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What’s going on in this photo? Come up with a clever caption for this cute travel pic and you could win an IndependentTraveler.com travel mug.

ape gibraltar


To enter, drop your wittiest one-liner (or two-liner, or three-liner…) in the comments by Sunday night, July 1, 2012, at 11:59 p.m. Eastern Time. We’ll contact the winner and reveal our favorite caption on Tuesday. Please be sure to abide by our community guidelines when commenting.

Today’s photo was submitted by Rachel Webb. Do you have a funny or bizarre photo that we could use for a future caption contest? Send it to us at feedback@independenttraveler.com. (Please put “Caption Contest” in the subject line.) If we feature your photo on our blog, we’ll send you a prize.

– written by Sarah Schlichter

On a Mediterranean cruise with six port calls in seven days — essentially the tapas restaurant version of European travel — you might only have 10 hours in port to get it right. Ironically, in many ways the half-day visit requires more researching and planning than a lengthier, more stationary stay.

Unless you have a local friend. Or the next best thing: a guide.

If you’re a fan of Julius Caesar, Augustus or Caligula (you weirdo), there’s nothing like Rome, near which our ship docked for the day (in Civitavecchia, a 12-euro train ride away). It’s an easy capital to visit in the sense that it’s eminently walkable. Just wear comfortable tennis shoes and stay hydrated via the fontanellas, the public fountains found in almost every square. But it’s a challenge in that its history is as dense as the Pantheon’s walls, and, as in other epic destinations, tourist traps sprout like barbarian hordes around the 2,000-year-old monuments.

rome


As a wanderer, my previous experiences in the Eternal City comprised just that: ambling for what sometimes seemed like an eternity until I reached a Renaissance-era church or second-century ruin, not knowing what either really meant. This time — my shortest visit — would be different.

Our Favorite Places to Stay in Rome

Our group of three met Teresa, a U.S. expat turned Rome tour guide for Love Holidays (and a long-time friend of one of our fellow passengers). She took us through mini-tours of the Colosseum, the Pantheon and San Pietro in Vincoli (St. Peter’s Chains), and brought us to a low-key cafe filled with Italians enjoying sandwiches and salads. Bouncing questions off Teresa — did Nero really fiddle while Rome burned? Should I get the raspberry or apricot gelato? — went a long way toward making me feel like I wasn’t squandering my time.

“What do you guys want to do?” (followed by 20 interesting options) was a welcome conversation starter on more than one occasion.

11 Best Italy Experiences

Finding yourself such a guide, of course, is the trick, but it’s increasingly easy. TripAdvisor reviews, message board recommendations and friends with a penchant for gladiators can all steer you in the right direction. And a private guide isn’t necessarily that expensive; split among a party of four or five, you can expect to pay about 100 euros each (plus museum entrance fees, public transport and tip) for a full, eight-hour day. That’s less than cruise lines charge for the “panoramic” motorcoach tour — you know, those excursions that often leave 40 passengers in that hazy space between sleep and reality, heads thudding against windows at regular intervals.

For more information, see When Do You Need a Tour Guide?

– written by Dan Askin

apple logo store new york cityImagine a booking site that anticipates your hotel preferences based solely on the type of computer you use. If this seems a bit absurd, you may want to take it up with Orbitz, which has begun using data-monitoring technology to direct Mac users to slightly more upscale (and expensive) hotels than those highlighted for PC users.

First reported by the Wall Street Journal, this practice is possible because retail sites can track whether visitors are coming in via Windows or other operating systems. They can even tell which sorts of devices — computer, iPad, Android, etc. — visitors are using.

According to the WSJ article, Orbitz’s analytics team has determined that Mac users spend an average of about 30 percent more per night than PC users on hotels booked through the site. So, although all Orbitz visitors have access to the same hotels at identical prices, Mac users are initially directed to view more expensive options.

Ditch the Hotel: 10 Cheaper Ways to Stay

My first thought was that it’s sort of like saying I’m more likely to prefer polka-dotted elephants to striped turtles because I drive a Volkswagen — the two are unrelated. On the other hand, there are statistics (including higher household income among Mac users) to back up the correlation.

All of this data tracking makes me wonder just how far the travel industry (or any industry, for that matter) will go in an effort to personalize content. I’m envisioning sites that direct iPad users to hotels that have iPod docking stations, and Windows XP (circa 2001) users being sent to deals for inexpensive chain hotels.

The Airport Security Checkpoint of the Future?

So, what do you think? Is this type of info-gathering a little too “Big Brother,” or do you think it’s just smart marketing? Share your thoughts below.

– written by Ashley Kosciolek

big ben londonGet a group of politicians together and they often skip right over the important issues and on to agenda items that leave the rest of us scratching our heads. Remember the U.S. House of Representatives and the “action” that called for French fries served in the restaurants and snack bars run by the House to be renamed freedom fries?

Another equally important proposal was recently put forth by the British Parliament: changing the name of London‘s famous clock tower — known throughout the world as Big Ben — to Elizabeth Tower in honor of Queen Elizabeth’s Diamond Jubilee.

According to the BBC, the proposal is now fait accompli.

Our Favorite Places to Stay in London

Okay, yes, Big Ben is simply a nickname that originally referred to the bell inside the tower (though few people distinguish between bell, clock and tower these days). And yes, it was even once known as Victoria Tower and is now officially recognized as the Clock Tower. But really, billions of people the world over know the entire tower as Big Ben. Why mess with brand name recognition?

It’s simply not as sexy to snap a photo of oneself in front of the tower and tell friends, “Here’s me in front of Elizabeth Tower.” Though as one writer here said, maybe people will just call it Big Beth.

– written by Dori Saltzman

little boy telescopeThanks to everyone who participated in last Friday’s photo caption contest. We received some great submissions, but our favorite was … a tie! Both Kiera and Louie answered with “It’s a small world after all!” Because they answered within minutes of each other, we’re awarding both readers an IndependentTraveler.com travel mug.

Runners-up that we also loved:

“I thought you said I would be able to see a Stormtrooper in here…” — Christina M.

“Can you see me now?” — Art

“I was right! There is NO light at the end of the tunnel.” — Nancy James

To see all of the submissions, click here.

Do you have a funny or bizarre photo that we could use for a future caption contest? Send it to us at feedback@independenttraveler.com. (Please put “Caption Contest” in the subject line.) If we feature your photo on our blog, we’ll send you a prize.

– written by Sarah Schlichter

What’s going on in this photo? Come up with a clever caption for this funny travel pic and you could win an IndependentTraveler.com travel mug.

little boy telescope


To enter, drop your wittiest one-liner (or two-liner, or three-liner…) in the comments by Sunday night, June 24, 2012, at 11:59 p.m. Eastern Time. We’ll contact the winner and reveal our favorite caption on Tuesday. Please be sure to abide by our community guidelines when commenting.

Do you have a funny or bizarre photo that we could use for a future caption contest? Send it to us at feedback@independenttraveler.com. (Please put “Caption Contest” in the subject line.) If we feature your photo on our blog, we’ll send you a prize.

– written by Sarah Schlichter

eye retina scannerUSA Today ran an article yesterday about changes being made at Dallas’ Love Field airport to bring it closer to offering what the International Air Transport Association (IATA) calls “the checkpoint of the future.” The changes include the installation of 500 hi-def security cameras capable of tracking passenger movements from the parking garages to the gates and even onto the tarmac.

As part of the system, which is intended to allow passengers to move virtually non-stop from curb to gate, fliers would be identified by biometric measures (either iris or fingerprint scanning) and would pass through screening tunnels (a la the film “Total Recall”) where they’d undergo electronic scans capable of detecting metal objects, explosives, liquids and more.

The object of such a futuristic checkpoint is to be faster, less intrusive and easier to get through.

Now, I like the idea of getting through security faster. Taking off my shoes and taking my laptop out of its cover are annoying, especially when hundreds of people are doing the same.

According to the USA Today article, the FAA projects that the number of people flying in the U.S. will nearly double over the next 20 years to 1.2 billion. That’s a whole lotta time spent taking off shoes and belts, checking through pockets for change and finding out at the last minute that no, ma’am, you can’t bring that bottle of water through security with you.

16 Ways to Get Through the Airport Faster

Here’s another telling statistic from the article — before September 11, 2011, 350 people passed through checkpoints each hour. A November 2012 survey of 142 airports found that on average only 149 people now make it through each hour.

But the question is: How much am I willing to give up to get through security faster?

Do I really want hundreds of Big Brother-style cameras tracking my every step from the moment I get out of my car? Do I want my fingerprints or iris pattern in a computer record? I’m not really sure I do.

What do you think?

– written by Dori Saltzman

Today, Air New Zealand released another of its cheeky, star-studded in-flight safety videos — and this time U.S. President Barack Obama makes an appearance, along with Snoop Dogg and members of New Zealand’s rugby team, the All Blacks. (Previous videos have included cameos from Lindsay Lohan, David Hasselhoff and our personal favorite, Richard Simmons.)

The hand-drawn video is a departure from previous live-action efforts, and it’s filled with wry little details. As you watch below, keep your eye out for Queen Elizabeth and her corgis — and check out President Obama’s cocktail.



How many celebs did you spot? If you can name at least five, you can enter to win an around-the-world trip for two from Air New Zealand on its social media site, TheFlyingSocialNetwork.com.

Watch more fun airline videos:
Delta Flash Mob
Finnair Goes Bollywood: Jai Ho!

– written by Sarah Schlichter

Most tourists flock to Seattle Center to check out the view from the iconic Space Needle or to rock out at the Experience Music Project (EMP) Museum. But now there’s a colorful new reason to visit the Emerald City’s popular entertainment complex: Chihuly Garden and Glass.

This long-term exhibition of Dale Chihuly’s vibrant art-glass sculptures opened last month on a 1.5-acre plot next to the Space Needle. Chihuly’s distinctive style is familiar to many from his installations in places like the Bellagio Hotel in Las Vegas and the National Liberty Museum in Philadelphia. Visitors begin inside, where darkened galleries display large-scale Chihuly installations like “Mille Fiori” (a garden made of glass) and a Persian ceiling where luminous hues bloom overhead. In another gallery, a boat laden with fancifully colored balls seems to glide across a black mirror lake.

chihuly garden and glass boat seattle center


chihuly garden and glass persian ceiling seattle center


Learn More About Seattle

Once you step outside into the garden, living plants and flowers mingle with Chihuly’s creations — tall, skinny stalks that look like birthday candles; sinuously curving vines and bulbs; and a spiky, brilliantly green sculpture that stretches toward the sky as though to mimic the Space Needle behind it.

chihuly garden and glass greenhouse seattle center


chihuly garden and glass seattle center


Standard adult admission is $19, with discounts for seniors and children 12 and under. Joint admission to the Space Needle is available. You can also pay an additional fee to come back to Chihuly Garden and Glass after dark, to see the outdoor exhibitions lit up against a night sky.

Our 6 Favorite Seattle Hotels

– written by Sarah Schlichter

california mission trail cactus woman gunThanks to everyone who participated in last Friday’s photo caption contest. We received some great submissions, but our favorite was from Daneille Kitchel, who wrote, “All right, folks! Stand back. Clear the area. This is a crime scene now. Secure the perimeter, dust for prints, check for fibers, scan for DNA! I want a urine sample from everyone and get me a latte. Don’t mix up the two.” Daneille has won an IndependentTraveler.com travel mug!

Runners-up that we also loved:

“Put all your hands up or I will shoot your roots!” — Rhonda Geiger

“I brought a gun to a needle fight.” — Raymond Dove on Facebook

“I had to shoot. The cactus was going to get me with both barrels.” — Jeffrey C

To see all of the submissions, click here.

This week’s photo was submitted by Nancy James, who said, “Here’s me, at one of the old missions on the California Mission Trail.” Do you have a funny or bizarre photo that we could use for a future caption contest? Send it to us at feedback@independenttraveler.com. (Please put “Caption Contest” in the subject line.) If we feature your photo on our blog, we’ll send you a prize.

– written by Sarah Schlichter