Monday, October 16, 2017

Pluto Ushers in Dog Friendly Era at Disney World Hotels

In big news from the happiest place on earth, Walt Disney World started welcoming pets to four of its on-site hotels on Sunday, October 15, 217.

In time for Halloween, you say? Well, perhaps that's because it is mascot Pluto's favorite holiday.

According to our source, the designated pet-friendly hotels are:

Photo courtesy Walt Disney World Media Relations

The new service permits up to two dogs per guest room. Each resort also offers easy access to outdoor pet exercise areas and green spaces with pet relief areas.

At check-in, guests with four-legged guests will receive "Pluto’s Welcome Kit" -- an amenity kit for owners that includes a mat, bowls, a pet ID tag, courtesy plastic disposable bags, puppy pads and dog walking maps. Your dog will love the Pluto “Do Not Disturb” door hanger indicating to hotel staff that a pet is in the room.

Day care and other pet services, for a fee, are offered nearby at Best Friends, an on-property full-service pet care facility. And it would not be Disney without an announcement that pet merchandise will be coming soon. According to our source, dogs staying in a Disney resort guest room "must be well behaved, leashed in resort public areas and properly vaccinated." Keep in mind that pets are not welcome in the theme parks. You may have to hide your slippers, because Pluto will have your guestroom to himself for several hours.

The resorts’ per night/per room pet-cleaning rates are $50 per night in addition to room rates at each of the hotels, with the exception of Disney’s more posh Yacht Club Resort, which charges $75 each night.

For more information about this  dog-friendly trial program, including other restrictions and policies, contact 407 W-DISNEY or visit DVC Members should contact Disney Vacation Club Member Services at 800/800-9800.

Let us know how you it goes!

Tuesday, August 15, 2017

Eclipse Watching Tips from the Experts

Getting ready for the total solar eclipse coming to the United States on Monday, August 21st?

We are! We're super excited about what families will be able to see of this natural phenomenon, whether it's a partial solar eclipse or the Full Monty: a Total Solar Eclipse. The difference for viewers in the United States is that the sun will be partially or fully obscured from view by the moon crossing in front of it, with differing levels of drama.
Tyson, Faherty and Rao discuss Total Solar Eclipse at AMNH Press Conference, Aug 14, 2017

At yesterday's press conference at the American Museum of Natural History, a panel comprised of three scientists: Neil deGrasse Tyson, Frederick P. Rose Director of the Hayden Planetarium; Jackie Faherty, senior scientist and senior education manager, Department of Astrophysics; and Joe Rao, Hayden Planetarium associate and guest lecturer, meteorologist for Verizon FIOS1 News; shared their enthusiasm for the total solar eclipse experience.

As they put it, "On August 21st, we are hosting the shadow of the Moon across the United States."

Each of the three experts recounted their own eclipse viewing experiences, and advised everyone to put a Total Solar Eclipse on their travel bucket list. The goal is to be in the viewing region known as "The Path of Totality" which will be a 70-mile wide band across the United States. Even though the Moon is 400 times closer to the Earth than the sun, and will be moving across the Sun at 1,000 mph, people who can see the Moon pass between the Earth and the Sun when they are exactly aligned will see "Totality," when the Moon fully "blocks" the sun.

If you've already been studying up on your astronomy at the country's many special observatories and planetariums, it should all make sense. This event happens approximately every 18 months, and only lasts a few minutes, but it has not occured within view of the United States since1932.

Computer animation of view from Earth as Moon crosses in front of the Sun. c. AMNH

Eclipse watchers, wherever they are, can use the NASA site to find out what time their viewing spot will be in the shadow of the moon. "It may only last a few.minutes ..." said Jackie, "However, being in such close contact with the Moon (through its shadow), because it's an object we see every day, is awesome."

The museum's panel also reassured New Yorkers -- and others who would not be in the Path of Totality -- that a partial eclipse would be a very special experience, too. Likening it to the passing of the Death Star, Jackie noted that it felt very unnatural to watch something blocking the sun from view. Both scary and thrilling. Each noted that spectators might hear birds chattering and see animals turning to their evening behavior, as if the sun had set earlier than usual.

"Put down your iPhone," said Tyson. "Experience it emotionally, physchologically and physically," he added.

If you aren't going to be in the zone predicted by, here are some fun ways to get out and see it, and what you can expect.

Of course, if you are in New York City, you can check out the many programs the American Museum of Natural History has planned for that day, including a live stream of the event explained by scientists located within the Path of Totality.

Here's a quick video of Joe Rao offering suggestions on how to best view a total or partial eclipse.


Tyson, celebrated host of the PBS show, "Cosmos," had tips for viewing as well. He suggested those without quality eye protection should head outside with a spaghetti colander. If held up to the sun, the drain holes one the colander can serve as pinhole cameras, and project myriad views of the eclipse on the ground, or better yet, a white sheet below you.

Enjoy and let us know what you saw!

Photos & video: courtesy Ron Bozman.

Tuesday, July 18, 2017

Family Fun in South Dakota's Black Hills

On your family trip to the Black Hills region, you've likely experienced nature, western and Native American culture and American history.  If you're traveling with younger kids who are looking for old fashioned fun, there's plenty of that too.  

In Keystone, 10 minutes from Mount Rushmore and a town with an old west vibe, check out Big Thunder Gold Mine for a tour of an authentic gold mine and mining museum, and the chance to pan for gold from streams that brought miners to the Black Hills in the 1800s. Right nearby, Rush Mountain Adventure Park offers an hour-long tour of the limestone Rushmore Cave, an underground wonder full of dramatic stalactites, plus three heart-pounding exciting attractions - a 630-foot zipline ride, a 3,400-foot mountain coaster ride with speeds up to 30 mph and an interactive gunslinger 7-D ride with three thrilling journeys. Get your laser guns ready! 

There's lots of fun to be had in the environs around Rapid City. Want to see more animals? Bear Country USA, is a drive-through wildlife park where your family can take a safari from the air-conditioned comfort of your car and bring you face to face with bear, buffalo, elk, reindeer and mountain lions. However, it is worth it get out and stroll through to visit Babyland, the animal nursery area -- baby black bears are truly adorable. 

Baby Bear Cubs at Bear Country USA

Reptile Gardens, celebrating its 80th anniversary in 2017, is a family-owned attraction that welcomes thousands of visitors every year to the world’s largest reptile collection. You will see all kinds and sizes of snakes, lizards, frogs, alligators and crocodiles and have the chance to pet a giant tortoise and a baby alligator. There are beautiful birds, a prairie dog area, animal shows, and a botanical garden with plants and flowers from around the world.
Local flavor is offered at the Fort Hayes Chuck Wagon dinner and show. Wait for the bell to ring, line up for your authentic cowboy dinner: baked potato, BBQ beef, baked beans, biscuits, apple sauce, lemonade and spice cake served on tin plates, and watch the western-themed variety show featuring gee-tar players, fiddlers and other musicians who perform a family-friendly show with cowboy spirit.
An Entertaining Show at Fort Hayes Chuck Wagon
For more local flavor, don’t miss Wall Drug, another family-owned local landmark since 1931. And, you really can’t miss it because there are tons of signs along Route 16A as you approach the town of Wall, and it's less than eight miles from the Badlands. It’s kitchy and fun, and nothing like a drug store you've seen anywhere else. In 26 shops, they sell everything from Black Hills gold jewelry to delicious donuts, to western wear such as pricey cowboy boots and hats, to historic photographs, books, and souvenir upon souvenir. There is an outdoor area with fun stuff for the kids (like a giant jackalope to climb upon), and a restaurant which serves buffalo burgers and other casual fare, decorated with oil paintings by noted western artists. Also, free ice water is available to all. If you don’t know that story, you will after a visit to Wall Drug.
If you are need info on the classic destinations of the area read our story on Mount Rushmore and the Black Hills.  And, if you plan to continue from South Dakota on a road trip to Yellowstone National Park and/or Jackson, Wyoming, read our Road Trip USA: Great Sights of the West story.
Further information and South Dakota itineraries are available at Travel South Dakota.

Tuesday, July 11, 2017

New Scholarship for Student Travelers

As the Family Travel Forum 2017 TeenTravel Writing Scholarship submission period draws to a close July 14, we are happy to share the news that (our sponsor) Allianz Global Assistance USA, a leading travel insurance provider, hosts their own scholarship program, ScholarTrips. 

ScholarTrips gives students the opportunity to travel abroad and experience new places and cultures. The company has provided over $150,000 in travel grants to students across the county.

Last year, students were asked to submit a video or essay response to a question about the impact travel may have on a person. The contest was open from October 10, 2016 through November 10, 2016 to students over 14-years-old who are U.S. residents. 

Some Scholartrips Honorees use their Scholarship for More Travel

Six winners were announced earlier this year and were awarded a grant of $2,500 for their travel expenses. Click here for a list of this year’s winners and check back on the ScholarTrips site for information on the next scholarship so that you can apply.

"We believe that all students should have the opportunity to travel abroad and to experience the world they live in,” said Joe Mason, chief marketing officer of Allianz Global Assistance USA. "We are proud to offer this great opportunity to students across the country and we sincerely wish entries the best of luck."

Allianz Global Assistance offers travel insurance through most major U.S. airlines, leading travel agents, online travel agencies and directly to consumers. For more information on Allianz Global Assistance and the policies offered for travelers, please visit: Allianz Travel Insurance visit them on Facebook at

We thank Allianz Global for their sponsorship of FTF's 11th annual Teen Travel Writing Scholarship.

Wednesday, July 5, 2017

What We Learned at IPW

 Or, One Big Welcome from the Travel Industry

Between June 2- June 7, 2017, more than 6,300 international travel buyers, American sellers and international media representing 70 countries met in Washington DC at IPW. The travel convention, formerly known as International Pow Wow in a nod to the world’s affection for America’s cowboy and Indian mythology, is one of the industry’s largest gatherings; the place to sell the “See the USA” message to foreign tour operators, agents and media.  

Media Marketplace encouraged global media to meet with U.S. destinations.

As hosts U.S. Travel and Brand USA repeatedly remarked, at no time in IPW’s 49-year history is it so important for foreigners to feel welcomed in the nation’s capital

Travel Media More Diverse than Ever

Media were invited to IPW’s opening brunch at the Newseum, a fascinating museum celebrating the 24-hour news cycle, classic print journalism and freedom of the press. 
The booming hiphop of Rare Essence highlighted the diversity of international media voices – who was bouncing, who networked, who sought earplugs -- as much as the universality of music, underscoring the IPW theme of “One Big Welcome.”

Media had one-on-one appointments with destinations at IPW's Media Day

The Value of USA’s Self Promotion

Chris Thompson talked to delegates as president & CEO of Brand USA, the country’s public-private marketing organization whose funding is now in question. His numbers spoke loudly about the value of travel promotion, because Brand USA is already active in the 40 markets that include 90% of all inbound travel to the USA. In the past 4 years, they have seen an increase of more than 4.3 million visitors who spent an additional $14 billion in the U.S., representing an estimated $30 billion in economic impact and 51,000 more jobs. 

Brand USA’s upcoming promotions include a new website that focuses on easing trip planning and a new film about US culture and music, “American Treasures,” hosted by performer Aloe Blacc. Shooting in IMAX, it follows the success of the award-winning "National Parks Adventure," currently showing in 400 markets around the world. Videos about different regions narrated by locals and tagged with #visittheusa are also being produced for social channels. Additionally, we learn that 2017 is a year of US-India Travel and Tourism Partnership, to boost visitation from a country which last year sent the US 1.3 million visitors valued at $11.8 billion.

The Trump Administration’s View of Travel

IPW delegates volunteered with Tourism Cares in a clean up dasy at the National Mall.

U.S. Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross addressed a skeptical crowd at lunch. “On behalf of President Trump,” he said, “I am glad to extend one big welcome to you.” While acknowledging that inbound tourism was dropping, he noted that the high cost of the US dollar was presenting a challenge for many in the audience and suggested that travel sellers promote “some low cost, lesser known but not less interesting destinations” to foreign visitors.  

“This administration recognizes the power of travel as an enabling platform for business, a gateway to education, and a bridge to bring people together,” he said.

After several references to the importance of security, he closed with, “America is open for business, America is open for travel and open to the millions of international visitors who wish us well.”

E-TurboNews reported that Roger Dow praised Secretary Ross’ comments, saying, “In honesty, a number of people probably walked into the room with misgivings about this administration’s views on international visitors, but I’m certain they walked out encouraged that the U.S. government grasps the immense value of inbound travelers.” 

What Effect is the Trump Effect Having?

After several discussions of the IPW message of welcoming the world, and of the US Travel Association’s efforts at keeping America’s doors open to travelers, Roger Dow, USTA Chairman, shared the latest travel research. Surprisingly, it showed that foreign travel to the US is stronger than expected. 

According to the USTA’s Travel Trends Index, April 2017 saw international travel up by 4% over the same month in 2016. 

According to Dow, USTA research indicates that the average international visitor arrives in the United States after 56.9 days of planning, indicating that April 2017 numbers would be the earliest indicator of world travelers' reaction to the administration’s January and February 2017 travel bans. 

Hopefully, April’s inbound tourism results are the beginning of a positive trend. Given all the unwelcoming rhetoric coming from the president, perhaps the industry's “One Big Welcome” message is working, after all.