Originally created 10/31/04

Travel briefs


ANAHEIM, Calif. - Planning to take a spin on Disneyland's venerable Jungle Cruise ride?

Rest easy. The hippos are back under control.

For more than 40 years the mechanical hippos lunged threateningly out of the water at every boat that toured Disneyland's ersatz Amazon River, only to be repulsed by skippers firing their sidearms. Then, in 2001, political correctness appeared to accomplish what the hippos never could. The skippers were disarmed.

"When I was working there, the kids would start holding their ears when you started into hippo territory," recalled former Jungle Cruise skipper Rip Ribble. "It's a shame that in this day and age because of gang activity and political correctness and animal rights, people took offense to shooting at the hippo. But really, it was all make-believe."

Now Disneyland has rearmed the skippers, one of several actions officials say are aimed at "restoring the magic" as the park approaches its 50th birthday next year.

The horses pulling carriages down Main Street USA are getting their name tags back, and plans are under way to put the gut-wrenching twists and turns back into the Mad Tea Party ride's teacups. Park employees in New Orleans Square are also getting more colorful costumes.

Giving the Jungle Cruise skippers their guns back is what seems to have delighted visitors the most, however.

"At least once a week somebody would get off the boat and say, 'Hey, what happened to the guns?'" said Ribble's daughter, Sherri, one of the ride's operators.

Now, she says, people burst into applause when she opens fire.

South Africa

JOHANNESBURG, South Africa - Once shunned for its oppressive apartheid laws, South Africa is now heralding its diversity.

A new campaign to attract visitors spotlights everything from tours of Soweto and Zululand villages to the Victorian architecture of Pietermaritzburg to Robben Island, where Nelson Mandela was imprisoned.

Kgalagadi Transfrontier National Park is described as "home to the last remaining Bushmen people." Free State, where rolling prairies drew Boer pioneers, is promoted as a mix of British and Boer culture, while Indian culture - from restaurants to temples - is highlighted in KwaZulu-Natal.

The artwork of the Batswana people is touted as an attraction of the North West region, while the beadwork and colorfully painted houses of the Ndebele people help pull visitors to Mpumalanga.

South Africa is also physically diverse, known for its beaches and scenic coastlines on two oceans - the Atlantic and Indian - as well as for numerous parks and game reserves, home to lions, zebras and many other exotic animals, along with hundreds of species of birds. Award-winning private outfitters like the Singita Private Game Reserve in Sabi Sands and Micato Safaris are touted by travel connoisseurs, while those who prefer shopping to safaris will be impressed by cosmopolitan cities like Cape Town and Johannesburg.

Research by Standard Bank released Oct. 11 showed that last year the country earned more foreign exchange from tourism than it did from gold exports, the traditional bedrock of the South African economy - $8.24 billion versus $4.37 billion.

For more information, visit www.southafrica.net or call (212) 730-2929.

Cruise awards

NEW YORK - A cruise line offering trips to places ranging from the Azores to the Arctic to the rivers explored by Lewis and Clark was one of the big winners in Travel + Leisure magazine's annual readers' survey on the the world's best cruise lines.

Lindblad Expeditions won the award for best itineraries and destinations, and also placed fifth on the list of best small-ship lines. The company's 70-passenger ships travel to places ranging from Antarctica and the Russian Arctic to the Galapagos and Patagonia. Closer to home, Lindblad offers several Lewis and Clark-themed trips, including a cruise from the mouth of the Columbia River 450 miles upstream to inland Idaho.

Other winners in the itineraries/destinations category were Silversea, Seabourn, Windstar and Peter Deilmann Cruises. The top four winners for best small-ship cruises were Silversea Cruises, Seabourn Cruise Line, SeaDream Yacht Club and Windstar Cruises.

Crystal Cruises, Radisson Seven Seas, Oceania Cruises, Disney Cruise Line and Celebrity Cruises were named top five large-ship cruise lines.

Best food award went to SeaDream Yacht Club, where menus include Swedish pancakes with lingonberries for breakfast; free-range chicken rubbed with lavender blossom served with sundried tomato polento for dinner; and a daily selection of dishes low in cholesterol, salt and fat.

For complete survey results, check out Travel + Leisure's November issue.

Swamp tours

HOUMA, La. - More than 30 swamp tour companies operate in south Louisiana, and tours on their airboats have been among New Orleans' top 10 local attractions, said Kim Priez, vice president of tourism for the New Orleans Convention and Visitors Bureau.

But according to the Times-Picayune, business is down since Oct. 2, when a Louisiana Swamp Tours airboat carrying 16 passengers capsized in Lake Salvador while making a turn. Two passengers died. The Coast Guard is investigating the cause of the accident.

Airboats are known for their thrills. An above-water propeller allows them to travel faster and into swamp areas usually inaccessible to boats.

"When people say 'What do you do?,' we say, 'We go on a fast airboat ride, a thrill ride,'" said Milton Walker, owner of Louisiana Swamp Tours.

Before the accident, he said, bookings were evenly divided between traditional tours aboard larger, slower-moving vessels, and airboat tours. Since the accident, the ratio has changed to 10 traditional boat tours for every airboat tour.

Northern Ireland

BELFAST, Northern Ireland - Northern Ireland, long an instability-prone region avoided by most tourists, expects to attract a record 2 million visitors this year.

And the Belfast Visitor and Convention Bureau launched a $2.17 million advertising campaign to woo British and southern Irish tourists to the provincial capital.

Gerry Lennon, chief executive of the Belfast bureau, said tourist numbers to the city rose 25 percent last year to nearly a million. He said the ads represented an "aggressive marketing strategy designed to encourage that trend."

On a visit to Londonderry, Northern Ireland's second-largest city, Barry Gardiner, the British minister overseeing tourism efforts, said he expected more than 2 million visitors this year to visit Northern Ireland, a corner of the United Kingdom with just 1.7 million residents.

Gardiner said growth in budget airlines using Northern Ireland airports has helped attract weekend visitors, especially from other parts of the United Kingdom.

Continental Airlines plans to launch daily service between Belfast and New York City in May 2005 - the first nonstop service between Northern Ireland and the United States.

Traditionally, few residents of the Republic of Ireland or Britain have traveled to Northern Ireland, a mostly Protestant corner of the United Kingdom created in 1921 shortly before the predominantly Catholic rest of Ireland won independence from Britain. But thanks to the past decade's peace process, outbreaks of violence the region was once known for have largely abated.

Government tourism agencies in both parts of Ireland now cooperate and promote the island as a single destination. This all-Ireland advertising approach has helped to woo tourists visiting the Irish Republic to include the north.

Surveys of tourists consistently rate Northern Ireland as a friendlier, less expensive destination than the Irish Republic, where the cost of hotels and eating out has dramatically swelled over the past decade.

Belfast and Londonderry also boast a growing range of new restaurants, museums and nightspots to complement the area's long-standing natural beauty, particularly the Giant's Causeway coast north of Belfast and the Mountains of Mourne to the south.

For more information, visit www.gotobelfast.com/ and Northern Ireland Tourist Board, www.nitb.com.

Wildlife refuge

ST. PAUL - A 35,000-acre tallgrass prairie and wetland area near Crookston, Minn., has been designated the country's newest national wildlife refuge by U.S. Interior Secretary Gale Norton.

Eventually, the Glacial Ridge National Wildlife Refuge is expected to become a major breeding ground for prairie chickens, sandhill cranes and other wildlife, as well as a natural garden for the endangered western prairie fringed orchid.

The nation's 545th "refuge" designation comes after a four-year review of the proposal and it links 12 existing conservation areas. Refuges are a national network of lands managed by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to conserve, manage and restore wildlife.

Hunting, fishing and other activities are allowed on wildlife refuges.

Most of the land - about 24,000 acres - is owned and managed by The Nature Conservancy. The organization is donating about 2,000 acres to the Fish and Wildlife Service now and will donate or sell the rest of the land to the federal government over the next decade.

The rest of the land belongs to the state or private landowners and will be acquired only if the landowner wants to sell.

Over the last 30 years, much of the refuge area has been drained or converted to agriculture. One of the goals of the project is to restore 12,000 acres of wetlands and 14,000 acres of tallgrass prairie.


EDINBURGH, Scotland - Edinburgh has been named the first international "City of Literature" by UNESCO, a new designation that will support festivals and other events designed to draw tourists and highlight local literary traditions and history.

The bid by the Scottish city was supported by Harry Potter creator J.K Rowling and Scottish crime writer Ian Rankin. Ambassadors for the U.N. Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization endorsed the effort at a meeting in Paris on Oct. 14.

"Scotland has some of the most exciting and diverse arts and cultural experiences available in the world today," said Patricia Ferguson, culture minister in Scotland's national assembly. "Our writers and artists are lauded both at home and internationally and are producing work that is both critically and popularly acclaimed."

The Scottish capital already plays host to annual theater and book festivals.

As well as Rowling and Rankin, who both live in Edinburgh, the campaign was supported by Edinburgh-born writer Dame Muriel Spark, whose works include "The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie," and Edinburgh resident Alexander McCall Smith, author of "The No.1 Ladies' Detective Agency."

The roster of famous writers with Scottish roots also include 18th century poet Robert Burns, who penned "Auld Lang Syne"; Robert Louis Stevenson, author of immortal tales like "Treasure Island" and "The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde"; Sherlock Holmes creator Arthur Conan Doyle; Peter Pan creator J.M. Barrie, and "The Wind in the Willows" author Kenneth Grahame.

Other cities will compete for the "City of Literature" designation in future years as a way to draw attention to their own literary traditions and lure visitors. For more information, visit www.cityofliterature.com.

Craft museum

SAN FRANCISCO - The art and work of studio furniture maker Garry Knox Bennett and his wife Sylvia are featured in the inaugural exhibition at the new San Francisco Museum of Craft + Design, which opened its doors on Oct. 23.

The Bennett exhibit, called "Dovetailing Art and Life," includes Gary Bennett's handcrafted pieces as well as paintings, sculpture and objets d'art that he and his wife collected, from 19th century benches to a 1931 bronze sculpture.

The new museum, which will be free of charge through the end of the year, will showcase crafts and designs from artists around the world in a variety of media including wood, clay, fiber, metal and glass.

Located at 550 Sutter St. near Union Square, the museum will be open Tuesday through Saturday, 10 a.m. to 5 p.m.; on Thursdays until 7 p.m., and Sundays from noon to 5 p.m.

National Archives

WASHINGTON, D.C. - A new permanent exhibit at the National Archives called "Public Vaults" is designed to help visitors step back into history and go behind the scenes to explore the documents, photographs, maps, films, recordings and other objects in the Archives' collection.

Nearly a million people visit the Archives each year to see the Declaration of Independence, the Constitution and the Bill of Rights. Behind the walls where these charters are displayed are billions of records that trace American history in smaller yet significant ways. Visitors to the new exhibit will be able to sample some of the items from behind this wall as they listen in on the deliberations of presidents dealing with crises, examine now-declassified top-secret documents and even read a teenager's plea to keep Elvis Presley out of the Army in a "Dear Uncle Sam" collection of letters citizens wrote to the government.

The building is located on Constitution Avenue, between Seventh and Ninth Streets NW, open 10 a.m. to 5:30 p.m. daily.


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