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Travel Savings Alerts Newsletter, April 2008 Issue



Travel Savings Alerts
P.O. Box 91033
Columbus OH 43209
http://tsalerts.freespaces.com
travelnewsletter@aim.com
ISSN: 1542-801X, Copyright © 2008 
All Rights Reserved.


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flower earringsSterling Pressed Flower Earrings

Enjoy the one-of-a-kind natural beauty of these earrings, made with great patience and precision by artisans who mastered the art of making jewelry from pressed flowers to create gorgeous wildflower jewelry for AAA Jewelry Outlet.

Each earring features tiny wild flowers encased in a clear resin to preserve the flower's colors. The gorgeous flowers and resin are bordered by a thick 1/4 inch sterling silver band. The round earrings are more than a half-inch in diameter and hang from a thick, sterling silver French wire.

Each handcrafted set of pressed flower earrings will have minor differences in design from the pair pictured.

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In This Issue:
Longwood Gardens in Spring, Kennett Square, PA

Longwood Gardens

  • Free "Fridays" at Sheraton Grand Bahama Island
  • Sheraton Grand Bahama Sunny Savings
  • Small Ship Savings on East Coast Sailings
  • Marco Island Marriott Golf School
  • Keep Car Cool When Heat is On
  • Spring Family Beach Break
  • Air France Business Class Fare
  • Summer Rates at Inn at Robert’s Grove
  • Seven Stars 25% off Summer Rate
  • Couples Fall in Love Again Promotion
  • Hurtigruten 50% Off Companion Fare
  • Cathay Pacific 2008 All Asia Pass $1,099
  • Pentax Sail Away Sweepstakes
  • Bermuda, JetBlue Online Sweepstakes
  • Rental-Car-Ripoff
  • Budget "Snowbird" Rentals from $4.95 Per Day
  • Superclubs’ “Supersavings Sale"
  • The Brandywine Valley and Valley Forge by Kay Douglas
  • Almond Resorts' Sea and Sun Sale

  • Free "Fridays" at Sheraton Grand Bahama Island

    BUY BY APR. 16, 2008 - - The Sheraton Grand Bahama Island Our Lucaya Resort's "Free Fridays" program allows you to book any three-night stay and pay for two nights at $89 per person, per night. Plus, kids 11 years and under can stay for $5 each per night. Depending on the season and accommodations, published rates for the rooms range from $149 to $199 per person, per night, through Sep. 1, 2008.

    In the spirit of "TLIF" (Thank Lucaya It's Friday), you will also receive a fre.e breakfast, a f,ree happy hour and fr=ee unlimited golf on the Friday of your choice. The Sheraton Grand Bahama Island can make any weekday into a "Friday," giving you the flexibility of choosing when you start your "weekend" festivities.

    This $89 rate is based on double occupancy with a minimum stay of three consecutive nights. Air-inclusive packages are also available. You must purchase by Apr. 16, 2008, for travel through Sep. 1, 2008.

    Just 55 miles off the coast of southeastern Florida, the Sheraton Grand Bahama Island Our Lucaya Resort has 478 guest rooms and suites alongside 7.5 acres of beaches. The resort offers a sand playground and 35-foot-diameter wading pool; Camp Lucaya, an activity center for children ages three to 12; a 60-foot tower overlooking a bubbling 10-person spa; and a casino.

    Book free "Fridays" at Travelocity.


    Sheraton Grand Bahama Sunny Savings

    The Sheraton Grand Bahama rewards families who visit this spring with two packages.

    The Sheraton overlooks seven and half acres of white sand beach and features a themed pool with a tower waterslide.

    The Sunny Savings program offers 40 percent off regular room rates and is available through Dec. 30, 2008. When booking, request rate code SUNNY.

    Sunny rates start at $220 per couple, based on double occupancy, and include: room, all taxes and fees and daily breakfast. Kids under 12 stay in the parents’ room for fr.ee and have fr,ee access to Camp Lucaya until 5pm for children ages three to12. Camp Lucaya is a full-service, interactive kids club, featuring 3,000 sq. ft of activity space, classrooms, and a menu of island-inspired activities.

    The Sheraton’s all-inclusive Reef package rates start at $295 per couple, per night, and includes: room, taxes, service charges, resort fees, non-motorized watersports, and food and drink at three on-property restaurants. The Reef package is available through Dec. 30, 2008. When booking, request rate code AIPKG08.

    Sheraton Grand Bahama 888/627-7129.


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    Small Ship Savings on East Coast Sailings

    American Canadian Caribbean Line, Inc., a family-operated small ship cruise line, offers a 15 percent discount on six cruises this spring and summer aboard the 100-passenger M/V Grande Caribe.

    The discounted itineraries range from five to 14 nights between April and August 2008. Traveling along the eastern U.S. seaboard from Maine to Florida, the expedition-style Grande Caribe is designed to travel close-to-shore, exploring historically rich coastal regions by waterways that larger ships simply cannot navigate.

    Discounted spring cruises include: American Liberty (11-nights Apr. 26, 2008 from Alexandria, VA); East Coast Discovery (12-nights May 9, 2008 from Philadelphia, PA); and Atlantic Coastal Waterways (14-nights May 23, 2008 from ACCL's homeport of Warren, RI).

    For summer, three New England cruises are eligible: Cape Cod and Islands (five nights June 8, 2008 from Warren, RI); Historic New England (five nights July 6, 2008 from Warren, RI); and Coast of Maine (seven nights July 12, 2008 from Portland, ME).

    The discount can total up to $632 off per person, based on double occupancy, depending on the cruise and cabin category. Complete descriptions of the discounted cruises and the full 2008 schedule is available online.

    American Canadian Caribbean Line or 800/556-7450.


    Marco Island Marriott Golf School

    At Marco Island Marriott Beach Resort, in Marco Island, FL, golfers looking to sharpen their game can save up to $1,000.

    Valid through Apr. 30, 2008, the Faldo Weekend Golf School includes: two nights of accommodations, two half-day instructional sessions (a $1,000 value), two rounds of golf at The Rookery at Marco, two breakfasts, two lunches and a $100 gift certificate to The Rookery Steakhouse.

    The package also includes fr=ee club storage, equipment evaluation and personalized locker. The two-night golf instruction package starts at $1,095 per person, based on double occupancy, for weekend stays Friday through Sunday.

    Faldo Weekend Golf School 888/463-2536.



    Keep Car Cool When Heat is On

    Before long, it will be 90-plus-degrees, hazy, hot and humid. So before that happens, get your vehicle ready so you can enjoy the comfort of your air conditioning system.

    The Mobile Air Conditioning Society (MACS) Worldwide wants car owners to understand how their vehicle's air conditioning system works, be able to recognize problems and optimize performance so you can enjoy maximum comfort while driving.

    To achieve the quickest interior cool-down:

    1. If possible, leave the windows down slightly on hot sunny days. Temperatures in a closed car can exceed 140 degrees. An A/C system works by removing heat, so the cooler the interior is to start with, the easier and faster the A/C will do its job.


    2. When you first get in the car, roll all the windows completely down, or better yet, open the doors for a short period of time. This helps the hot interior air escape quickly.


    3. When you first turn the A/C on, set the controls to "MAX" and/or "REC." Use the highest blower speed. This moves the greatest volume of air, re-circulates cooling air for faster cool-down, and prevents hot outside air from entering. As soon as you are comfortable, switch the system to "NORM" or "OUTSIDE," and select a lower fan speed. The lower the blower speed, the colder the air from the system.


    4. Applying window tint can help reduce interior temperatures. The tint does not have to be dark to reflect sunlight. Some tints have a metallic substance within them for this purpose. Always check your local and state regulations; window tinting products may not be legal in some states or municipalities.

    The Mobile Air Conditioning Society advises you to take vehicle air conditioning problems to a professional service facility that is certified in proper refrigerant recovery, recycling and recharging methods.

    Mobile Air Conditioning Society.

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    This savings-packed FR.EE brochure features almost 40 Fun, Fr-ee Things to do in San Diego. When heading to Southern California, attend concerts or visit a State Historic Park and keep that cash in your pocket.

    To get your Fr-ee Fun San Diego brochure, for a $1 handling fee, click here to send us an email.


    Spring Family Beach Break

    Daytona Beach, FL’s 23 miles of beaches, 80-degree weather and vacation values await when you visit during Spring Family Beach Break, through May 22, 2008.

    In its fourth year, Spring Family Beach Break features discounts and offers good at dozens of participating Daytona Beach area hotels, attractions, restaurants and shops. Accommodation offers are valid through May 22, 2008, and are based on availability. Be sure to ask for the "Spring Family Beach Break"special rate. Offers are not valid during special events or holidays.

    Here are some accommodations examples:

    Dream Inn, Daytona Beach Shores - oceanfront motel offers room from $49 per night, plus tax. 800/767-9738.

    Ramada Inn Speedway, Daytona Beach - across from the Daytona International Speedway, spring rooms specials start from $62 per night, plus tax for a double room. Ask for the Spring Family Promotion 800/352-2722.

    Cove Motel, Daytona Beach - mention "Spring Family Beach Break" and received five percent off the room rate. Children stay fr.ee. 800/828-3251.

    Super 8 Motel, Daytona Beach - room specials start at $29.95 plus tax for two guests. There's an additional $10 charge for the third or fourth person in a room. 386/255-5540.

    Spring Family Beach Break or 866/845-1993.


    Air France Business Class Fare

    Amounting to about 50 percent off the normal price, this fare from Air France is available if you make your reservations 30 days in advance of your departure.

    The minimum stay is seven days and the maximum stay is one month. Travel must be on Air France operated or code share flights departing from the U.S. and connecting through Paris’ Charles DeGaule Airport. The fuel surcharge is included in the fare but government-imposed fees and taxes of approximately $80 to $150 are additional. Fares are non refundable and changes are permitted for a $400 fee. Fares are available for purchase year-round.

    Sample one-way new business class fares, based on a roundtrip purchase: Washington to Barcelona $1,681, Chicago to Madrid $1,880, New York to Milan $1,893, Boston to Florence $1,984, Detroit to Zurich $2,255, Philadelphia to Paris $2,236, Los Angeles to Rome $2,419 and San Francisco to Nice $2,419.

    Air France or 800/237-2747.


    Summer Rates at Inn at Robert’s Grove

    If you are looking for an off the beaten path vacation, part relaxation and part adventure, the 52-room Inn at Robert’s Grove in Placencia, along Belize’s southern coast, offers summer packages.

    Available June 1 to Nov. 30, 2008, summer packages includes roundtrip airfare within Belize; land transfers; air-conditioned accommodations and three meals daily. Summer rates represent a 30 percent savings compared with the Inn’s high season rates.

    On 22 acres with its own marina, the Inn offers hacienda style accommodations, all beachfront or beach view. Rooms and suites feature air conditioning, ceiling fans, telephones, cable TV, private baths and terraces and rooftop Jacuzzis. Other resort facilities include two restaurants, three 50-foot freshwater swimming pools, and internet and computer center, and spa. You can also use the Inn’s tennis court, gym, canoes, kayaks, windsurfers, peddle boats, sailboats, hobie cats and bicycles.

    The seven night adventure package for $1,717 per person, includes a full day snorkeling trip off of Belize’s Barrier Reef; an excursion to the Maya ruins of Lubaantun and cave swimming on the Blue Creek; a visit to the Cockscomb Jaguar Preserve; river, tubing; and a full-day guided Monkey River float and trail walk.

    The Beach Odyssey package offers little less adventurous and more relaxation. It includes a full-day snorkel trip and a Monkey River float and guided trail walk. A 12-night package is $2,486 per person.

    The Dive Odyssey package includes diving off Belize’s Barrier Reef with the Inn’s PADI Dive Center. The four night or seven night packages range from all-dive, snorkel and dive and eco-dive. Prices range from $1,155 to $2,003 per person, depending on the length of the stay and the dive package chosen.

    Belize City is under two hours flying time from Miami, Dallas, and Houston, or 4 ½ hours from metro New York, followed by a 35 minute commuter flight to Placencia .

    The Inn at Robert’s Grove or 800/565-9757.


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    A Face-It Luggage tag makes it less likely for a stranger or thief to walk off with your luggage and helps you recognize your luggage at a glance in hotels or airports. Face-It Tags are also available for briefcases, portfolio books, backpacks, sporting equipment, musical instruments, bicycles and more. Face-It Luggage Tags.



    Seven Stars 25% off Summer Rate

    To celebrate its opening on July 1, 2008, Seven Stars resort on Grace Bay Beach on Providenciales in the Turks and Caicos Islands, takes an additional 25 percent off the low season summer rate for garden view one bedroom or studio accommodations. The discount brings the daily rate to $274 per room, compared to the $365 published summer season rate. Reservations must be made by July 31, 2008, for stays from July 1to Oct. 31, 2008.

    The daily rate includes breakfast; transfers to and from the Providenciales airport; use of tennis courts, the fitness center and fr,ee private transfers to the nearby 18-hole championship golf course. Children under 12 sharing a room with two adults stay fr^ee. The offer is subject to availability and blackout dates may apply. A 10 percent service charge and government tax are not included.

    Located on 22 beachfront acres of 12-mile Grace Bay Beach, the Seven Stars’ 115 studio and one- to four-bedroom and penthouse suites are housed in three buildings. Two restaurants, a swimming pool, tennis courts and a spa/fitness facility are among the resort’s features.

    The one-bedroom and studio accommodations feature a terrace or balcony, marble floors, cable TV and a CD/DVD player with iPod connectivity. The room’s galley kitchen has granite counter tops, stainless steel appliances and an espresso machine with fr=ee coffee set-up. Bathrooms have natural stone counters, hairdryers, terry bathrobes, slippers and luxury bath amenities.

    Seven Stars Resort or 866/570-7777.



    Couples Fall in Love Again Promotion

    Couples Resorts again offers its Fall in Love Again promotion, with savings up to 50 percent off published rates.

    Book your fall vacation before Apr. 30, 2008, and you can bring your loved one for fr.ee. That’s a maximum savings of 50 percent available in select room categories. Travel dates start July 9 through Dec. 25, 2008. Savings do not include airfare and are based on the dates and resort category selected. Offer may not be combined with any other discount or promotion.

    Couples Resorts owns and operates four properties in Jamaica, West Indies - Couples Ocho Rios, Couples Sans Souci, Couples Swept Away and Couples Negril. Each Couples Resort operates on the all-inclusive resort experience.

    All Couples Resorts feature a fully stocked mini-bar, breakfast in bed, meals, snacks and a la carte dining, 24-hour food service, unlimited premium brand drinks, nightly entertainment, bars, swim-up pool bar, Jacuzzis, scuba diving, water skiing and other water sports, golf, gym, and tennis courts.

    Couples Resorts or 800/COUPLES.


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    Hurtigruten 50% Off Companion Fare

    If you are sailing on Hurtigruten’s 67-day world cruise or a 22 to 46 day segment, you can save 50 percent on a companion’s fare when booking by Apr. 30, 2008. Depending on the stateroom or suite, savings range from $4,799 to $24,649.

    For bookings after Apr. 30, 2008, there are per person savings of $750 on staterooms and $1,500 on suites.

    Full cruise rates are $17,499 to $60,899 per person, based on double occupancy. Rates include a stateroom, all meals on board, lectures by experts and naturalist guides, port charges and cruise taxes. A fuel surcharge of $140 per stateroom is additional.

    The world cruise aboard the 318-passenger MS Fram begins Sep. 23, 2008, in Iceland, follows the fall foliage season in Canada and New England, travels along the eastern seaboard to the Caribbean, through the Panama Canal, along the western shores of South America to Antarctica and the Chilean Fjords, ending in Ushuaia, Argentina on Nov. 28, 2008.

    Hurtigruten or 800/323-7436.



    Cathay Pacific 2008 All Asia Pass $1,099

    With a reduced fare and added destinations, travel to Asia is more affordable with Cathay Pacific Airways' latest All Asia Pass. The annual promotion provides you with a chance to visit Hong Kong and up to four additional destinations over 21 days starting at a roundtrip fare of $1,099.

    The All Asia Pass offers roundtrip economy class travel between San Francisco, Los Angeles or New York to Hong Kong with up to 21 consecutive days of travel to your choice of up to four cities from 23 Asian destinations. The All Asia Pass airfare starts at $1,099 for travel to Hong Kong plus two cities, $1,399 for travel to Hong Kong plus three cities and $1,699 for travel to Hong Kong plus four cities.

    Departure dates are through May 15 and Aug. 28 through Dec. 1, 2008. Summer travel and extension options up to 90 days are available for an additional fee. All Asia Pass travelers can also select from other U.S. gateways cities -- San Diego, Las Vegas, Denver, Atlanta, Austin, Boston, Chicago, Dallas, Detroit, Fort Lauderdale, Houston, Miami, Nashville, New Orleans, Orlando, Philadelphia, Pittsburgh, Raleigh Durham, St. Louis, Tampa and Washington DC/Baltimore.

    All Asia Passes must be booked through a travel agent. Some restrictions apply and all travel must be completed by Dec. 8, 2008. This offer is only valid for U.S. residents and travel must originate in the U.S. All prices are exclusive of applicable taxes.

    Cathay Pacific Airways.



    Pentax Sail Away Sweepstakes

    Pentax Imaging Company offers the Pentax Sail Away program to introduce you to their binoculars. Until May 31, 2008, if you participate in a Pentax binocular demonstration, you will qualify to enter the Pentax Sail Away Sweepstakes for a chance to win a Cruise West cruise for two, from Costa Rica through the Panama Canal, or Pentax products.

    A binocular demonstration consists of visiting a participating retailer and asking for a hands-on demonstration of one of the binocular models or viewing a binocular product video available on-line. You may enter the Sail Away Sweepstakes online.

    No purchase is necessary and the contest is limited to U.S. residents, with one entry per person. Official contest rules and the product video are online at the same web site where you may enter the sweepstakes.

    One Grand Prize 10-day cruise will be awarded. Second prize includes a Pentax K20D digital SLR system with battery grip, an AF360FGZ flash, and 18-55mm and 50-300mm lenses in a sling bag. Third prize is a waterproof Pentax Optio W30 compact digital camera with silicone skin. Winners will be announced in June 2008.

    Pentax Sail Away Sweepstakes or 800/877-0155.



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    Cheap Tix Chart
    Buy Tickets at a Discount -- Special ticket outlets sell discounted day-of-performance tickets to theater productions, films, and sporting events. Discounts can be 50 percent or more. On The Go Publishing’s Cheap Tix Chart, still only $14, lists outlets in the U.S. and eight foreign cities that sell discounted, day-of-performance tickets. Click here to order the Cheap Tix Chart from On The Go Publishing.

    Bermuda, JetBlue Online Sweepstakes

    The Bermuda Department of Tourism partners with JetBlue for the Feel the Love sweepstakes, an online contest where you can share and reminisce about your favorite Bermuda memory and get the chance to relive it. To enter the sweepstakes you need to tell how you "feel the love" for Bermuda in your own words and images.

    Through May 31, 2008, you have a chance to win one of four vacations by logging-on and submitting your Bermuda memories and photos in up to four categories: Family, Sports & Adventure, Romance and Rejuvenation. Winning stories will be determined by an in-house panel and based on originality, humor, poignancy, and overall love of Bermuda.

    Category specific prize packages include:

    The Family Prize package which includes roundtrip airfare, four nights’ accommodation at Fairmont Southampton, kids eat fr.ee and have f,ree access to Kids Camp.

    Rejuvenation Prize package with roundtrip airfare, two nights’ accommodation at Elbow Beach, dinner for two at Seahorse Grill and an intimate couples massage class.

    Sport & Adventure Prize package with roundtrip airfare, three nights’ accommodation at 9 Beaches and six hours of water sports for two.

    Romance Prize package with roundtrip airfare, three nights’ accommodation at Cambridge Beaches, champagne and flowers on arrival, and couples massage.

    Feel the Love Sweepstakes.


    Rental-Car-Ripoff

    Be forewarned! The car rental industry has figured out another way to get your money - - tacking on hefty charges if you go through an electronic toll booth without paying.

    It’s fairly easy to go through an electronic toll booth when you are in an unfamiliar area since many toll roads are main highways. Look online for directions and you can wind up on a toll road without knowing it and you may not have a way to avoid the road. Plus once on the toll road, many electronic toll booths don’t have human toll collectors and no cash lanes, only an “EasyPass” transponder lane. Even if you wanted to pay, you can’t.

    For example, Advantage Rent A Car customers who drive through electronic toll booths with no human toll collectors can expect a bill for 60 cents plus a $5 charge from Violation Management Services. At Avis, expect $25 for each transgression, in addition to the toll charge.

    It turns out Violation Management Services is a violation collections firm who collects fees for rental car companies and tacks on hefty fees.

    Car rental company are treating these violations like another profit center, creating contracts that allow them to bill up to 90 days after the fact and explain later. The charge may not show up on your credit card bill until the end of the 90-day period. The later they bill, the less likely that charges will be contested.

    There is not much you can do to avoid these outrageous fees.

    First, complain to law makers who permit a $25 charge for a 60 cent toll. It’s usury and a scam to boost the local economy on the back of out-of-state travelers.

    Complain to your rental car company about the outrageous charges.

    Before your trip, print out directions from several online mapping services.

    Complain to your rental car company that they should post signs at car rental counters advising customers to have a minimum of $5 in change and make sure car rental agents actually give that change.

    If your budget allows, rent a car with a navigation system, to help you avoid the toll roads.

    While at your destination, see if you can pick up a city or county map. Many local maps do denote toll roads. This may arm you with the needed information for your next visit.



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    Budget "Snowbird" Rentals from $4.95 Per Day

    Budget Rent A Car is looking for customers to help move its fleet for the summer. To that end, Budget offers special one-way rates from Florida and Arizona to select locations in the continental United States. This limited-time offer allows you to rent a car in one place and return it in another, with unlimited mileage and no drop fees. Availability at these special rates is limited.

    If you are traveling one-way from the Sunshine State of Florida, you can rent an economy or compact vehicle for $4.95 per day; intermediate for $9.95 per day; a two-door full-size vehicle for $12.95 per day or a four-door full-size car for $14.95 per day. A standard sport utility vehicle rents for $16.95 per day. The Florida one-way offer is valid through June 30, 2008, and you must mention Budget Customer Discount (BCD) Number U105600 at the time of reservation.

    The offer is available at select Budget airport locations in Daytona Beach, Fort Lauderdale, Fort Myers, Jacksonville, Melbourne, Miami, Orlando, Pensacola, St. Petersburg/Clearwater, Sarasota, Tallahassee, Tampa and West Palm Beach. Vehicles can be returned to participating locations throughout the U.S., including Budget neighborhood locations. Participating locations are listed online.

    Budget also offers one-way rates in Arizona at Phoenix Sky Harbor International Airport, Tucson International Airport and Flagstaff Municipal Airport to select locations in California and Nevada. One-way rates from Arizona are $17.95 per day for an economy car; $18.95 per day for a compact vehicle; $19.95 for a mid-size vehicle or $21.95 per day for a full-size vehicle. The one-way offer from Arizona is valid through May 24, 2008. You must mention Budget Customer Discount (BCD) Number U106400 at the time of reservation

    Budget Rent A Car or 800/BUDGET-7.


    Superclubs’ “Supersavings Sale”

    BOOK BY APR. 11 - - SuperClubs has SuperSavings at four of its all-inclusive resorts that last through Memorial Day. The “SuperSavings Sale” offers 50 percent, or more, savings at four Jamaican resorts for week-long getaways through May 31.

    Grand Lido Resorts & Spas: Starting rates for beachfront rooms are $227 per person, per night, and stays of seven-nights or longer receive $350 spa credits, plus a fr.ee catamaran cruise for two (Grand Lido Negril) or Ocho Rios Shopping Tour (Grand Lido Braco). This getaway represents a 55 percent savings. Stays of less than seven nights qualify for a $250 spa credit.

    Breezes Runaway Bay: Starting at $150 per person, per night for premium rooms, this represents a 50 percent savings. The savings includes $150 in spa credits, and unlimited greens fees at the adjacent 18-hole golf course, windsurfing lessons, and reef/wreck/drift diving at the P.A.D.I. Gold Palm Resort certified operation. For stays under a week, a $100 spa credit applies. You can upgrade to a Plunge Pool verandah suite for an additional $35 per person, per night.

    Starfish Trelawny: At $129 per person, per night, savings are 50 percent and you are upgraded to the Super-Inclusive Platinum Plan, a room savings of $76 per day, with unlimited access to motorized sports, and restaurant/drink privileges. In addition, there’s a $100 spa credit. Bookings under seven nights qualify for a $50 spa credit.

    All starting rates above are per person, per night, based on double occupancy and are land only. Spa credits are per room. A five-night minimum stay is required, although seven-night bookings yield the highest discounts.

    SuperClubs or 800/467-8737.


    Seasonal Pleasures: The Brandywine Valley and Valley Forge, PA - - photos and article by Kay Douglas

    Longwood GardensLong known to residents of nearby Philadelphia, Wilmington, and Washington, DC as the quintessential place for a weekend getaway, the Brandywine Valley and Valley Forge offer spectacular gardens, celebrated homes, top-notch museums, compelling American historical sites, sophisticated restaurants, and more, all set in a charming landscape of rolling hills dotted with stone barns and farmhouses. After driving just a few miles off I-95, visitors find themselves stepping back in time and falling into the seasonal rhythms. For the past 10 years or so, the Brandywine Valley has been one of my favorite short getaway spots, and as often as I go there (generally at least once or twice a year), I continue to find new and unexpected pleasures each time I visit.

    Here, then, are a few of my perennial favorites, along with some suggestions for seasonal activities throughout the year.

    SPRING - - In late winter, around the same time that I that I start perusing seed catalogs or lingering among the imported tulips and daffodils in the floral department of my local supermarket, I begin dreaming of a spingtime trip to Longwood Gardens in the Brandywine Valley. For those of a horticultural bent, Longwood is something of a gardening Mecca. However, even those who barely know a daylily from a dogwood can appreciate this magnificent landscape garden and arboretum. It’s not much of an exaggeration to say there’s something for everyone here. Spread over 1050 acres, Longwood is the former country estate of Pierre S. Dupont, who bought the land in 1906 and set about designing a variety of formal and informal gardens, most notably an immense conservatory, a lavish Italian-style water garden, and numerous lush woodland walks. While Longwood has eye-popping appeal at just about any time of the year -- Japanese maples in autumn, intoxicating displays of scented English roses in summer, thousands upon thousands of massed red and white conservatory plants during the winter holidays - - it is arguably spring that features the most profuse displays. In late April, the Flower Garden Walk features tulips of every color and description, while by May the azaleas and rhododendrons are in full swing, and woodland flowers such as columbines, foamflowers, and bluebells carpet the forest floor. Add to this the splendors of striking bearded iris, cascades of wisteria and laburnum, and the heady scent of peonies and dianthus, and you have something akin to a sugar high in horticultural terms.

    Willowdale SteeplechaseSpring is also an ideal time to visit one of the area’s most remarkable museums, the Brandywine River Museum. Set on the banks of the quiet Brandywine River, the museum is partially housed in an old grist mill, with additional wings cunningly laid out to allow maximum natural light in and provide views of the river and adjoining gardens. The museum is best known for its collection of Andrew Wyeth’s paintings, but in fact it houses three generations of work by the Wyeth family, not to mention a fine collection of folk art and a strong collection featuring American illustrators such as Howard Pyle, Winslow Homer, and Rockwell Kent. After spending an hour or two viewing the collection, don’t neglect to take a stroll behind the museum to view the native plant garden, which is particularly lovely in spring.

    For lunch or dinner, consider a side trip to Simon Pearce, whose original designs in glass and pottery are showcased at a showroom/restaurant that is likewise set on the banks of the Brandywine. The restaurant’s best tables are next to a floor-to-ceiling window overlooking the river, and the fare heralds regional ingredients such as local grass-fed beef, lump crabmeat, locally grown Portobello mushrooms, and wines from nearby Chadds Ford. If you admire the stem ware or crockery used during the meal, you can simply step into the showroom afterwards to purchase identical items.

    Brandywine River MuseumI’d be remiss not to mention some of the Brandywine Valley’s signature spring events. Chief among these are several equestrian events, such as the Point-to-Point races at Winterthur and the Willowdale Steeplechase. The latter was my mother’s day outing last year, and more perfect weather for the event could not have been imagined: the sun shone in an intensely blue cloudless sky, and a light cooling breeze wafted over the rolling terrain. The Willowdale Steeplechase is a colorful event, with the bright-hued silks of the steeplechase jockeys, the vivid green turf, and of course the brightly colored hats and outfits of the spectators. The day commences with Jack Russell terrier races, which are a big hit with the younger audience members. (Well, all right… with just about all the audience members.) Most people come for the day, staking out an area along the fence after toting bulging picnic hampers from the parking lot, while others purchase a tailgate spot in advance and simply drive up with their bounty. The sound of popping champagne corks and the bark of assorted canines accompanies the sound of thudding hooves on grassy turf, with the occasional “oooooohh!” from the crowd as a horse and rider make that inevitable spill at the water jump.

    SUMMER - - Evening concerts featuring fireworks are hallmarks of summer at Longwood Gardens, where the fireworks are the climax of a son-et-lumière show featuring the grand water fountains. Fireworks are also featured at an evening celebration at the Hagley Museum, one of the country’s premier “industrial” museums. The Hagley Museum contains the original du Pont home, Eleutherian Mills, as well as gunpowder mills founded in 1802 by E. I. du Pont. A tour of the museum and house provides a fascinating look at both industrial and family history, and strolling along the riverside visitor’s path is a historical object lesson, as the river provided the power for the mill, and the local stone provided sufficiently blast-resistant materials for construction. In fact, during the tour of the house, the docent informed the group that the house and its contents were damaged on more than one occasion by blasts from the nearby powder mills.

    Another du Pont home, Winterthur, merits at least an entire day’s visit. Even then, those with an abiding interest in the decorative arts, antiques, or garden design will be thankful that their $20 Winterthur Experience Pass is good for two consecutive days. This immense estate features a 175-room mansion set in 1,000 landscaped acres. Henry Francis du Pont, the owner, was an insatiable collector of antiques as well as an avid horticulturist. Visiting Winterthur has been compared to visiting the Metropolitan Museum of Art, so vast is du Pont’s collection. It features more than 85,000 objects – ceramics, furniture, glass, paintings, textiles, craftsmen’s tools, metalwork, and more. There are specialty themed tours for those with a particular interest, as well as public galleries devoted to just about every aspect of the decorative arts. And for those whose tastes run to outdoor rather than the indoor furnishings, there are several noteworthy garden areas featured on the hour-long tram ride through the property.

    Washington's HeadquartersThose inspired by Winterthur to do a bit of antique collecting of their own can take advantage of several dozen antique shops and markets in the area. (Pick up a map showing these locations at Longwood Gardens.) In particular, the Brandywine River Antiques Market in Chadds Ford contains three floors of antiques dealers housed in a barn built in 1857. Being more of a bookworm than antiques hound, I’m more inclined to stop by Baldwin’s Book Barn, a rambling five-story building built in 1822 that is simply bulging with used books.

    AUTUMN - - As memorable as the Brandywine Valley is during the spring and summer, it’s perhaps even more evocative in the autumn, when the leaves on the enormous sycamore tree next to Lafayette’s Headquarters at Brandywine Battlefield turn a regal gold before surrendering to autumn gusts. This 350-year-old tree, said to be the largest of its kind in Pennsylvania, was standing at the time of the Battle of Brandywine, an event that is reenacted each September. On September 11, 1777, the British decisively defeated General George Washington’s forces in one of the largest and deadliest land battles of the Revolutionary War. After the American defeat, the British marched on to capture Philadelphia, the revolutionary capital. They occupied the city until June of 1778.

    In addition to the yearly Brandywine Battle reenactment, fall marks an antique car show at Hagley Museum, Colonial Days festivities at Chadds Ford, and an event I’ve been wanting to attend for a decade but somehow haven’t yet, the Mushroom Festival. Kennett Square is the self-styled “Mushroom Capital of the World.” While I don’t know if this title could withstand impartial scrutiny, I can testify that the mushroom soup and Portobello focaccia at Buckley’s Tavern lend some credence to the notion. Buckley’s is a congenial eatery favored by locals, and I usually manage to work in a stop there as it’s conveniently located right on Kennett Pike (Rt. 52) in Centerville.

    Lafayette's HeadquartersWINTER - - Winter is an austere time, and yet it is also perhaps the most fitting time to visit Valley Forge, where the Continental Army was encamped from December 19, 1777 to June 19, 1778. The army’s six months of hardship and privation marked a pivotal time in our nation’s history, as the encamped soldiers struggled against the elements. Yet, as Washington wrote, “Naked and starving as they are, we cannot enough admire the incomparable patience and fidelity of the soldiery.”

    Today, the modern visitor’s center is the first stop for most who come to this iconic national park. There, through exhibits, ranger talks, videos, and interactive displays, the visitor can learn about the men and the times that helped forge a nation. Afterward, they might embark on a “cell phone tour” of the park – an innovative driving tour that follows a signposted route. At each stop, visitors can dial up a short informative message, with phone-tree options for more detailed information. One of the highlights of the self-guided tour is undoubtedly Washington’s Headquarters, made of the same durable rock as many of the local structures. Stepping into the modest house provides a palpable sense of history, for in these cramped headquarters Washington and his staff administered the entire Continental Army.

    With this winter visit to Valley Forge, my chronicle of a year in the Brandywine Valley and Valley Forge comes to a close. Regardless of the season, there are few places imbued with a more evocative sense of history, which carries over into a gracious hospitality in the present.

    For more information, please visit Brandywine Valley and Valley Forge.


    Almond Resorts' Sea and Sun Sale

    Almond Resorts, all-inclusive hotels in the Caribbean, offer value Sea and Sun vacations with savings up to 35 percent. Prices for three night vacations, at the resorts in Barbados and St. Lucia, start at $420 per person, based on double occupancy. Sale ends Apr. 30, 2008 and travel is valid through Sep. 30, 2008.

      The all-inclusive hotels offer:
    • Numerous fr,ee water sports such as water skiing, windsurfing, sailing, snorkeling, banana boat rides and reef fishing, with fr=ee lessons, if required
    • Spas with treatments including massages, facials, manicures and hydrotherapy treatments available at a locally payable cost
    • Tennis facilities and fitness centers
    • Children's clubs and family entertainment at all hotels except Almond Beach Club & Spa (which accepts guests 16 years and older).
    • A choice of a la carte restaurants serving fine cuisine and bars offering premium brand named drinks.

    If you stay at one resort, you can sample the amenities of the sister properties (airfare between islands is additional). In Barbados, you have a choice of Almond Beach Club & Spa (welcomes guests 16 years of age and over), Almond Beach Village or the new Almond Casuarina Beach (opening in 2008). In St. Lucia, choose Almond Morgan Bay or Almond Smugglers Cove.

    Discounts are available on single, double, triple or quad rates. No discount on children's rates.

    This offer does not include airport to hotel transfers or airfare. The sale applies to new bookings only and it is subject to change without notice.

    Almond Resorts or 800/4-ALMOND.


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