Saturday, October 07, 2006

Thailand Coup No Big Deal for Tourists

I always closely watch events around the world for the purpose of predicting traveler safety. The recent coup in Thailand immediately drew my concern due to the large number of tourists who travel there. For my little business it's the second largest destination country in Asia, behind China.

I'm happy to say it has been a non-event for any traveler disruptions. I haven't heard anyone from any media source regret the forced exile of Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra -- nobody seems to miss this guy.

I saw an interesting article in today's New York Times that reports how there's been no disruptions at all for tourists. The photo of the woman gleefully posing with assault rifle toting soldiers tells the whole story.

Wednesday, October 04, 2006

Skiing In Europe: It's Cheaper Than You Think

I have a number of clients who are dedicated skiers and I’ve had experience planning group vacations for skiers too. I’ve discovered that one of the top misconceptions of skiers is that skiing in Europe is beyond their reach. What they don’t realize is that American ski resorts are the ones that can and do charge top dollar. After they’ve been to Park City, Steamboat Springs and Aspen they’re surprised to discover they can ski Innsbruck, St. Moritz and Méribel for less.

Air travel to Europe in the winter is generally the cheapest all year, European lift tickets are a great buy and European ski hotel packages include valuable extras not usually found in the U.S. To illustrate this, I priced a real-world vacation for two people shown in the graphic above. For this comparison, I chose luxury resort hotels that are acknowledged to be among the best in their areas.

In the Colorado example, I chose the Vail/Beaver Creek Ski Area; the hotel: The Ritz-Carlton Bachelor Gulch. The rate shown is for a standard lodge room and includes all taxes and fees and no meals. This gorgeous resort offers luxury accommodations and a true ski-in / ski-out experience. Six-day lift tickets for two allow unlimited skiing at Beaver Creek and Vail Mountain, the largest ski area in the United States. The car is a standard SUV from Hertz including all taxes and fees, but no additional insurance.

For my French example, I chose Courchevel, one of the villages in the Trois Vallées ski area, the largest in the world. My hotel choice is the Hôtel Byblos des Neiges in a standard room. The Byblos is a small luxury hotel with one of the best restaurants in the area. European ski hotels are usually smaller than their American counterparts and are sold with meal plans. The rate I used includes breakfast and dinner each day – this can be a substantial savings when compared to the U.S. Six day lift tickets offer unlimited skiing throughout the Trois Vallées and there is a less expensive ticket option that includes only the Courchevel Valley. The car I priced is a manual shift midsize car from Hertz. This type of car is in the middle of the price range for rental cars in Europe – an automatic shift will add substantially to the price.

Of course, you have to fly a little farther to get to Europe. I priced tickets on American Airlines from Raleigh-Durham to Vail/Eagle County (for Colorado) and from Raleigh-Durham to Grenoble, France. Grenoble is not the cheapest ski gateway to Europe to use. If price is a big concern flights to Zurich, Geneva and Munich can be substantially less, and they have great ski areas nearby. There are other options for reaching the French Alps too – fly to Paris and take the high speed train (TGV). During ski season there are special ski train express departures.

My example uses top-end hotels. More moderately priced hotels are available in Europe and the U.S. – just make sure you talk with an expert in making your plans. Consider Europe the next time you’re planning a ski vacation, it’s more affordable than you think.

Tuesday, October 03, 2006

Glaciers: See Them Before They're Gone

I’ve always been impressed by the incredible spectacle that glaciers provide. I can’t think of a better way to see the forces of nature in action. Natural climate change accelerated by man-made global warming is causing many of the world’s glaciers to recede at a rate faster than ever recorded. Some of the glaciers most accessible to travelers are in danger of disappearing in our lifetime. So if you want to see them, travel soon and bring your camera.

Here’s where to see some of my favorite glaciers that are accessible without too much effort:

Glacier National Park, Montana: The largest concentration of glaciers in the Continental United States is melting away. According to the park website “The glaciers in Glacier National Park are melting. In 1850, 150 glaciers covered the landscape. Today in 2006, there are only 27 glaciers left inside the park, a 75-80% decrease. If current warming trends continue, it is projected that between 2030 and 2050, there will be no more glaciers in Glacier National Park.”

Glacier National Park offers the chance to see the disappearing glaciers from your car or from a bus tour. Hikers and backpackers can get much closer to the action.

Mer de Glace
Photo Credit: Christopher Gould

Chamonix, France – This fabled winter resort in the shadow of Mont Blanc is home to Europe’s second largest glacier, the Mer de Glace. A cog-wheel train travels to the glacier from the center of Chamonix in only twenty minutes. There’s a spectacular overlook and little cable cars will take you down to the glacier itself where you can explore a man-made ice cave, the obligatory glacial attraction. I love the unearthly blue glow within the ice with the constant dripping in summer. The industrious French don’t let the drips go to waste; the meltwater of the Mer de Glace generates electricity in a little hydroelectric station.

The steps to the Ober Grindelwald Glacier
Photo Credit: Becky Gould

Grindelwald, Switzerland – The postcard-perfect Grindelwald Valley is home to a walk-up glacier (if you don’t mind a 1500 step wooden staircase). The Ober Grindelwald Glacier is a small glacier that’s receding up its valley. It is a perfect geology lesson as you walk up the small valley with less and less life as you approach the glacier, the bare rock just recently uncovered for the first time in centuries.

Inside Ober Grindelwald Glacier
Photo Credit: Christopher Gould (timer)

Glacier Bay, Alaska – Glacier Bay National Park offers a large-scale version of the same geology lesson where the enormous Glacier Bay has been uncovered in the last 250 years as glaciers receded. Most visitors visit the park aboard cruise ships – it’s only accessible by water and air.

Viewing Hubbard Glacier from Radiance of the Seas.
Photo Credit: Becky Gould

Disenchantment Bay, Alaska – Located in the Wrangell-St. Elias National Park and Preserve, Disenchantment Bay is home to Hubbard Glacier, the largest tidewater glacier in North America. Tidewater glaciers advance all the way to ocean waters where huge pieces “calve” and break off with a thunderous sound. Hubbard Glacier is advancing and its face measures over six miles wide. Cruise ships have recently begun to visit this incredible glacier.

Bernardo O’Higgins National Park, Chile – Hubbard Glacier’s South American twin is the Pio XI Glacier. South America’s largest tidewater glacier is most easily seen by cruise ship or tour boat.

Sunday, October 01, 2006

A Vintage View of the Matterhorn

I've been busy working at the Ava Gardner Festival this weekend, that's why there have been no lengthy posts. My next post will be about visiting glaciers before they're gone. That made me think of this great view of the Matterhorn, from my collection of vintage travel post cards. This view is a hand-tinted photograph taken in 1898.

If you're interested in climbing the Matterhorn, I talk about that a little on the Kensington Vacations website -- click the photo of the castle next to "Seeing the Sights."

Photo Credit: Christopher Gould Collection

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