Thursday, December 31, 2009

New Year's Around the World

Here in the United States we celebrate the New Year with friends and family, at parties, with food and drinks, midnight toasts, fireworks and resolutions of what we plan to change or improve in the New Year.

The biggest celebration in the U.S. is of course, in New York city, with the "ball dropping" on top of One Times Square, which is broadcast to all of America, and is a major component of the New Year celebration for many Americans. The 11,875-pound, 12-foot diameter Waterford crystal ball located high above Times Square is lowered, starting at 11:59:00pm and reaching the bottom of its tower 60 seconds later, at the stroke of midnight, and a fireworks show to follow.

Ever wonder how people in other parts of the world celebrate this holiday?

In Australia, celebrations are held around the nation, especially in Sydney, where one of the world's largest fireworks displays draws 1 to 1.5 million people to the harbor. Australia is one of the first countries in the world to celebrate the New Year. Many people also run into the ocean on New Year’s Day in Australia.
In many European countries, the New Year is greeted with private fireworks. This day is also the occasion to make bonfires of discarded Christmas trees in some countries.

In Brazil, celebrations are held around the nation. Most famous is the celebration in Rio de Janeiro which occurs in Copacabana beach, drawing 1.5 to 2.5 million people.
In Scotland, there are many special customs associated with the New Year. These are a part of the Scottish celebration Hogmanay, the Scots name for the New Year. The World famous street party in Princes Street in Edinburgh is one of the examples of Hogmanay events.

In Russia, the New Year is greeted by fireworks and drinking champagne. The New Year is considered a family celebration, with lavish dinner tables and gifts. The president of Russia normally counts down the final seconds of the "old year", as it is called in Russia. A giant clock tower chimes in the New Year, and it is customary to make a wish with each chime.

The French call New Year's Eve "la Saint-Sylvestre". It is usually celebrated with a feast called le Réveillon de la Saint-Sylvestre. This feast customarily includes special dishes like foie gras and drinks like champagne. The celebration can be a simple, intimate dinner with friends and family or a much fancier ball (une soirée dansante).

In South Korea, the most popular way of celebrating New Year's Day is to travel to Jung dong jin, the place on the peninsula where the Sun can first be seen each day.

In Davos, Switzerland, the final match of the Spengler Cup ice hockey Tournament is usually held on this day by tradition.

In Indonesia, the local government of Jakarta often holds a music show, a New Year’s countdown, and fireworks party in New Year's Eve celebration.

In the Philippines, people light fireworks, loud firecrackers, booming sound system, bamboo canons as well as make a lot of noise with the belief that the noises would scare evil spirits away and prevent them from bringing bad luck to the coming New Year.

In Japan, New Year's Eve is a preparation day to welcome Toshigami, New Year’s god. Therefore, traditionally, people clean their home and prepare Kadomatsu and/or Shimenawa to welcome the god before New Year's Eve.

In Mexico, the people eat a grape with each of the twelve chimes of the bell during the New Year countdown, while making a wish with each one. Also on New Year's Eve, those who want to find love in the New Year wear red underwear and yellow if they want money.

In Greece, families and relatives switch off the lights at midnight, and then celebrate by cutting the "vassilopita" (Basil's pie) which usually contains one coin or equivalent; whoever wins expects luck for the whole year. After the pie, a traditional game of cards called "triantaena" follows, similar to black jack.
London celebrates the New Year with a New Year's Day parade.

Wednesday, December 23, 2009

The North Pole

Many people don’t realize that there is actually a city named North Pole located in Alaska about 10 miles southeast of Fairbanks. The North Pole is a small town with just over 2,000 residents where the spirit of Christmas lives year-round. Most of the streets bear holiday names such as Santa Claus Lane, Snowman Lane, North Star Drive, Misteltoe Street, etc…, and many of the shops are focused around the same theme.

People from all over the globe come to the North Pole to visit the world-famous Santa Claus House where you can take pictures with Santa and his reindeer any day of the year. You can even mail postcards to friends and family who then receive mail postmarked from the North Pole. (Santa’s zip code is 99705, fyi.)

Due to it’s location near the Arctic Circle, during the Winter months the North Pole can have days as short as 3 hours and 42 minutes. In Summer days can be as long as 21 hours and 49 minutes. The North Pole is a magical place, just don’t forget your earmuffs as Winter temperatures can dip as low as -78 degrees. Brrrrrr!

Happy Holidays from The Travel Team!

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

First Flight of the Boeing 787 Dreamliner

The long awaited maiden flight of the 787 Dreamliner occured this morning in Everett, WA, to the cheers of thousands of spectators. The flight is expected to last about five and a half hours.

The mid-sized, wide-body, twin-engine Dreamliner is made of lightweight composite materials, such as carbon fiber-reinforced resin, which results in using 20 percent less fuel. It can seat between 290 - 330 passengers, depending on the variant.
So far, so good for the inaugural flight, which follows delays that have put the Dreamliner program more than two years behind schedule. The aerospace giant has booked 810 orders for the next-generation Dreamliner. Japan Airline, Air India, Al Nippon and United have placed the largest orders so far.

Friday, December 11, 2009

Virgin Atlantic Unveils First Commercial Passenger Spaceship

Earlier this week Virgin Atlantic unveiled the first commercial passenger spaceship, a sleek black and white vessel that represents an expensive gamble on creating a commercial space tourism industry.

The spaceship is about the size of a minivan with wings and will take space tourists into zero gravity in about three years! The project has a $450 million budget to build six of the spaceships that would take passengers high enough to achieve weightlessness and see the curvature of Earth set against the backdrop of space.

A twin-hulled aircraft named Eve would carry Spaceship Two to an altitude of about 60,000 feet before releasing it. The spaceship would then fire its onboard rocket engines, climbing to about 65 miles above Earth. The trip would take about 2-1/2 hours, with passengers experiencing weightlessness for about five minutes.

The ride is expected to cost aspiring astronauts about $200,000, 300 people have already placed deposits. They will receive three days of training prior to taking the ride.

Eventually, Virgin Galactic, the offshoot of Virgin Atlantic, may offer suborbital travel that could dramatically cut the length of flights.

Wednesday, December 09, 2009

Tips for Traveling Cheap

The world is in an economic crisis and tourism has slowed down all over the world, which can mean big savings for savvy travelers. Cheap travel is possible if you’re willing to plan ahead and do a little research. Make the most out of your dollar with these tips on traveling cheap:

Be flexible with your travel dates. Traveling is always more expensive during the times when people travel the most: holidays, spring break, weekends. Flights in the middle of the week are less expensive than on the weekends. Cheap flights aren’t hard to find if you’re willing to do some research. Look into trains or car rentals to see what options are the least expensive. Overnight trains can be a very economical option because you’re combining traveling and lodging costs into one, all the while catching up on your sleep!

Many large cities, especially in Europe, are best seen by walking or bicycling. Amsterdam and Paris, for example, have excellent bike-rental systems which are a great alternative to expensive taxis. Ask about different passes for the metro or bus - sometimes day or weekly passes are cheaper than buying one ticket at a time.

Hostels are a great inexpensive alternative to hotels. While some hostels can still be downright scary, it’s not always the case. Some hostels offer private rooms with private baths just like a hotel but without the hefty price tag. Hostels may not be the most luxurious of accommodations but traveling cheap requires a few sacrifices. Besides, how much time are you really going to spend in your room anyways?

Eating out for every meal can add up very quickly. Set a budget ahead of time to avoid overspending. Balance out several cheap meals with one nicer one. Scour guide books or ask locals about the tiny restaurants located off the beaten path with the smaller prices. Planning ahead and shopping at grocery stores for snacks, bottled water, and simple items for sandwiches is a great way to travel cheap, as is bringing snacks from home.

Take advantage of AAA or student discounts. Many hostels and hotels give students a discount, as do certain attractions such as tours, shows, museum passes, etc... It never hurts to ask!

Contact a Professional Travel Agent today to get started booking your next trip!

Tuesday, December 08, 2009

Hotels Located Inside Airports

Hotels located inside of an airport are becoming increasingly common around the globe. They can be very convenient for travelers with early morning flights, or a long connection, delayed flight, or just need somewhere to rest for a few hours.

They often have the same amenities of other hotels, such as room service, Wi-Fi, fitness centers and pools, and alleviate the need for taxis, shuttles or car rentals.

Below is a list of some of the best airport hotels:

Hilton at Chicago O'Hare Airport is located in O'Hare's Terminal 2 and is within walking distance to all O'Hare Airport's domestic terminals. It features sound resistant rooms, in-room coffee and refreshment center, business center, pool, fitness center, three dining options and 24-hour room service.

Sheraton Paris Airport Hotel is located inside of the Charles de Gaulle Airport, at International Terminal 2, just steps from the free automatic shuttle service which links the three airport terminals. The rooms and suites feature 100% sound proof walls, in-rooms coffee, safes and bathrobes. Four dining options on-site, and also a fitness center, business center and sauna available for all guests.

Hilton Mexico City Airport is located inside Benito Juarez International Airport, at Terminal 1. This hotel features an outstanding restaurant - Belvedere, and a bar - Carlo's Place, which offers an incredible view of the airport's runways. Free Wi-Fi service, a fitness center, and business center is available for all guests.

Hyatt Regency Orlando International Airport offers award-winning dining and deluxe amenities - they can have your luggage delivered from baggage claim directly to your room! Hotel offers fitness center, pool, massage service, airline counter, Wi-Fi, three dining options on-site and 24-hour room service.

Tampa Airport Marriott features triple-paned glass, the Marriott Revive bedding, outdoor pool, hot tub, on-site fitness center, rotating rooftop restaurant, in-room coffee, tea, morning newspaper and room service.

Ambassador Transit Hotel at Singapore Changi Airport offers a fitness center, pool and pool bar, beauty salon and spa, wake-up service, and restaurants nearby.

Miami International Airport Hotel is located at the Concourse E departure level. Every room is sound proof, with pillow-top mattresses, satellite TV, On Demand movies, marble bathrooms, and coffee makers. The hotel services include room service, hair salon, business center and Wi-Fi. Top of the Port Restaurant is located on site.

Yotel is an airport hotel offering locations at Amsterdam Schiphol, London Heathrow and London Gatwick Airports. Yotel is unique in that they book "cabins", which the company claims is "Everything you would expect from a luxury hotel in a small space", and you book exactly what you want when you want it – from just a few hours’ day or night to 24 or more.

Contact a Professional Travel Agent today to get started booking your next trip!

Wednesday, December 02, 2009

NYC Police Cracking Down on Unlicensed Airport Cabs

Police are cracking down on the swarms of unlicensed taxi drivers who hustle passengers at New York City airports.

The crackdown is taking aim at the small army of quick-talking drivers who approach passengers as they emerge from the terminals and offer them a ride into the city for an under-the-table fare, negotiated on the spot. These trips aren't always a rip-off.

Unlicensed drivers often charge equal to, or less than, the legal flat taxi rate of $45.50 (plus tolls) for all taxi trips between Manhattan and JFK. But these unauthorized pickups can be problematic, especially when drivers come across someone who isn't familiar with the city or U.S. currency.

Port officials and prosecutors announced Tuesday that police had arrested 17 men at Kennedy International Airport in an enforcement sweep timed to coincide with a new law imposing tougher penalties on unlicensed hacks. An 18th driver was arrested at LaGuardia Airport.

Under the new state law signed last month, the drivers could face up to 90 days in jail and fines as high as $1,250. Previously, violations usually resulted in the equivalent of a traffic ticket.