The newly renovated Maryland House Travel Plaza north of Baltimore.(Photo: Handout)
The weary highway traveler in Ohio can pull off at a rest stop and find such delicacies as locally produced cheeses, smoked meats and chocolates. In Maryland, that same traveler could feast on Eastern Shore classics such as crab cakes at Phillips Seafood while using the free Wi-fi to check e-mail. In Pennsylvania, the offerings include a seasonal farmers market and a charging station for electric vehicles.
These are not your grandfather's rest stops.
In fact, they're not rest stops at all, not in the sense of a traditional interstate highway rest stop, where one can find a restroom and vending machines and not much else.
These are the expansive travel plazas or service plazas found only alongside toll roads, and states that have them are expanding to accommodate much higher vehicle counts than were on the roads when most first opened decades ago. They are modernizing to provide the sort of amenities that today's motorist has come to expect, such as Wi-Fi.
The upgrades are usually done in public-private partnerships with vendors who lease the plazas.
States are trying to outdo one another with the level of services they provide, creating yet another front in the never-ending battle of economic competition between them.
"I would say it's a healthy competition," says Bruce Gartner, executive director of the Maryland Transportation Authority, which owns two service plazas on Interstate 95. "We learn and improve upon each other's concepts."
The plazas are set up in the median of the highway or alongside it, and they're often more evocative of a mall than a rest stop. That's not by accident.
"We're set up very much like a mall," says Andrew Herberger, service plaza operations manager for the Ohio Turnpike, which owns seven sets of service plazas along the 241-mile highway. "Our service plazas are basically mini-malls."
Last year, Ohio began renovating its service plazas at a cost of about $1.5 million per set. Two of the service plazas, at Middle Ridge and Vermilion Valley, offer Ohio-grown, fresh farm products — cheeses, meats, chocolates, grape juice and fruit.
A gift shop inside an Ohio Turnpike travel plaza.(Photo: Handout)
To many Americans, that probably seems like pretty highbrow fare for a highway rest stop. In most of the nation, it is.
ADVANTAGES OF TOLL ROADS
The federal government has prohibited the commercialization of the right-of-way, including rest stops and recreation areas, along the Interstate System since 1956, according to the Federal Highway Administration. A year later, in 1957, 2,102 miles of toll roads in 15 states were added and were exempted from those restrictions. In 1982, the commercial restriction was modified to allow vending machines in rest and recreation areas located on the interstates' right-of-way.
Today, the 46,730-mile Interstate System includes about 2,900 miles of turnpikes, according to the highway administration.
That situation gives states with service plazas a competitive advantage against those without them, says Emily Goff, a policy analyst in transportation at the Washington, D.C.-based Heritage Foundation.
"A state (that has interstate service plazas) actually brings in revenue from fuel sales and other taxes, whereas a state like Virginia doesn't make any money and has … shut down rest areas to save money. That means motorists have fewer places to stop."
Virginia was one of several states that closed some of its rest stops in a cost-cutting move in 2009. The state reopened the facilities in 2010.
Goff says the anti-commercialization law originated to protect existing businesses along interstate routes from new establishments that might be built closer to the road, giving them a competitive edge. "This federal law … is definitely outdated," she says. "Now, you have (national) chains (at interstate plazas) that are being protected." Goff says that when Congress passes a federal highway reauthorization bill, it should allow states to make exemptions to the prohibition or end it altogether.
It's not that simple, says Lisa Mullings, president and CEO of the National Association of Truck Stop Operators, an Alexandria, Va.-based group of about 1,300 travel centers in the USA and Canada that has resisted repeated efforts in Congress to repeal the prohibition. The group doesn't want other states to be able to add service plazas in the interstate median.
She says the service plazas "are virtually a monopoly," because they are in the interstate median, and pull business and jobs away from stores and restaurants just off the highway. "A lot of service plazas, you think there are multiple choices. But in fact, it operates as a franchise. I'm not aware of any rest areas that are operated by some Mom and Pop. It's usually a large corporation that is not even located within the state."
Mullings says studies at the University of Maryland and Virginia Tech Transportation Institute have shown that highways with service plazas have about one-third fewer businesses than highways without them.
KEEPING UP WITH VEHICLE VOLUME
Maryland's two service plazas, Maryland House in Harford County and Chesapeake House in Cecil County, were built in the 1960s. They are undergoing a $56 million face-lift.
"They were functionally obsolete," Gartner says. "They were made for a dining experience back in the '60s, when you only had about 6 million vehicles on that road. Today, with all the food courts and very open, spacious, high-ceilinged dining options, and 30 million vehicles on the road, these facilities were just outdated."
Since September 2012, Maryland's service plazas have been operated in a public-private partnership by Areas USA, a Miami-based company that provides food, beverage and retail services at 10 airports and at service plazas on the Florida Turnpike.
Maryland House reopened in January with $30 million in improvements, having expanded from 33,000 to 42,000 square feet. It features such local-flavored dining choices as Phillips Seafood and Jerry's Subs & Pizza, along with brands such as Wendy's, Dunkin' Donuts and Nathan's Famous.
Pennsylvania is renovating all 17 service plazas along the Pennsylvania Turnpike, says Carl DeFebo, a turnpike spokesman. "We had these service plazas that were built in 1937, 1938, 1939," he says. "They were constructed to accommodate a certain level of vehicle volume. The planners didn't anticipate the level of usage on the Pennsylvania Turnpike, which was much higher than they expected."
In addition to a variety of food and fuel options, all turnpike service plazas offer free Wi-Fi. Two of them have electric-vehicle charging stations, with plans to add more. Three other plazas have seasonal farmers markets, where visitors can buy fruits, vegetables and other products.
Even with all the fancy amenities, though, service plazas on toll roads do share one trait with their lower-tiered counterparts on the free interstates.
"The No. 1 reason people stop is to use the restroom," Herberger says. "This gets down to the basics. So we're very focused on providing clean facilities."
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Princess Cruises' newest ship, the 3,560-passenger Regal Princess, modernizes the traditional Princess Cruises experience in beautiful surrounds.
As on year-old sister ship Royal Princess, the most stunning feature of the Regal Princess is the The Piazza. The elegant, three-deck-high space serves as the ship's lively hub, a venue for eating, imbibing and near constant entertainment. Further additions on the Regal Princess include a small Terrace Pool, hidden away in a quiet aft space – something past passengers requested.
Design aside, what really impresses is what a good time you can have on this ship. After a season in the Mediterranean, Regal Princess will do eastern Caribbean cruises from Fort Lauderdale beginning in November.
Here are 10 must-do things to experience on Regal Princess.
Eat pizza: Princess Cruises likes to brag it serves the best pizza at sea. It's hard to argue when you dig into a gooey, hot-out-of-the-oven pie at Alfredo's in The Piazza. The signature pie, Pizza Regal Princess, is topped with Parma ham, buffalo mozzarella, cherry tomatoes and shaved Parmesan. There's Hawaiian on the menu too. Afterwards, splurge on a treat at the ship's Gelato shop.
(Photo: Fran Golden)
Practice your home-run swing: On select days, a batting cage is set up on the basketball court. A member of the crew feeds balls into a pitching machine and you can pretend you're "Big Papi" (or another baseball hero). Elsewhere, on a patch of fake grass, you can also practice your golf swing.
Watch movies outdoors: It's an odd kick to watch Sandra Bullock float in space in "Gravity" on a giant Movies Under the Stars screen, while you're cruising under a star-filled night sky past the Greek Isles. Concert videos during the day feature Stevie Wonder, U2, Pavarotti and more.
See the light (and water): The main pool has fountains that are capable of shooting water 33 feet in the air. At night, they are choreographed with lights, videos and music in thrilling deck shows – including a "Tribute to Michael Jackson." It's like a little slice of Vegas on the high seas.
Check out what's on in Princess Live! This small theater/TV studio hosts everything from lectures and classic audience-participation game shows, such as The Liars Club and Marriage Match, to a murder mystery evening – during which you can figure out who killed Danny Dangerous. If you're feeling brave, you can show off your singing skills in the Princess Pop Star contest. Windows looking into the studio let you observe what's going on inside the space before you make the leap.
Experience Bar Flair: The main attraction at the SeaView Bar may be the glass floor, which cantilevers off of the ship so you can see the sea 128 feet below. But at scheduled times all eyes are on the bartenders. Music pulsating they dance, toss and perform amazing balancing feats while gaining well-deserved gasps of delight from onlookers. They make tasty drinks too.
(Photo: Fran Golden)
Try Zumba: It's fun. It's free. Plus you'll work off the calories from the pizza at Alfredo's while dancing to international beats. The complimentary group class happens late afternoon and sometimes in the morning as well up on the sports court.
Watch TV selections: With an On Demand system developed in-house, Princess Cruises has programmed your cabin TV with more than 100 free movies and TV shows. Be sure to also check out the other selections – including some really good destination videos and a live feed of happenings in Princess Live!
Do a pub lunch: Head to the Wheelhouse Bar for a traditional lunch of fish & chips or bangers & mash washed down with a pint. The food is complimentary; the beer is not.
SEE MORE: Check out the 10 best restaurants at sea
See a show: A new show production lineup is shaking things up for Princess Cruises. Debuting on Regal Princess is "Bravo," with a featured soprano, a cast of singers and dancers and 13-piece orchestra. Another new show, "Fiera!" is set in a fairground, has a love story line, and livens things up with hits by Lady Gaga and Guns N' Roses, among others.
For more Princess ships, compare the Regal Princess with her sister ship, Royal Princess, by clicking through the carousel below:
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The original Wizarding World of Harry Potter at Universal Orlando's Islands of Adventure, which opened in 2010, brought J. K. Rowling's books and the films they inspired to life with an impressive level of detail and has delighted hordes of muggles. Incredibly, the team that designed the park, including creative forces from both Universal and the Warner Bros. film crew who worked on the Potter series, has outdone itself with Diagon Alley, a second installation of an expanded Wizarding World at the adjacent Universal Studios Florida.
The new experience depicts the London side of the Potter mythology, with the original Wizarding World showcasing Hogsmeade, the Scottish village that is the home of the Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry. Jam-packed with a treasure trove of references to the lore of Harry and his exploits, Diagon Alley ups the ante in theme park storytelling. "Everything that is here is here for a reason," says Alan Gilmore, the art director for the Wizarding World park projects and several Harry Potter films. "We'd like visitors to explore the origins of all these strange details."
Some of the features, such as the gargantuan dragon that sits atop Gringotts Bank, are obvious. But many details are more hidden and waiting to be uncovered by avid fans. Gilmore graciously took me on a tour of Diagon Alley to point out a few of the wizardly tidbits he and his cohorts have embedded in the enchanted land.
SNEAK PEEK: First look at Universal's Diagon Alley
Phone boxes: Our tour began in the London embankment area, dotted with a couple of innocent-looking red telephone booths, the kind that are prevalent throughout the UK. In fact, they are actual London phone boxes that were shipped over to the park. Guests who step inside and dial (using a vintage rotary dial!) the alphanumeric equivalent of "M-A-G-I-C," or 62442, will be able to hear a special message from the Ministry of Magic. It's one of those fanciful touches that isn't announced, but is begging to be found. Now that you know, you can discover it.
Cabmen's Shelter: This is less about Harry and the gang and more about bringing a slice of London to the Florida park. The green snack stand in the embankment would be recognizable to Brits as a cabmen's shelter. First built in the late 1800s as way stations for inebriated cabbies to sober up and get some tea and food, shelters used to number in the hundreds throughout the city. There are only a handful of them left today. Brits will also recognize Eros Fountain, a facsimile of the landmarks in Piccadilly Circus and Liverpool, which sits in front of the shelter.
Catch a glimpse of Kreacher: On the other side of Eros Fountain is Grimmauld Place, a residential street. Head to flat number 12, the home of the Black family. Look up at the window above the door, and every now and again you will see Kreacher, the house-elf of Harry's uncle, Sirius Black, parting the curtains and peering out.
Actual quidditch outfit: Heading into the secreted Diagon Alley, guests who enter the first shop on the right, Quality Quidditch Supplies, can go to the back of the store and view actual artifacts from the films. A glass cabinet displays a quidditch outfit and broom used by actors in the series. There's no placard or any explanation, and the display looks like it simply belongs in the store. But Gilmore assured me that it's the genuine deal on loan from Warner Bros.
Gringotts coins and gold bars: There are real props from the movies strewn throughout the land. Other examples include the stacks of gold coins sitting on the desks of the teller goblins (which are extraordinary animated characters) in the lobby of Gringotts Bank. As they make their way to the Escape from Gringotts ride, guests are allowed to get remarkably close to scrutinize the figures and props, although "security guards" keep a close eye on the proceedings. The cartful of gold ingots in the bank also made their way to the park via Potter's London soundstages.
"Potterized" architectural flourishes: By taking a right at the end of Diagon Alley, guests enter Carkitt Market, an outdoor shopping area. Based on old British markets, the open space has an overhead roof that enables traders to sell their wares during London's (frequently) inclement weather. Guests who look up at the columns supporting the roof will notice unique architectural ornaments: Gold dragonheads adorn the column ends. "Dragons are important in the myth of Harry Potter," says Gilmore. "We coined a term, 'Potterize,' to describe whimsical details like these that we've layered around the area."
Enter a gin palace: You can order a non-alcoholic butterbeer or some real brews (including two created especially for The Wizarding World) at The Fountain of Fear Fortune, but you can't ask the bartender for any hard liquor. According to Gilmore however, the pub is modeled after 19th-century gin palaces. "It's where the shadier characters used to drink, and it's where many deals were made," he says. Large, ornate mirrors dominate the wall behind the bar. Gilmore explains that the mirrors in the original temperance-era pubs reflected out the windows and alerted customers to scram when bobbies were headed their way to crack down on illegal drinking.
Get a sneak peek at Fantastic Beasts: Fans know that the world of Harry Potter will return to the screen when J. K. Rowling adapts her book, "Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them," as a movie. If you are wondering what the mythical creatures might look like, head to the Magical Menagerie shop in Diagon Alley and peer up at the overhead shelves. Gilmore says that some of the strange looking animals represent the first time that the beasts have been visualized. "It will give visitors a peek at the next wave of Harry Potter."
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Offering much more than the namesake river that forms its western border, Mississippi is a must-visit for anyone interested in sampling a unique slice of Southern life. The "Magnolia State's" myriad museums, historical plantation homes, and Civil War landmarks offer a peek into the region's past. Nature lovers encounter an exceptionally green state, save for the Mississippi Delta area, which was cleared for cotton cultivation in the 19th century. Beyond its title as the catfish capital of America, Mississippi proudly holds on to its role as one of the spiritual homes of the Blues, and music lovers can find plenty to sink their teeth into across the state.
Explore by interest:
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This screenshot from YouTube shows what appears to be a near-miss in Barcelona. The footage was captured by an amateur aviation enthusiast.(Photo: YouTube.com)
An apparent near-miss at Barcelona's El Prat airport is going viral after the incident was captured on video by an amateur enthusiast.
The footage shows a widebody jet taxiing across a runway just as another is about to land. The incident forced the latter aircraft to abort its landing and make a steep climb to avoid a possible collision, according to The Associated Press.
The amateur video footage -- filmed Saturday -- shows the Aerolineas Argentinas Airbus 340 crossing the runway just as a Boeing 767 widebody flying for Russian airline Utair was making its final approach on a flight from Moscow.
Spanish airport authority AENA confirmed to the AP on Monday that the Russian plane circled back and landed safely. No one was hurt in the incident.
Despite the video, NBC News writes that "an official at Spain's airport authority, AENA, told Spain's El Mundo newspaper that there had been enough space for the Russian plane to make a safe landing and that neither airline involved had filed a safety complaint."
Regardless, AENA says it has launched an investigation to determine what led to the incident. The agency adds that it does not have details on how close the planes came during the apparent near-miss, according to AP.
Russia-centric news site RT.com reports aviation enthusiast Miguel Angel recorded the footage. Witnessing the event is "one of the worst experiences I have ever had," he's quoted as saying by RT.com
Angel's video has gone viral since he uploaded it to YouTube on Sunday. It has since received nearly 5 million views.
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Debates about gentrification notwithstanding, watching a blighted area get a new lease on life can be awfully heartening. We've listed a few of the most promising and unlikely rebirths below.
Cleveland: Located across the Cuyahoga River, west of downtown Cleveland, Ohio City is home to the bustling West Side Market, a six-acre urban farm, a growing number of ethnic eateries and some of the city's trendiest nightlife. Its growing reputation as an outstanding brewery district, filled with local breweries and hipster-dwelling beer bars, earned it a coveted spot on USA Today's list of the "10 great places to bar hop around the world."
Detroit: The heart of the city, Detroit's Midtown is rapidly developing into a surprisingly well-rounded residential area while featuring an abundance of restaurants, galleries, community gardens and markets. Dedicated local entrepreneurs have made Midtown an attractive hub for small businesses with high-end shops like Hugh and Nora, eateries like Maccabee's at Midtown and Great Lakes Coffee Roasting Company and Shinola, which makes American-made bicycles, watches, leather goods and journals. Midtown is at the core of the city's M-1 Rail development and non-motorized transportation plans will soon connect the district to Eastern Market and other neighborhoods via greenways and bike paths.
Kansas City: The Westside neighborhood, radiating out from the intersection of 17th & Summit Streets, has filled up with pioneering urban dwellers of various ethnicities and infused life into the area. Beautiful homes abound, ranging from historic Victorian and Colonial to postmodern. Centrally located, within walking distance of downtown and adjacent to the Crossroads Arts District, Westside has an eclectic mix of restaurants like Chez Elle Creperie & Coffeehouse, Blue Bird Bistro, and Westside Local Restaurant & Beer Garden as well as a variety of Mexican restaurants and bars on nearby Southwest Boulevard.
New Orleans: Freret Street, from Jefferson Ave. to Napoleon Ave. in New Orleans' Uptown neighborhood, got a booster shot five years ago when Neal Bodenheimer opened Cure, a refined cocktail bar on one of the least refined stretches in New Orleans. Neal's success prompted others to take a chance on the area. A gas station was transformed into a hip hot dog joint, while an old tavern became a popular sushi bar. With new eateries like Vietnamese-leaning Mint Bistro, Midway Pizza, and music venues Gasa Gasa and Publiq House, Freret Street is transforming into a legitimate nightlife destination.
Pittsburgh: Pittsburgh's East Liberty suffered a dramatic failed urban renewal plan in the 1960s after its "golden era" in the 1940s and 1950s. Today, this culturally diverse neighborhood is undergoing a monumental "metropolitan chic" redevelopment effort, including boutique hotels opening in rehabbed historic buildings, new restaurants popping up and Google establishing offices here. The neighborhood's greatest landmark, the East Liberty Presbyterian Church, has survived, embracing a diverse and socially active congregation who have dubbed it "the Cathedral of Hope."
Portland: Southeast Portland's Division Street has been slowly evolving into Portland's hottest food neighborhood for more than 10 years, led by now legendary pioneers Pok Pok and Stumptown Coffee. Nowadays, much of Division between 12th and 45th avenues has filled in, including Sen Yai, Chef Andy Ricker's Thai noodle house, Yataimura Maru, a Japanese-style pub and offshoot of the popular sushi and ramen focused Shigezo Izakaya, Bollywood Theater, serving buzzworthy Indian street fare, and the Italian-inspired menu at Ava Gene's, opened in 2013 and hailed by the likes of Bon Appétit.
Raleigh: The North Person Street Business District, about 5-10 minutes walk from downtown Raleigh, was once home to boarded-up store fronts and struggling businesses. Within the past year it has begun a transformation into a vibrant area that appeals to both residents and visitors. Highlights include the Raleigh City Farm, an urban farm with the goal of transforming unexpected downtown spaces into nourishing farmland; Pie Bird, serving homemade savory and sweet pies; Oak City Cycling Project, a local, independent cycling project; and Slingshot Coffee, which sells hand-bottled, cold-brewed iced-coffee.
Richmond: Richmond's increasingly hot culinary scene is well represented in Church Hill, one of the most historic parts of the city, where Patrick Henry gave his "Give me Liberty" speech. When The Roosevelt opened in July of 2011, serving its highly regarded "untraditional celebration" of Southern food, it kicked off a surge of new ventures like WPA Bakery, run by Roosevelt co-owner Kendra Feather, Proper Pie Co., and the hipster, high-American cuisine at Dutch and Co. Other great spots in the Church Hill food scene include Sub Rosa Bakery, Patrick Henry Pub, Anthony's on the Hill, and the place that started it all, The Hill Café.
St. Paul: St. Paul's Lowertown was recently crowned America's top hipster zip code according to a study put together by RealtyTrac, which noted its age range (high proportion between 25 and 34), number of people who walk or use public transportation to get to work and ratio of rental housing units. Lowertown is home to the Union Depot, served by the city's new Green Line light rail, Amtrak trains, and bus companies Jefferson Lines and Megabus. Other noteworthy attributes include the St. Paul Farmer's Market (open year-round), Mears Park, a summer-long outdoor music venue, artist lofts in restored 19th century buildings, Nice Ride bike-share stations and great restaurants like Barrio, The Bulldog, and Heartland Farm Direct Market and Restaurant, pioneers of "Midwest modern cuisine."
Santa Fe: The Santa Fe Railyard is a newly created 50 acre neighborhood on the edge of downtown Santa Fe that's quickly developing into a district for shopping, attractions and events. Enticements include the wildly popular Santa Fe Farmers Market, a public plaza, brew pubs and restaurants, a 10-acre xeric park, a boutique bowling alley and a bike path connecting the Railyard with the rest of the city. The formerly abandoned Jean Cocteau Cinema is now owned by George RR Martin, of "Game of Thrones" fame, which will soon reopen as a multi-screen theater.
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From murmuring rivulets sliding across rocky terraces to crashing cataracts that plunge from the heights into deep, rock-lined pools below, the Caribbean has a waterfall to satisfy every appetite.
La Mina Falls | Puerto Rico
The only tropical rainforest in the U.S. national park systems is El Yunque, about an hour east of San Juan. The island was formed by volcanoes (now extinct) and its eastern end has high, sharp ridges that catch the tradewinds, wringing out an average 120 inches of rain annually — an estimated 160 billion gallons of water. That's got to find its way to the ocean and it does so in spectacular fashion. At La Mina Falls, it takes the form of a giant flume that jets across a rocky outcropping before falling about 40 feet into a large pool at the base.
You can reach La Mina via either of two hiking trails. Neither is very long — a bit over a half-mile with a 500-foot change in elevation — and not terribly steep, but the rocks along the way can be mighty slippery and the La Mina Trail has about 70 concrete steps you have to navigate. The La Mina Trail starts right behind the Palo Colorado Visitor Center while Big Tree Trail starts from a parking lot about a mile away from Palo Colorado. Both trails are actually above the falls, so you're hiking downhill on the way to the falls and uphill on the way back. La Mina Trail follows the river, crossing and recrossing on small bridges. When you get to the falls, you can swim in the pool, but it tends to get crowded in the afternoons, so try an early-morning visit if you can manage it. Wear sturdy shoes and be prepared for a little effort. Earlier in 2014, Big Tree Trail was closed, so check the Forest Service website before you head out for up-to-date information on access. There are several other falls in the park, notably Juan Diego and La Coca if La Mina is overwhelmed. Information: fs.usda.gov
ROMANTICS: Get married in the El Yunque Rainforest
Dunn's River Falls | Jamaica
This is one of the iconic nature activities in Jamaica. It will be overrun with tourists. You should do it anyway. Dunn's River is near Ocho Rios and occur where Dunn's River empties into the Caribbean. It's one of the few waterfalls in the region that empties directly into the ocean. The falls are near the home of Ian Fleming, the author who created James Bond, and Laughing Waters Beach was featured in the first Bond film, Dr. No and later in the Tom Cruise film Cocktail.
RELATED: Famous film locations in the Caribbean
The falls drop about 180 feet, although the water works its way through a series of stair-step terraces rather than down a cliff face. Most visitors climb up the falls, moving up from terrace to terrace before returning to the bottom for a swim at the beach. Guides are available and, unless you're part mountain goat, a good idea. The guides form groups into human chains that lock hands while moving up the falls. That way, if you slip, people have you anchored above and below.
Because this is close to the cruise ports, it can be very crowded on days when the ships are in. Take a look online (or ask at your hotel's tour desk) when ships are not going to be in and go then. Information: visitjamaica.com
Reach Falls | Jamaica
Jamaica, with its wealth of rivers, has more than one notable waterfall. Somerset, Mayfield, YS and especially Reach Falls are also well worth visiting. Reach is about an hour east of Port Antonio in the John Crow Mountains on the far eastern end of the island. The lushness of the area can't be overstated; there are about two-dozen different varieties of ferns alone.
You can drive a car to the government park above the falls and walk down a concrete staircase to get to them, or you can hire a guide to hike up to the falls from below. If you hike up, you'll be wading through a series of pools to reach the falls. Once there, you can walk behind the falls and explore the caves as well.
There are food vendors in the parking lot but save that appetite and stop at Boston Beach for some open-air jerk on the way back to your resort. Information: visitjamaica.com
27 Charcos | Dominican Republic
The north coast of the Dominican Republic is an adventure traveler's paradise. Predictably, there's an awesomely large and freakishly fun complex of waterfalls here called 27 Charcos, a few miles from Puerto Plata. The mountains face north to the ocean and water collected at the top comes screaming down the sides. This is definitely a guided tour.
The way it's done is, you gear up at the bottom with a life vest and helmet — correct, a helmet — then work your way up the mountain through a series of pools and waterfalls. You have to climb, but the guides will help pull you up the steep sections. Along the way, the Rio Damajagua is shaded by tropical vegetation, which throws shafts of shadow and light across the water.
At the top, you start back down, but not exactly the way you came up: The guides show you how to use the falls as water slides. You glide over the slippery rocks, shoot out over the falls and drop into pool after pool after pool of clear, cool water. The guided tours, fun as they are, only reach the seventh falls; to go to the very top, you'll need to hire a guide for a private tour. And bring some stamina and your wild side — you're going to need them. Information: 27charcos.com
Concord Falls | Grenada
Grenada is high and green, making it a prime candidate for waterfalls — and it doesn't disappoint. On the east side of the island is a drive-to destination known as Concord Falls. It's actually a series of three cataracts. The bottom one is most visited and is very close to the road, so it's possible to view it without much effort.
Actually getting out of the car will reward you richly. There are two more falls higher up and a 45-minute walk through a nutmeg grove brings you to these even larger falls.
Bring sturdy shoes and a swimsuit and be prepared to spend some time here just soaking in the water. Although it's not necessary to have a guide, they're cheap and can show you plants and attractions you probably won't notice on your own. Information: grenadagrenadines.com
Emerald Pool Falls | Dominica
Emerald Pool isn't the largest falls in the region, but what it lacks in size and volume it makes up for with scenery. The hike to the pool is along a narrow forest path — complete with slippery roots so wear very sensible shoes — that incorporates overlooks with views across the heavily forested valley.
The falls consists of a single cascade of water that jets out from a ledge and drops into a small pool below. The water's typically no more than knee-deep, but there is a semi-cave behind the waterfall and you can walk behind the cataract.
The hike to the falls is less than a half-hour each way (by two different routes) and not terribly steep; if you can climb stairs you can do it. If you're feeling more adventurous, you can climb the boulders alongside the falls and get a view from above.
The bottom of the pool is pebbles, rather than sand, so be prepared to leave your shoes on to go wading. The falls are a popular cruise-ship excursion so try to plan your visit when a ship isn't in port or go early in the morning. Information: dominica.dm
Diamond Falls | St. Lucia
St. Lucia got more than its share of scenery and Diamond Falls is a special part of the package. The falls are located in a lush botanical garden banked with ginger, ferns, hibiscus and heliconia. Located in the back of the garden, the falls rise about 50 feet, a single flume that incorporates the outflow of thermal springs. The water contains dissolved minerals, including sulphur, which has painted the rocks around the pool. There are changing rooms on site, so bring a suit so you can swim in the pool at the bottom. You can also enjoy the thermal mineral baths — built in 1784 by the French army — elsewhere in the garden. Information: diamondstlucia.com
Maracas Falls | Trinidad
Contrasted with the heavily touristed cruise-ship excursion stops on other islands, Maracas Falls is a strictly local attraction. That also means it's a bit hard to find and not well cared for by eco authorities. It is marked and the tourism board has added some signage and tables to help people enjoy the tallest falls in Trinidad & Tobago, almost 300 feet high.
The falls are located on the northeast corner of the island — not far from Port of Spain — and your best bet is to hire a local guide as the roads are not well marked. From the trailhead, it's a moderate 45-minute climb to the base of the waterfall. The pool at the bottom is relatively shallow as the volume of water is modest.
Compared to other falls, this one is more of a spritz than a spout, with water spraying from the high cliff onto the rocks below, but the views from the trail overlooking the ocean and rocky cays offshore are terrific. Information: islandhikers.com
Argyle Falls | Tobago
An easy drive from Scarborough and an easy hike — about 15 minutes along a gentle shaded trail — will bring you to Argyle Falls.
The falls are surrounded by a former coffee and cocoa plantation and the path lined with enormous stands of giant bamboo. The water slides down a series of rocky steps finally cascading into a large and deep swimmable pool at the bottom. The volume of water is tremendous and thunders down the last set of rocks, creating a roaring torrent from above. The pool is rimmed by large boulders and, if you're adventurous, you can climb the sides of the falls up to the top of the cliff. If you do, bring something more substantial than flip-flops as the rocks are rough and slippery in spots. Information: argylewaterfall.org
SEE MORE: The top five eco-excursions in Tobago
El Nicho Falls | Cuba
Cuba is the largest island in the Caribbean and El Nicho is a large complex of falls near Cienfuegos, midway along the south coast. The falls are in a well-planned and well-cared-for national park, with good signage, parking for your car and some facilities.
The falls are big and they're loud, with gushers of water crashing down into the rock-rimmed pools. The surrounding area is thick and jungly, with steep-sided hills overlooking long valleys.The main fall is a short, 10-minute hike from the closest parking lot that you can do in flip-flops or sandals if you want. Bring everything you need with you — bathing suits, towels, change of clothes and lunch — and be prepared to spend the day.
There's a small entrance fee that must be paid in CUC (the currency the government issues to tourists, exchange rate fixed at 1 CUC to $1 USD) and tour guides are available but not really needed. A little Spanish will help you decode the abundant and helpful signage, but most of it you can figure out from the pictures. Information: itsabouttravelling.com
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Steve Blount is the former editor of Caribbean Travel & Life, Florida Travel & Life and Adventure Travel magazines.
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Looking for luck to be a lady on your next Vegas trip? We're taking a walk down memory lane, looking for the best places to find remnants of the group that made Vegas the Entertainment Capital of the World: The Rat Pack. We sat down with vintage Vegas expert and member of the Church of Sinatra's Las Vegas Chapter, Kyle Kettner, to get the scoop. Here are his recommendations for the best places to get Sinatra, Davis Jr., Bishop, Lawford and Martin under your skin.
Grab history by the horns at Golden Steer
Revisit the gang's old hang -- and the oldest steakhouse in the city -- Golden Steer. The award-winning steakhouse was not only a favorite of the Rat Pack, it was also frequented by Nat "King" Cole, Elvis and Natalie Wood.
"The restaurant's been around since 1958 and has maintained much of its old flair," Kettner says. "They like to brag they've kept most of the original staff and same menu for over 40 years." You can even dine in the actual booths Elvis and Sinatra used to sit in. "Just call ahead to reserve them," Kettner advises.
4:30-11:30 p.m. nightly, 702-384-4470, goldensteersteakhouselasvegas.com
Revisit the big band sound at Caesars Palace
The Copa Room at the Sands would become the Rat Pack's home in 1960. Unfortunately, due to its implosion in 1996, fans will have to make do with the second most iconic hotel to sign the band's leader as their main attraction: Caesars Palace.
Sinatra signed with Caesars in 1968 after a hostile end with Sands (now The Venetian). Upon learning his line of credit was cut off by Sands' new owner, Howard Hughes, he reportedly had a brawl with hotel vice president Carl Cohen. Sinatra would stay with Caesars through what Kettner refers to as, "the classic years." And even after his retirement, Sinatra would return to the hotel to continue performing, followed by stints at Bally's, the Riviera, MGM Grand and others.
The modern Caesars Palace may not resemble the property as Sinatra knew it, but you can still get a taste of the crooner and his cohorts' legacy at Matt Goss's throwback show. Featuring a nine-piece band, burlesque dancers and backup singers, Goss takes his audience on a trip through the golden age of music, and showcases his own hits.
$50 and up (plus tax and fees), 9:30 p.m. Friday-Saturday, 888-929-7849, caesarspalace.com
Join the inner circle at Champagne's Café
"If someone really wants to get an old Vegas experience, this is the place to visit," Kettner says. The beloved dive bar gained fame from notable patrons, including the Rat Pack and Tony Spilotro's Hole In The Wall Gang. "It used to be called 'The Old Inner Circle'. It still has the red velvet walls, red booths and pictures of Sinatra and his friends." Order a cheap cocktail, turn on the jukebox and drink in the history among the hipsters and old-timers.
Open 24/7, 3557 S. Maryland Parkway, facebook.com/pages/CHAMPAGNES-CAFE/
Re-live your favorite scene from Ocean's Eleven
Of the hotels originally seen in the 1960s film, only the Flamingo and the Riviera remain. Kettner recommends taking a walk around The Riviera property to experience movie magic. While the Flamingo no longer has any of its original buildings, you can still pay your respects to the late Bugsy Siegel and his original edifice at his memorial plaque in the Flamingo gardens.
See The Rat Pack is Back
If you're longing to see the group together again, this is the can't-miss tribute show of your Vegas experience. Performing nightly, Rat Pack impersonators bring comedy, class, and of course, cocktails to audiences with a big band era bang. It's sure to be a kick in the head.
7 p.m., $49.95 and up (plus tax and fees), 702-777-2782, riolasvegas.com
Class it up at The Cosmopolitan
If the Rat Pack were hanging in modern Vegas today, Kettner puts his money on finding them at The Cosmopolitan. "It's the epitome of Vegas class modernized," he says. "It's the only hotel on the Strip where visitors, no matter who they are, always make an effort to dress up." As an added bonus, pin-up Peggy Lee-style crooner Jennifer Keith and her band play inside The Chandelier bar — yes, an actual three-story bar inside a life-size chandelier — once a month. "You have to have the live music for a vintage feel. It definitely makes the vibe."
And whatever you do…
"If you're going to come to Vegas and have a vintage experience, do it right," Kettner says. "Make the effort to dress up and hit the town all night. If you're here on vacation, there's no reason that you should be going back to your room until the sun comes up. And Frank and the guys wouldn't have that, either."
MORE VINTAGE: Where to experience Elvis in Las Vegas
--Hilary Billings is a Las Vegas local, travel blogger, model, video host and Miss Nevada United States 2013. She was named Las Vegas Weekly's Best Blogger for 2013. For more on Hilary, follow her on Twitter @thenomadgrad and on Facebook.
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The 1,500th Boeing 747 nears completion at Boeing's Paine Field in Everett, Wash., on June 17, 2014.(Photo: Mike Kane for USA TODAY)
EVERETT, Wash. — Boeing's iconic 747 hits a major milestone this weekend when German carrier Lufthansa flies away with the 1,500th 747 ever produced.
The delivery continues a remarkable run for the airplane, which has been in production since 1968. It was the world's first jumbo jet and the new ultra-long routes it could fly helped reshape global air travel.
"It's the most recognizable aircraft produced today," says Eric Lindblad, vice president and general manager of Boeing's 747 program. "Fifteen-hundred 747s is a huge number, especially for an airplane this size. To partner with Lufthansa, to send them this airplane, is really something special."
But the milestone comes as some industry observers suggest that the aircraft is near the end of its run as demand for four-engine jumbo jets wanes.
PHOTOS: Behind the scenes at the 747 factory ahead of the 1,500th delivery
VIDEO: Milestone: The 1,500th Boeing 747
PHOTOS: Boeing rolls out a mean-looking Seahawks 747 jumbo jet
Indeed, the number of 747s coming off Boeing's production line north of Seattle is just 1.5 per month — down from about 6 per month in 1990. And airlines that have older 747s in their fleets are phasing out the planes at an increasingly brisk clip.
Airlines show an increasing preference for two-engine widebody jets — like the Airbus A330 and Boeing's own 777 — that seat fewer people, but burn less fuel and can fly comparable distances.
Richard Aboulafia, an aviation analyst at the Virginia-based Teal Group, says the 747 "has two more turbines to carry around," making its higher capacity an "expensive block of seats to carry around."
In terms of future demand, only three other passenger airlines beside Lufthansa — Korean Air, Air China and Russian carrier Transaero — currently have orders in for new 747s. And while cargo has historically been a strength for the 747, orders for Boeing's freighter versions also have slowed amid a global slump in cargo demand.
Milestone: The 1,500th Boeing 747
Boeing's Lindblad pushes back against any pessimism regarding the 747's long-term outlook.
He notes the company is fresh off a major redesign of the 747 that resulted in the current iteration of the jet — a thoroughly modern 747 that's also the biggest passenger jet ever made by Boeing.
"This is not your mother's 747," Lindblad says about Boeing's update to the 747-400 — the company's previous variant.
The first cargo version of the modernized 747 — the 747-8F — was delivered to launch customer Cargolux in 2011. The first new passenger version — dubbed the 747-8 Intercontinental — began flying for Lufthansa in 2012.
The "dash-8" is about 18 feet longer than the 747-400, and the passenger version comes with about 50 more seats in a typical layout.
More importantly, Lindblad says, are the jet's technology upgrades — many borrowed from Boeing's new-age 787 Dreamliner. Those updates, he says, have made the 747-8 a state-of-the art aircraft with improved reliability and lower operating costs for airlines that buy it.
ARCHIVES: Boeing goes long with new 747-8 jet
"The 747 is advanced technology when it comes to the wing, the engine, the flight deck — and it has the new interior in it as well," Lindblad says.
"The 747 is the most-reliable four-engine aircraft made today," he adds.
But those four engines are one reason industry analysts are concerned.
Boeing, however, says the 747's numbers work.
Lindblad suggests airline customers are willing to pay more to fly on the 747, a "flagship" aircraft product perfect for "making a premium experience for high-yield customers."
He says, "It's not entirely about seat count. I think you have to look at the overall yields."
Boeing workers assemble 747-8s at the Boeing 747 factory in Everett, Wash., on June 17, 2014.(Photo: Mike Kane for USA TODAY)
Lindblad points to the 747's signature hump, and the opportunity it provides for airlines to create an upper-deck first- or business-class cabin that feels exclusive because of its location relative to the rest of the plane.
"People relish the opportunity to be there," he says. "It's a space all by itself. .... And the same thing goes for forward of the entry door," an area most airlines use for first- or business-class cabins.
But can Boeing turn all of that into more orders for the jet?
"There is still a fair amount of interest" from airlines, Lindblad says. "Enough that we're going to sit here today and say we expect we're going to be building the 747-8 for quite a bit longer."
Aboulafia doesn't see it that way. He says he thinks "it's highly unlikely" that the 747 stays in production beyond the next decade.
"If we get back to the cargo numbers we've seen for several decades, it is possible," he adds.
However, Aboulafia says he's pulling for the 747, even admitting he's "part of the club" that "loves the upper deck of the 747."
He says, "I would love to be proven wrong about the 747. It's a beautiful plane and it's an icon. It's the only word for it. Iconic."
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The sugar-white sand beaches along Aruba's west coast are the stuff of postcard-perfect memories: watching the sunset on endless Palm Beach is the quintessential Aruban experience, after all. But it is the island's interior and the rugged east coast — defined by the windswept terrain of Arikok National Wildlife Park — that provide visitors with opportunities to experience adventures not often associated with the Caribbean.
The island's remarkably arid, desert-like "other side" isn't far from the white sand of famed Palm Beach and can be accessed on foot, by bicycle, by car, or — for a truly exciting adventure — by 4X4 with rugged Land Cruisers. DePalm Tours takes guests on a thrilling ride through Arikok National Wildlife Park, over rough terrain marked by cacti, past towering rock formations that rise from the sea like greedy ogre fingers, over massive dunes and across starkly beautiful sandy plateaus. Tours include visits to the Natural Pool, a rocky cup of ocean water that often hosts octopus, turtles, and colorful fish, and the Natural Bridge; the main bridge collapsed a few years ago, but a smaller bridge remains. Take a time-out at the nearby rock garden and dedicate your own monolith to the gods of the Caribbean.
Aruba is known for some of the finest wreck-diving in the world (numerous WWII-era ships and planes were sunk in the waters surrounding the island), and you don't have to be a top-notch diver to explore the mysteries of the deep. Red Sail Sports is one of the island's best adventure outfitters and offers snorkeling trips aboard modern catamarans that visit wreck sites like the Antilla, a 400-foot German freighter that snorkelers of even modest skill level can explore. The Antilla rests on the seabed not far from Arashi Beach, watched over by the iconic California Lighthouse. The Mangel Halto reef features Aruba's most beautiful coral formations. Lucky visitors to the site have been known to spot large rays, turtles, sharks, octopus, and more.
ONE HAPPY ISLAND: Amazing reasons to visit Aruba
Aruba is affected by high winds throughout the year, but rarely do the winds make water conditions dangerous. In fact, Aruba is one of the finest wind-sport destinations in the Caribbean, with numerous outfitters and schools offering lessons in windsurfing, kitesurfing, parasailing, and more. Red Sail Sports can arrange windsurfing expeditions, while the Aruba Kitesurfing School can enroll students in courses that last as little as a few hours, or as long as 4 days — depending on your interest, skill level and stamina. Boca Grande is one of the island's best-kept wind-sport secrets (surfers flock to this part of the island as well), and has given rise to numerous Hi-Winds Amateur World Challenge champions through the years. If the folks at Aruba Kitesurfing School are to be believed, you're next.
A horseback ride along the beach with the sun dipping over the horizon defines Caribbean escapism for many. Aruba offers a more thrilling experience for riders willing to go exploring beyond the shoreline. Aruba is home to numerous stables, such as The Gold Mine Ranch, that lure guests with throwback charm, gracious hospitality and friendly horses. Their rides take you across the north coast and onto Wariruri Beach and will leave you with plenty to talk about on your return home. Experienced riders can even tackle some of the interior's rocky terrain, though guides (provided by each of the island's ranches) are required at all times.
VIDEO: Get active with these Aruban adventures
Aruba is a comparatively small Caribbean island, and can be circumnavigated in a single day by serious bicyclists, but it's best to stop and smell the – ahem – cactus from time to time. Avoid the busy main roads (vehicle traffic can be heavy), and head for Arikok National Park, where the dry, rocky terrain offers plenty of challenges. The old-school donkey trails make life easy when you need a break, and the ocean, with its tiny coves, picturesque tide pools, and cooling waters, is never far away. Ride back toward Palm Beach and stop at the Alto Vista Church and continue on to the California Lighthouse, where you can pop off your bike and buy a fresh coconut to quench your thirst.
For sunsets and solitude
After a long day on the road, come back to Palm Beach and settle into a seat on the sand at the Aruba Marriott's Simply Fish restaurant. It's the best place on the island to enjoy an Aruba Ariba (a cocktail made with coecoei liquor), a Chi Chi (an Aruban pina colada) or a classic Old Fashioned, while sailboats tuck over the distant horizon on the trail of the setting sun. The Marriott sits on Aruba's finest stretch of sand and features a beach bar primed to deliver you to a sunset-lover's nirvana.
ISLAND GUIDE: More things to do around Aruba
10Best: Local Expert tips on Aruba
10Best:Best nightlife in Aruba
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Plan a Getaway to Aruba: To speak with a Caribbean Island specialist, visit Tripology.com.
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