Archive for March, 2009

Passport cards may make travel easier

Travelers wait at a passport office in Washington, D.C.

Travelers wait at a passport office in Washington, D.C.

If your summer travel includes Canada, Mexico or the Caribbean, then the U.S. passport card may be right for you.

The passport card is a cheaper travel document than a regular book-type passport, but it is also more limited. The card allows a traveler to go to certain countries near the United States through land or sea crossings. It cannot be used with air travel. (Find out more here.)

What makes the passport card relevant right now is that starting June 1, the Western Hemisphere Travel Initiative goes into effect for U.S. travelers. That means land or sea travelers to Canada, Mexico, countries of the Caribbean and Bermuda will be required to show identification documents upon returning to the United States. So if you cruise to the Caribbean or drive to Baja California, you will need to show ID upon your return.

The state department requires four to six weeks to process a passport card application. (Click here to find a …

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Flower festivals and garden tours in bloom round the region

Just one deep breath outdoors – usually followed by a few sneezes – is evidence enough that spring has sprung in the South. It won’t be long before yellow pollen shrouds our city like dense Los Angeles smog, and Atlantans pine for air with particulate matter they can’t actually see.

Before the yellow fog rolls into town, I usually take at least one daytrip to watch our region’s trees and flowers wake from their winter slumber. That usually involves a nice hike in the mountains, but this year, I’m interested in one of the many garden tours or blossom festivals in full swing within a few hours’ drive from town.

Several festivals are already underway, and some include tours of private homes and gardens in full bloom.  Others will be held over the next few weeks.

Here’s a sample of festivals and garden tours to enjoy.  (If you prefer beer gardens or music fests to flower gardens, check out other upcoming events in the AJC’s list of various southeastern festivals here.)   

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Saving Civil War battlefields on April 4

Actor Richard Dreyfuss made a plea to help save our country’s Civil War battlefields this month. The actor (center) is working with the Civil War Preservation Trust, a nonprofit organization that seeks to save endangered Civil War battlefields, as well as to educate the public about the war’s history.

The organization is sponsoring Park Day 2009 on April 4, at which volunteers can work to improve Civil War sites. Ten locations in Georgia are listed for Park Day 2009, including gravesite cleanup at the Blue and Gray Museum in Fitzgerald; painting, sweeping and other activities at Historic Prater’s Mill in Dalton; and painting, rebuilding park benches and more at Kennesaw Mountain National Battlefield Park. Go to for more information.

Which are your favorite Civil War battlefields? Where are the best re-enactments?

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Bad flight/service/hotel: Do you complain?

I just read an interesting article on about how travel bloggers have their complaints addressed after posting negative feedback.

Most of us don’t have blogs, or, for that matter, the get-up-and-go to dispute every little extra charge/unclean room/poor service that we might receive while on a trip.

Or do we?

My attitude is always, complain (nicely) if the problem is really bad. If the management can’t help me, I won’t patronize them again. But if the problem is not so bad, I often put up with it. However, I’ve known travelers who complain at the least little injustice. They don’t always get their way, but they get the satisfaction of expressing their opinions.

Do you complain about bad travel experiences? Do you ever rate your experiences on review-oriented Web sites such as and

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Could sour economy sweeten idea of a “friends and family” vacation?

Years ago, William and I stayed with friends in their studio apartment on a trip to New York. It was our first time together in the city, and our friends kindly offered their home and their services as tour guides to us. Their offer not only made the trip more enjoyable; it made the journey possible in the first place.

At the time, we were young, living in Washington, DC with little time off for vacation. Our stay in the Big Apple was free, and the price was right. We were thrilled to see the city in all of its glory through the eyes of our friends, and left town a few days later feeling like we had truly experienced the real Manhattan.

On one other occasion – when we were even younger and with still fewer funds – we spent a week in Oxford, Miss., where our good friends housed us, showed us around the university town, William Faulkner’s Rowan Oak home and the nearby area, including Memphis.  It was a relaxing and fun holiday, made especially so because our buddies helped us …

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Best Travel Channel show for vacation ideas?

"Dhani Tackles the Globe" premieres Monday at 9 p.m.If you love the Travel Channel, you might be interested to watch “Dhani Tackles the Globe,” which premieres Monday night at 9 p.m. The show features Cincinnati Bengals linebacker Dhani Jones (above, snowboarding in Switzerland) sampling an array of sports around the world. (Read more about the show here.)

We’re suckers for the Travel Channel, particularly Anthony Bourdain’s “No Reservations.” His wry wit and willingness to try (almost) anything make him fun to watch.

But we probably won’t end up (anytime soon, anyway) in Chengdu Province, China, eating boiled cow’s stomach. No, for the most useful vacation ideas, we stick to the basic list-format shows like “Top Ten Hawaiian Resorts” and so on. That way, if we ever make it to Hawaii, we’ll have some info to start with (and dream about!).

What Travel Channel show gives you the best inspiration to hit the road?

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Royal Caribbean holds Atlanta audition for singers, dancers

OK, so it’s not “American Idol.” But it’s still a good gig with a chance at big-time fame: Singing and dancing as part of the performing cast on a Royal Caribbean cruise ship.

If you’re between 18 and 40, you can audition in Atlanta: You’ll need to bring a current resume and photo on March 29 to the Atlanta Ballet at 1400 W. Peachtree St. NW (dancers, 9:15 a.m.; singers, 1:15 p.m.). Go to for more details about the Atlanta audition and to download the guidelines. You can also use that Web site to upload a video of your performance.

Talk about a dream job — one that has vacation destinations built in!

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Are you charmed by St. Patrick’s Day festivals around the south?

I’m not Irish, so technically March 17 should be no more special to me than your average Tuesday. However, given that very few celebrations in the States revolve around St. George, St. Andrew or St. Boniface, I count myself among the many Americans who like to embrace their inner (albeit adopted) Irishman on St. Patrick’s Day.

With more than 34 million citizens claiming Irish descent in the U.S. – and large populations in southern cities like Savannah and Atlanta – it’s easy to stumble across festivities celebrating the patron saint of Ireland. From big city parades to small town pageants, it seems everyone tries to get their Irish on in March.

St. Patrick’s Day falls on a weekday this year, so much, but not all, of the revelry will be taking place on Saturday, March 14. On March 14 at noon downtown, Atlanta will host its 127th St. Patrick’s Day Parade filled with floats, Irish dignitaries, bagpipe and drum corps, and Irish dancers.

It may not be the same as true …

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College students: Are security problems in Mexico making you rethink Spring Break there?

Most college students trudge to their classes in the cold winter months hoping they will be rewarded for their hard slog when Spring Break comes around in March. The break is too long for students to stay on campus and too short to fill with anything Mom or Dad might suggest (like working). A week-long getaway to blow off some steam truly fits the bill, and many use this opportunity to explore areas a bit farther away from home or campus.

The U.S. State Department estimates that more than 100,000 American teenagers and young adults travel to Mexico for Spring Break each year – mostly to resort areas in places like Acapulco, Cancun, Cozumel, Tijuana and Cabo San Lucas. Travel deals south of the border are easy to find, and the lure of warm temperatures, white sands and relaxed drinking laws is difficult to ignore.

While parents and colleges have long tried to impress upon their students the importance of safety abroad, this year the State Department is doing more than …

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