Originally created 01/22/06

Travel briefs



Disney-Everest

NEW YORK - A new ride called Expedition Everest is opening at Disney World's Animal Kingdom in Orlando in April, but New Yorkers will get a peek at the excitement when Disney brings a preview to Times Square next month.

Disney plans to transform the exteriors of the W Hotel and the adjacent Argent building at Broadway and 47th Street into a gigantic backdrop of Mount Everest. An aerial acrobatic troupe will perform there Feb. 15 and 16 on a stage 57 stories high, rappelling down the mountain and coming face to face with a Himalayan yeti - the legendary abominable snowman.

An animatronic beast will also be part of the thrill when the ride opens at the Florida theme park April 7. The attraction is designed to resemble an old mountain railway, taking guests to the foot of Mount Everest through bamboo forests, past thundering waterfalls and into snowcapped peaks before plunging through canyons to an encounter with the angry yeti.

Expedition Everest will be surrounded by a mythical village at Animal Kingdom called Serka Zong. Based on research by a Disney team that traveled to Nepal, the village will be decorated with prayer flags and carvings and will include buildings, plants and trees designed to look like the real thing. On their way to boarding the train, riders can see artifacts from Nepalese culture and learn about the yeti, the Himalayas and the mountaineers who've climbed Everest.

Disney researchers were accompanied on their trips to Asia by teams from Conservation International and the Discovery Networks. Discovery plans to air a series of cable specials in April about the journey and the creation of the Disney ride.

Children taking the ride must be at least 44 inches tall.

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Budget skiing

WASHINGTON - Forget about wipeouts on the slopes. A skiing trip can also wipe out your budget.

The January-February issue of National Geographic Traveler magazine is offering seven tips on how to save money the next time you head for the snow-covered hills.

First, the magazine says that from now until Presidents Day weekend, there is a "hidden low season" when rates are lower - partly because kids are back in school and other consumers are staying home to pay off their Christmas bills instead of traveling. If you miss this window, try late March, when you can do "spring skiing" at the many resorts that still have snow, but not a lot of skiers.

Second, the magazine says, "buying a one-day ticket is like paying the sticker price for a car." So instead of skiing on four separate days over the season, buy a five-day ticket and go for a week. And next year, get the early-bird discounts that so many resorts offer before the season starts.

Third, rent a condo instead of staying in a hotel. Go in with friends or family to lower the per-person costs, and stock up the fridge so you don't have to eat out every meal.

Fourth, stay a few miles away from the town where the resort is located. You'll find lodging and restaurants are much cheaper, and there even may be convenient shuttle buses to the slopes.

Fifth, skip the SUV rental. National Geographic Traveler says airport shuttles to the slopes are often cheaper than renting and driving, and many ski villages are "compact and walkable," eliminating the need for wheels.

Sixth, head north! You can get more bang for that U.S. buck in Canada.

Finally, check for deals on Web sites like Ski.com, SkiLakeTahoe.com and JacksonHole.com. You might just be able to get an added day of skiing for free by participating in certain promotions.

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Day by Day guides

HOBOKEN, N.J. - Comprehensive guidebooks to places you know nothing about can sometimes be overwhelming. Especially if your time is limited, it's hard to sort out the must-sees from the maybes.

A new series of guidebooks called "Day by Day," just out from from Frommer's, tries to remedy that problem by offering itineraries for one-, two- and three-day visits, along with "Smart Ways to See the City," which include recommendations for shopping, nightlife, museums and other interests.

The books' lists of "Favorite Moments" are an especially useful distillation of the many choices that face tourists in big cities.

Favorite moments in "New York City Day by Day" include walking across the Brooklyn Bridge, taking the Staten Island ferry past the Statue of Liberty, visiting Central Park and its zoo, making a pilgrimage to ground zero, window-shopping on Fifth Avenue, and viewing the city's twinkling lights with a twilight trip to the top of the Empire State Building.

For "fashionistas" in Manhattan, the book recommends checking out Web sites that list sample sales like http://www.topbutton.com and http://www.dailycandy.com.

Suggestions for "power brokers" include downtown tours of the Federal Reserve Bank of New York and the Museum of American Financial History. Nearby you'll find the famed statue of the charging bull. For a power breakfast, try the Regency (540 Park Ave.) and for a power lunch, plan a meal at Michael's (24 W. 55th St.).

In addition to New York, the first batch of "Day by Day" books cover London, Rome, Paris and San Francisco. Guides to Venice and Amsterdam will be out in February.

The books, from Hoboken, N.J.-based Wiley Publishing, are $12.99. Each comes with a laminated fold-out map that can be removed from a plastic pocket.

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Business travel awards

NEW YORK - Denver International Airport was named the best airport in North America for business travel in a survey by Business Traveler magazine.

Denver knocked O'Hare International Airport out of the top spot in the magazine's annual poll. The Chicago airport had been named No. 1 by survey respondents for the previous six years.

Despite its financial struggles, United Airlines won top honors in the categories of best frequent flyer program and best airline in North America. United is restructuring in order to emerge from Chapter 11 in February.

Singapore Airlines was named best airline in the world, and British Airways won for best business class service.

In awards for hotels, The Peninsula Chicago was named best individual hotel for business travel, while the Marriott won for best hotel chain in North America and for having the best hotel rewards program. The survey named Hilton as the best first-class hotel chain for business travel and Hampton Inn as the best economy hotel chain for business travel.

Business Traveler readers gave Orbitz the No. 1 spot in the category of best Web site for booking travel, while American Airlines won for having the best airline Web site.

The magazine's award for best credit card went to American Express, which was also honored for having the best credit card rewards program.

Hertz won for best car rental company.

Business Traveler has conducted its reader poll annually for 17 years. This year's survey was sent to a randomly selected sample of 2,000 of the magazine's 60,000 subscribers. Nearly 500 responded.

Complete results of the survey, which polled readers' top picks in 39 categories, are in the magazine's December-January issue and on http://www.businesstravelerusa.com.

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Czech Jewish Museum

PRAGUE, Czech Republic - The Jewish Museum in Prague is celebrating its 100th anniversary with a yearlong program of concerts and exhibitions.

With some 600,000 visitors annually, the Jewish Museum is the most visited museum in the country.

About 100 theaters, concert halls, galleries and other institutions across the Czech Republic will participate in the project, which will present important works of Jewish art to the public throughout the year, museum director Leo Pavlat said.

"It will show that the Jewish culture in our country had not only a very rich past but also has a lively present," Pavlat said.

The Prague's Jewish Museum was founded in 1906, but was closed to the public after the 1939 Nazi occupation of Czech territory. In 1942, the Nazis formed a central museum here where works of art from all closed Czech synagogues and Jewish communities were deposited.

The museum was reopened after World War II, but was nationalized by the former Communist government in 1950. In 1994, it was returned to the Jewish community.

Only a few thousand Jews now live in the Czech Republic. Nearly 120,000 Jews lived on Czech territory before the war; 80,000 perished in the Holocaust.

Events marking the museum's anniversary will include a performance of Verdi's "Requieum" in May in Theresienstadt, where the Nazis sent many prominent Jews and Jewish artists from all over Europe. As propaganda, the Germans permitted arts and music among the detainees in Theresienstadt, but daily life was harsh. Of the 140,000 Jews sent there, 33,000 died there, and nearly 90,000 were deported to death camps farther east.

The performance of "Requieum" will be accompanied by the recorded memories of some of those who survived Theresienstadt.

In addition, the National Theater in Brno will put on a performance of Hans Krasa's opera "Brundibar" in November. The opera for children was performed in Theresienstadt. Krasa spent two years there before being transported in 1944 to Auschwitz, where he died.

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Avalanche forecasts

JACKSON, Wyo. (AP) - A Teton County Search and Rescue official advises skiers, snowboarders and snowmobilers to pay closer attention to daily avalanche forecasts, in the wake of recent avalanche deaths in the Jackson Hole area.

Brendan McDermott, who has served as incident commander in several recent searches for people lost in the snow, said forecasters have been accurate about the danger of slides in the backcountry, but people don't seem to be using the information.

On Dec. 27, snowmobiler Jesse Humphries, 21, died of suffocation in an avalanche on Togwotee Pass, and in January a slide on Taylor Mountain killed skier Laurel Dana, 43. In both incidents, forecasters had warned about the danger, McDermott said.

"The avalanche report is dead-on, extremely accurate," he said. "This slide activity shouldn't be a surprise."

The day Humphries died the report said the danger was moderate, meaning human-triggered avalanches were possible. "Skiers or riders could easily trigger new surface slabs that lie upon hard crusts, wind packed snow, and some faceted snow," the report said.

On New Year's Day, an avalanche in Black Canyon south of Teton Pass injured a skier who had to be evacuated by Search and Rescue. He and a second skier were standing in the vicinity of an avalanche path they believed to be safe.

The report that day said natural avalanches were likely.

The day Dana died, the report for the Taylor Mountain area said the avalanche danger was considerable, meaning dangerous slabs existed and human-triggered avalanches were probable.

At least two skiers were on the east face of Taylor when it avalanched.

With a wide range of significant slides reported in the area, McDermott said he is surprised that skiers and snowboarders are still descending slopes that could be suspect.

The Jackson Hole avalanche report is available at http://www.jhavalanche.org.

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Airport weddings-Sweden

STOCKHOLM, Sweden - A busy international airport may not seem like the most romantic setting for a wedding, but it is an increasingly popular venue for exchanging vows in Sweden.

Last year, 488 couples tied the knot at Arlanda airport outside Stockholm, compared with 348 in 2004. It was the second consecutive yearly increase, airport spokeswoman Helena Miller said.

The weddings took place either in the airport chapel or, more commonly, in a VIP room, where the bride and groom can check in their luggage, order Champagne and catering, and when the ceremony is over, be driven straight up to the aircraft.

"Those who chose the VIP room ceremony get the same service as for instance the royal family, Nobel laureates, rock stars and presidents," said Miller.

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Katrina-beaches

GULFPORT, Miss. - Officials on the Mississippi Gulf Coast have begun cleaning up almost 30 miles of the region's beaches, but that doesn't mean they'll be ready for swimmers any time soon.

Craig Ray, director of tourism for the Mississippi Development Authority, said tourists returning to the Gulf Coast after Hurricane Katrina are coming for other reasons.

Last month, three casinos reopened, drawing tens of thousands of gamblers. Many of the region's golf courses are also reopening.

The coast, however, is sullied by debris churned up by the storm, including sunken boats, oil drums, cars and hundreds of trees uprooted into the gulf.

"As far as people on the beaches, aside from visiting the hurricane-damage sites, I don't expect many people to visit right away," Ray said.

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Philippines-medical tourism

MANILA, Philippines - Officials have launched a campaign to promote so-called medical tourism in the Philippines in an effort to grab a slice of the multibillion-dollar industry.

Health Secretary Francisco Duque III said government agencies and private clinics and hospitals will strive to make the Philippines the "new hub of wellness and medical care in Asia."

Medical tourism, which combines both health care and travel and leisure, last year generated more than $1 billion in revenues for Thailand, India and Malaysia, Duque said.

He said the government also hopes the campaign "will be an attractive strategy to reverse the current outward migration of our professionals, prompt new doctors to stay and lure back our health workers who had international training."

Health Undersecretary Jade del Mundo said the medical brain drain, which has seen Filipino doctors take higher-paying jobs abroad as nurses, "could bring us to the brink of a health crisis."

As an added benefit, the growth of medical tourism could generate enough revenues for the country to improve overall health care by increasing the number of hospital beds for the poor and making expensive advanced medical equipment available to them, Duque said.

He said the components of the new program include medical, surgical and dental care, health and wellness, traditional and alternative health care, long-term tourism and the establishment of international retirement and medical zones.

The prices of medical and surgical procedures in the Philippines are 30 percent to 50 percent cheaper than elsewhere, he said. A coronary bypass costing about $50,000 in the United States is only about $25,000 in the Philippines, he said.

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China-Bigfoot

SHANGHAI, China - China has temporarily closed parts of a nature reserve that attracts scores of people each year hunting for evidence of an ape-like Bigfoot creature, a park official said Tuesday.

Sections of Shennongjia Nature Reserve will remain closed for at least three months to allow its natural attractions to recover from the wear and tear of visitors, said Wang Yong, an official from the park's tourism bureau.

"During this period, we are going to do some research on how to improve the attraction of Shennongjia," said Wang. Proposals included a possible airport in the area to facilitate tourist arrivals.

Located deep in the remote mountains of Hubei province, the park has long been rumored as the home to the elusive creature known in Chinese as the "Yeren," or "wild man."

Scientists say there is no scientific evidence the creature exists, but scores of people claim to have seen it roaming the park, about 670 miles southwest of Beijing.

Sightings of a similar yeti-like creature have been reported in Tibet, though its existence hasn't been proven either.

China's government has previously urged tourist agencies to cut down on creature-hunting safaris in Shennongjia, saying they were misleading and could harm the environment.

However, the park itself has sought to lure tourists with a $60,000 reward for the Yeren's capture.