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Travel Savings Alerts Newsletter, February 2016 Issue

Travel Savings Alerts
P.O. Box 877
Logan OH 43138
ISSN: 1542-801X, Copyright  2016 
All Rights Reserved.
Editor: Nicki Chodnoff

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Thrifty Rent-A-Car System, Inc.

In This Issue:
Bayou in Manchac Swamp, LaPlace, Louisiana

bayou in manchac swamp

  • Maine Huts and Trails
  • Dorchester Collection “3 Nights for the Price of 2”
  • Un-Cruise Adventures Alaska Savings
  • Best In-flight Food with Health Ratings
  • Paris Winter Sale
  • Elk Tours in Kentucky
  • Winter Bed & Breakfast – Save Up To 38%
  • 30% off at Wild Dunes
  • Rocky Mountaineer Stay & Play Offer
  • Book 2016 Emerald Waterways Cruise and Fly Free
  • Disneyland Specials for S. California Residents
  • Cunard Upgrades
  • New York Maple Weekends
  • Oxford Experience Summer Program
  • Great Safaris’ 35% Off on Royal Botswana Tour
  • Crystal's 'Wave Season' Values
  • Free National Park Days
  • Winter Promotions at Mexico's Velas Resorts
  • Seeking out the Swamp – Manchac Swamp Tour
  • Up to 70% Off Caribbean Cruises

  • Maine Huts and Trails

    Maine Huts & Trails is a nonprofit organization that operates a system of backcountry trails and eco-lodges for people-powered recreation in Maine’s Western Mountain region. They provide year-round public access to visitors of all ages and abilities.

    Maine Huts & Trails manages four huts and more than 80 miles of trails for hiking, mountain biking, cross-country skiing and snowshoeing near Flagstaff Lake and the Bigelow Mountain range. Families can enjoy an off-the-grid experience without sacrificing home-cooked meals, beds, hot showers, composting toilets and heat, the main hut and bunkhouses have radiant floor heating.

    Open year-round, the backcountry lodges are coziest in the winter months when the fieldstone fireplaces are roaring, and the coffee is hot. A plethora of books and games are available in the lodge's common areas.

    If staying the night, you can explore the surrounding trails with bagged lunches or plan a hut-to-hut trip. On weekends, you can buy lunch, including beer and wine. Maine Huts & Trails also offers one to four day guided trips in the winter. Single overnight trips like a guided snowshoe or ski adventure are ideal for young families, allowing them to enjoy the woods with a Registered Maine Guide. Peak trip cost includes all meals, lodging, gear shuttle and guide service: member: $193/adult; $139/youth, non-member: $205/adult; $145/youth.

    Plan ahead and receive an Early Booking Discount year-round. Book your hut stay 90 days in advance of your arrival and automatically receive 10 percent off your trip.

    Rates are per person, per night and include dinner, breakfast and trail lunch. Spring and fall are self-service season when the huts are open but not staffed and meals are not provided. Beer and wine are available for purchase at all Huts.

    Private rooms are available and prices depend on the size of the room and the number of adults and youth staying. Call 207/265-2400 for an accurate quote.

    Winter rates apply through Mar. 27, 2016. Regular rates for an adult bunk in a dormitory setting is $90 Sunday through Thursday and $120 Friday or Saturday. Rates for youth bunk in a dormitory setting (17 years or younger) are $45 Sunday through Thursday and $60 Friday or Saturday.

    Per person, per night Spring rates apply Mar. 28 through July 7, 2016. Regular rates for an adult bunk in a dormitory setting is $40 while the youth rate is $20.

    Members receive discounted rates. Rates are less when you make reservations as a group of 12 or more people and the whole hut can be rented for larger groups. Walk-in rates without reservations are more than the regular rates. A gear shuttle that will take your bag from trailhead to hut or hut to hut is $25 per bag.

    Beds include mattress and pillow only so you must bring your own sleeping bag. Bunkrooms are heated up to 55 degrees, except in off-season. Rates do not include Maine state rooms-and-meals tax, currently eight percent, except walk-in rates. Kids under three years of age stay free if they share a bunk with their parent(s).

    Maine Huts and Trails or 207/265-2400.

    Dorchester Collection “3 Nights for the Price of 2”

    Participating hotels in the Dorchester Collection will give you a free night at their European and North American properties when three or more consecutive nights are booked.

    Book a room or suite at nine participating Dorchester Collection hotels for three or more consecutive nights and every third night in the same room is free. Taxes and service may be included, please check the specific hotel offers page.

    The offer is valid for stays at any Dorchester Collection hotel through Apr. 3, 2016. You must book by Feb. 29, 2016. The offer is subject to availability, blackout dates and restrictions apply plus the offer cannot be combined with any other offer or promotion.

    To see which hotels are participating click on Check availability.

    Dorchester Collection.


    Un-Cruise Adventures Alaska Savings

    Un-Cruise Adventures unwraps travel credit savings in 2016 for small ship adventure cruises and land tours in Alaska. Save $400 per couple on select weeklong cruises and $250 per couple on a connecting Denali and Knik River tour. Travel must be booked by Mar. 1, 2016.

    The $400 travel credit applies to weeklong Alaska cruises aboard the 74-guest Wilderness Explorer and 84-guest Safari Endeavour on departures Apr. 16 through Sep. 18, 2016. Available itineraries include Exploring Muir’s Wilderness, Eastern Coves, Western Coves and Northern Passages & Glacier Bay. Homeports include Juneau, Sitka and Ketchikan, Alaska.

    Extend your adventure in Alaska and save $250 per couple on the line’s new escorted Denali National Park and Knik River Adventure tour. The offer is good on any departure date. If connected with an Alaska cruise eligible for the $400 travel credit, you can combine the two offers to save $650. A six-, seven-, or eight-night land tour features wilderness lodge stays in Denali and Knik River Valley and travels from Fairbanks to Anchorage with hotel stays in each city.

    Every Alaska cruise includes activities in remote wilderness—hiking, kayaking, paddle boarding, skiff excursions and whale watching. With few or no port calls and flexible itineraries, spend the week exploring remote wilderness and searching for wildlife. Knowledgeable expedition guides lead tours and provide interpretation along the way.

    Rates for weeklong Alaska cruises begin at $2,295 per person (before savings) based on double occupancy and include meals; activities; transfers day of cruise; hot tub; fitness equipment and DVD library. Other amenities vary by vessel and may include premium wine, beer and liquor; a massage and wine bar.

    Un-Cruise Adventures or 888/862-8881.

    Best In-flight Food with Health Ratings

    Knowing what are the ‘best’ and ‘worst’ choices is a valuable tool for any traveler, so DietDetective.com rated the best ‘Calorie Bargains’ and “Calorie Rip-offs” at 35,000 feet.

    DietDetective.com releases the 2015 Airline Food Survey rating foods for 12 airlines. The survey assigned a “Health Score” (5 stars = highest rate, 0 star = lowest) based on 10 criteria including health and calorie levels of meals, snack boxes and individual snacks, improvement and maintenance of healthy offerings, menu innovation and cooperation in providing nutritional information.

    Virgin America wins the top spot again with the "healthiest" food choices with Delta and JetBlue tied for second. Frontier Airlines received the lowest score, was the least cooperative and received a low health rating. The 'Shame on You' goes to Frontier" says Charles Platkin, PhD, MPH, public health advocate, editor of DietDetective.com and a professor at Hunter College and the City University of New York School of Public Health.

    The average number of calories per food item was 360 in 2012; in 2013 it was 388; last year 397, and this year it’s 400 (399.96), a 3 calorie increase over last year. In addition, choices seem to be decreasing.

    Below are the surveyed airlines’ “Health Scores” 5 stars = highest rating, 0 stars = lowest. Full survey results are at www.DietDetective.com

      Summary of Health Ratings:
    • Virgin America 4.5 stars
    • JetBlue 4 stars
    • Delta 4 stars
    • Air Canada 3.25 stars
    • United Airlines 3.25 stars
    • American 2.75 stars
    • Alaska Air 2.5 stars
    • Southwest Airlines 1.5 stars
    • Allegiant Air 1.5 stars
    • Spirit Airlines 1.25 stars
    • Hawaii 1.25 stars
    • Frontier Air 1 star.

    Virgin America
    Cooperation in Providing Nutritional Information: Excellent
    Average Snack Box Calories = 394
    Average Meal Calories = 408
    Average Individual Snack Calories = 259.38
    Best Bets: Avoid the individual snacks. Even the nuts are high in calories. For breakfast try the Udi's Granola with Yogurt and Fruit, a bit high in sugar but overall low in calories at 330. The best snack box is the Protein Meal with hummus, nuts and tuna. For kids, go for the half peanut butter and jam sandwich.

    JetBlue Airways
    Cooperation in Providing Nutritional Information: Very helpful
    Average Snack Box Calories = 513
    Average Meal Calories = 483
    Average Individual Snack Calories = 157.75
    Comments: The individual snacks are low in calories and nutritional value. As for the meal boxes, Pump Up has healthy ingredients (Mary’s Gone Crackers-Original, olives, humus and raisins). It’s a meal and should not be eaten as a snack. If your flight offers the Eat Up Café, the Yogurt and granola, the Kale & Quinoa Salad, the Spicy Soba & Korean-Style Chicken, and the Veggie Platter are good choices.

    Delta Air Lines
    Cooperation in Providing Nutritional Information: Excellent
    Average Snack Box Calories = 712
    Average Meal Calories = 546.3
    Average Individual Snack Calories = 320
    Comments: Free snacks are available on trips of more than 900 miles.
    Best Bets: For the free snacks peanuts are the best choice. There are some good choices within the EATS Tapas box; hummus, bruschetta, olives, almonds, apricots and dark chocolate.

    Air Canada
    Cooperation in Providing Nutritional Information: Excellent
    Average Meal Calories = 343.6
    Average Individual Snack Calories = 311
    Comments: Air Canada keeps calorie counts low for meals. That’s the good news. The bad news is when looking for healthy choices, defined as high in nutrient value, there is not much to choose from.
    Best Bets: For breakfast, the Greek yogurt parfait is good. The egg sandwich has bacon and is low in calories. The chicken soup is more like a meal than a snack. The cashews or almonds need to be shared. The chicken club wrap is good; it has turkey bacon. On flights longer than four hours departing from Montreal, Toronto and Vancouver, the sushi is a good choice.

    United Airlines
    Cooperation in Providing Nutritional Information: Helpful
    Average Meal Calories = 467
    Average Snack Box Calories = 535.5
    Average Individual Snack Calories = 388
    Comments: The breakfast offerings are strongt lunch and dinner are so-so.
    Best Bets: Among the individual snacks the Sweet & Savory Bistro Blend Trail Mix is a good choice if you share it with three others. The Tapas snack box is high in calories but has healthy foods including almonds, olives and hummus. For breakfast, your best bet is the Fresh Start Breakfast Selection or the oatmeal. For Lunch/Dinner, the wrap and salad combo is best.

    American Airlines
    Cooperation in Providing Nutritional Information: Very Good
    Average Meal Calories = 519.20
    Average Snack Box Calories = 398
    Average Individual Snack Calories = 359.50
    Comments: AA’s average snack calories have gone down significantly. Best Bets: For individual snacks the hummus and chips are your best choice. The chicken cobb salad is a good choice as long as that’s all you eat. For breakfast on flights of more than two but less than three hours there’s not much to eat. On flights of three hours or more, the Breakfast Sandwich is an OK choice. The fruit and cheese plate is a good mix of fruit and nuts.

    Alaska Airlines
    Cooperation in Providing Nutritional Information: Terrible
    Average Snack Box Calories = 399.5
    Average Meal Calories = 606
    Comments: The average number of calories skyrocketed from 444 to 537. The calories in an average meal went from 456 to 606. Snacks have no MSG, HGCS or transfat but are not healthy. Best Bets: The Mediterranean Tapas is the healthiest choice with olives, hummus, almonds, dried fruit and a dark chocolate bar. The beef jerky is low in calories but very high in sodium. For breakfast there’s a somewhat healthy fruit and cheese plate. For dinner your best bet is the homestyle chicken dinner at 453 calories.

    Southwest Airlines
    Cooperation in Providing Nutritional Information: Terrible
    Average Calories = 108
    Comments: Not much variety and not much in terms of nutritional value.
    Best Bet: Go for the nuts and skip the pretzels and other items.

    Allegiant Air
    Cooperation in Providing Nutritional Information: Helpful
    Average Individual Snack Calories = 421.16
    Average Snack Box Calories = 316
    Comments: The airline has eliminated many of its healthier selections, including chips and salsa and the fruit and cheese plate. Best Bets: Avoid the Deli Snack Pack and don’t let your kids get the Wingz Kids Snack Pack. Among the individual snacks, nuts are the healthiest choice.

    Spirit Airlines
    Cooperation in Providing Nutritional Information: Terrible
    Average Individual Snack Calories =409.5
    Average Snack Box Calories = 540
    Comments: Passengers should bring their own food. Best Bets: The cup of noodle soup at 290 calories is the only choice that feels like a meal.

    Hawaiian Airlines
    Cooperation in Providing Nutritional Information: Not Helpful
    Average Meal Calories = 954
    Average Individual Snack Calories = 452
    Average Snack Box Calories = 417
    Comments: Hawaiian is one of the few airlines to serve free food on domestic flights but food is high in calories. Best Bets: There are no healthy snacks or meals.

    Frontier Airlines
    Cooperation in Providing Nutritional Information: Terrible
    Best Bets: Bring your own food.

    Paris Winter Sale

    Paris Perfect lets you experience the winter season in Paris while saving up to 25 percent off the lowest prices on bookings through Feb. 28, 2016, during the Winter Magic Sale.

    The sale applies for participating apartments and is subject to availability. Offers cannot be backdated to existing bookings and sale rates apply to bookings of five nights or more. Sale prices cannot be combined with other discounts.

    With Paris Perfect, you get competitive prices and a home with a fully equipped kitchen that will save money since a cup of coffee costs $10 in a sidewalk café and hotels charge $25 to $35 per person for breakfast. Wireless internet is free in all apartments and nearly all include free calls to many countries around the world. Prices include taxes, commissions and utilities.

      Participating apartments include:
    • Studio apartment Saumur that sleeps up to two people 25 percent off
    • One bedroom apartment Bandol sleeps up to three 25 percent off
    • Two bedroom apartment Beaujolais sleeps up to six 25 percent off
    • Three bedroom apartment Bergerac sleeps up to seven 25 percent off.

    Paris Perfect or 888/520-2087.

    Valentin's Day 40% off + $30 coupon

    Elk Tours in Kentucky

    Two state parks in eastern Kentucky will offer a unique wildlife viewing opportunity this winter – elk viewing tours.

    Visitors to Jenny Wiley and Buckhorn Lake State Resort Parks can choose a weekend and stay at a state park lodge or cottage to enjoy one of these unique tours.

    Bring your camera as there should be great photography opportunities. The largest elk herds are located on privately owned lands that are normally closed to the public. This is one of the few opportunities available for the public to see the greatest number of elk.

    The return of elk to the region is considered to be one of Kentucky’s biggest wildlife management success stories. The animals, after being gone from the state for 150 years, were returned in 1997. They now number around 10,000.

    Jenny Wiley State Resort Park, Prestonsburg - Winter 2016 dates: Feb. 6, 13, 20, 27; March 5, 12. Elk tours cost $30 per person or $15 per child 12 and under. This fee includes transportation via van to the viewing sites and a continental breakfast. The park also offers packages for $160 for two people that include lodging and breakfast. These tours fill up quickly, registration is suggested. Special group and business tours are also available. Early morning (5:30 a.m.) and evening tours (3:30 p.m.) are offered on most dates. 800/325-0142 for information and reservations.

    Buckhorn Lake State Resort Park, Buckhorn - Winter 2016 dates: March 5, 12, 19, 26. Sightings have been recorded on every tour over the last several years. Register by calling Buckhorn Lake State Resort Park 800/325-0058. Participation in the natural history program the evening prior to the trip at 7 p.m. is strongly recommended. Bring binoculars, camera, water and snacks. The tour van leaves the park between 5:30 a.m. and 6:30 a.m. depending on the date, and usually returns to the park around 10:30 a.m. to noon. Package price of $120 per couple ($90 per single) includes one night’s lodging, continental breakfast and transportation to and from the elk preserve the following morning. Stay the night before or after with package for an extra $50. The cost for the tour only can be arranged. 800/325-0058 for reservations and information.

    Kentucky State Parks.

    Winter Bed & Breakfast – Save Up To 38%

    Explore Zion National Park in Utah in winter and take advantage of the lowest rates of the year. The Zion Lodge Winter Bed & Breakfast package saves you up to 38 percent and you get breakfast.

    Unlike many National Parks, Zion is open year-round giving you a chance to see the park in a different atmosphere. Even if you’ve visited the park before, you’ll enjoy a new experience during the peaceful, winter months. Winters are generally mild with occasional, light snowfall so most trails stay open year-round. Use promo code WNTR.

      Package includes:
    • Overnight stay for two
    • Hot breakfast for two (Additional breakfasts may be purchased on site)

    Winter B&B Rates are valid to Mar. 3, 2016 except during holiday periods.

    The Sunday through Thursday hotel rate is $144, cabin rate is $139, and the suite rate is $179. The Friday and Saturday hotel rate is $159, cabin rate is $154, and the suite rate is $194. This package is not available Feb. 13 to 16, 2016 and is not combinable with any other offer.

    Children ages 16 and under stay free using existing bedding. Additional guests may share the room and receive the package at additional fees. Maximum occupancy per room varies based upon room type.

    Zion Lodge or 888/297-2757.

    30% off at Wild Dunes

    Wild Dunes Resort, on Isle of Palms, a barrier island just outside of Charleston, has beachfront rooms and family-friendly rentals.

    Receive 30 percent off for new reservations in the Boardwalk Inn and Village at Wild Dunes through Mar. 18, 2016. Rates are from $149 per night, double occupancy for up to four nights at the Boardwalk Inn or Village.

    Arrive on Sunday through Wednesday for best nightly rates and receive a $25 dinner credit per night to enjoy during your stay. There is a $100 maximum total dining credit.

    The offer is subject to change without notice. Restrictions and minimum length of stay requirements apply and cannot be combined with other offers. Use promo code warmup.

    Wild Dunes Resort or 866/987-6382.


    Rocky Mountaineer Stay & Play Offer

    Rocky Mountaineer offers its Stay & Play offer when you book eligible Rocky Mountaineer packages by Mar. 4, 2016. You will receive up to $600 in credit per couple to spend on tours, trips and extra hotel nights. Qualifying packages in GoldLeaf and SilverLeaf Services of seven nights or more will receive a $300 bonus per person, and shorter packages of four to six nights will receive a $200 bonus for each guest.

    The offer is applicable for select travel dates and must be requested at the time of booking. This offer has no cash value. Other restrictions apply.

    One of the many eligible Rocky Mountaineer vacation packages is the 10 nights Coastal Passage Western Explorer package which begins in Seattle and includes Vancouver, Kamloops, Jasper, Lake Louise and Banff before concluding in Calgary.

    Rocky Mountaineer or 877/460-3200.

    Book 2016 Emerald Waterways Cruise and Fly Free

    Emerald Waterways starts 2016 with a deal on select 2016 sailings. Book a Balcony Suite on a 2016 Europe river cruise departing through Aug. 31, 2016, and get free roundtrip airfare from major U.S. and Canadian gateways.

    Book a stateroom cabin category on a Europe itinerary and be eligible for a reduced airfare rate of $995 per person. Additionally, book any cabin category on all 2016 Southeast Asian itineraries and receive free airfare from major gateway cities. This offer is good on bookings made through Feb. 29, 2016.

    Emerald Waterways offers river cruises on the Rhine, Main, Danube, Moselle, Rhone, Mekong and Irrawaddy Rivers, with journeys from eight to 24 days.

    Emerald Waterways’ Star-Ships carry 182 guests in 72 suites and 20 staterooms, including two built for solo occupancy. Features include an onboard heated swimming pool with a retractable glass roof; two restaurants; a cabin design that replaces the French balcony with an indoor balcony with decked area and open-air system. All ships feature an onboard hairdresser, massage therapy room and fitness area, and bicycles free for use by all guests.

    The cruise fare includes all transfers to and from the ship; all onboard (and some on-shore) meals; unlimited tea and coffee; wine, beer and soft drinks with lunch and dinner; bottled water in the cabins replenished daily; continental breakfast, pre-dinner canapés and after-dinner sweet treats served in the top suites; free WiFi onboard, a shore excursion daily; and all gratuities on and off the ship and port charges.

    Emerald Waterways or 855/222-3214.

    4 Star hotel Deals! Get $60 off with Coupon Code HWIZ60*

    Disneyland Specials for S. California Residents

    The Disneyland Resort offers Southern California residents a ticket to enjoy the 60th anniversary Diamond Celebration and the opening of Luigi's Rollickin' Roadsters at Disney California Adventure Park.
      The Southern California Resident ticket offer provides flexible options for two or three days at special prices. The offer has four purchase options:
    • Two-day ticket with choice of one park per day for $149
    • Two-day Park Hopper ticket for $189
    • Three-day ticket with choice of one park per day for $179
    • Three-day Park Hopper ticket for $219.

    The ticket offer is only for Southern California residents within ZIP codes 90000 to 93599 and Northern Baja California residents within ZIP codes 21000 to 22999. Proof of residency is required for purchase and admission. You may purchase up to five tickets per person, per day with valid ID. Tickets may not be sold or transferred for commercial use. The offer may not be combined with other ticket discounts or promotions.

    The two-day and three-day Southern California Resident tickets are available for a limited time and must be purchased by May 19, 2016. Tickets expire after May 26, 2016, and blockout dates are Mar. 20 to Apr. 2, 2016. Tickets can be purchased online, at the Disney Stores, Vons, other retail locations and any Disneyland Resort ticket booth. If you purchase tickets online you may print your tickets at home. When purchased in advance, three-day tickets include one Magic Morning early entry to Disneyland Park, which provides an extra hour of play on select days before the park opens to the general public. This benefit is not available to tickets purchased at Disneyland Resort ticket booths.

    For restrictions, visit Disneyland. For park hours and entertainment schedules, review the resort's daily calendar here.

    Hotel Offers: Special hotel offers are available if you want to turn your visit into a getaway, at any of the three Disneyland Resort hotels. Save up to 20 percent on premium rooms for select nights at Disney's Grand Californian Hotel & Spa or the Disneyland Hotel, and up to 10 percent at Disney's Paradise Pier Hotel for travel through Mar. 31, 2016, if booked by Mar. 10, 2016. Disneyland Resort hotel guests receive Extra Magic Hour morning admission to a Disneyland Resort theme park on applicable days (valid Theme Park ticket and active hotel room key card required for each guest).

    Disneyland or 866/43-DISNEY.

    Cunard Upgrades

    Receive free upgrades and free gratuities in all categories, plus free drinks in the Grill Suites on select voyages on Queen Mary 2, Queen Victoria and Queen Elizabeth with the ultimate upgrade package.

    Destinations and itineraries include Northern Europe, New England and Canada, the Caribbean, the Mediterranean, Iberia and the Canary Islands and Queen Mary 2's transatlantic crossing.

    The ultimate upgrade applies to new bookings on select voyages made until Feb. 29, 2016 and is capacity-controlled, subject to change, and may not be combined with any other public, group or past passenger discount. Use promo codes R2W-R4W. Fares are per person, based on double occupancy.

      The offer includes:
    • Balcony stateroom for the same fare as an Oceanview stateroom
    • Princess Grill Suite for the same fare as a Balcony or Britannia Club Balcony
    • Queens Grill Suite for the same fare as a Princess Grill Suite
    • Free gratuities for two people
    • Guests in Grill suites receive free drinks.

    Queens Grill guests receive personalized service with a butler to tend to every need, including unpacking. Queens Grill and Princess Grill guests enjoy dedicated restaurants and concierge service, and nine choices of pillow types.

    Cunard or 800/728-6273.

    New York Maple Weekends

    Tap into one of the sweetest events of the year, New York State’s Maple Weekend, Mar.19 and 20, 2016, and Apr. 2 to 3, 2016, from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. each day. During both weekends, producers from across the state welcome families to their farms to experience how real maple syrup and other related maple products are made. Visitors will have the opportunity to enjoy family-friendly activities, taste New York’s freshest syrup and purchase maple products directly from the source.

    New York ranks as one of the top maple producing states in the U.S. As spring temperatures begin to rise in late February and early March, maple trees and sugar bushes come alive. In Northern New York, when sap begins to drip through sugaring lines, it's a sure sign that maple sugaring season has begun.

    Maple Weekend offers visitors and residents alike the opportunity to taste this “liquid gold” in all its forms.


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    Oxford Experience Summer Program

    The Oxford Experience is a residential summer program at the University of Oxford. There are no special qualifications to attend the oldest university in the English-speaking world. You can live in rooms where W.H. Auden, Lewis Carroll and William Gladstone once lived; dine in the Tudor Hall made famous in the Harry Potter films; and learn about history, literature, art, science and music. There are no tests, no papers, but there are afternoon excursions to stately homes, castles, cathedrals and museums.

    The program, from July 3 to Aug. 13, 2016, takes place at Christ Church, the most prestigious of Oxford colleges. The price of a one-week course, which includes tuition, accommodations and three meals a day (plus morning coffee and “biscuits”) is £1,285 or approximately $1,898. There are additional charges for excursions and rooms with private bath.

    Courses include: Creative Writing, The Tudor and Stuart Home, The Operas of Mozart, Victorian Values, Henry VII: the Unknown Tudor, British Popular Music, The Real Queen Victoria, or Byzantine Centres of Splendour. Classes, with a maximum of 12 students, are made up of Anglophiles from all over the world, with the youngest in their twenties, the oldest in their nineties.

    uring the week there are tours of Christ Church and Oxford, excursions, riverside walks in Christ Church Meadow and boating on the Isis (as the River Thames is called in Oxford). At night there might be a pub crawl, a lecture, a performance by Morris Dancers, wine and croquet in the Masters’ Garden and Evensong in the college chapel, which is also the Oxford Cathedral. Once a week each participant is invited to “dress up” and dine on High Table and on the final night there is a champagne reception in the Cathedral Garden and a gala dinner in Hall.

    Though the registration deadline is Apr. 1, 2016, early application is advisable, as courses fill up quickly. A brochure with complete information about the program and an application form is available online or by mail from The Oxford Experience, OUDCE, 1 Wellington Square, Oxford, OX1 2JA, U.K.

    Great Safaris’ 35% Off on Royal Botswana Tour

    Great Safaris’ Royal Botswana Safari, including a visit to Victoria Falls, is offered at a 35 percent discount. This tour highlights the region via bush plane jumpers, dry game drives and canoeing “wet safaris.” Land cost for this 12-day itinerary is priced at $4,995.

    Included are six nights at Sanctuary Retreats Camps and Lodges, Chobe Chilwero Lodge & Baines Camp, inter-camp flights, meals, refreshments and drinks. Activities include a bush breakfast after an early morning game drive and the chance to encounter hippos while paddling a canoe.

    The highlight for some is a visit to Victoria Falls, a sundowner cruise with a two-night stay at the Victoria Falls Safari Lodge.

    This discounted price is available through June 14, 2016. Packages including airfare are also on sale with Great Safaris.

    Great Safaris or 800/409-7755.

    Crystal's 'Wave Season' Values

    Wave Season is the most common time for cruise bookings due to the selection of value added offers. Crystal Cruise line kicks off 2016 with "Crystal Exclusive Journeys," incentives to combine experiences on the line's ocean ships, the newly christened luxury yacht and the five upcoming river yachts.

    For the first time, you can combine two Crystal travel experiences for additional savings. Book voyages on Crystal's river yachts by the Feb. 29, 2016, "Book Now" deadline and get extra savings on sailings aboard the two ocean ships, Crystal Symphony and Crystal Serenity, and Crystal's luxury yacht Crystal Esprit. For instance, book the Oct. 3, 2017, seven-day river cruise through France's wine country and continue your journey aboard Crystal Symphony's 11-day, Oct. 10 sailing from Lisbon with 15 percent savings. Or book the 14-day, July 2, 2017, cruise along the Rhine River aboard Crystal Bach and save 20 percent on Crystal Esprit's weeklong July 16 sailing from Athens to Dubrovnik.

    In addition to the Exclusive Journeys, the cruise line offers added value and savings with cruise fares for its ocean vessels, Crystal Symphony and Crystal Serenity, from $1,845 per person for bookings made by the Feb. 29, 2016, "Book Now" deadline.

    In addition to the "Book Now" incentive fares, Crystal offers value with free third berths and perks for large groups and those traveling with kids through the Crystal Memories special offer; reduced single supplements for solo cruisers; low fares for abbreviated Crystal getaways; additional savings on Explorer Combination cruises; and a 2.5 percent incentive when you pay in full six months in advance.

    Crystal Cruises or 888/799-4625.

    Hawaii with NetTrips.net

    Free National Park Days

    The National Park Service waives entrance fees at each of it 409 national parks 16 days in 2016. Some parks offer more free days.

    According to NPS spokesman Jeffrey Olson, the tradition of fee-free days was formalized in 2009 by then-Secretary of the Interior Ken Salazar. Free admission was “to give people a break during the depths of the recession,” says Olson, in addition to introducing people our national parks.

      The 16 fee-free days for 2016 are:
    • January 18: Martin Luther King Jr. Day
    • April 16 through 24: National Park Week
    • August 25 through 28: National Park Service Birthday
    • September 24: National Public Lands Day
    • November 11: Veterans Day

    The National Park site states “the fee waiver includes entrance fees, commercial tour fees, and transportation entrance fees. Other fees such as reservation, camping, tours, concession and fees collected by third parties are not included unless stated otherwise.”

    National Park Service.

    Winter Promotions at Mexico's Velas Resorts

    Mexico’s all-inclusive Velas Resorts suggests you exchange cold weather for Mexico’s warm sun with value winter promotions. Through April 2016, specials at Puerto Vallarta’s Casa Velas and Velas Vallarta, Riviera Nayarit’s Grand Velas Riviera Nayarit and Riviera Maya’s Grand Velas Riviera Maya include resort credits, city tours, room upgrades, unlimited golf and discounted rates.

    At Casa Velas, an adults-only boutique hotel, book the 2016 Winter Promotion and receive a $50 spa credit per adult, per stay, unlimited golf, 20 percent discount at the resort’s boutique, one dinner at neighboring sister property Grand Velas Riviera Nayarit, transportation to the hotel from the airport, and either a city and shopping or cultural and tequila tour in downtown Puerto Vallarta.

    In addition to the city and cultural tour, families at Velas Vallarta receive a two-for-one rate for children ages five to 17 years old, early check-in or late check-out, $30 spa credit, and a 10 percent discount on nightly rates.

    The Grand Velas Riviera Nayarit and Grand Velas Riviera Maya extend a 10 percent discount at resort boutique shops and a $50 spa credit per adult, per night, which can be used towards golf at Grand Velas Riviera Nayarit. As an added bonus at Grand Velas Riviera Maya, adults receive an automatic upgrade from an Ambassador suite to a Grand Class suite, each a minimum of 1,300 sq. ft. with views of the Caribbean Sea and private plunge pool.

    Valid for travel through Apr. 30, 2016, discounted rates start at $263 (Casa Velas), $162 (Velas Vallarta), $385 (Grand Velas Riviera Nayarit) and $416 (Grand Velas Riviera Maya). Rates are per person, per night and are based on double occupancy. All-inclusive rates at Velas Resorts include suite accommodations, a la carte gourmet meals at a variety of specialty restaurants, premium branded beverages, 24-hour in-suite service, fitness center, taxes and gratuities.

    Velas Resorts or 888/407-4869.

    Seeking out the Swamp – Manchac Swamp Tour – story and photos by Nicki Chodnoff

     photo Captain20Tom20Billiot20holding20baby20alligator_zpsseslvkib.jpg New Orleans is a cauldron of cultures and languages. When you want some nature thrown into the mix consider a swamp tour.

    In late March we took a swamp tour with Cajun Pride Swamp Tours in LaPlace, Louisiana. Our tour was on a barge-like boat that quietly glides through the water. Air boat tours are offered and air boats are exciting as they move fast and create a wild breeze that whips your hair and face. When you’re looking to see animals in their natural habitat, the air boat’s downside is that you move so fast you don’t see a lot of wild life and air boats are incredibly loud which scares off animals and in my opinion pollutes a pristine area with loud noise.

    From the dock our guide, Captain Tom Billiot, pilots our boat into the Manchac (pronounced man-chek) Wetlands, a true swamp about 35 minutes northwest of New Orleans. Here solid ground gives way to bayous, swamps and marshes. When New Orleans was settled in 1718, the wetlands provided protection from hurricanes, slowing down storms as they crossed the mixture of water and solid ground.

    bayou in manchac swamp A prime attraction of a swamp tour with Cajun Pride is they own a private bayou in the Manchac Swamp, which means your tour will not be interrupted by water skiers or pleasure boaters. The animals are calm and used to the tour boats, protected from hunting and other human dangers.

    Bayou, a Choctaw word for slow stream, which now means a marshy outlet of a lake or river, defined the Louisiana way of life outside the city from prehistory through the 20th century. Even today, many homes are built facing the water, allowing boat travelers to glide up to the front door. Roads may connect to the back of the house, but the front is still considered the “company entrance.”

    Captain Tom was raised between St. Bernard and Pointe-aux-Chenes, and is from the Houma Nation tribe. As we traverse the bayou, we learn about his Cajun heritage, Cajun culture and the flora and fauna of the swamp.

    Once we take off, maybe a hundred feet from the dock, we don’t see much civilization, just the swamp’s new spring coat of blooms and emerging fresh green leaves. We pass by red maples, palmettos, swamp cabbage, blackberry vines and cypress trees with knees, woody projections from the root system that stick above the water.

     photo anhinga in manchac swamp_zpskgycwabs.jpg The water is glass-like as we glide in the boat. Occasionally we see straight line ripples break the surface or radiating circular ripples fanning out as something goes in or out of the water.

    The boat has an electric motor that you can hardly hear. It’s quiet enough that when Captain Tom pauses between comments, you can hear the swamp, the little splashes, bird calls and the occasional breeze stirring the trees. Our slow pace is almost a navigated float so you can take in the details like a spider web shining in the sun or a leaf breaking the water’s surface.

    The boat’s roof protects us from sun or rainy weather, but the sides are mainly open, optimal for viewing and taking photos. A few minutes into the tour we spot wildlife, an anhinga, locally called a water turkey, spreading its wings to warm up in the morning sun. The captain explains that the anhinga was designed for swimming rather than flying, with its tail shaped like a rudder. Wings need to be dry before the anhinga can fly as the bird has no preening gland.

    alligator warming in morning sun photo alligator warming in morning sun_zpschljthfw.jpgDuring the tour we saw alligators, turtles, raccoons, and several species of birds in addition to the anhinga which include a great white egret and fish crow. Captain Tom tells us about many of the plants in the swamp and points them out along the way.

    Alligators seem to be Captain Tom’s favorites. He recognizes and names the bigger alligators in this neck of the swamp: Big Boy who weighs about 500 pounds and is nearly 12 feet long and Queenie, who is larger than Big Boy. Alligators grow about a foot a year and they have a better chance of reaching a ripe old age of 70 once they are over the four-year, four-foot mark. Smaller alligators are on the menu for larger alligators.

    Captain Tom relates that a bigger alligator can bring down a deer which can weigh more than 100 pounds. Many of the alligators we spot are lying in the sun – whether on land or on a log in the water. When the weather is cooler, as it was today, an alligator needs to bask in the sun to warm its body so it can digest foods. Basking in the sun makes small alligators vulnerable to predation by larger ones.

     photo raccoon20eating20marshmellow_zps9rjad04d.jpgIn a small clearing, we spot a graveyard. We are near the town of Frenier and this is the town’s cemetery. Tragically, the town was wiped out. The cemetery has a mass grave of about 29 Frenier residents who lost their lives in the category four hurricane of September 29, 1915. Further in the tour we pass a Cajun house called the Trapper's Cabin to give you an idea of life in the swamp in the early 1900s.

    The boat stops and pulls near the bank a few times for photo opportunities, especially for several raccoon families. Captain Tom tosses out some lettuce or marshmallows. Almost immediately a raccoon family emerges into the clearing and begins feasting on the lettuce and marshmallows. Alerted by the raccoons on the bank, a crow flies in and shares the bounty, getting the lettuce in the water that the raccoons could not reach it.

    Before we know it the tour is over. It seems to fly by due to Captain Tom’s great narrative about the swamp and all of the sights to see. Near the end of the trip, Captain Tom brings out a young alligator with its jaws taped shut. Anyone who wants to hold the alligator gets a chance plus a great photo op to post on social media.

     photo Trappers Cabin in Manchac Swamp_zpsyzn5uprj.jpg Trip Tip: Arrive 15 minutes before your tour departs. While waiting for your tour, you can take photos of turtles and small alligators sunning themselves near the dock. In late March we didn’t encounter many flying or biting insects. Count on insects from late spring forward. Either bring bug repellant along or buy the individually packaged repellent wipes in the small gift shop.

    Cajun Pride Swamp Tours is about a 30 minute interstate drive from New Orleans. Canjun Pride offers hotel pick up for an additional fee if you don’t have a vehicle while in New Orleans. If you purchase your tickets in advance on the Cajun Pride website you receive a discount on each ticket. Children ages four and under are free. Tickets can also be purchased when you arrive. You may also want to bring cash to tip your boat captain.

    Cajun Pride Swamp Tours or 504/467-0758.

    Sixt Car Rental

    Up to 70% Off Caribbean Cruises

    For a limited time, Windstar offers savings up to 70 percent on their Caribbean cruises. To take advantage of the last chance Caribbean 2016 offer, with fares from $1,499 per person, you must book by Feb. 12, 2016. The last cruise of the season leaves on Apr. 9, 2016.

    Here are the eligible voyages:

    Best Of The ABC Islands – seven day cruise from Oranjestad to Bridgetown - Regular price $5,699 per person, sale price $2,199 per person.

    Caribbean Crossings – eight day cruise from Colón to Philipsburg – Regular price $3,599 per person, sale price $1,299 per person.

    Caribbean Hideaways - seven day cruise from San Juan to Bridgetown – Regular price $6,499 per person, sale price $2,299 per person.

    Classic Caribbean - seven day roundtrip cruise from Philipsburg – Regular price $4,999 per person, sale price $1,699 per person.

    Jewels Of The Windward Islands - seven day roundtrip cruise from Bridgetown – Regular price $4,999 per person, sale price $1,599 per person.

    San Juan & the Virgin Islands - seven day roundtrip cruise from San Juan – Regular price $5,299 per person, sale price $1,599 per person.

    Yachtsman's Caribbean - seven day roundtrip cruise from Philipsburg – Regular price $4,999 per person, sale price $1,499 per person.

    Windstar Cruises or 888/216-9373.

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