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Enjoy "The Ride": $1.3 Million Tour Bus Debuts in NYC

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For many of us, the words, “tour bus” call to mind certain iconic images: sticky, screaming children, headache-inducing camera flashes, a colorfully dressed man on a unnecessary megaphone and, yes, even a fanny pack or two. Banish those images from memory—that was your grandmother’s tour bus.

Meet "The Ride" (above): a revolutionary, $1.3 million take on the classic tour bus, which was on display in Time Square, Manhattan this morning as a prelude to its maiden voyage in September.  Suped up with 49 stadium seats, an IMAX theater-worth of audio equipment and 40 video screens, The Ride certainly has the wattage to separate itself from the competition.  But it’s what’s going on off the bus that’s really grabbed our attention.

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Orbitz Launches Refined Hotel Search

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Orbitz just announced the release of its revamped search engine, making the process of finding and comparing hotels that much simpler. What new features can you expect to see on the site?

Now when you search for hotels, you'll be able to compare property details on the results page; view an expandable interactive map (which not only plots the hotel, but shows its actual current rate); filter results by star/user ratings, price, and amenities offered; and my favorite: view the hotel via Google Street View (where available), so you know exactly what you're looking for when you show up. (Not to mention, take a look at the surrounding neighborhood.)

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Vacationist: Greece, Dominican Republic, Costa Rica!

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This week Vacationist.com brings you a slew of offers to extend your summer vacation just a little bit longer. Look for values in Greece, the Dominican Republic, and Costa Rica as well as French Polynesia and Southern France later this week.

A two-story villa to call your own, a private pool, and views of the Aegean Sea? A stay at the Naxian Collection on the island of Naxos in Greece sounds like a myth, but if you book with Vacationist—which is offering up to 50 percent less than other booking sites—it can be a reality.

The first Small Luxury Hotel and only four-diamond property in the Dominican Republic, Casa Colonial Beach & Spa (pictured above) on the northern shore in Puerto Plata is a luxurious retreat for those looking for a little sophistication. Book one of their 50 suites and be treated to values at up to 30 percent off other sites.

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Trend Alert: Artisanal Ice Pops to Beat the Heat

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Want a way to maintain your highbrow tastes while cooling off this summer? Gourmet and artisanal ice pops are popping up across the country. These aren’t your kids’ red dye #5 white-shirt-oblitterating coolers either—they’re high-class, big-flavor and the most fun you can have on a stick.

Loco Pops, Chapel Hill, NC
This triangle area—that’s Raleigh-Durham-Chapel Hill—establishment serves a daily selection of both water- and dairy-based pops to satisfy every palette. Adventurers should try the Mango Chile pop for a sweet and spicy treat. Follow them on twitter @locopops for daily flavors and promotions.

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National Parks To Waive Fees in Mid-August

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Good news for nature lovers (and those looking for some free summer fun): the National Park Service will waive entrance fees at a whopping 146 parks and historic sites across the country (some of which charge as much as $25 admission) on Aug. 14-15. Look for additional freebies (boating, horseback riding) at some parks.

In other park news, Yellowstone, the country's very first national park, saw a record number of visitors this July—957,000 in total, some 60,000 more than last July (its previous record-setting month).

29th Street: New York’s New Hotel Corridor?

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Continuing the precedent  set by the new Eventi of building hotels in unexpected Manhattan neighborhoods, the new Gansevoort Park Avenue will open on August 16 at the interesting but decidedly unhip corner of Park Avenue South at East 29th Street. In a sort of no-mans-land between Gramercy Park, Murray Hill, and Kips Bay (call it Grammurray Bay? Kipsmercy Hill?), the swanky new hotel may do for its neighborhood what its sister hotel, the Gansevoort, did for the now-ubertrendy Meatpacking District.

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Nashville-Style Napalm: Comparing Two Hot Chickens

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In the case of Nashville’s specialty chicken, revenge is a dish best served hot.

Nashville-style hot chicken was reportedly invented by an incensed girlfriend as a warning for her unfaithful lover. She spiked fried chicken with fiery spices and served it to her tomcatting boyfriend, Thornton Prince. Prince loved the peppery poultry; the resulting Prince’s Hot Chicken shack, run by Thornton’s niece André, is now a local legend.

With my lips still tingling from a recent visit to Prince’s, I decided to test a northern homage to hot chicken. A new Brooklyn restaurant, Peaches HotHouse, now serves the dish. How would it stack up to the original?

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Mexicana Files for Bankruptcy

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Poor Mexico.  First its tourism industry takes a hit from the H1N1 virus outbreak.  Then an escalation of drug-related crime scares other travelers off.  Now, the national airline, Mexicana, has filed for Chapter 15. The airline, citing increased fuel and labor costs as well as the drop in tourism, has racked up $1 billion in debt. While the airline says that flights will continue as scheduled, 31 Mexicana flights in Mexico and the U.S. have been suspended since Monday and passengers rescheduled with other carriers.  If you’re holding a Mexicana reservation, check the airline’s website, http://www.mexicana.com, or call (877) 801-2010, to confirm your flight’s status.  Ay, caramba.

Ann Shields is a senior online editor at Travel + Leisure.

Photo of the Palacio de Bellas Artes, Mexico City: MJ Photography/Alamy

Fierce Hurricane Season Predicted

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USA Today | Federal forecasters Thursday called for an "active" to "extremely active" hurricane season this year. They predict anywhere from 14 to 23 named storms to form in the Atlantic Ocean, Caribbean Sea and Gulf of Mexico.

Of those named storms, eight to 14 should become hurricanes, including three to seven "major" hurricanes with wind speeds above 111 mph.

This prediction is the highest of any that federal forecasters have made since they began issuing seasonal hurricane forecasts in 1998.

Photo credit: iStock

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Chicago is Worst Tax City for Travelers

USA Today |  Travelers pay up to $101 in sales, hotel, rental car and other extra taxes aimed at them on an average three-day domestic trip, a study out today from a business travel group says.

The study, commissioned by the National Business Travel Association, says travelers pay not only local sales taxes on goods and services when they go to a U.S. city, but up to 144% more each day they rent a car, stay at a hotel and dine.

The association, which represents 5,000 corporate travel departments and suppliers, estimates that each of its members pays $3.51 million a year in state and local taxes that target travelers—excluding what they pay in taxes on airfares.

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Seeking Tango Bliss in Italy

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The cobblestone highway through Naples was four cars wide with a cacophony of motorbikes weaving in and out and vendors hawking their wares. “This reminds me of a New York City tango floor,” Renee, my traveling companion and fellow tango dancer, commented. I had been a follower on the dance floor and was wholly unprepared for navigating this, but it seemed the only way to get us to the ferry for the tango festival in Capri.

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Obsession: Blue Bottle in Brooklyn

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I’ve been hitting the bottle for breakfast lately. Not just any bottle—the new outpost of Blue Bottle Coffee Co. in Williamsburg, Brooklyn.

This is the first time the cult Bay Area coffee roaster and café has branched out beyond its native turf. Since its opening in March, New Yorkers have given it our signature warm-slash-blasé welcome. Now that the shop has settled into its skin, it’s starting to host classes and public cuppings.

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Game! Set! Save! US Open Deals

cookie_close_up.jpgFrom Aug. 24 through Sept. 12, 2010, tennis greats from around the globe will descend on Flushing, Queens for the US Open. Here are a few deals and promotions to get you in the swing of things:

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Vacationist: Sicily and More Amalfi Coast!

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This week, the values offered by Vacationist.com transport you to Southern Italy. (What better destination to top off the lovely summer season?)

With 22 cliffside rooms overlooking the Bay of Salerno on the Amalfi Coast, book at the Relais Paradiso—for up to 35 percent less than other booking sites—and you'll also have access to gardens, a solarium, and an outdoor pool/patio with spectacular bay views.

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Spirit Air: Money Talks, and Talking Costs Money

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In its latest salvo against the traveling public, Spirit Airlines said it is considering a new surcharge—a fee to speak with Spirit airport employees. Spirit CEO Ben Baldanza told ABC News that it is considering such a fee in light of its airport kiosks that allow customers to buy tickets, check-in, and select or change seats without any human interaction. Baldanza told ABC News that flyers won’t see this new surcharge “any time soon.” What customers are seeing this week, however, is Spirit’s newest surcharge—a fee of up to $45 for carry-on bags placed in an overhead bin. That new fee began on Sunday, August 1.

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Smart Traveler Mark Orwoll is also the international editor at Travel + Leisure.

Virgin & Twitter Partner for 24-Hour Sale

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Twitter & Virgin America have teamed up for what they're calling the #FlyForwardGiveBack 24 Hour Sale, with one-way ticket prices starting at just $39. To take advantage of this sale, which started just this morning, be sure to book by 7 a.m. PDT on August 4. Virgin will donate $5 from each flight booked (up to $50,000 to KIPP (Knowledge is Power Program) Classroom Projects on DonorsChoose.org.

See more details here.

Joshua Pramis is an online associate editor at Travel + Leisure.

Photo courtesy Virgin America.

China to Debut Bus That "Eats" Cars

One of China’s latest innovations—something being called the “straddling bus” (or as my friend says, "the bus that eats cars")—will help alleviate the heavy traffic issues found in major cities.

Part bus, part traffic tunnel, the invention—of which the renderings more resemble a monorail than a bus—not only rides right alongside street traffic, but on top of it as well. Crazy, right? (The video above shows how it works. Though it's in Chinese, you’ll get the gist.)

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USTA Launches Gulf Oil Spill Information Website

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Travel Pulse
GulfTravelUpdate.com, a portal site that centralizes links to up-to-date travel and recovery information on Alabama, Florida, Louisiana and Mississippi—the states directly affected by the BP Oil Spill. GulfTravelUpdate.com includes links to traveler information from federal, state and local sources, plus oil spill news coverage and a map featuring the spill's impact on gulf shores from media partner USA Today. Deals and special offers for travel to the Gulf Coast region are also available.

“This site compiles a tremendous amount of information from states, destinations and agencies on the status of beaches and coastal communities along affected areas of the Gulf Coast," said Roger Dow, president and CEO of the U.S. Travel Association. (...) Photo courtesy of GulfTravelUpdate.com.

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Galapagos Off Heritage Endangered List, but Everglades Added

201008-b-galapagosjpgM&H NewsUNESCO has elected to remove The Galapagos Islands from the List of World Heritage in Danger due to significant progress in protecting its ecosystem, but the degradation of the Everglades National Park means it has been added to the at-risk list.

Described as a unique living museum and showcase of evolution, the islands were threatened by invasive species, rampant tourism and over-fishing, however, significant progress has been made by Ecuador in the past few years to address these problems, particularly in dealing with introduced species.

The same cannot be said of the Everglades.

The national park contains the largest mangrove ecosystem in the western hemisphere, the largest continuous stand of sawgrass prairie and the most significant breeding ground for wading birds in North America, but  serious and continuing degradation of its aquatic ecosystem have seen it inscribed onto the list at the request of the United States. (Photo credit: Blue Footed Boobie, Courtesy of International Expeditions)

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House Passes Aviation Safety Bill

MSNBC / Associated Press — The House voted Wednesday to toughen regulations on pilot training, qualifications and work schedules, a response to a fatal crash in upstate New York in February and other accidents involving regional airlines.

The bill, which was approved 409-11, would require all pilots that fly for a passenger-carrying airline to have an Air Transport Pilot certificate, effectively raising the number of flying hours an entry-level airline pilot must have from the current 250 hours to 1,500 hours.

The bill allows the FAA to credit course work at specific flight training schools toward the requirements for receiving an Air Transport certificate. The schools had expressed concern that would-be pilots would skip the schooling to concentrate on accumulating flying time.

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New Festival Celebrates Retro British Cool

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If Mad Men Sunday nights don’t roll around fast enough, perhaps it’s time to hop a plane for Southern England. August 13-15 will mark the first annual Vintage at Goodwood festival— celebration of “Creative British cool” from the 1940’s through the 1980’s at the Goodwood Estate in West Sussex, England.

Vintage will feature the best in retro music, fashion, art, design, film and food from around the U.K., translated by a select group of modern artists inspired by the last century. These artistes will disburse their wares at specially constructed centers around the grounds, including five, decade-focused music venues (The Tanqueray Torch Club, for example, features a 1940’s nightclub vibe and a stylish restaurant; by day there’ll be lessons in period dance steps followed by a tea dance—and by night, a burlesque show).

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Opening: Eco-Friendly InterContinental Times Square

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Yesterday Times Square welcomed the InterContinental to the neighborhood. On the corner of 44th Street and 8th Avenue, this is the newest hotel to be built from the ground up in Manhattan in the past eight years. The eco-friendly hotel, which had a "vine-cutting" ceremony at the grand opening ceremony, is currently seeking silver LEED certification, and if granted, it will be the largest new-build hotel on the East Coast to attain this environmental badge of honor due to green initiatives such as low-flow toilets, local and recycled construction materials, and two green roofs on the seventh and second floors.

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Domestic Airfares on the Rise

USA Today / Associated Press |  If you think airfares have been rising, it's not your imagination.

Figures just released from the government, while a bit dated, show that airline prices in the first three months of this year rose nearly 5% from a year earlier. And that doesn't include baggage fees and other extras that airlines charge.

But if you take a step back, air travel still looks like a bargain. Average fares are 25% lower than they were in 1999 after adjusting them for inflation, the government says.

The numbers were contained in a report issued Wednesday by the Transportation Department. The average domestic fare in the first quarter of 2010 rose to $328. Since 2001, the average price for the first quarter was higher only once — in 2008, when it hit $333.

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Contest: See Lady Gaga in Vegas for FREE

Lady Gaga.

If you’ve never heard of this international artist—I say artist rather than musician because what she does is art, in so many forms—there’s a good chance you have spent the last two years living under a rock, or in complete isolation. A veritable overnight sensation, Gaga has such a devout fan base—whom she affectionately refers to as her “little monsters”—getting tickets to one of her live concerts can be near impossible. (Not only do her tickets sell out in a matter of minutes, when she performed for the Today Show on July 9 this year, a record 18,000 fans crowded the streets in NYC’s Rockefeller Center just for a chance to see/hear her perform a few songs, no ticket required.)

On August 13, Gaga will be taking the stage at Las Vegas’s MGM Grand Garden Arena and, though tickets have already sold out (naturally), there are two ways you have a chance to not only win a trip to Vegas to see this concert for free, but also meet her. (I know, dream come true, right?)

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Vacationist: B.C., San Francisco, and Tuscany

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Already took your summer vacation, but can't wait to get away again? Now's the time to book your next escape for a late-summer sojourn or an early fall weekend getaway. Go to Vacationist.com, and check out the newest batch of values offered by the some of the world's greatest luxury hotels and resorts with rates as low as $129 a night!

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Continental Tests 'Self-Boarding' at Houston Airport

USA Today |  Boarding a plane without an agent to inspect or take your pass has arrived in the USA.

Continental Airlines has confirmed it's testing the procedure at a gate at its hub in Houston Intercontinental. It's the first experiment at what's called "self-boarding" in the U.S.

In self-boarding, passengers — much like customers of the New York City subway—swipe their boarding passes at a kiosk reader at the gate. That opens a turnstile or door to the jet-bridge. Although an agent isn't there to take the pass, one is typically present to handle problems and other customer service tasks.

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How to See D.C. in Summer Without Killing Your Kids

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Budget-style family trips to Washington, D.C.—everyone sleeping in one hotel room with tiny bath towels doing double duty at a tiny hotel pool—can still be fun, don’t get me wrong. But just don’t try one in summer. 

Summers in D.C. are brutally hot and relentlessly crowded. The museums along the Mall, because they are free and air-conditioned, invite larger than usual huddled masses yearning to breathe free air-conditioning. The crowds dully shuffle past Lincoln's top hat and Apollo space capsules and Plains Indian weavings, and what seemed exciting and inspiring begins to seem stultifying and meaningless.  Your kids start to talk about the hotel pool.  Frequently, and in increasingly thin voices. Your feet hurt and there’s too much more to see before you head back to the featureless hotel room.  Budget no longer seems worth the savings. 

This thoughtful package from the Mandarin Oriental (parents note: sun-lit 50-foot indoor pool, guestroom views of the Jefferson Memorial or the Tidal Basin) makes some sense if you can splurge and would like to avoid all that huddling and loud yearning.

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Annoyances Mount Over the Body Scanner

New York Times |  You may think of this as the summer of the heat wave. I prefer to think of it as the summer of the body scanner.

Transportation Security Administration buys these machines and installs them at more and more airport checkpoints, a lot of travelers are having their initial encounters with them. And while I hear from large numbers of readers who hate the idea, it’s becoming increasingly clear that body scanners will soon be a standard part of the air travel experience.

Today, 142 body scanners are in use at 41 airports, and the security administration says it will have more than 450 installed by the end of the year.

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Haute Hotel Deal: Elysian Partners with Marc Jacobs

This summer, The Elysian hotel in Chicago is celebrating America—and great American designer, Marc Jacobs—with a complimentary limited edition towel and tote:201007-b-usatotejpg

From now through Labor Day, book a room at the Elysian and receive a super-cute USA totebag and American Flag beach towel from Marc Jacobs. They're the perfect accessories to bring to North Avenue Beach.

The bag (just $18) is also available at Marc Jacobs stores (the only one in Chicago is at the Elysian Hotel). Book at ElysianHotels.com. Rates start at $495 and include breakfast in bed.

Courtesy of Elysian Hotels/Marc Jacobs

Strict New Regulations Set for Cruise Ships

201007-b-cruiseillojpgTravel Agent Central |  A new U.S. bill aimed at increasing safety on cruise ships is set to become law. The Cruise Vessel Safety & Security Act will require cruise lines to install peepholes on cabin doors, ensure rails are no lower than 42 inches and provide passengers with information on how to report crimes. The law means business: non-compliance can result in denial of entry into U.S. ports, civil penalties up to $50,000 per violation and criminal penalties up to $250,000 and/or one year’s imprisonment. (Image credit: Ryan Heshka)

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