In which we present a regular round-up of news from the world of Grown-up Travel
Hollywood’s former holiday destination of choice to vanish from tourist map
More than 100 years after it was created by a flood – and following decades of environmental degradation – California’s once-famous Salton Sea is six weeks from falling off the tourist map, thanks to the state’s fiscal crisis.
The huge – but slowly shrinking – inland lake south-east of Los Angeles faces the closure of its official recreation area, where generations of visitors have been able to camp, fish, picnic and relax on beaches, as part of budget-cutting measures due to take effect at the start of July.
It marks an ignominious end for a remote but visually-arresting landmark, which was expected to become one of the nation’s most glamorous tourist attractions and in its earlier days was a favourite party destination for old-school Hollywood stars.
Known as the “accidental sea”, the Salton was formed in 1905, when the Colorado River temporarily burst its banks due to unprecedented rainfall and melting snow. In the 1930s, as LA boomed, developers suddenly realised its potential as a tourist destination.
Visitors in the early days included everyone from the Marx Brothers to Frank Sinatra, Dean Martin and the rest of the Rat Pack, which would hold speedboat races there. In the 1960s, the Beach Boys and Pointer Sisters performed at its country club and Sonny Bono learned to water-ski there.
Yet while the good times rolled, the Salton Sea began to suffer from an existential problem. Situated 200ft below sea level, in a region of desert where temperatures often hit 110C, the water began to slowly disappear due to evaporation.
The sea, which relies on excess water run-off from nearby farms to replenish its stocks, is now 35 miles long and 15 miles wide (down from 40 by 20 miles at its peak) and is losing millions of gallons each year. Salt deposits from the surrounding soil have left it with greater salinity than the Pacific Ocean.
As a result, once vibrant resorts that sat on its shores are now closed and derelict, several miles from the water’s edge. The trout and corvine, which previously attracted fly fishermen, have been largely killed off. And at the wrong time of year algal blooms leave the entire region smelling like an open sewer. Today’s remaining visitors consist of a smattering of bird watchers, curious tourists who want to take photographs of the ghostly landscape and anglers who pursue tilapia, the only species still able to survive there in decent numbers.
Belfast prison reinvented as distiller
A notorious Belfast prison that held Irish Republican Army inmates during the worst of the city’s sectarian strife is to be transformed into a Whiskey distillery as Northern Ireland tries to reinvent itself and its struggling economy.
A wing of the Victorian-era Crumlin Road prison, which closed in 1996, will house the first whiskey production in 75 years in a city that was once Ireland’s largest producer and will offer exhibitions and tasting facilities for visitors.
It aims to reinvent a building synonymous with Northern Ireland’s so-called “Troubles”, which held a young Gerry Adams before he became Sinn Fein President and the Rev Ian Paisley who went on to become First Minister of Northern Ireland.
After 14 years of relative calm since a 1998 peace deal that ended three decades of tit-for-tat killings between pro-British and Irish nationalist insurgents, Belfast is bidding to break its dependence on handouts from London by boosting tourism.
In recent months the city opened a 97-million pound museum at the shipyard that built the Titanic and a large new arts centre.
The government has awarded a lease to lottery millionaire Peter Lavery to establish a boutique distillery in a wing of the Victorian prison, a Grade A listed building built in 1845.
The former bus driver won 10.2 million pounds in 1996 and now heads the Belfast Distillery Company, a consortium of local businessmen who are pumping 5 million pounds into the project.
Lavery last year launched two whiskeys – under the Titanic and Danny Boy brands – which are currently produced for him across the Irish border in Co Louth at the Cooley Distillery.
“I’m delighted that we will be able to bring production of the whiskeys home to Belfast,” Lavery said at the project’s launch.
Forced to fly solo, even on a family holiday
If you’re flying soon, be prepared to kiss your family goodbye at the gate. Even if they’re on the same plane.
Airlines are reserving a growing number of window and aisle seats for passengers willing to pay extra. That’s helping to boost revenue but also making it harder for friends and family members who don’t pay this fee to sit next to each other. At the peak of the US summer travel season, it might be nearly impossible.
Buying tickets two or more months in advance makes things a little easier. But passengers are increasingly finding that the only way to sit next to a spouse, child or friend is to shell out $25 or more, each way.
With base fares on the rise – the average roundtrip ticket this summer is forecast by Kayak.com to be $431, or 3 percent higher than last year – some families are reluctant to cough up more money.
“Who wants to fly like this?” says Khampha Bouaphanh, a photographer from Fort Worth, Texas. “It gets more ridiculous every year.”
Bouaphanh balked at paying an extra $114 roundtrip in fees to reserve three adjacent seats for him, his wife and their four-year-old daughter on an upcoming trip to Disney World. “I’m hoping that when we can get to the counter, they can accommodate us for free,” he says.
Airlines say their gate agents try to help family members without adjacent seats sit together, especially people flying with small children. Yet there is no guarantee things will work out.
Not everyone is complaining.
Frequent business travellers used to get stuck with middle seats even though their last-minute fares were two or three times higher than the average. Now, airlines are setting aside more window and aisle seats for their most frequent fliers at no extra cost.
“The customers that are more loyal, who fly more often, we want to make sure they have the best travel experience,” says Eduardo Marcos, American Airline’s manager of merchandising strategy.
For everybody else, choosing seats on airline websites has become more of a guessing game.
Array of travel gadgets springs from tight airport security
Frequent business traveler Joe Harvey says passing through airport security can be a breeze — if you have the right accessories.
His backpack allows his laptop to be screened at checkpoints without his having to take it out.
“I simply unfold it,” says Harvey, a software consultant who lives in Lafayette, La. “My backpack holds everything I need to travel with. Nobody ever has to wait for me to disrobe … or empty my pockets. Ever.”
If you’re looking for a nice gift for the business traveler in your life, you’ve got plenty to choose from. A cottage industry has sprung up for products that help frazzled fliers deal with the myriad rules and fees that come with air travel.
There are checkpoint-friendly laptop cases and ultra-light carry-on bags that help avoid checked luggage fees. There are digital scales to make sure you don’t get penalized for overweight luggage, and even solid shampoo bars that get you around restrictions on liquids.
“These new categories have literally mushroomed because they’re removing all the pain points associated with travel,” says Lopo Rego, an associate professor of marketing at Indiana University.
Escalating airport security following the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, led to a dizzying array of new do’s and don’ts when flying. Laptops have to be removed from bags.
After al-Qaeda operative Richard Reid tried to light an explosive in his shoe on a flight from Paris to Miami in December 2001, fliers had to start walking barefoot through checkpoints. In 2006, passengers could not carry on more than 3 ounces of liquids following the discovery of an unsuccessful plan to detonate liquid explosives on planes from London to the USA.
The security requirements and the advent of airline fees to check bags or get a pillow have amounted to a “perfect storm,” for businesses offering ways for fliers to save money and aggravation, Rego says.
The Transportation Security Administration doesn’t endorse products, according to Kawika Riley, a TSA spokeswoman. But the agency does recognize certain items, such as luggage locks and laptop bags, that meet certain criteria.
Bags and miniature-size beauty products are two of the main products targeted to fliers. But there are other items billed as coming to a traveler’s rescue.
The Container Store chain, for instance, began selling a digital scale after airlines imposed a 50-pound limit on luggage, with high penalties if it’s overweight.