Friday, May 09, 2008

Visit me at my new address

My blog has moved. You'll find me from now on at the new Travels with Jane.

The idea is the same: tips, deals, trip logs, photos and conversations about travel strategies and issues. I hope you'll bookmark the new address and visit often. Make it easy on yourself and sign up for an RSS feed.

See you there!

Wednesday, May 07, 2008

Affordable spa - a fab find

I've never done the destination spa thing because, well, it's expensive. And, I figured, the benefits wouldn't last. As much as I love a good massage, the rosy glow of relaxation lasts only a few hours before I'm heading back toward Stress Level A.

But when a friend suggested meeting at the Ixtapan Spa in Mexico, I plunked down the credit card. Between a dying parent, wacko workplace, a Zero birthday and The Husband's emergency appendectomy, I needed a break. And the price was right: $830 for a four-night package including a single room, all meals and a bunch of services (three massages, two reflexologies, two golf lessons, mani-pedi and more.) Book a spa day at a top spot in South Florida, and you'll end up with a tab of $785 for the day.

So what did I find? A comfy -- though not luxurious -- hotel in the mountains two hours south of Mexico City, aerobics and yoga classes (I bypassed the morning walks and water aerobics), a sweet safe town, two big pools, tasty food, beautiful golf course (I actually took a lesson) and tennis courts (I passed).

Well worth it -- even when you add in 16 percent taxes and airfare. Transportation can be a killer -- roundtrip from Mexico City costs $360 in the hotel van -- but if you go with a gang, you can split that amount for up to four people, which make it a much more manageable $90 per person roundtrip.

Wednesday, April 30, 2008

Taking a little vacation

Yes, I'm taking a few days off, meeting a friend of a spa weekend in Mexico.

I can use both the R&R and the girl time. Usually I travel alone or with The Husband. The idea of some wine and bonding seems like just the tonic ... and especially at these prices.

At home I avoid spas for the sheer cost. But this experience at Ixtapan Spa costs $830 for four nights lodging in a single room, a host of spa treatments and all my spa cuisine.

I'll let you know how it goes. And here's to losing a little jeans are stretched to the max.

Tuesday, April 29, 2008

Buy asap for this fab deal

Spirit Airlines is offering one of it's supercheap deals...36 cents from Fort Lauderdale to Freeport, reports You must purchase by April 30 and travel May 4, 5, 6, 11, 13 or 18.

Thursday, April 24, 2008

Surcharges: What do you think?

Given the hyperspeed rise of gasoline prices, it's no surprise that cruise lines and airlines have imposed fuel surcharges. And who can blame them -- especially after Delta Airlines' grim quarterly report of a $6.93 billion loss. Northwest posted a $4.1 billion loss. While both companies took some one-time losses, both said the high fuel costs were part of the problem.

No, it's not the fuel surcharges that have me steamed, it's the way they -- and taxes -- are buried on websites. Whether you're booking a cruise -- Oceania just imposed an $10 per person per day fuel surcharge, following the lead of most other major cruise lines -- ir airline ticket, in most cases, you can't see how those surcharges are affecting the bottom line until you go all the way through the booking process. And that generally applies whether you're booking online or on the phone, I've found.

Worse yet, agree consumer advocates, are hotel surcharges, which rack up a reported $1.6 billion in revenues annually.

You've probably seen them on your bill: "Resort fees'' imposed by resorts, "energy surcharges'' and additional fees for items like in-room safes.

To a traveler, this falls between nickel-and-diming and downright deceit. The hotels have long ago installed both the safes and the resort facilities. In fact, the practice has come under legal fire, and the Wyndham chain is being sued. (Because of pending litigation the company declined to comment.)

Earlier this week I got hit with a $2.50 per night surcharge at a Sleep Inn in Orlando. It was disclosed when I booked on the website as a fee for using the safe. When the woman in front of me asked to have the fee removed at check-out because she didn't use the safe, the clerk refused. And of course, the clerk refused me, too.

That's a no-no, said Rocco Loverro, spokesman for Choice Hotels, which operates Sleep Inn, Comfort Inn, Quality and other brands. And if the hotel refuses, the consumer can contact Choice's corporate headquarter.

Choice recognizes this is a consumer hot-button. Though all of its properties are individually owned, the company is working toward a "seamless billing'' initiative, said Loverro. That means surcharges would be folded into the rate. But there's no timetable for completion.

Have you had a similar experience? What's your view? Click to comment below.

Wednesday, April 23, 2008

Busch Gardens: Tiger in the Tank

Who knew that tigers like to swim? That orangutans like to paint? Or that there really is a theme park area just for tweeners?

Welcome to Jungala, the new 4-plus acre area at Busch Gardens Africa in Tampa.

The animal exhibits here -- tigers, orangutans, flying foxes -- are all from Asia. And you can get up-close and personal without risking limbs, thanks to some wonderfully inventive see-through barriers and viewing areas that put you right inside the exhibits. (Of course, you can still hear the roller coaster roaring overhead.)

There's a giant rope jungle gym with totaly enclosed byways so kids can't fall through (or get pushed by a sibling), a "zip-line'' ride just for kids and a "surge'' ride that's only 35 feet tall, which is just about right for kids who aren't ready for the 'coaster (and the adults who aren't ready for them either!)

Of all the new attractions I saw this year on my annual dash through the theme parks, Jungala is the one that most captured my imagination. If there's another place you can watch tigers swim just behind a glass, or play tug-of-war with a tiger, I haven't seen it yet.



The Disney report

This year, most of Disney's news happens at the park formerly known as Disney-MGM Studios, now called Disney's Hollywood Studios.

No, we're not talking about new park areas or major changes. There is one new ride on the way -- that's the 3D Toy Story Mania! ride through shoot out -- but it doesn't debut until late May. Meanwhile, Studios offers three smaller but energetic additions. Times for each can change daily so you'll need to consult the park schedule when you arrive.

Last December, the megahit High School Musical 2: Schools Out! literally rolled into the park. Think singers and dancers on a stage that glides through the "streets'', stopping at Mickey's Magic Scorcerer Hat. Kids are encouraged to join in, which means every little girl (and a few big ones too) can have her shot at a moment of cheerleadering glory.

New is the musical parade Block Party Bash. Floats decked with characters from Toy Story, Monsters Inc. and other Pixar faves winds through the park, then stops for a high-energy dance party where -- once again -- pint-sized partiers are invited to join the festivities.

For the smallest park visitors, Playhouse Disney Live offers a chance to learn a few of life's lessons (the importance of friends, everyone can play an important role) in the company of Mickey, Minnie, Tigger and Pooh and Roo. The show offer plenty of chances for kids to clap and dance along -- yes, it's a pattern -- so they won't get bored.

At Epcot, Spaceship Earth has been refreshed -- the story line used to end about 1980 -- with the addition of touch-screen interaction and a new voice-over by Dame Judi Dench. But the most fun may come in the "post-show'' at the ride's end called Project Tomorrow, when parkgoers can make postcards based on photos shot during the ride, explore the human body via a 3-D game and find out what happens during an auto accident -- courtesy of technology by Siemens.

Oh, and lest the Disney PR people bang me on the head for forgetting, the annual Epcot Flower & Garden Festival runs through June 1. (Don't miss the topiaries, which are truly amazing.)


Tuesday, April 22, 2008

The Simpsons hit Universal

Marge, Homer and the gang have made it to Universal Studios.

That's the big news this summer at Universal, both in Orlando and Hollywood. (Both Disney and Universal are opening attractions simultaneously on coasts east and west --- one has to figure it's at least a little more economical.)

Here's the drill: Our old buddy Krusty the Clown is opening a new theme park, and the Simpsons are getting the first ride. Little do they know that the evil Sideshow Bob has sneaked himself into a character suit and is running amok throughout the park with the idea of destroying it all. Trouble ensues -- hey, this is a theme park ride -- but in the end all's well that ends well. (But you knew that.)

The new ride, which debuts late next month, is stationed in the old Back to the Future space (now that Future is past, so to speak.) You'll hardly recognize the place; just about the only things that are the same are the actual massive building and the mechanical pads that the motion simulators sit on. Yup, this is a simulation ride .... though based on our preview, you'll hardly notice you're not actually spinning in the air.

Tomorrow, we'll catch up on Disney!