I love travel shows. Under one roof you can step into a discord-free United Nations and get a taste (often literally) of dozens of countries without flashing a passport or suffering jetlag.
With representatives from more than 70 countries and 15 states – and that’s not counting cruise ships, hotel chains and tour operators – The New York Times Travel Show delivered a chunk of the world to the Jacob K. Javits Convention Center this past weekend. I toured for six hours. Here’s what I tasted.
Reconnect with Cuba Until 1959 Cuba was America’s most popular Caribbean destination. And thanks to the Obama Administration’s new people-to-people initiatives, American travel to the island is about to get easier. At present, Americans can visit for humanitarian, religious, research and academic purposes. Under the initiatives, almost anyone who books through a licensed agency, like Marazul, can visit Cuba. No scheduled flights yet, but charter options are increasing. Accommodations range from beachfront hotels to home stays.
Egypt Awaits Revolutions don’t come cheap. In what is normally high season, Egyptian tourism has lost $1 billion a month, says John Hart of Sunny Land Tours. Come March, tours will resume. Is travel safe? Tours typically spend just a day or two in Cairo and Alexandra before heading up the Nile to Luxor, Aswan and the Valley of the Kings, areas that remained calm. Armed guards in business suits known as Travel Police often accompany buses and cruise ships, Hart says. And visiting Egypt “was always cheap and still is,” says travel expert Arthur Frommer.
Go with the Glut Let the economy work for you, and look for deals in places that overbuilt hotels during the boom, like Las Vegas, Fort Lauderdale and Miami. Florida’s formidable line-up of stalls, garnished with plastic flamingos, ranged from Miami, St. Petersburg and theme parks like Legoland and the Holy Land Experience to the beach and museum rich Space Coast, an area poised to lose 7,000 jobs when the space shuttle shuts down. Look to destinations hit hard by the economy for deals, like Portugal and Greece. Emerging destinations often offer deals, but keep up with the news; until recently Libya was high on the emerging list. China is a sweet deal thanks to its undervalued currency. And with increased competition among providers, consider a safari.
Check out a Grand Hotel As one-time frequenter of Manila, I’m partial to the Manila Hotel, a gorgeous white 1912 pile that has survived – and thrived — through war (Gen. Douglas MacArthur kept a suite during World War II), peace (Ernest Hemingway, Marlon Brando and Prince Charles stayed) and sultry Philippine heat. So we were pleased to learn its 550 rooms, recently renovated, display contemporary Philippine style, with carved wood platform beds on raised legs and bright yellow accents. The grand lobby appears as timeless and serene as ever.
Drink in the Spectacle What’s a travel show without show and tell? I listened to Caribbean steel drums, saw a dance troupe from Panama and watched hula dancers from Maui. And what better salute to New England than dueling Bullwinkles? A gigantic stuffed moose loomed over the New Hampshire booth. Maine countered with a costumed moose that waves to passersby. Both were photo magnets.
Avoid the Local Fare At Javits Center, that is. The center’s concessions reminded me of bad airport food from the 1990s (fried chicken fingers, greasy burgers, soggy fries). But the giveaway fare was delightful, from the Turkish wine and cheeses to the Herradura tequila poured by Mexico. Two apron-clad chefs flown in from Equador created a divine South American ice cream in a copper cauldron filled with dry ice. (Oh the drama!) Miami, meanwhile, recruited the chef from the Biltmore Coral Gables to demonstrate the making of a singular Miami crab cake (delicious!) and mixologist Aaron Fitas of Manhattan’s Yerba Buena bar and restaurant to make — and pass out — Latin-infused drinks, including a cool ginger mojito. Fitas’ tip: always use fresh ingredients (and no canned juices).
Not too cool for school Oxford and Cambridge offer learning for learning’s sake in one- and two-week summer sessions — morning lectures in subjects like Shakespeare and ancient Egypt, accommodations in student housing and no tests, no grades, no worries. Stateside, St. John’s College in Santa Fe, New Mexico and Cornell’s Adult University in Ithaca do much the same, without the accents.
Take Risks Forget what mom said: talk to strangers. In countries with friendly people, like Mexico and Brazil, New York Times Frugal Traveler Seth Kugel likes to sidestep guide books and Web sites and asks locals he meets in buses, shops and cafes where to eat or stay. “You can end up spending an evening with strangers and their friends,” he says. But approaching strangers isn’t easy. “I can’t get myself not to be nervous when I do it,” he admits.