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Why I Still Use Guidebooks – and Reader Giveaway!

   
The photos in DK Eyewitness Travel Guides are gorgeous, but what may set them apart are the illustrations inside

The photos in DK Eyewitness Travel Guides are gorgeous, but what may set them apart are the illustrations inside

While my primary research tool for travel has switched from Post-it note marked pages in guidebooks to notes from TripAdvisor and colorful boards on Pinterest, my book cases are  lined with dog-eared guidebooks from recent travels. Here are a few  reasons I like guidebooks.

I’m not always connected to the Internet

While I do travel internationally a fair amount, it never seemed worth the cost to add one of those expensive data plans to my iPhone. Rather than be stuck mapless and clueless on where to get my next great meal (both anxiety-inducing conditions for me), I often carry ripped-out pages from guidebooks, or better yet, take photos with my iPhone. During my recent trip to Berlin, I found the new Fodor’s Berlin indispensable for its maps and restaurants suggestions while I was out exploring. And its small size made it easy to tuck into my bag.

• I love to look at beautiful photos and conduct research at my leisure

Yes, there are plenty of gorgeous photos on the Internet. But there is something about paging through a book while sitting on my front porch or best of all, during the flight to my destination. I had not been familiar with DK Eyewitness Travel Guides until I got one for Italy. It has more than 1500 photos, 48 maps, 322 illustrations and plenty of information. The color-coded  sections and extensive index are especially helpful, the latter an area I’ve found deficit in other guidebooks.

An illustration can depict some things a photo can't - for example, an inside look at Santa Maria Gloriosa dei Frari

An illustration can depict some things a photo can’t – for example, an inside look at Santa Maria Gloriosa dei Frari

• It’s more efficient for finding information

While that may sound counterintuitive — Google is my BFF — the problem with searching on the Internet is that I get so distracted. It can take me hours to book a single hotel stay because I get caught up in all the TripAdvisor reviews, which then reference restaurants that I have to view the menu of, and shops that I may want to visit. Which may remind me of something I need to buy to take on my trip. Next thing you know I’m bidding on a trench coat on eBay and don’t have a hotel room!

They make great presents

Guidebooks are always appreciated. Even people who don’t like to carry them on trips love to use them for research prior to their trip.

Reader Giveaway!

One lucky reader will win a four-pack of books on NYC, London, Ireland and Paris, valued at $100. Just comment below on which one is your dream destination and you are automatically entered the four-pack of guidebooks. Double your chances by also commenting at @GirlontheGo and include @dk_travel. (Sorry, limited to residents of US and Canada only.)

Photographs and text reproduced by permission of DK, a division of Penguin Random House from Italy. ©2014 by DK. All rights reserved.

The Boca Bath

   
The setting for the Ritual Bath. a prelude to treatments at the spa at Boca Raton Resort & Club

The setting for the Ritual Bath. a prelude to treatments at the spa at Boca Raton Resort & Club

As we enjoyed lunch by the lushly landscaped outdoor pool at the Mediterranean-style Spa Palazzo, at Boca Raton Resort & Club I pondered how the interior of the spa could be as beautiful. The exterior is stunning, designed to resemble Alhambra Palace in Morocco. But inside? The 50,000-square-foot interior is just as beautiful and I was definitely in for the royal treatment with the Spa Palazzo Ritual Bath.

This signature 50-minute treatment, available as a prelude to any service, is designed to “provide an overall feeling of decadence and well-being.” The Ritual Bath is a five-step process, beginning with either a short visit to the steam room or the sauna. Read the full post »

Best Travel Bag

   
My new favorite travel bag — the Tablet Messenger Bag from jill-e Designs

My new favorite travel bag — the Tablet Messenger Bag from Jill-e Designs

You would think that as a travel writer, I’d have the whole packing thing down — able to do it in my sleep, right? Well, you’d be wrong. Each time seems to be a struggle and it always starts with which handbag to take.

The requirements of my travel handbag are many:

• must be large enough to hold my iPad, wallet, headphones, tissues, lipsticks etc. for the plane ride

• must close at the top with a zipper so I don’t lose anything in the security line or during the flight Read the full post »

Silver and Sand

   

DunejewelrySandbead  BraceletWhether your favorite beach is in California, the Caribbean, or even the Cook Islands, you can now carry a few grains of it in a beautiful piece of silver jewelry from Dune Jewelry.

Just select your favorite beach from the company’s extensive Sandbank and then select a necklace, earrings, ring or bracelet and the sand will be added to the design. A few weeks later you’ll be enjoying your own wearable memory.

Read the full post »

Vegas: Where Dolphins Paint

   
In "the studio" with Lightning as we create our masterpiece

In “the studio” with Lightning as we create our masterpiece

Given my monumental lack of artistic talent, it’s a good thing Lightning had the brush placement and design under control when we created our painting I’m calling “Sunlit Water Lilies,” an homage to Monet though the eyes of a dolphin. Either that or “Bellagio Fountains Through the Eyes of the Inebriated.”

I was at the Mirage in Las Vegas, at Siegfried & Roy’s Secret Garden and Dolphin Habitat, a quiet respite tucked away in the back of the huge resort, far from the cacophony and crowds of the casino.

After a brief training period during which I was told to hang tight to the canvas and was able to select the background and colors for my masterpiece, I was led to the water where I was joined by a trainer and introduced to Lightning. At 36, he has lived far beyond the life span of dolphins housed in a member facility of the Alliance of Marine Mammal Parks and Aquariums. He seemed happy to see me and eager to begin our painting session.

I could select colors for our painting, which would be loaded onto the buoy paintbrush.

I kneeled down beside him, and following the trainer’s instructions, held the canvas firmly as the trainer loaded up the buoy-turned-paintbrush and set it inside Lightning’s mouth. After a few strokes, the trainer gave us both the signal to stop. I would take a moment to look at the painting and determine whether to switch colors or to continue. After I deemed our painting complete, I was given some fish to feed Lightning for his efforts.

We engaged in some post-creation bonding, with the trainer showing me hand motions to signal Lightning to swim, jump out of the water, dance and wave his tail. After a double handshake and a kiss, we said good-bye.

Several dolphins participate in the painting activity, which started in late 2012. They were first trained to hold the buoys that are attached to paintbrushes to prevent swallowing. They were then taught to target the canvas, and move their heads in response to signals from a trainer. But from there, they each developed their own artistic style. Trainers also work with them to create paintings, which can be purchased in the gift shop.

Lightning and I pose with our finished painting

Lightning and I pose with our finished painting

The only thing my painting is missing is Lightning’s signature at the bottom. But I suppose I can add that myself.

Painting with the Dolphins is $199, which includes admission to the Secret Garden, the painting, a certificate and a photo of the experience. Click here to see a video of the experience.

Xperience Xcaret

   

I couldn’t stop giggling as our four new dolphin friends weaved their way in between our group of five, leapt over our heads and circled us at high speeds. We took turns dancing with them, then “surfing” down the length of the tank as two dolphins pushed us by our feet so fast we could rise up out of the water.

The 60-minute Delphinus Primax Experience at Xcaret Park in Playa del Carmen

The 60-minute Delphinus Primax Experience at Xcaret Park

The 60-minute Delphinus Primax Experience at Xcaret Park in Playa del Carmen in Mexico is just one of the highlights of the Unlimited Xcaret Xperience available from Occidental Grand Xcaret. This lush 62-acre Mediterranean-style all-inclusive resort on the Caribbean is adjacent to this one-of-a-kind archeological park. The Experience includes VIP hotel check-in, complimentary mini bar, unlimited access to Xcaret Park, a private eco-cultural tour and reserved area seating for the “Xcaret México Espectacular” show, a spectacular performance that traces the history of Mexico.

We also enjoyed snorkeling through an underground river and marveled at the daring feats of the Panpantia Flying Men as they flew through the air around a tall pole, reenacting an ancient tradition. A trip up the Rotating Scenic Tower afforded us views of the surrounding landscape and the Caribbean.

After our activities it was a short walk back to the Occidental Grand Xcaret, where you can tour some amazingly intact ruins right on the property, evidence of the ancient Mayan culture that once dwelled in this part of Mexico.

Vintage Airline Ads

   
An ad for Delta from 1959.

An ad for Delta from 1959.

 

 

I’m not sure which is harder to believe in this ad for Delta Air Lines in 1959: three stewardesses to serve your every need, free-flowing Champagne, choice of Cornish hen or tenderloin cooked to order, or that music by Muzak was used as a selling point.

Yes, it’s fun to reminisce about the “good old days” of flying when we dressed up, ate well and were looked after. But I’ll take the improved safety record, lower prices and increase in the number of routes over that Cornish hen and Muzak. Although, Champagne is always appreciated.

Here are a few more fun ads from the website for Reminisce, where I could spend hours looking at old ads and stories dating back to the early 1900s.

The 1949 American Airlines ad depicts those good old days when you could smoke on planes. And enjoy the view of other airplanes flying  dangerously close to yours.

The 1949 American Airlines ad depicts those good old days when you could lean way back in your cushy recliner while enjoying your cigarette. And enjoy the view of other airplanes flying dangerously close to yours.

And then there were those seven-course meals with wine pairings to enjoy on Air France in 1960. I do give credit to Air France, however, for having the best food I have had on a plane recently.

And then there were those seven-course meals with wine pairings to enjoy on Air France in 1960. I do give credit to Air France, however, for having the best food I have had on a plane recently, along with complimentary wine.

Disney’s Mighty MagicBands

   
My daughter, Catherine Butsch, holds up her MagicBand to enter Epcot. No more small tickets to keep track of, as all the ticket kiosks are gone.

My daughter, Catherine Butsch, holds up her MagicBand to enter Epcot. No more small tickets to keep track of, as all the ticket kiosks are gone.

Freedom. That’s the word that came to mind after experiencing the new MagicBands at Disney last week. Freedom from searching for a hotel room key or fumbling for it when my arms are full. Freedom from hotel keys being demagnetized and having to go wait in line for a new one. Freedom from keeping track of tickets at theme parks and the fear that I’d accidentally toss one out. Freedom from carrying a camera around to capture our magic moments. Freedom from carrying cash or credit cards to make purchases.

The fun started after we had our reservation for our stay at Disney’s Wilderness Lodge. (All resort guests are offered MagicBands at no charge, as are annual passholders. Day guests may purchase them for $12.95.) We could then go to the website My Disney Experience where we could add dining reservations, purchase tickets and personalize our MagicBands with names and colors. I chose green for me, pink for my daughter, Catherine. If you are able to do this 10 days prior, the MagicBands will be shipped to you. As I ordered ours too late than that, we received them when we checked in.

Our personlized MagicBands

Our personlized MagicBands

To enter our hotel room, we simply touched the Mickey on our band to the Mickey icon on our door. When we entered a theme park, we did the same thing — Mickey to Mickey — then put a finger on the fingerpad, which measures the metrics of that finger to match it to the MagicBand holder. For the purchases we made, we again just had to touch our MagicBand and our purchase was complete.

As we traveled through the parks, we encountered many of the 200 photographers that can be found throughout the resorts. After taking our photo, he or she would scan our MagicBand, and voila! Our photos are added to our account to view and order later.

MagicBands can be blinged out with the addition of MagicBandIts or covers.

MagicBands can be blinged out with the addition of MagicBandIts or covers.

At the uber popular Be Our Guest restaurant in the Magic Kingdom, where stand-by guests wait up to 45 minutes for a table, you can not only make your reservation in advance, you can go ahead and order your meal. When it’s time to eat lunch, just stroll in and sit down. Your food will magically appear at your table.

The MagicBands are available in seven colors, and are waterproof and hypoallergenic. But wait, there’s more! You can accessorize your MagicBands with covers and themed MagicBandIts, which slip or clip on. According to Liz Boice Hankins, Senior Vice President of Merchandise Development, some families change their accessories according to which theme park they are visiting. Themes include Disney characters and Star Wars (light and dark).

The MagicBand serves as your hotel key, perhaps my favorite feature. (Mark Ashman, photographer)

The MagicBand serves as your hotel key, perhaps my favorite feature. (Mark Ashman, photographer)

Of course, as anyone familiar with Disney stories know, magic can be used for both good and evil. As one Disney exec told us, one of his sons figured out that he could go in the hotel room first, get on the computer to deactivate his brother’s MagicBand, which also served to lock him out of the hotel room.

 

3FLOZ to the Rescue

   

I’ve given up cursing the terrorists who tried to bring down planes using liquid explosives, leading to a ban on travelers carrying any liquids more than 3.4 ounces. Well, almost. I felt a flashback curse when $10 of Nutella was confiscated from my daughter after Christmas. Are you kidding? You can spackle walls with that stuff – in no way does it resemble a liquid.

A 3FLOZ kiosk has opened in Concourse D of Hartfield-Jackson in Atlanta

A 3FLOZ kiosk has opened in Concourse D of Hartfield-Jackson in Atlanta

But here we are eight years later, still faced with the inconvenience and waste of having to transport all our products into smaller containers.

To help travelers with the 3.4-ounce woes, the automated retail store 3FLOZ is adding a new location at Hartsfield-Jackson in Concourse D. The Atlanta location joins 20 others around the country.

Founded by Kate Duff and Alexi Mintz, who I suppose were tired of cursing about it and decided to take action, the store stocks more than 50 high-end products for men and women in a variety of categories including first aid, hair, fabric care, and even self tanners.

Note these are high end products, which translates to $13 for the cheapest sunscreen, $8 for shaving cream and two ounces of shampoo for $8.50. But the packaging for all the products is pretty and what fun to buy it from the cute machine!

Sunrise and Sunset at Cuckold’s Lighthouse

   
You can see the sun rise and set with the 360-degree views from a suite at Cuckold's Lighthouse.

You can see the sun rise and set with the 360-degree views from a suite at Cuckold’s Lighthouse.

What happens to old lighthouses that have outlived their usefulness as beacons to sea travelers? Well, in the case of The Inn at Cuckolds Lighthouse, named for islands off the coast of Maine, it has been turned into a small inn, scheduled to open in June.

Accessible only by boat, guests at Cuckold’s Lighthouse are taken to the small private island by Navy whaleboat where they are greeted by resident innkeepers Barbara and Dan  Aube, who will lead a tour of the historic lighthouse, which was saved by locals after the Coast Guard no longer needed it.

Looks like the charming 1892 lighthouse is manned again, although no longer by the light keepers that kept the flame burning until the mid-1970s when they were replaced by an automated light.

With just two suites, the inn will be a quiet getaway where guests can enjoy a lobster bake or catered gourmet dinner. I would enjoy just relaxing and taking in the ocean views.

If you venture off the island, check out the 250-acre Coastal Maine Botanical Gardens, visit the Railway Village & Antique Auto Museum or check out the local shops and art galleries in the Boothbay Region.

The Cuckold’s Lighthouse is about a three-hour drive from Boston or 90 minutes from Portland. 855.212.5252.