Friday, December 31, 2010

New nonstop flights to Cancun on Delta

Taking a winter holiday to the Yucatan peninsula of Mexico just got easier for folks in Central Texas.

Delta Airlines is offering special fares from Austin and San Antonio to Cancun, Mexico to celebrate its launch of new nonstop weekly service between those cities.  One-way fares from Austin and San Antonio to the popular Mexican resort destination are available from $69.00 for travel between February 19 and March 26, 2011.

The service will operate on Saturdays, using 142-seat MD-88 aircraft, equipped with 14 seats in First Class and 128 seats in Economy.  These flights are part of Delta’s seasonal expansion during the popular high season in the Mexican Yucatan.

Flights leave Austin at 7:45 a.m. and arrive in Cancun at 10:00 a.m., giving you a full day for fun activities, exploring Mayan ruins, lounging on the beach, or shopping.  Departures, also on Saturdays, leave Cancun at 10:50 a.m. and arrive back in Austin at 1:30 p.m.  Similar schedules apply to San Antonio service.

Tickets are currently available for the special rate at and other online ticketing channels. 

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Lights Spectacular display shines throughout Johnson City, TX

Christmas is glowing in Johnson City, Texas, as Lights Spectacular displays shine throughout the town, with the Blanco County Courthouse as centerpiece of the fabulous show.  More than 100,000 twinkling lights are shining during the 21st year of this stunning display. 

Additionally, the Pedernales Electric Co-op’s Headquarters boasts a lighted forest of over one million lights. Together with lighting on local homes, businesses and churches, the Christmas presentation makes a glowing gift from the city to the public.  It’s an extraordinary exhibit worth the hour’s drive from Austin.
Lights shine each night until midnight through January 1, 2011. The Courthouse, where visitors can enjoy a decorated tree and sales of ornaments and crafts from the Garden Club, is open from 6-9 p.m. Saturday and Sunday nights,.  Carriage rides are available, and some local businesses have extended hours for holiday shopping or browsing through galleries.

Johnson City (named for the family of former president Lyndon B. Johnson) is located in central Texas, 48 miles west of Austin and 60 miles north of San Antonio.  It is one of the best stops on the Texas Hill Country Regional Christmas Lighting Trail—an unforgettable site even if you can’t travel the entire trail.

Visitors can stay overnight in a bed and breakfast cottage and enjoy down-home cooking at local restaurants.  Art galleries, wineries, antique shopping, and Pedernales State Park are nearby attractions.  Local businesses like these will appreciate your support:
Restaurants: Silver K Café, Chrome Cactus Burgers, Texas 290 Diner, Texas Hills Vineyard
Shops: Black Spur Emporium, De Leon’s Outpost, Mainstreet Boutique, Suzy D’s
Bed and Breakfast: Chantilly Lace Country Inn B and B and Restaurant

Photos by Larry Burmeier

Read more travel by Beverly at Striped Pot and Austin Adventure Travel

Holiday shopping can be an adventure

If you have travel plans for the holidays, you're probably trying to finish your gift shopping as soon as possible. It's almost the deadline for mailing packages, which should be wrapped in plain paper, not festive red and green Santa styles.

So you may be in for a real adventure during the days left before Christmas. It’s getting late to place online orders, and stores are overflowing with harried, short-tempered clerks. 

Put a smile on your face, and tackle the task with the same enthusiasm as hiking your favorite trail.  Here are tips from Ryerson University’s Ted Rogers School of Retail Management to help you zip through your last-minute shopping spree.

Specialty shops may be a better option
for gifts than a mall.
Buy the same gift for friends and relatives—maybe choosing different colors or themes.  Make it your signature gift, a tradition to follow each year.

If you know a retailer is holding a sale, try shopping after 6 p.m. the night before it starts.  Often discounts are already marked.

Comparison shop via the Internet, even if you buy in a brick and mortar store.

Create a personalized gift basket that suits a particular person.  If creating multiple baskets, you can buy in bulk and divide items among the baskets.

Give gift cards; holiday dollars go further after Christmas Day.

Consider alternate gifts such as charitable donations, movie or concert tickets, spa packages, hotel or airline credits, etc.

Keep packages delivered to your car out of sight--covered or in the trunk.

And a few more tips I’ve learned through the years:
  • If funds are tight, put the cash you’ve allotted for gifts in an envelope.  Shop until it’s gone, and then stop.  You’re through.
  • If you must take kids to the mall, feed them first—cuts down on whining for snacks.
  • Make your own gift certificates for things you can do to help friends or neighbors.
  • Regifting isn’t a sin—if the item is in excellent condition and you pass on something the new recipient will love.
  • Hum along with the piped-in music; familiar tunes make time spent looking through racks and shelves more enjoyable and help you remember the real meaning of Christmas.

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Holiday scenes sparkle at Santa's Ranch near San Marcos

Need a break from cooking, shopping, and wrapping gifts? Head toward San Marcos, Texas for an evening visit to Santa’s Ranch, one of the most spectacular Christmas light parks in central Texas. 

Lighted scenes similar to this fill the driving path at
Santa's Ranch Christmas Light Park.
You’ll drive through nearly a mile filled with holiday scenes illuminated by more than 1.3 million lights.  A 50-foot Christmas tree greets guests at the entrance. Lights twinkle in 100 displays and animations with trains such as Eskimo and sled dogs, carousel, space shuttle, village scene, and a 60- foot long Noah’s ark. Several crosses and Biblical scenes keep the Christmas spirit strong. Favorite fantasies include the drive-thru tunnels. The awesome blue-light tunnel is a shimmering “river” filled with 800 feet of twinkling lights. 

Once again Frank and Melanie Bass invite  families to drive through their holiday park, located on 12 acres of wooded rolling hills. Many visitors return each year to see what has been added. If you’re handy with a camera, there are lovely scenes around every turn, but you must stay in your car during the leisurely drive. 

Although other Christmas displays and parks in the Hill Country have closed, Santa’s Ranch Christmas Light Park has been successful in providing a wonderful holiday treat for families and friends to share.  And recent mild weather is perfect for an outing like this. From Austin take I35 south, exit 199, and stay on the access road for about a mile.

Santa's Ranch is open every night until January 3, 2015 from 6-10 p.m. Sunday-Thursday and 6-11 p.m. Friday and Saturday. Use all the seatbelts in your car (in other words, fill it with people), since entry is $28 per vehicle; $56 buys an unlimited season pass.  Check the website for coupons. For information call 830-743-1293.

Follow Beverly's travels at Striped Pot and Austin Adventure Travel

Thursday, December 16, 2010

Support Special Olympics and win 2 Continental Airlines tickets

Plan a getaway and support more than 36,000 Special Olympics Texas athletes at the same time. Enter the Special Olympics Texas' Continental Airlines raffle, and you could win two First Class or Business First Class tickets valued at $4,000 each.  These could be your tickets to Athens, Greece for the 2011 Special Olympics World Games... or travel anywhere Continental flies.
Purchase 1 raffle ticket for $25 or 5 raffle tickets for $100. Only 1,000 tickets will be sold from November 18, 2010 to January 3, 2011. Drawing will be held and winner will be announced on January 4, 2011. For more information, contact Joan Jarrett at 713.290.0049, ext. 223.

If you win, you’ll receive two certificates for travel from a single destination within the 48 contiguous United States, Alaska, Canada, Caribbean, Mexico or Central America to a single destination within either South America, Europe, India, Israel, Hawaii, CMI or Asia. Certificates are valid for travel through September 1, 2011.

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Tips for surviving holiday road trips--and bonus deal from Hertz

The holiday season is fast approaching, which means people are getting ready to pack their bags and travel. Whether you’re visiting loved ones or taking a winter vacation, disaster may be just an exit away when everyone piles into the car for a long road trip.  Stress from the flurry of activity before leaving, bodies trapped immobile for hours in a moving vehicle, and uncertainty about what you’ll find on arriving at your destination can all add tension to the trip.
These tips will help keep the fun in family travel.
Before you go
  • Choose destinations with something for everyone.  Include educational opportunities, shopping, outdoor activities, and sports.
  • Budget extra time, so you can enjoy the journey.
  • Be open to spur-of-the-moment stops, if you see something irresistible along the way
  • Plan the trip with extended family; it’s a great way to bond with grandparents or cousins.
 Plan for holiday driving
  • If you need to rent a vehicle, book early, pre-pay, or join a loyalty program to save money.
  • Use a GPS device for easier driving in an unfamiliar city and tips on roads to avoid during holiday parades.
  • Pack gifts in the trunk of your vehicle to avoid theft
  • Chill. You’ll get there soon enough, so don’t stress over less-than-ideal conditions
  • Leave work at the office—clear your calendar and your mind. 
  • Turn off electronic devices that demand attention.
  • Stay in the moment so distractions won’t zap family time.
  • Ditch your watch and slow down; go with the flow.
  • Murski Homestead Bed and Breakfast near Brenham,
    Texas provides escape from holiday hustle.
    Photo by Larry Burmeier
  • Stash the DVDs and talk to each other while in the car.
  • Share thoughts about the day’s activities during meal times.
  • Approach activities and see things from your child’s point of view.
 At your destination
  • Stay in a bed and breakfast or family-friendly hotel to lessen the stress of imposing on friends and relatives.
  • Savor quiet moments, and treasure private time with children or spouse.
  • Get a fresh outlook on your life and family while away from regular routines.
  • Relax. Time passes too quickly to get uptight about anything.

BONUS: Save up to $40 on your Weekly or Weekend Hertz Rental at the airport when PC#151034 is included in your reservation of an economy or higher class car.  Offer valid for pickup through January 31, 2011.

Sunday, December 12, 2010

Delta offers free Wi-Fi on flights during the holidays

Taking off doesn't mean you have to disconnect, especially this holiday season. With Wi-Fi on more than 2,200 domestic daily flights, you can check email, connect with friends and family, or catch the big game above 10,000 feet.

Delta Airlines has teamed up with Google Chrome — a really fast web browser — to offer complimentary Gogo® Inflight Internet on all Wi-Fi-equipped Delta flights through January 2, 2011.

Shop, surf or just stay in touch onboard your upcoming flight. To connect for free, just follow these easy steps:
  • Look for decals indicating your flight has Wi-Fi or check the seatback pocket for more information
  • Enable Wi-Fi on your laptop or handheld device
  • Select the 'gogoinflight' wireless network and launch your Web browser which will re-direct to
  • Click the 'Connect to the Internet' button to access free Wi-Fi courtesy of Google Chrome
For more information, check your seat pocket for the in-flight Internet information card or Sky magazine's In-flight Communication page.

Thursday, December 2, 2010

Have full-body scans hit the Austin airport?

If you’re planning to fly from Austin to visit family or just get away during the holiday season, you may be wondering how changes in security procedures are affecting departures at Austin-Bergstrom International Airport. Here's my personal report and results of a survey regarding new TSA regulations from Skyscanner, a leading travel search site. Read the full article at

Wednesday, December 1, 2010

Where the action is--touring the bridge on Allure of the Seas

Captain Hernan Zini oversees computers and radar
One of the most interesting sessions I participated in during the preview sailing on Allure of the Seas was a tour of the bridge—command central for the huge ship. Captain Hernan Zini oversees all activity from this area. Wide windows look out over the passing ocean for a bird’s eye view of the surroundings.

But the real task of piloting the newest Royal Caribbean ship falls on technology—computers and radar constantly update the crew with information about the weather, ship’s position, speed, direction, currents, and much more. In fact, Captain Zini said they can take the ship from port to port relying entirely on data provided by computers.

Curved windows give wide-angle views of the ocean
Sensors calculate the ship’s position in the water; only seven feet are below water level, while the floating resort soars 213 feet above the surface. The ship cruises at a speed of 22 knots, but the really neat thing is it can also travel sideways at four knots. Imagine having a car that could drive sideways.

Four bow thrusters with 7,500 horse power each move the 225,000 tons of wood and metal smoothly through the water. Despite some windy weather causing waves to kick up, I never felt movement on the ship. That’s a good thing, too, for the entertainers, especially dancers and high divers, who could miss their mark if the ship rocks even slightly.

Mathias Sebom is Superindendent of Safety
Crew members work in eight-hour shifts, with four hours usually spent on the bridge observing the ocean and four hours monitoring safety devices. Safety is taken very seriously, stressed Mathias Sebom of Sweden, Superindendent of Safety. Crew spend much time monitoring public areas of the ship through 1200 cameras stashed inconspicuously. That allows them to watch movement of passengers and know if anyone is in distress. The fire alarm system alerts staff if there is smoke anywhere, so security personnel can immediately check out the cause. Separate fire zones are delineated, and if there is a problem, it can be contained to one section of the ship. Drills are held weekly, and extensive training is ongoing to meet any challenges that might happen at sea.

Cameras monitor safety issues constantly

Zini, at age 43, is one of the youngest captains of a major cruise ship. He has been sailing with Royal Caribbean for more than 19 years, having developed a passion for sailing and rowing as a child in Argentina. Despite the enormous responsibilities he has on a ship that can carry upwards of 7,000 people, Zini maintains his sense of humor. As the Allure prepared to depart Port Everglades in Fort Lauderdale, he playfully announced over the PA system that we’d be on our way “If I can just find the keys. Now where did I put those keys?”

Photos by Beverly Burmeier

More articles on Allure of the Seas at

Monday, November 29, 2010

Allure of the Seas--Is It Too Big?

How big is too big for a cruise ship?

Royal Promenade is a busy avenue
That’s a question people have asked since I returned from a special two-day media voyage on Royal Caribbean’s newest mega-ship. It’s a concern I had, too. Would its size overwhelm guests? Would they continually find themselves lost at sea? Would crowds of people defeat the purpose of relaxing on vacation?

Central Park viewed from an upper deck
Not to worry: Allure of the Seas is a modern marvel—beautifully decorated, cleverly designed, accommodating of guests’ needs, and easily navigated by directionally challenged people like myself (thanks to the interactive maps found on every deck for providing easy-to-follow directions to any location onboard).

Interior balconies have great views, too
Able to accommodate 5,400 guests and more than 2,300 crew members, Allure is the largest cruise ship in the world. Yet its spaces are manageable due to the neighborhood concept pioneered by Royal Caribbean on the Oasis of the Seas and further refined on the Allure.

“We were determined to create a variety of spaces to end the thoughts of the ship being too big,” says Adam Goldstein, President and CEO or RCCL. “Because this ship is so large, we can afford to make numerous smaller spaces that all work well together,” he adds.

Captain Hernan Zini agreed: “Despite its size, guest experiences in many venues are quite intimate. For example, walk through Central Park at night and you’ll feel like you’re alone there, or stroll by moonlight on deck 14 for fantastic views of the front of the ship.” He was right.

Along with Oasis, Allure of the Seas features seven neighborhoods highlighted by lush Central Park. Open to the sky, it’s a gardener’s dream with live plants and a “green” wall covered with vines flowing across 25 feet and soaring five decks high. A custom-designed irrigation and drainage system and micro-climate control techniques give Mother Nature a little help in maintaining this tranquil environment.

Other themed neighborhoods include activity-loaded Boardwalk, featuring a hand-carved carousel; Royal Promenade with many guest-friendly services; Pool and Sports Zone for anyone who loves excitement or just relaxing; Vitality at Sea Spa and Fitness Center to ramp up the exercise level; Entertainment Place with multiple shows and theaters, and Youth Zone encompassing the Ocean Adventure kid’s club.

Boogie boarding on the FlowRider wave pool
Restaurants, shops, music, dancing, DreamWorks characters, theaters, shows, 3-D movies, lounges, ice rink, wave pool, zip line, rock walls, miniature golf, table tennis, jogging path, pools and hot tubs, spa and workout facility—if it can be found at a luxury resort, it’s probably on the Allure. With so many choices, passengers spread out around the ship. If you crave serenity, book a cabin with private ocean-view balcony or head to one of 16 passenger decks onboard. The choice is yours: you can party hearty, or find plenty of spaces to read, relax, and soak up some sun.

According to RCCL, the median age of guests is low 40s—keen travelers looking for a quality vacation that caters to an array of needs and preferences. That’s exactly what Allure of the Seas provides for couples, singles, and families. In this case, bigger means better.

Photos by Larry Burmeier

Read more about Allure of the Seas at

Saturday, November 20, 2010

Kayaking Big Cypress National Reserve in Florida

Larry in the mangroves
When our guide said to lay down the paddle and just grab and pull, I realized this wasn’t going to be the usual kind of kayaking adventure. Paddling through the mangroves of Big Cypress National Reserve meant using branches, roots, and vines along the Turner River just north of Everglades National Park to maneuver our way down the river.

Reflections show dense foliage we kayaked through
Earlier we had disconnected our two-sided paddles and used only half to forge our way through the river’s narrow channels. Although I’ve kayaked in many rivers and lakes, this was a new way of managing turns and tucks around a variety of natural obstacles. Not only were we constantly watching for alligators and feeding birds so we could paddle far enough away not to disturb them, but we also had to dodge low-hanging branches, sharp sawgrass along the water’s edge, and dense hydrilla patches in the river.

We kayaked past alligators in the swampy waters
Our group of four—my husband Larry and me and a young couple from Germany—had listened to a brief introduction by our guide from Everglades Adventures. She explained that for this excursion we would drive to the put-in off Florida’s Hwy. 41, paddle upriver on the Turner River Paddling Trail, swish through the river of grass, return to the put-in for a bathroom break, and then paddle south to the mangroves.

Big Cypress National Reserve was created in 1974 to protect water quality, natural resources, and ecological integrity of Big Cypress Swamp. It is home to the American alligator, Florida’s largest reptile. Anhingas, egrets, and herons are plentiful. Lucky visitors may see river otter, bobcats, black bear, and the endangered Florida panther. A variety of plants, including tiny purple orchids and spiky bromeliads were in rare bloom during our October adventure.

Larry emerges from the mangroves
For almost two hours we paddled upriver, enjoying the beautiful sunshine, cloudless blue sky, and lush foliage. Our paddles swooshed in the water as we listened to birds cawing, fish splashing, and bugs buzzing. Tiny alligators slithered among breaking branches and rustling leaves. Occasional sighs and whispers from kayakers interrupted the dainty chorus of nature sounds.

After our break, we glided under a low bridge, slithering our bodies way down into our boats for passage. Shortly after that our guide suggested we separate paddles to better maneuver through tight spaces. Lunch time came with nary a parking spot in sight, so we backed our kayaks into a tiny cove and devoured our packaged sandwiches.

Back on the trail, we entered the mangrove tunnel where paddling was impossible. Abandoning our paddles at this point, we used our hands to grab and go. That technique worked fine as long as stumps, roots, and vines were within easy reach, which wasn’t always the case. Thoughts of stopping to take pictures vanished as the current didn’t allow movement to pause. The moment I let the kayak drift I ended up stuck in a clump of sawgrass and had even more work to get myself free and pointed in the right direction.
Lovely reflections when the pool opened up after mangroves

At one point the guide hitched my kayak to hers, and the two of us cleared a path for the others through thick hydrilla. After struggling through the mangroves, the river suddenly opened into a spectacular pool, the perfect sport for reflecting on our journey.

Big Cypress National Reserve manages a broad range of recreational activities including kayaking/canoeing, hiking, and hunting. The entire Turner River Paddling Trail covers almost 10 miles and takes four to seven hours depending on river conditions and ability of the kayakers.
Photos by Beverly Burmeier

Read about riding the bicycle trail at Shark Valley in the Everglades at

Thursday, November 18, 2010

Celebrate Christmas past at LBJ National Historical Park in central Texas

Lyndon B. Johnson National Historical Park in Johnson City, Texas, will host "Timeless Christmas at the LBJ Boyhood Home and the Johnson Settlement" on Saturday, November 27. In conjunction with Johnson City’s 21st annual “Lights Spectacular,” park rangers will provide an open house from 6-9 pm at these historic sites, whick will be all decked out for Christmas celebrations reminiscent of the 1920s and the 1860s.

The LBJ Boyhood Home will be lamp lit, giving visitors an opportunity to experience family life at the Johnson's house as it was more than ninety years ago. National park rangers and volunteers will team up to portray a 1920s Christmas, complete with a cedar tree in the parlor adorned with handmade ornaments and a toy display beneath. Authentic decorations and seasonal goodies will be displayed throughout the home on December 4, 11, and 18, also.

Visitors can walk the short lighted trail from the front of the visitor center or board the shuttle bus at the back gate of the LBJ Boyhood Home for a five-minute ride to the Johnson Settlement, where they’ll be guided by lantern light even further back in time to a late 1860s Christmas in frontier Texas.

Decorations in Johnson City
Further up the path is the original Sam Johnson cabin, where Lyndon Johnson's grandparents first homesteaded in 1869. Here the lighting will be provided by candles, oil lamps, and two fireplaces. Decorations are much simpler, but there are also a tree and toys. Just as strangers were welcomed in the past, visitors may partake of refreshments before they strike out again on the trail home.

The Exhibit Center will be open for visitors wanting to know about life on cattle drives of long ago or learn what life was like for Lyndon Johnson's ancestors and other families who came after them and farmed this settlement land.

The LBJ NHP Visitor Center, located at 100 Ladybird Lane, will be open with lighted parking for visitors. The park store will offer a 15% discount on all purchases Saturday evening, November 27.

Blanco County Courthouse glows during the holidays
 These free park events are complemented by the stunning lighting display at the Pedernales Electric Cooperative, across the street from the LBJ Boyhood Home. Majestic live oaks are resplendent in hundreds of thousands of tiny white lights. Don’t miss the Blanco County Courthouse, centerpiece of the town's seasonal "Lights Spectacular" celebration.

For directions or additional information, call (830) 868-7128, extension 244.

Information courtesy of Liz Lindig, National Park Service

Photos by Larry Burmeier

Read more of Beverly's articles at and

Monday, November 15, 2010

Allure of the Seas: spectacular new megaship sails soon

 Allure of the Seas, Royal Caribbean International’s newest megaship (carries 5,400 guests), will sail its first week-long itinerary from Fort Lauderdale, Florida on December 5, 2010. Allure of the Seas joins sister ship Oasis of the Seas as the world’s two largest and most innovative cruise ships. Billed as a “city at sea,” Allure promises to be a truly amazing ship.

Along with Oasis, Allure of the Seas features the seven neighborhood design concept, highlighting lush Central park open to the sky. It’s a gardener’s dream with live plants and a “green” wall covered with flowing vine that spans 25 feet and soars five decks high. A custom-designed irrigation and drainage system and micro-climate control techniques give Mother Nature a little help in this special environment.

Aft view to Royal Promenade (under construction)
Other themed neighborhoods include Boardwalk, which features a hand-carved carousel, Royal Promenade, Pool and Sports Zone, Vitality at Sea Spa and Fitness Center, Entertainment Place, and Youth Zone.

Advanced information promises something for everyone in the entertainment department--from immersive DreamWorks Animation and 3D movie screenings to the at-sea premier of Broadway’s longest running theatrical production, “Chicago: The Musical,” ice skating shows, a spectacal of aerial acrobatics called “ Blue Planet,” and unique AquaTheater productions.

Main dining room (under construction)
 Hallmarks of Royal Caribbean ships that are featured onboard the Allure include the FlowRider surf-simulator, climbing wall, Royal Promenade and Adventure Ocean kids program. Specialty dining options run the gamut from Rita’s Cantina, an eclectic Mexican dining venue, to 150 Central Park, an upscale and intimate restaurant.

Passengers can experience Allure of the Seas on a five-day cruise to Labadee, Haiti departing December 1. Regular seven-day cruises start on December 5, 2010 with inside cabins going for $879. Once sailings begin, the ship will alternate between an Eastern and Western Caribbean itinerary. For a spectacular Christmas vacation, book a cruise on the Allure for December 19-26. Check sailings and destinations for 2011 at

I’ll be on a special media excursion of Allure of the Seas later in November and will provide first-hand reports about cabins, amenities, entertainment, and environmental and safety features.

Photos courtesy RCCL

Read more about travel at and

Thursday, November 11, 2010

Travel smart--stay healthy

Overcome motion sickness by focusing on scenery
outside windows of planes or cars.
Photo: Larry Burmeier
You’ve been waiting for vacation all year—time to relax and kiss stress good-by. Lounging on white sand beaches, hiking in crisp mountain air, shopping in foreign cities, or sampling exotic cuisine may be your vision of the perfect get-away.

But vacation plans can be sidetracked quickly if you get bogged down by extra baggage in the form of jet lag, diarrhea, motion sickness, sunburn, or altitude illness.

Read tips to help you stay healthy so you can enjoy your time away at .

More travel articles at and

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Puerto Vallarta is the place to celebrate a family holiday - Austin Adventure Travel |

Lovely beaches and plentiful accommodation
make Puerto Vallarta a great family destination
during the holidays
This Holiday season enjoy quality family time during an activity-packed Christmas and New Years with folkloric dances, fiestas celebrating Mexico’s Bicentennial, a Christmas circus and more. Get one night free at the oceanfront all-inclusive family-friendly Velas Vallarta.

No kids? Same deal at Casa Velas, an adults only boutique hotel and ocean club on the Marina Vallarta Golf Course. Both properties welcome Texans (fly direct from Houston) and will pamper guests with the best of everything.

Read the rest of the article at:,0

Tuesday, November 9, 2010

Arlington Hotel stands out among Hot Springs bathhouses

Beautiful ceiling in Arlington Hotel
The Arlington Hotel was designed with bathers and vacationers in mind.  Originally opened in 1875, it was the first luxury hotel in Hot Springs, Arkansas, commanding a prominent spot in the heart of historic downtown. During the city’s golden age in the early 1900s, more than a million world travelers came annually to immerse themselves in the steaming waters, and there was no better place than the Arlington to become immersed in the social scene as well. 

Read the full article at

Monday, November 8, 2010

Hot Springs, Arkansas is perfect spot for bathing beauties

Original tubs adds to historic appeal
The bathhouse attendant handed me a plain paper cup of hot mineral water collected from the tub spigot and said, “Drink this before it cools. It will acclimate your body from the inside.” This was important, said my attendant at the Arlington Hotel Spa in Hot Springs, Arkansas, because I had just slipped my naked body into water that was over 100 degrees.

I had come to “take the waters,” as multitudes of travelers have done for more than a century.
Read the rest of the article and see more photos at

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

How do you relax on vacation?

Do you spend vacations chilling out or maximizing your fun time? If you’re like most Americans, you get up early and get going rather than sleeping in. That’s a surprising fact uncovered by a survey recently commissioned by Princess Cruises.

The so-called “Relaxation Report” revealed that 55 percent of Americans put a priority on pursuing leisure activities versus sleeping late. Even so, 60 percent preferred a go-with-the-flow itinerary rather than a set schedule of activities (I’m among the 40 percent that prefers having a plan).

Where do vacationers like to unwind? The beach, according to two-thirds of respondents--with a good book (unless you’re from the Midwest, then bring a magazine), a drink (beer for men, wine for women), or music (country music won out in this contest). Of course, for Texans, the music choice isn’t surprising.

Watching television and exercising as ways to aid relaxation received votes from a scant 15 percent of men and fewer women. Contrary to popular belief, mindlessly surfing the Internet (nixed by 97 percent) or flipping from one television channel to another (opposed by 87 percent) are not great ways to relax on vacation. I’ll give props to anyone who can stay unplugged the whole time they’re gone.

Would you rather view a lovely sunrise or sunset? If you’re from the Northeast, you’re likely to rise and shine to see the sun appear, but vacationers from the Midwest or South prefer sunsets. Watching the sun go down can be the perfect mood-setter after a rejuvenating day.

How do you know when it’s time to get away? It’s a toss-up between being tired (30 %), cranky (28 %) and restless (22 %). If you’re feeling any of those emotions, just planning your next excursion can relieve some of the stress. If you’re looking for some R and R during the upcoming holiday season, consider booking a cruise (but do it now!).

As the survey shows, relaxation means different things to different people. As all-inclusive vacation spots, modern ships can provide exactly what you need, whether that means doing as little as possible onboard or creating an adventurous trip with active shore excursions.

Photos by Larry and Beverly Burmeier--taken on Mexican Riviera cruise, February, 2010.

Monday, October 25, 2010

Traveling as a single

Thanks to April Trent for this guest post. She is a part time radio announcer,master's student, and travel writer.She is the National Youth Travel Examiner for as well as the owner of and

Feeding goats at Grant's Farm in Missouri
  When you're young and single is a great time to travel.

Instead of doing something small—such as traveling for a few days to Canada—I decided that my first international travel experience would be to study abroad for six months in England without any fellow schoolmates. I was so excited because people within my major and within the newspaper I worked for had gone to this particular university in England as a pilgrimage. So, it was a way for me to feel like I belonged.

I did suffer from a minor case of culture shock when I landed in Manchester. I traveled across northern England to my university via coach and stayed with a local friend until it was time to attend university. I made new friends while I was there and I kept in touch with my friends at home via online. One of my new friends wanted to travel across Europe during spring break. At first, I thought traveling to seven cities in eleven days was going to be a headache. That was until I talked to my friends, who envied my ability to take such a trip.

While many people see being single as a lonely curse filled with agony and woe, I discovered singles have the freedom to do things that couples cannot do. Single people, can backpack through Europe, see what they want to see, do what they want to do, and travel when and how they please. They don’t have to worry about making someone else happy.

Actually, I only traveled through four of the seven cities, but I had more fun studying abroad than I had during my entire domestic college experience. I visited the Louvre in Paris (for free), climbed to the top of Edinburgh Castle, saw a Scottish wedding, celebrated Easter in Barcelona, and rode rollercoasters at Flamingo Land in Yorkshire. Because of that experience, I now love to travel!

As for tips to make the most of your journeys:

• You don't have to be alone. Stay in a hostel, talk to people, and you're bound to find a few fellow travelers who want to see the same things.

• Join the fun! Ask a knowledgeable friend, hostel staffer, etc. for locations where singles have fun. Better yet, find a hostel that has group nights for residents to go to clubs, tours, and activities.

If you are single, you have one of the best gifts available: freedom. Having a partner who loves to travel with you to the same places is even better. However, if you are single, do not underestimate your potential for creating enduring happiness.

Sunday, October 24, 2010

What is camping like in the Grand Canyon?

Typical camp for Beverly and Larry
Rafting on the Colorado River in the Grand Canyon means camping out in the open every night. Many people have asked what that’s like on a 10-day trip such as the one we took in September with Arizona Raft Adventures, so here’s a quick overview.

Amazing view from inside the tent
 First of all, be assured that the Grand Canyon is so amazing that it’s worth any inconveniences. The scenery is outstanding and constantly changing; if you take time prior to the trip (or during by reading the provided guide) to learn a bit about the geology, you’ll have an even greater appreciation of what two million years of wind, water, and internal heat can create.

Dinner--time to socialize
 Sunrise (yes, you’ll be awake) and sunset are both incredible sights--watching shadows creep over canyon walls. Stars shine brightly at night, and shooting stars are a common occurrence. Camp fires are not permitted, so when it gets dark, everyone goes to their tents (gotta have a headlamp or flashlight).

At the end of each day when the guides have decided where to stop, everyone in the group pitches in to help unload the rafts. We formed lines to hand off our blue bags (personal waterproof bags that contained everything we’d brought), folding chairs for our friendship circles, tents, pads, and sleeping kits, kitchen supplies and toilets (one pot for each thing you do).

The groover
 The bathroom or “groover” was set up in a discreet spot but often required navigating through sand, rocks, or shrubs to get there. It usually had a lovely view of the river, so we waved if another raft came by while using the facilities. Unlike some camping situations, you can’t go behind a bush. All urine goes in the river during the day, but you can use the pee pot when in camp. Solid waste must be carried out, as is all garbage. Hand-washing is mandatory, with a station always nearby.

While we set up our personal camping spots, the guides set up the kitchen area containing pots, plates, and utensils, a stove table and prep table, and a dish washing line. Water from the river was filtered and Clorox added to kill any viruses (no one got sick, so it works). Although meal preparation was a task for the guides, guests were encouraged to help. And the meals were really delicious—not dehydrated camp food, but gourmet meals like steaks, pork chops, and salmon plus fresh salads, fruits, and vegetables.

Campsites in the Grand Canyon are primitive, usually sandy beaches with plenty of natural beauty all around. Speaking of sand—it’s everywhere. Once you’ve found your personal camp area and set up your tent, you won’t want to get inside unless absolutely necessary, or you’ll be sleeping in sand. Rocks are everywhere. Big rocks, toe-stumblers, and boulders. Only one night did we camp on pure rock—at Ledges Campsite—and there were no soft spots to be found.

Each person was assigned a life jacket that we strapped onto a tree each evening (to keep from blowing away). Wet clothing was strung out on large rocks or tree limbs to dry. Some brave folks actually bathed in the 45 degree water, at least until it turned muddy on day three.

Loading the rafts
 Early each morning (usually around 5:15 a.m.) the conch shell horn signaled that coffee was ready—time to rise and shine. Breakfast followed, and then we broke camp and began the process of repacking the boats. Again we formed a line to ferry items back onto the rafts. Then we filled water bottles, loaded our white dry bags with things we wanted access to during the day such as cameras and hiking shoes, and put on our life jackets and hats. We were on the river between 7:30 and 8:00 a.m. ready to tackle more rapids and hike to scenic waterfalls.

Each day brought wonderful new adventures, many quite challenging. But it’s a trip you’ll look back on with fond memories and pride in your accomplishments.

Photos by Beverly Burmeier and Deb Delaney

Thursday, October 21, 2010

Go Dutch in Holland (Michigan)

With a cup of steaming java from JP’s Coffee and Espresso Bar—the house blend created by owner Jack Groot--and homemade pastries baked by his sister, we sit at a street side table and wait for the Firetruck Parade to begin. Soon sirens break the reverie, and our heads turn toward Main Street to watch gleaming red trucks make their way noisily through town. It’s October in Holland, and although Main Street has a decidedly European flavor, we haven’t been magically transported across the ocean. We are near the shore of Lake Michigan enjoying crisp autumn air in a town with unmistakable Dutch influence.

More than two and a half million visitors come to Holland each year. Named an All American City and one of America’s Dozen Distinctive Destinations, Holland embraces the quaint charm of old Europe and the blustering excitement of a modern city. Of the city’s 35,000 residents, 40 percent have Dutch roots.

Authentic windmill from the Netherlands
 Carved from the wilderness by Dutch immigrants in 1847, Holland settlers recognized that access to the outside world via Lake Michigan was essential to their survival. Ten years after petitioning the U. S. government for help in creating a channel, the farmers turned loggers took matters into their own hands and dug a channel deep enough for barges to pass. Still, it would be several more decades before the channel and harbor were substantially completed.

As the town prospered, churches and stores were built. The railroad and steamboats came, along with a post office, newspaper, and quarry business. Tragedy struck when the Great Fire of 1871 destroyed 80 percent of the town. Determined to rebuild, city leaders rose above adversity to establish an even better and well-planned community.

Hotels and resorts sprang up and flourished, an amusement park was added, and by the turn of the century, visitors had discovered Holland. Today Holland boasts a growing reputation for exceptional shopping, churches (170 representing 49 denominations), three colleges, and more than 1,500 acres of public parks.

Downtown was revitalized during the 1990’s when a mall built on the outskirts of town threatened to overshadow the district. Now it’s a unique mix of mostly locally owned businesses. More than 85 shops, boutiques, restaurants and cafes offer something for everyone.

Listed on the National Register of Historic Places, downtown Holland has been named a Great American Main Street for its ability to attract visitors year round--even in winter thanks to the underground snowmelt system that heats streets and sidewalks.

Don’t miss the Farmer’s Market, an institution so popular that the city built a permanent facility to house the market. A bustling assemblage of people and produce, the market swarms with hometown folks and visitors alike looking for fresh tomatoes, corn on the cob, pumpkins, peppers, and myriad varieties of blooming flowers.

As you’d expect, there are many decidedly Dutch attractions. At Windmill Island, you can climb up the last authentic windmill to leave the Netherlands—a working structure built in 1625. From the top of DeZwaan Windmill, we had a panoramic view of manicured gardens, dikes and canals. Children and adults enjoy the Dutch Village Theme Park, where we heard the beautifully carved street organ play melodies derived from brown punched paper.

We also visited Big Red, Michigan’s most photographed lighthouse. The small, square, wooden structure situated at Holland Harbor overlooking Lake Michigan was erected in 1872. After a short tour, we stopped to savor bayside seafood stew and black pearl salmon served at nearby Piper Restaurant overlooking the harbor.

Photos by Larry Burmeier

Read more of Beverly's travel articles at and

Saturday, October 9, 2010

A grand adventure--rafting on the Colorado River in the Grand Canyon

The Colorado River at Nankoweap
During a visit to the South Rim of the Grand Canyon many years ago, I looked down on a tiny ribbon of water flowing between the enormous rock walls and vowed to be on the river one day.

That dream actually happened when we took a 10- day rafting and hiking trip with Arizona Raft Adventures on the Colorado River in the Grand Canyon. What an exciting adventure it turned out to be! Gorgeous, ever-changing scenery, fascinating geological history, and challenging excursions made this one of my all-time favorite trips.
Leaving Lee's Ferry and starting our raft adventure.
Our first day on the Colorado River, really a half day, we covered 18 miles past the put-in at Lee’s Ferry, Arizona. Day 2 was full of rapids--thrilling and wet--and put us 30 miles further downstream.

The granaries

The next day included a challenging hike with a 700 foot incline to some Puebloan granaries. This was just past large, white-water Nankoweap Rapid at mile 53 and provided spectacular views of the river from the top. The hike took most of the morning, about two and a half hours, after which we piled back on the rafts and headed through several more rapids.
The river suddenly changed colors
We stopped for lunch above the junction with the Little Colorado River, never expecting the tremendous change we’d soon see in the water. Our guide Randy suggested we all get into the river and bathe right then (actually we were ordered to do so!), so we soaped up the best we could with what was available--hand washing soap. Thank goodness we followed his instructions as the water quickly turned an ugly butterscotch color, the result of recent rains filling the tributary with silt when the Little Colorado merged with the main river.
Beautiful scenery was all around

A few rapids followed, and a long stretch of flat water allowed us to look around and admire the changing rock formations. We made camp at Cardenas at mile 72, and Randy led a group up the canyon wall to overlook the river and Unkar Rapid, which we would tackle early the next morning. With a 16 foot drop Unkar provided us with plenty of splashes the next day. Again, views of the river far below and colorful rock strata of the canyon walls were simply amazing.
Looking down on Unkar Rapid it was hard to imagine the 16-foot
drop we would experience the next day.
Photos by Beverly Burmeier