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Super Grover heads to the Caribbean

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Super GroverAnother furry friend has checked in to Beaches resorts in Jamaica and the Turks and Caicos.

Super Grover, wearing a red cape, a helmet, cargo shorts and a Superman-themed shirt, joins Elmo, Cookie Monster, Big Bird, Zoe, Bert and Ernie, Abby Cadabby and The Count in the Sesame Street entertainment lineup.

The spunky blue hero will take kids to his Super Science Fair where they can dig for seashells and sand treasures with Zoe, make their own bubble wand with Bert and learn about things that float and sink with Ernie.

There will be plenty of breaks for silliness along the way, according to Super Grover.

Also new to Beaches' Sesame Street adventures this summer is Abby and Elmo's Surprise Tea Time party and rock 'n roll dance time with Elmo and friends, where kids can boogie down island-style with all their favorite characters.

Sounds like major fun for everyone, including parents who might find time for a private walk on the beach. -- Gay Nagle Myers

Are agents back (and making clients happy)?

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When the New York Times this weekend ran a report titled "Are Travel Agents Back?" we wondered: are travel agents going to like this story?

The answers to the questions, in order: Yes, yes they are (that is, according to the consumer press, since we know that smart agents never went anywhere in the first place).

And yes, yes they are.

The Times article began with an anecdote of a traveler who had used a traditional travel agent after years of slogging through her own bookings and was exceptionally pleased by the outcome. And it ended with profiles of six agents, all under the age of 37, who embody that go-above-and-beyond-add-value-and-service-plus-get-the-best-rates mentality. (Plus the article listed each agents' service fee, a nice nod to the direction in which the retail industry appears to be moving.)

A link to the article on nytimes.com was posted on Travel Weekly's Facebook page, where agents were complimentary; the story was "liked" 120 times and shared nearly 50 times by Monday afternoon.

"Wonderful group of young agents featured," commented Steph Lee on Facebook. (As an aside, two of the six agents profiled had also been featured in a November Travel Weekly article by Johanna Jainchill, "Next-Gen agents." A third, Jason Coleman, has also been quoted in Travel Weekly.

The article was also featured prominently on Virtuoso's Facebook page, since CEO Matthew Upchurch was quoted, and three of the six agents featured are Virtuoso agents.

The comments alongside the article on nytimes.com also were overwhelmingly positive. "On a recent group trip, my friends were surprised to learn that I had gotten a better deal from a travel agent then they had seen in their online research," one commenter wrote. "I enjoy researching and planning my itineraries and have not used a travel agent for a long time," wrote another. "But I am beginning to see that a travel agent is handy to have when things go wrong: planes get cancelled, hotels lose reservations, etc."

The article rose to No. 4 on the "most emailed" list on the Times' site.


 

Alfresco sleeping under the city lights

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Remember the days before air conditioning? Old-school New Yorkers might recall sleeping on their fire escapes to escape the summer heat.

GLAMPINGAlfresco sleeping is now back -- in style -- at Hyatt 48 Lex, a luxury boutique hotel that opened in New York last year. The Suite Glamping Package (glamping, btw, is a mashup of "glamorous" and "camping") is available with eight terrace accommodations. The hotel will make up bedding, pillows and  extra blankets on the terrace, giving glampers an unusual view of the nighttime Manhattan skyline.

The rate includes the room with books, lantern and bedding, a bottle of wine and a picnic backpack from upscale grocery Dean & Deluca with wine glasses and treats. A massage in the privacy of the terrace can be had at a 10% discount. The package is available from Memorial Day to Labor Day.

Of course, all that comes at a bit of a higher price than your average fire-escape escape. Package rates start at $509 a night in a Terrace Studio or $2,500 a night in the Penthouse Suite.

And if you have trouble falling asleep under the stars -- or under the city lights -- you can always sneak back into your room and the comfort of an indoor bed.

The Muppets take the Five Boroughs

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When we heard that the Muppets will be the official NYC Family Ambassadors -- Mayor Michael Bloomberg made the announcement in midtown along with Kermit, Miss Piggy, Gonzo and Pepe the King Prawn -- we cast back into youth for the pop-culture moment involving both Statlers (now the Hotel Pennsylvania) and Waldorfs (the Waldorf Astoria, natch).

We're talking, of course, about "The Muppets Take Manhattan," which was one of the best love letters -- and a great advertisement -- to New York. Sardi's (with Liza Minnelli and Vincent Sardi!), Central Park, the Madison Avenue game and, of course, the bright lights of Broadway. And the gang sleeping in the long-gone lockers in the Port Authority bus terminal. I mean, just look at this trailer.

 

So back to the present. On www.nyc.gov, the Muppets will share city preferences based on their personalities, eg. the Swedish Chef will guide visitors on cuisine.

Said Bloomberg, "We're proud to enlist the help of key family experts, the Muppets, to promote the five boroughs domestically and abroad." The city will also be expanding its Family Ambassador program beyond the summer and into the entire year, which he said "will aid us in attracting more family visitors year round and therefore help us reach our goal of attracting 55 million visitors to New York City annually by 2015."

As for the Muppet voice? "New York is the most fabulous city in the world. In fact, it's almost as fabulous as moi!" Does it need to be said that this comment came from Miss Piggy?

NYCMUPPETS 

A booking worth $10,000 (to the agent)

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Kimberly Shannon, an agent at Acendas in Mission, Kan., had a tough choice to make: $10,000 cash? Or a three-year lease on a 2012 BMW?

SHANNONShannon chose the cash. As the grand prize winner in the "Year of Funjet" booking contest, she was given the choice. And on Wednesday, Funjet boss Mike Going flew to Acendas (previously All About Travel) to deliver the check.

She was randomly selected as the winner from more than 90,000 entries. Every Funjet booking between January 6 and March 31 for travel through the end of October qualified as an entry. Funjet said the winning booking, made by Shannon, was a group of four who booked a Funjet trip to Jamaica.

"These clients actually started the booking, and then one of them changed jobs, so they put the vacation on hold," Shannon said. "I reached back out at the end of the year, and they were ready to commit."

Funjet awarded 11 air-inclusive vacations and 100 cash prizes to other entrants. Funjet encouraged agents to check the list of winners to see if their name was on it: www.funjet.com/mybmw.

 

Travel newsletter for sale?

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Rumors are rife that Travelzoo Inc. is putting itself on the market.

Reuters reported that the travel newsletter publisher, whose shares have slipped 75% since July (it trades under the stock symbol TZOO) is planning "to sell itself."

According to the report, TravelZoo, worth $336.1 million, is in the process of hiring a financial adviser. Reuters said shares of Travelzoo were up almost 30% on Wednesday morning.

A source told Reuters that the list of potential buyers could include Amazon, Google and Odiego, which owns four online travel brands, including Opodo and Travellink.

Travelzoo, which publishes e-newsletters of travel deals, has more than 24 million subscribers in North America, Europe and Asia-Pacific, Reuters said.

Orlando hotels top TripAdvisor's family-friendly list

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Lake Buena Vista poolApparently, West Coast hoteliers aren't big on travelers bringing the kids along.

That's the gist of a TripAdvisor list of the top family-friendly properties in the U.S., which included just one hotel west of the Rockies in its list of what it called "large U.S. hotels" for families.

Coming as no surprise, five properties in Orlando, home to Walt Disney World, made the list: Disney's Wilderness Lodge, WorldQuest Orlando, Lake Buena Vista Resort Village & Spa, Marriott's Harbour Lake and Floridays Resort Orlando.

Other East Coast properties that made the family-friendly grade included the Rocking Horse Ranch Resort in Highland, N.Y.; Hope Lake Lodge & Conference Center in Cortland, N.Y.; and Woodloch Pines Resort in Hawley, Pa.

The only western U.S. hotel to be recognized was the Homewood Suites by Hilton Anaheim-Main Gate, which, of course, is near Disneyland.

Overseas, Greece's Holiday Village Rhodes, Spain's Aparthotel Playa Mar and Turkey's Aquafantasy Aquapark Hotel & Spa received high marks from TripAdvisor users for their family-friendly services. -- Danny King

Tax relief

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As the filing deadline for taxes rears its ugly head, one hotel in downtown Manhattan is offering a free service for busy executives who haven't yet done their calculations.

The Andaz Wall Street has an on-site "accountant in residence" through April 15 who will file taxes for guests free of charge.

The filing is free; a hotel overnight is not. The average daily room rate starts at $425 per room, per night, single.

"Many of our Wall Street guests are constantly pressed for time, so we wanted to offer an experience that caters to their busy lifestyle," Andaz Wall Street General Manager Jeffrey Miller said in a statement. "Accountant Marc Albaum is helping our guests meet the tax deadline while traveling."

Albaum, who specializes in tax returns, problems and planning, has more 20 years of experience working with individuals and small businesses. "People often find last-minute filing an overwhelming experience," he said. "It's a stressing time of year, and I look forward to offering my services."

However, don't put off making this appointment. Guests must email accountant@andaz.com at least 72 hours in advance to nail down an hour-long appointment. -- Gay Nagle Myers

Mapping New York

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NYCSmartphoneMap(1)NYC & Company is partnering with CityMaps, a New York-based startup, to launch a smartphone app that enables users to use a map to navigate New York using names and company logos, and to filter content from nearly 90,000 restaurants, stores, attractions, hotels and bars.

The free app, called NYC Map, is available for download from iTunes.

"NYC Map's heavy use of widely recognized logos, symbol and brands is particularly helpful for our non-native English speakers looking to get around the city," said NYC & Company CEO George Fertita.

NYC Map highlights daily deals from sites like Groupon and Living Social, and it includes restaurant reservation capabilities from OpenTable. Social components include real-time tweets from businesses, FourSquare check-ins and user photos, NYC & Company said.

Future plans include adding map filters for tour groups and conventions.

 

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