Visitors wild about the wild horses of the Outer Banks

Meg Puckett starts her day patrolling the 11-mile stretch of beach and the 7,500 acres of the northern-most reaches of Currituck County on the Outer Banks.As herd manager for the Corolla Wild Horse Fund, Puckett is on the front lines of protecting the approximately 100 Banker Colonial Spanish Mustangs that roam freely on the land, which is designated as a permanent sanctuary for horses defined as a cultural treasure by the state of North Carolina.As such, she serves as a sanctuary patrol officer and keeps tabs on the horses, looking for any signs of distress, illness or injury. She also handles the emergency needs of horses on the beach and works closely with equine medical personnel. She rounds up, trailers and transports horses through challenging beach terrain when necessary. She prepares and presents educational events for the public. She trains wild horses rotated out of the herd and readies them for adoption. She maintains the Corolla Wild Horse Fund’s trailers and vehicles. Oh, and she mucks out stalls.It’s a Herculean task – and she loves it.“I’ve worked in the nonprofit sector my entire career,” says Puckett, who stepped into the role in July 2016, after a stint at The Virginia Zoo in Norfolk, where she worked in education, volunteer management, and media/public relations. “I also grew up in the area, and the Corollas were the first exposure to horses I ever had. They’re the reason I developed a lifelong love for horses, and they’ve always meant a lot to me.”In late April, the wild horse tours – one of the most popular tours on the Outer Banks – resume, and Puckett is ready to meet and greet the crowds.“My favorite thing to do is to talk to people about the horses and their history here on the beach. I love connecting with young people who are horse-crazy – that was me 30 years ago, and I hope that I can positively influence other kids to get involved in local history and Continue Reading

OFF the Strip

I took a breath, buried my pride and slid the $20 bill across the counter, suggestively. "Are there any complimentary upgrades available?" I asked the woman working the check-in at the Luxor Hotel & Casino on the Las Vegas Strip. I was in town for four nights and on a mission to live it up in Las Vegas while keeping my bank account in check -- so I'd packaged my flight and hotel, chosen the cheapest room available and hoped for a little of that Sin City sleaze to make my stay a little more lavish. Simple bribery? Unabashed passing of the cash? I'd heard that worked. Sometimes, anyway. The woman checking me in eyed the offering but never stopped typing on her computer. "No," she retorted, without acknowledging the money now awkwardly languishing between us. Defeated, I reached for the bill and pulled it back, clumsily. Oh, well, there were plenty of other ways to save in Vegas, a wonderfully wacky alternate universe in which deals are pitched as eagerly as dice on a craps table -- as long as you know where to look. And one such offer was five seconds away. "I can upgrade you to a better room for an extra $10 a night," the clerk offered. "It's usually $20." "I'll take it," I told her. I was in. I had breached the unspoken threshold to Vegas' labyrinth of deal-making and money-saving. Over the course of four nights, I would push the limits of my penny-pinching strategy while still living the luxe life -- taking in a headliner show, bouncing around a festival, indulging at the day spa and savoring a bounty of crafted coffee drinks, mouthwatering meals and cosmopolitan cocktails. The mini upgrade, I'd soon discover, was just the beginning. The courses, artfully presented on tiny plates, kept coming. Slivers of milky white tuna, albacore, mackerel and yellowtail, pressed into nigiri sushi and topped with flakes of sea salt, a brush of ponzu sauce or a sprinkle of chives, arrived in a slow march. Other Japanese delicacies -- octopus, scallops with roe and sea urchin -- Continue Reading

The Latest: St Patrick’s Day Parade has sunny, inclusive day

NEW YORK (AP) — The Latest on New York City's St. Patrick's Day Parade (all times local):8:50 p.m.The luck of the Irish held throughout one of the world's longest parades as the 257th running of the St. Patrick's Day parade was carried out under sunny skies. Gov. Andrew Cuomo says it was his pleasure to march Saturday with Irish Prime Minister Leo Varadkar, Ireland's first openly gay leader.The Democratic governor noted it wasn't that long ago when parade organizers had gone to the courts in multiple years to try to block gay marchers from participating.But those fights in the 1990s have given away to more inclusion. This year, at least two groups in the parade had banners identifying marchers as gay, lesbian, bisexual or transgender.The parade lasted nearly six hours and featured more than100 marching bands and an estimated 150,000 marchers.———12:20 p.m.Some spectators and participants at the 257th St. Patrick's Day parade in New York City cite family histories as evidence of Ireland's deep American roots.Matthew McCrosson said at Saturday's parade that he's marched in it many times in 50 years. The 68-year-old says his parents were both Irish but he likes that the parade honors all nationalities.Spectator Judy Hughes says she's been going to the parade since she was a child. Her father once led the march in a battalion of the New York Army National Guard.Her husband, Bill Hughes, a retired police officer, marched for 10 years and now says he wishes he was off the sidelines. He says the parade is better when you're in it.The parade has been a city staple since the mid-1800s.———11:25 a.m.The 257th running of New York City's St. Patrick's Day parade has kicked off after Gov. Andrew Cuomo reminded the crowd that America is a nation of immigrants.The Democrat called Saturday a "day of inclusion" in remarks before over 100 marching bands and a slew of dignitaries and a sea of green made their way up Fifth Avenue in Continue Reading

Disney gives glimpse inside new Toy Story Land theme park

THESE stunning new pictures show Disney workers putting the final touches to Toy Story Land before its opening on June 30. The toy-filled attraction, based on the hugely popular movies, will launch at Hollywood Studios in Florida. Guests visiting the land will feel they have shrunk to the size of a toy in Andy's back garden. There will be oversized versions of fans' favourite characters, including Woody, Jessie, Buzz and Mr Potato Head. Two of the rides already plotted for Toy Story Land include the Slinky Dog Dash and Alien Swirling Saucers. On the Slinky Dog Dash,  a roller coaster Andy has assembled from his Mega Coaster Play Kit, guests will ride the Slinky Dog train, as Jessie looks on. The land’s other major attraction, Alien Swirling Saucers, has been designed as a toy play set that Andy won at Pizza Planet. Aliens fly around in their toy flying saucers and trying to capture guests’ rocket toy vehicles with “The Claw.” Guests can also walk through a new carnival game box to experience Toy Story Mania! The area, which has been an attraction since 2008 where visitors taking aim at 3D objects using everything from baseballs to cream pies,  has just got bigger. After families have worked up a hunger on the rides, they can grab a meal at the new food court area -Andy’s Lunch Box. Andy’s lunch box and thermos have been used to create a walk-up quick-service window that will serve up American food and old-fashioned soda floats. Florida isn’t getting all of the fun though – Pixar, which created Toy Story, is also launching new tricks over at Disneyland in California. In 2018, the California adventure park is launching Pixar Pier down at the area now known as Paradise Pier. Guests can discover new neighbourhoods featuring characters from “The Incredibles,” “Inside Out” and “Toy Story.” It will also get a Pixar Fest – a festival starting on April 13 Continue Reading

Southwest Airlines gets permit for Honolulu airport space

HONOLULU (AP) — Officials say Southwest Airlines has been granted a permit to operate at the Honolulu airport.The Honolulu Star-Advertiser reports the Dallas-based carrier was issued a revocable permit this month for space at the Daniel K. Inouye International Airport.Southwest says it still intends to sell tickets this year for flights between the mainland and Hawaii, but it's not ready to announce flight routes.Southwest had planned to begin offering Hawaii flights by the end of this year, but officials say the launch date could be pushed to early 2019 depending on approvals from the Federal Aviation Administration.The airline began the public application process to obtain the FAA certification late last year.———Information from: Honolulu Star-Advertiser, Continue Reading

A hurricane ruined my St. Thomas honeymoon, so why is American Airlines keeping my money?

Q: I had to cancel my honeymoon trip to Sugar Bay Resort and Spa in St. Thomas a few days before my departure in October because of Hurricane Irma.I had booked the package through Travelocity. It included round-trip airfare and hotel. But the resort was so damaged that it will remain closed for most of 2018. I received my full refund for the hotel, but American Airlines charged a $200 fee for changing my ticket.The tickets are supposed to be refundable. I’ve been trying to get a refund on the cancellation fee, but Travelocity says there’s nothing it can do, and American refuses to resolve this. Can you help me get my money back? — Evan Hasara, MilwaukeeA: Congratulations on getting hitched. I’m sorry about the timing. Last year’s hyperactive hurricane season ruined so many vacations, including yours, unfortunately. Travelocity should have helped you secure a full refund for your honeymoon. And if it couldn’t, then American Airlines should have stepped up and done the right thing. I mean, come on — it’s your honeymoon!But let’s talk about that for a second. You booked your special vacation through an online travel agency. That’s fine if you’re taking a quick getaway, but doesn’t your honeymoon deserve the white-glove treatment that only a personal travel adviser can deliver? You can find a list of qualified agents on the American Society of Travel Agents site.Still, Travelocity should have taken care of you. “For every step of the journey,” the site promises, “we’re here.” Specifically, Travelocity assures you that in the event of a weather threat or mass disruption: “We’ll work with our travel partners to make any necessary itinerary changes at the most reasonable cost to you.” And a $200 cancellation fee is definitely not reasonable.I reviewed your paperwork, and it appears you were flying on a special ticket that could be changed, if necessary. Continue Reading

The most overlooked city in Britain (with more pubs per capita than any other)

To be truly oblivious to the attractions of a beautiful and historic cathedral city, all you have to do is grow up there. I spent my childhood on the outskirts of St Albans, and it’s therefore news to me that the city is anything other than a dull commuter dormitory born of boredom and necessity.  I yearned for the cathedral to tumble down so I’d get out of school carol services, for the market stalls to be swapped for a McDonald’s, for the Roman remains in the park to be removed so that I could play football on a pitch free of artificial hillocks. Somehow overlooked for the post of town planning officer, I left for university and then work. Only now do I learn that St Albans claims to have more pubs per square mile than anywhere else in the UK.  This had been lost on me when I lived there, because by the time I was old enough to buy a pint I was spending my downtime as far away as possible. But imagine how much ale I could have supped if I’d stayed! There are approximately 50 pubs here (come and count them if you think your liver’s hard enough), which is enough for the local Rotary Club to make the bold claim cited above. Said claim is contested, but what’s undeniable is that St Albans is part of that elite bracket of British settlements in which a full pub crawl is essentially a suicide pact. With my stomach lined and my address scrawled on my arm, I returned. The cathedral was built to dominate the landscape around it, and remains comfortably the most obvious landmark. I had a look around and within minutes had learned more about its history than I had in years of being coerced into chain-gang school trips. Its near-1000-year history encompasses the Medieval Warm Period, during which the monks – this was originally an abbey, and is called as such even by locals as absent and ignorant as me – tended a vineyard in the gardens.  This would have pleased the Romans, who made this the second-biggest town in Continue Reading

French Lick is a weather-proof Indiana getaway

FRENCH LICK, Ind. • Perhaps more people should take mini-vacations in winter.It’s the worst time of year, with depressing gray skies, cold and little in the way of holiday fun. If you disagree, you’re in the minority: a Gallup poll says only 11 percent of Americans cite winter as their favorite season.But unless you have the money and time for exotic destinations, there aren’t a lot of choices for Midwestern escape. Lack of options and numb brains must be behind those winter high jinks that involve shedding clothing: polar swims, underwear runs, topless parades.That’s how I ended up driving to French Lick, Ind., on a cold, slightly snow day. I figured a visit to a historic spa resort sounded so much better than another weekend home. And if I were going to torment anyone by taking off garments, only a well-tipped masseuse would know.Admittedly, French Lick sounds like it could involve one of the aforementioned high jinks. The unique name is actually attributed to early French fur traders and nearby mineral springs and salt licks. Another interesting fact I learned at the town’s museum was that herds of buffalo used to migrate through the area, no doubt partaking of salt licks and springs. Indiana even has a Buffalo Trace Park that marks the trail, later used by settlers and their wagons.But this learnin’ came later, of course, after I drove Interstate 64 for most of the 235-mile trip. Mapquest promised it would take three hours and 40 minutes and cost less than $20 in gas (thanks Prius!).At French Lick Springs Hotel, a couple of friendly valets parked my car and swiftly took my bag to the lobby, a gilded showplace that immediately soothed any stress. And during my stay, I realized that French Lick was not just a place to get away during winter, but likely an even more attractive destination for spring, summer and fall.Beautiful spa resortsAnyone who’s heard of French Lick probably knows of its historic showplace hotels. Continue Reading

Destinations Photo Contest Spotlight: See some of your best photos of sacred sites

Our Destinations Travel Photo Contest hosted some wonderful photos taken by travelers such as YOU! From wildlife to waterfalls, sunsets to mountains, peaceful farms to bustling big cities, we saw it all!Take a look at just a small sampling of some of the great pictures of sacred sites we've gotten that are among our editors' many favorites. (Captions are written by the photographers.)To see all of the entries, and the winners, click here! Sacred Destination Church Bells Onward Christian Soldiers Church of the Nativity Bethlehem, Israel Upon Your Faith Old metal gate at old stone church, Ireland St. Mary's first mission Inukshuk Church ruins Notre-Dame Basilica -- Montreal, Canada Church in the middle of the bay Church of St. Trinity Unitarian Church - Nantucket Church of Our Savior on the Spilled Blood Rock and Rest Church of San Pietro Sunday near Salzburg Church in Madrid, New Mexico Picturesque Oia, Santorini Irey Church in Iceland Tumacacorri NHP Arizona A colorful church High Church on Earth Continue Reading

Inside Christie’s world: Postcard from the Orient Express

ABOARD THE ORIENT EXPRESS • Luxury travel meets murder.During his first voyage aboard the Orient Express, Agatha Christie’s great-grandson reminisced on what first enamored the Queen of Crime with the fabled locomotive that has recently been restored by the French state.The storied train and its voyages to the exotic east not only inspired one of Christie’s most famous mysteries, “Murder on the Orient Express,” but defined her.“The Orient Express changed her life,” James Prichard told the Associated Press.Christie first traveled on the train in 1928 during the most painful moment in her life, after Prichard’s great-grandfather, Archie Christie, walked out on her.“She wanted a holiday and someone suggested she went on an archaeological dig in Syria,” Prichard said. For a woman traveling solo in that era, the trip was “extraordinarily brave and adventurous,” he added. She met an archaeologist on the trip, Max Mallowan, who became her second husband, and they traveled via the Orient Express for years to digs in the Middle East. “That was their commute, that’s how they got there,” Prichard said.Prichard spoke about the family matriarch while traveling from Paris to France’s Champagne region on a train chartered by 20th Century Fox to mark the home entertainment release this month of director Kenneth Branagh’s movie “Murder on the Orient Express” — featuring Judi Dench, Penelope Cruz and Johnny Depp.Looking around a restored 1920s passenger car called “Etoile du Nord” that his great grandmother likely rode, Prichard said he could see the unique “beauty of the train.”The art-style car with birch burl panels and exotic woodwork by famed French decorator Rene Prou was among the carriages refurbished last year by France’s national rail network, the SNCF.It restored the splendor of the locomotive that captured the imaginations Continue Reading