Road Trip

Not flying? Try Amtrak’s $299 Rail Pass

It’s like the Eurail Pass, but for the U.S.

If you’re not quite ready to get on a plane, perhaps you’re up for an adventure by train.

Amtrak’s USA Rail Pass, which allows 10 ride segments in 30 days, is on sale through June 22 for $299. That’s $200 off the regular price of $499 and just a smidge under $30 per ride.

Where does Amtrak go? Pretty much everywhere. The rail service says it serves more than 500 destinations.

Sound tempting? Here’s a bit of how it works.

Purchase a pass by June 22 and start your travel adventure within 120 days. The pass allows you to ride 10 Coach class segments within a 30 day period, starting with the first trip you take. Upgrades to Business Class and private rooms are not permitted.

Passholders book their own itineraries and receive an electronic ticket for each segment to show to the conductor. Modifications to your itinerary are permitted as long as they are made before the scheduled departure of a segment.

What’s a segment? If you board and disembark a scheduled train, Amtrak counts that as a segment. Need to make a connection? That’s another segment.

Some other USA Rail Pass rules to keep in mind

Southwest Chief near Fishers Peak, Colorado.

The USA Rail Pass isn’t good on those speedy northeast Acela trains, nor on the popular Auto Train that transports people and their cars 900 miles from Washington D.C. to just outside of Orlando, FL. You can use it on the Maple Leaf Route, but not for the Canadian stations.

The pass is good for Saver and Value Fares, not for Flexible Fare tickets. And you can only take two roundtrips (four one-way segments) between the same two stations.

If you’ve got time and the desire to see a lot of the country this summer, then $299 for 10 rides can get you pretty darn far.

Tumbleweed invasion

Here’s a crazy travel story for the New Year that’s not about flying, but about driving.

 Truck surrounded by tumbleweeds near Richland Washington. Photo: Washington State Patrol Trooper C. Thorson

On Tuesday night – New Year’s Eve – at least five cars and an eighteen-wheeler truck got trapped in a bizarre, giant pile-up of tumbleweeds on a rural, central Washington State highway.

According to the Washington State Patrol, the tumbleweed invasion was so serious that the highway had to be closed for 10 hours, trapping the drivers inside their cars until 4:30 a.m. New Year’s Day.

Washington State Trooper Chris Thorson told the YakkTriNews that strong winds blew tumbleweeds into an area with berms near the roadway and that caused the tumbleweeds to clog the highway.

There were so many tumbleweeds on the road that when cars stopped to avoid hitting the tumbleweeds they ended up getting buried by them.

How did they get rid of the tumbleweeds?

Snowplows were brought in to clear the tumbleweeds and free the trapped drivers and their vehicles.

According to the State Patrol, the tumbleweed heap reached 30 feet tall and was hundreds of yards long.

On the road: Boston

Souvenir at Boston Logan Airport

StuckatTheAirport.com is spending the holiday week in Boston.

While here, we’re exploring the up-and-coming downtown Seaport neighborhood, which sits between Boston’s waterfront and the historic Fort Point district.

One of 7 sculptures by Okuda San Miguel in the Seaport neighborhood. This one is Mythology: Being 1

The neighborhood is a mix of historic buildings and brand new hotels, shops, inviting green spaces, public art and hangout spaces. There are also plenty of highrise office and apartment buildings – many still being built.

Opening day at Martin’s Park was just two weeks ago. The $7 million accessible playground and open space honors Martin W. Richard, the youngest victim of the Boston Marathon bombings. The park sits right next to the Boston Children’s Museum, which moved to the area in 1979.

Two of Boston’s best rooftop bars are in the Seaport neighborhood as well.

The charming Yotel Boston offers the Sky Bar, with a 270-degree panoramic view of the city and harbor from the hotel’s 12 floor.

Yotel Boston

Nearby, the Envoy Hotel offers a wider choice of views from the 8th floor Lookout bar. I had the great fortune to be invited up for a cocktail and a look around on a picture perfect day.

Have you been to this ‘new’ Boston neighborhood? Please share some of your favorite “don’t miss” places.

Considering Cuba?

The best restored vintage cars serve as taxis for tourists in Havana. Photo: Harriet Baskas

In early January I joined Alaska Airlines for the first scheduled flight to Havana from a west coast city – Los Angeles – in over 50 years. Here’s the CNBC story that came from that adventure.

Photo by Harriet Baskas

Last week, the newly inaugurated Trump administration warned it was in the middle of a “full review” of U.S. policy toward Cuba—prompting new questions about how committed President Donald Trump will be to the political and cultural thaw began under his predecessor.

However, uncertainty over Trump’s Cuba policy did not prevent American Airlines from opening a ticket office in Havana this week, a mere two months after the carrier flew the first scheduled commercial flight from the U.S. to Havana since 1961.

American’s new outpost in Cuba underscores how both U.S. fliers and air carriers are rushing to make the most of the first real opening between the two countries in decades—despite lingering questions about whether that thaw will continue in the Trump era.

 “We cannot speculate about what [Trump’s] next step will be, but I can assure you that we are moving our machine forward,” said Galo Beltran, Cuba manager for American Airlines told the Associated Press, “You are a witness to the investment and how important Cuba is to American as a U.S. entity doing business.”

American began flying to Havana from Miami and Charlotte in late November, and from Miami to five other Cuban cities in September. After a mid-February ‘schedule adjustment’ that drops one of two daily flights between Miami and three cities (Holguin, Santa Clara and Varadero), American will be operating 10 daily flights to six Cuban cities.

Other U.S. airlines competed for the go-ahead to offer service to Havana and other Cuban cities. These include Delta (which in November was the first U.S. airline to open a ticket office in Havana), Spirit, United, Alaska, JetBlue and Southwest, all of which are sticking with their original flight schedules.

“Myriad external forces govern the climate in which we operate – prices of energy, labor,” said Brad Hawkins, spokesman for Southwest Airlines, which currently operates a dozen daily roundtrips between Cuba and the U.S.. As of right now, “Our Cuba flights are performing in-line with our expectations.”

JetBlue reported the same.

“Cuba routes are performing as expected,” said JetBlue spokesman Philip Stewart, “As has been the case since we completed all of our route launches last fall, we continue to operate nearly 50 roundtrips between the U.S. and Cuba every week on six unique routes.”

Photo by Harriet Baskas

 

As one would expect from tourists prohibited from visiting a cultural Mecca for decades, many U.S. visitors who now fly to Havana join walking tours through the city’s old quarters, take rides in restored vintage cars and visit the Presidential Palace (home of the Revolutionary Museum), Hemingway’s House and the studios of local artists.

Members of a 50-person delegation of political, business and cultural leaders who joined Seattle-based Alaska Airlines in January, as part of the first regularly scheduled flight between Los Angeles and Havana, indulged in the same.

At the same time, they engaged with their Cuban counterparts, exchanging ideas and business links.

Stephanie Bowman and other commissioners from the Port of Seattle, which operates Seattle-Tacoma International Airport and an assortment of cruise and marine terminals, met with the Cuban Minister of Trade and Foreign Investment and the Cuban Port Authority.

“We learned that with the lessening of trade restrictions and the increase in tourism they have huge challenges in infrastructure development, everything from roads and hotels to being able to provide enough food for everyone,” said Bowman. She suggested the Port of Seattle host some Cuban executives in Seattle “so they can observe our cruise and airport business and take some best practices back.”

Photo courtesy Tom Norwalk

Kevin Mather, president & COO of the Seattle Mariners, didn’t meet with Cuban baseball officials or players while in Havana. However, he did bring a suitcase full of t-shirts, whiffle balls and other Mariners promotional items to hand out to baseball fans in a downtown Havana plaza.

Mather recognized that scouting for potential players in Cuba is a touchy subject right now, but he’s confident that eventually Cuban baseball leagues and the American Major League Baseball will have an understanding.

“And when the gate opens and the race starts, I want to have a horse to ride,” said Mather. He instructed his office to retain scouts and people well-versed in the Cuban economy “so that when the day comes we can react.”

That “hurry up and wait” lesson is being learned by members of cultural, business, tourism and trade missions heading to Cuba from a variety of U.S cities, said Janet Moore, president of Distant Horizons, which organizes the on-the-ground details for many delegations.

Once in Cuba, “They quickly realize that it’s not quite so straight-forward and that until the Trade Embargo is lifted, doing business with Cuba comes with an enormous set of regulations,” said Moore.

“So feelers are being put out there and relationships forged, but at this point concrete steps are more difficult,” she added.

Heading to the airport? Hold onto that rental car.

Courtesy State Library of New South Wales , via Flickr Commons.

Courtesy State Library of New South Wales , via Flickr Commons.


Disclosure: National Car Rental sponsored this project.

You finished your meetings, filed that report and now there’s not much else to do but take another pass at the breakfast buffet, check out of your hotel and head to the airport to hang out before your flight.

But don’t return that rental car just yet.

If you plan it right and do a little homework, you can squeeze in a leisure adventure on the way to the airport.

Here’s are some great attractions nearby 5 major airports:

San Francisco International Airport: Burlingame sits on San Francisco Bay, and is home to the Burlingame Museum of Pez Memorabilia. Nearby is the Coyote Point Recreation Area, which offers a beach promenade, marina and great viewing spots for watching planes take off and land.

Seattle-Tacoma International Airport is just seven miles from the sprawling Museum of Flight, with more than 160 air and spacecraft, flight simulators and a brand new, 3-acre Aviation Pavilion that features many of the large commercial aircraft in the collection.

New York’s LaGuardia Airport is less than 2 miles from the Louis Armstrong House and Museum in Corona. The world famous jazz musician and his wife, Lucille, lived in a modest house in Queens and guided tours of the home are offered every hour.

Los Angeles International Airport – The Flight Path Learning Center and Museum is on the south side of the airport in the LAX Imperial Terminal and features airplane models, uniforms, photographs and a wide variety of historic artifacts relating to the aviation industry and the history of Southern California. In-N-Out Burger, a favorite among plane spotters, has a branch in nearby Westchester, less than 2 miles away.

Dallas/Fort Worth International Airport: Founders’ Plaza, on airport property (but almost two miles from the terminal), has an observation area offering great views of airplanes landing and taking off, telescopes, picnic tables and a radio broadcasting air traffic control communications. Historic downtown Grapevine, with wine tasting rooms, public art, shops, restaurants and an entertaining glockenspiel clock tower, is just 7 miles away.

The easiest and most time-efficient way to reach most of these near-the-airport locations is by car. A good option: National Car Rental, where some of the time-saving benefits offered to Emerald Club members make it easy to squeeze in leisure time on a business trip.

At these busy airports and many others, Emerald Club members get to bypass the lines at the check-in counter, pick out any midsize (or above) car from the Emerald Aisle and, when they return to the airport, skip the paperwork and get an email receipt after dropping off the car.

I’ve got a work trip planned to Denver and I’m planning now to squeeze in a drive out to Golden to see the Buffalo Bill Memorial Museum and grave before heading back to Denver International Airport, returning my rental car and heading home.

National_Emerald Aisle_image

Don’t give that rental car back just yet. Take a fun side trip before heading back to the airport.