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BOOK BY DEC. 31, 2011 - - The Oak Bay Beach Hotel in Victoria, BC will reopen around May 2012. The owners and developers offer off-season, 2006 rates if you book a 2012 visit, saving as much as $154 per night.
The promo is available for all room types, except the penthouse, when booked by Dec. 31, 2011 and applicable for stays May 1 to Dec. 31, 2012, subject to availability. Go to the hotel’s website to get the deal. Click on the link for Secure Reservation Page under Reservations tab and enter 2006RATE into the corporate/promo id field.
Off-season, 2006 promo rates start from $129 for a guest room compared to the high season rate of $269, $175 for a boutique suite compared to the high season rate of $345, and $254 for a one bedroom suite compared to the high season rate of $425.
Once open, perks at the Oak Bay Beach Hotel will include fine restaurant and pub dining, butler and valet services, dinner theatre program, a full-service spa, seaside mineral pools, meeting spaces and 24-hour room and concierge services. All guest rooms will feature spa bathtubs, gas fireplaces, kitchens or kitchenettes, flat screen televisions, wireless internet access, chef services and elegant decor.
The new Oak Bay Beach Hotel will be on the same oceanfront lot where the previous hotel sat for more than 80 years. It will reopen as a 100-room hotel on May 25, 2012.
BOOK BY DEC. 16 - - Aulani, a Disney Resort & Spa, in Ko Olina Hawaii, has a special grand opening offer.
Receive a fifth night free when you purchase a consecutive four-night stay. You may book this grand opening offer through Dec. 16, 2011. Advance reservations are required and there is a limit of two rooms per reservation. Mention offer code Y5J.
The Aulani special offer is available for stays most nights to Dec. 16, 2011; Jan. 4 to 12, 2012; and Jan. 16 to 25, 2012.
The number of rooms allocated for this offer is limited and rates do not include resort fees and taxes. The offer cannot be combined with any other discounts or offers and does not apply to suites and three-bedroom Grand Villas. Additional per adult charges may apply if more than two adults stay in a room.
Aulani occupies 21 oceanfront acres adjacent to a nine-acre lagoon and white-sand beach. Ko Olina is 17 miles from Honolulu International Airport and less than an hour from Waikiki Beach. When all phases are complete, Aulani will include 359 traditional hotel rooms and 481 two-bedroom villas in two towers, each featuring rooms with views of the ocean or mountains.
Aulani features two restaurants, an 18,000-square-foot spa, a fitness center, adult pool, wading pool and sunset-facing whirlpool spas.
For children there’s a kids' club, a seven-acre water play area with tube-floating watercourse, a tube waterslide and a tunnel slide.
The 3,800-square-foot Rainbow Reef snorkel lagoon allows you to interact with native Hawaiian fish, including angelfish, butterfly fish and tangs.
The Makai Preserve conservation pool offers an interactive experience where you can stroke the backs of stingrays. A portion of the proceeds from this activity support research and conservation efforts in Hawaii.
Tourism Whistler launches the Whistler Sabbatical Project: One month in Whistler with expenses paid, airfare, accommodation, lift passes, ski and snowboard equipment, plus the opportunity for extraordinary experiences. Whistler is located in the Coast Mountains 75 miles north of Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada.
Tourism Whistler recognizes that, for most people, there are many obstacles that make it impossible to un-plug from day-to-day life for an entire month. The Whistler Sabbatical Project removes those barriers by providing the grand prize winner with a four-week Whistler experience plus a salary (to a maximum of $4,200 CDN) to help offset the expenses of taking a month off work.
Each Tuesday the Whistler Sabbatical Project will showcase Whistler experiences online and ask the question: Would you do it? How contestants respond will set the stage for building an itinerary of adventure in Whistler. Activities can range from slicing the tops off magnums of champagne with a sabre (in a 20,000 bottle wine cellar) to on-mountain adventures. Visitors to the site get a glimpse of each experience through 45 second videos.
In addition to the Whistler Sabbatical Project, you can enter to win each of the highlighted experiences as a weekly prize via Facebook.
The Whistler Sabbatical Project and the weekly prize contests are open to residents in North America, the United Kingdom and Australia. Contest rules and conditions apply. Weekly prize winners will be drawn randomly. The Whistler Sabbatical Project contest closes Jan. 31, 2012 with 10 randomly-selected finalists drawn between Feb. 1 and 10, 2012 and the grand-prize winner notified on Feb. 13, 2012. The Whistler Sabbatical prize must be redeemed Mar. 1 to Apr. 30, 2012.
The Clifton Inn, in Charlottesville, VA, has been a favorite wedding venue hosting more than 100 weddings annually. Beneath trees at the end of a winding, gravel drive, the white manor house with columns is a beautiful backdrop for weddings in Central Virginia.
This winter, the Clifton Inn gives a gift to the wedding couple: up to 17 guestrooms are included at no charge with weddings that take place at the Clifton Inn December 2011 through mid-March 2012. Valid for exclusive use weddings in the main house, additional rooms and nights will incur additional costs.
Every bride is equipped with a day-of wedding coordinator and a personal assistant who will take care of everything. Seventeen guest accommodations allow the bridal party to stay close to the festivities, while outer buildings including the Carriage House and the Honeymoon Cottage offer the newlyweds a private retreat far enough from the guests but close enough to stick around for the final toasts. Clifton’s 100 acres, which were originally given to Thomas Jefferson’s daughter upon her marriage, offer a variety of settings from a permanent tent site with a dance floor customized to match the wedding colors, to a wine cellar for rehearsal dinners.
Friday and Saturday weddings include the use of all 17 guest rooms. There is a $2,750 privacy fee for the main house to close the restaurant to the public, and a food and beverage minimum of $5,000. Sunday through Thursday weddings include the use of 13 guest rooms and have a $1,500 privacy fee for the main house, and a food and beverage minimum of $2,500. Rates do not include service fees and taxes. Offer is for new bookings only.
Visa offers tips on how to protect yourself from card fraud during your vacation. Their website provides helpful information on how to protect your account information and resolve unauthorized card use.
It's important to know that most U.S. card issuers provide consumer protections including fraud liability protection and dispute resolution. Although most payment card transactions go through without problems, you can learn how to better protect yourself from being inconvenienced by unauthorized purchases.
The site includes travel tips such as the ones below:
If traveling outside the United States, inform the bank that issued your card which countries you will be visiting, and for how long.
Keep a copy of your bank's name, its customer service phone numbers, and your Visa account number in a convenient place, separate from your card. Toll-free numbers may not work internationally. If you don't have the bank's direct number, dial Visa's help line at 800/VISA-911 or 303/967-1096.
Report lost or stolen cards and/or unauthorized transactions to your financial institution issuer immediately.
Limit the number of payment cards and other personal information that you carry in your wallet or purse.
Be aware of your surroundings when entering your Personal Identification Number (PIN) at an ATM or at the checkout.
Don't leave your cards in your car's glove compartment. An alarming number of payment card thefts are from car glove compartments.
Save and check all receipts against your statement.
This year, LXR properties in Florida give you a reason to ditch your overcoats and enjoy the warmth and sun with their Winter Escape offer, which combines reasonable rates with family-friendly perks from Miami Beach to Sanibel Island.
Offered at LXR’s Florida properties for travel through Apr. 27, 2012, the Winter Escape offer requires a three-night minimum stay and includes a welcome gift on check-in and a $75 resort credit per room. Stay four nights or more and you get a $100 resort credit. Resort credits can be used towards amenities and activities such as golf, dining, spa treatments and tennis. Plus kids 12 years and younger eat free from the children’s menu or buffet during their stay. The offer is valid for up to two children per room at participating resort restaurants and children must be accompanied by one paying adult when eating in a restaurant. Room service is not included.
Participating LXR Florida properties include:
Buena Vista Palace Hotel & Spa in the Walt Disney World Resort (Orlando) from $99 per night
Hyatt Regency Pier Sixty-Six (Fort Lauderdale) from $99 per night
Miami Beach Resort (Miami Beach) from $89 per night
South Seas Island Resort (Captiva) from $179 per night
Sundial Beach & Golf Resort (Sanibel Island) from $149 per night
Sanibel Inn (Sanibel Island) from $149 per night
Sanibel Sunset Beach Resort (Sanibel Island) from $149 per night
Seaside Inn (Sanibel Island) from $149 per night
Song of the Sea (Sanibel Island) from $179 per night
The U.S. Department of Transportation (DOT) fined South African Airways and ticket agent Destination Southern Africa for violating federal aviation laws and the Department’s rules prohibiting deceptive price advertising in air travel. South African Airways was fined $55,000 while Destination Southern Africa, which promotes air travel packages for South African Airways and its own tours, was fined $20,000.
“When passengers shop for an airline ticket or air tour, they have a right to know the full price they will have to pay,” said U.S. Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood. “We expect airlines and ticket agents to treat their passengers fairly, and we will take enforcement action when they violate our price advertising rules.”
An investigation by the Department’s Aviation Enforcement Office found that ads on both companies’ websites failed to adequately disclose government taxes and fees that were in addition to the advertised fare. The ads did not properly disclose that the air and hotel tour prices were available only with double occupancy. When consumers clicked on a link next to the fare listed on the homepage, they were taken to a second page where they could select a specific vacation package. Only after making a selection were they taken to a third page where they could see the taxes and fees and the requirement for double occupancy.
The websites violated DOT rules requiring any advertising that includes a price for air transportation to state the full price to be paid by the consumer, including all carrier-imposed surcharges. The only exceptions currently allowed are government-imposed taxes and fees that are assessed on a per-passenger basis, such as passenger facility charges, which may be stated separately from the advertised fare, but must be clearly disclosed in the advertisement so that passengers can easily determine the full price they must pay. Internet fare listings may disclose these separate taxes and fees through a prominent link next to the fare stating that government taxes and fees are extra, and the link must take the viewer directly to information where the type and amount of taxes and fees are displayed. The Department also requires advertisements for air transportation to clearly state major restrictions that apply to the fares. These rules apply to U.S. and foreign carriers and ticket agents.
The DOT penalties follow a $20,000 fine in September 2010 against Lion World Travel, another ticket agent marketing tours for South African Airways, for violating the Department’s full-fare advertising rule.
Under DOT’s consumer rule that enhances protections for air travelers, carriers and ticket agents will be required, among other things, to include all government taxes and fees in every advertised fare beginning Jan. 24, 2012.
Megabus.com, the city-to-city, express bus company with fares from $1, expands to the southern United States with a seventh hub in Atlanta. From Atlanta you can travel to 11 cities: Birmingham, AL; Charlotte, NC; Chattanooga, TN.; Gainesville, FL; Jacksonville, FL; Knoxville, TN; Memphis, TN; Mobile, AL; Montgomery, AL; Nashville, TN; and Orlando, FL.
Megabus.com will offer daily departures from its stop location on the street level at MARTA's Civic Center station in downtown Atlanta. The curbside bus stop is south of West Peachtree Street NW and Pine Street NE., on the northbound side of West Peachtree St NW.
The Civic Center station is on MARTA's Gold and Red lines, offering connections via rail throughout the Atlanta metro and to Hartsfield –Jackson Atlanta International Airport.
Book early to secure $1 fares. Fares start as low as $1 and get higher as the traveling date gets closer.
Megabus.com is one of the largest intercity express bus service providers in North America. In addition to affordable fares, megabus.com offers state-of-the-art environmentally-friendly buses with free Wi-Fi, power outlets and restrooms.
Lifetime passes to America’s national parks for senior citizens and Americans with disabilities are now available through the mail.
National Park Service Director Jonathan B. Jarvis said the Senior Pass and the Access Pass are still available at national parks, but receiving a pass by mail may better suit some people.
The Senior and Access passes provide admission to, and use of, federal recreation sites that charge entrance or standard amenity fees. Pass users also receive a 50 percent discount on some amenity fees for activities such as camping and launching a boat. They are available to citizens and permanent residents of the United States age 62 or older or people who have permanent disabilities regardless of age.
The Senior and Access versions of the America the Beautiful Pass – the National Parks and Federal Recreational Lands Pass – are good for a lifetime. The Access Pass is free and the Senior Pass is $10. There is a $10 processing fee to receive either pass by the mail.
To get your Senior Pass through the mail submit a completed application, proof of residency and age, and $20. The fee covers the cost of the pass and a document processing fee. You can print out an application at this web site. Once the application package is received and the documentation verified, the pass will be mailed to you.
The application for the Access Pass is available here. To receive the Access pass, mail the completed application along with proof of residency and documentation of permanent disability plus the $10 document processing fee. Once the application package is received and verified, the pass and the documentation of permanent disability you provided will be mailed to you.
Breast cancer survivors who have prostheses can travel through airport security with more discretion by using a new identification card developed at the Ohio State University Comprehensive Cancer Center – Arthur G. James Cancer Hospital and Richard J. Solove Research Institute (OSUCCC-James). The card provides a non-verbal way to inform Transportation Security Administration agents about prostheses.
The inspiration for the card came from Electra Paskett, associate director for Population Sciences at OSUCCC-James, a researcher who is a long-time breast cancer survivor.
“While traveling, I have endured several inconsistent and insensitive airport security checks where I felt my privacy and my dignity were violated. Frankly, it made me angry. As breast cancer survivors, we have fought our own battles, we get a tremendous outpouring of support, and we want to cooperate with security guidelines. We are simply asking to be treated with some compassion,” says Paskett.
The card, available through Hope’s Boutique in the JamesCare Comprehensive Breast Center, is offered to new and existing patients who travel. Vera Garofalo, manager of Hope’s Boutique, says many women have already expressed their appreciation for the card.
“Women have told me how uncomfortable traveling can be when they are questioned in public about their very private issues,” says Garofalo.
Paskett and Garofalo designed the breast prosthesis identification card similar to other medical device identification cards for pacemakers or implants. The card provides space for the owner’s contact information plus information about the prosthesis and the provider.
Women are instructed to have the card in hand as they walk through airport security body scanners. If selected for additional screening, they can then hand the card to the TSA agent, without having to verbally explain their situation.
Xanterra Parks & Resorts, operator of Zion Lodge in Zion National Park, offers the “Zion in Winter” and holiday packages.
The Zion in Winter package includes an overnight stay and breakfast for two each morning. Through Mar. 15, 2012, the package rate for a Sunday-through-Thursday stay is $95 for a standard room, $105 for a Western Cabin and $125 for a suite. On Fridays and Saturdays, the rates are $10 higher.
During the holiday periods of Dec. 23 to 30, 2011 and Feb. 17 to 19, 2012, the rates are $119 for a standard room, $129 for a Western Cabin and $139 for a suite. Each additional person over the age of 16 in the room is $10 with breakfast available for purchase separately. The “Zion in Winter” package is based on double occupancy, does not include taxes or gratuities and is not available on Dec. 31, 2011. Mention promotion code “WNTR” when making reservations.
Zion Lodge also offers a New Year’s Eve Celebration package with New Year’s Eve dinner in the Red Rock Grill, a late-night reception and toast to welcome in the new year and a New Year’s Day brunch. The rates for two people are $199 for a standard room, $209 for a Western Cabin and $219 for a suite plus taxes and gratuities. Mention promotion code “NYE” for the New Year’s Eve package.
The President’s Weekend package features two nights of accommodations Feb. 17 and 18 or Feb. 18 and 19, 2012, a 20 percent off gift shop coupon, a president-themed dinner for two Feb. 18 and breakfast buffet for two each morning. The two-night package rates are $259 in a standard room, $279 in a cabin and $299 in a suite. Mention promotion code “PRES” for the President’s Weekend package.
Zion Lodge offers 81 rooms, 40 cabins, a restaurant, a seasonal cafe and gift shop. The park is renowned for its sightseeing and hiking and is open year round. Most hiking trails are open throughout the winter.
Windows and Southwest Airlines want to make your holiday travel experience jollier with the Picture Perfect Holiday. Starting Dec. 13, Windows and Southwest Airlines will offer free holiday photos to customers at 21 airports nationwide.
In addition, the two companies will jointly host a holiday sweepstakes for a daily chance to win a Windows 7-based PC or the grand prize of a year of travel on Southwest Airlines. Other holiday offers and incentives also will be available.
You can stop by one of the photo kiosks set up at Southwest Airlines gates in participating airports and take a free photo with Santa or in front of a holiday-themed backdrop. Once the photos are taken, a Windows representative will guide you through an online experience to demonstrate how to edit, share and store the photos using Windows Live photo-editing tools. Families will be able to print a copy of their photo on site at the airport via Epson printers, or they can visit, retrieve and share their photos online.
Picture Perfect Holiday airport kiosks will be at Austin, TX; Boston; Chicago; Dallas; Denver; Detroit; Fort Lauderdale, FL; Houston; Nashville, TN; Milwaukee; New Orleans; Oakland, CA; Philadelphia; Phoenix; Sacramento, CA; San Francisco; San Jose, CA; St. Louis, MO; Seattle; Tampa, FL; and San Antonio.
The program will include three malls, Westfield San Francisco Centre, Westfield Century City in Los Angeles and The Shops at North Bridge in Chicago, to bring more customers the chance to get their photos taken and share them quickly and easily.
Radisson’s Big Night Giveaway, developed with Club Carlson, the hotel rewards program from Carlson Hotels, celebrates the U.S. debut of the Radisson Blu brand in North America with the opening of the Radisson Blu Aqua Hotel in Chicago. The Radisson Big Night Giveaway awards 50,000 Gold Points, enough for a free night stay at any Radisson hotel in the world, to the first 50,000 Club Carlson members who register for the promotion and then stay at a Carlson hotel.
The promotion runs through Dec. 30, 2011. Club Carlson members must register and stay one night at any Radisson hotel in the U.S., Canada or the Caribbean during the promotion time period. The bonus Gold Points can be used for a stay at any Carlson hotel worldwide. Members who register after the first 50,000 giveaways will receive 15,000 bonus Gold Points.
If you are not a Club Carlson member, you can join the loyalty program for free during any stay at a Carlson hotel or resort, or online.
The Radisson Blu Aqua Hotel features 334 guest rooms and suites; Italian cuisine at the contemporary restaurant; 28,000 square feet of meeting and event space; fitness facility with an indoor basketball court; a movie screening room; an indoor lap pool; business center; and a green roof and recreation deck with gardens, two outdoor pools, a hot tub with cabanas and a one-fifth mile running trail.
Recent rules by the U.S. Department of Transportation were enacted to protect airline passengers. Some of the rules include new lost luggage regulations. Altman Luggage, an online retailer of luggage, offers a list of tips to make you aware of your new rights when traveling.
Airlines were already required to compensate you for loss, damage or delay in the arrival of your baggage. Now, airlines are legally required to refund any additional fees that were charged for carrying a bag for all segments of a trip.
If luggage is missing after a flight, file a claim while still at the airport and get a copy of any forms that are filed. If your luggage is never found you will have to fill out a detailed list of what was in your bag and include receipts for the items. If you purchased many new items for a trip, save all your receipts.
As a preventative measure, while packing, make a list of what you are putting in your bag. Consider taking pictures while packing to make filling out claim forms easier.
The airlines' baggage liability on domestic flights is capped at $3,300 per person. The airlines' baggage liability on international flights varies. Many airlines don't cover items in luggage such as electronics, jewelry and other valuables. If you must bring these items check the airline's website to know what they will cover or pack them in your carry-on luggage. If extensive luggage or highly valuable items are lost, your homeowner's insurance policy may cover lost luggage.
Mystic Aquarium, in Mystic CT, in partnership with nearby Connecticut hotels, offers packages during the winter holiday season and beyond.
The packages provide an affordable way to enjoy the Mystic Aquarium with value-added offerings that range from meals and activities, to discount passes for restaurants and retail shopping – combined with free admission to the Aquarium.
Here are some of the packages.
Encounter Package at Mystic Marriott Hotel - overnight accommodations for two adults and two children, buffet breakfast, tickets to Mystic Aquarium for two adults and two children. Good through Aug. 30, 2012: $279 to $499 per room for two adults and two children.
Inn at Harbor Hill Winter Escape & Return package - two-night package starts at $350 per couple with a return bonus valid to Feb 28, 2012. The package includes a two-night stay, fireside breakfast buffet, two tickets to Mystic Seaport or Mystic Aquarium, $50 restaurant gift, outlet mall discount coupons, free snacks and beverages, lodging tax, and $50 gift certificate for a return visit. Rates are from $350 to $555, depending on days and room selection.
Whalers Inn Beluga Whales and Sailor’s Tales package, through Dec. 31, 2011 includes lodging for two nights, tickets to Mystic Aquarium, and tickets to Mystic Seaport. Rates from $135 to $245 per person.
Residence Inn Marine Experience package - accommodations with hot breakfast daily, one bottle of wine per stay, two tickets to Mystic Aquarium and Mystic Seaport per stay. Rates through July 5, 2012 are $348 to $699 per room.
Family Fun Vacation package at Howard Johnson – one night’s stay for two adults and two children, two adult and two children tickets to Mystic Aquarium, welcome gift pack. Through Dec. 31, 2011, rates start at $204 per room for four.
Get early booking savings of up to 20 percent on five Antarctic exploration voyages from Hurtigruten, if booked by Dec. 31, 2011.
These voyages, aboard the expedition ship MS Fram, explore the wilderness of the White Continent, the coldest, driest and windiest destination on earth.
Reduced pricing for the 10- to 19-day sailings through Feb. 2013, range from $5,567 to $13,719 per person, double, and includes accommodations; flights between Ushuaia and Buenos Aires; Ushuaia transfers; all meals onboard; expert guides and lecturers; wind and water-resistant coat; and numerous PolarCirkel boat landings.
The 17-day "Christmas Expedition" travels roundtrip from Buenos Aires to the western-most outposts of the Falkland Islands, South Georgia Island and several ports in Antarctica. Prices for the Dec. 17 departure range from $8,257 to $13,719 with savings.
The 13-day "Polar Circle Expedition" and the shorter 10-day "Classic Expedition" focus solely on Antarctica, sailing through the Drake Passage. The "Polar Circle Expedition" spends its extra days traveling to the Antarctic Circle, departing Feb. 1, 2013 with discounted prices of $7,366 to $12,743. Reduced rates for the "Classic Expedition" range from $5,567 to $9,814 for five departures between Nov. 29 and Jan. 11.
The 13-day "Weddell Sea Expedition" follows the path forged by British Captain James Weddell. Priced with savings, the Jan. 20 sailing is $7,366 to $12,743.
The 19-day "In the Realm of the Great Explorers" cruise explores the areas visited by Sir Ernest Shackleton. In addition to Antarctica, the voyage takes in the Falkland Islands, and South Georgia. The Feb. 22 departure date offers reduced prices from $5,940 to $11,618.
Hurtigruten's MS Fram accommodates 318 guests, with no more than 200 for the Antarctica sailings, in suites and staterooms. It features a restaurant, two bars, panoramic lounges library, an Internet café and conference rooms. The early-booking savings can be combined with discounts available in the 1893 Ambassador Program, Hurtigruten's customer loyalty program, which includes five percent discount and recognition, benefits for members.
Barcelona, Spain, the capital of Catalonia, is the focus of TourCrafters four-night, land-only package for $450. It lets you learn some Catalan culinary secrets and use your frequent-flyer miles.
The package includes a private transfer from airport to hotel, accommodations in the four-star Hotel Condes de Barcelona, a tour of Boqueria Market lead by an English-speaking guide, a cooking class with lunch or dinner and a recipe booklet at Cook & Taste, free tapa, glass of wine and shopping discount at Spain’s leading department store, El Corte Ingles. And there is time to explore the city on your own.
You can extend your trip to Spain to Valencia, Madrid, or the Costa del Sol.
The package is valid to Mar. 25, 2012 except for the Christmas/New Year period and Feb. 26 to 29, 2012. The $450 is per person, double occupancy, and is subject to availability.
Say “The Great Plains” to an American and images of the prairies of Kansas or Nebraska come to mind. But there’s another Great Plain, in Hungary, stretching for hundreds of kilometers across the southeast part of the country. Home to pastoral communities for over two millennia, this vast heartland is rich in cultural traditions. Beautiful folk songs, famous wines, rich embroidery, and unique horse breeds are but a few of the notable products of this sweeping plain. The ancient market town of Kecskemet (pronounced “catch-ka-meht”), located some one hundred kilometers southeast of Budapest, makes an excellent base for exploring the puszta, or Hungarian Great Plain.
Renowned for its apricot brandy and as the birthplace of composer Zoltan Kodaly, Kecskemet serves as a center for both art and commerce. It is one of the puszta’s most interesting cities. Each March for the past 20 years, this beguiling town has hosted a unique event, the Bohem Ragtime & Jazz Festival, a lively gathering of jazz fans, local music lovers, and notable musicians from around the globe. Here American traditional jazz has taken root and flourished, as the lighthearted and spontaneous spirit of jazz has cross pollinated with European music styles.
“Bohem” in Hungarian means “carefree” or “fun,” and in keeping with this the festival cultivates a breezy sensibility, with ample room for improvisation and whimsy. The festival director, Tamas Ittzes, a multi-instrumental, multi-lingual, and multi-talented fellow, has a knack for assembling kindred free spirits from the European and American jazz worlds to play together at the Bohem Festival. I’ve been to the festival twice, once in 2006 and then again in 2011, and both times the experience was positively transformative.
The 2011 festival had an intriguing slant as it was billed as the “Liszt Year in Ragtime,” commemorating the 200th year of Franz Liszt’s birth. Not so sure about the connections between Franz Liszt and jazz? Well, surprising as it may seem, there are quite a few. In fact, Tamas Ittzes has written a monograph on that very subject. Two pianists performing at the festival, Mimi Blais of Canada and Morten Gunnar Larsen of Norway also revealed in their performances how much early jazz and ragtime were indebted to the great Hungarian composer.
But don’t take my word for it. Among the professionally filmed segments of the festival is one of Larsen performing Liszt’s “Liebestraum No. 3” along with the Bohem Ragtime Jazz Band, and it is available on YouTube. Be prepared to hear classical music magically transform into jazz in this clip:
If you watch the clip, notice that at the beginning and very end of the clip the audience’s endearing Hungarian habit of synchronized clapping, which typically begins slowly then gradually increases to a crescendo of appreciation.)
Other highlights of the 2011 festival included collaborations between the French jazz group The Night Owls and American pianist Butch Thompson, as well as stand-out performances by the young American piano sensation Adam Swanson and noted Italian jazz master Paolo Alderighi.
Not only does the Bohem Festival offer memorable music, but it also provides a relative travel bargain with its “Festival Wellness Package,” a seven-day, six-night tour that includes all the festival events as well as opportunities to explore Budapest and several other areas. The 2011 festival tour package included three nights at the Wellness Hotel Aranyhomok in Kecskemet, two nights at the To Wellness Hotel in Bank, one night at the Hotel Victoria in Budapest, tickets to the festival, two additional ragtime and classic jazz concerts, sightseeing in each town or city, a day trip to a traditional Hungarian tanya (horse farm), an evening dinner cruise on the Danube featuring live jazz, and all ground transportation including airport pick-up. Also included were breakfast and dinner or lunch every day and an hour-long massage at the To Wellness Hotel. The cost per person for all this was $1099 per person double occupancy or $1349 single, a relative bargain, especially considering the claim (which I found to be quite accurate), “We care for you from the moment of your arrival until you leave.”
Local independent tour guide and translator Bogi Nemeth coordinated and stayed with the 30-odd member tour group the entire week, providing insightful commentary and good-natured assistance. Bogi could be counted on not only to keep the tour running smoothly but also to coach us on the pronunciation of such indispensable but jaw-taxing Hungarian words as “Egeszsegedre!” (cheers!), Köszönöm! (thank you), and Viszontlatasra! (good-bye).
A highlight of the tour package was a visit to a Varga Tanya, a nearby horse farm that stages displays of traditional Hungarian horsemanship in addition to providing warm Hungarian hospitality. This included a welcoming glass of palinka (fruit brandy) and a tour of the farm followed by a hearty lunch of tasty paprika-infused Hungarian fare. The meal was accompanied by rousing czardas, traditional folk-dance music performed on cimbalom (zither) and violin. After lunch, a demonstration of dazzling horsemanship drew cheers and gasps from visitors. Varga Tanya has won numerous awards in carriage driving competitions, but it was driving without a carriage – the driver balanced on the backs of ten galloping horses – that elicited the most enthusiastic applause.
Two nights of the tour were based in Bank, a small town just below the border in Slovakia, staying in a “wellness” hotel, a typical Hungarian accommodation providing a variety of relaxing therapies, such as massage. By this point in the trip, an hour-long massage was a welcome and rejuvenating experience, particularly after the long drive north to Bank. The following day was spent touring Banska Bystrica, just across the border in Slovakia, capped by an evening concert by American pianist Butch Thompson, who is frequently heard in the U.S. on broadcasts of A Prairie Home Companion.
The final full day of the tour was spent in Budapest, with a sightseeing tour of some of the city’s best-known landmarks, such as the Fisherman’s Bastion, St. Stephen’s Basilica, and Hero’s Square. Although I’d previously spent a week in the city, Bogi’s commentary during the tour provided new insight into the city. There was even a time while I was in Budapest to work in a quick visit to one of my favorite places, the Museum of Applied Arts, a gorgeous building designed by Hungarian Secessionist architect Odon Lechner, who also designed the salmon-colored confection of a building that serves as Kecskemet’s town hall.
On the last evening of the tour, our group strolled companionably together a short distance from our lovely riverside boutique hotel, then boarded a privately chartered boat for a dinner cruise. Performing during the cruise were Norwegian pianist Morten Gunnar Larsen, Hungarian trombonist Attlia Korb, and Australian string bassist Sebastien Giradot, a trio that perfectly captured the internationally collaborative vibe of the festival. The illuminated buildings and bridges of Budapest slid by as we cruised down the Danube, the night replete with wine, food, music, and fellowship.
Next year’s tour promises to be no less memorable, with the festival in Kecskemet taking place March 23-25, 2012. In addition to the Bohem Ragtime Jazz Band, featured performers will include the Swing Manouche Project, specializing in the “gypsy jazz” associated with Django Reinhardt; Daniel Balazs, the “Hungarian ambassador of boogie-woogie,” and German boogie-woogie pianist, Frank Muschalle, so no doubt a treat will be in store for boogie-woogie fans.
While pricing details for the festival tour package had not been finalized at press time, the festival director expects prices for the 2012 festival to be very similar to last year’s festival. As always, the tour package can be extended or shortened, tailored to individual travel plans. For example, in addition to the full week-long package tour, a festival-only (three-day) package will also be available.
In the red rock canyon country of southern Utah is Brian Head Resort, one of Utah’s most affordable and family friendly ski resort. Lift tickets are almost half the price of resorts in Northern Utah, crowds are non-existent.
Brian Head offers a range of terrain to suit all ability levels and is home to a full service ski school program for all ages and skill levels. Full price regular season lift tickets cost $49 and kids under five ski free. Family members that don’t ski will find ways to stay occupied with snowshoeing, cross-country skiing, spa treatments or racing down the lift-serviced tubing hill.
Brian Head Resort is located with-in a few hours’ drive of major cities in Utah, California, Nevada and Arizona.
There are deals for winter ski vacations. Many include lodging and passes. Springhill Suites by Marriott, 435/586-1685, in nearby Cedar City, offers one deal. Their Escape Ski package is $159 per night weekdays with two ski tickets per room. Weekends are $169 per night with two ski tickets per room. Mention “Brian Head Ski package” to receive a tourism discount.
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