everything a student needs: trendy nightclubs, shops specializing in T-shirts (with self-defining statements, like "Protestor"), and restaurants at all price levels (undergrad, grad student, and visiting parents). On neighboring University Drive, Restaurant Mexico serves authentic central Mexican cuisine; the frijoles de la hoya (spicy bean soup) has helped more than one student recover from a hangover. Come dinnertime, Four Peaks Brewing Company, hidden behind an industrial park a half-mile east of campus, offers well-above-average pub fare, but what brings people back are the microbrews: Don't miss the 8th Street Ale. A little dressier, and popular for date night, Caffe Boa has a nice array of pastas, and a huge wine-by-the-glass list. Tempe is only 10 miles east of Phoenix, but there's enough culture to make it a destination in its own right. Designed by Frank Lloyd Wright in 1959 (completed in 1964), ASU's landmark Gammage Auditorium has a striking round facade that looks like it's draped with red sandstone curtains. Valley Art movie house screens indie films in a grand old building. Phoenix-based chain Zia Records has an outpost in town with a particularly strong selection of albums by local bands made big (among them the Meat Puppets and the Gin Blossoms). When major acts come here, they play at the amphitheater in Tempe Beach Park, at the edge of Tempe Town Lake. Planners in the landlocked area blocked off a dry riverbed using a pair of rubber dams, then filled the thing like a two-mile-long bathtub. Now egrets, cranes, and the occasional pelican have a new stop on their migration routes. Swimming is not allowed, but Rio Lago Cruise Company, on the south side of the lake, rents four- and six-person electric cruisers, as well as kayaks. On the northern edge of town, Papago Park surrounds the zoo and botanical gardens. The park has 8.5 miles of hiking trails dotted with saguaro cacti. South Mountain, 13 miles south of campus in Phoenix, is one of the world's largest city parks, covering more than 16,000 acres and including mountain biking and hiking trails. The easy, three-mile Hidden Valley trail takes two hours and recalls the landscapes of John Wayne movies. Whatever the season, ASU has pretty good sports teams and a handful of stadiums; Barry Bonds, Reggie Jackson, and Jake Plummer are all alums. Even on the rare sellout, it's still possible to get a ticket at the gate (scalping is legal in Arizona). One of the best places to stay near Mill Avenue is the Fiesta Inn. All 270 rooms are done in a simple, Southwestern style, with mesa prints on the wall, colorful throw pillows, and stained-glass lanterns. An added perk is a $2 discount on the $7 pass into ASU's recreation complex, which grants access to tennis courts, a weight room, and two Olympic-sized outdoor pools. Operators Rio Lago Cruise Company 55 W. Rio Salado Pkwy., 480/517-4050 Lodging Fiesta Inn 2100 S. Priest Dr., 800/528-6481, from $95 Food Restaurant Mexico 120 E. University Dr., 480/967-3280 Caffe Boa 398 S. Mill Ave., 480/968-9112 Four Peaks Brewing Company 1340 E. Eighth St., 480/303-9967 Attractions Gammage Auditorium 1200 S. Forest Ave., 480/965-5062 Tempe Beach Park 80 W. Rio Salado Pkwy., 480/350-8625 South Mountain 10919 S. Central Ave., Phoenix Valley Art 505 S. Mill Ave., 480/222-4275 Shopping Zia Records 105 W. University Ave., 480/829-1967