Monday, December 15, 2008

The Most Travel-Inspiring Movies of 2008

By msnbc & Budget Travel

1. "Australia"
Northern Territory and Western Australia. In director Baz Luhrmann's tribute to his native Australia, aristocrat Lady Sarah Ashley (Nicole Kidman) takes an arduous journey across the country with a rough-and-tumble stockman named the Drover (Hugh Jackman) as World War II is about to break out.

Arriving in Oz
Sarah disembarks from a ship in Darwin, Australia, with so much baggage that she has to enlist four porters to help her off the vessel. The scene was shot in Bowen, a beach town in northeastern Queensland with excellent snorkeling and diving.

Beau of the ball
Sarah is surprised to see a rather dapper-looking Drover, whom she hired to help her drive cattle across Australia, at a high-society party one evening. The scene was filmed at Strickland House, an 1850s Italianate villa in Sydney, built for the city's first elected mayor, John Hosking. You can only tour the home once a year (the 2009 date is April 13), but visitors can stroll through the villa's manicured grounds year-round and eat a picnic lunch on a hill that overlooks Sydney Harbour (011-61/2-9337-5999, house tour $3).

In love in the Outback
Sparks fly between Sarah and Drover as they traverse hundreds of miles across the Outback to a cattle station that Sarah has inherited in the Kimberley region of Western Australia. "The area has the most incredible sunsets and sunrises, and practically everything in the scene is authentic—the sunshine really burns, the dust is real," says James Fisher, one of the film's still photographers. You can explore this rugged countryside via a bus tour, which leads trips through the red-rock valley that surrounds the Ord River, with stops at an aboriginal art gallery and Ivanhoe Crossing, which has some of the best crocodile spotting in the region.

2. "Mamma Mia!"
Greece. Based on the hit Broadway musical, "Mamma Mia!" tells the story of Sophie (Amanda Seyfried), who's on a quest to find out who her real dad is before she gets married. After narrowing the pool down to three men, she invites them all to her mom's hotel on the fictional Greek island of Kalokairi. The result? Chaos, and a whole lot of Abba tunes.

Shipping out
Sophie's prospective fathers meet for the first time when Sam (Pierce Brosnan) and Harry (Colin Firth) miss the last ferry to Kalokairi and Bill (Stellan Skarsgård) offers to take them on his boat. The scene was filmed on Skiathos, an island in the Aegean Sea about 85 miles north of Athens. Ferry tickets can be purchased in Greece, and cost about $95.

Boatloads of fun
When the men learn that Sophie's mother, Donna (Meryl Streep), doesn't want them at her daughter's wedding, they make a hasty retreat back to the mainland on Bill's boat. Determined to stop them, Sophie swims out to her could-be dads, and the group sings a playful rendition of "Our Last Summer." A peninsula off Glysteri beach, on the island of Skopelos, served as the scene's backdrop. Boats can be chartered to explore the peninsula, along with the isle's many beaches and coves.

Going to the chapel
The wedding takes place in a tiny church built on a steep rock formation overlooking the Aegean Sea. Before Donna climbs up to the chapel, she pours her heart out to Sam, singing "The Winner Takes It All." The scene was filmed at the rustic Agios Ioannis sto Kastri on Skopelos Island, where you can scale the 100-plus stairs to the top of the dramatic cliff.

3. "Quantum Of Solace"
Italy, Austria, England.
The highly anticipated sequel to Casino Royale marks the return of 007 (Daniel Craig). Bent on avenging the death of his lost love, James Bond outwits the British government and the CIA on a covert mission that takes him around the globe.

Horsing around
In the fast-paced opening scene, Bond chases a spy through a warren of medieval aqueducts in Siena, Italy. In the summer, tours are available to the public. Bond eventually pops up through a manhole in Piazza del Campo—directly into the path of the Palio horse race. During the competition, which has been held in Siena since 1310, riders must complete three laps around the piazza, avoiding spectators along the way (July 2 and Aug. 16, free).

Opera on the water
Bond tracks down villain Dominic Greene (Mathieu Amalric) at the Bregenz Festival House, a 7,000-seat concert hall with a floating stage on the banks of Lake Constance in Austria. The 2009 festival season runs from July 22 to August 23 and features Verdi's tragic opera Aida (tickets start at $40).

4. "The Other Boleyn Girl"
England. Sibling rivalry really heats up when sisters Anne (Natalie Portman) and Mary (Scarlett Johansson) catch a glimpse of a young Henry VIII (Eric Bana)—and his spectacular palace. The movie is based on Philippa Gregory's best seller, which took its inspiration from English history.

Grassy knole
Henry VIII's home, Whitehall Palace, burned down in 1698, so production designer John-Paul Kelly turned to Knole, the king's country manor in Sevenoaks. Kelly was struck by the house's massive scale: "It looks more like a small town than a building!" The estate has 365 rooms, 52 staircases, 12 entrances, and 7 courtyards. From mid-March to early November, you can tour the rooms—complete with opulent Jacobean-era furnishings—as well as the Japanese sika deer park that surrounds the 1,000-acre property (, $18).

Get thee to the nunnery
Queen Catherine of Aragon (Ana Torrent) gives the Boleyn girls a rough welcome to court, forcing a timid Mary to sing for the queen's ladies-in-waiting in Lacock Abbey. Today, visitors to Wiltshire can explore Lacock's main hall, octagonal tower, botanic gardens, and medieval cloisters—which also had a cameo in two Harry Potter films (, $18).

5. "The Chronicles Of Narnia: Prince Caspian"
New Zealand, Poland, and Slovenia
The Pevensie clan—Lucy (Georgie Henley), Edmund (Skandar Keynes), Peter (William Moseley), and Susan (Anna Popplewell)—returns to Narnia only to find its creatures have been forced into hiding by the Telmarines. So the children set out to help Prince Caspian (Ben Barnes) reclaim his throne—a spectacular journey that was filmed in four countries.

Tunnel vision
One minute the kids are in a London Tube station, and the next they're emerging from a rock arch onto a white-sand beach in Narnia. The arch is part of Cathedral Cove, a marine reserve on New Zealand's Coromandel Peninsula. Boat tours to the reserve, along with the other North Island film location can be booked in advance (tickets are $44).

Rock on
As the foursome sets off in search of the Narnians, Peter leads the group through a lush forest dotted with jagged rock formations, refusing to admit that he's lost. Fittingly, the scene was shot at Lost Rocks, in Poland's Góry Stolowe National Park (, $2). "It looks like the Grand Canyon, but full of greenery," says executive producer Perry Moore of the park's sandstone passageways. "The truth is that some of the best magic in the Narnia movies is grounded in reality."

Watershed moment
The movie's epic battle between the Narnians and the Telmarines culminates in a showdown along the banks of Slovenia's Soca River. "It was a complicated location to scout," says producer Phil Steuer. "We needed access to a river and permission to build a bridge." Wedged amid the Julian Alps, the Soca River valley is an adventure-sports haven for hikers, rafters, bikers, kayakers, and paragliders. If you want to hit the rapids, the Bovec Rafting Team arranges white-water trips (011-386/5-388-61-28, half-day tours from $50).

Original Article : The Most Travel-Inspiring movies of 2008

To get started booking your vacation to any of these amazing destinations, contact a Professional Travel Agent today!

Friday, December 12, 2008

JetBlue Announces Service to San Jose, Costa Rica

JetBlue Airlines has announced that it plans to add new daily non-stop service from Orlando - San Jose, Costa Rica. The service is scheduled to begin on March 26, pending authorization from the Costa Rican government. Introductory fares begin at $99 one-way, and must be purchased by December 23rd.

Their service from Orlando - Bogota begins January 29, and service from Orlando - Nassau on February 1st.

To get started planning your next trip to Central or Latin America, contact a Professional Travel Agent today!

Bike Friendly Travel

Good news for bicycle enthusiasts! The American Association of State Highway & Transportation and the Adventure Cycling Association have been working together for the past four years to put together a transcontinental bikeway system in the U.S..

This map system will connect over 50,000 miles of pedal friendly pavement to form a vast network of byways, off road trails and cities, reaching every corner of the country, much like the one created for cars over half a century ago.

A similar network is being put together in Europe, and the 2,700 mile route in Quebec was finished last year. Once completed, this would be the largest bike route network in the world!

Upon writing this blog, there was no information as to when this system is expected to be completed.

Tuesday, December 09, 2008

Tough Economy? The Perfect Time for a Repositioning Cruise!

By Jason Cochran,

Among the first vacation sellers to get slammed by recession jitters were the cruise lines. When the stock market tanked in late September, the phones stopped ringing. Rather than spend their cash, vacationers would rather hang onto it until they see where things are headed.

Standard cruises are begging for customers, and they're now insanely cheap. is now listing cruises for between $40 to $80 a night whereas a few years ago, you could easily pay double that. But for even more insane savings, look beyond the regularly scheduled runs and do a one-way trip.

One of the best bargains in cruising has long been the so-called "repositioning cruise," during which ships are relocated from one part of the world to another in preparation for the next season. These trips, which often include long stretches at sea in total (i.e. forced) relaxation and few cattle-call stops at ports, are now so cheap they're practically being given away. How about $18 a day?

That incredible price, which of course includes all meals, your room, and more than offsets what you'll send in the open-jaw airfare to reach the starting and ending points of the trip, is for the Costa Fortuna, which in March will spend 17 nights going from the Caribbean to the Italian Mediterranean (stopping in the Canary Islands, Portugal, and Barcelona) for an astounding $300. For the whole trip. Even adding in the mandatory taxes, the whole 17 night getaway comes to just $743.

Repositioning cruises typically happen at the change of seasons. This one, for example, leaves the Caribbean at the end of winter to ready for the warm European summer. In the fall, the repositioning bargains will be for the reverse direction. They're not always so long; some are a week or less. The ones that transfer ships from America's West Coast to the Caribbean, or vice-versa, usually come with a trip through the Panama Canal (although that treat may draw so many passengers that the price may not be so cheap).

Every travel agent worth anything will know what one is, and any cruise line that operates in more than one hemisphere (including Celebrity and Norweigan ) will have a few on offer each year. The cruise fan site Cruise Critic rounds up the upcoming options, although you'll have to get price quotes elsewhere (such as through Cruise Compete, where multiple travel agents bid on your business).

As with so many forms of transportation, prices usually rise as bookings mount, so it's always smartest to make reservations as far ahead as possible.

Contact a Cruise Specialist to book your cruise vacation today!

Airline Fees Are Here to Stay, Even as Fuel Costs Sink

By USA Today Staff

You had better get used to all those new airline fees. The Atlanta Journal-Constitution writes "although airlines are enjoying lower fuel costs, it doesn't mean the end of extra fees for travelers. That's because the airline industry has made fees for everything from seat assignments to checked bags part of a new strategy which appears to be here to stay. Tacking on fees makes it easier to charge passengers more, even if competition makes it difficult to raise fares."

When airlines began adding such fees earlier this year, most cited high fuel costs for the changes. However, airline consultant Bob Mann tells the Journal-Constitution: "I think that was a convenient excuse." Regardless of why, the new "a la carte" pricing system appears to be becoming increasingly entrenched. "I think quite frankly the environment that we're in we're really unlikely to roll any of those back," AirTran CEO Bob Fornaro is quoted as saying by the Journal-Constitution about his airline's fees. AirTran officials say the carrier could make as much as $130 million a year combined from its first-checked-bag fee and from selling advance seat assignments.

AirTran CFO Arne Haak discussed the move toward a la carte pricing -– and customers' purchasing behavior -– last month while speaking at a conference. "For many years, airlines have stuck with one price gets you everything whether you need it or not," Haak is quoted as saying by the Journal-Constitution. "Really what is happening is an unbundling of the services… . That’s how customers respond. Our customers will spend three hours on the Internet figuring out how to save $8 when they buy an airplane ticket. Then they're going to come to the airport and spend $20 to buy a soda, a bag of chips, a candy bar and a magazine that they could have bought for half the price."

Still, not all airline attempts to add fees have worked. United, for example, backtracked from a plan to sell meals on some of its trans-Atlantic flights out of its Washington Dulles hub. Others, including Delta, have scrapped fees that they had been charging fliers to use the curbside "skycap" check-in option. But, for now, at least, many of the new fees appear to be permanent.

Contact a Professional Travel Agent today to get started planning your next vacation!

Monday, December 08, 2008

World's Highest Hotel Is Now Open!

The world's highest hotel, the Park Hyatt Shanghai, fully opened for business last week. Situated in the heart of the Lujiazui business district in Pudong, the Park Hyatt Shanghai occupies the 79th to 93rd floors of the 101-storey Shanghai World Financial Centre.

The hotel has 174 rooms, all of which have views over the Huangpu River and Pudong. The spacious rooms feature walk-in dressing rooms and deluxe bathrooms with large rain showers, deep soaking tubs and heated floors. The hotel's top floor holds a private dining and function space, capable of holding 250 people for cocktails and 120 people for sit-down dinner. The 92nd floor features two bars, one featuring live music and the other a Chinese-style bar.

Rates start around $300 USD per night.

Contact a Professional Travel Agent to book your next international trip!

Thursday, December 04, 2008

Traveling to India? An Alert You Should Know About.

India's Bureau of Civil Aviation had placed all of the country's airports under a Red Alert. Authorities have established police cordons around the perimeters of the airports. All vehicles must pass through a security checkpoint before approaching the terminal building. Passengers should expect to go through metal detectors at least three times at various points before boarding their flights; some reports indicate that security guards have screened passengers' luggage upward of six times.

All passengers, including first and business class travelers, should arrive at least three hours before their scheduled departure. There is extra focus on New Delhi's India Gandhi International Airport , Chennai International Airport and Bengaluru International Airport following an e-mail warning of an attack on 6 December, the anniversary of the demolition of the Babri mosque in Ayodhya in 1992..