The phrases used in tour brochures are sometimes hyperbolic, at best, and can have only a thin relationship to actual experience, as some travelers and agents know.

In a tongue-in-cheek presentation on the art of writing tour brochure copy, industry consultant Bruce Beckham left an audience at the U.S. Tour Operators Association conference in Las Vegas chuckling.

Following are some of Beckham's examples of commonly used locutions and what they really mean:

  • Off the beaten path. People have stopped coming here.
  • Options galore. Nothing's included.
  • Choice of menu options. It was our choice, and it's chicken again.
  • Meet local residents in the lounge. Be prepared to get hit on.
  • Activities too numerous to mention. The guide has never been here.
  • The small coach lavatory is there for your convenience. If you're a man, you walk in and back out, and if you're a woman, you back in and walk out.
  • The crisp mountain air whets your appetite for a hearty breakfast. You're going to freeze your butt off because the restaurant is outside the hotel.
  • Relax in your room. There's nothing to do.
  • Preferred pilferage

    A survey by Where magazine, an in-room hotel publication, asked housekeeping departments in major hotels in 11 cities in the U.S. and Europe to detail what is taken from and what is left behind in guest rooms.

    The top items taken are towels, soap, shampoo, bathrobes, hangers and ashtrays. Regional differences crop up. Towels are the items of choice in Los Angeles; in New York, bathrobes.

    Paris hotel guests covet ashtrays. Bed linens disappear most often from Las Vegas rooms.

    The most unusual items taken include televisions, irons and ironing boards, pillows, radios and/or stereos, pictures and wall hangings. A porter at the Hotel Intercontinental in Paris unknowingly carried a television in a duffel bag to a departing guest's car.

    Someone stole a reclining chair from the Drury Inn Westport in St. Louis, and guests at New York's Crowne Plaza walked out with a sink.

    And what would a visit to London's Marriott County Hall be without a souvenir kettle and teapot?

    The award for the bulkiest theft goes to the Las Vegas guest who marched unchallenged through the Sahara Hotel lobby schlepping a six-foot-tall ficus tree.

    Hide in plain sight

    There'll always be an England -- more or less.

    Lately, the sceptr'd isle has seen a few of its old traditions challenged, though not always successfully.

    A move recently was made in Parliament to do away with the centuries-old practice of printing parliamentary acts on animal skin.

    The House of Parliament, where the law of the land will continue to be writ in vellum. Proponents of the move away from goat and calf hide, including the government of Prime Minister Tony Blair, focused not on the animal rights issue, according to the Times of London, but on the "tens of thousands of pounds" saved per year by making the switch to modern technology and paper.

    The measure was defeated by a vote of 121 to 53. For the time being, at least, the goat will bleat, and the calf will have its day.

    Caspar and Judy?

    Another centuries-old staple of British life, the wildly slapstick "Punch and Judy" puppet show for children, has been threatened with a perpetual curtain by the Borough Council of Colchester, in the southern county of Essex.

    The chair of the council said the town was considering banning the shows, which are based on the Italian commedia dell'arte and have been performed in England since the 17th century, fearing that in "an era of broken homes and domestic violence," children might be disturbed by them.

    A puppet master named Glynn Edwards responded: "We're not actually talking about real violence here. We're talking about knockabout comedy," invoking the example of the popular cat-and-mouse cartoon "Tom and Jerry."

    Perhaps the puppeteers could mount a "Punch and Judy" in which the antagonists discuss their differences with sympathetic friends or a marriage counselor -- a sort of "Ingmar Bergman meets Monty Python" version.

    Sacked

    In another, unrelated development in the British theater, an Amazon parrot named Percy was cut from the cast of a children's theater production in Blandford Forum, Dorsetshire, when during rehearsal he not only went up in his lines but added some improvisation.

    Perched on the shoulder of "Long John Silver" during a run-through of "Pirates of Treasure Island," Percy paused at his line "Pieces of eight!" and instead delivered himself of "P___ off, mate!"

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