Nov 24, 2020
Guests of Sea Kayak Adventures stay on Santo Domingo barrier island for three days to immerse themselves in whale watching.
We petted a wild whale, my four tour mates and I. Hanging precariously over the side of the seaward-tilting fishing panga (a modest-sized, open boat), we splashed the sun-warmed waters of Mexico’s protected Magdalena Bay just off Baja California Sur’s Pacific coast. The splashes, we hoped, would draw the attention of the gray whale mother and calf from the nearby boat, whose passengers they were favoring as their petting zoo.
The curious baby, about a month to six weeks old, daringly left its mom’s side to sidle up alongside our boat. I held my breath, praying the calf would stay. With smiles lighting their faces, each passenger reached down and stroked the little one. Leaning over the higher bow, I could not reach before the errant calf returned to its mother.
Silently I pleaded for another chance. Minutes later, the elder leviathan obliged, propelling her enormous barnacle-encrusted head, ramrod straight, out of the sea behind the stern of the boat. One jet-black eye surveyed us, a picture-perfect snapshot I was too startled to take.
She sunk soundlessly back into the depths before drawing parallel to the panga, her calf nestled along her far side. As I ran my hand across her rubbery, white-spotted back, I was so overcome that tears trickled from my eyes.
Each winter, thousands of eastern North Pacific gray whales migrate more than 5,000 miles from Alaska’s Bering Sea to three protected Baja lagoons to give birth or mate from mid-January through mid-March. Nowhere else in the world do inquisitive mothers and calves approach skiffs and allow delighted humans to pet them.
While most visitors spend two hours watching the whales’ playful antics, we had the rare privilege of three days in the bay with Sea Kayak Adventures, which has a coveted permit to erect a self-sustaining seasonal base camp on uninhabited Santo Domingo, one of the barrier islands that shelter the lagoon from the open ocean.
Thousands of eastern North Pacific gray whales spend the winter in Baja lagoons.
It is the only company with a long-term concession in Magdalena Bay, as well as the only to offer a trip that combines a whale camp with kayaking the Sea of Cortez, the body of water that frames the eastern shore of the Baja California peninsula. Called the 3x3 Kayak & Whale Watching Combo, it is a six-day, all-inclusive, small-group itinerary (maximum 13 passengers) in the tour operator’s portfolio of Baja Tours.
The itinerary includes four boat trips (whale sightings guaranteed) and activities such as birdwatching, a guided nature hike across pillowy sand dunes, strolls on silken beaches and whale pep talks in the domed library tent, presented by marine biologist Mario Escalera. He served as trip leader for our group of eleven 40- to 70-somethings from the U.S., Canada and England and was assisted by two more local guides, a cook and panga drivers.
In the evenings, happy hour was followed by dinners featuring fresh-caught fish and Mexican specialties. Night brought blazing campfires and stargazing, unpolluted by a single light. Nestled on my cozy cot in our roomy wall tent mere feet from the sea, each time I awoke I heard the unmistakable sound of whales spouting, right outside our canvas shelter.
The grays are just one of the migrant and resident species in the whale-rich waters lapping both sides of Baja’s peninsula. We were eager to see more.
An easy two-hour highway drive east across the desert and over the Sierra de la Giganta mountains delivered us to historic Loreto, the 323-year-old first capital of the Californias, midway along the peninsula’s east coast. Early the next morning, we shuttled about a half-hour south to a beach near Puerto Escondido, our point of entry for the kayak touring half of our expedition.
After a paddling lesson, we piled into tandem sea kayaks to gently propel ourselves a few miles each day while exploring the wonders of Loreto Bay, Mexico’s largest national marine park and a UNESCO World Heritage site. Proclaimed “the world’s aquarium” by Jacques Cousteau, the nutrient-rich Sea of Cortez supports the world’s largest and most varied whale population, including blue whales, for whom the sheltered waters are a winter nursery.
On day one, we pointed our bows for Danzante Island, one of five uninhabited isles in the park, where we camped in dome tents all alone on a white-sand beach. The second day, we paddled further east toward the rugged, stark cliffs of Isla Carmen, the largest isle. Pods of common dolphins, sea lions and pelicans entertained us and, once it was dark, so did the twinkling bioluminescence that lit the sea like underwater fireflies.
Thankfully, no mega-whales rose from the inky depths beside our teeny kayaks, but we were delighted to see them once we were safely perched in a panga, capping off a trip full of magical wildlife highs.
Departures of the 3x3 Kayak & Whale Watching Combo are available Jan. 17 to March 7 for 2021 (the two segments can be sold separately), with additional Baja itineraries on offer from November 2020 to May 2021). Custom private trips are also available.
Sea Kayak Adventures
by Matt Turner
Nov 30, 2020 2:18pm
Delta Air Lines, Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport and Rome–Fiumicino International Airport have joined in a “first-of-its-kind” transatlantic COVID-19 testing program that will enable quarantine-free entry into Italy, in accordance with a decree expected to be issued soon by the government of Italy.
Starting December 19, Delta’s dedicated trial will test customers and crew on newly relaunched flights from Atlanta to Rome. The tests will exempt from quarantine on arrival in Italy all U.S. citizens permitted to travel to Italy for essential reasons, such as for work, health and education, as well as all European Union and Italian citizens.
To fly on Delta’s COVID-tested flights between Atlanta and Rome, customers will need to test negative for COVID-19 through:
Customers also will be asked to provide information upon entry into the U.S. to support Centers for Disease Control and Prevention contact-tracing protocols.
“Carefully designed COVID-19 testing protocols are the best path for resuming international travel safely and without quarantine until vaccinations are widely in place,” said Steve Sear, Delta president – international and EVP – global sales, in a press statement.
Delta has engaged expert advisors from Mayo Clinic to review and assess the customer-testing protocols needed for Delta to execute a COVID-tested flight program. Delta has also worked with the Georgia Department of Public Health to develop a blueprint for governments to reopen important international travel markets.
Henry Ting, M.D., M.B.A., chief value officer, Mayo Clinic, in the announcement, said: “Based on the modeling we have conducted, when testing protocols are combined with multiple layers of protection, including mask requirements, proper social distancing and environmental cleaning, we can predict that the risk of COVID-19 infection—on a flight that is 60 percent full—should be nearly one in a million.”
Rome-Fiumicino earlier this year implemented a successful intra-Italy COVID-tested flight trial with Delta’s Italian codeshare partner Alitalia and is the only airport in the world to have obtained the maximum five-star rating from Skytrax on its anti-COVID health protocols.
In addition, as part of the Delta CareStandard, the airline is blocking middle seats through March 30, 2021, ensuring rigorous mask compliance, electro-statically cleaning cabins before all flights and more.
Nov 30, 2020
Thousands of revelers normally pack the Las Vegas Strip for a spectacular fireworks display on New Year's Eve. It will be a more low-key scene this year. Photo Credit: Las Vegas Convention and Visitors Authority
The New Year's Eve gathering of thousands of revelers on the Las Vegas Strip, fireworks exploding overhead, is as spectacular as festivities in Times Square and the Rose Parade in Pasadena, Calif. But not this year, of course.
The multimillion-dollar fireworks show will not be set off from casino rooftops, sponsor Las Vegas Convention and Visitors Authority (LVCVA) announced. More than 300,000 visitors spent New Year's Eve in Las Vegas last year, but Covid-19 concerns make this year's holiday considerably dimmer.
"It's a great attraction, and it's a branding opportunity for Las Vegas and certainly fits really well with who we are," said Steve Hill, CEO and president of the LVCVA, said in an interview with Travel Weekly on Nov. 16. "Four weeks ago, I was still pounding my fist on the table, saying 'Damn it, we're going to have a fireworks show and celebrate the end of 2020.' And then, we just got to the point that we realized that's just not the responsible thing to do."
About the same time as the LVCVA's cancellation, the Plaza Hotel & Casino downtown announced plans for fireworks staged from multiple locations on its roofs and towers when the clock strikes midnight. Whether or not that show will go on is up in the air.
Las Vegas will also be without the National Finals Rodeo (NFR), another big draw in December. But this year, the "Super Bowl of Rodeos" will be at Globe Life Field in Arlington, Texas.
The NFR has been held in the 17,000-seat Thomas & Mack Center since moving from Oklahoma City in 1985, selling out 10 nights of events every year and filling hotel rooms during a relatively slow time in Las Vegas.
The Professional Rodeo Cowboys Association's contract with Las Vegas Events to host the NFR, which had run through 2024, has been extended one year to 2025 because of the interruption.
Live sporting and entertainment venues are complying with new restrictions announced by Nevada Gov. Steve Sisolak on Nov. 22. A three-week "pause" beginning Nov. 24 limits gaming establishments, restaurants, bars and showrooms to no more than 25% occupancy, down from the previous 50% cap.
December, without a specific driver for tourists, is anticipated to be down in terms of visitation, Hill said. "We've known that for a couple of months. Certainly now, if you can, you're probably going to see family [during the holidays]; a lot of people haven't been able to see their family for a long time. And they may be making plans to do that. The next weeks will probably be below what we've seen in August, September and October."
MGM Resorts International's Mandalay Bay, Mirage and Park MGM have shut down hotel operations Mondays to Thursdays through late December. The Encore, Palazzo and Planet Hollywood are among other resorts that have also scaled back hotel operations during weekdays. Casinos, restaurants and other amenities remain open at the properties throughout the week.
"Even when Las Vegas was booming, even when Las Vegas was setting visitation records, December is always the slowest month. That's when room rates plunge, that's when everyone's trying to fill their places," Anthony Curtis of LasVegasAdvisor.com told KTNV-Channel 13 in Las Vegas.
Nov 30, 2020
The Gateway Arches light up with 61,000 watts of power at dusk each day.
The new, 80-foot-tall Gateway Arches on Las Vegas Boulevard at the base of the Strat Hotel, Casino and SkyPod were illuminated for the first time last month.
The $6.5 million project was an effort to clarify a common misconception: While the Welcome to Fabulous Las Vegas sign at the south end of the Las Vegas Strip is globally famous, many don't realize that it and the rest of the Strip are actually outside Las Vegas' municipal boundaries, in unincorporated Clark County.
The Gateway Arches, brightly lit beginning at dusk every day, welcomes visitors to the City of Las Vegas as they travel north on Las Vegas Boulevard. A pink, retro Las Vegas emblem is suspended above the boulevard.
"Las Vegas is known worldwide as the getaway for the best in entertainment, fun, dining and convention business," mayor Carolyn G. Goodman said. "What better way to invite everyone into historic downtown than by passing through this massive new archway into the heart of a revitalized Las Vegas."
Selbert Perkins Design conceived and designed the arches. The Young Electric Sign Co. (Yesco), the business behind some of the area's most iconic signs, fabricated and installed the latest distinctive photo opportunity for visitors.
"Yesco has a long history of fabricating, installing and maintaining Las Vegas' most internationally recognizable signs, and the Gateway Arches represent the newest monumental addition to that portfolio," said Jeff Young, senior vice president and chief marketing officer of Yesco.
A few fun facts:
• One leg weighs 18,400 pounds.
• Each arch leg spans 140 feet across Las Vegas Boulevard.
• There are 13,016 individually programmable lights.
• The emblem is 20-by-40-feet and weighs 7,300 pounds.
• The arches draw more 61,000 watts of power.
"The Gateway Arches are a striking landmark to designate what has long been the gateway from the Las Vegas Strip to the City of Las Vegas," said Stephen Thayer, vice president and general manager at the Strat. "We are thrilled that this beautiful monument has been erected just steps away from our iconic tower."
Nov 29, 2020
One travel advisor said that their phones started ringing an hour after Pfizer announced encouraging results from its vaccine trials. Photo Credit: Anutr Yossundara/Shutterstock.com
Good news about Covid-19 vaccines has been on the uptick this month, and with it, a bump in inquiries to travel agencies about what these medical advances might mean for travel in 2021.
The calls don't always lead to bookings, advisors said, and although the good news is tempered in part by spiking cases around the country, consumer response to the vaccine news appears to both reflect high levels of pent-up demand and herald the nascent return of broad consumer confidence to travel.
On Nov. 9, Pfizer and BioNTech announced that preliminary data indicates their vaccine is more than 90% effective. A week later, Moderna on Nov. 16 said preliminary analysis found its vaccine was more than 94.5% effective. And just before Thanksgiving, AstraZeneca and the University of Oxford said preliminary data found their vaccine up to 90% effective.
"Within an hour of Pfizer announcing their vaccine, we started getting calls," said Helen Papa, owner of TBH Travel in Dix Hills, N.Y. "Within an hour. It was amazing."
Cruise lines also saw some positive effects attributable to vaccine news. During Norwegian Cruise Line Holdings' most recent financial earnings call, the day after Pfizer's news, president and CEO Frank Del Rio said bookings in the previous 24 hours were "pretty good; better than the previous four or five Mondays."
"And that's, I think, attributable to the vaccine news," he said. "We did not have any particular promotion or did any outsized marketing."
Similarly, Royal Caribbean Group chairman Richard Fain addressed the question of positive news about vaccines during Travel Weekly's CruiseWorld, which was held virtually earlier this month.
"I don't think it will surprise anybody that when the news is scary, people tend to go back into their cocoons," Fain said. "As the news gets to be more positive they come out. What's encouraging is how quickly it responds."
After both the Pfizer and Moderna news broke, Skyscanner found that searches for travel from the U.S. to Mexico surpassed their weekly volume from last year, up 10%. Skyscanner attributed that increase to the vaccine news, as well.
For Papa, some of the inquiries she received at TBH have turned into bookings. Clients are "cautiously optimistic," she said.
On the other side of the country from Papa, Coastline Travel Advisors in Garden Grove, Calif., also received a number of emails and calls from clients following vaccine announcements, according to president Jay Johnson.
While there has been a general sense of optimism and more confidence in travel's return by next summer, he said, the influx of inquiries has not yet resulted in new business.
"There is without a doubt a huge amount of pent-up demand to travel in 2021," Johnson said. "All we need now is confirmation that the vaccines work and a lowering of cases. Then, we'll be off and running."
Avenue Two Travel in Villanova, Pa., saw an uptick in both calls and bookings as a result of the positive vaccine news, but that was tempered by the rising number of cases around the country, said CEO Joshua Bush.
Avenue Two has seen steady, week-over-week increases in travel since mid-August, thanks to domestic travel and clients dreaming about 2021 travel, Bush said. In addition to closer-in domestic bookings, Avenue Two has even been booking things like world cruise segments and expedition trips. Overall, business is down about 70% year over year, but better than the 95 to 97% it was down when the pandemic first hit.
The week before Pfizer had announced its vaccine's effectiveness, business was "absolutely dead," which Bush attributed to the unsettled U.S. presidential election.
But the week of Nov. 16, Bush said, "with the election result [more widely accepted] and the vaccine ... we are on track for our best week this year since Covid." Those bookings were for both the holiday season and 2021 as travelers are getting more optimistic about a vaccine.
At the same time, the good news is offset by the surge in cases and deaths around the world, especially in the U.S.
"We're hitting milestone death numbers," Bush said. "We're hitting milestone cases on individual days. That is really kind of tamping down the news that there's light at the end of the tunnel. We're definitely in this still."
In some places, though, travelers have shown less concern about traveling during the pandemic, and the news of the vaccines was akin to a nonevent. Jeanne Polocheck, owner of Well Traveled Texan in Houston, said her Texas-based clients largely kept traveling during the pandemic. Things had initially slowed early this year, but by Memorial Day clients were out and about again, a trend that has continued. Domestic spots and Mexico have been popular.
She didn't even get one phone call from a client about vaccines.
A potential stumbling block to the recovery of travel is the resistance among some people to being vaccinated. A Gallup poll conducted between Oct. 19 and Nov. 1, before the vaccine trial results were announced, indicated 58% of adult respondents were willing to get a vaccination, a rise from 50% in September.
Lingering and significant reluctance to be vaccinated will likely present hurdles to overcome with regard to travel in the future, said Ensemble Travel Group CEO David Harris.
He pointed to the flu vaccine: It's been available for decades, but a portion of the population skips it each year.
However, he is more hopeful about a Covid vaccine, given how serious the impact of the virus has been. While a vaccine will never be 100% effective, it could go a long way to the resumption of travel, he said, by giving confidence to governments to relax requirements for quarantines and other deterrents to travel.
"Those should, in theory, be relaxed if you get traction from an effective vaccine," he said.
Johanna Jainchill contributed to this report.
You don't have to go far for us in California to GETAWAY FROM YOUR EVERYDAY as Conde Nast has a good idea for a truly enjoyable weekend.
A new hotel gives travelers yet another reason to get on the ferry from Long Beach.
November 14, 2019
Los Angeles and gridlock are virtually synonymous. But in Avalon, a hamlet of 4,000 people on Catalina Island, built a hundred years ago by chewing gum magnate William Wrigley Jr., you're more likely to find yourself riding in a golf cart (there's a 25-year wait list for a vehicle permit). Or, you could hop on the back of an eco-friendly H1 Hummer (it runs on biofuel) for a tour of the rugged interior in hopes of spotting the island's herd of wild bison.
Many Angelenos, who on a clear day are able to see the green and yellow grass-covered speck 22 miles off the coast, think of Catalina as not much more than a place where Boy Scouts go camping and rich people dock their sailboats. But this year brings new reasons to catch the 60-minute ferry from Long Beach. In August the seaside Hotel Atwater reopened after a restoration that brought back much of the familial character Wrigley imbued it with in 1920, when he hoped to turn Catalina into a world-class holiday destination. Sweet rooms have beds in corals and teal and cozy comforters, while the lobby holds the Wrigley family's albums and heirlooms.
Nearby, the Catalina Island Museum has an exhibition devoted to the tycoon's influence. You can also head around to the coast to dive with bat rays or zip-line through a lush canyon—though for all of Catalina's natural beauty, there are still reminders of Hollywood's proximity: Avalon is home to one of the first talkie theaters, where Cecil B. DeMille hosted lavish preview parties, and the Art Deco rotunda Catalina Casino, where Benny Goodman's big band played in the 1930s. Even those bison roaming the island have silver-screen cachet; rumor has it that they're descended from a few menacing extras who broke free from the set of the 1925 Western movie The Vanishing American.
And maybe it's family travel time as Conde Nast tells us some really great family places to go.
Look no further for a family outing destination that fits every need.
October 19, 2020
Planning a family vacation is never easy. For starters, there are many factors to consider: affordability, distance, dining options, activities for all ages, and of course, safety—not to mention, if you’ve got an infant in tow, there’s extra planning that goes around the feeding and nap schedules. With the rise of COVID-19, this year looks wildly different from years past, shifting how we travel, as well as where and when.
The good news is that there are plenty of places right here in the U.S. suitable for your next family trip, no matter the criteria. So whether you and your brood prefer to spend a week touring museums or lying belly up on the beach—or both—we’ve got you covered. Here, we’ve rounded up seven of the best family vacation spots in the U.S., with options that everyone is guaranteed to love.
All listings featured on Condé Nast Traveler are independently selected by our editors. If you book something through our links, we may earn an affiliate commission.
If you are a fan of the Below Deck programs on Bravo perhaps this idea pleases you from Conde Nast.