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Bus travel gives other modes run for the money PDF Print E-mail

Charisse Jones, USA TODAY 4:56 p.m. EDT April 20, 2014

Seats inside the MegaBus(Photo: WLTX)

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Buses are starting to give airlines, trains, and even cars a run for their money. With spiffed up coaches, internet reservations, and often significantly cheaper fares, bus travel is becoming an increasingly popular alternative to flying, taking the train and even driving your own car, according to a new study released Monday.

"It's a . . . mode of travel that's really shaking things up,'' says Joseph Schwieterman, director of DePaul University's Chaddick Institute which conducted the study. "The ability to hop on a bus for half the price of the next cheapest option is a game changer.''

The study tracked the cost of taking a plane, bus or train from Oct. 2013 to January 2014 in 52 city pairs that ranged in distance from 100 to 500 miles.

Depending on whether tickets were bought a day, a week or 28 days in advance, a ride on an inter-city bus was on average 50% to 55% cheaper than a ride on Amtrak.

Taking the bus was even cheaper than driving a car, with a ticket bought the day before a trip costing 30.9% less on average than getting behind the wheel

"People are taking the bus who have cars sitting in their driveway, which is a new phenomenon,'' Schwieterman says.

Train travel is surging as well. A trip on Amtrak costs 55% to 73% less on average than an airline ticket, according to the DePaul University study.

And Amtrak is seeing record ridership. Last year, it ferried 31.6 million passengers, the most in its history, says Amtrak spokesman Craig Schulz. Since 2006, ridership in the northeast corridor has increased 21%, while it has risen 38% during that period on routes of less than 750 miles across the country, Schulz says.

Together, Schwieterman and others say, buses and trains are filling a void left by airlines on some shorter routes, where flights have been reduced or scrapped altogether as carriers focus on more lucrative markets.

"Some of (Amtrak's) growth is due to the decrease in those short distance airline flights and the absence of other travel options,'' Schulz says. "I think it's fair to say that the changes in service provided to some of the smaller communities is an opportunity for Amtrak.''

Less than two years ago, Southwest offered four non-stop round trip flights a day between Chicago and Indianapolis. But it halted that service in November, 2012. Megabus, an express inter-city service meanwhile, has eight daily, non-stop trips each way between the two Midwestern cities.

Cost is a key factor in why bus travel is gaining in popularity, Schwieterman says. But so is a younger generation that is less attached to driving, and a bus sector that is redefining itself, adding amenities, technology and service to attract more passengers.

"It has a stigma that's withering away,'' Schwieterman says of bus travel. "It's no longer seen as a mode of last resort.''

Polina Raygorodskaya co-founded Wanderu, a website that enables travelers to shop for and book bus rides. Since launching in August, the site has had three million searches.

"Buses were always cheaper, but buses over the past ten years became cool,'' she says, noting that millennials appreciate the free Wi-Fi, electric plugs and extra leg room newer buses provide. "That coolness has started attracting the college student visiting a girlfriend for the weekend and the young professional going to Washington D.C. for a business meeting. They'd rather take a bus, plug in and use it as a mobile office.''

Raygorodskaya, who adds that her site also allows reservations on Amtrak, says that airlines may have a hard time competing, at least on shorter trips.

"As airlines are cutting costs and getting progressively worse, bus companies are doing everything they can to be more innovative,'' she says. "They're fighting for these customers . .. It's hard to convince us why we should be taking a plane when taking a bus or train is far more convenient.''

Schwieterman says that more business trekkers are starting to see the bus as a travel option. .

"On the east coast, we're seeing true briefcase carrying business travelers give the bus a try,'' he says. "I don't think it's terribly pervasive in other parts of the country yet . . . I think that can be the next big market, but it's still percolating.''

But Jami Counter, senior director of TripAdvisor Flights says that compared to air travel, a bus has limited appeal.

"If you're looking at it for families or business travelers, it's less of an option particularly once you start getting on routes over a couple of hours,'' Counter says, adding that the train is far more competitive with airlines, on routes of less than 300 miles. "The problem with bus travel is though it's cheap, you never know how long it's going to take based on traffic.''

Victoria Day, spokeswoman for Airlines for America, the industry trade group, says that when adjusted for inflation, the average round-trip domestic fare dropped 15% between 2000 and 2012.

"Airlines compete not only with each other, but also with other transportation modes, even in short-haul markets,'' she says. "There are times when airline customers pay for the convenience to travel a shorter amount of time and have the capability to include optional customer amenities such as food and entertainment.''

But bus lines are boosting their perks.

Megabus which launched in the U.S. in 2006, carries roughly 10 million passengers a year on double-decker coaches outfitted with power outlets and Wi-Fi.

While there are no middle seats, allowing everyone to get an aisle or a window perch, Megabus announced earlier this month that riders could reserve the most coveted seats. The bus lines has Facebook and Twitter accounts which can help followers get first crack at its one-dollar fares, as well as a mobile app that gives arrival-time updates when traffic slows down the ride.

"We're introducing people to a form of travel that's been around for a long time, but now it's the 21st century version,'' says Mike Alvich, vice-president of marketing and public relations for Coach USA/megabus.com.

While college students make up a significant share of their riders, business trekkers are a small but growing segment, Alvich says. And while the company isn't actively scouting for routes abandoned by the airlines, if Megabus sees an uptick in passengers after a carrier pulls out, "we'll absolutely start to put on additional service.'

Greyhound, which will turn a century old in May, has updated its image, installing reclining leather seats and free WiFi. In 2010 , it started Greyhound Express, which makes non-stop runs between major cities, and allows passengers to reserve seats.

Greyhound also launched BoltBus in 2008. The discount express line offers service between major cities in the Northeast and West Coast, picking up passengers primarily at curbside stops rather than traditional terminals.

Luxury bus lines are also making a mark. RedCoach, which provides service to cities throughout Florida, boasts buses that have free WiFi and seat trays. The roomier first class coaches offer snack boxes, and both first class and business class buses feature flat screen t.v.'s so passengers can watch movies.

RedCoach officials say they saw a need in a state where flights between Miami and the state capital in Tallahassee could cost as much as $1,600.

"That's a lot of money for 500 miles,'' says Florencia Cirigliano, RedCoach's vice president of marketing and public relations.

Except for select days, the most a RedCoach rider would pay for that route is $180 round trip.

Business passengers make up 30% of RedCoach's ridership. "You can sleep on the bus . . and if you're a lawyer with billable hours, you can work there,'' she says. "There's a lot of things you can do instead of being stuck in a car or paying that much to fly to Tallahassee.''

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Ask the Captain: Dividing duties in the cockpit PDF Print E-mail

John Cox , Special for USA TODAY 3 p.m. EDT April 20, 2014

Captains and first officers can both perform all critical tasks, but the captain has the final call on dividing cockpit duties.(Photo: Digital Vision, Getty Images)

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Question: What is the difference between first officer and captain?

- submitted by reader Sam, Malaysia

Answer: The captain is responsible for the flight and is in command of it. The first officer is the second in command. They are both licensed and work as a team to safely fly the airplane.

Q: How do the captain and first officer divvy up duties? Who flies the plane and who navigates and who talks to ATC?

- Russ Huntington Beach, CA

A: It is up to the Captain to decide who will fly the flight and who will perform the non-flying duties. There may be cases where the Captain determines that he or she wants to fly due to the weather or other conditions.

Some airports only allow captains to land, making that decision easy. Usually pilots swap the flying duties every other leg during the day.

Q: Why does the captain not fly for the entire time?

-- Ned

A: Several reasons:

The fatigue is better distributed if both pilots fly.

First officers gain experience they will need as captains.

Flying is not always the best use of the captain's experience, training and time. In cases of abnormal issues such as a system malfunction, it may be better for the Captain to not be tied up flying the airplane but to be coordinating the appropriate actions.

John Cox is a retired airline captain with U.S. Airways and runs his own aviation safety consulting company, Safety Operating Systems.

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Rick Steves: What's new in Italy in 2014 PDF Print E-mail

Rick Steves 11:51 a.m. EDT April 20, 2014

Smart visitors to Florence buy a museum pass or advance tickets to avoid lengthy lines at key attractions such as the Uffizi Gallery.(Photo: Rick Steves, Rick Steves’ Europe)

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Even when it's hot, crowded, or on strike, Italy is lots of fun. More than any other Western European country, though, travelers to Italy need up-to-date information to travel smart, saving both time and money. Here are a few updates to help you make the most of Italy in 2014:

Florence is notorious for long lines at sights. Thankfully, ticketing and line-skipping options for the city's blockbuster sights continue to improve. The Firenze Card, which admits you to 60-some museums for 72 euros, is now good for these cathedral (Duomo) sights: Baptistery, Campanile bell tower, dome climb, and Duomo Museum. If you want to see any single cathedral sight without a Firenze Card, you'll need to buy the new 10-euro combo-ticket. It's still free to enter the cathedral and have a look at Brunelleschi's sublime dome from the inside.

At Florence's Uffizi Museum, known for Renaissance art, there's an exciting change. A new gallery is devoted to Michelangelo, with his famous Doni Tondo painting of the Holy Family as its centerpiece. It's the only easel painting that's definitely known to be by the master's hand.

The private NTV/Italo high-speed train service is up and running, serving Florence along with Venice, Naples, Milan, and Rome. Because rail passes are not accepted, pass holders should choose Trenitalia's equally fast Eurostar Italia or Le Frecce services instead.

Volterra has my vote for the best less-touristed hilltown in Tuscany. Its new Alabaster Museum, featuring workmanship in the prized local stone from Etruscan times to the present, has opened within the 15th-century Pinacoteca painting gallery.

A new Alabaster Museum has opened in postcard-perfect Volterra, one of the least touristy Tuscan hill towns.(Photo: Cameron Hewitt, Rick Steves’ Europe)

In Rome, there's good news for those traveling on a budget or who enjoy eating in bars (or both). A pleasant practice traditionally found in northern Italian cities has migrated south: the aperitivo service. Bars set up an enticing buffet of small dishes and anyone buying a drink (at an inflated price) gets to eat "for free." Drinks generally cost 8 to 10 euros, and the spread is out from 6 until 9 o'clock. Some places limit you to one plate; others allow refills. Another dining trend in Rome is that small restaurants with a full slate of reservations for 8:30 or 9:00 often will accommodate walk-in diners earlier--if they're willing to eat a quick meal.

Venice is working hard to cope with its mobs of visitors. As ever-growing waves of tourists wash over the city every year, residents are struggling to ward off the trash (and trashiness) left in their wake. Picnicking remains illegal anywhere on St. Mark's Square, and offenders can be fined. The city is taking a good-cop/bad-cop approach: On St. Mark's Square, "decorum monitors" admonish snackers and sunbathers, while around town friendly posted guidelines cheerily encourage people to pick up their trash, refrain from pigeon-feeding, and save the beachwear for the Lido.

Structural renovation work on the iconic bell tower that looms over St Mark's Square is finally finished; a titanium girdle wrapped around the underground foundations now shores up a crack that appeared in 1939. The city's top art gallery, the Accademia, is still undergoing a seemingly never-ending renovation, with major rooms still closed. The Peggy Guggenheim Collection has also done some rearranging, largely to accommodate the recently bequeathed Schulhof Collection, which brings the museum's holdings up to the late 20th century with works by Rothko, Calder, de Kooning, Warhol and many others. Peggy would have loved it.

In Ravenna, a new museum is dedicated to Dante Alighieri, who spent three years here before succumbing to an infernal (or at least malaria-ridden) mosquito. While it's a buzz for Italians, it's skippable for those who aren't fans of the author and his work.

Milan is preparing to host the 2015 World's Fair. To welcome the expected 20 million visitors, the Rho-Pero district is revamping its layout with new parks, museums, and American-inspired skyscrapers.

Life is pretty much back to normal in the Cinque Terre, where flooding devastated the area just a few years ago. But the beautiful coastal trail system remains at the mercy of nature, with washouts or bad weather closing popular stretches. The popular Via dell'Amore (Path of Love), which was hit by a landslide in 2013, will reopen sometime in 2014. In Vernazza, a new "beach" was formed with debris from the floods. It's great for wading and sunning, but wear shoes, as bits of rubble are mixed in with the pebbles.

ALSO ONLINE: Italy's Cinque Terre: Exquisite scenery and tasty seafood

Italy has long been my favorite country in Europe and some of its thrills will never change with the calendar. Sit silently on a hilltop rooftop and get chummy with the Tuscan view. Write a poem over a glass of local wine in a sun-splashed, wave-dashed Riviera village. Lifelong travel memories are like low-hanging fruit in Italy--yours to harvest and preserve for years to come.

Rick Steves writes European travel guidebooks and hosts travel shows on public television and public radio. E-mail him at This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it and follow his blog on Facebook.

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Star-studded cruises: Set sail with celebrity guests PDF Print E-mail

If you're sitting by the pool people-watching and find yourself having to do a double-take, thinking you're seeing a famous person, you just may be. Celebrities are cruisers too.

Donny Osmond, Curt Shilling and Neil Sedaka have all cruised recently on Norwegian Cruise Line ships. Notables on trans-Atlantic sailings on Cunard's Queen Mary 2 have included President George Bush Sr. and Hilary Clinton, along with a bevvy of movie stars, famous authors and even some royalty.

While not all cruising celebrities are announced in advance (some prefer to travel incognito), here are some famous faces you're sure to spot on upcoming cruises.

James Taylor: The Grammy Award winner and his band are cruising on the Queen Mary 2 as part of the oceanliner's 10th anniversary celebration. Passengers on an eight-day cruise from New York to Southampton, UK, embarking August 27, will be able to hear "Sweet Baby James" perform at two concerts and can also attend a live Q&A with the iconic singer-songwriter.

Lily Tomlin: The iconic comedian and actress is the headliner for a New England/Canada cruise hosted by Olivia Lesbian Travel. The one-week cruise on Holland America Line's Maasdam embarks New York for Montreal on May 17.

SEE MORE: Set sail on 2014's best LGBT-friendly cruises

Jim Lehrer: A familiar face as former news anchor of the PBS NewsHour (he's also executive editor), the veteran journalist will join other PBS and NPR notables onboard a cruise on Regent Seven Seas Cruises' Seven Seas Voyager. The 12-night Baltics cruise (which includes three days in St. Petersburg), organized by Artful Travelers, sets sail from London to Stockholm on August 27.

Verne Lundquist: Sports fans can get the inside scoop from this Hall of Fame broadcaster onboard a trans-Atlantic cruise on Oceania Cruises' Marina, embarking New York on May 22. Lundquist has been an announcer for decades for CBS Sports and before that for ABC Sports, covering a wide variety of sports including college basketball and football, the NBA and NFL, the PGA Masters and figure skating.

Sir Roger Moore: Cruise with "007 " onboard the Crystal Symphony on a 10-day Baltics cruise, embarking Stockholm on July 4. En-route to Copenhagen, the itinerary includes two overnights in St. Petersburg — yes, you get to see Russia with James Bond (or at least the actor who played the secret agent in seven movies).

Carson Kressley: Fans of "Dancing with the Stars" and "Queer Eye" love Kressley for both his dance moves and fashion sense. He'll join other dance pros and celebrities on "Dancing with the Stars at Sea"-themed cruises onboard Holland America's Zuiderdam and Westerdam including several Alaska sailings this summer. Passengers will have opportunity to take photos, get autographs and ask questions.

EXPLORE: The 10 reasons you should cruise Alaska

Garrison Keeler: The popular humorist and host of A Prairie Home Companion, which can be heard on more than 600 public radio stations, will host a show-themed cruise from Dover, UK to the Baltics, embarking August 9. The 14-day sailing takes place on Holland America Line's Ryndam, with overnights in St. Petersburg and Stockholm. The cruise is sold out, but there is a wait list.

Robert Osborne: Osborne has been a primetime host and anchor of Turner Classic Movies since its launch in 1994 — a role that has earned him a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame. He'll host the fourth TCM Classic Cruise for movie fans onboard the Disney Magic, embarking Port Canaveral on October 21. Look for a bunch of film stars to also be onboard the five-day sailing.

Martina McBride: The country music superstar will perform on two upcoming cruises. She'll be onboard the Carnival Ecstasy long enough for a concert and a meet-and-greet (the meet-and greet open only to VIP ticketholders), on the ship's May 12 sailing from Miami. Her performance on the Carnival Ecstacy is part of Carnival Cruise Lines' Carnival LIVE series. McBride is also booked on the Country Music Cruise on Holland America's Eurodam, embarking Fort Lauderdale on January 18, 2015.

VIDEO: Experience a cruise ship meet-and-greet with the band Train

Kid Rock: Music-themed cruises are all the rage, with Kid Rock's Chillin' the Most Cruise one of the most popular. The Kid just competed his fifth annual cruise onboard the Norwegian Pearl in the Bahamas. A sixth cruise is in the works.

For help planning your next cruise, contact the travel agent specialists at Tripology.com

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Easter in Vegas: Best Sunday brunch specials PDF Print E-mail

(Photo: Ferraro's)

Easter makes for a good weekend to be eating in Las Vegas. The holiday means spring is in full swing, and with it comes all the lively ingredients that we've missed through the winter months. Restaurants offer seasonal specials on Sunday, so that means you'll be seeing lots of lamb, ham, verdant, green vegetables such as peas and asparagus, and my favorite: deviled eggs. This weekend, check out these spots where you can get your first full taste of spring.

Ferraro's

The family-run Italian restaurant and local's favorite is located across from the Hard Rock Hotel, so it's convenient to get to some homestyle cooking for Easter. Open at 4 p.m., Ferraro's will showcase springtime flavors of Italy, along with chef Mimmo Ferraro's specials for the holiday, including lamb ragu with pappardelle pasta, risotto with carrots, peas, prosecco and shrimp, and a 12-ounce pork chop with fresh fennel. Easter is one of chef Mimmo's favorite culinary traditions, and for this night only, he's bringing the traditional Italian Easter bread, a braid of brioche shaped like a cross or wreath and adorned with dyed eggs.

4480 Paradise Rd., 702-364-5300, ferraroslasvegas.com

Payard Patisserie & Bistro

Your hunt for chocolate eggs ends at Payard Patisserie & Bistro, which has created a one-of-a-kind, limited edition, snake-print Easter egg for the holiday. The eight-inch egg is handmade from Valrhona Grand Cru Caraibe Dark Chocolate, part of the newest chocolate collection by chef Francois Payard. Chocolate meeting art never tasted so good.

$39, 702-731-7292, caesarspalace.com

Bacchanal Buffet

If Easter brunch means you gorge for the day, then Bacchanal at Caesars Palace is your destination. In addition to the more than 500 items on the regular spread, seasonal specials for the day include red snapper ceviche with pickled Easter egg radishes, smoked salmon deviled eggs, and the carving station features herb-crusted roasted leg of lamb, lamb porchetta, and pineapple and mustard-glazed ham. The extensive, decadent dessert display will include strawberry pistachio whoopee pies, yuzu cream Éclairs and rose-scented raspberry puffs. You can also celebrate with all-you-care-to-drink mimosas and bloody Mary's.

Caesars Palace, 702-731-7928, caesarspalace.com

RELATED: Buffets for every budget

Gospel Brunch

Get your hymns on at one of three Easter Sunday seatings of Gospel Brunch at House of Blues. Grammy Award-winning Kirk Franklin has picked these explosive, dynamic performers to sing gospel, R&B and soul as you make your through the meal, which includes chicken and waffles, a carving station with honey baked ham and beef brisket, biscuits and gravy and a build your own mac 'n cheese station. You'll want to raise your hands to testify for this meal.

9 a.m., 12 p.m., 3 p.m. at Mandalay Bay, 702-632-7600, houseofblues.com

Emeril's New Orleans Fish House

NOLA native and celebrity chef Emeril Lagasse invites you to Easter dinner at his flagship Las Vegas restaurant, beginning at 5 p.m. on Sunday. Taste the Louisiana influence with specials such as a starter of crawfish tails, English peas, angel hair pasta and parmesan, or pan-roasted halibut with wild morel mushrooms, which are finally in season.

MGM Grand, 702-891-7374, mgmgrand.com

Pink Taco

If Mexican is more your speed for spring, Pink Taco introduces its new Sunday, all-you-can-eat brunch. If you're heading to Rehab (the pool party, or the other one, up to you), this culinary fiesta may just be what you need to fortify yourself. Signature items include machaca deviled eggs over a nest of tortilla strips, baked vegetable chiliquiles and chorizo sliders. Who says Easter food can't be part of a spicy Sunday?

Hard Rock Hotel & Casino, 702-693-5000, hardrockhotel.com

Carmine's

You want a rack of lamb? Carmine's has your rack of lamb. Located in Forum Shops, the New York Italian restaurant has large groups in mind for the "wow-sized" rack of lamb. Meant to serve four to six people, this platter of bone-in lamb chops is paired with traditional Italian egg bread.

Caesars Palace, 702-473-9700, carminenyc.com

Andrea's

For a Japanese-flavored holiday, Andrea's offers a prix-fixe, $65, three-course menu beginning at 6 p.m. Start the meal sharing plates with your table, including edamame with truffled sea salt, tuna tataki and hamachi sashimi with crispy garlic, cilantro and sudachi soy. You'll each get to choose your own entrée, from a selection of crispy pan-friend noodles for vegetable lovers, Jidori chicken breast with chayote, scallion, ginger and garlic, or pan-seared salmon. Your final course arrives as Andrea's choice, an assortment of well-balanced, Asian-influenced desserts.

Encore at Wynn Las Vegas, 702-770-5340, wynnlasvegas.com

Tbones Red Rock

Head West from the Strip to Red Rock for a relaxed day near the mountains. Red Rock's steak house, Tbones Chophouse, welcomes the Easter Bunny from 10 a.m. to 12 p.m. with an Easter egg hunt from 12 p.m. to 2 p.m ($75 adults, includes bottomless mimosas, $37.50 children 12 and under). If the Easter Bunny isn't your bag, Tbones also offers specials such as a Vidalia onion and smoked gouda tart, or the Niman Ranch lamb loin with lamb ragout, pea tendrils and morel mushrooms for dinner, beginning at 5 p.m.

Red Rock Resort, 702-797-7576, redrock.sclv.com

SEE MORE: Easter egg brunches in LA, New York and more foodie cities

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