Escape Artists offers up a global discourse ranging from great finds close to home to adventures far afield. You'll find weekly travel deals here, too. Share your road wisdom, rave about great finds and rant about roadblocks that get in the way of a great trip.
Contributor: Travel editor Kerri Westenberg.
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White House tours are a popular draw for visitors to Washington, D.C., not to mention a highly competetive ticket. You request tickets from your Member of Congress six months before your trip, and you keep your fingers crossed. Unfortunately, due to the budget cuts brought by sequestration -- no matter who is to blame, Secret Service or the White House -- anyone holding highly coveted tickets for a tour today won't be able to admire the porcelain in the China Room or gaze at the portrait of Benjamin Franklin in the Green Room (or have a chance of meeting Michelle Obama, who has been known to stop by to say hello). It's a shame, really. But happily for anyone interested in seeing the inside of the White House, Google at least is not showing signs of budget cuts. Anyone with a computer can see the White House rooms that are open to the public for touring via the White House Google Art Project. It's not the same as walking through those hallowed halls, but it'll have to do. As the White House website says, "Due to staffing reductions resulting from sequestration, we regret to inform you that WhiteHouse Tours will be canceled effective Saturday, March 9, 2013 until further notice."
I generally don’t take travel tips from television comedies, but when one of the gay duo on ABC’s “Modern Family” — Cam, played by Eric Stonestreet — praised Branson, Mo., I took note. The character is a former farm boy from Missouri with a penchant for musicals, so it made weird sense when he dreamily referenced Branson’s “vibrant theater scene, top-notch restaurants, on top of being the jewel of Missouri’s White River.” Southwest Airlines sees the appeal of this town, too. On March 9, it began service from Chicago to Branson Airport, which opened in 2009 (serviced at the time by Sun Country). Skeptical of Cam’s description? What’s more vibrant than seeing the Osmond Brothers, an Abba tribute group and riding a thrilling new wooden coaster?
Each year, my family and I travel on the City of New Orleans, the Amtrak train that runs between Chicago and New Orleans, my husband's hometown. We like the trip because of the uninterrupted time we spend together; the train leaves Chicago at 8 p.m. and arrives in New Orleans the following afternoon. We read. We play games. We do what we do on most vacations: take time to dream about our next. What we don't do, which is different from most nights at home, is bury our respective selves in technology. There is no Wi-Fi on most Amtrak trains. This doesn't seem to be a problem for most riders. At least it hasn't slowed down Amtrak's growth. My colleague Tim Harlow reported late last week that Amtrak ridership is up again.
I read the report with interest--and then a sudden burst of panic. As a travel editor and an Amtrak rider, I know that the cost of a ticket rises as the seats fill up. None of the crazy, erratic, seemingly nonsensical price shifts you see with airlines. Amtrak's is a straightforward supply-and-demand pricing structure: the more tickets they sell, the higher the prices rise. I threw down my newspaper and got online. Fortunately, we're not traveling during the busy summer months, and prices were still relatively low. But the cost of an Amtrak bedroom between the Twin Cities and Chicago was higher than I'd ever seen (fortunately, we don't need one).
Anyone thinking of booking an Amtrak trip should do two things: 1.) Read the insightful piece about the types of people who ride Amtrak these days. It ran in Sunday's New York Times Magazine and it'll give you a good sense of who may be sitting next to you. 2.) Book as soon as you know you want to ride the rails; your pocketbook will thank you.
Dozens of flights out of Minneapolis-St. Paul International Airport have been cancelled due to Hurricane Sandy, which has already begun to pummel the East Coast and caused the cancelation of nearly 9,000 flights to airports along the eastern seaboard. Most of the would-be flyers out of MSP were notified before they reached the airport, according to a report by colleague Alejandra Matos. More flights are expected to be canceled tomorrow.
If your flight is canceled, most airlines are waiving the fee to reschedule a flight. This means you won't need to pay the usual fee, which can be as much as $150, and you will be scheduled on a flight with available seats. In most cases, you can opt for a refund. Though it may be difficult to get through to Delta and other airlines, check with your carrier for rescheduling and for flight details. You may be able to reschedule online.
If you are holding a ticket to one of the affected airports for later in the week, your ticket will be honored. Everyone who held a ticket for a cancelled flight will be accomodated by the airlines as quickly as they can, but without bumping ticket-holders. That said, be sure to arrive at the airport early: You don't want to get bumped from your flight because you arrived at the airport too late. In the face of what is sure to be a stressed and crowded system later this week, I suggest 2 hours ahead for a domestic flight; 3 hours for an international flight. According to the Delta website, the airline recommends you arrive at the airport 75 minutes before a domestic flight and 3 hours for an international flight. You must be checked-in at least 30 minutes before a domestic departure and an hour before an international departure or risk losing your seat.
The largest passenger steamboat in the world, the American Queen, is returning Friday to St. Paul, where it will board passengers who will mosey down the river to St. Louis. And I, the travel editor, will be among the lucky passengers.
Sure, the paddle-wheeler has been plying Mississippi waters for months now (It took its inaugural sail out of New Orleans in mid-April; Priscilla Presley smashed it with a champagne bottle in Memphis for its christening on April 28). But I had my reasons for waiting: I wanted to launch from a home port and, after all, time cures all glitches. I like sailing on a boat and with a crew that has a few miles under its belt.
The American Queen, built in 1995, sailed the Mississippi for the Delta Queen Steamboat Co. Bankruptcy grounded the boat, until the newly formed Great American Steamboat Co. came to her rescue. Since it purchased the paddle-wheeler last fall, the company has put $6.5 million into refurbishing her. The Victorian ambiance hasn't changed, albeit with new carpet and mattress.
I'm all in. I suspect you'll find me gazing at the egrets from what's called The Front Porch of America, sipping tea on the Main Deck Lounge, fueling my imagination in the Engine Room Bar and working off last night's dinner in the small fitness room. I am under the impression that a Mark Twain impersonator will aboard, and that I can follow our progress in the Chart Room. Whatever I encounter, I'll let you know. I'll be blogging about my experience every day. I hope you'll follow along.
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