Recreation

More posh airport amenities

From my recent Bing Travel slide show, here are a few more posh airport amenities:


 

Offering travelers the world’s largest airport slide, a transit hotel with a roof-top pool and free foot massages, live entertainment, movie theaters and computer games, Singapore’s award-winning Changi Airport consistently tops the posh chart. Posher yet: five fanatically-tended-to themed gardens displaying, respectively, ferns, orchids, cactus, sunflowers and more than 1,000 live butterflies.

Posh perusing is available at Taiwan Tayoun International Airport, which now has a library with 2000 paper books and 400 e-titles for passengers on layovers. The much larger Airport Library at Amsterdam’s Schiphol Airport opened last year. The “sitting area with added value” offers a multi-media collection of books, films and music about Dutch history, culture, art and literature.

Maintaining a posh state of mind in transit is easier if you look and feel great. Thankfully, spas offering manicures, haircuts, facials and back, neck and foot massages are becoming commonplace in many terminals. At Finland’s Helsinki Airport, relaxation goes a step further: a Finnair-branded spa offers a choice of spruce, stone, steam or a traditional Finnish sauna.

They say music hath charms to soothe the savage beast. So can music relax stressed-out travelers? We think so. Especially if you catch one of the regular concerts offered at airports in Austin, Nashville, San Diego or San Francisco. The poshest airport musical act may take place at Portland International Airport, where John English (“The Voice”) delivers Frank Sinatra tributes twice-weekly.

For more, see the full posh airport amenities slide show on Bing Travel – or check back here tomorrow.

Changi Airport’s giant slide joined by racing cars

As we noted here back in June, (and again in August because it’s so darn entertaining)  Singapore’s Changi Airport has been thrilling passengers with the world’s largest airport slide.

Changi Airport Singapore - World's Largest Airport slide

Changi Airport's giant slide

Now, to celebrate the 2010 Singapore Formula 1 Night Race, which takes place in the streets of Singapore from September 24-26th, Changi Airport is having its own Grand Prix Festival.

Changi Airport Singapore Grand Prix Festival

From now through September 30, 2010 both airport visitors and travelers can participate in racing-themed activities that include remote-controlled race cars, racing game consoles and prizes.

Changi Airport Grand Prix Festival remote control cars

Could it be possible to have too much fun at an airport?

Portland International Airport loves cyclists

Despite all the rainy days, Portland, Oregon is known as one of the most bike-friendly and bike-able cities around.

Photo of bicycle

Stenciled bike-riders with personality are everywhere  –

Book-reading bicycle stencil Portland, Oregon

And the city makes it easy to take a bike on the MAX light rail train that runs to and from Portland International Airport, where there’s bicycle parking and easy access to a bike and pedestrian path.

Now the airport has added a welcome and very useful amenity just for cyclists: a bike assembly station where travelers can easily assemble and disassemble their bikes before and after flights.

Portland Airport bicycle assembly station

(Photo courtesy Portland International Airport)

And – here’s a nice touch – Travel Oregon and the Port of Portland have basic bike tools, such as a pedal wrenches and air pumps, available for check out.

Look for the bike assembly stations at Portland International Airport on the lower terminal roadway near the TriMet MAX station.  Check out tools and find out about local cycling activities at the State Welcome Center, near bag carousels 5 and 6.

Leave the airport, visit a park

Does a bear sh#t in the woods? Depends on which woods.

Glacier National Park visitors 1960

My Well Mannered Traveler column on msnbc.com this is week is all about What’s OK, what’s not in national and state parks. Even some well-seasoned travelers don’t know the ins and outs. But if you don’t check out the rules before you head off into the woods you can end up in a heap of trouble.

Wendy Peck of Winnipeg, Manitoba found that out at the beginning of her two-month park-centric visit to the United States. She had her heart set on poking around the national parks in Arizona and Utah, hiking and camping with Amie, her black lab.

“That plan quickly fell apart,” says Peck, who discovered that most every national park in the United States prohibits dogs on back-country trails. “We were usually restricted to asphalt views. It was very disappointing.”

But Peck figured out that many national parks have state parks just down the road that usually offer much of the same landscapes and more pet-friendly policies.  “I found that by switching my focus to state parks, that I actually had a better time. Far fewer people, much more freedom, and some pretty cool sights that most others just don’t see. “

Peck’s vacation was saved, but rules about what is — or is not — allowed in state and national parks have ended up ruining or mangling trips for many other travelers.

Want to avoid those surprises?  Here’s some advice from park officials and outdoor enthusiasts.

Bugs and bunnies, shorelines and cemeteries

Figuring out what is – or is not – a National Park Service property can be confusing. National Park Service properties around the country encompass 392 areas, or “units” with 80 million acres of land and more than a dozen different, and often confusing, designations.

Those “units” include 58 traditional national parks, such as Yosemite, Yellowstone and Bryce Canyon, but also about 150 historic sites and battlefields, as well as national monuments and memorials, national historical parks, national seashores, national parkways and national recreation areas, including man-made lakes such as Lake Mead, behind Hoover Dam.

“Yes, we know we have some identity issues out there,” says David Barna, chief of public affairs for the National Park Service, “But you can divide the areas we manage into two piles: half of them preserve natural resources — bugs and bunnies — the other half preserves cultural resources, which represent the history of America.”

They may all be managed by the same agency, but the same rules don’t apply in each location. “There are places where a dog needs to be on a leash,” Barna says, “and places where that rule doesn’t apply.” Likewise, while personal watercraft (i.e. Jet Skis) are not allowed in the 58 national parks, those vehicles are allowed on recreational lakes and at some offshore national seashore areas managed by the park service. “It depends on what classification the areas fall under,” add Barna.

And then there are the seemingly site-specific rules. “For example, all boats entering Lake Powell [which stretches from Arizona to Utah] must be certified to be free of zebra mussels prior to launching. And in Maine’s Acadia National Park, visitors can’t bring firewood from home due to the threat of invasive insects,” says Dan Wulfman of Tracks & Trails, a company that organizes national park driving vacations.

How to navigate park rules

Kurt Repanshek of National Parks Traveler urges park visitors to study the National Park Service website long before leaving home. “Each park unit has its own website, but the content varies greatly. So don’t rely on that alone. If you don’t see information about the specific activity you’re interested in, make a phone call.”

And if you find the national park rules too restricting, don’t despair. It may just mean that a state park is a better match for you and your vacation style. “State parks,” says Shannon Andrea of the National Parks Conservation Association, “have less national significance and almost always allow for some form of active recreation such as bike riding, swimming, hiking, fishing, camping or horseback riding as part of their mission.”

Or maybe a visit to a National Forest is what you need. Myrna Johnson, a Boston-based outdoor enthusiast and urban open space professional, says National Forests “tend to be a little less traveled than National Parks and offer great backcountry opportunities for those who are looking for a slightly more rugged experience.”

Pay to play

National Park Service visitor pass

Whether you set out for a national or a state park, don’t forget to bring along your wallet. Of the 392 National Park Service properties, 130 currently charge some sort of entrance and/or amenities use fee. So consider investing in an $80 annual America the Beautiful Pass. There are some restrictions, but the pass covers a full year of entrance fees for a carload of up to four adults at National Park Service sites and at sites managed by agencies such as the USDA Forest Service, Fish and Wildlife Service and the Bureau of Land Management. (U.S. citizens and permanent residents ages 62 or over can get a lifetime pass good for that same carload for just $10.) The America the Beautiful Pass won’t cover entry fees at state parks, but y states offer their own annual passes, which can be an equally good deal.

And it’s always a good idea to call ahead. National Parks have not experienced budget cuts this year, but many state parks have. So make sure the park you want to visit will be open when you show up at the gate.

(Photos courtesy National Park Service Historic Photograph Collection.)

Do shrunken heads snore? Sleepovers at museums & attractions

If you’re curious about what happens in museums, zoos, aquariums and offbeat attractions after hours you’re in luck.  For a slide show on Bing Travel – Critter Campouts – I found plenty of places where you can camp with critters, sleep with fishes and dream with dinosaurs.

(Courtesy Georgia Aquarium)

Since then, I’ve found even more. For example, it turns out you and your friends can spend the night at the Titan Missle Museum in Sahuarita, Arizona.

(Courtesy Arizona Aerospace Foundation)

For the Bing Critter Campouts show, I was able to squeeze in 11 sleepover sites.  Some of them are just for kids. A few set aside a few nights for adults-only overnights. But most are open to families, making them an unusual alternative to at least one night in a hotel during a vacation.

Here are just two of my favorites:

Do shrunken heads snore? Do two-headed taxidermy cows moo in their sleep?

Brave souls can find out during a night inside Ripley’s Believe it or Not! Extreme Sleepover at the Times Square Odditorium in New York or at the Bedtime with the Bizarre overnights at Ripley’s outlets in Williamsburg, VA, Gatlinburg, TN, Grand Prairie, TX and several other locations. Make it to morning and you’ll get to take home a “Survivor” certificate.

And on June 30th, after the San Francisco Giants play the LA Dodgers at AT&T Park, 400 fans will get to race into the outfield to pitch tents for the 8th annual San Francisco Giants Slumber Party.

Evening activities include baseball, of course, as well as movies, peanuts, popcorn and pizza, games, goody bags, photos on the field and a chance to get autographs from former baseball stars.

For more surprising sleepovers, see my Critter Campouts slide show on Bing Travel.