Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Take great photos at national parks and scenic spots

Jackson Lake at Grand Teton National Park

National parks are perfect destinations for bringing out the photo-hound in all of us. Besides capturing incredible sights, a picture can transport you back to the moment when you took it.  That’s why we dangle cameras from neck straps and tote bags of accessories while wandering pathways of national parks and other scenic destinations.  No matter what your level of expertise or the type of camera used, these showplaces provide plenty of snap-worthy moments.

Teton Mountains dwarf the barn and show scale.
With the prevalence of auto-everything cameras, it’s not necessary to know all the technicalities of apertures and F-stops or to adjust shutter speed for every shot.  Art--as reflected in composition--is more important than science in creating pictures to enjoy, says Kim Steinbacher, a landscape photographer who specializes in national parks. 

Try these tips to create great vacation memories:

  • Remember what you came to see.  Select one point of interest per photo, and include many shots of the main attraction.  With digital cameras, you can always delete less worthy photos, but you can’t go back and recapture a missed opportunity.
  • Mentally divide the frame into thirds, and place your point of interest either a third of the way in from left or right or from top to bottom.
  • Show scale when photographing large items like mountains or icebergs by placing a person or other recognizable object in the photo.
  • Keep it level.  In wide landscape shots, make sure the horizon line is straight in your frame.
  • Try a panorama or a wide-angle lens.  Some cameras, even disposables, come with this mode built in.  Digital photo software may offer stitching capability to meld several images into one wide vista.
  • Pack extra batteries and memory cards.  Although it sounds like a “duh” statement, one of the most common reasons for missing the very shot you came to see happens because batteries have run down or you’ve run out of space on your card (buy the highest capacity card you can afford).
  • Snap yourself.  Most cameras these days have self-timers, so you can get in the picture, too.
  • Shoot rain or shine.  Cloudy days can produce scenes without shadows so common in bright sunlight.  Colors may shine in the rain or standout in an otherwise gray landscape.  Because lighting is more even, overcast weather helps eliminate sections on the image that are either washed out or dark.
  • Look in all directions.  When walking around in national parks, turn your gaze upwards to catch a shot of sun streaming through trees.  Look down when walking in the woods to capture blooming wildflowers.
  • Create depth in your photos with visual tricks.  Find a leading line in a landscape such as a fence, highway, or river, which leads the eye on a visual journey. 
  • Waterfall in Yellowstone National Park
    Look in all directions for that awesome shot
  • Take the same view from a variety of angles and with different settings.  Mix up your shots with verticals and horizontals. 
  • Wildlife photos can be challenging--but rewarding
  • Wake up at dawn.  Early morning provides special conditions conducive to taking grand shots. But if pre-dawn click-time isn’t appealing when you’re on vacation, just keep the camera handy, and be ready when that postcard scene appears.   
Photos by Beverly Burmeier

Steam rises from hot springs in Yellowstone N. P.

Sunday, February 20, 2011

Striped Pot travelzine steadily increases readership

A colorful striped pot gives the travelzine its distinctive logo.
Striped Pot: Where you go when you want to know.

You're invited to check out Striped Pot, a boutique online travel magazine that launched on October 1, 2010.  Since that time readership has increased each month in both gross views and unique reader views.

Striped Pot's mission is to provide the traveling public with high quality, comprehensive articles on both domestic and international travel. It aims to stimulate interest in travel with highly readable articles and excellent photography for travel destinations, accommodations, activities, and events.  Content on Striped Pot is both timely (continuously updated) and evergreen, and searching for a desired topic on the web site is easy. 

Many of the authors are award-winning freelance writers in both print and online. Authors include Inga Aksamit, Beverly Burmeier, Terri Colby, Patty Davis, Patricia Florio, Wanda Hennig, PatsyBell Hobson, Gail Hunter, Jodie Jacobs, Carlanne McCrystal, Nancy Pistorius, Sue Richter, Elizabeth Rose, Fran Severn, and Mira Temkin.

Additional information and a growing cache of travel articles may be found at http://www.stripedpot.com/

Spend money on travel--buy happiness

Spend money on experiences, and you’ll be happier than if you buy “stuff.”

Get more satisfaction from experiences than things.
Photo by Beverly Burmeier
 That’s the message from a recent study by Cornell University psychology professor Thomas Gilovich and 2010 Ph.D. graduate Travis J. Carter. The researchers found that shoppers often second-guess their decisions when buying material things like shoes or electronic gadgets, and whatever pleasure they felt at first eventually diminishes.

But buying experiences not only provides greater satisfaction initially but builds over time. Good memories get better. So indulging in “experiential purchases” such as massages or vacations has greater long-term emotional benefits. What’s more, consumers also find it easier to decide on experiences, spending money on the first option that meets a set of expectations rather than painstakingly comparing all options as they might do when buying a car or flat-screen television.

For those of you who enjoy travel as I do, this study validates our choices. In most cases I’d rather take another trip than buy new furniture (unless it’s too scuffed to invite friends over to see our latest travel video).

Another point from the study is that there’s no correlation between the price of purchases and the happiness they produced. A lovely week-end getaway can bring as much pleasure as an extended trip to an exotic Pacific island. So pack your bag, and buy yourself some happiness!

Read more travel articles at Striped Pot and Austin Adventure Travel

Saturday, February 12, 2011

Renovations on tap for Grand Princess cruise ship

The most significant transformation ever of a Princess Cruises ship will occur this spring aboard Grand Princess. Larry and I sailed on this lovely ship in the Eastern and Southern Caribbean a few years ago and look forward to cruising on it again after its make-over.

photo by Beverly Burmeier
The changes will be made during a drydock from April 11 to May 4 at the Grand Bahama Shipyard in Freeport, Bahamas. During this makeover the ship will receive many of Princess’ trademark features introduced since the ship’s 1998 debut including the signature Piazza atrium.  Several new features will be added including a unique tea lounge and library called “Leaves” and “Alfredo’s,” a full-service pizzeria.  A new nightclub called One5 will be created on the top deck of the ship, replacing Skywalker Nightclub. This change will significantly improve the operational performance of the ship, including greater fuel efficiency.

“This is the largest makeover we’ve ever undertaken for any of our ships,” said Jan Swartz, Princess Cruises executive vice president. “When Grand Princess was launched she was the most innovative ship at sea, and now we’re adding some of the innovations we introduced on subsequent ships.”

Highlights of the makeover include: 
photo by Larry Burmeier
  • New Piazza atrium– The atrium space of Grand Princess will be completely rebuilt to include this signature Princess feature -- a multi-faceted social hub combining quick bites and light meals, beverages, entertainment, shopping and guest services.  Passenger will also enjoy a new Vines wine bar offering a selection of more than 30 wines by the glass, plus tapas and sushi, and a wine shop where passengers can purchase their favorite bottle.
  • Leaves Tea Lounge and Library– A fusion of tea lounge and library, the new Leaves offers an opportunity for passengers to custom-blend a variety of base teas with herbs, fruits and spices.  A trained tea sommelier will assist passengers in blending their personalized tea creation, which they can enjoy in the library with a good book.
  • Alfredo’s Pizzeria–A new sit-down pizzeria, Alfredo’s will feature an enticing menu of freshly prepared individual-size pizzas.  Named for the line’s master executive chef, Alfredo Marzi, the pizzeria will showcase an open kitchen where passengers can watch chefs create pizzas.
  • One5 Lounge–One5 Lounge will become the hippest place for nighttime dancing and relaxing.  The new lounge on deck 15 (hence its name) will offer a cool vibe, contemporary seating and lighting, and a dramatic back-lit bar.
  • Crown Grill– A classic steakhouse with rich wood surroundings, this specialty restaurant features an open theater-style kitchen where chefs custom-prepare premium aged beef and fresh seafood items, including live lobsters.
Also part of the renovation will be 10 new suites; remodeled casino, boutiques and art gallery; enhancements to the Horizon Court, Lotus Spa, and wedding chapel; and the addition of Crooner’s Martini Lounge.

The renovated Grand Princess will debut on May 5 in Ft. Lauderdale where the ship departs on a transatlantic crossing for her summer and fall homeport of Southampton, from which she will cruise a variety of European itineraries.

Information courtesy of Princess Public Relations, publicrelations@princess.com . For more information contact your travel agent or www.princess.com.

Friday, February 11, 2011

Belize getaways you didn't know were romantic

Every Valentine’s Day couples are inundated with information about cookie cutter romantic getaways complete with the standard candlelight meals, sensual massages and sunsets on the beach.  But happy pairs everywhere know that romance is personal and doesn’t come prepackaged.  That’s why many are discovering alternative escapes in Belize that fuse passion with a unique blend of fun and adventure.

Snorkel with Whale Sharks – Placencia, Stann Creek District
Couples can snorkel with one of the sea’s most majestic creatures, the whale shark.  Measuring up to 50 feet long, the whale shark is the world’s largest fish species and can be found in the tropical waters of Belize’s Gladden Spit Marine Reserve between March and June.  A dip in the Caribbean Sea with these gentle creatures is often described as a uniquely “humbling” experience and is sure to strengthen the bond of any couple.  This adventure reveals the brilliant kaleidoscope of color found in Belize’s underwater flora, instantly taking any romantic getaway up a notch with memories that will never wilt or fade.  Sign-up for private marine tours through: Sea Horse Dive Shop, Destinations Belize or Splash Dive Center.

Sea Kayaking – The Cayes
Put a twist on your romantic escape with a relaxing kayak trip between Belize’s picturesque cayes.  With more than 200 cayes dotting the turquoise waters of the Caribbean Sea, this island hopping tour allows couples to pass through some of Belize’s most notable and alluring destinations on a peaceful path adorned with sweet tunes of whistling breezes and light waves.  While paddling in tandem alongside schools of fish in Belize’s clear and warm waters, discover rare, scenic views of Belize’s most popular cayes including Ambergris Caye (known to be “the place to getaway”) and Caye Caulker  (where islanders live by the motto, “go slow”).  Plan your trip with Island Expeditions, Slickrock Adventures or Saddle Caye South.

Caving – Toledo District
For adrenaline junkies, there’s no better way to stir up romance than with a heart-pumping adventure.  Boasting Central America’s largest cave system, couples can experience an exhilarating exploration of Belize’s eco-playground when venturing to the untouched lands of Toledo District.  For example, a tour of Tiger Cave begins at a massive, vaulted entrance that leads to an equally dramatic conclusion.  Sunlight streaming through gaping holes in the cave’s ceiling eventually reveals an amazing overhead sight - 500-foot vaulted ceilings, interior chambers with dripping stalactites; and pure mineral deposits that look like pots of white gold.  Sign-up for private tours through Ian Anderson’s Caves Branch, Cotton Tree Lodge or Monkey Bay Wildlife Sanctuary.

Horseback Riding – San Ignacio, Cayo District
As one of the last unspoiled places on Earth, Belize offers spectacular sights that simply can’t be reached by car.  Uncover secrets of the jungle while exploring Belize’s pristine lands on horseback. Gallop across San Ignacio’s untouched lands, stumble upon a hidden waterfall, or spot one of more than 600 rare exotic birds in Belize.  Horseback riding adventures are available through Green Dragon Adventure Travel, Banana Bank Lodge or duPlooy Travel

With direct flights from the U.S. and Canada, this tropical paradise is nestled between Mexico to the north and Guatemala to the west and south. It’s a wonderful place to rekindle romance any time of year. Visit www.travelbelize.org or Belize’s official online romance website, Belize in Love.
Information courtesy of Megan Sullivan, bvk pr     megans@bvk.com

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