Posts Tagged With: resorts

NYE Times Square: Joe’s Adventure & Survival Guide

Hello fellow Travelers!

I thought I should offer a few hints, a few do’s, a few don’ts for making a trip to Times Square for the big party an enjoyable one.

First let me say…. EVERYONE walking upright in this big beautiful world of ours should spend at least one New Year’s Eve in Times Square. I mean, really….  can you legitimately go to meet your maker having not checked this one off your bucket list?  I almost think that angel at the gate just doesn’t let you pass until………

World Traveling Joe’s Time Square NEW YEARS EVE Adventure and Survival Guide.

In general I am not a guy that stays up really late unless in Barcelona. I am the kind of guy that likes to plan things out to get the most of every experience. This is a story of a GREAT PLAN going BAD fast.  Hopefully you can learn and will be RICHLY rewarded with a WONDERFUL Times Square experience.

Dinner at Tao at 6PM:  This was a GREAT DECISION. Food was incredible and the people watching SUPERB. Lots of celebs LOVE this $70 million revenue restaurant.

Broadway Play: OK, I was thinking, go to a play keep awake until things start heating up in Times Square. Probably time for dessert and after dinner drinks before heading into the zoo (oops meant Times Square). This initially was a GREAT decision, that is until walking out after the play. A cabbie informed us that all the streets had already been closed off and no reason for a cab. We started walking just the few blocks to Times Square but found that those streets were closed to pedestrian traffic too, even to people dressed in REALLY NICE in theatre clothes. We arrived WAY below times square after a 2 hour jigsaw puzzle of walking about 2.5 miles. The wifey was clearly not excited about my grandiose plan for the evening when she just walked over 2 miles in high heels! GOOD PLAN GONE REALLY BAD.

Ball Drop:  A policeman was nice enough to move a few feet so that we could squeeze by and get a rocking back and forth view of the ball drop. It was extraordinary in all its’ splendor.  VERY GOOD DECISION even though we were SUPER tired of walking.

HEADING TO THE HOTEL: This proved to be one of the worst experiences of my life. I am claustrophobic (don’t like to be in tight places). We started toward our hotel and the crowd PUSHED us almost two blocks away with absolutely no choice on our part. You see, when 2-3 million people want to go one way and you want to go the other it really doesn’t matter, you are “going with the flow” or getting trampled. I am thankful I am tall so I could hold my above others or not sure what I would have done. It is the only time I have actually had thoughts of fearing for my life. We finally got behind a large column and just stayed there until the majority of the crowd dissipated (high heels off in 28 degree weather at that point). We finally arrived at our hotel at approximately 3AM.

Hint’s:   (Oh heck these are MANDATORY!)

The streets will start closing at noon. Plan your evening and route accordingly. Plan your return route. If you are taking a cab into the city – get there before 3PM to save the first stage of walking. Wear denim and COMFORTABLE shoes. Dress warm and bring pocket warmers. Bring a raincoat or other liquid resistant outwear. If it doesn’t rain you will CERTAINLY be doused by all sorts of beverages and that is 100% guaranteed. Bring snacks. Nearby restaurants will start closing by 3PM. Mentally get psyched for NO BATHROOM. I don’t have a good tip for this but I think there are 2 million people trying to get into 2 porta potties – ain’t happening. Find a spot to stand that has some vertical cover in case of a crowd rush, preferably far enough away to have at least 1ft x 1ft of standing space. Do not have loose items:  Example if you drop your cell phone there is some risk of not being able to pick it up. As it grows closer to midnight the crowd starts pushing harder and harder toward the ball drop. EXPECT super crowded conditions.

WOW! I hope I didn’t scare you. You do have to experience it yourself. Just be prepared. Just Like Gilligan thought he was out for a 3 hour tour! And see what happened to him!

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GLAMPING: Is that a word? Or just a REAL HOUSEWIFE word?

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I grew up CAMPING. I mean canvas tents, Coleman stoves and lanterns. Spending the evening around a camp fire that we actually built from sticks and limbs and logs we found that was started with a piece of rich pine (Ask me what that is)…. joyously listening to the crickets, frogs, and other wildlife while enjoying a gooey S’more (you better know what that is). This was REAL camping. It was even sort of real when we added a Keg (yes-that’s beer) to our list of supplies. COLLEGE days did sneak in there, so it seemed appropriate.

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Now enter the world of GLAMPING. Pardon me city slickers, but what the hell is that? Now understand, I live in the city now, with fresh cut grass, a nice wine cellar and a real pool in the backyard but GLAMPING. Give me a break!  Just a question girls….  did this term come from THE REAL HOUSEWIVES?  (in some parts REAL housewives can clean the fish and mow the yard – a topic for another blog!)   I am not sure where GLAMPING came from but WORLD TRAVELING JOE WANTS TO EXPLORE IT!

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If you are in need of an ENTIRELY different vacation experience or just a budget holiday you might try it, or if you want to slightly brush the outdoors then, maybe it’s time you booked yourself a few nights in one of the many luxury camping tents and cabins that qualify you as a GLAMPER.  Now… don’t try this if your natural manly instincts to brave the great outdoors, make your own fire and cook foil wrapped potatoes is what you really want to do but this could be a good transition if you are a beginner camper or even just want to try it once.

So what is glamping and what are the advantages?

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The home comforts

I do love the experience of traditional camping but I have to admit it is a nice change to be able to enjoy a few of the comforts of home too. Cold beer and wine in the fridge, a sink to wash up and a gas stove make things easy. The showers and toilets are much cleaner than generally available in campsites, although there is just no experience like bathing is a crisp and clear mountain stream. Also having tables indoors to play cards and board as well as somewhere to plug in the lap top  is another nice luxury – not like using an old fashioned picnic table but a nice luxury.

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The Kids

Kids LOVE camping and GLAMPING gives them the opportunity to experience the great outdoors without losing all of the amenities of a hotel. Typical GLAMPSITES (sorry – but I hate that word) have between 12 and 24 tents or cabins surrounding common areas. Most are situated near natural landmarks such as lakes, rivers, mountains and many offer lots of things to do like hiking, boating, kayaking and many other things. Some offer organized outdoors tours and natural education. All good for children and keeping yourself busy. The area is usually totally secure so you will feel really comfortable sitting outside your cabin sipping a nice cocktail or glass of wine watching the kids play, or if you’re anything like me then you can feel free to jump in and have a bit of fun too.

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The cost 

A great thing about glamping is the cost. You can expect to pay somewhere between $15 and $50 per night depending on the level of amenities that you desire. Of course if you go REAL HOUSEWIFE STYLE then that might be as expensive as the Ritz Carlton…. but of course you would get an Italian cabin Boy named Eduardo and an unending supply of wine!  I suggest going lower end with just the amenities you think you MUST have so that you can indeed experience the great outdoors. Comparatively you will pay half or less of the cost of a usual hotel room.

GLAMPING:  It’s not camping in the true sense of the word but guess what… I LIKE IT! Maybe I am tired of being Daniel Boone or Davy Crockett (OK – dated myself a little then!) and am ready for a little work to be done for me. AND if you are not a regular camper with all the gear clean and ready to go, it can be a painful experience to get ready. Think… more time getting ready than actually camping = NO FUN.  GLAMPING is great middle ground.

With any vacation travel it is all about the people you are with and the experiences you have.

LET’S GO GLAMPING!

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Top Rain Forests in the World

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Daintree National Park, Australia
This Queensland preserve, the largest rain forest in Australia, is rimmed with white, sandy beaches. The stand is thick with ferns, palms and rare conifers, some of the earliest trees to develop on Earth. Laced with rivers, streams and waterfalls, Daintree is home to more than 400 species of birds. destinationqueensland.com

Tongass National Forest
Alaska
The nation’s largest national forest covers 17 million acres in southeastern Alaska. First preserved by President Theodore Roosevelt, the temperate rain forest is home to three American Indian nations and 19 designated wilderness areas. Visitors come to see glaciers, eagles and bears. 907-747-6671; fs.usda.gov/tongass

Khao Yai National Park
Thailand
The third-largest park in Thailand harbors more than 3,000 species of plants and 320 species of birds, plus scores of other animals, including bears, elephants, bats and gibbons. Visitors frequently travel from Bangkok for kayaking, hiking and nighttime wildlife viewing. Many people stay at park lodges and cabins. tourismthailand.org

Nouabal-Ndoki National Park
Republic of the Congo
Visitors can discover a range of African animals from elephants to gorillas to antelope in this huge park, which has one of the densest animal populations in Africa. The forest covers 1,500 square miles; many parts are largely inaccessible and still unexplored. wcs.org/saving-wild-places.aspx

El Yunque National Forest
Puerto Rico
The only tropical rain forest in the U.S. National Forest System, El Yunque is a true jungle with lush foliage, waterfalls and rivers. Chris Wille, chief of sustainable agriculture for the Rainforest Alliance, calls El Yunque “a full-on rain forest experience. It has a glorious variety of ecosystems, from the towering canopy forest in the lower parts to the highland elfin forest with its bonsai-like plants.” The forest lies on the slopes of the Sierra de Luquillo Mountains and covers 28,000 acres, which makes it the largest block of public land in Puerto Rico. It gets 200 inches of rainfall a year. fs.usda.gov/elyunque

Maya Biosphere Reserve
Guatemala
Not only is this 525,000-acre region rich in natural wonders, it’s also home to archaeological treasures like the ruins of Tikal, site of some of the oldest and largest Mayan pyramids. “It’s magical, and besides having all this culture and temples, you can also experience this wonderful environment,” Solano says. The area is a habitat for jaguars, crocodiles and howler monkeys. tikalpark.com

Monteverde Cloud Forest Biological Reserve
Costa Rica
Probably the most famous cloud forest in the world, this 26,000-acre Central American preserve harbors reptiles, amphibians and a huge variety of orchids and other plants. “It’s a wonderful rain forest experience. Most of the hotels near the park follow sustainability practices,” Solano says. 866-267-8274; visitcostarica.com

Yasuní National Park
Ecuador
One of the most biologically diverse places on the planet, this Amazon Basin park has a huge variety of trees, amphibians, birds, bats and other mammals, Solano says. “It’s a conservation hot spot.” It also preserves human diversity with several isolated native tribes. “Some of these communities have never had access to our culture.” discover.ecuador.travel

Tambopata National Reserve
Peru
This huge rain forest, home to 1,200 species of butterflies, has been threatened by gold mining, Solano says. But the growth of tourism has helped residents see the value in preserving the natural setting, which covers 3.6 million acres. “Very committed businesspeople from the community have been changing minds.” visitperu.com

Hoh Rainforest
Olympic National Park, Washington
One of the country’s best examples of a temperate rain forest, this federally protected site gets up to 170 inches of precipitation a year. The wet conditions promote growth in an area dominated by towering hemlock and Sitka spruce. It’s home to bear, elk, deer and the northern spotted owl. 360-565-3130; nps.gov/olym

** The USA Today

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Avoid Tourist Scams

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Europe is a surprisingly creative place when it comes to travel scams. Many of the most successful gambits require a naive and trusting tourist. But don’t think it can’t happen to more sophisticated travelers too. There are many subtle ways to be scammed — a cabbie pads your fare, a shop clerk suddenly inflates prices, or a waiter offers a special with a “special” increased price. Be smart: Know what you are paying for before handing over money, and always count your change.  

Scam artists come in all shapes and sizes. But if you’re cautious and not overly trusting, you should have no problem. Here are some clever ways European crooks bolster their cash flow. (For more examples, look in the appendix for excerpts from my Graffiti Wall message board.)

Such a Deal!

If a bargain is too good to be true…it’s too good to be true.

The “Found” Ring: An innocent-looking person picks up a ring on the ground in front of you and asks if you dropped it. When you say no, the person examines the ring more closely, then shows you a mark “proving” that it’s pure gold. He offers to sell it to you for a good price — which is several times more than he paid for it before dropping it on the sidewalk.

The “Friendship” Bracelet: A vendor approaches you and aggressively asks if you’ll help him with a “demonstration.” He proceeds to make a friendship bracelet right on your arm. When finished, he asks you to pay a premium for the bracelet he created just for you. And, since you can’t easily take it off on the spot, you feel obliged to pay up. (These sorts of distractions by “salesmen” can also function as a smokescreen for theft — an accomplice is picking your pocket as you try to wriggle away from the pushy vendor.)

Leather Jacket Salesman in Distress: A well-spoken, well-dressed gentleman approaches you and explains that he’s a leather jacket salesman, and he needs directions to drive to a nearby landmark. He chats you up (“Oh, really? My wife is from Chicago!”) and gives you the feeling that you’re now friends. When finished, he reaches in his car and pulls out a “designer leather jacket” he claims is worth hundreds of dollars, which he gives to you as a gift for your helpfulness. Oh, and by the way, his credit card isn’t working, and could you please give him some cash to buy gas? He takes off with the cash, and you later realize that you’ve paid way too much for your new vinyl jacket.

Money Matters

Any time money changes hands, be alert.

Slow Count: Cashiers who deal with lots of tourists thrive on the “slow count.” Even in banks, they’ll count your change back with odd pauses in hopes the rushed tourist will gather up the money early and say “Grazie.” Also be careful when you pay with too large a bill. Waiters seem to be arithmetically challenged. If giving a large bill for a small payment, clearly state the value of the bill as you hand it over. Some cabbies or waiters will pretend to drop a large bill and pick up a hidden small one in order to shortchange a tourist. Get familiar with the currency and check the change you’re given: The valuable €2 coin resembles several coins that are either worthless or worth much less: the 500-lira coin (from Italy’s former currency), Turkey’s 1-lira coin, and Thailand’s 10-baht coin.

Talkative Cashiers: The shop’s cashier seems to be speaking on her phone when you hand her your credit card. But listen closely and you may hear the sound of the phone’s camera shutter, as she takes a picture of your card. It can make you want to pay cash for most purchases, like I do.

Meeting the Locals

I want my readers to meet and get to know Europeans — but watch out for chance encounters on the street.

The Attractive Flirt: A single male traveler is approached by a gorgeous woman on the street. After chatting for a while, she seductively invites him for a drink at a nearby nightclub. But when the bill arrives, it’s several hundred dollars more than he expected. Only then does he notice the burly bouncers guarding the exits. There are several variations on this scam. Sometimes, the scam artist is disguised as a lost tourist; in other cases, it’s simply a gregarious local person who (seemingly) just wants to show you his city. Either way, be suspicious when invited for a drink by someone you just met; if you want to go out together, suggest a bar (or café) of your choosing instead.

Oops! You’re jostled in a crowd as someone spills ketchup or fake pigeon poop on your shirt. The thief offers profuse apologies while dabbing it up — and pawing your pockets. There are variations: Someone drops something, you kindly pick it up, and you lose your wallet. Or, even worse, someone throws a baby into your arms as your pockets are picked. Assume beggars are pickpockets. Treat any commotion (a scuffle breaking out, a beggar in your face) as fake — designed to distract unknowing victims. If an elderly woman falls down an escalator, stand back and guard your valuables, then…carefully…move in to help.

The “Helpful” Local: Thieves posing as concerned locals will warn you to store your wallet safely — and then steal it after they see where you stash it. If someone wants to help you use an ATM, politely refuse (they’re just after your PIN code). Some thieves put out tacks and ambush drivers with their “assistance” in changing the tire. Others hang out at subway ticket machines eager to “help” you, the bewildered tourist, buy tickets with a pile of your quickly disappearing foreign cash. If using a station locker, beware of the “Hood Samaritan” who may have his own key to a locker he’d like you to use. And skip the helping hand from official-looking railroad attendants at the Rome train station. They’ll help you find your seat…then demand a “tip.”

Young Thief Gangs: These are common all over urban southern Europe, especially in the touristy areas of Milan, Florence, and Rome. Groups of boys or girls with big eyes, troubled expressions, and colorful raggedy clothes play a game where they politely mob the unsuspecting tourist, beggar-style. As their pleading eyes grab yours and they hold up their pathetic message scrawled on cardboard, you’re fooled into thinking that they’re beggars. All the while, your purse or backpack is being expertly rifled. If you’re wearing a money belt and you understand what’s going on here, there’s nothing to fear. In fact, having a street thief’s hand slip slowly into your pocket becomes just one more interesting cultural experience.

Appearances Can Be Deceiving

The sneakiest pickpockets look like well-dressed businesspeople, generally with something official-looking in their hand. Some pose as tourists, with daypacks, cameras, and even guidebooks. Don’t be fooled by looks, impressive uniforms, femme fatales, or hard-luck stories.

Fake Police: Two thieves in uniform — posing as “Tourist Police” — stop you on the street, flash their bogus badges, and ask to check your wallet for counterfeit bills or “drug money.” You won’t even notice some bills are missing until after they leave. Never give your wallet to anyone.

Room “Inspectors”: There’s a knock at your door and two men claim to be the hotel’s room inspectors. One waits outside while the other comes in to take a look around. While you’re distracted, the first thief slips in and takes valuables left on a dresser. Don’t let people into your room if you weren’t expecting them. Call down to the hotel desk if “inspectors” suddenly turn up.

The Broken Camera: Everyone is taking pictures of a famous sight, and someone comes up with a camera or cell phone and asks that you take his picture. But the camera or cell phone doesn’t seem to work. When you hand it back, the “tourist” fumbles and drops it on the ground, where it breaks into pieces. He will either ask you to pay for repairs (don’t do it) or lift your wallet while you are bending over to pick up the broken object.

The Stripper: You see a good-looking woman arguing with a street vendor. The vendor accuses her of shoplifting, which she vehemently denies. To prove her innocence, she starts taking off her clothes — very slowly. Once she’s down to her underwear, the vendor apologizes and she leaves. Suddenly all the men in the crowd find out that their wallets have “left,” too, thanks to a team of pickpockets working during the show.

**  From Rick Steve’s Europe 2013 “Through the Back Door”

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