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Travel

Is coronavirus canceling summer vacation for 2020? It depends who you ask


Butch Heffernan should be prepping his 36-room Sunburst Motel for a full house this weekend.

a group of people sitting at a beach: People enjoy the sun and sand at Lori Wilson Park in Cocoa Beach on May 2, 2020. Although spring break hotspot, restrictions continue at Cocoa Beach, allowing only groups of five or less.

Instead, he spent Monday scribbling out 36 checks, refunds for the deposits guests plunked down in January for a Memorial Day weekend stay in Seaside Heights on the Jersey Shore. The beach and parts of the boardwalk have reopened, but the motel, which was sold out, found out last minute that it can’t yet open under lodging restrictions.

“We’re sorry, but it’s something beyond our control,” Heffernan told guests when he broke the news to them over the phone.

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Karen Oliver, a research chemist from Bahama, North Carolina, should be mapping out hikes and prime photo spots at Glacier National Park in Montana for a trip with her husband in June. But the couple shelved the trip last week after United canceled one of their flights and the lodge they planned to stay in changed opening dates.

“It just seemed a bit too early” to go, she said.

As the annual summer travel season kicks off Friday amid the coronavirus pandemic, travelers and the businesses that cater to them face unprecedented uncertainty, chaos and concern.

Major attractions and vacation destinations remain closed, stay-at-home orders and travel restrictions are still pervasive, and some would-be travelers are anxious about the virus and crowds or put off by new safety measures, including mandatory face masks on planes. Add in steep job losses, and the question becomes: Is summer vacation canceled this year?

The outlook is so murky AAA ditched its annual Memorial Day travel forecast this year for the first time in 20 years. All officials of the automobile club and travel agency could offer was that holiday weekend travel volume will be weak. Last year, AAA projected that 43 million Americans would travel during the long weekend, the second highest on record.

“With social distancing guidelines still in practice, this holiday weekend’s travel volume is likely to set a record low,” Paula Twidale, AAA’s senior vice president of travel,said in a statement.

There are glimmers of hope travel demand is picking up, especially for last-minute trips, as restrictions are eased in some states and airlines, hotels, vacation rentals, car rental companies, cruise lines and attractions trot out amped-up safety measures. 

Southwest CEO: No evidence ‘people won’t be traveling’

Southwest Airlines CEO Gary Kelly isn’t writing off summer. He said there is no evidence, beyond extrapolating the dismal travel trends since the outbreak began, that “people won’t be traveling for vacation.”

The airline has “decent bookings” for July, he told Wall Street analysts in late April, and June bookings are running ahead of muted expectations, the airline said in a securities filing Tuesday. Southwest, which launched a monthlong fare sale in mid-May, expects to fill 35% to 45% of its seats in June, compared with 8% in April. Delta and United also expressed optimism, Delta saying it’s adding back 100 more flights than initially expected in June.

The big question, airlines said, is whether travelers stick with their plans or cancel their trips as has happened en masse at all airlines since the pandemic began.

Louisville mom on the fence: ‘This virus is so weird that you just don’t know what’s going to happen

Helen Keeney-Klump is on the fence. The Louisville, Kentucky, teacher is supposed to visit Madeira Beach, Florida, in mid-July for a week, her family’s first beach vacation in four years.

Her biological father, with whom she reunited last year, organized the 20-person family reunion and booked tickets on Southwest and a beachfront condo for the high school special education teacher, her husband and 6-year-old son. They’ve talked about visiting Legoland Florida and going on a big boat tour with the whole group.

The trip is still nearly two months away, but it looks increasingly likely they won’t go.

Keeney-Klump is worried about the virus, especially reports of a COVID-related inflammatory disease affecting children. She keeps close tabs on the trends in Kentucky and Florida.

“This virus is so weird that you just don’t know what’s going to happen,” she said. “We’re really in unknown waters with this whole thing.”

The rest of the group plans to go, no matter what, she said, but the Louisville family will make their decision by July 1.

“If I had to decide today, I would say we would not go,” she said.

The family has discussed driving 13 hours instead of flying to Florida, but that brings its own challenges, including two nights in roadside hotels.

“We’ve been brainstorming about ways to make it work,” she said, “but kind of realize, at the end of the day, it just may not.

“Are we disappointed about it? Absolutely. This was a great opportunity to have not only a beautiful beach vacation but reconcile … with this side of my family,” she said. “If it doesn’t happen this summer, it can happen next summer hopefully.”

Kelly said the reopening of the country, especially tourist attractions, national parks, restaurants and other things vacationers crave, will be a big determinant in how summer business shapes up.

“That will put vacationers in a position where they can be more confident that, ‘Hey, I can go somewhere fun, and there will be something to do when I get there,’ ” he said.

Kelly cited his family as an example of what he sees as pent-up travel demand.

“They are determined that we’re going to the beach in July for vacation, and I’ve got to believe that we’re one of many,” he said. “It just remains to be seen whether or not that will materialize.”

Any improvement will be welcome for the battered airline industry, which has grounded more than half its planes, slashed flights and warned of looming layoffs.

Executives cautioned that it’s too early to draw any conclusions from their early summer bookings or Transportation Security Administration data showing steady increases in the number of passengers traveling through airport checkpoints because they are rebounding from historic lows. Passenger counts are still down more than 90%.

“We’re still a fraction of where we should be at this time of year,” Delta Chief Financial Officer Paul Jacobson said in an investor presentation Tuesday.

Michigan, New Hampshire trips a no-go for New Jersey family: ‘I think it adds anxiety’

Keith Cook has made up his mind about summer vacation. He canceled two planned summer vacations this month to avoid cancellation penalties.

The university assistant dean, who lives in New Jersey with his teacher wife and 4-year-old daughter, was supposed to spend several nights on the water in Traverse City, Michigan, in mid-July with his brother’s family, followed by an annual cousins’ trip in late July, this year to Lake Winnipesaukee, New Hampshire.

Water sports, beach time, fishing, hiking, amusement park rides and dining out were all on the agenda.

The problem, Cook said: They didn’t know what was going to be open or what social distancing on a beach might look like as crowds have flocked to beaches along the East Coast as they’ve opened.

Another concern about the Michigan trip was traveling in a “closed environment” on a plane. Cook is a frequent flyer but was worried about flying with a young child.

The bottom line: They didn’t want to be stressed and have to be on their toes at every turn. 

“It think it adds anxiety,” he said. “The reality is our idea of family vacation is to get away and have some fun, unplug.”

Hotel business ticks up: ‘Guests are starting to want to feel normalcy’

Like airlines, hotels are starting to see a slight uptick in business. Stats from industry tracker STR show occupancy gradually increasing each week, from 21% in early April to 32.4% last week. 

Claudia Ludlow, general manager of the 100-room Glorietta Bay Inn across the street from award-winning Coronado Beach in Coronado, California, said bookings bottomed out in April. 

The historic hotel was at 10% occupancy in April, is closing in on 60%  for Memorial Day weekend and is almost sold out for the July Fourth weekend. The hotel draws the biggest percentage of its summer visitors from neighboring Arizona, where residents are a 5½-hour drive from the beach and a break from the triple-digit temperatures at home.

“Guests are starting to want to feel normalcy,” she said.

When she fields calls on the inn’s reservations line, Ludlow said, she feels more like a therapist than a hotel manager. 

“The desperation of wanting to get away is really itching at them,” she said.

Heffernan said his adult son, who helps out at the Sunburst in the summer, told him to focus on July and August since May is a goner, and it’s unclear what will be allowed in June despite three sold-out weekends. The motel is open from May through October.

“He said, ‘Dad, you could wind up with the best summer ever. … These people are going stir-crazy. They’ve got to get out,’ ” Heffernan said.

Heffernan, who opened the motel in 1984 and weathered the fallout from Superstorm Sandy in 2012, is confident July and August will be “good.” How good will depend on whether some vacationers remain skittish about crowds.

“They’re apprehensive about being around a bunch of strangers, so who knows what to expect?” he said.

Family hopes for a resort getaway – if the budget allows

Amy Spaulding, a corporate event planner in Southern California, has her eyes on a summer visit to the luxe Fairmont Scottsdale Princess resort in Arizona. 

California extended its stay-at-home order through July, and a desert getaway with pools and restaurants is appealing, she said.

“The idea of going to Nevada or Arizona to be able to jump in a pool and go dining and actually have some freedom and enjoyment sounds really great,” she said.

Plane tickets aren’t required, and summer room rates are a fraction of peak season prices because of the searing heat. Still, a Scottsdale getaway might be out of the budget this year, she said.

Spaulding’s business dried up as businesses canceled meetings and special events for the foreseeable future.

“I don’t have any income right now,” she said. 

Spaulding, who is married with a teenage daughter, said the family is trying to be careful with money, so they might end up staying home.

They are fortunate to have taken a family vacation to New York City and the Caribbean in January before the coronavirus outbreak arrived in the USA.

“We kind of lucked out,” she said.

Boat operator counts on demand as restrictions ease

Terry MacRae, founder and CEO of Hornblower Group,   which operates sightseeing tours, dining cruises, ferries and river cruises on its 200 boats around the country, is cautiously optimistic about summer 2020.

The San Francisco company generates two-thirds of its business from June to September, so it needs to get its boats running as soon as possible.

As national parks start to reopen, the company hopes to resume its popular cruise tours to Alcatraz Island in San Francisco and the Statue of Liberty and Ellis Island in New York.

“They’re on the horizon,” he said. “They’re not indefinite anymore.”

MacRae expects city boat tours will pick up before upscale dinner cruises, especially from locals and regional visitors sticking closer to home.

“The people in the Chicago area, the moment they can, they will be rushing to Navy Pier, and they will be rushing down to the (Chicago) River,” he said. “I think the last couple times (when travel demand plummeted), we called that a staycation. I don’t know what the term will be this time.”

MacRae said the benchmark for 2020 won’t be profitability. The company counted 30 million passengers last year and won’t come close to that this year. International travelers, a major source of business, are out of the mix during travel restrictions.

“It will be extremely difficult to be profitable this year,” he said. “Just surviving it will feel good.”

Europe vacation off, but road trip still on

Now that their kids are out of college, 2020 was going to be a big travel year for Oliver and her husband, Tony.

In addition to the Glacier National Park trip, they had two tickets to Germany in April.  Airline flight cancellations axed that trip, too. 

Another trip, to Oak Island, North Carolina, in July is still on. It’s a four-hour drive, and they’ll stay in a beach cottage alongside other family members for a reunion she’s attended since she was 16. They’re not sure about beach or other restrictions but aren’t worried it will wreck their plans.

“I guess if we can’t do too much on the beach, we can see the ocean,” she said. “We’re pretty set on this trip and feel very comfortable about this one.” 

The only thing coronavirus has changed about the trip is the new layer of advance preparation.

“Our planning is usually where we’re going to stay and what trails are we going to hike,” she said. “Now it’s becoming: Are we even going to be able to go, and what do we need to think about, like groceries and supplies?”

Oliver has been combing Oak Island websites for information on restrictions and reopening phases and came across a reminder about potential shortages of grocery store staples.

“OK, that means toilet paper, so that will be something we definitely have to think of,” she said.

After Oak Island, the couple were due to visit Isle Royale National Park in Michigan in August. Oliver has been keeping an eye on reopening plans for the seasonal park and got bad news this week: The ferry service and lodge at the park won’t be open this season.

“If not this time, then we’ll take a rain check,” she said.

Tempting airfare deals to Canada, but not clicking buy – yet 

Dwight Stockham watches for flight deals between Albuquerque, New Mexico, and Winnepeg, Canada, and has seen some screaming summer offers.

Tickets that usually run about $600 round trip are going for $340, he said.

Stockham, a semiretired engineer, returns to Canada, where he grew up and his siblings and other relatives still live, every summer for two to four weeks for vacation. He retains dual citizenship. 

“I only go back in the summer because the winters are too cold,” he said. “55 below is too cold.”

He still hasn’t clicked “buy” on United Airlines’ website.

Stockham said he’s worried about getting a refund if he can’t make the trip and doesn’t know what to expect in terms of possible quarantines or other restrictions. This week, President Donald Trump and Justin Trudeau, Canada’s prime minister, extended the land border closure until June 22.

“I’m going to wait til I hear more,” Stockham said.

If he doesn’t go to Canada, it will be the first time in 45 years.


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Destinations

Rattlesnake season 2020 is arriving in Colorado — so be careful, hikers

Rattlesnake season across the Front Range doesn’t really arrive until early May, but you might want to watch where you sit if you’re taking a rest while out hiking on a warm day before then.

There was a rattlesnake sighting on Green Mountain in Lakewood on April 5, a warm, sunny day when lots of folks with coronavirus cabin fever were out recreating. Temperatures along the Front Range are expected to reach into the 60s this week, so it could happen again.

Rattlesnake expert Mary Ann Bonnell, who is the visitor services manager for Jefferson County Open Space, said rattlesnakes aren’t likely to stray far from their winter hibernation dens until May when the “snow-heat-snow-heat cycle” that is common in spring has abated. When that ends, they will be more active as they begin moving to their summer foraging areas.

But they will come out of their winter dens before then on warm days to sun themselves on trails, which are warmer than areas with a cover of vegetation, Bonnell said.

“So, if you sit down to have a picnic on a rock, and you happen to be right next to a wintering den, you may encounter rattlesnakes on a warm, sunny day,” Bonnell said.

Even so, Bonnell said it’s important to stress that snakebites are extremely rare. From 2015 through 2019, six snakebites were reported at Jeffco Open Space Parks.

“Considering that we have seven million visitors estimated annually,” Bonnell said, “that’s not a lot of bites.”

Still, if you’re recreating in rattlesnake habitat on a warm day, you need to be on your guard. If you are bitten, Bonnell advises you to stay where you are, call for help and wait for first responders to carry you out on a wheeled litter. Walking out on your own is a bad idea because it will elevate your heart rate and increase the circulation of the snake’s venom in your body.

And if you need to be evacuated, of course, that’s another area of concern for open-space managers and first responders coping with the coronavirus threat. For wheeled evacuations, Jeffco typically wants two or three of its rangers assisting emergency medical responders from the fire district that has jurisdiction for the location of the emergency. That means 10 to 11 people could be involved in the rescue.

“You don’t always have that luxury,” Bonnell said, “but you want someone ahead, spotting rocks, calling out hazards; a certain number of people helping to steady the litter; then someone at the back making sure no one comes up from behind (such as) a mountain biker or trail runner moving quickly.

“As you can imagine, in a wheeled-litter situation, there isn’t social distancing. That’s not really an option.”

Crews work on the assumption that the victim may have the coronavirus, so ideally they will be wearing N95 masks. The victim is likely to be issued a surgical mask so rescuers are protected from sneezes or coughs.

And there’s another coronavirus consideration. “The patient will go to the hospital,” Bonnell said.

To avoid being bitten, Bonnell recommends wearing high-top boots and long pants when hiking in rattlesnake habitat because the most common place for a rattlesnake to strike is the inner ankle area. As a rule of thumb, Bonnell said the strike distance of a rattlesnake is two-thirds of the length of its body. Front Range prairie rattlesnakes are usually 3 to 4 feet long.

“I always assume I’m dealing with an athletically gifted snake, so I give them three to four feet,” Bonnell said. “I want to err on the side of caution.”

If you encounter a snake on a trail, it’s best to wait for it to move away on its own. Do not throw rocks or prod it with a stick, because that will make it angry and want to strike. And when a rattlesnake is agitated, that’s when it can strike the farthest and administer the most venom.

If you decide not to wait, Bonnell recommends carefully going around the snake a few feet off the trail, making sure you’re not stepping on one of his pals. If you have a walking stick, test the ground in front of you to make sure you’re not startling a snake hiding in the grass.

“And you want to keep your eyes on the snake,” Bonnell said. “If it starts to track you (visually) and rear up, that’s a good time to just stop moving and let it calm. It may even move off the trail at that point. If it’s tracking and rearing up, that means it’s getting ready to strike. You don’t want to be in motion if that happens. I would give the snake space and time. If it’s getting riled up, stop moving.”

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Cruises

How Karisma is Caring for its Employees and Communities During COVID-19

Karisma Hotels & Resorts shared some details today of the ways in which it’s working to support its employees, communities and at-home guests during the COVID-19 pandemic.

The company has always been ethically oriented, community-centric and compelled to care for its team members simply out of a sense of doing what’s right.

In addition to its other ongoing good-works initiatives, Karisma is currently engaged in the following efforts:

— Karisma Hotels & Resorts has protected its entire full-time workforce, providing continued employment even in the face of the hotel industry’s current financial predicament.

—The Nickelodeon Hotels & Resorts Punta Cana property, with the assistance of municipality police, is delivering 800 meals daily to Dominican community members who are most in need of support.

—The Karisma Foundation is providing medicine and medical supplies for 160 beneficiaries who are currently impacted by COVID-19 in Mexico’s Riviera Maya. El Dorado Royale is also supplying food from its 75,000 square-foot onsite greenhouse at-cost to the local community.

—El Dorado Royale is further delivering free baskets of the foods produced in its greenhouse to hotel employees and Riviera Maya locals in need.

—To support the mental health of the global community, Karisma has also launched its #ExperienceElDoradoAtHome campaign to provide guests with virtual vacation moments that can be enjoyed from home. A video series highlights topics such as salsa dancing, mojito making, crafting the perfect taco, and tips and tricks on wellness and ideal skincare routines. Over the next few weeks, the El Dorado Spa Resorts will present on recipes for signature dishes and drinks, and resort activities for viewers to try at home for a taste of travel while safely self-isolating.

For more information, visit karismahotels.com.

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Travel

Why glorious Galway is the perfect getaway

Irish eyes are smiling on its culture capital: Why glorious Galway is the perfect getaway

  • Ireland’s most westerly city has been crowned the Capital of Culture for 2020 
  • Galway is famous for its lively pubs, music and bohemian atmosphere
  • Need somewhere to stay? 7 Cross Street has trendily deigned rooms from £61

Galway is the capital of Ireland’s wild Atlantic coast and is famous for its lively pubs, music and bohemian atmosphere. Now Ireland’s most westerly city has been crowned its Capital of Culture for 2020, making it one of the best places to visit for art and music this year.

Galway already has ten art galleries and 31 museums. And thanks to a £34 million budget, there will be something for every type of culture-lover, from actors reading Homer’s Odyssey on remote beaches to an exhibition of traditional tapestries.

There are daily events from now until next January and best of all, most are free.

Galway is the capital of Ireland’s wild Atlantic coast and is famous for its lively pubs, music and bohemian atmosphere

Big public-funded arts programmes like this are always full of avant garde extremes, of course. In Galway, visitors to a wooden ‘ephemeral temple’ can ‘register their memories’, after which the site will be burned down. Thankfully, those with more conventional tastes have plenty to see too, including theatre premieres, open-air dances, poetry readings and a film festival. For music-lovers, there will be everything from bluegrass to a performance of Beethoven’s 9th Symphony in Galway Cathedral on December 12.

In September, more than 1,000 locals will help make a floating ‘city of lanterns’ in the harbour in a venture that sounds picturesque, if not quite fine art.

Visitors can’t help noticing the fierce River Corrib flowing through the middle of Galway. Its vigorous white-water forms one of the shortest (four miles) yet fastest rivers in Europe.

And the Corrib will host another ambitious spectacle in June. A group of 400 volunteers will attempt to break a world record by crossing its mouth on circus high wires over a period of 2,020 minutes.

Galway is a charming waterside city, with old cobbled streets and pretty, pastel-painted bars. Its shops are gloriously individual and quirky, such as Kenny’s gallery and bookshop (with 750,000 books for sale and local art on display), while many of its restaurants are highly rated. Two of them, Aniar and Loam, have Michelin stars.

For more fine-dining, try the Pullman Restaurant – two beautifully restored former dining cars that featured in Murder On The Orient Express are now located in the gardens of the Glenlo Abbey hotel. Don’t miss the Cleggan crab with toasted almonds, or pork with lovage meringue.

Visitors can’t help noticing the fierce River Corrib flowing through the middle of Galway

If you stay overnight at Glenlo, you’ll discover sumptuous bedrooms overlooking the gardens, golf course and the bay beyond. Double rooms on a B&B basis cost from £133 a night (glenloabbeyhotel.ie).

Galway also has a great cafe culture, including McCambridges, which has been a landmark for a century. Visitors can salivate over home-made soda bread, Aran Island seaweed pesto, and home-baked ham with beetroot mayo.

At the unpretentious Dockside Deli lining the harbour, you’ll find dishes such as Clarinbridge oysters and mussels, or chowder with seaweed bread. The deli is also the starting point for fishing trips – guests can eat what they catch once they return.

For a pint of slowly poured Guinness, nip into Keane’s Bar. The ivy-covered inn in a picturesque riverside spot has been run by the Keane family for more than 60 years.

Need somewhere to stay? The medieval 7 Cross Street (7crossstreet.com) has trendily designed rooms. The hotel is set on a cobbled street in the heart of Galway’s lively ‘Latin Quarter’ and double B&B rooms cost from £61 a night.

Alternatively, the Harbour Hotel (harbour.ie) is a smart, modern site with unfussy rooms, great views and a AA-rosette restaurant. Double B&B rooms cost from £74 a night.

  • Simon Heptinstall was a guest of galwaytourism.ie.

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Travel

This Is the Last Remaining Opening Day Ride in Universal Studios Florida


There’s a lot of reasons to love Universal Studios Florida. After opening its doors in June 1990, it’s become home to many attractions like Fast & Furious: Supercharged, Halloween Horror Nights, and last but not least, The Wizarding World of Harry Potter. Sadly, it also saw the closing of many of its other attractions, like The Blues Brothers Show, and Back to the Future: The Ride. But worry not, it is still possible to take a walk down memory lane at Universal Florida as one attraction from its opening days remains—the E.T. Adventure. Wondering what the difference is between Disney and Universal? Here’s the answer.

a palm tree in front of Universal Studios Florida

History of Universal Studios Florida

The plans to open Universal Studios Florida were announced in 1986, to compete with long-time rival Disney. When it opened in June 1990, Universal Florida didn’t exactly have a smooth start. Local and national news were there and so were the guests, but most of the rides didn’t even work yet. Despite the setbacks, Universal decided to persist, offering every guest who visited a free ticket to return for another day in the future, according to Theme Park Insider.

The strategy must have worked, as the following year, Universal added four new attractions to the theme park, The Blues Brothers Show, StreetBusters, The Screen Test Home Video Adventure, and How to Make a Mega Movie Deal, and kept growing ever since. The park now brings in around 10 million visitors a year and has seen the closing of many of its opening-day attractions to make room for newer ones. According to Ashlynn Webb, public relations coordinator at Universal Orlando Resort, the E.T. Adventure is the only opening-day attraction that has withstood the test of time.

What is the E.T. Adventure?

The E.T. Adventure is based on the beloved 1982 sci-fi movie E.T. the Extra-Terrestial, and gives the visitors a chance to feel like they’re in the movie themselves. How? By taking a ride on one of the movie’s iconic flying bicycles! In the attractions early years, guests also had the option of riding in a spaceship modeled after the one that E.T. came to Earth on in the movie, according to The Other Orlando.

The ride takes the visitors through various adventures. They travel past NASA and police officers chasing them, fly over the city into outer space, and visit E.T.’s home, the Green Planet. At the end of the ride, E.T. thanks each of the visitors by name and says goodbye with his iconic line, “I’ll be right here.” Next, find out more about another iconic ride, Universal’s Harry Potter Ride.


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