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U.S. embassies in West Africa to stay open despite Ebola warning

The U.S. Centers for Disease Control in Atlanta on Thursday warned Americans to avoid nonessential travel to Guinea, Liberia and Sierra Leone because of the deadly Ebola outbreak ravaging the West African nations. But American embassies in those countries will remain open for now.

"We do not have any plans at this time to reduce embassy staff at any of these areas. We will continue to monitor the situation," State Department spokeswoman Marie Harf said Thursday during a daily press briefing.

The Peace Corps on Wednesday removed more than 300 volunteers from the countries as the outbreak spread.

Harf also said the U.S. was working on providing assistance to help bring infected Americans back home. Two stricken Americans were listed as being in "stable but grave" condition in Liberia as of Thursday. Leone's top doctor who treated Ebola patients died earlier from the disease.

The CDC is sending 50 disease control experts in the next 30 days to work on infection control, reporting and...

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El Portal fire: Yosemite road reopens, three campgrounds still shut

A key roadway near the western entrance to Yosemite National Park that was closed because of the El Portal fire has reopened to traffic.

With the reopening of Big Oak Flat Road between Crane Flat and El Portal Road on Wednesday, all roads inside the park are accessible.

However, park officials warn that road closures "may change at any time" and advise visitors to check on current conditions by calling (209) 372-0200.

Crane Flat, Bridalveil Creek and Yosemite Creek campgrounds remained closed because of the fire, which as of late Wednesday was just 34% contained. The blaze, which is also burning in the Stanislaus National Forest, began Saturday and covers about 3,900 acres, according to a park statement.

Smoke is a problem throughout the park. "Park visitors are urged to use caution while driving in the park due to decreased visibility," the statement says. Officials canceled an apple-picking event in Yosemite Valley that had been set for Wednesday.

Yosemite logged more than 3,000...

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SeaPort Airlines to start Burbank-San Diego flights in October

SeaPort Airlines, a small Oregon-based airline that serves routes in nine states, will begin service between Burbank Bob Hope Airport (BUR) and San Diego International Airport (SAN) starting in October. The trip takes 65 minutes on Cessna planes that each hold just nine passengers.

"There's a lot of interest between those two cities," airline Executive Vice President Timothy Sieber said Wednesday. He says travelers may use the flights to go to ballgames or an entertainment event.

SeaPort is the only airline linking the two cities with nonstop service. Their Cessna 208 Caravan aircraft fly low — around 9,000 feet, so you can shoot cool videos with your phone — in and out of the commuter terminal at San Diego's airport.

The airline will operate weekday flights from Burbank at 7:30 a.m., 11:35 a.m., 3 p.m. and 6 p.m. Return flights from San Diego will operate weekdays at 6:30 a.m., 10 a.m., 1:30 p.m. and 4:45 p.m. The airline also offers limited service on weekends.

SeaPort already...

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Hawaii's new restaurant placards to alert diners to health violations

Health inspectors in Hawaii are taking new steps to ensure visitors don’t get sick from the food they eat.

The state’s Department of Health has begun posting new color-coded placards to let customers know of potential risks before they ever look at a menu.

The first placards will be found on Oahu, where inspectors monitor 6,000 businesses that serve food. The program will eventually extend to all 10,000 food establishments statewide.

A green card is reserved for eateries at which inspectors uncover no more than one serious violation of health standards. Businesses with two or more violations must post a yellow card. When an inspector finds enough violations to force immediate closure, a red card will be posted. 

It’s not just restaurants that will have to display the placards. The law, enacted earlier this year, also applies to convenience stores, food trucks, markets and even push carts.

“The new food-safety rules let consumers know which food establishments have violations and may...

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Las Vegas: The Strip gets its first bitcoin ATM

The Las Vegas Strip welcomed its first bitcoin ATM on Wednesday, but that doesn’t mean visitors will necessarily find it easy to use the virtual currency.

The new ATM launched inside the Viva Vegas souvenir shop near Las Vegas Boulevard and Harmon Avenue, across the street from CityCenter. 

Chris McAlary of Coin Cloud, the company that operates the Robocoin  machine, said its most practical purpose will be to fund the vacations of visitors from countries such as China, which has strict currency controls.

“It’s very difficult for the average Chinese person to transfer money out of China,” he told me. “You can store your money on the cloud and then withdraw it on demand from our machine.”

Promoters of bitcoin often boast of its ability to replace cash. Users who deposit money into an online account can pay for purchases by scanning their smartphones at participating businesses.

There’s a hitch, though: Few places in Las Vegas accept bitcoin.

“I’m not aware of any on the Strip,” McAlary...

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Utah national parks to serve as the setting for symphony performances

The Utah Symphony next month will bring its music to the state's Mighty 5 national parks: Capitol Reef, Arches, Canyonlands, Bryce Canyon and Zion.

As a prelude to the symphony's 75th anniversary celebration next year, the full orchestra will perform in the parks the nights of Aug. 12, 14, 15 and 16; the concert on Aug. 14 will take place at Red Cliffs Lodge in Moab, near Arches and Canyonlands. 

Programs will begin at 8 p.m. and include music from Dvorak's "From the New World" Symphony No. 9; the orchestral suite from Bizet's "Carmen"; and several pieces by George Gershwin.

Utah native Celena Shafer, a soprano who sings with the Utah Symphony and Utah Opera, also will perform.

Besides the full-orchestra concerts, starting Aug. 11, there will be evening chamber music programs, performed by the Utah Symphony's brass and string ensembles and by Aspen Winds.

Educational activities--such as demonstrations of bird songs and lessons on reproducing them--also will be offered at the various...

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Nevada: Lake Tahoe's World Concert reminds us to give peace a chance

What better time for a prayer for peace. The 2014 Trails and Vistas World Concert next month on the Nevada side of Lake Tahoe brings together musical and performance artists in a show dedicated to peace and harmony.

"This is about connecting to people and connecting to the land," says Nancy Tieken Lopez, founder of the nonprofit Trails and Vistas. The organization hosts musical events where guests walk on trails in the woods and are entertained along the way. This year's World Concert on Sept. 6 leaves the trails for the Lake Tahoe Shakespeare Festival outdoor stage at Sand Harbor State Park south of Incline Village.

It kicks off with a duet by violinist Scarlet Rivera and flutist Ann Licater. Rivera will be performing on what's called the "violin of peace" made by global activist Patrick McCollum. The instrument was created from almost 100 different pieces of wood, including some from a tribe in Africa that had resolved a conflict with another tribe, a statement about the concert says...

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New York hotel prices in August: Is Montauk the new Manhattan?

Manhattan is known for its pricey hotels, but in August a small Long Island town claimed the title as most expensive New York hotel destination.

Travel booking site NewYorkHotels.org released a survey Tuesday that confirms what New York City locals already know: hotels in Montauk and the Hamptons can get pretty pricey in summer. The website compared the cost of the cheapest room at hotels and inns rated three stars or better throughout the state.

It came up with 20 destinations and room costs between Aug. 1 and 31.

Visitors to Montauk, near the eastern tip of Long Island, should be prepared to spend $342 a night. Neighboring East Hampton comes in second at an average of $332 a night.

The rest of the 10 most expensive New York digs during August are in:

3. Saratoga Springs, $312
4. Southampton, $295
5. Greenport, $264
6. Cooperstown, $184, where the Baseball Hall of Fame turned 75 this year
7. Niagara Falls, $163
8. New York City, $153
9. Geneva, $143
10. Ithaca, $142

And the cheapest places...

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Las Vegas: Cozy up to turtles, rays and sharks without getting wet

You can get acquainted with various sea creatures without ever traveling to Hawaii or the Caribbean—or even getting wet, for that matter. In fact, it’s happening in desert Las Vegas.

The Animal Encounters program at Mandalay Bay’s Shark Reef Aquarium  lets guests feed sea turtles, stingrays and even sharks during three different experiences.

Participants in the “Sea Turtle Feed” get the opportunity to meet OD, a 320-pound creature that has been living in Las Vegas since his relocation last summer from the Turtle Hospital in the Florida Keys.

After a behind-the-scenes tour, guests make a visit to the Shark Reef kitchen to stock up on vittles. Realizing it’s feeding time, OD and the other sea turtles eagerly float to the top of Shipwreck Exhibit, where lunch is served.

The experience takes place at 12:45 p.m. Sundays-Fridays. Tickets cost $70 a person and participants must be at least 13 years old.

Guests who would rather schmooze with stingrays arrive at 9:15 a.m. daily for a VIP tour...

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Hilton's digital reboot: Mobile check-in, check-out, room selection

Feel free to snub the hotel lobby staff. Hilton Worldwide hotels announced a plan that by year's end will allow guests to use mobile devices to check in, choose the room they want and check out — all without any human contact.

This won't all happen at once, but the Virginia-based company that operates more than 4,000 properties in 80 countries aims to roll out the technology to make the process seamless.

"We analyzed data and feedback from more than 40 million HHonors [loyalty club] members, as well as guest surveys, social media posts and review sites, and it's clear that guests want greater choice and control," Geraldine Calpin, senior vice president and global head of digital said in a statement this week.

Here's how it works: From 6 a.m. on the day before your reservation, you'll be able to browse floor plans or a list of available rooms to choose the one you want. Photos will accompany listings too. Once you make a selection, you can check in, make special requests or upgrades and...

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Universal Studios Hollywood unveils Halloween Horror Nights 2014 mazes

Year in and year out, Halloween Horror Nights at Universal Studios Hollywood is the best haunted theme park event in Southern California and quite possibly the country.

For that reason, I hold Universal Studios to a higher standard when the movie theme park unveils its new lineup of haunted mazes and scare zones each season.

Known for its always fresh and ever-changing collection of movie studio-quality mazes, I find it curious that Horror Nights has decided to bring back The Walking Dead as the marquee maze for the third straight year.

Even though the park plans to update the maze with new scares from the latest season of the Emmy-winning AMC television show, I can't help feeling I've seen this all before.

We'll have to wait until Sept. 19 when the month-long Horror Nights event debuts to see just how different this year's zombie apocalypse is from last year's walker infestation.

There's no doubt the hit show has pulled in record-setting crowds over the past couple of seasons, turning...

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In Minnesota, celebrating the 30th anniversary of 'Purple Rain'

About 20 minutes into the 1984 movie “Purple Rain” we find The Kid, played by Prince, standing in front of Apollonia (played by Apollonia Kotero), a budding singer, near the embankment of a lake. After Apollonia asks Prince for career help, he says that she first has to pass the initiation.

“What initiation?” she asks.

“For starters, you have to purify yourself in the waters of Lake Minnetonka.”

Apollonia looks to her right, considering the challenge. A few seconds later, she’s disrobing. Just as she plunges into the water, Prince says, “Hey, wait a minute! That’s n—“

But it was too late. When she emerges from her “purification,” climbing out of the lake, Prince, a sly grin on his face, says, “That ain’t Lake Minnetonka.”

I arrived in Minneapolis on a seasonably cold Wednesday to take the proverbial plunge into Prince’s world. Specifically, I was putting myself on a self-guided “Purple Rain” tour of the city that Prince helped put on the music map. 

There was no better time to...

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