Originally created 06/05/06

Travel briefs



Best beaches

HONOLULU - Fleming Beach Park, a mile-long crescent white sand beach on Maui's western shore featuring spectacular views of the Pacific Ocean and the rugged shores of Molokai Island, was named America's best beach in an annual list that also included two Florida beaches.

International beach expert Stephen Leatherman, also known as "Dr. Beach," lauded Fleming for its year-round sunny weather, scenic views, pristine waters, and amenities such as showers, grills for barbecuing, snack bar, picnic facilities and ample parking.

"The west side of Maui always has beach weather. It's one of the sunniest places in the world, so it's hard to beat that," Leatherman said in a telephone interview. "What you call winter there everybody else calls a nice day."

Leatherman said visitors to Fleming, however, must use caution during the winter months when the surf and currents pick up.

Fleming, in the posh resort town of Kapalua, was one of three Hawaii beaches to make the Top 10 list compiled by Leatherman, director of Florida International University's Laboratory for Coastal Research.

Caladesi Island State Park in Dunedin, Fla., was the runner-up to Fleming, followed by Ocracoke Island in North Carolina; Coopers Beach in the Hamptons on Long Island, in New York; Kauai's Hanalei Beach; Main Beach in the Hamptons; Coast Guard Beach on Cape Cod, Mass.; Coronado Beach in California; Maui's Hamoa Beach; and Barefoot Beach Park in Bonita Springs, Fla.

Road trip survey

SKOKIE, Ill. (AP) - What do most people argue about in the car during a road trip?

Where to sit and when to stop.

That's according to a survey of 4,000 people in all 50 states conducted for Rand McNally, the map publishing company.

The survey, commissioned to mark Rand McNally's 150th anniversary, found that "personal space/seating arrangements" was the No. 1 reason for a disagreement on a road trip, cited by 54 percent of those polled, while 27 percent said "when to stop for breaks" was the biggest cause of discord.

Ninety-six percent of those surveyed said they'd taken at least one road trip in their lifetime, and 76 percent of respondents still take road trips for their vacations now.

Two-thirds of the respondents said their top activities while in the car were looking at passing sights and playing games.

But if you're looking to improve your diet, a road trip probably will not help. Top results for "best food for the road" were potato chips, candy and cookies.

The survey was conducted online on the Rand McNally Web site and through e-ail from March to early May.

Copper King Express

BUTTE, Mont. (AP) - All aboard the Copper King Express!

A new excursion train in Montana with a long and interesting history has begun running between Anaconda and Butte.

It's the first time in 50 years that a regular passenger train has operated on the line.

The Copper King Express is scheduled to run narrated trips each weekend from Memorial Day to September.

The train runs on a historic line - the Butte, Anaconda and Pacific Railroad, first incorporated in 1892. It was built by Marcus Daly, who owned the mines in Butte and the smelting facility in Anaconda, and who was known as "the Copper King."

In its heyday, the train, which was nicknamed the "biggest little railroad in the world," ran seven days a week 'round the clock, moving 30,000 tons or 600 carloads a day. It was also widely used by local residents.

The smelter closed in 1985 and the railroad was privatized, providing freight service as the Rarus Railway Company.

The line reopened this spring for passenger service with a 52-mile round trip excursion through scenic Durant Canyon and near many historical points of interest.

The new service has proven popular, with a number of trips already sold out, so be sure to make reservations. You can get tickets online at http://www.copperkingexpress.com/ or by calling (406) 563-5458.

Cheap bus

INDIANAPOLIS (AP) - A new bus service is offering fares as low as $1 for a trip to Chicago and other Midwest destinations, despite inconveniences such as hard-to-find bus stops and buses that sometimes run late.

Megabus, a company headquartered in the United Kingdom, began nonstop service earlier this spring from Indianapolis to Chicago, Cincinnati and Columbus, Ohio. From Chicago, travelers can go to Detroit, Milwaukee, St. Louis and Minneapolis.

One-way ticket prices range from $1 to about $30, with cheaper tickets available for trips booked far in advance.

Fares on traditional bus lines, such as Greyhound Lines, tend to cost about $30 to $35 one-way from Indianapolis to Chicago, and routes sometimes include stops along the way.

To keep fares so low, Megabus cuts expenses by using online ticketing and sidewalk stops instead of ticket counters and special bus terminals. Passengers don't even get tickets; they simply give the bus driver the reservation number they received when booking online.

Megabus' strategy works well in the Midwest because the area includes several major cities all several hours apart, Coach USA President Dale Moser told The Indianapolis Star. Coach USA is the domestic subsidiary of Scotland-based Stagecoach Group PLC, which runs Megabus.

Details at http://www.megabus.com.

San Francisco schooner

SAN FRANCISCO (AP) - An aging schooner that has withstood a shipwreck and dry rot will soon be ready for its next mission: tourist attraction.

The 111-year-old sailing schooner C.A. Thayer has been rebuilt from the keel up. The project, which cost between $12 million and $15 million and has taken two years, is one of the largest and most complicated restoration jobs on a wooden vessel in U.S. history.

The 219-foot Thayer will return to the Hyde Street Pier in San Francisco this summer.

"She is almost like a new ship," said William Elliott, general manager of Bay Ship and Yacht Co., the contractor handling the restoration.

The Thayer is the last of roughly 200 wooden wind-powered schooners that hauled lumber on the West Coast. The Thayer carried some of the lumber that rebuilt San Francisco after the 1906 earthquake and fire.

It was retired roughly a half-century ago and started to fail in the 1980s while it was being used to teach children about sailing.

The National Trust for Historic Preservation named the Thayer as one of America's 10 most endangered landmarks more than a decade ago.

Elliott said more than 100,000 hours were spent on the rebuilding and another year's worth of upgrades and repairs will be needed when the ship docks this summer.

"It is very, very labor intensive," Elliott said. "We took it apart piece by piece and then put it back together, so that when someone steps aboard in the year 2050 it will be the same ship as it was when it was built in 1895."

Maine ferry

PORTLAND, Maine (AP) - A high-speed ferry that can cruise the ocean at highway speeds has begun trips between Portland, Maine's largest city, and Yarmouth, Nova Scotia.

The 320-foot aluminum catamaran known as The Cat is expected to bring Canada-bound passengers from southern New England, and Canadian tourists who are using The Cat to Maine, New England and beyond.

The Cat can travel at speeds up to 50 mph and make the trip across the Gulf of Maine in five-and-a-half hours.

The vessel will sail Fridays, Saturdays and Sundays between Maine's largest city and Nova Scotia through mid-October. Between Monday and Thursday, it will run between Bar Harbor and Yarmouth, a trip that takes less than three hours.

Bay Ferries has been offering high-speed ferry service between Bar Harbor and Yarmouth since 1998.

The Cat can carry up to 775 passengers, 250 cars and 14 motor homes or tour buses. It is powered by four 9,500-horsepower marine diesel engines that drive a water jet propulsion system. It has aircraft-style lounge seats, four movie screens, slot machines, a cafe and a duty-free shop.

The Cat's arrival marks the return of Portland-Canada ferry service after the Scotia Prince canceled service last spring in a dispute with the city of Portland. The Scotia Prince and its successor, the Prince of Fundy, made seasonal runs from Portland to Yarmouth for 35 years.

Grand Rapids

MUSKEGON, Mich. (AP) - A splashy, new ride with a distinctly urban name awaits visitors to Michigan's Adventure Amusement Park, which has reopened for the 2006 season.

The 1,500-foot-long water ride, named Grand Rapids, debuted at the park's annual "Physics Day" for area students. About 2,000 spent part of the day applying their knowledge about velocity and acceleration to the park's rides.

At about $5 million, Grand Rapids is the most expensive ride ever built at the amusement park, which is just north of Muskegon. The name of the new ride is indeed a nod to the state's second-largest city, park officials told The Muskegon Chronicle.

The whitewater rapids attraction carries riders 42 inches and taller in seven round, nine-person rafts. They are taken beneath waterfalls and past 30-foot geysers during 2 1/2 minutes of twists, drops and turns.

Although the ride is part of the traditional amusement park at Michigan's Adventure and not its water park, riders will get wet, officials said.

Michigan's Adventure is observing this year as its 50th anniversary. The attraction opened in 1956 as a petting zoo called Deer Park.

Admission this year is $24 for an all-day, all-rides pass for one person, plus $7 for parking. Children 2 or under are free.

Details at http://www.michigansadventure.com/.

Philadelphia Zoo

PHILADELPHIA (AP) - Thirteen big cats - from a rare black jaguar to a trio of young snow leopards - are enjoying spacious new digs in the city after some time away "vacationing" at other zoos.

The Philadelphia Zoo has formally opened its new $20 million habitat, which is designed to give the animals a more natural setting and visitors a more intimate experience.

The exhibit also preaches conservation, using interactive games, video clips and other tools to describe the threats humans pose to big-cat species around the world.

The zoo's 10-month-old puma cubs - two girls and a boy - were orphaned in South Dakota last summer when a hunter legally killed their mother.

The 364-pound tiger Dmitri belongs to the subspecies once known as Siberian tigers, the largest of the world's big cats. With their range now limited to the Amur River Valley in southern Russia, they are now called Amur tigers. Only a few hundred remain in the wild.

Other exhibits describe the human encroachment that has largely driven jaguars from the southwestern United States into Mexico and pumas - also called mountain lions or cougars - from the eastern United States.

The zoo also offers information on a program in Kenya it supports that teaches ranchers how to build lion-proof corrals for their herds, so they don't shoot the endangered lions.

Big Cat Falls is likely to be a summer blockbuster for the zoo, which attracts as many as 13,000 visitors on a weekend summer day and 1.2 million visitors a year.

It is the first new exhibit at the Philadelphia Zoo since 1999, spokeswoman Ginette Meluso said. Details at http://www.philadelphiazoo.org.

Aquarium reopens

PINE KNOLL SHORES, N.C. (AP) - At long last, Pungo and Neuse are holding their housewarming party.

The two playful river otters were among numerous residents on display as the aquarium on the Bogue Banks staged its long-delayed reopening on May 19.

It's one of three state aquariums - the others are at Fort Fisher near Wilmington and on Roanoke Island near Manteo. Each has a different focus; the theme at Pine Knoll Shores is, "From the mountains to the sea."

The facility was been closed for 2 1/2 years, awaiting an overhaul that ultimately cost $28 million.

Attractions include a three-story mountain waterfall, and exhibits featuring water creatures of the Piedmont, coastal plain, tidal waters and ocean.

Outside the building, visitors can take a boardwalk to a marsh that links the aquarium to Bogue Sound, where they can see minnows swarming, crabs scavenging, egrets fishing and songbirds darting through the trees. The area is part of the 298-acre Theodore Roosevelt Natural Area.

Villa vacations

NEW YORK (AP) - The fantasy: Renting a villa in the countryside, dining on food grown by local farmers, and relaxing with your family in a beautiful setting.

The reality: Getting lost on unfamiliar roads, worrying that the kids will be injured because the house is not childproof, and suffering through malfunctioning appliances, plumbing disasters and heating problems.

That's what Wendy Perrin, who writes for Conde Nast Traveler, discovered when she rented a villa for her family in Italy. Perrin describes her experience in the June issue and provides plenty of advice for others.

For one thing, are you prepared to do your dishes, take out your garbage, buy household supplies like toilet paper, and strip your beds and clean the place when you leave? If not, you might be better off in a hotel. Or if you're set on a villa, consider paying for a housekeeper and cook, which are offered with many villa rentals.

Perrin also notes that whether a villa is a good value depends on how many people stay there. A weekly rate of $5,400, including part-time household staff, seems steep, but if the villa has four bedrooms, four couples can share the bill. Nightly rate: under $100 per person.

Perrin adds that a good rental agent who knows the property is the key to finding the right villa for you. She recommends 35 rental agents in 16 countries, including http://www.justfrance.com and http://www.villaeurope.com. For the complete list, check out the June issue, or look for more villa guidance online at http://www.cntraveler.com/villarentals.