Guide to Car Rental Companies in Costa Rica

My time’s limited… how do I choose?”

Car rental is a hot topic for vacationers headed to Costa Rica. Recent research conducted by the Costa Rican Institute of Tourism (ICT) indicates that, after accommodations, renting a car is the largest expense, averaging $702 for an eleven-day vacation.

The Internet is buzzing with negative reviews discussing overcharging, poor customer service and mechanical breakdowns. You might have even written one yourself!

A typical midsize (3 – 4 adults) 4X4 rental runs between $58 and $65 daily with third party insurance and rates can vary as much as 20 percent among car rental companies, so reading a quick review will be time well spent once you calculate the savings.

So the question is; which rental company offers the best balance of fair price, capable customer service and reliable vehicles? I’ve researched it all for you, so keep reading!

Disclosure: This research was conducted in May – July 2013. The following companies were selected because they are the most widely used in Costa Rica. Some are local companies; others are international franchises of recognized brand names. Comparisons include: customer service, pricing and the reservation process. The companies are listed alphabetically and not based on personal or online preferences.
Consider this information before renting:

Insurance

One of the biggest causes for complaints is from the stack of unforeseen charges presented to the renter once standing at the rental company’s counter. Vacationers are typically tired after a long flight and then are confronted by costs that were not anticipated, explained or budgeted.

Topping the list of grievances is the non-disclosure of fees associated with the mandatory third-party insurance at the time the reservation is made.

According to Costa Rican law, every driver is required to carry liability coverage to insure against injuries to third parties. Car rental companies generally refrain from disclosing the cost of this policy in the quoted rental rate to appear more competitive. Mandatory third-party insurance can sometimes be as much as double the vehicle’s rental cost. The only guarantee against insurance confusion is to inquire if your estimate includes the third party insurance and insist on a written quotation.

Cost of Mandatory Insurance (also called Third Party or SLI)

Expect to pay between $12 and $15 daily for this insurance, depending on the make and model of the rented vehicle and the rental car agency. This is a legal condition of your rental agreement and is generally not covered by credit cards and cannot be waived. It’s a fact of renting a car in Costa Rica.

Collision Damage Waiver (CDW)

As the name suggests, this isn’t insurance, but a waiver, which relieves the renter from any liability for damage to the rental car after the deductible is paid (usually from $750 to $1,500). Some agencies require renters to purchase their CDW policy; thereby negating any credit card program. For an additional fee, many agencies do offer a zero liability option where the renter will be freed from paying for any damage to the car. Some companies may put pressure upon renters to purchase the zero liability coverage; however, it is entirely optional, unless it is in the fine print of their rental agreement.

Credit card insurance programs may cover the CDW for a rental vehicle. Check with your chosen rental car company to find which proof of insurance is needed and then request that from your credit card company prior to arriving. If you use your credit card’s CDW policy, expect to pay a higher deposit on the vehicle; around $1,500 to $2000 is common. The higher deposit ensures that the credit card holder has enough financial reserves to cover damages if needed. It is important to consider that if using CDW coverage provided by a credit card (in lieu of the rent a car operator), all damages will be billed to the renter’s credit card. The credit card company will then reimburse the card holder for damages.

More Insurance

Tires and windshields are rarely included in insurance policies, although additional policies may be taken out for covering these frequently damaged items. Neither the interior nor the underneath of the vehicle may be covered. Always read the fine print.

Standard Procedure

Your credit card will be charged, or a ‘hold’ placed, for the rental vehicle during the time of the rental agreement; i.e. from picking up the rental until you return it. Debit cards are generally not acceptable.

Additional Charges

Most companies have surcharges for additional drivers, car seats/boosters, cell phones, coolers, GPS and/or roof racks. The costs vary from company to company, but since these extras are billed at a daily rate, it is worth checking the total cost — additional options can add up very quickly! A GPS is around $8 to $10 per day; however, some operators may offer discounted units. Expect to pay around $5 daily for a child seat and a few dollars a day for all the other ‘niceties’. Vamos is notable for offering most of these options and, during some promotions, even the GPS rental complimentarily. Alamo, Budget, Hertz and National charge the most for such additional options; whereas the other companies listed, charge more reasonable prices.

Surcharges

Most companies add small incremental costs, such as license plate and environmental fees, into the total tally. Be wary of operators who insert these additional charges into the small print of the rental contract. Vehicles rented direct at the airport incur airport taxes, which are a whopping 12% of your rental cost!

The rental vehicle should be returned with the same amount of fuel, unless otherwise indicated. If not, companies may charge above gas station rates for missing fuel.

Vehicles

There is a debate over the vehicles supplied by rental companies: Older cars allow the driver to blend in more than a shiny, new car. Having an older model may have the indirect benefit of being less scrutinized by car rental agencies for recent nicks and scratches, unlike a newer vehicle. However, a newer vehicle may be more roadworthy. This debate carries on into the different vehicle makes and models. Generally, Costa Rican firms are able to rent their vehicles for a lower rate because their cars are typically three to five years old (versus two to three). Online reviews would suggest that the local firms have no more complaints concerning vehicle quality than transnational franchises; research on forums, such as TripAdvisor.com, seems to indicate that customers frequently appreciate driving a less-than-new vehicle through the wilds of Costa Rica. The reasons are plenty, from road conditions to the notion of less-then-new vehicles blending in better — a newer vehicle may draw more unwanted attention.

The choices of rental cars in Costa Rica are mostly limited to makes and models that maintain a competitive resale value, are a common brand in the country, and are inexpensive to maintain. As such a rent-a-car operator’s fleet tend not to be as diverse as the United States. Toyota, Nissan, Mitsubishi and Hyundai constitute the mainstay brands of most rental fleets.

Sometimes, drivers are charged for supposed ‘damages’ to the vehicle upon return. Once receiving the vehicle, renters should meticulously check for pre-existing flaws and compare it with the vehicle inspection document used by the rental car representative. Some renters suggest photographing or videoing the vehicle from all angles, to avoid any disagreement between pre-existing and recently damaged items.

Pricing

Car rentals in Costa Rica are pricier compared to other countries. Duties on vehicles are high (as much as 50% of their value!), parts are costlier and unforgiving road conditions contribute to higher wear and tear, generating higher maintenance costs.

The rule is you get what you pay for — there are other options than those rental companies listed here, but they are not listed for a good reason. They simply fail to offer basic customer service and/or a suitable vehicle condition required for a (nearly) trouble-free vacation.

When comparing rental car charges, it is best to go directly to the Costa Rican website of the rental car company, rather than trying to use their international format or an intermediary (Expedia, Travelocity, Orbitz, Kayak, et al.). For the same vehicles and reservation dates, the rates offered by the respective international vs. Costa Rican websites for Alamo, Budget, Hertz and Thrifty differed substantially.

To avoid confusion, print out all correspondence with the car rental company with whom you have reserved a vehicle and bring this to the rental office with the quote given at the time of reservation.

The following top ten chart ranks the companies from highest priced to lowest and it includes the mandatory insurance charge. In the cases of Alamo and Hertz, the figure contains their CDW fee as it is one of their rental requirements. This price comparison is based on a week’s rental of a Daihatsu Bego, where available (Dollar offers the Suzuki Vitara) from September 14th – 21st, then again in December to view both Green and High Season rates. The list quickly demonstrates that the price variation depends greatly on the company — for basically the same service. These prices were obtained in June/July 2013.

Rental Car Companies Ranked According to Price

September

10. Alamo $650.96
9. Hertz $514.27
8. Adobe $449
7. Budget $455
6. National $428.01
5. Thrifty $421.05
4. Service $374.43
3. Vamos $370.30
2. Dollar $364
1. Wild Rider $350

December

10. Alamo $650.96
9. National $597.51
8. Hertz $566.52
7. Budget $555
6. Dollar $532
5. Thrifty $506.58
4. Service $494.43
3. Vamos $461.30
2. Adobe $459
1. Wild Rider $395

Alamo ranks number ten for both seasons, making it the most expensive company. Budget, Hertz and National also rate low on the scale for economical rental options.

Company Summaries

Adobe

Website is clear and easy to use, but pricing and even the vehicles listed are not the same as those given by an office representative over the phone. Mandatory insurance costs are not shown with the list of vehicles and rental charges, but they are clearly displayed on the following page as a customer moves towards booking a reservation. Mixed customer reviews online. Email response is less than 24 hours, but may not provide all requested information.

Toll-free U.S.A and Canada phone number. No Live Chat.
10 offices nationwide
Mandatory insurance: $19 daily
Additional charges: GPS $9/day, child seat $5/day

Alamo

Website is clear and easy to use, but prices differ against quotes received over the phone. Mandatory insurance costs are not given with the list of vehicles and rental charges, but they are clearly displayed on the following page as the customer moves towards making a reservation. Mixed customer reviews online. Email response is less than 24 hours.

No toll-free U.S.A and Canada phone number or Live chat
14 offices nationwide
Mandatory insurance: $11.95 daily, but must also take their CDW at $12.95 daily
Additional charges: GPS $12/day, child seat $6/day

Budget

Website is basic, but easy to use. Prices online differ to the quotations given by a representative over the phone and depending on whether the international or Costa Rican website is used. Mandatory insurance costs are given along with the list of vehicles; however, the other charges are not listed. Mixed customer reviews online. Email response is more than 24 hours.

No toll-free U.S.A and Canada phone number. No Live Chat on Costa Rican website.
10 offices nationwide
Mandatory insurance: included in the listed price
Additional charges: GPS $10.95/day, child seat $12/day (the most expensive of the top ten)

Dollar

Website is clear and easy to use. Prices quoted differ if calling from the U.S. or in Costa Rica. Mandatory insurance costs are not given with the list of vehicles and rental charges, but they are clearly displayed on the following page as a customer moves towards a making a reservation. Mixed reviews online, but generally receives positive feedback. Email inquiries answered within 24 hours.

Toll-free U.S.A and Canada phone number. No Live Chat.
3 offices nationwide
Mandatory insurance: $16 daily
Additional charges: GPS $9/day, child seat $5/day

Hertz

Website is clear and easy to use. Mandatory insurance costs are not given besides the list of vehicles and rental charges, but they are clearly displayed on the following page as the customer moves towards a booking a reservation. Mixed customer reviews online. Email response less than 24 hours.

Toll-free U.S.A and Canada phone number and Live Chat (although it seems to be permanently offline)
7 offices nationwide
Mandatory insurance: $17.43 daily, but their CDW is also a requirement
Additional charges: GPS $12/day, child seat $2/day

National

Website is clear and easy to use. Mandatory insurance costs are not given along with the list of vehicles and rental charges, but they are clearly displayed on the following page as a customer moves towards making a reservation. Mixed customer reviews online, but more positive than negative. Email response less than 24 hours.

Toll-free U.S.A and Canada phone number. Live Chat.
22 offices nationwide
Mandatory insurance: $25 daily (the most expensive of the top ten)
Additional charges: GPS $12/day, child seat $6/day

Service

Website is clear and user friendly with just a slight confusion in that an online quote is obtained by clicking on ‘Reserve Now’ and not the ‘Get a Quote’ option. The response to a phone inquiry was to use the website. Mandatory insurance costs are given along with the list of vehicles and rental charges for the low season charges and on the second page of the other quotation page. Remember is a highly recommended sales representative who is mentioned in many online reviews for the high level of his customer service. Generally online reviews are positive for Service. Email response is less than 24 hours, although all information requested may not be received.

U.S.A phone number, but not toll-free. No Live Chat.
5 offices nationwide
Mandatory insurance: $15 daily
Additional charges: GPS $5.99/day, child seat $2.99/day

Thrifty

Costa Rican version of the website is impossible to use and you are asked to register for a user name and password. Mandatory insurance costs are not given along with the list of vehicles and rental charges. A customer has to click on “Protection Options” on the U.S. website and select the mandatory insurance by clicking on it — implying that it is optional and not a required cost. Thrifty tend to receive mixed reviews online. Email response is more than 24 hours.

Toll-free U.S.A and Canada phone number. No Live Chat.
4 offices nationwide
Mandatory insurance: $19.99 daily
Additional charges: GPS $10/day, child seat $5/day

Vamos

Website is clear and easy to use. Mandatory insurance costs are not given along side the list of vehicles and rental charges, but are clearly displayed on the following page as the customer moves towards booking a reservation. Anibal, a representative, is frequently mentioned in online reviews for his high level of customer service skills. General Manager, George Schwarzenbach is known on Trip Advisor for his upfront and honest responses to customers’ posts.

In recent years, Vamos has received very positive reviews online. Email response is less than 24 hours. Live Chat has instant response time to inquiries.

Toll-free U.S.A and Canada phone number. Live Chat.
3 offices nationwide
Mandatory insurance: $11.95 daily
Additional charges: GPS $8/day, child seat free

Wild Rider

Website is clear and easy to use. Mandatory insurance costs are given next to the list of vehicles. Wild Rider is the only car rental firm in Costa Rica with no visible bad reviews online. Owner, Thorsten, is often praised for his efficiency and customer service, despite the very limited resources the company has at hand. Emails receive very prompt and detailed responses in less than 12 hours.

No toll-free phone number or Live Chat
1 office — no Liberia airport office
Mandatory insurance: included
Additional charges: GPS $8/day, child seat $5/day

Comparison Review

Customer Service

Vamos and Wild Rider respond quickly and efficiently to email or live chat inquiries. Adobe, Alamo, Dollar, Hertz, National, and Service respond to email inquiries in less than 24 hours, but Adobe and Service did not provide all the information requested (possibly a language barrier). Budget offers a free phone service, but it appears to be always busy. Hertz’s live chat appears to be constantly offline. During the past year, customers who posted to online review sites expressed a particular satisfaction with the customer service offered by Service, Vamos and Wild Rider.

Clarity

Adobe, Alamo and Budget have different rental prices posted on their websites than those quoted over the phone. Telephone prices were lower than that quoted on the website in the cases of Adobe and Alamo, but yet higher in the case of Budget. Adobe also offers different vehicle models over the phone as compared to their website. International car rental firms with both a Costa Rican and international website appear to have pricing differences between the two sites.

Budget and Wild Rider include the mandatory insurance in their rental prices, but Budget states that ‘other charges’ which will be presented at the counter in the small print on their website. Rental prices for car seating had to be verified on the phone as they are not listed on the Budget website.

All other companies with the exception of Thrifty (a U.S. website), clearly show the mandatory insurance cost with the quotation given. Thrifty’s Costa Rican website is simply unusable.

Pricing

Service, Vamos and Wild Rider consistently offer the best rates for both Green and High seasons, although Dollar has one of the lowest Green season rates available, while Adobe has a cheaper High season rate. Vamos offer the best “all inclusive” rates, given that most options are offered for free.

Adobe, Dollar, Service, Thrifty and Wild Rider remain competitive with their pricing of items such as child seats. Alamo, Hertz and National are the most expensive companies to rent from and their additional option costs are also more expensive.

“So, what’s your rental recommendation?”

Overall, the Costa Rican companies seem to trump the multi-nationals with better pricing, service and clarity.
Service offers a generally high-level of customer service and fairly competitive pricing at both international airports.
Vamos can offer efficient booking and continued high-level of customer service with competitive pricing, as well as free additional options at both SJO and LIR airports.
Wild Rider is very highly rated for a rental with clear and economical pricing and excellent customer service, but they are only in San Jose.

“Now you’re ready to book your rental car after seeing how the competition compares. Good luck and happy travels!”

Costa Rica provides the traveler with outstanding natural beauty, miles of beaches and a safe environment to relax in, but car rental is a minefield with mandatory insurance, franchising and downright skulduggery in pricing and non-disclosure of costs. Read, research and find the information that will ensure your vacation car rental is a breeze!

Article Source: http://EzineArticles.com/7923536

Santa Barbara Hotel Specials: Spring Into St. Patrick’s Day With a Cheshire Cat Inn Getaway

Cheshire Cat Inn Getaway On St. Patrick’s Day 

If you’re a guest staying at Cheshire Cat Inn on St. Patrick’s Day, we’ve put together a handy list of things to do in Santa Barbara.

St. Patrick’s Day is a fun time to stroll around Santa Barbara and reminds us that a lush, green spring is just around the corner. The weather has been fabulous lately; feels like summer arrived early!

Below is a list of Santa Barbara activities you may wish to consider while staying at the inn this St. Patrick’s Day.

  • Urban Wine Trail: Taste some of the finest wines produced in Santa Barbara County, all within blocks of downtown and the beach. Created by a group of like-minded wineries, the Santa Barbara Urban Wine Trail offers both novices and aficionados the opportunity to learn about and taste wines of many different varieties and styles crafted from Santa Barbara County’s best vineyards.
  • Waterhouse Gallery houses paintings from nationally known artists from the Western states and are members of the California Art Club and Oil Painters of America.
  • The Museum of Contemporary Art Santa Barbara is where adults can learn from Santa Barbara artists during their ever popular living room conversations, panel discussions, and lecture series.
  • Fuzion describes itself as a “hybrid retail store” that focuses on glass art pipes, men’s underground fashion, and street art culture. The store’s glass collection is a particular source of pride as they focus mainly on American made pieces.
  • Sullivan Goss represents the works of American artists from the 19th century to today. They have spent the last 25 years curating a collection of over 3000 works featuring the best in paintings, sculptures, watercolors, drawings, prints from artists labeled as luminists, impressionists, expressionists, and modernists.
  • Santa Barbara Museum of Natural History has twelve exhibition halls that feature a life-size 72-foot Blue Whale Skeleton, birds, insects, mammals, marine life, paleontology, and the Chumash Indians. Guests experience the wonder of space exploration in the Gladwin Planetarium. The Museum also owns and operates the Ty Warner Sea Center located on historic Stearns Wharf.
  • Santa Barbara Zoo is always a great option, with plenty of fun family activities. With 30 acres and 500 animals, visitors need a map to be sure they seeCondor Country, the pair of realistic high-tech dinosaurs in the “Dino Doc” show, the two baby giraffes, and many more animals in naturalistic habitats.
  • Santa Barbara Land and Sea Tours is Santa Barbara’s original amphibious tour vehicle. Guests climb aboard the LAND SHARK for a personally narrated 90-minute land and sea tour adventure and enjoy exquisite views of the Santa Barbara coastline, the American Riviera, and the Santa Ynez Mountains as seen only from a boat at sea.
  • Susan Quinlan Doll & Teddy Bear Museum & Library is dedicated to the love of dolls, teddy bears, books and the support of doll and teddy bear artists.
  • Chase Palm Park Antique Carousel in Santa Barbara was made in North Tonawanda, New York, by the Allan Herschell Company in 1917. Herschell was the largest manufacturer of these flights of fancy during the Golden Age of carousels. Old-fashioned calliope music plays as the carousel turns.
Don’t forget to mark your calendars for the upcoming Santa Barbara Vintners Spring Weekend – April 10 – 13. This is a long weekend filled with special events held at wineries, vineyards, tasting rooms, and restaurants throughout Santa Barbara County. The Festival Grand Tasting held on Saturday, April 12 has wine tasting from all 100+ member wineries, an Art Walk, Farmers Market Pavilion, and the Connoisseur Club Pavilion.

The Cheshire Cat Bed and Breakfast Inn offers tempting breakfasts and cozy accommodations in The Main House, The Eberle House, The Coach House or Bramhall, Mobberly, Prestbury and Woodford Cottages, each with its own unique charms and revitalizing atmosphere. We have relied on our 30 years of hospitality to create a relaxed and inviting atmosphere so you can simply relax and revel in the small town warmth and charm of Old Santa Barbara. If you’re looking for a little more fun, Cheshire Cat Inn is also located close to Santa Barbara wine country, downtown and within minutes of fine dining, shopping, and beaches, with plenty of Santa Barbara activities close at hand.

We look forward to welcoming you on your next visit. Best of all we’ve got some greatCheshire Cat Inn Specials that include options for in-room luxurious massages or fine dining at some of Santa Barbara’s tastiest restaurants.

Happy St. Patrick’s Day from all of us at Cheshire Cat Inn,

About The Cheshire Cat Inn – Located at 36 W. Valerio Street in Santa Barbara, theCheshire Cat Inn is known for its perfect combination of location, ambience and comfort. Winner of a 2013 TripAdvisor Certificate of Excellence, the Inn’s spa treatmentsquaint Victorian charms, and special hotel deals make it perfect as Santa Barbara’s Great Escape. Visit the website and Facebook page or call 805- 569-1610 for more information.

America’s best spring drives

(CNN) — Remember when Dorothy dozes off among scarlet poppies in The Wizard of Oz? Well, those vivid flowers weren’t just a figment of Hollywood magic. Similar poppies set California’s Antelope Valley ablaze in spring, luring road-trippers from L.A. and beyond.

The arrival of spring inspires us to break out from winter’s hibernation and embrace the fresh outdoors. A road trip naturally satisfies that spontaneous travel urge, and we’ve mapped America’s best spring drives — routes that bring you up-close to nature’s finest floral displays, from a California poppy tour to Texas Hill Country’s bluebonnets.

Of course, flowers in bloom aren’t the only draw for these American road trips, many of which meander by woodlands, lakes, small quaint towns, even historic mansions and museums. No matter what route you travel and no matter how many detours you take, spring into action this season by road-tripping through America’s most awe-inspiring floral landscapes.

Texas Hill Country Bluebonnet Tour
The route: 87 miles

Lady Bird Johnson led a campaign to beautify American cities, and in her native Texas, vast gardens of bluebonnets were planted across Texas Hill Country. While there are countless nature trails, first-timers should start in Austin and take U.S. 290 west to Johnson City’s lovely Wildflower Loop. Then hightail it along U.S. 281 N to the town of Burnet, the official bluebonnet capital of Texas.

Where to stop: Tour the colorful grounds at Austin’s Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center. A toll-free Texas wildflower hotline (800-452-9292) provides blooming reports, and tune in to KLBJ News Radio 590, which airs the “Wildflower Hour” featuring expert gardening tips from Mr. Smarty Plants at 8 a.m. on Saturdays.

Acadia All American Road, Maine
The route: 40 miles

Pack your binoculars for this coastal drive that skirts the woodlands of Acadia National Park, a prime spot for spying bald eagles and nesting peregrine. The 27-mile Park Loop Road segment follows the high ridges of Bar Harbor down to Sand Beach and Otter Cliff and loops inland along Jordan Pond. It’s the centerpiece of the drive, which starts in Trenton, takes Route 3 south, turns on the Loop Road, then rejoins Route 3.

Where to stop: Local small towns begin buzzing in late spring. For homemade ice cream and popovers, pull over at the historic Jordan Pond House (open for the season as of May). Then put that energy to work hiking Acadia’s Cadillac Mountain, whose 1,532-foot peak overlooks the Atlantic.

George Washington Memorial Parkway, Maryland and Virginia
The route: 25 miles

This green parkway reveals one floral show after another — 591 wildflower species, from large-flowered valerians to Virginia bluebells — as you drive from the Great Falls of the Potomac through D.C. and south to Mount Vernon. The most famous are the cherry trees that bloom around the Tidal Basin in D.C.

Where to stop: Hike the many trails that crisscross the 700-acre Turkey Run Park (just seven miles north of D.C.), which is carpeted in bluebells come late April.

Antelope Valley, California
The route: 70 miles

From Los Angeles, drive north to the town of Lancaster via Route 14, better known as the Antelope Valley Freeway. Golden poppies bloom throughout the Mojave Desert region in March, but the 17,600-acre Antelope Valley Poppy Reserve claims the finest concentration of California’s state flower — not to mention glorious showings of fiddlenecks, creamcups, goldfields and tidytips starting in late March.

Where to stop: Drive the seven-mile Antelope Loop Trail within the Poppy Reserve and continue on to Antelope Butte Vista Point, a high lookout (the valley reaches an elevation of nearly 3,000 feet) that offers the most sweeping desert panoramas.

Cherokee Foothills Scenic Highway, South Carolina
The route: 120 miles

This National Scenic Byway sticks to an early Native American trail (the Cherokees called these foothills the Great Blue Hills of God) that weaves through the low Piedmont Hills past waterfalls, covered bridges and brooks. To catch peach orchards and trees in full bloom, time your drive to late spring or early summer.

Where to stop: Hundreds of roadside stands that begin filling with fruit in early June. The famous Peachoid water tower, painted to look like a colossal peach, is in the town of Gaffney, where mountain laurels begin to blossom in late May.

Historic Columbia River Highway, Oregon
The route: 70 miles

The Columbia River area has long been Oregon’s premier scenic attraction. Explore by driving from Portland through the Columbia River Gorge and on to volcanic Mount Hood, Oregon’s highest peak at over 11,000 feet. Multnomah Falls, one of the tallest yearlong waterfalls in the U.S., is another showstopper. Beginning in late March, look for wildflowers like purple Columbia kittentails on the shaded banks of waterfalls.

Where to stop: 3 Rivers Grill (541-386-8883), in a Victorian house overlooking Hood River, for lunch. Detour over to the Washington side for the Maryhill Museum of Art and enjoy unparalleled views of the gorge.

Louisiana Great River Road
The route: 70 miles

Let the Mississippi River be your guide on this winding route from Baton Rouge through Creole Country to New Orleans. Look out for former sugar plantations and majestic antebellum plantation houses — until the Civil War this area was one of the richest in America. Giant moss-draped oak trees nearly obscure the Creole cottages, surrounded by patches of budding wildflowers.

Where to stop: Oak Alley Plantation in Vacherie. This Greek Revival mansion was built in 1839 and stands at the end of a long avenue lined with oak trees. In New Orleans, check into the buzzy Saint Hotel, in the former Audubon Building in the French Quarter.

Hana Highway, Hawaii
The route: 52 miles

Tropical flowers bloom each spring along the Road to Hana, which paves its way through bamboo fields, rainforests and waterfalls like 80-foot Wailua Falls, which appeared in the credits of TV show “Fantasy Island.” Start in Kahului, and head down Maui’s northeastern coast. Just don’t be fooled by the 52-mile count — this is an intense drive that can take up to four hours as you navigate over 600 hairpin turns and more than 50 one-lane bridges. The payoff comes from the spectacular views and bragging rights.

Where to stop: Fuel up with pancakes soaked in coconut syrup at Anthony’s Coffee Co. in the funky small town of Paia. Just beyond mile marker 32 awaits Waianapanapa State Park, with black-sand beaches and trails leading to sea caves and lava cliffs.

San Juan Skyway, Colorado
The route: 232 miles

The skyway’s biggest thrills come along the stretch between the Victorian-era towns of Ouray and Silverton that’s known as the Million Dollar Highway. While that name could easily describe the views, it actually refers to the massive amounts of silver and gold once carted through these passes. Four-wheelers can also attempt to traverse the rugged 65-mile Alpine Loop Back Country Byway past the 19th-century ghost towns of Howardsville, Eureka and Animas Forks.

Where to stop: Mesa Verde National Park, famous for Anasazi Indian cliff dwellings that were abandoned 200 years before Columbus arrived in America. And at Dunton Hot Springs Resort, in a restored ghost town, soak in waters ranging from 85°F to 106°F and rich in calcium bicarbonate, iron and manganese.

Santa Fe/Taos Loop, New Mexico
The route: 191 miles

Follow the (literal) High Road from Santa Fe north on Route 285 through high-elevation deserts and orchards. It leads to the cottonwood-dotted valley of Ojo Caliente and its pueblo communities; the Taos Pueblo compound, a UNESCO World Heritage site, was built before 1400 and is one of the oldest continuously inhabited communities in America. Loop back from Taos on the Low Road, State Route 68, which runs along the Rio Grande past wineries.

Where to stop: More than 10 galleries display Native American jewelry, textiles and pottery at the Millicent Rogers Museum, named after Taos’ famed art-enthusiast and socialite.

Source: Edition.cnn.com/2014/03/26/travel/best-spring-drives-america

Santa Barbara Bed and Breakfast – Cheshire Cat Named in Top 10 Romantic Inns List

SANTA BARBARA, CA – Historic Cheshire Cat Inn of Santa Barbara recently made the 2014 list of Top 10 Most Romantic Inns nationwide featured on Iloveinns.com.  This marking comes as no surprise as this award winning Santa Barbara Bed and Breakfast has been a long favored getaway destination. 
 
Among the finest accommodations in Santa Barbara, each room follows along the same whimsical inspiration as the inns name, bearing titles like the Dormouse’s Room, the Mad Hatter’s Room, the Duchess’s Room, and the White Rabbit Balcony Room.  Guests can expect to find the same kind of storybook charm and romance throughout the inn couched in such amenities as gourmet breakfast, afternoon wine & hors d’oeuvres, and in-room Jacuzzis. Cheshire Cat Inn has also partnered with Santa Barbara fine dining restaurants Louie’s and Downey’s to offer an unparalleled vacation package to impress even the most discriminating tastes.
 
Travelers looking for the perfect place to honeymoon or rekindle passions will certainly find it here nestled in Santa Barbara’s Mediterranean climate, sidewalk cafes & boutiques, and waterfront adventures.  In fact, many of the town’s best offerings are right within walking distance to the inn.  Guests can even book an in room massage as part of their ideal romantic getaway
 
About: Cheshire Cat Inn is made up of three Queen Anne Victorians, a Coach House and three cottages, originally constructed in 1894.  Fountains, gazebos, and lush flower gardens abound.  Many of the rooms have fireplaces, refrigerators, and private balconies, and all are decorated with English antiques, and the coziest, most romantic of linens and accessories. Rates range from $194 – $429. For more information or to inquire about specific dates, visit their website, see their Facebook page, or call (805) 569-1610.

World’s most expensive city is …

Singapore has dethroned the Japanese capital to become the world’s most expensive city in 2014, according to the Economist Intelligence Unit’s latest Worldwide Cost of Living survey.

The bi-annual report, which ranks 131 global cities, credits currency appreciation, solid price inflation and high costs of living for Singapore’s dubious new distinction.

“Car costs have very high related certificate of entitlement fees attached to them, which makes Singapore significantly more expensive than any other location when it comes to running a car,” says the report.

“As a result, transport costs in Singapore are almost three times higher than in New York. In addition, as a city-state with very few natural resources to speak of, Singapore is reliant on other countries for energy and water supplies, making it the third most expensive destination for utility costs.”

Singapore is also the priciest place in the world to buy clothes.

Last year’s title holder Tokyo, dropped from the top spot to sixth — tied with Melbourne, Geneva and Caracas.

Tokyo’s decline is due to the weaker yen, says the EIU.

MORE: Inside the world’s most expensive hotel rooms

World’s 10 most expensive cities to live in 2014

1. Singapore

2. Paris

3. Oslo, Norway

4. Zurich, Switzerland

5. Sydney

6. Caracas, Venezuela

6. Geneva, Switzerland

6. Melbourne

6. Tokyo

7. Copenhagen, Denmark

Asia also has the world’s cheapest city on the list.

Down at the other end of the 131-city survey, the EIU lists Mumbai as the world’s least expensive city to live in. The Indian capital, New Delhi, is third cheapest.

“Although India has been tipped for future growth, much of this is driven by its large population and the untapped potential within the economy,” says the EIU.

“Income inequality means that low wages proliferate, driving down household spending and creating many tiers of pricing that keep per capita spending low.

“This, combined with a cheap and plentiful supply of goods into cities, as well as government subsidies on some products, has kept prices down, especially by Western standards.”

MORE: The world’s best city is …

World’s 10 least expensive cities to live in 2014

122. Riyadh, Saudi Arabia

123. Jeddah, Saudi Arabia

124. Panama City, Panama

124. Bucharest, Romania

126. Algiers, Algeria

127. Damascus, Syria

127. Kathmandu, Nepal

129. New Delhi

130. Karachi, Pakistan

131. Mumbai, India

The Worldwide Cost of Living survey is released twice a year by the EIU.

It compares more than 400 individual prices across 160 products and services in 131 cities, including food, drink, clothing, household supplies and personal care items, home rents, transport, utility bills, private schools, domestic help and recreational costs.

In total, more than 50,000 individual prices are collected in each survey.

“The cost-of-living index uses an identical set of weights that is internationally based and not geared toward the spending pattern of any specific nationality,” says the EIU. “Items are individually weighted across a range of categories and a comparative index is produced using the relative difference by weighted item.”

Source: Edition.cnn.com/2014/03/04/travel/most-expensive-cities

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I am proud to present YoungJets; the answer to your every private jet travel need. We are a boutique jet charter services provider with global resources and a 24/7 staff of seasoned logistics experts. Our strategic alliances enable us to offer you extensive aircraft options and transparent, below-market pricing, all supported by a hands-on team that oversees every mission from strategy to launch to land.

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YoungJets, LLC

 


YoungJets LLC is not a direct or indirect “air carrier”. YoungJets, LLC does not own or operate any aircraft and acts solely as an agent in procuring charter services for our customers. Flights are flown under Part 121 or 135 of the Federal Aviation Regulations (“FAR”) or foreign equivalent (“Operators”), that exercise full operational control of the charter flights at all times.

15 lesser-known ski resorts to check out this winter

(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

More: 10 of the most beautiful ice skating rinks

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

More: 13 scary-but-awesome viewing platforms
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

More: 10 best cities for a winter vacation

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

More: World’s 12 best shopping cities

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

More: Europe’s best budget ski resorts
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

Source: CNN.com/2013/12/02/travel/15-lesser-known-ski-resorts/index.html

Kombi’s last rites: Farewell to a travel icon

(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.

But why?

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.

Modern modification

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.”

German effectiveness

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.

Source: CNN.com/2013/12/31/travel/kombi-production-ends

Aside

Celebrate The Holidays Safely With Sammy’s Limos

Happy Holidays from everyone here at Sammy’s Limos. Christmas is the happiest time of the year, often spent having fun and attending parties with family and friends. Don’t let a speeding ticket or car accident spoil your fun. Let the professionals at Sammy’s Limousines and Tours do all the driving while you and your guests enjoy yourselves.

We offer the finest in luxury with our top notch fleet, and can also provide you with drivers that are knowledgeable tour guides.

If you’re traveling, avoid the parking nightmares with our airport transfer service. We provide door to door service to all area airports. If you’ve got guests coming in for the holidays, why not surprise them by getting dropped off in style at sporting events such as Los Angeles Lakers, Los Angeles Angels, Los Angeles Clippers, Anaheim Angels, Los Angeles Kings, Anaheim Ducks, Los Angeles Galaxy, UCLA Bruins, USC Trojans, and University of California  games? Or take the gang out to sample terrific wineries with one of ourSammy’s wine tours. Santa Barbara and Santa Ynez are home to some of the best wineries in California. If you’ve got plans for a night out on the town, leave the driving to our Santa Barbara limousine service so you can have more fun.We’ll make it safe for your group with our many affordable limo specials:

  • 4 Passenger Executive Sedan – $125 / Round Trip
  • 6 Passenger Limousine – $150 / Round Trip
  • 6 Passenger Cadillac Escalade SUV – $150 / Round Trip
  • 8 Passenger Limousine – $175 / Round Trip
  • 10 Passenger Limousine – $200 / Round Trip
  • 9 Passenger Limo Van – Call for quote

We have the best limos in Santa Barbara ready and waiting for your holiday fun. Or give the gift of safety to someone you love and reserve one of our limos for them. Whether you need an SUV Limousine or Passenger Van for your holiday festivities, Sammy’s has you covered. Let us do the driving while you experience the holiday charms of Santa Barbara, Los Angeles, Ventura, and San Luis Obispo.

22103857.thb  Celebrate The Holidays Safely With Sammy’s Limos

If you’re planning on drinking at any of your Christmas or New Year’s parties, don’t get behind the wheel and take the chance of getting an expensive ticket or hurting yourself or someone else. Take advantage of Sammy’s Limousines, where we own and operate the most luxurious fleet of vehicles in the Santa Barbara California area, while still offering very affordable prices. Book your ride now and enjoy a safe, stress-free and happy Christmas and New Year’s Eve.

About Sammy’s Limos and Tours: Since 1992, Sammy’s Limos has been Santa Barbara’s number one limos and tours company. Sammy’s Limousines offers the finest in luxury with a top notch fleet of limousines that are available for Santa Barbara wine toursSanta Barbara weddings, Santa Barbara proms, and Santa Barbara sporting eventsVisit the website and Facebook page or call 805-963-8294 to book a holiday reservation or obtain a free quotation.

An early midlife crisis California road trip

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.

10 top road trip apps

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.

Source: CNN.com/2012/03/13/travel/buddies-california-wine-trip