USS Iowa Now Open at the Port of Los Angeles

USS Iowa leaving San Francisco for LA

Dubbed the “World’s Greatest Naval Ship” when it was commissioned in 1940, the former battleship the USS Iowa has now been converted to a state-of-the-art naval museum and found a permanent home at Berth 87 in San Pedro, CA at the Port of Los Angeles. The ship/museum officially opened to the public on July 7, 2012 to a week of fanfare. Now and in the future, it will open daily from 9am to 5pm each day of the year except Christmas and Thanksgiving. There are also plans to light up the ship each evening so that is stands as a beacon for the Port of Los Angeles.

The History of the USS Iowa

The USS Iowa was built in 1940. At the time, it was called the “World’s Greatest Naval Ship” in part because of its large guns, fast speeds, heavy armor, modernization, and longevity. It served the United States Navy as a warship for the next 50 years, continuing to keep pace with newer ships for all of that time. This included serving tours in World War II and Korea, as well as conducting Cold War missions. The ship was officially and finally decommissioned on 26 October 1990.

Over its illustrious history, the Iowa served ten different presidents including transporting President Franklyn Delano Roosevelt on an overseas journey to a secret meeting with Winston Churchill, Joseph Stalin and Chiang Kai-shek at the Tehran Conference. In fact, a special bathtub, unheard of on a naval ship, was built for President Roosevelt for his journey across the Atlantic. In addition, Ronald Regan and his wife Nancy spent the weekend on the ship in 1986. Its relationship to these presidents and particularly its role in transporting FDR as earned the Iowa the additional nickname, “The Battleship of Presidents.”

Visiting the Museum

Tourists to the Los Angeles area this summer will be among the first to view the new battleship/museum which displays all the specifics of a Navy warship along with offering a series of virtual battle experiences. In addition, the Iowa will also sponsor a youth program which will include camps, overnight opportunities, and specialized programs for at-risk youth.

Entrance into the museum at the USS Iowa is reasonably priced at $18 for adults aged 18-61, $10 for youth ages 6-17, and $15 for seniors aged 62+ and active duty or retired military members with valid ID. Children under age 6 are admitted free of charge. Memberships are also available for purchase which will entitle holders to additional benefits such as guest passes, newsletters, and gift shop discounts.

Visiting the Los Angeles Area

One of the greatest benefits to visiting the Los Angeles area any time of the year is its weather. Travelling to L.A. in December is as pleasant as travelling in July. When there, numerous Los Angeles and San Diego area tourist passes can help travelers save money while visiting all of southern California’s best attractions. Though the Iowa is not currently on any tourist passes (it is too new) a trip to San Pedro can be combined with several other popular L.A. tourist opportunities.

Two Great New Ways to Enjoy L.A. this Spring/Summer

A trip to Los Angeles can be a memorable occasion for almost any individual or family. The home of some of the world’s most famous television and movie stars, not to mention Disneyland boasts more attractions, events, and sights than most other U.S. cities combined. The ever-evolving City of Angels also likes to keep visitors and residents on their toes by offering new attractions and events on a fairly regular basis. Today, we want to highlight just two of these amazing new offerings that are worth a trip to L.A. whether for the first time or the fortieth!

Cirque du Soleil Presents: IRIS

Anyone who watched the 2012 Academy Awards was treated to a preview of the world-renown Cirque do Soleil’s newest U.S.-based show IRIS: A Journey through the World of Cinema, which has made L.A.’s Dolby Theatre its new permanent home since its debut in September of 2011. Back in 1987, the Canadian-founded performance group made its first U.S. appearance in Los Angeles at the annual Los Angeles Arts festival. Still struggling financially and yet to gain the massive appeal that the company currently enjoys, the choice to perform their Le Cirque Réinventé with only enough money for a one-way trip from Montreal was a turning point in the company’s history.

Last year, Cirque do Soleil introduced its new show at Dolby as homage to its first experiences in the States and will continue to run shows there daily for the foreseeable future. IRIS was developed exclusively for performances at the Dolby Theatre and its subject matter, which focuses on the marvels of film, seeks to celebrate its host city in that tradition.

The show is directed by Philippe Decouflé and features music from Academy Award-nominated composer Danny Elfman. It tells the story of two young people who experience the art of cinema for the first time. It features a troupe of 72 dancers who tell their story through music and expressive and acrobatic movement along with Cirque du Soleil’s iconic special effects.

The show is performed each evening Tuesday-Friday with a matinee as well as evening performance on Saturday and Sunday. It is closed on Mondays. Ticket prices range from $43-$253 on the Cirque do Soleil website, but are worth the indulgence as this show is one-of-a-kind and will not be performed in any other location.

Ancient Egypt Meets L.A. at the California Science Center

Those planning on travel to the Los Angeles area in the latter half of 2012 are in for a special treat if they plan on visiting the California Science Center. The largest hands-on science center on the West Coast also includes the largest IMAX screen in L.A. Open daily from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m., admission to the California Science Center’s main exhibition gallery is always free. However, beginning May 23rd and lasting through the end of the year, the center will play host to the 13,000 square foot Cleopatra Exhibition, which features the largest collection of artifacts from the historic time period of Cleopatra ever assembled.

Admission to the Cleopatra Exhibition will cost an additional amount. Adults ages 18-59 will pay $19.75, children 4-12 are only $12.75 however and Youth (13-17), Students (with ID) and Seniors (60+) are $16.75.

For fans of ancient Egypt and the Queen who ruled it from the tender age of 17, the collection of over 150 artifacts exhumed from the sands of that region is truly mesmerizing. The entire expanse of the exhibit is decorated to mirror that era, giving visitors the full experience of ancient Egyptian times.

The Science Center sells tickets to the Cleopatra Exhibit at the box office as well as online and over the phone for an additional fee. It is important to note that, due to the interest in this limited-engagement event, tickets are time stamped and curators recommend that you plan on spending at least 75 minutes touring the artifacts.

Enjoying the New Finds in L.A.

Though the permanent fixtures of Southern California afford visitors to the area plenty of activities to keep busy, the new additions to the rolls are worth a look as well. Travelling to L.A. is such a treat for people unused to having so many options available at their fingertips, taking time to plan out which attractions and events to visit is well worth it. Including additions like Cirque do Soleil and the Cleopatra Exhibit can be a little more expensive than other options. However, combining these events with a tourist pass such as the Go Los Angeles Card or Hollywood CityPass can save travelers a lot of money over the course of their trip.

Take Time this Winter to Celebrate One More Disney Day

No one plans a vacation to Los Angeles without visiting Disneyland. The brainchild of Walt Disney himself, it opened its doors on July 18, 1955. The day before (July 17th) Walt dedicated the park with these words:

To all who come to this happy place: Welcome. Disneyland is your land. Here age relives fond memories of the past, and here youth may savor the challenge and promise of the future. Disneyland is dedicated to the ideals, the dreams, and the hard facts that have created America, with the hope that it will be a source of joy and inspiration to all the world.

Today, Disneyland is often seen as the smaller sister to the much larger and well-known Disney World Theme parks in Orlando, FL. However, children young and old still travel in droves to this place each year – almost 16 million visited in 2010 making it the second most visited theme park in the world that year and reigniting the children in all those who entered.

2012 is a special year for Disney, it marks the 57th year since the park’s opening and, more importantly, is a leap year. In true Disney fashion, both the Los Angeles and Orlando parks will be celebrating “One More Disney Day” on February 29, 2012, and invite guests big and small to do the same.

24 Hours of Disney Fun

Since there are 366 days in a leap year, rather than 365, the folks at Disney have decided to take the opportunity to give their guests and friends more than one “ordinary” extra day to celebrate the magic of Disney, thus launched the “One More Disney Day” campaign.

The cornerstone of “One More Disney Day” will be the park hours on Wednesday, February 29th. Both Disneyland Park and the Magic Kingdom will open their doors at 6 am (rather than 10) and remain operating for a full 24-hours. The plan is to allow all guests the full benefit of “One More Disney Day” this year. On their website, Disney has asked celebrities to explain what they would do with their extra Disney day and challenges guests to do the same.

With Disney, There’s Always a Little Bit More…

The simple benefit to those travelling in the Los Angeles area at the end of February aside, Disney has taken the “One More Disney Day” initiative one step further by offering special promotional packages for guests at the Disney Resort as well as a host of give-a-ways from now through March.

If you already plan on travelling to Disney this winter, the “One More Disney Day” promotion will help you stay a little bit longer. Those booking 3 or more nights in Disneyland Resort and staying between February 26 and March 10, 2012 will be treated to a free night.

If your plans this February do not include Disney, you’re still in luck though. In an effort to continue to promote the “One More Disney Day” campaign, Disneyland and Disneyworld are giving away 60 vacation packages the months of January and February – one each day through to leap day. Each package is for a four people and includes a 5 day/ 4 night stay at the Disneyland Resort in California or its sister in Florida. You can enter once a day.

Los Angeles in Wintertime

Travelling to Los Angeles or Southern California in general during the cold months is certainly a treat. Whether you are a parent or merely a kid at heart, a stop at the original Disneyland Theme Park will make the difference between a good vacation and a great one.

Be a Star When You Visit Los Angeles

Is there anything more famous in the entertainment world than the Hollywood sign? Sitting atop Mount Lee in the Santa Monica Mountains, the iconic nine letters that spell success (and failure) for so many are a must-see during any trip to the Los Angeles area. Though going anywhere near the sign is forbidden (it’s guarded by gates and security cameras) embodying the message of entertainment success implicit in it as a landmark is easier than you might think. Though you may not be the next Marilyn Monroe or Clark Gable, you can be on television or even in a movie when you visit the Los Angeles area, and here’s how:

Life's a Stage Part 1

  1. Be an Unpaid Extra.
    Though it’s not a great choice if you’re looking for a “big break,” if you’ve always wondered where they get all those people needed for large group shots in the movies, you needn’t look far. There are actually websites that handle these voluntary casting calls, the most famous of which is BeInAMovie.com. By signing up before you head out, you can get the chance to be filmed in a real Hollywood movie. You won’t get paid, but it will make for a great story and you may meet some of those who do.
  2. Watch a Live Taping.
    Several of your favorite talk shows, game shows and sitcoms are filmed nearby to Los Angeles in Burbank, CA. Among them are The Ellen DeGeneres ShowDr. Phil and The Tonight Show. As well as popular game shows like Wheel of Fortune and Jeopardy and many sitcoms.If you’ve never had the opportunity to see a live taping it is a worthwhile experience. Generally, there are refreshments provided, there’s always the chance of huge giveaways at the talk shows and you are generally given the chance to ask questions of the hosts and/or actors both on and off tape. The best part is that tickets are free and standby tickets can often be obtained the day of taping. However, if you have a favorite show, then request tickets in advance through each show’s website.
  3. Go on a Studio Tour.
    For those simply content to view the glamour of Hollywood vicariously, visiting the individual studios can provide that experience. The big four of Paramount, Sony, Universal, and Warner Bros. all call LA home. The Los Angeles Go Card includes all four studio tours in its price as well as tour options that include a trip to look at Hollywood stars’ homes.

A Trip to Remember

Los Angeles and Hollywood specifically represent some of the greatest allure to us all. Is there any little girl out there who hasn’t rehearsed her Academy Award acceptance speech in front of the mirror? Who among us hasn’t yearned for the glory of celebrity at least once? Though these options won’t get you a house in Hollywood Hills, they will certainly make for a memorable trip and an amazing tale once you get home.

Amtrak’s Pacific Surfliner: A Unique Way to See Southern California

When most people first travel to the Golden Coast, the sheer volume of sights, tours, and famous people can overwhelm them. California, and specifically Southern California, offers tourists a rich array of opportunity beyond most other vacation destinations. With amazing weather year-round, a rich blend of historical charm and modern, Hollywood inspired indulgence, both San Diego and Los Angeles are prime vacation destinations. However, one mistake that too many tourists make when travelling to So-Cal, is to neglect the unique beauty that first brought settlers here both from Mexico and the original colonies of the United States – amazing beaches and fantastic scenery.

The railway along the coast of California

The Pacific Coast

East coasters especially fail to grasp the beauty of the Pacific Ocean. Though more than a little colder temperature-wise, the crystal blue waters of the Pacific combined with its amazing, surf-worthy waves make it magical even to look over. Many, more local tourists take advantage of this beauty through a day drive up the Pacific Coast Highway. However, if you are from far away, on a budget or simply not brave enough to chance the worst commuter traffic in America, there is still an option for you to see the Pacific Coast in an entirely different light.

Amtrak’s Pacific Surfliner

The 350 miles of rail track between San Diego and San Luis Obispo, CA represent Amtrak’s Pacific Surfliner Route. The double-decker trains run 12 daily round trip routes throughout the day and evening hours. They stop at several notable locations in between these destinations, with major stops in Los Angeles and Santa Barbara. The Pacific Surfliner can be an amazing alternative to the 405 freeway and provides travellers with a unique California experience that highlights all the diversity that the land has to offer.

Notable Stops and Scenery

The Pacific Surfliner provides tourists the opportunity to see the California coast in unique and exciting ways. Passengers can board directly from a beach-side station in San Clemente, north of San Diego, or opt for a more urban option at Los Angeles’ Union Station.

Perhaps the most memorable stretch of the Surfliner route is between north Los Angeles and San Luis Obispo. Through here, the train hugs to coast line from the city of Oxnard until it hits Vandenberg Air Force Base. It passes by famous sights such as Pismo Beach, Gaviota State Beach, and Santa Maria, weaving through the valleys of this amazing state, rich with grape vines and farmlands that provide fresh food and wine all over the United States and the world.

Mass Transit Done Right

For those interested in tourist passes for either San Diego or Los Angeles, the option of riding the Surfliner allows easy, stress-free mobility between these two major cities and the ability to capitalize on the cross-city offering on both the Go Los Angeles and San Diego Go Card. Without having to lay out money for a rental car, you can easily travel between places and stay as long as you like.

However, one of the most amazing aspects of the Pacific Surfliner route comes just from the experience of riding it. At $58, the coach class round-trip from San Diego to San Luis Obispo is the most expensive fare you will find, which only enhances the ephemeral experience of modern rail travel. The Pacific Surfliner offers beautiful interiors, comfortable seating, and a hearty and delicious dining car reminiscent of another time. Parents and children, couples and friends can benefit from the freedom that rail travel offers. Instead of navigating traffic, you are free to talk, play cards, and enjoy the beauty of the California coast together.

10 Cities to Consider for Your Next Vacation

When it comes to choosing a destination for your next vacation, many different factors come into play.  Climate, activities and cost are all aspects to consider when deciding where to travel to next, and with choices ranging from Oahu to Chicago to London, there are many cities worthy of a trip!  We’ve compiled this list of 10 places to consider visiting on your next trip to make your decision making process a little easier.

1. New York, New York. NYC is a city full of good food and fun, with more activities to do than you can imagine.  There are plenty of sights to see no matter what age you are!  From amazing zoos (Bronx, Queens and Central Park) to a tour of the Empire State Building to visiting the NBC Studio, there is truly something for everyone.  If music is your passion, there is much history to be enjoyed in New York City, so considering checking out Radio City Music Hall and Madison Square Garden. And of course, don’t miss all the amazing museums New York has to offer, including the Museum of Modern Art, Brooklyn Children’s Museum and the Intrepid Sea, Air & Space Museum.

The weather can vary – in the summer, temperatures and humidity levels are high, while the winter months will offer blustery days.  Fall days will provide a crisp feeling in the air, and picturesque streets with multicolored leaves covering the city.  Spring showers may bring flowers, but the fickle weather in spring has proven to be unpredictable. And though the city is beautiful in every season – you will want to visit when you are most comfortable walking city streets to see the sights.  Overall, NYC has amazing activities that are fun for the whole family – no matter when you decide to visit!

beach party Luau on Big Island Hawaii after sunset

2. Oahu, Hawaii. Hawaii is a beautiful state, and the island of Oahu has a lot to offer a tourist.  Since there is so much to do, it is recommended to invest in a Go Oahu card to enjoy activities and attractions at a discounted rate.  You can easily see all the sights of the island by taking a tour, including the Pearl Harbor and Honolulu City Tour or the full-day Grand Circle Island Tour.  And while in Oahu, you won’t want to miss the sea life native to the area, so be sure to check out Sea Life Park.  To see the sea life up close, consider kayaking, surfing or snorkeling!

Weather on Oahu is very stable – with most months averaging temperatures between 70 and 80 degrees, though the rainiest season is winter.  Even if it rains on your Hawaii parade – you will surely enjoy your trip full of gorgeous scenery, fascinating plant and animal life.

3. Los Angeles. Los Angeles, LA, The City of Angeles, LALA Land… whatever you call it, the city is a great place for a vacation trip!  If roller coasters, funnel cake and people watching are among your favorite pastimes – Disneyland, Six Flags Magic Mountain and Knott’s Berry Farm are all within a reasonable distance from the city.  If movies are of interest to you, LA is the perfect place for you!  Don’t miss Universal Studios, Warner Brothers Studio Tour and Sony Pictures Studio Tour for a behind the scenes look.

The weather in Los Angeles varies a bit – with the best months to visit reported as April through June and September through October. In the summer you can expect sunshine and high temps, while the fall is cool, winter chilly and spring full of showers.

4. London. If your budget allows for a trip overseas, consider visiting the city of London.  There is so much to see, including the Tower of London, St. Paul’s Cathedral, Windsor Castle, Thames River cruise and much more. The London Zoo and the London Aquarium are great activity options for children and adults alike.

With rainfall being common – the highest temperatures are naturally in the summer, but winter temps rarely plunge below freezing.  London is a city with much to offer from beautifully designed buildings to precious views – it is worth the trek!

Tower Bridge - London

5. Boston. Though the weather can be fickle in New England, Boston is an amazing city to visit any time of year. With winter bringing snow, sleet, and all kinds of precipitation – you must be prepared to visit in wintertime – though the snow on the trees and buildings is very picturesque.  Spring showers are frequent, summer months are full of sunshine and warm weather, with autumn breezes blowing colorful leaves around your feet.

With some much history surrounding it, the city of Boston offers a great deal of activities.  Between the Freedom Trail, the Trinity Church, museums, memorials, breweries and of course, Fenway Park, you will be busy every day of your trip!

6. Chicago. Known as the “Windy City,” be prepared for the weather in Chicago!  While winters are cold, summers can be humid.  Spring and fall can also be chilly but offers great scenery for sightseeing!

With the Adler Planetarium, Shedd Aquarium, Field Museum and architectural tours at your disposal, you definitely won’t be bored during your stay.  And if you are, be sure you add SkyDeck Chicago, Hancock Observatory and the Navy Pier to your list of must-sees!

7. San Francisco. If you love beautiful sights, amazing seafood and unique culture, then the city of San Francisco is for you!  You’ll enjoy the view of the Golden Gate Bridge, Twin Peaks and the entire city – especially if you ride the cable cars.  If you’re a foodie – you’ll be in heaven, as the San Fran streets are full of restaurants and cafes.

San Francisco temperatures are on the cool side all year round, with summer temps averaging between 60 and 70 degrees – though winter weather does not bring temps much lower than 45 degrees.

8. Las Vegas. If you and your travel buddies are over 21, Las Vegas is a city you have to visit at least once!  Vegas is full of bars and clubs – if that is your kind of vacation, but there are also a great deal of entertainment options.  With shows ranging from The Lion King to Cirque du Soleil to David Copperfield, there is surely an event that will suit your interests.  And don’t miss the roller coasters on the strip – including theStratosphere Tower and The Roller Coaster at New York-New York!

With more than 300 days of sun a year, chances are you will be able to enjoy at least one sunny day on your trip! And since the weather is usually warmer and drier than other parts of the country, don’t forget your sun screen!

9. San Diego. Beaches, museums, parks, and more – San Diego has it all!  With so much to do, San Diego is a great city to visit with family and/or friends!  The beautiful weather – withtemperatures barely reaching below 50 degrees – allows for outdoor activities all year round.

When making your San Diego itinerary, don’t forget to plan for the San Diego Zoo, the USS Midway Museum, Torrey Pines State Reserve and SeaWorld San Diego!  With so much to do, your San Diego trip will be full, but if you have time, try to plan for the amazing beaches in San Diego as well!

10. Seattle. Though Seattle is known for its sometimes dismal weather, contrary to popular belief – it does not rain all the time!  While it does rain often, summertime (specifically the last half of July and the first half of August) is the driest time of the year in Seattle and winter is the wettest season.

And if it is raining – have no fear. There are plenty of indoor activities in Seattle that will make your vacation worthwhile, like the Museum of Flight, the Seattle Public Library and the Original Starbucks – a must visit for coffee lovers!  If you are visiting and the skies are clear, don’t miss Pike Place Market, Kerry Park and the Space Needle!

With 10 great recommendations of cities to consider for your next vacation – start planning today!  Whether you decide to visit Boston, explore Hawaii with the Go Oahu card or drink coffee in Seattle, we’re sure you’ll have a great time.

Celebrate Gay Pride Month with Events Across the Country

40th Anniversary of Pride Celebrations in Many Cities

June is Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, and Transgendered Pride Month, and cities around the country are celebrating. Here’s a round-up of events in some top U.S. destinations, according to Smart Destinations. Revelers can use the company’s Go Cards and Explorer Passes for unlimited admission to many attractions around each destination and make the most of all these cities have to offer. Visit smartdestinations.com for more information as you plan your pride experience.

Boston, MA – June 4-13, 2010
Boston’s 10-day Pride celebration is New England’s largest, and this year marks its 40th anniversary. With the theme “Riots to Rights – Celebrating 40 Years of Progress,” the annual Pride Parade is a cornerstone of the events. Visitors taking advantage of the Go Boston Card can choose the Bay State Cruise to Provincetown, a world-class gay and lesbian vacation resort destination at the far end of Cape Doc. For three consecutive years, PlanetOut Travel has named Provincetown, “Best Domestic Gay Resort Town.”

Boston Harbor and Financial District in Boston, Massachusetts at Sunset

Chicago, IL – All month
“One Heart, One World, One Pride” is Chicago’s Pride celebration theme in 2010. Events are scheduled all month long, commencing with the annual parade on the last Sunday in May. With the Go Chicago Card, you can experience the Frank Lloyd Wright Architectural tour, take an afternoon sail on Tall Ship Windy, and visit the Shed Aquarium.  Hit up some of the Chicago’s best gay and lesbian bars in Andersonville and Boystown by renting bikes from Bike and Roll.

New York, NY – June 19-27, 2010
Constance McMillen, the Mississippi teenager who was denied the right to attend her senior prom with her girlfriend, is this year’s marshal of “The March,” New York’s massive pride parade. Rallies, more parades, and special concerts round out the 9-day celebration. Keep your budget in check while in New York with the New York Explorer Pass, which offers users up to 50% off admission to 45 sights around the city.

Los Angeles, CA – June 11-13, 2010
GLBT pride is always on display in LA’s Christopher Street West neighborhood, named after the New York City street that was home to the pivotal Stonewall Rebellion. Christopher Street West hosts the city’s 40th Pride celebration, “PRIDE 365: Power. Passion. Purpose.” Visitors can make the most of their visit to LA with Smart Destination’s Go Los Angeles Card, which includes admission to Pacific Park, Paramount Studios, the Queen Mary, and Kodak Theatre.

San Francisco, CA – June 26-27, 2010
Home to one of the most popular and well-attended Pride events in the world, San Francisco celebrates this year with “Forty and Fabulous.” Parties are sure to last all weekend long, but the Go San Francisco Card offers admission to many sights around the city to round your Pride weekend. Or unwind afterward with a trip to Napa and Sonoma Valleys, where the Wine Country Explorer Pass will give you admission to 17 wineries.