Elves at airports

Airports around the country are ready for the holiday travel season with decorations, entertainment and special events of all kinds – including an invasion of gift-bearing elves.

Beginning Thursday, December 1 at Chicago’s O’Hare airport and running through December 8, the HMSHost Holiday Elves and their “magical sleigh” will be popping up at major U.S. airports handing out electronics, fun gag gifts, holiday collectibles and travel accessories to select lucky travelers and passersby who play the elves’ naughty-or-nice game.

Look for the elves on December 6 at Seattle-Tacoma International Airport (I’ll be there!) and Orlando International Airport on December 8.

Not planning on being at those airports on those days? You can still can win prizes (in airports or not ) by posting creative holiday travel photos.



Go skating at Denver and Munich Airports

Ice-skating kid with pillow

(At least) two airports will have free skating rinks on site this holiday season so travelers can take a spin on the ice while waiting for their flights.

Denver International Airport’s rink opens on Friday, in the outdoor plaza between the main terminal and the Westin Denver International Airport. The rink, complete with carolers and seasonal music, will be there through January 1, from 9 in the morning till 9 at night.

Time on the ice is free and complimentary skates are available.

The DEN Plaza is also where you’ll find a Holiday Market on December 9 from 11 a.m. to 4 p.m and, starting at 4 pm on December 16, an ugly holiday sweater party and a showing of the film “National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation.”

There’s also a free ice-skating rink at Munich Airport – with a space set aside for curling – as part of the airport’s Christmas Market.

The market, set in a ‘forest’ of more than 450 pine trees, runs through December 30 and is open daily from 11 a.m. to 9 pm. (Booths close at 5 on Christmas Eve)

In addition to free skating (there is a small fee for renting skates), Munich Airport’s Christmas Market has food booths, entertainment, craft workshops and, of course, a visit from St. Nick.

Thanksgiving getaway? Still possible.


(A slightly different version of my story below first appeared on CNBC)

The bizarre election season is over and now Thanksgiving and the more-hectic-than-usual holiday travel season is kicking into gear.

But although Airline for American reports U.S. airlines will carry 27.3 million passengers over the 12-day Thanksgiving holiday travel period (Nov 18-Nov 29) – up 2.5 percent over last year – reasonable (though not cheap) fares and getaways may still be possible.

“Most searches will be done on the 11th and 12th, but most people will commit on the 13th, after thoroughly looking and comparing the previous prices offered,” said CheapOair’s travel expert Tom Spagnola.

Many airlines look at their inventory capacity with a 10-to-14-day window to determine when to lower fares for last minute shoppers, he said, “making the 13th the ‘tipping point’ for those committing to a Thanksgiving trip.”

Where to go?

Travel analysts from Expedia report that New York City and Las Vegas top the list of holiday destinations this year.

The Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade draws 3.5 million to New York City each year, but you can avoid the crowds and still see the giant character balloons by watching the balloon inflation the day before the parade (November 23) in the streets around the American Museum of Natural History.

“The inflation takes place from 3 p.m. to 10 p.m.,” says NYC & Company, “though earlier in the afternoon is the best time to see the inflation process as by about 9 p.m., most of the balloons should be fully inflated.”

In Sin City, you can escape the casino and nightclub scene for a while at the Cosmopolitan of Las Vegas, where the 4,200-square-foot Boulevard Pool overlooking The Strip transforms into an ice rink on November 21, complete with fire pit, s’mores and cocktails.

Those seeking healing R&R during the Thanksgiving week might also consider destinations like the northern New Mexico town of Taos, which is home to spas offering everything from massages and facials to hot baths and mud soaks — and most all are open during Thanksgiving weekend.

Another place to head to if you want to avoid the holiday crowds is the Texas Hill Country River Region, where you can book a cabin near the site of the largest tree in Texas, and where fall foliage hikes through Garner State Park are an option straight through December.

For a more upscale escape, the Four Seasons Resort Jackson Hole in Wyoming offers guests stargazing excursions and customized, four-hour luxury SUV wildlife expeditions (with food) in Grand Teton National Park, the Bridger-Teton National Forest and the National Elk Refuge, home to more than 5,000 elk.

And while others may be heading to the malls on the day after Thanksgiving, if you’re in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, you can avoid the crowds and relax with fresh cider and microbrews from more than two dozen of the Midwest’s craft breweries at the Black Friday Beerfest at the Harley-Davidson Museum.

Traveling? Don’t watch the presidential debate alone.


It’s a scary time of year. Halloween is coming. The days are getting darker sooner. Winds are blowing.  And tonight is the third and final presidential debate between Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump.

Now matter how big and brave you are the rest of the year, no one is going to fault you for being a bit jumpy right now.

So if you happen to be in a hotel tonight, do yourself a favor: don’t watch the debate alone in your hotel room.

Go to the bar. Or the lounge restaurant at your hotel where they’ve got TVs set up so you’ll watch in the safety of numbers.

I did that for the first debate, when I was staying at the Hyatt Regency San Francisco Airport hotel.

Located a short ride from SFO airport and on San Francisco Bay, this business-oriented hotel recently underwent a major update and has a new restaurant and bar, called 3SIXTY, that has a menu featuring local purveyors such as Cowgirl Creamery, Hog Island Anchor Steam, and a nice selection of healthy entrees, small and large.

To remind guests they are still near SFO, the cocktail menu has airport-inspired drinks with names such asDelayed Connecction, Aviation Martini and Turbulence.

I wanted to have dinner and watch the debate so went to the bar. TVs over the bar were tuned to both the debate AND a football game.  Captioning was on, but there was no sound.

Luckily I learned that this Hyatt offers audio for the TVs via an app called “WAD.”

All I had to do was download the app, pick which audio signal I wanted to tune to on the Hyatt TV offerings and listen with the earbuds provided by the restaurant.

This app is used in sports bars and other places where some people may want to watch and listen to news, other to sports and still others -sigh – to presidential debates sure to cause indigestion.

Offering the app – and complimentary earbuds – in their restaurant/bar was one great touch I appreciated at the business-oriented Hyatt Regency San Francisco.

Another nice touch: when I first arrived, the check-in line was bogged down by a guest trying to work out a billing issue with the front desk. Management noticed, called out back-up desk clerks and then went down the line of people waiting to check in offering bottles of cold water and a some welcoming chit chat.