(CNN) — Whistler, Chamonix, Aspen — the best known winter sports resorts have become that for a reason.
Not only are the following places worthy of a December-to-February vacation, some are significantly cheaper.
Lech Zürs am Arlberg, Vorarlberg, Austria
The small resort of Lech-Zürs is about to get bigger.
As of this winter, it’ll be connected to nearby Warth-Schröcken by a two-kilometer-long ropeway ski lift, meaning visitors can access 190 kilometers of trails and 47 lifts.
The huge range of accommodations runs from five-star Hotel Almhof Schneider, in the shadow of the Schlegelkopf peak, to the quaint and quirky Pension Astoria, a short walk from the town center.
Lech-Zürs am Arlberg, Voralberg, Austria; +43 5583 2245
Hotel Edelweiss, Manni & Seppi Strolz, Familie Strolz, Zürs 79, Austria; +43 5583 2662; from $88 per room per night
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Sierra Nevada, Andalucia, Spain
The beautiful Sierra Nevada is Spain’s most popular ski area — it has a collection of resorts with more than 104 kilometers of trails and 116 ski runs.
It’s located 32 kilometers from the city of Granada.
This is the sunniest ski region in Europe, although being located at 2,100 meters (6,889 feet) and with a top station at 3,300 meters (10,826) feet, it’s known for being a snow-sure resort — last winter it opened from November until mid-May.
Visitors can rent an apartment, such as those at Apartahotel Trevenque (located next to the resort’s main gondola), which has kitchenettes and direct access to the slopes.
Sierra Nevada, Andalucia, Spain; +34 902 70 80 90
Meliá Sierra Nevada, Plaza de Pradollano, Sierra Nevada 18196, Spain; +34 958 480400; from $145 per room per night
In terms of size, BC\’s Red Mountain is one of the top 20 ski areas in North America.
In terms of size, BC’s Red Mountain is one of the top 20 ski areas in North America.
Red Mountain, British Columbia
Red Mountain resort in British Columbia is another resort about to double in size, thanks to the development of the adjacent Grey Mountain.
Skiers who take the chair lift to the top are rewarded with spectacular views and 360-degree skiing off the peak.
The development of Grey Mountain gives Red Mountain resort a total of 2,682 ski-able acres, putting it in the top 20 North American ski resorts in terms of terrain size.
The Slalom Creek apartments are the resort’s newest accommodations, with fireplaces and private Jacuzzi tubs.
Red Mountain, British Columbia; +1 800 663 0105
Rossland Motel, 721 Hwy 22, British Columbia, Canada; 250 362 7218; from $55 per room per night
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Sunday River has a new terrain park this year.
Sunday River has a new terrain park this year.
Sunday River, Maine
This Maine resort has a number of developments in the pipeline this winter, including a brand new, 15-acre terrain park designed by Sochi-bound free-ski athlete Simon Dumont, and 60 acres of glades that have been opened for tree skiing.
With 820 acres spread across eight interconnected mountain peaks, Sunday River is now the second largest ski resort in New England.
The Grand Summit Resort Hotel and Jordan Grand Resort Hotel are the resort’s two most popular hotels.
Grand Summit’s new restaurant, Camp, will open this winter.
Sunday River, Maine; +1 207 824 3000
Jordan Grand Hotel, 27 Grand Avenue, Newry, Maine, New England, US; 207 824 5000; from $59 per room per night
Sugar Bowl, Lake Tahoe, California
Sugar Bowl already has some of America’s best tree runs, but this winter several developments are set to transform the area.
A new chairlift will provide advanced skiers with easy access to the challenging Crow’s Face and Strawberry Fields areas, previously reached only by hiking.
The new lift will also connect Sugar Bowl to the largest cross-country ski resort in North America, Royal Gorge.
Sugar Bowl’s Lodge is one of the coziest hotels you’ll find in a ski resort and is accessed via gondola.
Sugar Bowl, Lake Tahoe, California; +1 530 426 9000
Truckee Donner Lodge, 10527 Cold Stream Rd, Truckee, California; 530-582-9999; from $99 per room per night
Les Orres, Hautes-Alpes, France
Les Orres is one of the newer French resorts.
Built in 2008 with an extensive network of wide, groomed runs and childcare facilities, it’s a destination for families.
It has more than 100 kilometers of ski-able terrain, and its location, in the middle of a forest overlooking the Serre-Ponçon lake, makes it one of the more spectacular places to get a winter snow fix.
There’s not a huge range of accommodation in Les Orres, but La Portette has 26 spacious bedrooms, direct access to the piste and stunning mountain views.
Les Orres, Aix-en-Provence, France; +33 4 92 44 01 61
L’Ancolie, Centre Station, Les Orres, France; +33 492 44 19 20; from $107 per room per night
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Baqueira Beret, Lleida, Spain
The Spanish royal family are fans of this ski area in the region of Lleida in western Catalonia.
Although small, the resort has something for snowboarders and skiers of all abilities: there are five green runs, 34 blue slopes, 26 red runs and six black slopes.
Catalonia is one of the few places in Europe where heli-skiing is legal and there are some fantastic back-country areas.
In 2014, the resort will be holding various events to mark its 50th anniversary.
Accommodation includes luxury offerings such as the five-star Val de Neu hotel (a favorite with the Spanish royal family) or more affordable Melia Royal Tanau, a stylish, slope-side hotel.
Baqueira Beret, Lleida, Spain; +34 902 41 54 15
Val de Neu, Calle Perimetrau S/N Baqueira Beret, 25598 Baqueira, Lleida, Spain; +34 973 635 000; from $350 per room per night
Ischgl, Tyrol, Austria
There are a number of reasons to visit this Austrian resort in 2014, but the pièce de résistance is a new, $24-billion cable car that will open up nearly untouched snow fields below the Piz Val Gronda peak — in the past, skiers and snowboarders have had to be towed to the area by snowmobile.
Ischgl is already the biggest interconnected ski area in Tyrol, with more than 238 kilometers of runs.
Accommodation in Ischgl includes a number of hotels within meters of the centrally located Silvretta cable car.
Smaller hotels on the outskirts of the resort are equally accessible, thanks to an efficient shuttle bus system.
Ischgl, Tyrol, Austria; +43 5099 0100
Alpenhotel Ischglerhof, Dorfstrasse 92, A-6561 Ischgl, Austria, +43 5444 5330; from $163 per room per night
Jay Peak: Manicured for your enjoyment.
Jay Peak: Manicured for your enjoyment.
Jay Peak, Vermont
Jay Peak gets the most snow of any resort in eastern North America, and has a huge range of terrain.
Almost all of the lodging is ski-in, ski-out.
This year, the resort is spending $43 million on improvements, including a new 80,000-square-foot hotel and base lodge.
Accommodations include the Slopeside Condominiums on the edge of the resort.
With a new indoor water park, the Hotel Jay and Conference Center is suitable for families.
Jay Peak, Vermont; +1 802 988 2611
Hotel Jay & Conference Center, 830 Jay Peak Road, Jay Peak Vermont, US; 802 988 2611; from $101 per room per night
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Myoko Kogen, Niigata Prefecture, Japan
This beautiful resort is a great starting point for those who’ve never skied in Japan.
There are no nightclubs or bars, just lots of snow — by mid-season there are usually around four meters.
It’s a four-hour train ride from Tokyo.
The resort, Japan’s oldest, dating to 1911, is surrounded by an astounding 25 ski areas.
Like most Japanese resorts, Myoko Kogen offers traditional and Western accommodation.
Lodge Beetle offers traditional Japanese accommodations high above the main resort — the owners will personally collect you from the resort on their snowmobiles.
Myoko Kogen, Myoko-shi, Niigata-ken, Japan +81 80 8817 4888
Canadian House Hotel, 949-2106, Taguchi-1394, Myoko, Japan; +81 255 87 2186; from $24 per room per night
Arosa, Graubünden, Switzerland
Davos, St Moritz and Klosters are some of Graubünden’s most famous resorts, but they’re also the most expensive.
For equally fantastic skiing at half the price, there’s nearby Arosa.
At 2,653 meters (8,704 feet) above sea level, it’s one of Switzerland’s most snow-sure resorts.
This winter a new cable car will connect Arosa with the nearby resort of Lenzerheide.
The hotels here are also some of the prettiest you’ll find in a ski resort, whether it’s the Alpensonne, with views over surrounding mountains, or the Gspan hotel, a quaint wooden cabin that, its website claims, was built in 1621.
Arosa, Arosa, Switzerland; +41 81 378 70 20;
Gspan Arosa, +41 (81) 377 14 94; from $99 per night
Aletsch Arena, Switzerland
The Aletsch Arena is located on the edge of Swiss Alps Jungfrau-Aletsch, a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
It comprises three car-free villages (Riederalp, Bettmeralp, Fiescheralp), all connected by lifts.
There are 11 terrain parks and around 100 kilometers of trails.
In Bettmeralp, Hotel Alpfrieden is a beautiful, stone-clad hotel, loved by return guests for its extensive wine list.
The Art Furrer hotel in Riederalp is centrally located and just a short walk from the ski school.
Switzerland’s famous ski train means the resort is equally well connected to Bern, Basel and Zurich.
Aletsch Arena, Valais, Switzerland, +41 27 928 41 31
Slalom Hotel, CH-3992 Bettmeralp, Switzerland; +41 27 927 17 87; from $95 per room per night
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Terrain choices feel endless at Schladming.
Terrain choices feel endless at Schladming.
Schladming, Schladming-Dachstein, Austria
Skiers and snowboarders flock to this former mining town for the huge range of terrain, which includes some tough black runs, including the slopes used for the annual World Cup night slalom.
The World Ski Championships were held here last winter, and as a result, the resort now has several new and incredibly fast lifts.
An hour drive from Salzburg, the town dates to medieval times and is packed with small, family-run cafes, shops and après-ski bars.
One of the most beautiful hotels is the Hotel Schütterhof. It’s well-connected to the slopes and has one of the resort’s largest spas.
Schladming, Styria, Austria; +43 36 87/233 10
Hotel Schütterhof, Wiesenweg 140, 8971 Rohrmoos-Untertal, Austria; +43 3687 61205
Voss, Hordaland, Norway
Norway might not be famous for its alpine skiing, but the northern location of Voss is what makes it the country’s most popular ski resort.
Unsurprisingly, cross-country skiing is incredibly popular here and although the resort is on the small side, it’s ideal for families.
There are 19 runs, two terrain parks and three large ski areas for children.
There are several hotels to choose from, but the beautiful Myrkdalen Cabins offer great access to the slopes and spectacular views over the entire resort, just a 90-minute train journey from Bergen.
Voss, Hordaland, Norway; +47 406 17 700
Myrkdalen Cabins, Myrkdalen, 5713 Vossestrand, +47 56 52 30 40
Garmisch-Partenkirchen, Bavaria, Germany
This severely underestimated German ski resort, a 90-minute train journey from Munich, was the venue for the FIS Alpine World Ski Championships in 2011.
The resort’s ski area covers three mountains and offers world class skiing.
Experienced skiers and snowboarders should head to the high altitude Alpspitze area, which lies above the tree line. This is also the location of one of the world’s most spectacular viewing platforms, AlpspiX, which juts out from the mountain and from which visitors can peer a thousand meters into the depths below.
Garmisch-Partenkirchen, Bavaria, Germany; +49 8821 180 700
Hotel Bavaria, Partnachstrasse 51 82467, Garmisch-Partenkirchen; +49 (0)8821 3466; from $93 per night
(CNN) — It’s been in continuous production since the 1950s but Volkswagen Brazil — the last country where the vehicles were still being made — ceases production of the classic Kombi van today, the last day of 2013.
Rolling off the production lines in Hanover, Germany, until 1979 but continuing in Brazil, the VW Transporter, aka the camper van, is the longest-produced model in automotive history, according to Vokswagen.
Around 3.5 million of the affordable, utilitarian vehicles, with their classic cloth window curtains, have been made.
Motley crew of lovable vans.
Attaching themselves to the mini-homes on wheels were equally numerous roof racks, surfboards and travel memories.
On a backpacking trip to Europe back in 1973, a 20-year-old Californian named Gary Garfield shelled out US$700 to set himself up for the months of travel ahead.
He spent a chunk of that money on a 1967 Volkswagen minibus, wanting to combine transportation and accommodation in one slightly rickety but reliable vehicle.
He ripped out the seats, put in a platform bed and installed shelves and cupboards.
Garfield spent the next 10 months in this mobile home with his wife battling desert sands in Algeria, food poisoning in Tunisia and enduring six-week stints with no contact with friends or family.
Similar stories are told by countless other travelers.
VW is calling it quits because the Kombi won’t meet new safety standards set to come into force next year in Brazil.
After 63 years of production, the last Kombi will roll out of its Brazilian factory at the end of 2013.
Upgrading the van with dual front airbags and anti-lock brakes was ruled too costly.
Come next year, old Kombis sluggishly powering their way along highways and up mountain passes, being overtaken by virtually all other traffic, will be all that remain — ageing steel bodies from a time when people were less concerned about getting somewhere fast.
It’s worth pausing to reflect on what made the Kombi a travel icon.
Hippies and surfers
The Kombi became synonymous in the 1960s and 1970s with hippies and surfers, its utilitarian features — capable of carrying surf boards, musical equipment and various loads inside or on its roof — combining well with its cheap price (secondhand Kombis could be picked up for a couple hundred bucks) and easy maintenance.
Garfield’s van required the repair of one flat tire and a new battery in 10 months of travel.
Many people named their Kombis, like iReporter Jason Kauffman, 40, who affectionately called his Kombi “Double D.”
“I have no desire to own anything except an old VW,” Kauffman insists.
Other iReporters named their vans “Bus Gus,” “Homer,” “Claire” and “Charlotte.”
Vince Moellering, 32, explains, “Cars like the VW van are more than just cars, they’re cultural icons.”
Those who traveled in one in their youth keep the memories with them. Others own their van (or vans) for decades before passing them to offspring.
Even people without “VW lineage,” as iReporter Bryan Scott calls it, can find themselves bitten by the urge to up and travel in a Kombi.
Second life online
Online communities provide space to share stories and trade “ideas that help keep our vans going,” says Moellering.
Australia’s Kombi Club is an online forum co-founded and sponsored by The Bus Stop, a parts distributor.
“Roy” from The Bus Stop says the business supplies Kombi enthusiasts in Australia, New Zealand, Singapore, South Africa and Canada and other countries.
“Once you’ve driven a Kombi, you’re hooked for life,” he says.
The Kombi will be missed by outdoor lovers and camping fans.
The Kombi will be missed by outdoor lovers and camping fans.
After all, these VW vans, at least in their original form, are underpowered, slow, have dodgy suspension and don’t offer much comfort in either heat or cold.
“The Kombi exemplifies the free spirit of peace activists, lovers, world travelers, campers and families moving about together across this planet,” says Garfield.
“Few vehicles scream: ‘Let’s go exploring!’ the way a VW van does,” says Moellering.
Simplicity has helped the Kombi remain relevant in a new century. It’s undergone plenty of modifications, but its outward appearance remains instantly recognizable.
The model produced in Brazil was based on the second phase of the Type 2 (VW’s Type 1 was the Beetle), which was produced in Germany from 1967–1979.
It differed from the first phase with a larger engine, greater weight and a bay window, rather than the previous model’s split-windscreen.
Numerous iterations have brought speed and body width increases, automatic transmission and an engine switch from air- to water-cooled.
It’s not a complicated machine — handy when something goes wrong.
Kombi owner Bryan Scott says part of the VW’s appeal to him was, “We’d always heard [they] could be fixed anywhere and by anyone.”
The Kombi does it all: camping, hauling and supplying parts.
The Kombi does it all: camping, hauling and supplying parts.
Jason Kauffman says the Kombi’s enduring appeal comes down to versatility: “You can travel in it, sleep in it, it gets decent fuel mileage and it’s very compact compared to large motor homes.”
Vince Moellering applauds the Kombi as a jack of all trades, saying he’s used his “as a camper, a mountain bike hauler, a moving van and a construction supply truck.”
The versatility of a Kombi goes right back to its name, which comes from the German “Kombinationskraftwagen,” a combination of passenger and cargo vehicle.
Its ability to carry both passengers and piles of stuff has made the Kombi more than a mode of transport.
“The bus is both our home and a member of our family,” says Bryan Scott. “We talk to it as we decide a path for each day, coax it slowly over the next hill and thank it as we arrive at each new destination.”
The vehicle is also a great conversation starter. “VWs are [like] a language understood throughout the world,” says Jason Kauffman.
“People in each country we visit love the bus — they stop to tell us their stories and ask to hear ours,” says Scott.
There’s more road ahead for the Kombi.
Devotion to the Kombi helps loyalists remain upbeat about the end of production.
“As long as enthusiastic owners keep the remaining cars and their spirit alive, the end of active production won’t mean the end of the vehicle,” says Moellering.
When Gary Garfield completed his 1973 tour in the bus that had served him so reliably, he sold it for a $100 profit.
Then he “watched it drive away to offer its new owner’s fond memories.”
Even though the factory gates have shut, well-preserved Kombis will keep rumbling along the road and in the recollections of 63 years of travelers.
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Los Angeles, California (CNN) — I pitied the other tourists at the car rental lot at the Los Angeles airport: The sight of two Englishmen in their mid-30s sinking uncertainly into a white Mustang convertible is not pleasant.
The car was not a natural fit for us. It was very low to the ground and had a mystifying set of buttons. This meant 20 minutes of painstaking trial and error as we grappled with how to work the roof, as if trying to break the Enigma code.
But as alien as the muscle car was, it was vital to this trip to California, which was essentially to reclaim lost youth in an early midlife crisis. My companion and I had lived in Los Angeles after leaving university and were curious to see how it had changed. We then planned to drive along the coast to San Francisco, taking in some of California’s wine-growing regions. This invited unkind comparisons to the movie “Sideways,” which sees aging college friends on a road trip drinking wine and navigating disaster.
L.A. has some features that can deter tourists: It lacks a natural focal point, is dominated by roadways and has an abundance of depressing motels and fast-food joints. It also has Venice, a pocket of urban bohemia that has acted as a cultural center for decades.
The chaotic beachfront boardwalk is alive and well in Venice.
The chaotic beachfront boardwalk is alive and well in Venice.
Developed in 1905 by tobacco millionaire Abbot Kinney, the area derives its name from the canals built to drain off the marshland. It was conceived as a family beach resort but fell into neglect. As real estate prices dropped, the area began to attract an eclectic mix of people. This instilled that bohemian DNA into Venice, which served as a rallying point for the Beat generation in the 1950s and remains an important artistic center.
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Much of Venice has hardly changed. The chaotic beachfront boardwalk is alive and well: Tattoo artists, head shops and fortune-tellers hawk their wares to a stream of human traffic, even in winter. We stayed in a free-wheeling art deco style hotel that looked like it had not changed in 40 years.
Elsewhere, there are signs of inevitable gentrification.
The memory of Venice’s developer is preserved in Abbot Kinney Boulevard, a mile-long artery and focal point for residents and local businesses. I walked down the palm-lined street every day when I lived in Venice and always enjoyed its offbeat charm.
It was a relief to see the hipsterish local coffee bar Abbot’s Habit was still dosing the population and exhibiting local art. But around it, stylish galleries, boutiques and swanky condos now give the road a feeling of imposing wealth, resembling New York’s Chelsea district — certainly the chic end of Boho-chic.
The neighborhood has become safer and cleaner, said Joshua Woollen, owner of Urbanic Paper Boutique. Gang-related activity has dropped, and “what you have now are some of the most influential, creative, progressive and cutting-edge people living within a couple mile radius in one small beach community,” Woollen said.
“When my wife and I first moved to Venice over 13 years ago, Abbot Kinney felt like a ghost town,” he said.
Perhaps the most dramatic change was seeing the property where I once lived in harder times. Once a teeming human zoo of chancers and borderline personalities, the three houses have been divided and sold. The rough neighborhood is now transformed into a quiet and sunny residential street. I would happily move back.
This Days Inn motel is featured in the movie \
This Days Inn motel is featured in the movie “Sideways.”
Feeling considerably older already, we began the “Sideways” leg of the journey.
Channeling the film, the car’s top was lowered and we took off along the ravishing Pacific Coast Highway. Hugging California’s coastline for 655 miles, the road offers the serenity and endless vastness of the Pacific Ocean as a backdrop. The terrain changes as you head north, taking in plains, craggy headlands and lush green hills that tumble down into the sea. All our heightened expectations were met and rewarded.
An hour after leaving Los Angeles, we reached Santa Barbara County. Long overshadowed by the Napa region farther north, Santa Barbara was put on the wine tourist’s map by the release of the Oscar-winning film in 2004. Its influence was immediate.
“Its timing created a tsunami of interest,” says Jim Fiolek of the Santa Barbara Vintners Association. “Recognition in not only Santa Barbara County, but wine in general, more specifically, Pinot Noir, which flourishes in Santa Barbara.”
With mountain ranges running horizontally across the county, Santa Barbara channels ocean air into its valleys and has a cool climate. This geographical oddity makes it a natural home for Pinot Noir grapes, which can ripen too early in warmer temperatures.
As one “Sideways” character explains in loving tones: “It’s not a survivor like Cabernet, which can just grow anywhere and uh, thrive even when it’s neglected. No, Pinot needs constant care and attention. You know? And in fact it can only grow in these really specific, little, tucked-away corners of the world.”
At first, the region struggled to cope with the surge in interest generated by the film: Tasting rooms were hastily built on vineyards, leading to a jump in sales. By 2008, wine makers were selling directly to customers some eight times as much as they were selling in 2000.
Santa Barbara is a natural target for a day trip from Los Angeles and has the inevitable “Sideways” tour guide for visitors, which generated geekish excitement. We took in a few gems: The Day’s Inn motel boasting a looming windmill and mock Tudor facade; Ostrich World, which gives you the bizarre opportunity of feeding hungry flocks; and a vineyard which features in one memorable scene.
I am far from an oracle on wine, but it’s not hard to enjoy the distinctly civilized process of tasting.
Visitors to Kalyra Winery gather at a bar featured in the movie and pay $10 to taste eight wines. They can be a mix of red and white and each measure gives the drinker several sips. At the vineyard, we sampled Grenache, Pinot and a blend of Shiraz, Merlot and Cab Franc.
Tastings are also an inducement to buy bottles, which start at around $15 and provide estates with their main source of profit.
Our final destination was on a grander scale altogether: the Napa and Sonoma valleys north of San Francisco. Here, you get the idea of a real industry geared around global exports as much as local sales.
There are some 400 wineries in the region, so the visitor can feel overwhelmed on first arrival. We opted to plan our itinerary on the discerning basis of which vineyards offered two-for-one tasting deals. Most tourists are not averse to sampling wine in the morning, and our first stop took us to Buena Vista, which claims to be the oldest winery in the region. Revealingly, it has been recently taken over by a French brand.
The scenery around the valleys is reliably lovely year-round. In fall, the countryside turns a languid golden color, with neatly ordered rows of vineyards set off by the surrounding hills. Driving slowly in the late autumn sun was almost a religious obligation, despite the ensuing tailbacks.
On my return flight, I resolved to plan a series of similar midlife crises for years to come.
(CNN) — Are you preparing to squeeze into your nonrefundable middle seat with no extra legroom and no lunch included for your next flight?
As another busy travel year comes to a close, I wish for a better way to travel in 2014, even if the odds are about as good as winning the lottery. And while you think about your travel wishes for the new year, please turn off your cell phone.
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Please don’t talk on your cell phone. Whatever government agencies decide about the safety and technical feasibility of cell phone conversations in flight, we hope the airlines will keep cell phone chatter out of the friendly skies. Can you imagine the bosses who will demand conference-call communication during flight? Or your spouse asking you to stop by the grocery store on the way home from the airport? Let it wait until you land.
The return of the empty middle seat. I often book aisle and window seats when I travel with another person, hoping that middle seat will go unclaimed. It rarely happens anymore. When the inevitable third traveler joins us, I move into the middle seat to sit next to my traveling companion (usually my child). There is a silver lining to existing conditions: The middle seat holder is often delighted to get my prime aisle seat.
Aircraft seats made for real people’s rears. Is it too much to ask that we have seats that fit our bodies? It’s not just that our backsides have gotten bigger (and they have). When the U.S. government measured the width of the American backside in the seated position in 1962, officials used the male hip as a seat measuring stick (that women’s hips were a tad wider didn’t seem to matter). But even that male hip measurement doesn’t work because the widest part of your body is your shoulders and arms.
The result is that airline seats were about five inches too narrow for passengers in the 1960s. That’s why your rear is squeezed into the seat and your shoulders get sideswiped by drink carts. Want enough room for your knees? That’s a whole other story.
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Universal cords and chargers. I dream about standard chargers for the electrical gadgets that run my life. I don’t mind bringing my universal adaptor along for my international trips but I’d sure like the same outlet and cord for my phone, computer, tablet and other gadgets. Even Apple, which sells itself on simplicity and modern design, has made things harder by having different cords for different gadgets. I end up carrying all these cords in Ziploc bags in my carry-on luggage and tangling them up in headsets, looking like the disorganized mom that I am.
Worldwide cellular service. I don’t mind paying a bit more when I go abroad, but the American cell phone dance of confusion seems unnecessary when I’m jumping on a four-hour flight to Costa Rica for a week. Skype? Adding international calls to my existing plan for the month? On a recent trip I lived in fear of what charges might show up if I didn’t read the fine print on page 43 of my existing e-contract. I’d like a clear way to make international calls without needing a business consultation or therapy session.
Mellow car rental insurance. It’s the first day of my vacation or work trip, and I love my rental car company encouraging me to think about a possibly terrible traffic accident and whether my existing car insurance and credit cards cover me. Every car I’ve ever rented offers a barrage of insurance policies for which they charge a hefty daily fee in case of disaster, and they play up the threat of disaster.
Even a Consumer Reports expert told me it’s confusing because car rental contracts can vary by state. At his recommendation, I spent about 45 minutes one night calling my car insurance and credit card companies and sorting through my policies to learn that I’m covered enough for me to sleep at night.
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Decent public transportation to the airport. Ever taken public transportation to the airport? Jumping on a train to the airport is a given in many foreign cities and a handful of American ones. In the cities where it works (think San Francisco or London), it’s so civilized to get to the airport without fighting big city traffic. Creating rail links takes money, budgeting and long-range planning by politicians and transportation experts who aren’t likely to be alive when the fruits of their labor are realized. But a girl can dream, right?
End the punishing fees. Before a highly anticipated trip to New York a couple of months ago, I caught that virus that stopped me in my tracks. I stayed home, for my sake and for yours. But my airline didn’t care. They charged me $200 for the privilege of not infecting an entire aircraft, just about the cost of the ticket. And the flight was sold out, so I’m betting they resold my seat for a nice profit. And how about giving me the right to resell the ticket I purchased?
Faster flights. For many people living on the East Coast of the United States, it’s a quicker nonstop flight to Costa Rica or Iceland than to California because of the vast size of the United States. Let’s wish for faster transcontinental travel so we can all enjoy the benefits of traveling within this enormous country. And while we’re at it, I’d love safe and quick travel to the moon. But I’ll start with wishing for a quicker flight to California.
A change in attitude. I understand being grumpy trapped in a flying metal tube surrounded by strangers who steal the armrests, chat your ears off and burp throughout a flight. It’s grumpiness that inspired this story. I hope you feel validated about your opinions about the sorry state of travel. But I’d also like celebrate what is still wondrous and amazing about travel: Isn’t it amazing that humans can fly?
Since I started talking to aviation experts and airline employees over a year ago for CNN’s “24 hours at the world’s busiest airport” project, I’ve been impressed by the human effort that goes into getting my flight off the ground. Crews below and above are loading and unloading, cleaning the plane and stocking up snacks. Pilots are checking the weather and inspecting the aircraft after an overnight crew has ensured the runway is clear of debris and the light bulbs are working. An inspector has tested the arrivals runway for rubber left by landing aircraft, which gets scraped off every couple of weeks.
Special report: 24/7 at the world’s busiest airport
I know it’s physics but it’s also magic. Despite the hassles and too-tight seats and packed flights. Here’s to the magic continuing in 2014.
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE – December 12, 2013 – Santa Barbara, CA: YoungJets, LLC, a boutique jet charter service, recently zoomed into the pages of the Santa Barbara News-Press Ultimate Gift Guide with its high-flying opportunity for the most exotic gift that represents the nature and creativity of the Santa Barbara community. For those gift givers who aren’t sure what to buy for friends who have everything, and don’t know where to find ten lords-a-leaping, YoungJets is offering to seamlessly transport up to 18 people on a $65 million Gulfstream G650 to a private island refuge in the South Pacific.
For the low cost of $610,000, would-be Santas and their guests can sip champagne and eat farm-to-jet fare served by a private air hostess while traveling up to Mach 0.925 in the most technologically advanced private aircraft in the sky. The group will avoid traditional airport hassles and arrived refreshed and relaxed in the tropical paradise of Laucala Island, an exclusive private resort in Fiji, South Pacific.
Holiday revelers will indulge themselves in a land of powder-white beaches, dramatic rain-forests, emerald green lagoons, and glorious views of the Fijian archipelago. They will sleep in an architecturally masterful private hilltop estate residence which is perched at the highest point of the island affording stunning 360-degree views, while luxuriating in a panoramic infinity pool, with their every need met by a private cook, chauffeur, and nanny.
YoungJet’s founder and CEO, David Young, has spent more than 20 years in the private aviation, music, entertainment and VIP travel arena, much of which has been centered on crafting complex jet tours for many of the world’s largest entertainers. “I founded YoungJets out of a desire to deliver a more controlled experience and better overall value to my clients,” stated Young. “We’ve harnessed my decades of knowledge to create a company that listens, intuits and is as capable as one exponentially larger, but is more nimble, responsive and in-tune with the unique needs of each traveler. This gift package is the ultimate expression of our capability to provide the best in private jet charter service”
This South Seas Dream tour was curated by YoungJets and luxury travel planning firm Folden-Diaz Design of Beverly Hills CA. The package includes use of the private hilltop estate residence for seven days and seven nights, and nonstop round-trip travel betweenSanta Barbara Airport and Fiji’s Nadi International Airport, with turbo-prop transfer to and from the island’s private airstrip.
ABOUT YOUNGJETS: YoungJets provides hands-on coverage of global jet charter needs from strategy to launch to land. Through a series of innovative strategic alliances, YoungJets blends the benefits of preferred pricing on the nation’s largest executive jet charter fleetswith the flexibility of a broker’s worldwide aviation resources and expertise. Services include aircraft purchase, jet card programs, below-market hourly rates on partnered fleets, and standard ad-hoc charter. Visit the website and Facebook page or call 1-877-275-9336 for more information on the ultimate Christmas gift.
(CNN) — When even the most secluded beach on the mainland is too crowded, there’s always the option of renting a private island for your vacation. Really.
Many would require every credit card you’ve got and more, but others are a little more within reach — especially if you rent with a group of friends.
Whether you’re planning or dreaming, here are a few extraordinary places to get away from it all:
Vomo Island, Fiji
Fijian royal chiefs once liked to head to Vomo in the Mamanuca Islands group for a little R&R. You too can be chief of your kingdom for about $39,000 a night (make that a mere $34,000 or so during low season). The 225-acre island accommodates up to 90 people, and with a staff of 120, you won’t lack for assistance in nearly any activity you want to pursue. Snorkeling above coral reefs, paddle boarding, glass bottom kayaking, windsurfing and daily fish feeding are included in the rate.
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Hike up Mount Vomo for another perspective on the aqua waters of the South Pacific. Another memorable event is the Meke and Lovo night. The meal comes from the lovo, a traditional Fijian underground cooking pit, and the high spirits from the meke, an evening of traditional dances and song.
Easier on the wallet:
Garden villas for two run about $1,000 per night; beachfront villas cost about $1,300 per night.
Isola de Li Galli, Italy
Remember the sirens, those beautiful women who lured sailors to their death on craggy shores? Some say they lived at Isola de Li Galli, a private island that now sleeps up to 13 nonsiren types for just shy of $200,000 per week. The island is well-positioned just minutes off the Amalfi Coast, a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
You’d expect a private European island to attract celebrities, and you’d be right. Penelope Cruz and Javier Bardem have been among Isola de Li Galli’s guests, and the island was once home to the great Russian dancer Rudolf Nureyev. Be forewarned: A pad for landing your helicopter is included, but engaging the 115-foot yacht requires an extra fee. A dramatic stone-and-white chapel is available if matrimony calls you.
The island is only available by the week, so start negotiating with your well-to-do friends.
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Guana Island, British Virgin Islands
Richard Branson’s Necker Island is currently a steal starting at $42,500 per night while its Great House is being rebuilt — after that, the price goes up. But if you’re looking for other options in the area, Guana Island starts at about half that — roughly $22,000 nightly for up to 32 guests — with seven beaches, a tennis court, sailboats and pedal boats, more than a dozen trails and a spa among its amenities. (A massage overlooking the Caribbean sounds pretty good about now.)
Experienced divers gravitate to the North Bay’s deep reefs and underwater cave. In August and October, the academically minded appreciate the chance to join visiting scientists in their pursuits, from rebuilding coral reefs to tagging iguanas. Speaking of which, the island draws its name from a rock outcropping that resembles the head of the tropical lizard.
Easier on the wallet:
If a five-digit price tag is not in the budget (and is pretty much permanently out of the question), you can forgo reserving the entire island and share the 850-acre expanse with a few dozen other guests. Rates for a cottage or villa for two start at about $700 and $1,500, respectively.
Rubondo Island, Lake Victoria, Tanzania
In 1966, Dr. Bernhard Grzimek, one of the forces behind the creation of the Serengeti National Park, brought 16 chimps from European zoos to Rubondo Island in Tanzania to give them a safe haven. The chimps thrived on the island, also home to elephants, giraffes and hippos. And it’s available to you, for $4,500 a night, along with up to 15 friends.
Guests at Rubondo Island Camp, which opened in late 2012, can get a Jane Goodall-style experience by tracking chimps through the forest and observing their behavior with specialist guides. More traditional game drives are also available. If that’s not enough, some 300 species of birds have been spotted here. The lodge and its eight suites feature thatch roofs, curved walls and traditional East African fabrics.
Easier on the wallet:
Can’t find 15 takers for this trip? Don’t fret, there’s a starting per-person nightly rate of $620 for double occupancy that includes meals, drinks and activities.
Madivaru Island, Maldives
Living in tents may not sound like luxury, but the tents at Banyan Tree Madivaru aren’t anything like the canopy you hoisted at scout camp. Each villa on this private island in the Maldives includes three tented spaces for living, sleeping and bathing. Think timber flooring and rattan and teak furniture, not sleeping bags and mosquitos. Add a private plunge pool for each villa, a personal chef and waiter, and activities such as water skiing, dolphin cruises, night fishing and a Maldivian cooking school.
Many visitors say it feels like a private island even when there are other guests, but those who want to be sure can spring for the whole island buyout, currently available at a special rate of $9,420 per night for up to 12 people, with a minimum four-night stay.
Easier on the wallet:
Tent villa rates start at $2,355 per night. The special whole-island rate may be the most economical option this summer — provided you can round up a group, airfare and about $40,000.
Orca Island, Alaska
Orca Island is proof that island adventure doesn’t have to be limited to warm-weather climes. From Seward, Alaska, it’s just a half-hour water taxi ride to Orca Island Cabins, where Dennis and Susan Swiderski have created an unusual vacation retreat. Guests can view humpback and orca whales, sea lions, harbor seals, porpoises and river otters right from each yurt’s private deck or the island’s common areas. (Incredibly, humpback whales often visit just feet from the island.) Kayaks, stand-up paddle boards, rowing skiff and fishing gear are included in the full facility rate of $2,150 per night, which covers all five yurts.
Easier on the wallet:
The 2013 per-person rate is $215 per night for a two-night minimum, based on double occupancy. In 2014, that rate will be $225 per person, per night.
Eagle Island, Georgia
With weekday rates of $600 per night for up to 12 guests, you’d be forgiven for assuming Eagle Island is a forlorn rock at the start of nowhere. It’s actually a 10-acre isle off the coast of Georgia, surrounded by salt marsh that’s a lovely setting for crabbing. Transportation to and from the island is included, and boat rentals are available if you want to explore and fish the surrounding waters of the Darien River and the May Hall Creek. The lodge with huge wraparound porch sleeps 12 and is built largely of recycled materials, such as vintage brick.
Foodies, rejoice: Along with the standard kitchen, an outdoor setup includes seafood steamers, low country boil cook stations, smoker with wood chips and other tools for your blue crab dinner. You can even arrange to get the kitchen stocked before you arrive. Other gathering spots tend to be the outdoor fireplace and hot tub, not to mention the romantic appeal of the outdoor shower.
(CNN) — The big stuff moves us.
And for many folks who appreciate the world’s biggest airplanes — that statement is true both figuratively and literally.
For 23 years at Dover Air Force Base in Delaware, aircraft mechanic John Taylor left his sweat and elbow grease on dozens of C-5 Galaxies — one of the largest military aircraft on Earth.
“Even though I was on the aircraft every night, I just marveled at how the thing got off the ground,” Taylor said. His wife didn’t quite get it. She would ask him why he worked on C-5s all week, and then chose to spend precious weekends taking pictures of the huge planes.
“It’s kind of in your blood,” he explained.
The gigantic C-5s make Dover an awe-inspiring destination for aviation enthusiasts — for sure — but even among non-enthusiasts, big planes turn heads. The Galaxy and its successor, the Super Galaxy, are among dozens of giant aircraft models that may soar high and loud above your hometown — prompting comments like, “What is THAT?” or “That’s what I call a big plane.”
They have names like the Jumbo Jet, the Mriya, the Dreamlifter and the Super Guppy.
Last year, CNN’s story detailing some of the world’s mind-blowing aviation destinations got a response so strong that we’re doing it again. This year, we found out where to stalk and photograph some of the biggest airplanes on the planet.
One of the largest military aircraft
Now retired from the military, Taylor helps run Dover’s Air Mobility Command Museum, where he answers questions about the C-5.
A few interesting tidbits:
It can fly eight school buses from Delaware to Turkey nonstop without refueling.
It’s six stories tall.
Counting wings, it is wider than the White House.
When it’s loaded to maximum weight, it weighs more than two Statues of Liberty.
Get this: On their historic flight, the Wright brothers flew their airplane 120 feet. The cargo hold of the C-5 measures 23 feet longer.
Whenever one of these giant planes sets up for takeoff at the end of a runway, that’s the cue for aviation geeks to park their cars along the fence line and whip out their phones or other camera devices. Check out the Galaxy’s distinctive whine from its four General Electric TF-39 engines.
Eye-popping plane spotter pix Eye-popping plane spotter pix
“Taking pictures outside Air Force bases can be touchy,” says amateur aviation photographer Paul Carter. But it’s not against the law, he says. “If you can convince the authorities that you know the rules and understand them,” they’ll usually let you take photos.
He says it’s well worth it. “Just watching something as big as a C-5 move so slowly and gracefully as it takes off still thrills me,” says Carter, who’s been photographing airplanes since 1982.
Related: #Avgeeks: The new warriors on terror
If Dover is too far away, try spotting C-5s at their other stations: Travis Air Force Base, California; Lackland Air Forc Base, Texas; Martinsburg, West Virginia; Memphis, Tennessee; and Westover Air Reserve Base, near Springfield, Massachusetts.
It’s all big in Everett
At its facilities north of Seattle in Everett, Washington, Boeing clearly likes things big. It boasts the world’s biggest building, the world’s longest passenger airplane and the plane with the largest cargo hold — all against the backdrop of one of America’s highest peaks: Mount Rainier.
If you rank the world’s buildings by volume, Boeing’s Everett assembly facility is No. 1, says Sandy Ward, who helps run the Future of Flight Museum Aviation Center and Boeing Tour.
The sprawling 98-acre factory serves as a giant birthing room for some of Boeing’s most iconic children — the family of sevens.
Boeing builds two 747-8s each month at the company\’s massive assembly facility outside Seattle.
Boeing builds two 747-8s each month at the company’s massive assembly facility outside Seattle.
“You’ve got 747s, 767s, Triple 7s, and 787s all under one roof — along with around 42,000 workers,” says Ward. Measuring 250 feet, one of these sevens holds the title of world’s longest passenger aircraft: — Boeing’s 747-8 Intercontinental.
There’s nothing quite like the Everett facility in all of North America, the aircraft maker says. Each year, about 230,000 visitors experience the rare chance to see humongous pieces of aluminum and light-weight carbon composite transformed into speedy, sleek airliners. Watch huge wings join with plane fuselages. See workers attach powerful jet engines that will soon push the wings through the air.
Boeing’s factory tour has developed an almost mythical status among aviation geeks. It’s a must-see destination, like Disney parks are for many families. Actually, the factory is bigger than Disneyland, says Ward. The theme park could fit inside Boeing’s factory — and there would still be 12 acres available for covered parking.
Surprisingly, touring the titanic structure takes only about 90 minutes.
Adjacent to the factory, visitors can get all touchy feely about aviation at the Future of Flight Museum. Run your hands along the smooth surface of the 747’s giant vertical tail. Sit behind the yoke in a cockpit of a classic 727 and play with its full array of instrumentation.
What else is big in Everett? In a word: Dreamlifter.
If the name sounds a lot like Boeing’s new light-weight fuel efficient 787 Dreamliner, that’s because the Dreamlifter is Dreamliner’s Big Daddy.
It’s phat. And it’s fat. Dreamlifter is a 747 with a cargo hold custom enlarged to carry huge parts for the 787. At 65,000 cubic feet, Boeing says Dreamlifter’s cargo hold is — by volume — the largest in the world. Compare that to the C-5’s cargo hold at 31,000 cubic feet.
So — in addition to Everett — where can we track down the Dreamlifter? It’s been seen in Nagoya, Japan; Italy and Boeing’s other 787 plant in Charleston, South Carolina.
Boeing’s testing ground
Everett visitors can find Dreamlifter at the airport right next door to the Boeing factory. Paine Field Airport serves as Boeing’s testing ground for its new planes — offering endless photo opportunities that draw aircraft fans from around the world.
Paine Field is actually set up for the aviation enthusiast.
Paul Carter, aviation enthusiast and photographer
“Boeing gets it,” says Carter, who makes the four-hour drive from his Vancouver, Washington, home more than twice a year. Sometimes, he brings his grandkids along, ages 7 and 4. “Paine Field is actually set up for the aviation enthusiast.”
On the northwest corner of the airport, Boeing’s “Strato Deck” offers a vantage point with the spectacular Cascade Mountains popping up in the background. Audio from airport ground control is piped in so visitors can get real-time information about which planes are about to take off.
For other viewing options, Carter offers this tip: go to the north end of the airport in the afternoon. Generally, shooting from outside the fence line is OK, as long as you don’t hang out for too long. Police “just don’t like loitering,” warns Carter. “They get a little grumpy about that.”
The airport welcomes thousands every May for Aviation Day, when new machines take flight along with World War II-era planes and other vintage aircraft.
Paine Field is a plane geek’s candy store all year round — offering sweet photo op treats like airliners with colorful new paint schemes. In addition to Dreamlifter, other big cargo air freighters such as the Antonov An-124 often can be seen rumbling down the runways.
When these planes take flight or touch the ground they stop conversations. Fingers point upward. Many who never studied aeronautics suddenly remember: This is all a mystery. It looks like magic. How the heck does that thing fly?
Last year, the world’s largest passenger airliner — the Superjumbo Airbus A380 — marked five years in service. Seating 525 passengers in a three-class configuration — the A380 exceeds the 747-8 by 58 seats.
The four-engine airliner isn’t too difficult to spot, if you’re near its six destination airports in the U.S.: Washington’s Dulles, New York’s JFK, San Francisco, Los Angeles’ LAX, Houston Intercontinental and Miami International.
At JFK, NYCAviation.com founder Phil Derner likes nearby Howard Beach for watching A380 departures from runway 31L. From this vantage point, he can see the Superjumbo make a big lumbering turn as it climbs. He can also hear its engines building up power and get a nice profile view while the plane banks 180 degrees.
“A century ago, aircraft were literally not much more than motorized kites,” said Derner. “Now this thing comes along weighing in at a staggering 1.2 million pounds? It doesn’t take an enthusiast to think that’s badass.”
Related: Airbus A380 turns five
World’s largest airplane
Wanna get an eyeful of airplane? Track down the Antonov An-225 “Mriya,” — the Russian word for Dream.
This six-engine bad boy is a one-of-a-kind cargo jet often described as the world’s largest airplane.
Built in the 1980s, Mriya was meant to shoulder a Soviet space shuttle. If you stood it up on its nose, it would be about as tall as a 27-story building.
Somehow, engineers figured out how to outfit it with six giant jet engines and 290-foot wings … and well, it’s kind of a building that flies.
These days, some of its cargo includes huge equipment for oil drilling operations all over the world. It’s been spotted in places as widespread as Ireland, Moses Lake, Washington; and Houston, Texas. Take a look at this jaw-dropping video of Mriya coming in for a landing last May at Houston’s George Bush Intercontinental Airport. It may leave you speechless.
Sometimes these big planes come outfitted with a little bit of humor. Consider NASA’s Super Guppy: a huge cargo aircraft that’s just plain funny looking. Instead of jets, this thing relies on four turbo-propeller engines that allow it to reach 230 mph at low altitudes.
The airplane loads and unloads through its nose, which opens up with the help of giant hinges on its left side. The Super Guppy is based near Houston at Ellington Field Joint Reserve Base, but it’s been recently spotted at Houston’s Hobby Airport and at Seattle’s Boeing Field and elsewhere.
We can’t ignore the Hercules H-4 Flying Boat (aka “The Spruce Goose”) — described as “the largest airplane ever built” — which flew just once for about 60 seconds at an altitude of 70 feet traveling a little more than a mile.
The 320-foot wingspan of the all-wooden plane eclipses anything flying today. Could it fly again? It never completed certification test flights. We’ll never know if the brainchild of reclusive billionaire Howard Hughes could have become a useful, viable working aircraft. More than 65 years after that famous flight, you can still see it on display at the Evergreen Aviation & Space Museum in McMinnville, Oregon.
Back at Dover Air Force Base, Air Mobility Command Museum deputy director John Taylor had big news to share. No museum anywhere has ever obtained a C-5 to put on permanent display. Until now.
It’s our obligation to preserve these planes for future generations.
John Taylor, Air Force Air Mobility Command Museum
“We’re going to get the first C-5,” Taylor said, barely able to contain his excitement. “It will be the crown jewel of the museum when it arrives. We will be only museum in the world to have a C-5 on display.”
He wasn’t talking about just any C-5. This plane’s tail reads 9014, an aircraft Taylor helped keep flying decades ago when he was a mechanic.
The plane is set to arrive some time in October, and Taylor expects it to be on public display about a month later. Eventually — perhaps as soon as next spring — visitors will be able to board the C-5 and perhaps sit in the cockpit.
“We want to allow visitors to get on board this aircraft, to touch this aircraft, to experience the size of it,” said Taylor. “That’s what we’re all about. It’s our obligation to preserve these planes for future generations.”
Although Taylor insisted it wasn’t planned, a novelist couldn’t have written a better full-circle ending.
After all this time, C-5 No. 9014 will return to the former airman who for years cared for this majestic, gravity-defying giant.
As Taylor put it, “We’re awful lucky that it happened that way.”