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A Whale of a Time in the Canadian Subarctic

Paddling out into the river, it was hard to grasp just quite how far north I was. But sitting in a little yellow kayak, mere yards behind me swirled the Hudson Bay. And each stroke of an oar pushed me farther through subarctic waters toward the afternoon’s highlight: Beluga whales.

Churchill, Manitoba is known as the "polar bear capital" in October and November during bear season, but the tourism anarchist in me couldn't resist going in August. And while I desperately did want to see wild polar bears too, an off-peak visit in summertime also meant kayaking with whales on the Churchill River.

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Amtrak says, Guns Allowed on Board

Thanks to efforts by gun advocacy organizations, Amtrak passengers will now be allowed to bring their firearms on board. There are some restrictions. AOL Travel explains:

Congress ordered the reversal of a gun ban that had been in place on the government-owned railroad for nearly a decade, reports the Sacramento Bee. The policy change takes effect Dec. 15.

The new rail policy is in line with air travel rules that allow unloaded guns to be stored in locked baggage holds.

Gun owners will need to let Amtrak know 24 hours in advance of their intention to bring firearms onboard and the unloaded guns will need to be packed in hard-sided containers. These will be placed in special storage lockers - guns will not be allowed on trains that don't have checked baggage service.

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An Ode to John Galliano, Claridge's, and, of course, Christmas

John Galliano at Claridge's

A CHRISTMAS CORAL
John Galliano makes a splash
with his "Under the Sea" Xmas tree.
Sea horses, pink coral,
starfish, anemone.
Silver leaves and lavish jellyfish,
swim in Claridge's lobby.
It's my dearest winter wish
for a holiday suite at a
London hotel ever fab,
never snobby.

Shane Mitchell is a special correspondent for Travel + Leisure.

Photo courtesy of Maybourne Group.

The Hottest New Travel Technology

We head out to the PhoCusWright conference each year to find out what’s new in the world of Internet travel. This year’s was held last week at the Westin Kierland Resort & Spa in Scottsdale, AZ—and while we didn’t get a chance to play the property’s gorgeous golf course (which is so steeped in Scottish tradition you can rent a kilt to play in!), we did get a chance to meet with some cutting-edge creators of travel technology. Some highlights:

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First Taste: Jose Garces's Newest Philadelphia Restaurant

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As you may remember, I stumbled upon the relatively new Garces Trading Co. on a recent visit to Philadelphia. Well, chef Jose Garces opened yet another restaurant in the city: JG Domestic. This is his seventh in Philadelphia; his eighth including Mercat a la Planxa in Chicago. I was invited to celebrate the opening by enjoying a dinner at the new space, conveniently located directly behind the 30th Street train station.

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Vacationist: California, London, Florence, and New York

Parker Palm Springs

Vacationist has upped the ante this week, perhaps to spur you, happy Thanksgiving revelers, into shopping for travel this holiday season. Because if you’re planning to look for deals in the next few weeks, we’re delivering stellar hotel stays for up to 60% off, right to your inbox.

Here’s a taste of what’s in store: a desert oasis in California, New York’s SoHo for a song, plus, coming up, a 2009 World’s Best Business hotel in London, a 2010 It List recipient in Florence—even a coveted room in a midtown Manhattan skyscraper, for easy access to the tree lighting come November 30th. A bonus? You never have to fight the Christmas crowds at Vacationist.com.

Still not a Vacationist member? Click here to join.

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Contest Watch: Italy for Two, Tory Burch Shopping Spree, and More

Italy for Two, DK Books

This month's contest watch is all about indulging. Whether it's a culinary trip through Italy, a $1,500 shopping spree, or sports fanaticism, leave the moderation at home.

Trip for Two to Italy, DK Books
Enter now through February 28

To celebrate DK’s inspirational new book, Where to Go When: Italy ($40, Oct ’10), DK Eyewitness Travel is giving foodies the chance to win a trip to Italy valued at $4770. The lucky winner and a friend will choose from more than 40 Epiculinary tours. To enter to win, simply sign up to receive the traveldk.com e-newsletter or visit their website.

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Travelocity's Thanksgiving Task Force Keeps Flyers Up-to-Date with Twitter

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Today and tomorrow are among the busiest travel days for the entire year, as folks make their ways to visit loved ones for Thanksgiving. If you’re one of the many who will brave the crowded airports (something I have done once, and will never do again), you may not be able to avoid delays, but you can at least get a heads-up.

For the tenth year, Travelocity has set up its Thanksgiving Task Force, which places spotters in 12 airports across the country to monitor and post updates on security wait times, delays and cancellations, and crowd conditions.

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New York City's Insieme Restaurant Welcomes Chef Andres Grundy

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I recently had the opportunity to sample some of the new items on the menu of Theater District restaurant Insieme (Italian for “together”), compliments of new executive chef, Andres Julian Grundy. As a New York City resident, I’m required to feel compelled to avoid Times Square and the immediate vicinity whenever possible. But this restaurant is making me second-guess that compulsion.

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Hermès Makes a Splash on the Left Bank

Hermes Paris

For the first time in its 173-year history, Hermès has ventured across the Seine to open a boutique on the Left Bank. But although this shop is the house’s second-largest (after the Right Bank flagship) it surpasses the "store" concept on several counts.

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FAA Plans to Ease Thanksgiving Air Travel Delays

Air traffic may be a little less congested this Thanksgiving holiday period as the FAA, in cooperation with the Defense Department, said it will allow commercial flights in otherwise restricted military airspace beginning at 6 a.m. Tuesday, November 23, a day earlier than last year.

Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood announced this morning that the Defense Department will open airspace over such highly congested areas as the East Coast, the Gulf of Mexico, and the Southwest. Normal inland routes can continue to be used, according to the FAA.

The busiest Thanksgiving travel days are expected to be Tuesday, Wednesday, and Sunday. Normal airspace restrictions will go back into effect at 6 a.m. Monday, November 29.

The announcement comes on the heels of new security procedures at the nation's airports. Passengers are routinely being required to pass through a controversial backscatter full body scanner or to undergo a thorough, some say invasive, pat down by a TSA agent. Whether the FAA's plan to ease air congestion this holiday period is enough to ease any passenger anxiety over the enhanced security methods is still up in the air.

Smart Traveler Mark Orwoll is the International Editor of Travel + Leisure.

Vacationist: St. John, New York City, Charleston, Palm Springs and more

Galley Bay Resort & Spa

St. John's Galley Bay has its trump cards (private plunge pools; a brand-new spa; meandering lagoons) but our hearts are set on the big city—the sights, the sounds, the hustle and bustle. Thankfully, Vacationist gets it right this week, with impressive hotel deals in the Caribbean and New York, Charleston, and sunny Palm Springs. The city sales go live tomorrow, so shine your shoes and back your bags, and sit tight until logging on at noon EST. Then the all of these getaways are yours to enjoy, for less!

Still not a Vacationist member? Click here to join.

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UNESCO's Dubious Intangible Culture Awards

It's even better than reading The Onion. The UNESCO Intergovernmental Committee for the Safeguarding of the Intangible Cultural Heritage has just released its latest list of cultural practices worth preserving. While some of them are obvious choices (French gastronomy, flamenco), others are certain to leave you baffled—and perhaps even asking, "Do we really want to preserve some of these things?!" Once you read the list, you'll be left wondering why they forgot to add goldfish swallowing, 1K charity walks, and the Macarena.

Here are some doozies from the 2010 list, along with our 10-point Intangible Rating Scale (IRS) score and commentary:

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TSA to Passengers: Radiation or Groping?

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How would you like a tough-love security pat-down so thorough it would shame the most inveterate serial groper in the Tokyo subway system? No? Then how about a full-body backscatter X-ray that amounts to a virtual strip search (or as Stephen Colbert said, "that X-rays your X-rated parts")? If you're troubled by either option, voice your opinion in the new Your Travel Voice survey, sponsored by the U.S. Travel Association.

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Starwood, Red Roof, Others Offering 'Cyber Monday' Savings

Red Roof NextGen Room

With so much hotel booking conducted online, it makes sense that chains—and even individual properties—would jump on the Cyber Monday bandwagon. This year, it seems, there are more than ever. Some notable sales scheduled for Nov. 29 (aka, the Monday after Thanksgiving):

- Following up on their successful 2009 Cyber Monday sale, Starwood Hotels & Resorts is once again appealing to online bookers. As part of their "One Day Wonders" promo, the luxury chain is offering deep discounts at several dozen properties around the world. For example: ocean-front rooms at the Westin Diplomat in Ft. Lauderdale from $179 (regularly $309) and deluxe rooms at the St. Regis Aspen from $399 (normally $749). For the complete list, visit their Cyber Monday specials page; or, text "MONDAY" to 95495 to be reminded when the sale starts.

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Everything Changes, for the Better, at Beverly Hills' Test Kitchen

Test Kitchen

Q: What’s the first rule of Test Kitchen?

A: The chefs make—and break—the rules of Test Kitchen.

At the experimental eatery on the southern edge of Beverly Hills, where a rotating cast of L.A.’s finest previews new menus and tries out specialty dishes, nothing stays the same except the location.

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Celebrity Cruises Reacts Swiftly After Armed Attack in St. Kitts

St Kitts

Fresh from the Carnival Splendor mess, the cruise industry is facing yet another public relations problem after armed robbers accosted a busload of Celebrity passengers in St. Kitts. The cruise company was quick to respond. AOL Travel explains:

A spokesman for Carnival Cruise Lines tells AOL Travel News a call at St. Kitts by the Carnival Miracle, scheduled for today, has been canceled "as a precautionary measure," while the line awaits information from tourism and law enforcement officials on the island...

The attack by the masked gunmen occurred over the weekend as passengers from the Celebrity Mercury were visiting Brimstone Hill Fortress, a popular tourist spot on bus tours of the island.

The masked robbers reportedly blocked the road with a fallen tree and then emerged from the bushes to rob those on the bus. The armed gunmen then disappeared into the woods.

No one was injured in the incident. The robbers made off with valuables including cash, jewelry and cameras. Local police are investigating.

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Photo courtesy of iStock.

Today Only: JetBlue Fares from $39

one-day jet blue sale

The period between Thanksgiving and Christmas is one of the slowest times of the year for travel, hence a great time to find bargains. JetBlue just announced a little more incentive to forego holiday preparation and the end-of-year work scramble. A one-day sale of airfares (for travel between November 29 and December 18) was announced this morning with fares that start at $39 each way.

Besides flying to big cities (where you could take advantage of holiday shopping and the height of the arts season), JetBlue can also deliver you to beachy destinations in Puerto Rico, Cancun, Florida, Aruba, Barbados, and St. Maarten.

For more information or to book, visit JetBlue. For other between-holiday travel bargains, we have 276 more come-hither options on our Deals page.

Ann Shields in an online senior editor at Travel + Leisure.

Photo courtesy of JetBlue.

Vacationist: Stays in the Southwest, plus the Caribbean, California, and Morocco

Little Good Harbour

For many of us, daylight savings means shorter days and colder weather (brrr!). But you don't have to worry about frigid temperatures in Arizona, California, and the Caribbean, where pools and beaches beckon thanks to Vacationist—all for up to 40% off. At California's Miramonte Resort and Spa in Coachella Valley, red-tiled roofs and Moorish details will transport you to the Mediterranean. Or take it up a notch, and live like a King at L Mansion, Marrakesh. For these trips and more, read on or click here. Shouldn't you be planning your next getaway?

Still not a Vacationist member? Click here to join.

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Announcing T+L's September Photo Contest Winners

Funny Sign contest winner

Once again, the competition was fierce at T+L's monthly photo contest. Nearly 2,000 "Funny Sign" photos were narrowed down to 10 finalists by a panel of T+L editors; the online community then voted for their favorites. The winner, "It's a Sign" (shown above), was submitted by T+L community member Harris Qureshi. To reward his sharp eye (and dry sense of humor), Harris will receive a set of Tumi luggage.

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Google to Sponsor Free Inflight Wi-Fi this Holiday Season

free-wifijpg

Traveling around the holidays—particularly Thanksgiving—can be challenging, to say the least. The snowy weather, massive crowds of people flocking home to see their families, and surge of flight delays and cancellations can chip away at one's holiday spirit.

Google wants to make travelers' ordeals a little more tolerable (once they make it onto their flights). The company is bringing back its free Wi-Fi for the holidays offer from 2009, but with a twist: instead of offering the service at airports around the country, they’ll be sponsoring free inflight Wi-Fi.

The service—which usually costs passengers $9.99 per flight, through Gogo—will be available on all AirTran, Delta, and Virgin America domestic flights between November 20, 2010 and January 2, 2011.

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Joshua Pramis is an online associate editor and resident tech guru at Travel + Leisure.

Photo courtesy of iStock.

Want to Be a Trendsetter? Start Here

Think eco-friendliness can’t be fun? Then you’ve never heard of Club Watt, in Rotterdam, the Netherlands. It featured a very unique dance floor: the energy absorbed from all that dancing powered the club’s electricity.

Finding unique answers to trends was just one of the topics discussed at last week’s MarketWatch, an event organized by Travel + Leisure at the Museum of Arts and Design in New York. The theme, “Influencing the Global Influencer: What Works” was discussed by speakers and an expert panel of those who live on the cutting edge of trends.

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Now Open, Brooklyn Winery: The Borough's First Urban Winemaker

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Brooklynites have been able to find vegetables, beer, and even wine produced in their own borough for quite awhile now. And while they’ve found ways to brew beer in their apartments, they haven’t been able to make their own vino. At least until the borough’s first winemaking center, Brooklyn Winery, opened its doors in Williamsburg a few weeks ago.

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Vacationist: Your ideal getaway to New Zealand, Florida, and Costa Rica

Lake Okareka Lodge by Lebua

Pristine, remote location? Check. Top-notch dining? Check. Stellar service? Absolutely! If you’re looking for your next escape—and really, who isn’t?—Vacationist has upped the ante this week, with deals of more than 40% off at relaxation-inducing hotels around the globe. And if that isn’t enough to lead you straight to the website, we have more great news, too. Vacationist sale sites now include more details than ever on hotels, plus insider tips, mini destination guides, and upcoming events calendars. Your next idyllic vacation is just a click away.

Still not a member? Click here to join.

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45-Pound Marshmallow Chick to Herald the New Year

PEEPS Fest

Don’t forget the PEEPS™ when planning this year's New Year’s Eve celebration. That’s right—they’re not just for Easter any more.

From December 29-31, PEEPS Fest will be held in the center of historic Bethlehem, PA. Surely destined to rival Burning Man, this celebration of the age-resistant marshmallow treats will feature live music, art, performances, a recipe competition, a 5K run, ice-sculpting, glass-blowing, and a PEEPS diorama competition (with scholastic and corporate divisions!).

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Airfare Site Adds Icon for Baggage Fees

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We like the new baggage icon at Fly.com, an aggregator website that compares airfares and itineraries from hundreds of airline and travel websites around the world. Click on the little suitcase next to the airfare for your itinerary and you'll get a window showing the checked baggage fees charged by that airline, giving you a better idea of the full price.

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It's Still Summer at Brooklyn's Red Hook Lobster Pound

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As if any of us in the northeast part of the country needed further proof, today’s chilling weather is another reminder that it’s time to put our shorts and tees into hiding—and bust out the pea coats and scarves.

Thankfully, I discovered that I can continue to get a taste of summer throughout the upcoming winter months, in the form of Maine-style lobster rolls, courtesy of the Red Hook Lobster Pound.

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Review: Philips Fidelio DS7550 Portable iPhone/iPod Speaker

Philips Fidelio DS7550

I’m one of those people who can’t go too long without plugging into my iPod, especially when I'm on the road. Luckily, more and more hotels are now furnishing rooms with iPod docks—but plenty others still don’t. And never mind vacation rental homes, which can be all over the place when it comes to amenities.

In situations like that, you either go without or bring something along. (Preferably something that won’t take up too much space in your suitcase.) One option is the Philips Fidelio DS7550 portable iPod speaker dock, which I had the opportunity to borrow this week.

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Vacationist: Las Vegas, Bangkok, Costa Rica

Punta Islita, Costa Rica

City slickers, take note: This week’s Vacationist deals include hotel stays in two of our favorite cities—Las Vegas and Bangkok—for less than $100 a night. If that doesn’t lure you in, we have other tricks (and treats!) up our sleeve: In both cities, current temperatures hover in the 70s and 80s, and, in Las Vegas, this weekend brings the inaugural Halloween parade. Dare we mention again that Bangkok ranked as the no. 1 city in this year’s World’s Best Awards survey?

Not to worry, however, if you’d prefer to leave the crowds behind. For a quiet beachfront getaway there’s 44% off at Hotel Punta Islita, on Costa Rica’s Playa Samara. Read on for more details, and of course, become a Vacationist member now.

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Larry Gagosian Opens New Paris Gallery and Project Space

Larry Gagosian New Paris Gallery

This year is turning out to be even busier than usual for Larry Gagosian. On the eve of the opening of the FIAC (the international fair for contemporary art in Paris), the contemporary art dealer unveiled a new gallery—his ninth—in the 8th arrondissement, a stone’s throw from the Elysee Palace.

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