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Travel Savings Alerts Newsletter, March 2014 Issue

Travel Savings Alerts
P.O. Box 91033
Columbus OH 43209
ISSN: 1542-801X, Copyright  2014 
All Rights Reserved.
Editor: Nicki Chodnoff

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Spring Break Airfare Discount

In This Issue:
Huang Xiang calligraphy at City of Asylum, Pittsburgh, PA

Huang Xiang calligraphy, City of Asylum photo cityofasylum_zpsf175affc.jpg

  • 7 Night Safari for Price of 5 Nights
  • Up to 80% off on Selected Hotels
  • Free Annual Pass Promotion at Miami Seaquarium
  • $305 Off Contiki Vacations Outback Adventure
  • Hurtigruten Early Booking Incentives
  • Protect Your Home When Traveling
  • Princess Cruises “Come Back New” Sweepstakes
  • AAA Winter Rates at Hyatt Regency Santa Clara
  • Eurail "Early Birds" Two to Five Free Travel Days
  • 7 Disney World Area Hotels Offer Sunshine Rates
  • Photo Contest Offers $8,000 Asia Vacation
  • Win Travel with Berlitz Language Adventure Contest
  • Ski Bargains on Spring Skiing in Western Canada
  • Walt Disney World 2014 Family Savings Package
  • South Africa Blue Train Free Hotel Promotion
  • Renfe Spain Passes from ACP Rail
  • Ihilani Resort & Spa Aloha Is Calling Promotion
  • Diamond Resorts Vacation Sweepstakes
  • Pittsburgh Under the Radar
  • Sonesta ES Suites Orlando Ticket Mania Package

  • 7 Night Safari for Price of 5 Nights

    Extraordinary Journeys Africa offers seven days of game viewing for the price of five with its new Tanzania Taste of Safari package.

    Originally priced at $7,900 per person, this safari can be booked for $6,500 per person, valid for travel September and October 2014. International flights are not included in this price. This itinerary was created to promote Kuro, Nomad Safari’s new luxury camp in Tarangire National Park. Additional days in a camp in the heart of the Serengeti make this a prime safari experience. Book by Mar. 15, 2014 and receive a free night game drive originally a $50 per person value.

      Highlights Include:
    • Spotting wildlife in their natural habitats, including elephants, migratory wildebeest, zebra, buffalo, impala, gazelle, hartebeest, eland, oryx and gerenuk;
    • Three day exploration in Tarangire National Park while staying at Kuro;
    • Four nights at Nomad’s Serengeti Safari Camp, a mobile camp that treks the migration patterns of the wildlife;
    • A free night game drive at Tarangire for those who book by Mar. 15.

    The first three days are spent viewing animals in their natural habitat. The second half of the trip is spent at Serengeti, 3,646,500 acres of protected land, with more than three million large mammals roaming its plains.

    Tanzania Taste of Safari package or 800/403-6012.

    Up to 80% off on Selected Hotels

    Budget-Accommodation.org is a travel website to compare and locate affordable offers for cheap hotels, apartments, motels and beds, with up to 80 percent discount on select hotels.

    You can use this website to compare prices of global accommodation providers at the same time.

    Searching hotels using this site is easy. Enter the details of your travel schedule and all the matching results will be listed from which you can choose your option.

    The prices on the site include all standard taxes to help you accurately compare hotel offers from different travel websites. Additional taxes may apply in selected destinations, which will be indicated on the websites of our suppliers before you make a booking.

    Hotel deals are available for popular and unusual destinations worldwide including Thailand, Bali and Fiji.



    Free Annual Pass Promotion at Miami Seaquarium

    Through Mar. 2, 2014 Florida residents who buy a one-day regular admission to Miami Seaquarium will receive admission for the whole year free. It's the return of the Free Annual Pass Offer that allows guests to visit Miami Seaquarium as often as they wish through Dec. 31, 2014. This includes admission to the BunnyPalooza Easter Egg Hunts and Monster Splash Halloween Bash. The free pass offer cannot be combined with any other discount.

    The Free Annual Pass also provides discounts on Miami Seaquarium education and camp programs, dolphin interaction programs, Sea Trek Reef Encounter, and park merchandise. Miami Seaquarium Annual Pass Holders also receive a 20 percent discount on general admission to many other South Florida attractions.

    Miami Seaquarium or 305/361-5705.

    $305 Off Contiki Vacations Outback Adventure

    Travel down under with Contiki Vacations. The 14 day Outback adventure, from $1,998 per person, lets you sleep under the stars in a bush camp, take a hot air balloon ride and grab a cold beer at one of the oldest Territory pubs.
      The trip includes
    • 11 nights multi-share accommodation: eight nights in hotels, two nights in a lodge, one night in an outback bush camp
    • 15 meals: 11 breakfasts and four dinners
    • Tour Manager and Driver team
    • Air-conditioned motor coach
    • Sightseeing tours of all major cities
    • National Park fees, local taxes and service charges
      The tour includes:
    • Seeing the termite mounds and swim at Florence Falls
    • Darwin Museum and the Cyclone Tracy display
    • Darwin harbor and East Point Military Reserve
    • Cruise to see crocodiles and native bird life
    • Visit to the Warradjan Aboriginal Cultural Centre and hike to see the Aboriginal rock art
    • Nitmiluk (Katherine) Gorge with sheer rock walls and wildlife
    • Edith Falls and swim at the Mataranka thermal pools
    • Elsey, the historic "We of the Never Never" homestead and Daly Waters pub
    • Site of Australia's last gold rush
    • Rock formation Karlu Karlu and Australia's UFO capital, Wycliffe Well
    • Alice Springs Reptile Centre experience and the Aboriginal Dreamtime 'Bushtucker' tour
    • Hike to the 'Garden of Eden' waterhole and the 'Lost City'
    • Stay at a cattle and camel station
    • Mt. Conner and Lake Amadeus
    • Hike through Kata Tjuṯa (The Olgas)
    • Uluru Cultural Centre, see Uluṟu at sunrise and toast Uluṟu at sunset with drinks & nibbles
    • BBQ 'Big Brekkie' and a traditional Outback Roadhouse

    The deal is good through Apr. 13, 2014. Use promo code PPOZLMD618. Contiki Vacations gear trips for 18 to 35 year olds.

    Contiki Vacations or 866/266-8454.

    Hurtigruten Early Booking Incentives

    Norway-based cruise line Hurtigruten has early booking discounts of up to 25 percent, if booked by June 30, 2014, for explorer sailings and Norway voyages. The cruise line offers sailings along Norway's 'Hurtigruten Route' for more than 120 years, allowing you to discover ports and waterways that other cruise ships can't reach.

    The Classic Norwegian Coast Voyage includes stops at 34 ports and offers 50 natural and active excursions. Sailings are available year-round in six-, seven-, 11- and 12-day options, with early booking fares starting at $1,319 per person, double occupancy.

    New for 2015, two Norwegian fjord explorer voyages - the Norwegian Fjords and Fjord Highlights and the Viking Trail - are available for booking. Hurtigruten takes you on a 10- or 12-day sailing to Norway's iconic places, sharing local knowledge along the way. Kayaking, guided walks, lectures and other landings provide you with an authentic experience of the fjords. Early booking rates start at $3,151.

    Greenland features an inland ice field two miles thick at its center contrasted with green hillsides and mountains. New for 2015, most Greenland sailings depart from Reykjavik, Iceland. Several distinct sailings highlight the scenery of Greenland's southern fjords, its northwest coast, Disco Bay, and the world's largest national park. Itineraries range from 12 to 16 days and depart between June and September 2015. Early booking rates start at $7,728.

    Experience the contrasts of Iceland with "The Land of Fire and Ice" exploration. The MS Fram circumnavigates the country, visiting settlements and the wilderness. Daily landings and activities on land and sea provide a history and perspective on the country. The 11-day sailing departs May 23, 2015 and early booking fares start at $6,387.

    Antarctica expeditions go to the coldest, driest, highest and cleanest continent on Earth. You get an up-close look at penguin colonies, cross the Antarctic Circle and possibly spend the night camping on land. Itineraries run 14 to 20 days, departing Oct. 2015 and Feb. 2016. Early booking rates start at $8,138.

    Spitsbergen is on the southern fringe of the Arctic Ocean. Choose from three expedition itineraries. Depending on the voyage, journey from Iceland toward Svalbard via the Barents Sea, circumnavigate Spitsbergen, or sail from Spitsbergen through coastal Norway to Bergen. The expedition-style landings take you close to wildlife, remote towns, and fjords and icebergs. Sailings range from 10 to 13 days with departures July through Sept. 2015. Early booking prices start at $4,252.

    Hurtigruten's 1893 Ambassador Program is an add-on for returning guests. The free membership offers five percent savings on cruise fares, including already discounted rates, in addition to five percent savings on select excursions.

    Hurtigruten or 800/323-7436.


    Protect Your Home When Traveling

    Do you write a “to do” list before going on a trip? You might want to rethink your list. Last year a burglary ring in California used a newspaper hold list to target vacant homes.

    This type of event is out of the ordinary. However, there are things that you can do to minimize the risks to your home and property while traveling. Having security devices like an alarm and motion detection lights installed can help but here are some more tips:

    Make arrangements with a trusted friend, neighbor, or relative to pick-up mail and newspapers on a daily basis.

    Notify your local police that you’ll be gone. Some police departments will occasionally check to see if everything is ok. Make sure they are aware of any friend, neighbor, or relative that you’ve asked to help.

    Put some lights in your home on timers that go on and off during expected periods. Also place a radio on a timer and have it tuned to a talk radio show with the volume at a normal level.

    Outward appearances are important. It’s best to have your home looked occupied. In the summer, have your lawn mowed. In the winter, make plans for snow removal while you’re gone.

    Be careful on social networks. Announcing your plans might be an invitation for a break in.

    If you have weekly rubbish removal, arrange to have your bins placed curbside while you’re gone. The next day, have your bins taken away from their curbside position.

    Remember the fewer people that know your going-away plans the better. Use common sense and you’ll have an enjoyable trip.

    Princess Cruises “Come Back New” Sweepstakes

    Princess Cruises introduces its “Come Back New” campaign with a sweepstakes, where one winner will sail on a free cruise to the destination of their choice. Weekly winners can record their cruise memories with Nikon’s new, 1 AW1 camera.

    Through Apr. 6, 2014, you can enter the sweepstakes here. Enter by registering on the site and get additional entries by taking a destination personality quiz or by submitting vacation photos.

    The grand prize winner will get free airfare and a balcony stateroom for two aboard a seven- to 19-day cruise of your choice. The winner can pick their voyage from among Princess’ many worldwide options.

    The grand prize winner will also receive a Nikon camera bundle. This waterproof, shockproof, and freeze-proof camera offers the world’s fastest continuous shooting frame rate, so you won’t miss those fleeting shots.

    In addition, each week through the sweepstakes period, a winner will be randomly selected from the photo submissions to receive a Nikon 1 AW1 camera, valued at more than $800. The weekly winner’s photo will be featured on the sweepstakes landing page each week.

    The grand prize winner will be chosen on or before May 6, 2014. Eligible entrants must be at least 21 years old and U.S. or Canadian (excluding Quebec) citizens.

    Princess Cruises or 800-PRINCESS.

    AAA Member Winter Rates at Hyatt Regency Santa Clara

    The Hyatt Regency Santa Clara features special winter rates for AAA members.

    Designed for those who want the basics and the best value, the Hyatt Regency Santa Clara’s AAA member winter rates feature a room for up to two people, free breakfast for up to two people and a 10 percent discount off rack rates. Seasonal rates start at $89.10.

    As an added winter attraction, Hyatt Regency Santa Clara is currently the temporary home of the “Alcatraz: Life on the Rock” and “Alcatraz: The Last Day” exhibits. Free and open to the public (24 hours a day, seven days a week), this exhibit gives you a feel for the history of and the fascination with Alcatraz.

    AAA member winter rates are available through Apr. 15, 2014, and are based on availability. Reservations must be made in advance. Rates vary according to dates of travel and certain restrictions apply.

    Hyatt Regency Santa Clara or 800/233-1234.



    Eurail "Early Birds" Two to Five Free Travel Days

    Take advantage of the Eurail "Early Bird" promotion for non-European residents with free travel days on Eurail Global Passes purchased through Mar. 31, 2014. Early Bird Passes have a six month pre-booking period.

    This promotional offer applies to first and second class Eurail Global Passes and is open to all travel categories: adult, child, and youth, including Saver Passes intended for groups of two to five people, offering an additional 15 percent reduction. The "Early Bird" campaign offers two extra travel days for the 15-day Eurail Global Pass, three extra travel days for the 21-day Eurail Global Pass and five extra travel days for a one month Eurail Global continuous Pass.

    The Eurail Global Pass is the most popular pass in the Eurail portfolio. With its 24 participating countries, it covers nearly the entire European continent (including free or discounted travel on some major shipping lines) and gives the largest variety of countries to choose from.


    7 Disney World Area Hotels Offer Sunshine Rates

    Escape to the Sunshine Rates are offered by seven downtown Disney resort area hotels in Central Florida. Available through Apr. 30, 2014, the rates are a way to attend the Epcot International Flower & Garden Festival or the recently expanded New Fantasyland at Magic Kingdom Park.

    In addition to the shopping, dining and entertainment venues at the Downtown Disney area, these seven Official Walt Disney World Hotels also provide free shuttle transportation every 30 minutes to all four Walt Disney World theme parks, two water parks, and to Downtown Disney Marketplace. As a bonus, you receive the “2014 Downtown Disney Deals” booklet with discounts and special offers more than 30 merchants.

      The Downtown Disney Resort Area Hotels are:
    • B Resort – opening this Spring – from $129 per room, per night
    • Best Western Lake Buena Vista Resort Hotel – from $99 per room, per night
    • Buena Vista Palace Hotel & Spa – from $79 per room, per night
    • DoubleTree Suites by Hilton – from $145 per suite, per night
    • Hilton Orlando Lake Buena Vista – from $99 per room, per night
    • Holiday Inn Lake Buena Vista Downtown – from $119 per room, per night
    • Wyndham Lake Buena Vista Resort – from $109 per room, per night.

    Rates are based on availability and some blackout dates may apply.

      Taking advantage of the special rates provides other benefits such as:
    • Disney tickets available to purchase at each hotel
    • Advance tee times and discounts at all Walt Disney World golf courses
    • Disney merchandise store located in each hotel
    • Ability to book advance dining and dinner show reservations for all restaurants across the Walt Disney World Resort.

    Escape To The Sunshine Rates

    Vegas Tickets

    Photo Contest Offers $8,000 Asia Vacation

    Backyard Travel, the travel agency specializing in insider tours to Asia, has a new competition with one person winning an $8,000 tailor-made trip to Asia.

    The 2014 photo competiton, which runs to Dec. 1, 2014, also offer you the chance to win monthly prizes, as Backyard Travel invites you to share your love for your home town.

    Based in Asia, Backyard Travel provides tailor-made tours with insider opportunities to delve into local Asian cultures and heritage; to see more than the well-known sites.

    The main prize gives one winner the opportunity of an Asian vacation with an $8,000 budget to spend on a holiday as you see fit. Backyard Travel's travel specialists will work with the winner to formulate a tailor-made trip.

    Additionally, each month Backyard Travel will reveal one picture that reveals an element of the entrant's 'Backyard'; be it a shot of their home town, a local attraction, place of interest or point of cultural significance. Monthly winners will receive a prize that will be announced at the beginning of each month until the competition ends.

    Enter the BYT 2014 Photo Comp contest by submitting a photo via Backyard Travel's Facebook page

    Backyard Travel.

    Win Travel with Berlitz Language Adventure Contest

    Berlitz launches a video contest that allows U.S. residents to share their stories about why they want to learn a new language. You may win a $6,600 package that includes a language learning program and a travel gift card. Entries are accepted through Noon ET, Mar. 8, 2014; voting continues through Noon ET, Mar. 11, with the grand-prize winner announced by Mar. 15, 2014.

    Visit Berlitz's contest website, create an account and post an original video of up to three minutes about why you would like to learn a new language. Anyone who submits a video and meets the eligibility criteria will be entered to win the grand prize. Entries will be judged based on the number of votes cast by visitors to the website; in the event of a tie, Berlitz will cast the deciding vote.

    The Language Program is available either face-to-face or online via Berlitz Virtual Classroom. The travel gift card can be used for flight, hotel stay, cruise, guided tour or complete vacation package.

    Berlitz Language Adventure Contest website.

    Ski Bargains on Spring Skiing in Western Canada

    Choose one of Skican’s late-season ski vacations in Western Canada, with low prices at world-class ski resorts and snow conditions that guarantee excellent skiing well into May.

    Skican offers weeklong spring ski packages that are less than $200 a day, including airfare from eastern Canada departure points.

    American skiers benefit from the favorable rate of exchange that gives you an extra 10 cents Canadian for every American dollar you exchange into Canadian funds.

    Good snow at Banff/Lake Louise and Whistler Blackcomb means that you can enjoy the slopes in early-spring sunshine, without worrying about snow conditions. And you’ll find lift lines are virtually nonexistent.

    In the heart of Banff National Park are three ski resorts: Mt. Norquay, Lake Louise Ski Resort and Sunshine Village. A single tri-area lift ticket gives you access to almost 8,000 acres of skiable terrain. With one of the longest ski seasons in North America, these resorts are open to mid-May. A one-week ski package is priced from $1,140 (plus HST - Harmonized Sales Tax, the combination of Provincial Sales Tax and Goods and Services Tax) per person, including roundtrip airfare to Calgary on Air Canada from Toronto, Montreal, Ottawa, Windsor, London or Sault Ste. Marie. Also included: seven nights’ lodging, five or six day tri-area lift ticket, direct transfer to and from Banff, and services of a Skican representative. Prices are for Tuesday and Wednesday departures from Mar. 25 until May 14, 2014.

    Weekend departures are available for a supplement. Thursday departures with a Tuesday return are available with four days skiing; or depart Sunday and return Friday overnight with five days of skiing.

    At Whistler Blackcomb you’ll find the two highest vertical rise ski mountains in North America. A Whistler Blackcomb one-week ski package is priced from $1,195 (plus HST) per person including roundtrip airfare to Vancouver on Air Canada from Toronto, Montreal, Ottawa, Windsor, London or Sault Ste. Marie. Also included: seven nights’ lodging, five-day dual mountain lift ticket, direct transfer to and from Whistler, and services of a Skican representative. Prices are for Tuesday and Wednesday departures from Apr. 1 to 29, 2014.

    Weekend departures are available with a supplement. Also available: Thursday departure with Tuesday return with four days skiing; or depart Sunday and return Friday overnight with five days of skiing.

    You can save an additional $50 per person if you pay by check, rather than by credit card.

    Skican or 888/475-4226.


    Sixt Car Rental

    Walt Disney World 2014 Family Savings Package

    Kick off 2014 with a trip to Walt Disney World Resort that's the right size for grown-ups and the little ones in their lives.

    From $899, a family of three (two adults, one child ages 3 to 9) can get a three-night, two-day package that includes two-day theme park tickets, three nights in a standard room at a select Walt Disney World Resort hotel. You also receive a free "Memory Maker," a photo product that makes it easy to capture family moments and experiences with everyone in the picture, giving you unlimited digital photos at hundreds of Disney PhotoPass locations and the ability to download the photos to share with friends and family. The Memory Maker is regularly priced at $149 for advance purchases.

    The package is good for stays most nights Apr. 27 through June 15 and Aug. 15 through Sep. 30, 2014. You must book by Apr. 20, 2014. Rates vary based on Disney Resort hotel, room type and party size.

    Walt Disney World 2014 Family Savings Package or 407/939-7606.

    South Africa Blue Train Free Hotel Promotion

    Receive a free hotel night at a hotel to add to your journey. The Blue Train in South Africa, an icon in rail travel relaunches its Luxury Is Better When Shared promotion for all departures in 2014.

    Travel on the Blue Train on overnight journeys between Pretoria and Cape Town (and reverse) and receive one free hotel night, to use either pre or post rail trip. The hotel selections in Pretoria include the Sheraton or Castello di Monte, while the choices in Cape Town include the Taj or Westin, both in the heart of the city.

    The package also includes a hotel breakfast and a one way transfer to or from the train station.

    The Blue Train is an inclusive rail cruise, showcasing South Africa's most spectacular scenery, where you are pampered on board with personal butler service, suites with en-suite bathroom with bathtub or shower, two lounges with full bar service, a boutique, wi-fi, gourmet food and a selection of unlimited South African wines and cocktails.

    The Blue Train.

    Renfe Spain Passes from ACP Rail

    ACP Rail International introduces the Renfe Spain Pass, available for four, six, eight, 10 or 12 train journeys. The passes are to be used within one month, making this a flexible option for any trip duration. And the options don't end there, you have the choice to travel in Tourist or Business/Club class, where Club class offers extras such as restaurant and bar service at your seat, daily newspapers and access to VIP lounges.

    Compared to other rail passes, the Renfe Spain Pass is valid for a select number of train journeys, and not travel days. This provides you with the option to take one journey per day and not feel obliged to take a roundtrip on the same day in an effort to get the best value for a travel day on your pass. The Renfe Spain Pass does not charge a supplement for travel on high speed trains and the price of seat reservations are included in the pass so there are no additional fees to consider.

    Valid on day trains throughout Spain's extensive network, the Renfe Spain Pass can take you on long and middle distance trains, and Spain's high speed network. In addition, Renfe Spain Passes are issued as e-tickets. Before boarding your train, reserve your seat then have your Renfe Spain Pass e-ticket and passport on hand.

    Renfe Spain Passes are available online , and through its network of distributors worldwide. For any Spain-bound travelers who would prefer to buy individual train tickets, ACP Rail also offers e-tickets for all domestic rail routes in Spain.

    ACP Rail International.


    Ihilani Resort & Spa Aloha Is Calling Promotion

    The JW Marriott Ihilani Resort & Spa at Ko Olina in Oahu, Hawaii, has an Aloha is Calling room promotion to May 12, 2014. Stay any night and receive a $50 daily credit for food, beverages, or resort activities.

    Rates begin from $356 per night and are valid for stays through May 12, 2014. A limited number of rooms are available for the Aloha is Calling promotion and some blackout dates apply.

    The resort credit cannot be applied to the room rate or be redeemed for cash and is not refundable if unused. Rates and discounts are applied to one regular room per stay, per member, based on double occupancy. A hotel stay means all consecutive nights spent with Marriott by a registered Marriott Rewards member. Rates and discounts are not available during special events. The offer is not available to groups of 10 or more rooms or for meeting rooms. Tax is additional and rates may not be combined with any other offer or discount. Advance reservations are required. When calling, ask for the Aloha is Calling rate offer, or use promotion code M41 online.

    JW Marriott Ihilani Resort & Spa or 877/995-2638.

    Diamond Resorts Vacations of a Lifetime Sweepstakes

    Diamond Resorts International offers a Vacations of a Lifetime Sweepstakes awarding prizes potentially totaling $1.8 million.

    Dozens of entrants will win resort stays and seven grand prize winners will have the opportunity to win from a one-week stay up to 80 weeks of accommodations over a 20 year period at any Diamond Resorts International property throughout the world. You can enter through July 22, 2014, online. at diamondresorts.com.

    Each month Diamond Resorts International will randomly select four winners for a one-week stay for four people at one of the company's properties. All non-winning entries will be rolled over and included in the following month's drawing. And at the end of the sweepstakes, the company will choose seven grand prize winners at random.

    Enter online via diamondresorts.com or by participating in a Diamond Discovery Tour to learn about Diamond Resorts International properties. No purchase is required to enter the sweepstakes and it is open to legal residents of the U.S. and the District of Columbia (except those residing in NJ, PR, US Virgin Island and other US territories, possessions and military installations), U.K. and Canada (except Quebec) who are of legal age of majority. Void where prohibited by law.

    Diamond Resorts International.

    Pittsburgh Under the Radar - article and photos by Nicki Chodnoff

    Huang Xiang calligraphy, City of Asylum photo cityofasylum_zpsf175affc.jpgPittsburgh is two opposites that converge to create a unique city: a bustling metropolis but in a scale that's easy to maneuver. Because of this big city/smaller space conflict, Pittsburgh has many quirky and quaint things to see and do that can easily fall under the radar.

    Pittsburgh may seem daunting to get around at first. There is no pretense of the traditional square city grid, instead you’ll find hilly terrain, multiple rivers, bridges and tunnels, and winding suburban roads. Downtown Pittsburgh is laid out in a triangle shape, formed by the point where the Allegheny and Monongahela rivers meet to form the Ohio River. The easiest way to make sense of Pittsburgh is to divide the city into four sections: the North and South Sides and the East and West Ends, with downtown in the center of it all.

    The T, Pittsburgh's 25.2-mile subway and light rail system, serves downtown with a loop including stops at Steel Plaza at Grant Street, Gateway Center Plaza, Wood Street, and the First Avenue Parking Garage. Underground, the music is classical, the art whimsical and travel within downtown Pittsburgh is free. The extended light rail line from downtown to the North Shore offers the T’s Free Fare Zone, going to North Side Station at West General Robinson Street Garage (courtesy of the Stadium Authority and Alco Parking) and Allegheny Station (thanks to the Pittsburgh Steelers and Rivers Casino). The subway takes you across the river to Station Square on the South Side for a minimal fare.

    Here are a few things to do and see that you should keep on your radar.

    City of Asylum - In 1989, following the publication of his novel, The Satanic Verses, author Salman Rushdie was forced into hiding as Ayatollah Khomeini issued a fatwa ordering Rushdie killed. Rushdie was not safe because of words he had written.

    Rushdie wasn’t alone. In 1993, in response to increasing attacks on writers, the International Parliament of Writers was formed.

    In 1997, Rushdie gave a talk in Pittsburgh in which he mentioned the European Cities of Asylums network. Artist Henry Reese and his wife Diane Samuels attended that talk and were moved to action.

    Samuels and Reese worked on the project for five years and brought the Cities of Asylum movement to the United States. The Pittsburgh chapter was not based at a university but embedded within the community, with events often occurring in Reese and Samuels’ home, a converted row house.

    Gist Street Art photo GistStreet_zps3372ee37.jpgWriters are more than asylum seekers; they’re the new family on the block, members of the community. This immersion is part of the strategy to help exiled writers get their bearings in a new country.

    Reese and Samuels lived in the Mexican War Streets neighborhood since the 1980s. After decades of neglect and disinvestment, many of the neighborhood’s homes were vacant and in disrepair. The couple began purchasing nearby properties on Sampsonia Way and amassed a row of homes that would become homes for exiled writers.

    Pittsburgh’s City of Asylum’s first writer in residency was Huang Xiang, a native of China. In the 1980s, Xiang had been arrested for pro-democracy activities and sentenced to three years of labor; he was repeatedly tortured during his 12 years of imprisonment.

    Once in Pittsburgh and free to speak his mind, Xiang did so in dramatic fashion. During impromptu performances he shouted poems in Mandarin on the street. And then, proclaiming his freedom to write, Xiang covered the wood facade of his home with calligraphies of poetry. The calligraphy still decorates the house.

    Sampsonia Way is a cultural destination. Thousands visit the alley for its murals and poems, and frequent readings. Every September, people crowd into the narrow alley for the annual Jazz Poetry concert, a collaboration of music and spoken word. There are dozens of other readings each year, with visiting writers from every continent except Antarctica. And all events are free.

    Gist Street , James Simon’s sculpture studio, 305 Gist Street – What do you do if your street, in this case the four blocks of Gist Street in Uptown, seems to blend the good, bad and ugly: a peculiar mix of residences, businesses, educational institutions, social service organizations, prostitutes, and drug dealers? Well if you are an artist like James Simon, you try to get cultural events happening. It’s what you can call the artist’s version of taking lemons and making lemonade. Simon’s "Art on Gist Street Project" creates an art street with paintings and sculpture. True street art, the works are attached to homes and businesses and elaborately framed to create a larger than life street gallery. So the diverse collection of residents, some spanning several generations, start to appreciate and get on-board with the budding art experience and welcome the first signs of revitalization. So much so when the four-foot long “weiner dog” statue was taken from outside the auto body shop around July 2013, the theft garnered international television coverage. The thieves, unprepared for the notoriety, returned the sculpture.

    Andy Warhol's grave photo andywarholgravesite_zpsda9b7d8b.jpgSt. Anthony's Chapel, 1704 Harpster St., Troy Hill. 412/323-9504. It is amazing to learn that the largest collection of Catholic relics, outside of the Vatican, resides in the Troy Hill section of Pittsburgh, on the North Side. Skulls, teeth, pieces of cloth, dried blood, and many bones painstakingly wrapped in silk are housed in this Chapel Royale, or church without a congregation. Pieces of bone and cloth come from saints.

    The faithful and curiosity-seekers, can take in the nearly 5,000 items, including 22 slivers of the True Cross, a piece from the table of the Last Supper and a sliver of Mary's veil.

    Guide Carol, who grew up in Troy Hill, says that all the relics are authentic, and that the chapel has documentation for each of them -- ranging from slivers of bone and cloth to the entire skeleton of St. Demetrius -- "under lock and key."

    The collection, which also includes life-size wood-sculpted Stations of the Cross, is the work of Father Suitbert G. Mollinger, a Belgian priest who founded the church in 1883. The son of a wealthy family, Father Mollinger collected relics with help from relatives and friends during political upheaval in Germany and Italy in the 1880s, a time when persecution of the Church led to abandonment of many items from Europe's sanctuaries. With his family’s money, he financed the collection of the relics and construction of the chapel in honor of St. Anthony.

    Mollinger brought them to Troy Hill and commissioned North Side artisans to build walnut cabinets to display the relics, many of which are housed in ornate gold reliquaries. There are also a few liturgical calendars serving as reliquaries -- structures in the shape of churches, holding a relic and a saint's name for every day of the year. The skulls, wrapped in sheer linen, peek out unobtrusively from among the reliquaries.

    Before becoming a priest, Father Mollinger studied medicine and was regarded as a healer. Father Mollinger used relics in his "Healing" mass which focused on anointing with oil, blessing and prayer for the sick plus allowing the sick to venerate a reliquary.

    Randy in Randyland photo RandyinRandyland_zps93e28e4a.jpgGuided tours are offered Saturday to Thursday at 1, 2 and 3 p.m. Audio tours are available on days without tour guides. Tours are free and donations are asked for.

    Andy Warhol Grave Site: One of Pittsburgh’s more famous sons, Andy Warhol, died Feb. 22, 1987 and is buried at St. John the Baptist Byzantine Catholic Cemetery, (1066 Connor Rd, Castle Shannon, PA)which is owned and operated by St. John the Baptist Church in Pittsburgh. Warhol’s parents, Julia and Andrej Warhola, are buried at the same cemetery, directly behind their son.

    By observing the mementos left at Warhol’s grave site, such as Campbell’s Soup cans and Coca-Cola bottles, hundreds of devotees make the pilgrimage yearly to Warhol’s resting place. Now Warhol admirers can also admire Warhol’s grave side and view it 24/7 thanks to a collaborative project between the Andy Warhol Museum and EarthCam. Called Figment, the project is a live feed of Warhol’s gravesite. So if you want to see what’s happening at Warhol’s grave site at 2 a.m., check the live feed, viewable 24 hours a day, seven days a week worldwide through this page on the Warhol Museum website.

    The project was inspired by an infamous Warhol quote, “…I always thought I’d like my own tombstone to be blank. No epitaph and no name. Well, actually, I’d like it to say ‘figment’.” Warhol may have wanted the word “figment” on his headstone, however his family didn’t co-operate and he never got his wish. Warhol’s headstone is like nearly every other, with his name, birth date and death date, and nothing on the back.

    In 2009, artist Madelyn Roehrig started filming people at Warhol’s gravesite. More than 200 individuals have been videotaped. They are passionate, contentious, funny, or sincere, with a blend of whimsy and wisdom. There is also a pink plastic envelope where you can leave a note for Warhol, be it about your feelings, hopes or desires. Notes or videos from Andy’s grave are posted daily on a Facebook page

    Figments: Conversation with Andy, Madelyn Roehrig’s ongoing project, is now in its third year. You can keep up with daily postings on the Conversations with Andy Facebook. If you want to participate in the project, send an email.

    If you head out from the Andy Warhol Museum in Pittsburgh, you can take public transportation, courtesy of the Port Authority of Allegheny County, to the grave site.

    Randyland: The corner of Jacksonia and Arch streets, on Pittsburgh’s North Side, is possibly one of the most unique places to visit in town. Basically, it is one man’s artistic vision (Randy Gilson) that spreads across his house and several properties in the North Side neighborhood. Randy’s backyard is a cacophony of his wild imagination and color (think lime green, lemon yellow and hot pink) created from found, free or donated objects to simply create pleasure and peace. There are sculptures of bugs on the buildings, murals, soffits and fascia with polka dots and stripes, chairs hanging from a balcony, plastic geese, plastic rats and plastic dinosaurs in flower beds and along paths, and old street signs and retail signs. Understand, this is Randy’s backyard and everyone is welcome to sit down, wander around and enjoy it. There’s even an open sign posted. Maybe you’ll be lucky enough to stop by on a day that Randy is around. For sure, Randy will greet you and talk at length about his art, his past, his plans and how Randyland came to be. No doubt, you will leave Randyland with a smile on your face. Randy is so genuinely excited to talk and share. His positive outlook on life and enthusiasm for art is infectious. This is a place where you leave negativity and hate at the door. Be prepared to stay a while. There is a plethora of painted walls, doors, pots, and thousands of of re-purposed items to look at. Not only will Randy share his unique perspective on life, but he will also share a wealth of information about the history of Pittsburgh, particularly the North Side. Words do not do justice to Randyland.

    Serenette at Bayernhof Museum photo serenetteatBayernhofMuseum_zpsd580df7b.jpgWigle Whiskey, 2401 Smallman St., Pittsburgh, PA 15222. Western Pennsylvania is the birthplace of American whiskey, where European immigrants distilled the style known as Monongahela rye. All was fine until the final decade of the 18th century, when Secretary of the Treasury Alexander Hamilton imposed an excise on home-made spirits to eliminate the federal debt. That led to the Whiskey Rebellion, which relocated distilling to Kentucky and Tennessee. The distillery is named for Philip Wigle, a farmer who became a figurehead of the Rebellion.

    Wigle, like his neighbors, used rye grains to make whiskey because it was more profitable than making bread. This hooch is as old-school as it gets. Operating in the Strip District, Wigle mills grain, distills and bottles on-site, using local and organic raw product. During a tour and tasting, which is interesting and fun, you go through the distillery and learn about the history of spirits in the region. The folks who own and run this place are great hosts and usually working in their strip district distillery. The small group of people per tour allows for an intimate atmosphere where you can ask questions and engage in discussion.

    Bayernhof Museum, 225 St. Charles Place, O'Hara Township, 412/782-4231. A stone mansion overlooking the Allegheny River, high above the Pittsburgh suburb of Sharpsburg, PA houses the Bayernhof Museum. Barely 25 years old, the private home is open to visitors, the vision of its former resident, local businessman Charles B. Brown III.

     photo toonseum_zpsc788851d.jpgBrown was an avid collector of mechanical musical instruments and a consummate host, who had the resources to build a 22-room house to his quirky specifications. On his death in 1999, Brown's will directed that his collections be maintained, and his house opened for the enjoyment and edification of the public.

    A Germanophile (the house's name means "Bavarian Hall"), Brown tried to make his 19,000 square foot house resemble a German manor with beer steins, Germanic-looking plates, beer wagons, a deer head , paintings, figurines, and the eight-plate collector's series depicting scenes from The Sound of Music.

    Brown loved mechanical musical instruments: the love ignited in 1979 when he bought his mother a Regina music box. In all, he collected about 150 automatic music instruments, from tiny wind-up record players to ornate wooden cabinets that play two violins and accompanying piano. Most are scattered among the furniture, gorgeous tall case clocks and collected memorabilia. One of the more sublime pieces is the serenette, a birdcage where four stuffed songbirds flutter and warble in lifelike fashion. And yes, you not only see these beautiful objects, you get to hear them. More than a dozen are played during the tour. Many of the coin-operated machines once represented the cutting edge in reproduced music for the public.

    If you are not into mechanical musical instruments, the tour of the mansion’s many rooms is worth the admission price. Quirky is an understatement. The house contains three kitchens (Brown loved to cook and entertain friends), master bedroom with its own private kitchen, sauna, tanning room, large Jacuzzi and 14-head shower; billiard room with purple felt gaming table; rooftop observatory and the "Cave," one of three hidden passageways with a fake bat, stalactites and stalagmites that winds from the lower level to a grand surprise, which I will not reveal.

    Tours daily, by appointment. $10.

    ToonSeum 945 Liberty Avenue,- in the downtown Cultural District, 412/ 232-0199 – The cartoons and comic books that entertained us as kids are an art form. And the ToonSeum, one of three museums in the U.S. dedicated to the cartoon arts, features exhibitions or original comic and cartoon art by local and well-known artists. The lobby doubles as a gift shop, which leads to the main gallery. A side door takes you to a second small exhibit in a hallway, which goes into a third, larger, rotating exhibit. There’s a guide with a brief introduction to the museum’s current collections. Due to its size, the museum feels like you are in a friend’s basement looking at their private collection. If you are not into comics or animation, you can dress up as a cartoon or animation character to pose for a photo or to live out your fantasy.

    Visit Pittsburgh or 800/359-0758

    Where to Eat

    Dor-Stop 1430 Potomac Ave, 412/561-9320 / The family-run corner joint has serving breakfast and lunch to the South Hills for 25 years. It's a diner in spirit if not in look. If you are looking for rich breakfast food, this is your place. You’ll find nine gourmet pancakes (with a side of meat) including apple walnut, pumpkin and banana chocolate chip. Egg dishes range from the traditional steak & eggs to omelet and, egg burritos. German potato pancakes served with applesauce and sour cream are a house specialty.

    Conflict Kitchen, 412/802-8417 - The take out joint in Pittsburgh’s Schenley Plaza, in the heart of the University of Pittsburgh campus, offers a non-culinary twist. Conflict Kitchen only serves dishes from countries that the United States is at odds with such as war, boycotts, embargoes, military clashes and diplomatic quarrels. So as our country still maintains an embargo against Cuba, you could pick up picadillo, ground beef with olives, peppers, raisins and tomatoes or ropa vieja, Cuban-style shredded beef from the take out window. By the time this article is published, Conflict Kitchen will likely served Korean food, the next featured cuisine.

    High Sierra

    Sonesta ES Suites Orlando Ticket Mania Package

    Experience Universal Orlando before May 22 and save with these special offers. The park offers your third day of admission free when you buy two days and Sonesta sweetens the deal with a credit based on how long you stay.

    With the 3rd Day Free at the Universal Orlando and up to a $150 credit towards theme park tickets you receive the third day free at the Universal Orlando Theme Parks when you purchase two-day tickets. The offer is valid for tickets purchased by May 9 and used by May 22, 2014. Your credit must be used towards a minimum of two tickets and cannot be used for Florida resident discount tickets. Ticket credit can only be used at the guest services desk in the hotel lobby. The offer may not be combined with any other discount or promotion.

      Book the Orlando Ticket Mania package and at check-in receive a voucher for a free credit towards your Universal Orlando Multi-Day Tickets
    • Stay three to four nights and receive a $50 credit
    • Stay five to six nights and receive a $100 credit
    • Stay seven nights or longer and receive a $150 credit

    Sonesta ES Suites Orlando, on International Drive near the Universal Theme Parks, offers one and two bedroom suites that sleep six to eight people.

      Sonesta ES Suites Orlando offers the following:
    • Free breakfast buffet
    • Free scheduled shuttle to Walt Disney World and Universal Orlando on the I-Ride trolley route providing transportation along International Drive
    • Free wireless internet
    • Heated swimming pool and Jacuzzi

    The Universal Orlando Resort offers two theme parks, Universal Studios Florida and Universal's Islands of Adventure, along with the Citywalk entertainment complex.

    Orlando Ticket Mania Package or 800/766-3782. Ask for the "Orlando Ticket Mania" rate.

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