St. Louis Zoo To Open Animal-Themed Hotel

St Louis zoo hotel penguins
Flickr, Jorge Rodrigo Gonzalez

The St. Louis Zoo has some major expansion plans in store for the next several decades, including an open savannah, a gondola crossing the park, a formal restaurant and a boutique hotel. The Missouri zoo will be making big changes to their existing park and developing a new site, bringing the total campus to over 100 acres, and creating new animal habitats and attractions. Don’t get ready to book yet, the full strategic plan is not due until the end of 2014, and construction could still be well into the future.

Where else can you overnight with animals, even if you don’t have kids?
Cincinnati Zoo has several after-hours options for families and kids, such as family camping outside the giraffe exhibit or inside the manatees building. You can even travel with the zoo on an African safari to Kenya.

Cleveland Zoo has a variety of fun overnight programs for children, but the adults have the option of a cash bar and make-your-own s’mores in the summer months. Costs are $90 to $300, depending on tent size.

The Houston Zoo Wild Winks program is primarily for children, but private events can be arranged. Want to sleep without the fishes? On November 1, adults can attend the annual Feast with the Beasts fundraiser event with 80 local restaurants providing food and drinks, animal appearances, and a performance by Smash Mouth. The zoo also hosts trips to Yellowstone, Alaska and Kenya.

San Diego Zoo Safari Park regularly offers “roar and snore” overnight camping excursions for children and families, and an “adults-only” option where you can learn animal facts for mature audiences only. Tickets range from $140-$264 per person, depending on age, membership, and tent size.

The Washington National Zoo hosts adults only for summer snore & roars including wine and cheese and an after-hours tour. Families and kids can choose their favorite animal or regional tour, from Amazonia to chimpanzees, but eat before you arrive, dinner is not on the menu.

Impact Of Sequester Cuts On Travel: Festivals Not So Festive

sequester cuts

Recent sequester cuts have had a big impact on travel in a number of ways. Cutbacks have resulted in everything from grounding the Navy’s Blue Angels at dozens of air shows around the country to turning Houston’s George Bush Intercontinental into a third world-like airport. Cuts to the budgets of national parks have popular attractions opening on a delayed schedule, closing visitor centers and operating without campgrounds.

But those who (still) work and operate facilities, festivals and events that would normally draw travelers from around the world are pressing on, promising to make the best of a bad situation.

A highlight, if not the main attraction, to Fleet Week at a number of major U.S. cities is a showcase of active duty military ships, recently deployed in overseas operations and brought to town for the event.sequester cutsA tradition of the United States Navy, United States Marine Corps and United States Coast Guard since 1935, Fleet Week began in San Diego with 114 warships and 400 military planes. Since then, annual Fleet Week events began in San Francisco, New York City and Fort Lauderdale. Seattle, Washington, includes fleet week during the annual Seafair. In Portland, Oregon, fleet week is part of the annual Portland Rose Festival.

The shows brought ships full of military personnel to town, as well as travelers who looked forward to tours of ships, military demonstrations and air shows, adding to local tourism revenue. But on the heels of the secretary of defense announcing that ships will not be visiting, show organizers are turning to a different focus.

“We’re all about bringing a little more recognition to our local units,” said Jean-Sebastien Gros of Broward Navy Days Inc., the non-profit organization that spearheads Florida’s Fleet Week Port Everglades, in this NBC Miami report.

The Fort Lauderdale Fleet Week event, still scheduled for April 29 through May 6, normally has hotels booked full and Florida highways clogged for a week. Organizers hope to keep the lion’s share of that activity by hosting a variety of other events.

Golf tournaments, a 5K race, major league baseball games, culinary competitions and deep-sea fishing will attempt to replace active-duty warships and the Blue Angels. Canceled ship tours will give way to honoring the active duty military of the United States Southern Command and Coast Guard District 7, both based in South Florida.

It’s a sign of the times to be sure and event organizers are to be commended for pressing on. Still, this travel-affecting result of sequester budget cuts can’t help but make one wonder if there was not some other way to address this problem with the nation’s economy.

“No one can deny that we have passed through troubled years. No one can fail to feel the inspiration of your high purpose. I wish you great success,” said President Franklin Roosevelt in 1935 at the beginning of the first fleet week.

[Photo credit – Flickr user St0rmz]

Flight To Comet Sold Out But There Are Other Options

comet

Astronomers are calling 2013 “the year of the comet” as the first of two comets set to swing by Earth comes within view of the naked eye. Some avid sky watchers may be viewing with binoculars. Others may get an even closer view, thanks to a German travel agency.

On March 16, Eclipse Travel of Bonn, Germany, will have Air Berlin’s flight 1000 full of stargazers, giving them two hours closer to the comet than anyone else on the planet.

The company will fill just 88 of the 144 seats on board the Boeing 737-700, allowing everyone to have a window view at an average ticket price of $500 per person, reports TravelMole.

Wish you had booked a seat? Is astronomy your passion? You have options.

Closer to home, Spears Travel of Tulsa, Oklahoma, has a Sky & Telescope’s Iceland Aurora Adventure set for April 7. Currently, the event is also sold out, but they are accepting names for a waiting list. The seven-night astronomy adventure to view the northern lights in Iceland sold for $2995 per person.Eclipse Tours of Houston, Texas, has more options, planning trips through 2015. Providing guided expeditions of astronomical events throughout the world, Eclipse Tours is the home of Ring of Fire Expeditions (ROFE), the longest consecutive astronomical tour organization in the United States.

This year, Eclipse will visit the island of Tarawa, Kiribati, for its 41st Annular Solar Eclipse Tour in May and space is still available. Another tour heads to Guadalcanal in the South Pacific’s Solomon Islands for a post-eclipse tour.

Even more exotic, Melitatrips, a Travel + Leisure world’s best-award winner, takes the road less traveled for stargazing excursions from Argentina to Zimbabwe. This year, Melitatrips has a Kenya Total Solar Eclipse Safari promising unrivaled views “from the place where man was born,” according to its website. An English Astronomers Tour returns to where the greatest scientific researchers once lived and worked, with stops in London and surrounding towns of Bath, Cambridge and Oxford, with a special visit to Greenwich Observatory and the Maritime Museum.

Sound interesting but not in the budget?

Northern hemisphere stargazers who look to the west as the sun sets should note that just to the left of the horizon they should be able to see the comet Pan-STARRS over the next few days.

“Comets visible to the naked eye are a rare delicacy in the celestial smorgasbord of objects in the nighttime sky,” says NASA on its Asteroid and Comet watch page that offers viewing tips and more information about asteroids and other near-Earth objects.

Another option? Google Sky.



[Photo credit – Flickr user ϟStormLoverSwin93ϟ]

Valentine’s Day Help For The Clueless

valentines day

Valentines Day can be full of fun and joy or a stressful day for those who forgot to do something special for their loved one. While there may be just days left to plan a memorable event, there are options.

Go Skydiving
“Nothing says ‘I love you!’ like jumping out of a plane together,” says Skydive Spaceland in Houston. The company touts Valentine’s Day Specials like a Valentine’s Day 2-Fer Gift ($369), good for six months after date of purchase, perfect if extra time is needed to get used to the idea of jumping out of a perfectly good airplane. Those ready to go can save more with a dual jump on Valentine’s Day for $299.

Click To Celebrate
There is still time to send a gift online, if you hurry. Rocky Mountain Chocolate Factory, for example, has Valentine’s Day gifts ranging from a traditional Red satin heart box filled with chocolates ($24.50) to a Scrumptious Snack Basket ($89.50). Too much? Try (personal favorite) See’s Candies who has a 4-ounce Red Assorted Box for $5.95 and they will even deliver it for you with expedited shipping at no extra charge to make it there in time.

Your Credit Card Company Can Help
Visa Signature cardholders get 24/7 access to a complimentary concierge service known as the Visa Signature Concierge. Visa’s on-call experts can help you with almost anything, including:

  • Offering restaurant recommendations.
  • Making the reservations that you forgot to make.
  • Buying last minute gifts.
  • Making travel arrangements.
  • Helping with entertainment planning, including finding hard-to-get tickets to anything.

Find A Great Place For A Romantic Dinner
No Visa Signature card? Open Table can help with suggestions on where to go for a great Valentine’s Celebration with a customized list of restaurants with availability on Valentine’s Day. Just punch in your zip code and the date you want to dine and Open Table instantly shows a list of restaurants, their price range, when tables are available and more.

Stay Home And Watch TV
The Travel Channel has a special showing of Ghost Adventures on Valentine’s Day. In each episode, the Ghost Adventures crew, Zak Bagans, Nick Groff and Aaron Goodwin investigate the scariest, most notorious, haunted places in the world.

This week, the gang at Ghost Adventures goes to Longfellow’s Wayside Inn, home to America’s most amorous female ghost.

Perhaps you have Valentine’s Day all planned and are ready to go. Did you think about what to wear? This video might help:



[Photo Credit- Flickr user wbeem]

Photo Of The Day: Airplane Over Houston

With modern photo editing techniques, it’s often difficult to tell the real from the, well, embellished.

Today’s Photo of the Day was snapped by Flickr user Neil Marek with an iPhone during an airplane descent on George Bush Intercontinental Airport in Houston, Texas. Its vintage feel is courtesy of Snapseed, an easy-to-use photo editing software for the iPhone, iPad and desktops, which offers much of the functionality of fancy photo programs like Adobe Photoshop, but at a fraction of the cost.

Does it have the purity of an unedited photograph taken by a fancy DSLR camera? Maybe not. But it’s still a very cool image.

Do you have any impressive mobile photos? Upload your shots, edited or unedited, to the Gadling Flickr Pool and your image could be selected as our Photo of the Day.

[Photo Credit: Flickr user BearkatBran]