Free cruise – Caribbean Cruise Line scam suspicious behavior

Today I received a call from Caribbean Cruise Line, offering me a free cruise because they wanted to fill unsold cabins and generate positive word of mouth advertising.

My first thought was that they were reaching out to travel bloggers, the way Royal Caribbean reached out to me a few years ago. Then I realized that they were cold-calling me – they had no idea I was a world-famous travel blogger. Yes, I am kidding about the famous part.

So what is this free deal? They have no idea how special I am so this is a free cruise for anyone? Sort of. They say the will give you 18 months to book your cruise as long as you pay $118.00 (government port fees) right now. That’s when I told them I wasn’t interested. I prefer to pay my fees after I make a reservation.

I searched the net for other people who have given this a try and CruiseCritic had some information to share. Seems Caribbean Cruise Line is a wholesaler for Celebration Cruise Line. Caribbean Cruise Line probably loses money when they sell the taxes only cruise (we need your $118 right now), but they probably make their money off of people who never get to take the cruise and simply give up on getting their $118 back. There are also reports that you don’t get your taxes only cruise until you sit through a timeshare sales pitch.

Naturally, they don’t tell you about the timeshare sales pitch on the phone. They will take your money first and then disclose the hoops you need to jump through to take that taxes only cruise. Is it a scam? I think so. It might be a legal scam but it’s still someone trying to gain your confidence in order to trick you. Surprise! Now that we have your money you have to jump through hoops to get your tickets. You have to listen to someone selling timeshares. You have to pay $10/person/day for tips. Who knows what else you have to do?

Orlando travel plan – Universal instead of Disney?

Why Universal instead of Disney?

Universal is geared towards older kids. So if you took the kids to Disney a few years ago, and they think they are all grown up (like if they would rather get their picture taken with Spider Man than with Mickey Mouse), you should consider Universal. If you have little kids, there are a lot of rides at Universal that will be a bit much for a 7 or 8 year old (some 3-D rides are pretty intense). Some rides have height restrictions that younger kids are unlikely to meet. Speaking of rides, don’t miss Spiderman at Islands of Adventure, or Back to the Future in the other park. Terminator is also very cool… You might want to check out their website for some guidance on the suitability of rides but Islands of Adventure seems to have more of the rides that younger kids can enjoy.

Also, Universal is not as expensive as Disney and most people who have visited both tell me Universal is the better value. You can often find specials on tickets for Universal Studios in Orlando – if you compare prices, the Universal deals are just more compelling than the Disney ticket deals.

How many parks? How fast?

Can you see both Universal Studios and Islands of Adventure parks in one day? If your little one is too small for the big rides, you can definitely do both parks in a day. The express pass that lets you pay a little extra to skip the general line is very good for saving time but if they run your card through their scanner, you can only go on the ride once. Having said that it’s possible to see both Universal Studios and Islands of Adventure in a day, why rush? You’ll end up needing a vacation to recover from your vacation.

Travel itinerary

Day 1

Universal Studios is up first. This park is mostly for the older kids. Start with Transformers. Then in order I suggest: Revenge of the Mummy, Men In Black Alien Attack, The Simpsons Ride, Despicable Me: Minion Mayhem. This can take all day without a Universal Express Pass.

Hopefully, you took my advice and got the pass so that you can see a show or two later in the day. The Universal Horror Make-up Show is cool. So is the mid-afternoon Superstar Character Parade. In the evening, Universal’s Cinematic Spectacular is worth seeing.

Dinner is at Universal City Walk. You have several choices. I chose the Hard Rock Cafe when I was there because the food is good and the rock star items on the walls are always fun.

Day 2

Islands of Adventure today. Those with older kids head left. toward central lagoon. Start with Spider-Man, then move on to Hulk (this can be an intense ride – it is not for everyone). Next up are two water rides- Dudley Do-Right and then Popeye. They will soak you.

Families with younger kids head right instead of left. Find Seuss Landing to enjoy the Dr. Seuss-inspired attractions there – Go for a ride on the High In The Sky Seuss Trolley Train Ride then visit One Fish, Two Fish, Red Fish, Blue Fish and The Cat in the Hat rides.

People of most ages should enjoy some Harry Potter action. The Hogwarts walk-through involves the Gryffindor common room and other memorable places. The very sweet non-alcoholic butterbeer is sort of a must-try even though most people don’t seem to crave butterbeer when they get back home.

Dinner is at Manny’s Steak House. Excellent steak, reasonable prices. The portions are huge so don’t order too much unless you want leftovers for breakfast the next day. I hope you have a fridge. The atmosphere is pretty neat with American signs and memorabilia on the walls. If you’re saving room for desert, save a lot of room.

Day 3 – Celebration Golf

You need a break from the kids although I can’t tell you what to do with them. Celebration is a Disney related community of homes with a stunning 18-hole golf course and fantastic clubhouse with a nice pool and other amenities. The course is great and tourists love seeing alligators lounging near the water traps.

You can eat at Celebration but I never found anything exciting there. The one place (not in Celebration but not too far) I always saw tourists having a great time is Joe’s Crab Shack. It is incredibly noisy but the crab pots are yummy and it is definitely an experience.

Day 4 – Kennedy Space Center

Kennedy Space Center may be a little over an hour away depending on where you’re staying. Space buffs will love the large NASA assembly building. Visiting Kennedy really gives you an idea of scale – space ships, buildings, transporters, etc. are all big. The history of the place is inspiring and they even have a few rides. It’s no Universal, but Kennedy is very cool. You learn something, appreciate the magnitude of effort required to leave the earth, and get to brag to your friends that you did something cultured. You’re better than other tourists.

Day 5 – Discovery Cove

I hope you know how to swim so you can fully enjoy one of the highlights or your Orlando holiday. Discovery Cove is pricey but in this case, you get what you pay for. Meet dolphins (and swim with one), float down a tropical river, see otters and sharks, snorkel in a coral reef with lots of different fish and manta rays. This is an experience you will remember.

Travel Plan around San Antonio – Texas Hill Country in the Fall

Thousands of travelers visit San Antonio each year to see the Riverwalk, shop at major department stores and fascinating boutiques, attend sports events, fiestas, and theater performances, as well as indulge in a variety of international cuisine at some of the best restaurants in the U.S. Others want to get away from the city and the crowds of tourists to explore the vibrant colors of autumn in the Texas Hill Country. Lost Maples State Park is a popular choice, especially in October and November, for residents who welcome the end of another hot summer and a change of season, and for the many visitors who want to spend a few days in one of the loveliest areas in the state. Nature enthusiasts travel from across the U.S. to view the spectacular red, orange, and gold of the foliage in Lost Maples, the only place in the southern states where these rare bigtooth maple trees can be found.

Day One – We leave San Antonio Friday morning and take TX-16 west to Bandera and Medina, then RR 337 to Vanderpool on one of the many scenic drives through the Texas Hill Country. The air is definitely cooler as we follow the winding road through the rugged terrain marked by steep canyons and limestone cliffs and reach the higher altitude of over 2,100′. We can visit some of the other small towns in the scenic loop from Vanderpool, which is located about 5 miles from the entrance to Lost Maples. Be sure and get a map of the towns and farm roads in the surrounding area. We made reservations in advance at The Lodges located between Vanderpool and Leakey in an area called the “Swiss Alps of Texas.” Our fully equipped cottage is quite nice with a kitchenette, fireplace, central a/h, and our own private balcony. After settling in, we return to town to buy a few necessities we’ll need during our stay at Lost Maples.

There’s time this afternoon to visit The Lone Star Motorcycle Museum, which houses an interesting collection of vintage motorcycles from 1910 to the present. Hours: Fri, Sat, & Sun – 10am-5pm. Entrance fee: Adults, $6.00, Children under 15, Free. The Ace Café in the museum is a good place for a light lunch before heading back to The Lodges. Relax outdoors in the quiet of early evening and savor the aroma of mesquite from the outdoor grill while the sun sets over the Sabinal River and the Texas Hill Country.
The Lodges: Linens & outdoor BBQ grill provided. TV, but no reception, so bring your own DVD or VCR player.
Rates: $145/night, $175/night for the smaller, more intimate accommodations for couples in Solomon’s Den, ideal for honeymoons or anniversaries.

Day Two – We awake to the sounds of nature and the early morning calls of the birds, have breakfast, and we’re off to spend the day exploring the park. It might be a good idea to pack a picnic lunch and plenty of water to take along. There is a lot to see and do in the 2,000+ acres of Lost Maples Park from more than 11 miles of hiking trails and bird watching to picnicking by the lakes or beside the river. Bring your camera for some great shots of your surroundings, the amazing views, the rock formations, and the variety of plants, birds, and wildlife in the park. It’s cool, comfortable weather for hiking in the park on the well-marked trails; some are steeper than others. The East Trail is much more challenging, going up and down, but you’ll have some great views of autumn colors on the canyon walls above Monkey Rock. The Maple Trail is shorter and easier to hike with good views of the trees, lakes, and hills.

We spend most of the day in the park, so we’re ready to “kick back,” as we say in Texas and head back to our cottage before going out for a leisurely dinner in a nearby town. It’s about 15 miles from Lost Maples on Hwy 187 to Utopia, which inspired the movie “Seven Days in May” with Robert Duvall. From here it’s another 2½ miles to the Laurel Café. This delightful restaurant surrounded by oak trees and herb and vegetable gardens has a definite European appeal. The ambiance of candlelight and flowers enhances the superb gourmet cuisine featuring fresh ingredients prepared by renowned French chef Laurel Waters.
Open only on Saturdays. Prices: $39/five courses include everything but the wine, since this is a “dry” district. We bring our own. Reservations: 830-966-5444

Day Three – This morning we stop for delicious, inexpensive breakfast tacos at the Lost Maples Café on our way to another Texas historic landmark, Enchanted Rock State Park, located about two hours from Vanderpool. According to the legend of the Tonkawa Indians, mysterious sounds and lights are said to come from the Enchanted Rock. This huge dome of pink granite rises over 400′ above ground, a marvel in itself and the second largest batholith of this type in the U.S. Vegetation and weather pits of endangered plants and pools of fairy shrimp cover small areas of the surface of the rock. If you’re into rock climbing, you’ll need to check at the park headquarters for climbing guides. Hours: 8:30am-4:30pm. Entrance Fee – Adults, $7, Children under 12, Free.

We’ve spent most of the morning taking pictures, hiking on and around the Rock, and have worked up an appetite for brunch or lunch, depending on the time. The town of Tarpley is in the general area, and we stop at Mac and Ernie’s restaurant, which has been featured on the Travel Channel and in Southern Living magazine.. Excellent food and downhome atmosphere. Hours: Fri & Sat, 11am-9pm. Sun-11am-2pm. Reasonable prices. It’s a short drive back to Vanderpool and the Lodges where we’ll unwind and enjoy the evening.

Day Four – Today, we’ll go back on TX -16 and drive about 30 miles to Bandera, known as the “Cowboy Capital of the World,” for a step back in time reminiscent of the Old West. From old hitching posts downtown, trail rides, and rodeos to dude ranches and lively country music, this picturesque small town is a favorite of visitors and locals alike. There’s a lot of history in Bandera from the days of the Apache and Comanche Indians and Conquistadors, along with an interesting mix of Mexican, Polish, and Western cultures. A walk through town is the best way to check out some of the Texas landmarks from the late 1800’s including the old jail, general store, St. Stanislaus Catholic Church, and the Silver Dollar “honkytonk,” in business since 1901. Country western music is a big part of Texas and Bandera’s Cabaret dance hall has featured many famous country western stars such as Jim Reeves, Bob Wills, and Willie Nelson.

Have lunch at Busbee’s for some of the best BBQ in Texas. Hours: Wed-Mon, 10:30-8pm. Closed Tues. After lunch, spend a few hours browzing the shops and boutiques for Western wear, antiques, gifts, and Southwestern items and souvenirs.

After a busy, fun day in Bandera, we are looking forward to a quiet evening at the cottage with a cold beer and the BBQ we brought back for supper.

Day Five – We are eager to spend a few more hours in the park before loading up the car and returning to San Antonio. After lunch at the Lost Maples Café, we head back on a different route, FM187 north from Lost Maples to Texas 39 east to Kerrville and I-10. We have had an amazing road trip, bringing back the memorabilia and beautiful photos of the Texas hill country we’ll share with those at home.

Entrance Fee, Lost Maples State Park:: Adults – $6, Children under 12 – Free. Visitor Center.

Sharon L Slayton

Where would you go to make an anniversary holiday more like a second honeymoon?

My wife and I had our 13th anniversary a few days ago. Every August we begin thinking about a second honeymoon – not just a trip but an another honeymoon. This year, resorts were the main topic of discussion because friends recently told us about their honeymoon holiday in Mauritius. This was their second honeymoon and their 15th anniversary. Their first honeymoon was at Woodstock 1999 – more on that later but let’s just say that Woodstock 99 was not great honeymoon material.

Mauritius, our friends say, is perfect honeymoon material. Mauritius has mountain views, turquoise seas, palm trees, and white sandy beaches. Our friends spent 4 of 6 days in their resort. They relaxed on the beach, played in the pool, ate and drank whenever they felt like it, napped on the beach, snorkeled and swam in the ocean, practiced archery (good for a possible future zombie apocalypse), rose horses, and played golf. Other days, they would take day trips. They had a guide for Les 7 Cascades. Hiking at the Seven Cascades, means great scenery as long as you have hiking boots. It also means playing underneath a waterfall as long as you bring your bathing suit. You may also want to bring a light raincoat. Another day they rented a scooter from their hotel and toured the island, noting that Port Louis waterfront and market and Grand Bay are especially worthwhile.

So let me interrupt our friends’ story with my own thought for my second honeymoon. The second honeymoon has to be low-stress. Our first honeymoon involved me taking a language teaching course in Rome for the first month. I didn’t get to pay much attention to my beautiful new bride because of school. Then we went to Assisi, which was much better because we spent all our time together. But Assisi was still not stress-free. We still had to find accommodation and find our way around the (thankfully small) city. I think getting lost was a stressor and the expenses of eating out maybe stressed us out some too. We were simply too poor for a 9 week honeymoon, but we did it anyway.

So to make the second honeymoon low stress, you want to budget the trip – make it a week instead of a couple months so you don’t have to try to honeymoon on the cheap. Take our friends for example. When they arrived, friendly tour operators met them. The tour operators took care of the luggage and took them to the resort. There they received a welcome drink and an ice towel to help cool off. Hotel staff delivered their luggage to the room. The room had a great view of the bay, “Just Married” sandals, and letter from the Hotel. They didn’t have any of that stuff at Woodstock 99 and we didn’t have any of that stuff when we did Italy on a shoestring budget. I guess it’s those luxury things that make you feel pampered, like you’re honeymooning. Of course I still need to test that theory.

Our friends option included breakfast and dinners. They received a complimentary foot massage at the hotel’s spa. They had a romantic dinner at Chateau Mon Desir (a five star restaurant). They certainly didn’t have gourmet meals at Woodstock 99 (although the prices were gourmet-like) and I don’t think anyone there was touching anyone else’s feet. We had it a little better in Assisi – there was one restaurant, Il Duomo, that we loved and visited probably 20 times during our stay. No massages for us either though.

So what do you think makes a holiday a second honeymoon? Is it relaxing on the beach? Getting pampered at the spa? Luxury vs. budget travel? Would you recommend Mauritius for a second honeymoon?

Travel Ideas: Camping Adventures Out West (preferably with your dog)

Another month or so and fall arrives in many parts of the U.S., another school year begins, and summer vacations come to an end. Fortunately, there is still time for the family and the family pet to enjoy a camping adventure at a dog friendly national park somewhere out West. The weather is ideal for being outdoors in the exhilarating air of the high elevations (5,000′ to 11,000′ at Eagle Peak) at Yellowstone National Park. Average daytime temperatures are in the 70’s and much cooler in the 40’s at night.

Established in 1872, Yellowstone is one of the largest national parks in the U.S., covering more than 2,000,000 acres in Wyoming and into Idaho and Montana. Famous for geysers (Old Faithful), mountain herds of bison and elk, forests, petrified trees, and waterfalls, the scenery and diversity of plant and animal life are simply breathtaking.

Campers can choose from 12 different campgrounds located throughout the park; five have more conveniences and require reservations. The other seven have more than 400 campsites which require no reservations. Although there are five different entrances to Yellowstone, this article will focus on campgrounds with tent sites near the South Entrance. Campsites are limited to six people, and your dog or dogs (usually limited to 2), for a maximum of 14 days in July – Labor Day. Drinking water is available and wood and charcoal campfires are allowed, subject to wildfire restrictions, quite common in Yellowstone. Your dog must not be left unattended and kept in a carrier or on a leash, 6′ or less, at all times. Owners are responsible for their pet’s behavior on the trails and in the campground. Be aware of wolves, grizzly bears, mountain lions, and other wildlife which roam freely through the park and can be a threat to yourself and your dog(s).

Grant Village campground at Yellowstone Lake is about 22 miles north of the South Entrance of the park. The campground offers 430 campsites with flush toilets, dump station, pay showers, and laundry. Visitor Center (open 8am-7pm), post office, gas station, campground store, and other facilities nearby.
Campsite cost – $26/night (two showers a night included). Reservations required (307-344-7311).

Bridge Bay is another popular campground with 432 beautiful sites by the lake, about 30 miles from the East Entrance. Dump station & flush toilets; pay showers and laundry about 4 miles away. Boat launch and store at the marina. Campsite cost – $21.50/night.

Lewis Lake campground, only 8 miles from the South Entrance, is a good, inexpensive choice, especially if fishing is part of your travel plans. This is a very basic campground with vault toilets, but you will enjoy the peaceful setting and still have the facilities of Grant Village, a short distance away. Campsite cost – $15/night, reservations not required. There are only 85 campsites, so arrive early. Fishing permits – $18/3 days, $25/7 days.
(Notes: There are eight visitor centers and a museum located within the park. See nps.gov/yell for detailed information on Yellowstone.)
Park Entrance fee – $25/vehicle (for seven days)

Grand Teton National Park, about 10 miles from the South Entrance of Yellowstone on the John D. Rockefeller Memorial Parkway, can be easily included in your camping adventure. The 310,000 acres of the park are much less than Yellowstone, but just as beautiful on a smaller scale. Known for stunning views of the Teton Range in the Rocky Mountains, more than 100 lakes, and wildlife, the high elevations provide wonderful camping weather during the summer. Grand Teton is a dog friendly park, but they are not allowed in certain areas such as on pathways or inside park facilities. The basic rule is they can go wherever a car can go. Be aware this is bear country, and always carefully store food, cosmetics, and any items carrying a scent to avoid attracting them. Be sure and Include bear spray in your camping gear.

The seven campgrounds, Colter Bay, Gros Ventre, Jenny Lake, Headwaters, Lizard Creek, and Signal Mountain, charge $22/night per campsite for a maximum of 14 days. Jenny Lake campground is the one exception with a 7-day maximum stay. Reservations are not required for campsites, but they fill up quickly. The same rules apply for your dog(s) in Grand Teton as in other national parks. Primarily, dogs must not be left unattended and kept on a leash or in a carrier, with their owners responsible for the cleanup and behavior of their pet.

Colter Bay, 25 miles north of Moose, has 350 large, wooded sites with dump station, laundry, and showers nearby. Gros Ventre, just south of Moose, also has 350 campsites by the river. Jenny Lake, only 8 miles north of Moose, has 49 campsites for tents only. This is a very popular campground, so arrive before 10am.

Headwaters campground at the Flagg Ranch on the John D. Rockefeller Parkway is an ideal choice and the most convenient for campers visiting both Yellowstone and Grand Teton. There are 36 tent campsites with flush toilets, laundry, and 24-hour showers on the campground. Fishing is great at the Snake River, 1/4 mile away. Store, restaurant, and gift shop nearby. Rates: $35/night for 1-2 adults, $5 more for each additional adult. Call 1-800-443-2311 for reservations.

The 60 sites in the forest at Lizard Creek, further north from Moose, are not as well developed as the other campgrounds and not as popular. Campsites are usually available even in late afternoon. Signal Mountain, not far from Jenny Lake, is probably the more scenic campground with views of the mountains, lake, and forest. The 81 campsites are somewhat smaller than at other campgrounds, and there are no showers or laundry on the campground. Store, gas station, two restaurants, and gift shop nearby.

Entrance to Grand Teton – included in the $25 Yellowstone fee. Pathway permits – $12/pp (7days)
(Note: Five visitor centers – Craig Thomas (Moose), open 8am-7pm; Colter Bay, 25 miles north of Moose, 8am-7pm; Jenny Lake, 8am-5pm; Lawrence S. Rockefeller, 9am-5pm, and Flagg Ranch, 9am-3:30pm.)
(Note: See nps.gov/grte for more information.)

The popularity of camping has grown rapidly in America since the early 1900’s with more families discovering the freedom and enjoyment it provides. We live in a hectic world where many of us feel “the hurrier I go, the behinder I get.” Camping is educational and healthy family recreation where everyone, and your dog(s), can share the adventure and excitement of being close to nature. Forget the hassle of airline travel, avoid the traffic and the crowds, and have fun for less money on a camping trip.

Sharon L Slayton

5 day Seychelles travel plan

Seychelles boasts many beautiful islands, 16 with accommodation. Planes and ferries get you around reliably but I vote for ferries whenever possible. Seychelles islands luxury holidays has good information on weather, accommodations, cruises around the islands (some are uninhabited!), and more.

Days 1 & 2: Mahe

On day 1, you hit one of the best beaches in the world. Anse Intendance may feel like a lost world with jungle, boulders, and a beautiful white sand beach. On your way in, look for the rum shack near the entrance from the parking lot. You can have your Rum cocktails in the shade or in the sun. On weekends they may have BBQ burgers. There are waves and strong currents from June to September, but usually calmer spots where you can play in the surf. After September the water calms down quite a bit.

On day 2 we start with a hike. Climb Morne Blanc (30-60 minutes depending on your pace). The hike is not too strenuous but there are a few places where you could step into a little crevice so do be careful. The path is easy to follow, and at the top is a wooden platform with awesome views of southwestern Mahe
Since the hike won’t take all day, we visit another amazing beach later in the day. To get to Petite Anse, on west coast of Mahe, you need to head to the Four Seasons Resort. You have to show identification on the way into the Four Seasons, but Petite Anse is a public beach. It’s a 15 minute walk to the beach, but you can ask hotel employees for a lift in one of their club cars. Don’t wait for them to offer, but they are friendly when you ask. While at the beach, you’ll be near a restaurant and bar. The water is usually calm and clear.

Days 3 & 4: Praslin

Seychelles’ second largest island features Vallée de Mai, once thought to be the original site of the Garden of Eden. The forest features huge ancient palm trees including the Coco-de-Mer palm (famous for fruit shaped like a female pelvis) and the Seychelles Black Parrot, a very rare and beautiful bird.

You’ll want a full day at Anse Lazio. Get there early to find a nice spot on the white sand. You can climb over some of the granite rocks to look for smaller sections of beach. The swimming is usually good (waves sometimes get big but even then you are usually fine if you stay close to shore) and there is excellent snorkeling. Between walking, swimming, and snorkeling you might think one day is not enough.

Day 5: Grand Soeur

If you like to haggle, this is where you have a chance to shine. At La Passe Jetty you will find some agencies offering a Grand Soeur day tour with with snorkeling at nearby islands Coco and Felicite. Prices range from 75-100 euro per person depending on season, party size, and how well you haggle. Strong currents May through October do make swimming difficult.

If you’re a diver, you will probably need more time – lots of great diving to be done around Seychelles’ islands and the industry is safe and well-established here with several excellent operators.

You can find more itinerary ideas at http://www.seychelles.travel/en/plan_your_visit/

Travel idea: Camping at Dog Friendly National Parks

More than 40 million people in the U.S. go camping each year, and about the same number have at least one dog, as much a part of the family as the kids. When summer arrives, schools are out, and it’s vacation time for many families across America. Camping, a tradition since the late 1800’s and even before, became more popular by the 1930’s as Americans found the pleasure in exploring nature and spending time in the great outdoors. Visiting a national park sounds like a great idea, always educational and fun for the whole family, but dogs love a camping adventure and want to go too. Fortunately, most national parks permit dogs on a leash, 6′ or less, at all times, subject to Federal regulations and individual park rules and restrictions

Acadia National Park, Bar Harbor, Maine was the first national park established east of the Mississippi. There is a wide diversity of the environment from mountains and forests to lakes and shore within the group of islands which form the 45,000 acres of the park. Dogs will love camping at Acadia where they are allowed on more than 100 miles of trails, as well as on the 45 miles of historic carriage roads. They are restricted, however, from beaches, lakes, steep hiking trails, and trails where peregrine falcons are nesting.

You can camp with your dog at Blackwoods, open 1 May – 31 Oct, or Seawall, late May-Sep. There are approximately 300 campsites, restrooms, running water, a dump station, and shuttle bus service, but no hookups at Blackwoods. One vehicle, two tents, and up to six people are permitted at each campsite. Entrance fee – $20/night for 7-day maximum.

The Seawall campground on the western side of Mount Desert Island, the largest part of Acadia, is about a 10-minute walk to the ocean. Each of the 122 campsites allows tents and RVs up to 35′ long. Seawall has drinking water, flush toilets, campfire rings, and a dump station, with free showers and camping stores about a mile from the campground. Shuttle bus service is also available. Entrance fee – $14-$20/night, 14-day maximum.

Duck Harbor (Isle au Haut) is a one-hour ride on the ferry from the mainland. Although dogs are not allowed to stay in the Duck Harbor campground, it might be fun to take him along for a day trip of exploring. A $25 special permit is required to go to Duck Harbor.

(Note: Campsites are specifically marked.) Campground reservations – 877-444-6777

Visitor Centers:

Hulls Cove – 15 Apr – 30 Jun, 8:30am to 4:30pm; Jul & Aug, 8am to 6pm.
Park HQ – Open year round, 8am to 4:30pm; Apr – Oct, Mon thru Fri. (Winter camping hours vary.)
(Note: See nps.gov/acad for more information.)

Grand Canyon National Park in Arizona is simply awesome. With a spectacular panorama of color at sunrise and sunset, an amazing variety of plant and animal life, and incredible scenery, it is truly one of the seven natural wonders of the world. The South Rim is open year round, subject to fire danger restrictions, weather conditions, and road closures. You and your dog are welcome to check out the view along the two ½ mile Greenway trail along the Rim. A well-behaved pet can go along with you on the 3/4 mile guided Geology Tour. Dogs are restricted, however, from park buses, lodging areas, and trails along the North Rim.

One of the most popular campgrounds that allows pets is Mather, located within Grand Canyon Village. Mather, about a mile from the South Rim, offers 327 camping sites among the Ponderosa pines for tents and Rvs. Mather can be crowded and is usually full by noon. Each campsite has room for up to three tents, a fire grate, and picnic table, with drinking water, dump station, and restrooms on the campgrounds. Laundry, showers, bank, pay phone, and other amenities available at the Visitor Center, a short distance away. Summer hours 8am-5pm. Campsites – $18/night, 7-day maximum. Reservations Required: 877-444-6777, or online at recreation.gov/

Desert View has 50 campsites for tents, small Rvs, and travel trailers, for a 7-day camping limit. Each campsite permits up to six people, two tents, and two vehicles or 1 RV/trailer, and your dog. Be sure and include water with your camping equipment and wood or charcoal for cooking on campsite grills only. Only certain types of firewood can be used, “certified” wood is sold at the Visitor Center. There are only two water faucets, no hot water, and no hookups. Showers are available for a fee at Mather campground, 25 miles away. Overall, you can consider Desert View offers very basic camping.

Camping fee – $12/night/7-day maximum. ATM machines are conveniently located near the campground restrooms. Reservations not required, so come early.
Entrance fee – $25/vehicle for seven days. Visitor Center – 8am-8pm (summer hours)
(Note: See nps.gov/grca.)

Great Smoky Mountains National Park, the most visited and one of the largest in the U.S., encompasses more than 522,000 acres of forest, mountain trails, and an amazing variety of plant and animal life in this part of the Southern Appalachians. Free entrance to the park.

Located on both sides of the North Carolina and Tennessee state lines, the main entrances are at Gatlinburg, TN and Cherokee, NC. There are nine designated campgrounds including Abrams Creek, Balsam Mountain, Big Creek, Cades Cove, Cataloochee, Cosby, Deep Creek, Elkmont, and Smokemont. Campsites have individual fire grates, picnic tables, and restrooms on the campgrounds, but no showers, hot water, or hookups. Fees vary from $14-$23/night at each campground. We will look at two of the largest, Cades Cove and Elkmont, with individual campsites for up to six people, two vehicles, and tents. Both require reservations for a maximum of 14 days and permit motor homes up to 40′ and trailers up to 35′. Both have food storage lockers and dump stations onsite or nearby. There are specific restrictions on firewood, but bundles of “certified” firewood can be bought at Cades Cove and Elkmont. Keep in mind this is bear country, and all food must be stored in your vehicle or storage lockers.

Cades Cove, in eastern Tennessee, is an ideal choice for viewing wildlife with more open areas in this part of the park. You can find everything you need at Cades Cove Campground Store from groceries, souvenirs, and camping supplies to a variety of express food and beverages. Hours – May-Jul, 9am-7:30pm. Aug, 9am-7pm. Sep-Oct, 9am-6:30pm.

Elkmont campgrounds, 8 miles from Gatlinburg, date back to the early 1900’s as a summer resort in the Appalachians. The 220 campsites range in price from $17-$23/night, 7-day maximum, and reservations should be made in advance for this popular campground open until 29 Nov. Limited selection of camping essentials available at the campground concession.

Your dog cannot be left unattended at the campsite, and he is allowed on only two trails in the park, the Gatlinburg and the Oconaluftee River Trail. The first trail follows the Little Pigeon River about 2 miles through the forest from Sugarlands Visitor Center to the edge of the town of Gatlinburg. Sugarlands is an interesting part of history, which you may want to explore further. Check at the Sugarlands Visitor Center if your dog can go along, or if any kennels is available. Visitor Center Hours – Jun-Aug, 8am-7:30pm. Sep & Oct, 8am-6:30pm. The Oconoluftee trail through the forest is about a mile and a half walk beside the river to the town of Cherokee. Visitor Center Hours – Jun-Aug, 8am-7:30pm. Sep-Oct, 8am-6:30pm.
(Note: Detailed information at nps.gov/grsm.)

Surrounded by the sights and sounds of nature, camping is healthy, inexpensive recreation. Whether it’s the shore, the forest, or the mountains, you’ll escape those hectic travel arrangements and the stress of everyday life. Leave behind the modern conveniences, and inconveniences; your dog will enjoy it as much as you!

Sharon L Slayton

What would be the focus of your Chinese holiday?

I was taking a look at a couple of cruise itineraries and I thought it was pretty interesting that one revolves around the cruise while the other itinerary involves a lot of flying and driving in addition to the cruising. So when planning a China holiday with a Yangtze River cruise, would you want the cruise to be the main focus of the holiday?

For an example itinerary, I’ve summarized one called “Grand Yangtze” – this is one that involves a little more cruising than some of the other tour itineraries.

Day 1: Shanghai

Visit Yu Gardens and the Old Town. Then head to the Shanghai Museum. Walk along the Bund and admire the colonial architecture. Check out the 1920’s style Shikumen buildings in the Xintiandi area. In the evening there is a cruise, this one on the Huangpu River.

Days 2-10: Yangtze River Cruise

The cruise and shore excursions include the ancient capital of Nanjing to visit the Dr Sun Yat Sen Mausoleum and the memorial to Nanjing’s Second World War victims. Also, Mt Jiuhua, a sacred Buddhist mountain with great natural scenery. Then there’s Wuhan for the Hubei Provincial Museum. Next comes the largest dam in the world, Three Gorges Dam. Then cruise through Wu Gorge & Qutang Gorge to reach the temples and statues of Fengdu Ghost City.

Days 11-12: Giant Pandas

Drive to Chengdu. Visit the famous Panda Conservation Centre. The pandas are active at 9:00 am (gotta have a healthy breakfast) so try to arrive early. Then fly to Xian, China’s former ancient capital.

Day 13: Terracotta Warriors

Visit one of the most important archaeological discoveries of the 20th century – the Terracotta Warriors. Brush up on your history of the Qin Dynasty before going in order to really appreciate these guys.

Day 15 : Explore Xian

Stroll through Xian’s Muslim Quarter to explore the Islamic food market. Here you’ll find countless shops and food stalls. Plan on a slow walk through the area as shop owners work to persuade you that you want what they have. Later, fly to Beijing.

Day 16 : Beijing

Stroll through Tienanmen Square, past Chairman Mao’s Mausoleum to the treasure-filled Forbidden City. Beijing (also Peking) boasts three millennia worth of history and has been the political center of China for about eight centuries. Beijing has lots of culture (it’s the last of the Four Great Ancient Capitals of China) and people (over 21 million) so you won’t run out of things to do or people to see.

Day 17 : Great Wall of China

Walk on the Great Wall and tour the Summer Palace. The Great Wall is probably best-loved by hikers – it’s a very scenic hike and you won’t get lost.

If you check out the itinerary for “Magnificent China” – I won’t summarize that one here – you’ll see a few of the same stops including the Terracotta Warriors, Panda Conservation Centre, Beijing, and Shanghai. But you’ll also see some differences because you spend less time cruising the Yantze. This allows you to see some different but also very cool attractions like the world’s largest stone-carved Buddhist statue, the Grand Buddha of Leshan. So which itinerary do you like?

Shame on Delta using a giraffe for Ghana

I would not call this racist, but I would call it ignorant. Pretty sad day when an airline that’s supposed to take you places you’ve never been so you can learn new things about the world does something like this. This meaning use a giraffe to represent Ghana when giraffes are not native to Ghana. Considering all the great zoos in America, I bet we have more giraffes in the USA than there are in Ghana.

Ghana is one of the recent economic success stories in Africa and one of Africa’s cultural hubs. I know people who have visited or lived there – even 10 years ago – they love Ghana. Representing the country with a giraffe perpetuates the false stereotype that Africa has nothing really redeeming except its wildlife.

I’m all for celebrating the US soccer victory – it’s always unclear just how many victories we will get to enjoy – but I suggest we replace this:

Delta airlines gets it all wrong about Gahana

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with this:

Now I want to go to Ghana!

Cross Country National Park Trip: towing and route advice

Question: Have some time off from work, planning a cross country road trip. 25 years old and not sure when else I would have this kind of opportunity. Plan on hitting a few of the big national parks over a 6 week period (Glacier, Tetons, Rushmore, Yellowstone, Arches, Bryce, Grand Canyon, Rocky Mountains, etc.)

I will be towing my friends 17′ travel trailer. It has a weight of 2850 lbs dry, about 3500 gross weight. I have RV/camping experience. Unfortunately my CRV will not tow that (its also brand new not trying to destroy the transmission). I am looking at buying a used suv/truck putting a transmission cooler and brake controller on it (maybe a V8 Explorer) then selling when I get back. I looked into renting but most rental companies do not allow towing and it would be cheaper to buy and then sell a couple months alter than to pay the $45 a day for a car.

Any recommendations on reliable tow vehicles with decent mileage (all things considered)? What advice would you have for towing, and towing long distance. Any other advice regarding the trip route would be greatly appreciated!

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As always, reader comments are most welcome. I actually got some good towing advice from someone who just went through a similar scenario. Sadly he said there is no good answer currently available.

The first thing that you need to know is that tow ratings are usually given for an empty tow vehicle with a 150-pound driver. The weight of all optional equipment and any other payload (other people, luggage, tool box, etc.) must be subtracted from the tow rating. So that will lower your effective tow rating from the opening number.

Also travel trailers are boxy and have a lot more wind resistance than something like a boat trailer or a even a streamlined snowmobile trailer. And you also want a good margin of reserve over the minimum tow rating to make up for loss of performance at altitude (3% loss of engine power for every 1,000-feet above sea level), to give you some extra margin for passing situations, and to keep you from outright abusing the tow vehicle by overworking it.

Although you can tow with a front wheel drive vehicle, it isn’t the best thing to do because the hitch weight (should be 8 to 13% of the trailer load rating) will be pushing down on the back end of the tow vehicle with takes weight off the front end. So rear wheel drive vehicles with a full frame are the preferred tow vehicles, although really solid unibody models like the Jeep Grand Cherokee can get the job done pretty well, too.

So, you probably need to look at vehicles with at least a 5,000-pound tow rating. That eliminates virtually all the 4-cylinder and 6-cylinder cross overs that are so popular now.

The Chevy Traverse is right there at 5,000-pounds tow rating, but it’s a Chevy and a front-wheel drive one at that. Don’t know how you feel about them but personally I wouldn’t touch one with a ten foot pole. Ditto its butt-ugly GMC cousin. An old style Nissan Pathfinder would work, but they are pretty crude vehicles in some ways and new ones are fast disappearing. The new Pathfinder is only rated to tow 3,500-pounds, which is par for the course for most of the cross overs. Same for the mid-sized Toyotas, and towing reports on the big Nissans and Toyotas (Armada and Sierra) are not very good.

There isn’t anything that will handle your trailer properly that will give you gas mileage like you are accustomed to. But the full sized GM SUVs (Chevy Tahoe, GMC Yukon) seem to do a little better on gas than most of the others. The Durangos are not as good, although the new ones should be better than the old ones. The ’99 Durango that I had was optimized for towing in winter was bad on gas. On one multi-day, multi-state trip I noted that my buddy’s Tahoe got a mile or two per gallon better than I got despite the fact that his truck was a bit bigger. My ’06 Explorer rear wheel drive V-8 does somewhat better, but this vehicle is no longer available new. Current Explorers are front wheel drive on what is essentially a Taurus chassis.

The Ford Ecoboost twin-turbo does get around the altitude problem, and they get very good gas mileage when running light without a trailer, but suck gas like crazy when towing because they are working hard. And I think the only rear wheel drive choice for this engine is a pickup truck although it might be available in an Excursion.

But a 4-door pickup might be your best solution, if you can live with it. GM, Ford, and Ram all offer diesels now, too, and the mileage with gas engines from all of them is better than it used to be.

Good luck with the towing business. Personally, I’m not sure towing a trailer is the way to go. You get to take your home with you and don’t have to pack/unpack, but you’ll spend on gas and camping fees, and the trailer will be a major pain when you’re navigating the switchbacks (and there will be a lot of them in your trek)

Let’s talk about your route. It’s awesome but here are some ideas:

1) Drive back on a different route – no use seeing the same thing twice. Consider coming through KC, St. Louis across KY and WV, and then up through Shenandoah NP.

2) Buy a National Parks Permit for the year.

3) Check out the Navaho Nation Parks, namely Antelope Canyon and Monument Valley when in Arizona/Utah. Two of my favorite experiences from the trip.

4) After Rushmore go to Devil’s Tower, it’s not too far out of your planned route and it’s cool. Also, Rushmore on July 3rd is Fireworks – totally worth it.

5) Glacier is amazing, and I thought it was worth it to go into Canada to Wateron Lakes park too. Depends on your time. Also, I don’t know when you are going, but make sure the Going to the Sun rd is open. They are usually plowing snow off until late june.

6) If driving across Iowa, and you are a baseball fan – Field of dreams is pretty cool.

7) Invest in a good camera and learn how to use it.

8) When driving across Minnesota on I-90, if you see a sign for a 55 ft tall Jolly Green Giant, get off that exit and see the darn thing. Biggest regret was missing that.

9) The Michell Corn Palace however wasn’t really worth the stop.

10) Looking back I’m upset we didn’t do more of the Utah national parks, so I’m jeaolous of that.

11) I would strongly suggest the Henry Ford Museum and/or Greenfield Village. Very family oriented and a historical gem. Located in Dearborn and it seems you are passing it anayway.

12) Although it’s slightly West of your current route, Death Valley is amazing and may be worth a few extra miles.