Hertz Launches Dream Car Rental Service For Those Who Just Can’t Drive 55

Aston Martin Vantage available from Hertz Dream Cars
Courtesy of Aston Martin

Yesterday, Hertz, one of the largest rental car companies in the world, announced the launch of their new Dream Cars service in the U.S. This new offering allows customers to rent exotic sports cars and high-end luxury models that typically haven’t been available from the company in the past, granting travelers an opportunity to explore their destination in head-turning style.

Some of the vehicles that are available for rent include the Aston Martin V8 Vantage, Bentley Continental GT, Ferrari F430, Lamborghini Gallardo, Mercedes-Benz AMG, Porsche 911 and the SRT Viper, just to name a few. And for those who want to enjoy a luxury ride while still remaining eco-friendly, Hertz is even offering the Tesla Model S electric sedan.

The Dream Car service extends well beyond just renting an amazing luxury ride. Hertz will also send a representative to deliver the car to the customer and give them a one-on-one orientation of the vehicle as well. Customers can be met at their terminal in the airport or the car can be delivered to a location of their choice.Hertz says that Dream Cars will soon be available in 35 markets across the U.S., including such major cities as Los Angeles, Las Vegas, Miami, Dallas and Chicago. As of this writing, the website lists only Florida locations such as Orlando, Tampa and West Palm Beach, however, so it may take some time for the service to spread out. It should also be noted that not all vehicles are available in each location, so if you’re considering renting your personal dream car, you may want to peruse the catalog ahead of time.

The website doesn’t list pricing for these high-end vehicles, but you can bet they’ll be well beyond what most of us can afford. Still, if you’re looking to splurge on your next vacation and you want to spend a few days driving around in a car that is above and beyond anything you’ve ever imagined, this is a service that can deliver that experience for you.

As for me, I’m already daydreaming about living out my James Bond fantasies with that Aston Martin Vantage.

Learn Tuscan Cooking At Historic Wine Estate And Boutique Hotel

chiantiThere’s certainly no shortage of cooking schools and classes to be found in Italy, but the type, quality and locale vary wildly. If you’re looking for something focused on the good stuff – like eating – within a stunning venue, Castello Banfi Il Borgo is likely to make you as happy as a pig in … lardo.

This stunning historic estate, comprised of 7,100 acres of vineyards and olive groves, is located near Montalcino, one hour south of Siena. It was created from restored 17th- and 18th century structures adjacent to a medieval fortress known as Poggio alle Mura, and is owned by the Mariani family, well known for their Brunello di Montacino wine.

The seasonal, contemporary Tuscan menus used in the classes are taught by the property’s English-speaking sous chefs, who are from the region. Classes are offered exclusively to guests of Il Borgo March through November, based upon availability (advance reservations required). Two hundred and twenty euros will get you a demo, hands-on class, and four-course lunch paired with estate wines.

Other activities offered through Il Borgo include foraging for porcini mushrooms and chestnuts in fall, driving the hills of Chianti in a Ferrari or Maserati (but of course), hot air balloon rides, shopping excursions, and more. Even if you decide to just kick it in one of the 14 Frederico Forquet of Cetona-designed rooms, you’ll be able to indulge with bath amenities made from estate-grown Sangiovese grapes. That puts the “ahh” in Montalcino.

Overview of Siena, Italy

Museum Month: Kalaupapa National Historic Park And Leper Settlement, Molokai

kalaupapa national parkSome people – me, for instance – tend to skip museums when traveling in favor of fresh air or outdoor recreation. It’s always a treat when I can combine the two, especially because I’m fascinated by indigenous cultures. Though not considered museums in the strictest sense, National Historic Parks, Monuments and the like often do have buildings, exhibits, or relics with educational materials that provide a museum-like experience. When I can combine that with some physically challenging activity, it often makes for an incredibly rewarding day.

While relatively few visitors ever make it to the Hawaiian island of Molokai, located just off of Maui’s western shore, its fame is global due to its tragic history. From the mid-19th century until 1969, thousands of islanders afflicted with leprosy (Hansen’s Disease) were forced into isolation on the Kalaupapa peninsula on the northern shore. A smaller settlement also exists at Kalawao, on the eastern side. Today, Kalaupapa National Historic Park receives thousands of visitors annually, who come to pay tribute – and satisfy their morbid curiosity – to a tragic episode in Hawaii’s turbulent history.

Molokai’s North Shore is covered in dense rainforest and has the world’s highest sea cliffs, which tower over 2,000 feet. These geographical features made Kalaupapa the ideal location in which to displace lepers, often by cruel methods such as tossing them off of ships, which sometimes resulted in fatalities. The forcible removal of native Hawaiians from their ‘aina – family and land, which are at the core of their culture – devastated generations of islanders.

%Gallery-155196%father damienCritical to the development and notoriety of the settlement was the arrival of Joseph De Veuster, a Belgian missionary better known as Father Damien. Although not the first missionary or caregiver at Kalawao and Kalaupapa, it was he who turned the colonies into a place of hope, rather than exile and death.

Father Damien spoke Hawaiian and established schools and other educational and recreational projects. He developed a water system, expanded St. Philomena Catholic Church, and became a source of comfort to residents. He died of Hansen’s Disease in 1889, and was canonized by Pope John Paul II in 1995.

Although a cure for Hansen’s Disease was discovered in the 1940’s, most of the colony chose to remain at Kalaupapa, as it had become a tight-knit community. Today, only a, uh, handful of elderly residents remain, keeping alive Kalaupapa’s legacy by talking story with visitors and relatives alike.

The National Park Service established Kalaupapa as part of its system in 1980 (previously, it was a National Historic Landmark, the Kalaupapa Leper Settlement). While somewhat pricey and challenging to get to, it’s worth a visit if you’re at all interested in Hawaiian culture and history.

You can get to Molokai year round by either regional air carriers or ferry via Maui. To enter the Park, state law requires a permit from the State Department of Health, and no children under 16 are permitted. All entries are booked and must be prearranged through Damien Tours (808) 567-6171, which is endorsed by the National Park Service (there is also a Father Damien Tours out of Honolulu, but I can’t speak with authority to its quality).

Two excellent ways to gain entry to the park – via prior reservation – are by hiking the 3.5-mile trail or on muleback. Kalaupapa Mule Tour has been a park concession since the early 70s, and I highly recommend the ride if your butt and legs are in good shape and you don’t have a fear of heights. It provides a truly once-in-a-lifetime experience, but be prepared for insanely steep, narrow trails and brutal switchbacks. Whether you hike or ride, please be sure to do an honest assessment of your physical abilities beforehand; another option is to do a flightseeing/ground tour. There are no medical facilities at the park.

[Photo credit: Flickr user University of Hawaii – West Oahu; Father Damian, Wikipedia Commons]

Celebrate Italy’s 150th birthday in Torino

Italy's 150th birthday150 years ago, Italy became a country. Well, sort of. Venice and Rome didn’t join for another 9 years, so many Italians will be waiting until 2020 for the big celebration of the Risorgimento, as the unification is called in Italian. Nevertheless, as Italy’s first capital city in 1861, Torino (aka Turin, home of the famed Shroud) is celebrating all year, including the reopening today of the Risorgimento Museum, with free admission for the rest of March. This weekend also marks the reopening of the Automobile Museum, with a huge expansion and total concept overhaul, fitting for a country that gave birth to the Ferrari, the Lamborghini, the Alfa Romeo, and Torino’s own Fiat.

Beginning this summer, the history and evolution of Italian fashion will be celebrated just outside Turin at La Venaria Reale. La Venaria Reale will also host a Leonardo da Vinci exhibition starting in October 2011. Not to leave out food, visitors can attend “royal dinners” all spring through fall, sample traditional regional dishes, and learn about their history as part of the unification. Buon compleanno, Italia!

Learn more about Italy’s birthday events at eng.italia150.it and

www.dreamofitaly.com

Fast & furious roller coasters: 6 coolest race car themed rides


Intimidator at Carowinds - Race themed roller coasters


After watching the Daytona 500, I thought it would be interesting to take a look at race car themed roller coasters. Although there have been many over the years, for me, these six really stand out. They emphasize speed as they include some of the fastest roller coasters in the World. And, the coasters that I feel deliver the best race car-like experience, also offer intense acceleration and cheek flapping g-forces.

Intimidator at Carowinds (Charlotte, North Carolina – United States)
Built in the heart of NASCAR country, Intimidator at Carowinds, bears the nickname of legendary race car driver Dale Earnhardt. Pictured above, the coaster’s trains are designed to look like his black #3 Chevy Monte Carlo. The attraction also includes a full-sized replica of his car as well as a tribute area that details his enormously successful career. While the ride itself is one of the best of its type and it is well-themed, it doesn’t do the best job of delivering a NASCAR feel with a hilly course and only one banked turn that reminded me of a turn in a race.

Intimidator 305 at Kings Dominion (Doswell, Virginia – United States)
Top Thrill Dragster at Cedar PointLike Intimidator at Carowinds, Kings Dominion’s Intimidator 305 has a Dale Earnhardt and NASCAR themed experience. Intimidator 305 starts with an un-race like 305 foot tall lift hill, but the heavily banked turn that follows the first drop and top speeds in the 90 mph range incorporate the racing feel better than the aforementioned Intimidator. Also, the train’s restraints are padded belts that are somewhat similar to what race car drivers use. Still, a roller coaster with a lift hill isn’t the best for simulating a race car.

Speed – The Ride at NASCAR Café (Las Vegas, Nevada – United States)
Speed - The Ride at NASCAR CafeSpeed – The Ride, is a launched shuttle roller coaster at the NASCAR Speed Café in Las Vegas. The ride begins with an exciting 0 to 70 mph launch in 2 seconds thanks to a magnetic propulsion system. After the launch, riders speed through a vertical loop and eventually climb a 224 foot tall pike. Then the train slows and reverses its path. The launch is race-like, but the loop and backwards traveling doesn’t simulate any races that I know of.

Top Thrill Dragster at Cedar Point – (Sandusky, Ohio – United States)Top Thrill Dragster at Cedar Point
For years, Cedar Point had a track record of topping everyone in terms of the biggest and fastest roller coasters in the World. In 2003, they continued their trend with Top Thrill Dragster. It not only set a new speed record with a 0 to 120 mph launch in 4 seconds, it also set a height record with an unheard of 42-story tall top hat tower. The ride’s cars are themed like dragsters and the ride begins with the same “Christmas tree” lights used in official drag races. I’ve ridden a very similar and slightly faster coaster in Kingda Ka at Six Flags Great Adventure. The launch alone is one of the most memorable experiences I’ve had on a roller coaster. The sheer power of these hydraulic launches is quite remarkable.

Ring°Racer at Nürburgring (Nurburg, Rhineland-Palatinate – Germany)
Ring Racer at NurburgringLocated at the famous Nürburgring motorsport complex and race track, Ring°Racer might have the best location of any race car-themed roller coaster. The coaster uses a compressed air launch system that delivers a quicker accelaration, and likely a more intense launch, than Top Thrill Dragster. Unfortunately, Ring°Racer has been closed due to defects in its launch system. Hopefully, Nürburgring and the ride’s manufacturer S&S can reopen it this year. It was designed to feature a blistering 0 to 134.8 mph launch in only 2.5 seconds.

Formula Rossa at Ferrari World (Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates)
When Formula Rossa opened last November at the new Ferrari World theme park in Abu Dhabi it became the World’s fastest roller coaster. Designed by Intamin AG, the launch coaster rockets riders from 0 to 149.1 mph in 4 seconds generating an intense 4.8g’s. With trains resembling red Ferrari Formula One race cars and guests wearing safety glasses just like the real drivers, Formula Rossa looks like the coolest race car themed roller coaster.




[Image credits: Flickr users – daveyinn, woofiegrrl, & mjohn2101]