The Travel Professor
Join me on a journey across the broad spectrum of interesting travel topics. We’ll discuss destinations domestic and abroad, some familiar and some off the beaten path. We take a look at suppliers like cruise lines, air carriers and tour operators and find their bargains and special offerings. Got questions? Email

Monday, December 31, 2007

Public transportation in Las Vegas

Downtown, uptown and all around is where the CATS transit system will take you in the greater Las Vegas area.

Whether you are traveling from the Fremont Experience in downtown Vegas to the Strip’s Mandalay Bay Resort and Conference Center then over to Ethel M’s Chocolates there’s a modern clean convenient coach available to transport you there.

A “five” spot ($5.00) will get you an all day pass on the buses of Vegas’s CAT or “Citizens Area Transit” network. All of the routes are numbered and once you figure it out it’s a breeze to transfer from coach to coach. Many of the stops are right at your destination or only a short walk away.

I took the CATS to the outlet shopping malls, Ethel Ms and many other interesting Las Vegas venues. The drivers and the local riders were very helpful in helping me navigate my way around town.

Public transportation here in Las Vegas like in so many other cities and urban areas is the green, cost effective way to go.

Saturday, December 29, 2007

Getting out & about in Las Vegas

Las Vegas is a great place to use as your home base and do some hub & spoke touring. This concept is simple- you depart then return to the same location daily. A major benefit of hub & spoke touring is that you unpack once but still venture out from your hub to enjoy the region. Many cities like Boston MA or Richmond/Williamsburg VA make wonderful hubs. Get a map out and let your creative juices flow.

Once you’ve pulled yourself away from the table games and the traffic of the Strip you’ll find the roads well developed and marked. Navigation with a good map is fairly easy.

I enjoy the driving tours that weave you through scenic desert and mountainous landscapes. There is a nice 13 mile drive through Red Rock Canyon that offers plenty of great views, vistas and overlooks. Located just 15 miles west of town Red Rock Canyon is great place to pull off the road and scan nature wonders. Better yet pack a picnic lunch and enjoy!

Many of these scenic opportunities are within a 1/2 to 1 hour drive from the Strip but plan on a full day to drive down to the Colorado River or Utah’s
Zion National Park.

Located about 160 mile north of from Vegas Zion National Park offers colorful sandstone canyons, hot rocky deserts and cool forested plateaus. Zion Canyon is the largest and most visited canyon in the park. Here, the Virgin River has carved a spectacular forge into the red and white sandstone. The 2,000 to 3,000-foot canyon walls loom high above the river and the tree and grass-covered canyon floor.
So you say you are not the driving trip type then there are plenty of preformed tours that will take you out into the countryside.

For the more adventurous traveler there are plenty of hiking and biking trails to be explored once you reach your destination.

Plenty of great ideas and side trips can be obtained from your local travel agent or on-line at the official Las Vegas Visitors Center web site at

Wednesday, December 26, 2007

Las Vegas strip transportation options

Recently I stayed at a hotel located near the intersection of Las Vegas Boulevard (the Strip) and Tropicana Avenue. This is pretty much the end of the southern strip and it’s a decent hike down towards the center and northern strip hotels, casinos and shops.

Transportation options were hoofing it, hailing a taxi, renting a car and sitting in traffic or riding the ultra modern Las Vegas Strip monorail. I selected the monorail option and here are some reasons why:

· It's a quick and easy way to avoid traffic congestion. Reaching speeds up to 50 mph, the Las Vegas Monorail is a hassle-free way to travel from one end of the famed Las Vegas Strip to the other - with seven stops in total - in 15 minutes or less.

· It's cost-effective and hassle-free. Cheaper than taking a cab, easier than renting a car, and faster than any ground-transportation option - smart travelers can glide above the Strip in style on the Las Vegas Monorail. A day pass only costs $9.00 and this allows for unlimited rides.

· It's eco-friendly. Environmentally-conscious visitors who ride the Monorail aid in the annual removal of an estimated 4.4 million automobile trips from southern Nevada's major roadways, potentially reducing carbon monoxide emissions by 135 tons over the course of a year.

For more information on this mode of transportation visit the Las Vegas Monorail website at or call (702) 699-8200. There is a wonderful on-line interactive map plus loads of other helpful information located here.

Photo courtesy of Las Vegas News Bureau/LVCVA

Monday, December 24, 2007

Happy Holidays from around the globe

节日快乐 !

Bonnes fêtes !

Frohe Feiertage!

¡Felices fiestas!

日本語): !

Счастливые Праздники!

Here’s wishing you all Happy Holidays in Chinese, French, German, Spanish, Japenses and Russian.

And I’m asking in advance for forgiveness if my translations are wrong.

Vegas chocolates & desert plants

Chocolate might not be the first thing that comes to mind when you think about the desert, and it certainly isn't the first word most people associate with Las Vegas.

Let’s depart the downtown and head out to Henderson, one of Vegas’s suburbs. Depending on traffic it’s only about a 20 mile trip from downtown Vegas or a short 15 minute drive from Las Vegas Boulevard (aka The Strip) to visit
Ethel M’s Chocolates and Cactus Garden. You can get here via the CATS public bus transportation system but be sure to check your route and transfer points out in advance. I’ll talk more about public transportation later.

Ethel M was founded by Forrest Mars, Sr., the patriarch of the Mars candy company (of Snickers and Milky Way fame). Mr. Mars retired from the family empire in 1976, but, not being the kind of person to put his feet up on the front porch, he decided to build a new factory where he could make fine chocolates the way he remembered his mother making them when he was a child. His mother's name was Ethel, and many of her recipes and methods are still used to create the confections named in her honor.

The Ethel M Chocolate Factory and
Botanical Cactus Garden are open daily from 8:30 am to 7:00 pm, admission is free and tours are self-guided. If you’re lucky the production line will be operating and you’ll see how fine chocolates are crafted.

The Botanical Cactus Garden is co-located with Ethel M is only 15 minutes from the "Strip", on the way to Hoover Dam. In its 2.5 acres, you'll discover an arid landscape rich with over 350 species of cactus, succulents and desert plants from the Southwest and other deserts of the world. For more information on these sights please call them toll free 888.627.0990.

Photo courtesy of Ethel M chocolates

Friday, December 21, 2007

More things to see in downtown Las Vegas

Another must see in downtown Vegas is the Neon Sign Museum. Las Vegas is the grand daddy of neon and many interesting pieces have graced the city over the decades. This unique open air museum is located at the entrance of the Fremont Street experience. The City of Las Vegas purchased many of the retired signs of the past and installed them here for visitors to enjoy. The Museum also offers a tour of its “bone yard” a 3 acre lot full of famous old neon signs.

Also scattered around Fremont Street and the downtown region as murals that reflect the past and present of Las Vegas. A project of the Las Vegas centennial there are now over 180 murals in the city that depict anything from familiar Vegas icons to historical events.

Located just north of the downtown is the “Cultural Corridor featuring seven institutions: Cashman Center, The Las Vegas Library, the Las Vegas Natural History Museum, Lied Children’s Discovery Museum, The Neon Museum, the Old Vegas Mormon Fort and State Historic Park, and the Reed Whipple Cultural Center. Here you’ll discover neon signs that depict the past, marvel at the sight and sounds of animated dinosaur, experience a science experiment hands, or take in a trade show or exhibit even catch the Las Vegas 51s, the AAA minor league club of the Los Angeles Dodgers.

Photo courtesy of the Las Vegas News Bureau/LVCVA

Thursday, December 20, 2007

Viva Downtown Las Vegas 1

Las Vegas, which is Spanish for “the meadows”, gained its name in the 1800s from the pioneers traveling along the Old Spanish Trail on their way to California. They stopped here to partake of the desert spring waters which created a lush green valley in the midst of a desert.

It was a sleepy little railroad stop until 1931. That year Nevada legalized gambling eased the divorce laws and the construction of Hoover Dam commenced. Boomtown Vegas was born and the city continues to reinvent itself today.

But beyond the glitz and glamour of the casinos and mega resorts there is a whole lot of Las Vegas just waiting to be discovered and explored. You just need to look past the neon and search it out on foot, in a rental car, via public transportation or on an organized sightseeing tour.

Let’s start our tour downtown or in “Old Vegas” to many. A must see is the Fremont Street Experience, a $70 million light canopy and 500,000 watt sound system that covers 5 city blocks. The performance starts on the hour nightly from 7pm until midnight and admission is free.

Check back soon for some more on Old Vegas.

Photo courtesy of the Las Vegas press & LVCVA

Travel gift certificates

As the holidays rapidly approach many of us are faced with that daunting annual task of gift shopping. Browsing down aisle after aisle we are overwhelmed with the options of finding that something special for that special someone. Confused, dazed and defeated we return home cash in hand with a pledge that our next sojourn to the mall will be more successful.

Instead of once more battling the frenzied masses, fighting through traffic rule less parking lots to deal with clueless clerks and impatient customers I have decided on a new approach to gift giving.

Yes this guy is saying good bye to the malls and giant box stores at this time of the year. No I am not giving up on the practice of gift giving but am giving something that can be personalized and most appreciated by the recipient.

What magical gift have I settled on? Travel! Yes TRAVEL.

In today’s culture gift cards are everywhere and a gift of travel is no exception. You ask isn’t travel a big ticket item? The answer is both a yes and no.

If you know someone who is planning a cruise or land vacation you can purchase a cruise line or tour company specific gift card that can be applied towards their vacation. Imagine if all of their family and friends got together and purchased gift certificates/cards, the combined value of these gifts actually pay for most if not all of the trip. If you are the one receiving these gifts then you can finally go on that dream vacation that you thought you never could afford.

Here is a real world example. I polled my family and made the suggestion that we all give our mother who lives in Arizona gift cards on Southwest Airlines. After we reached an agreement on this option a few of my sisters in law breathed a sigh of relief as they admitted to me that they clueless as what to get Grandma and this bailed them out. Totaling up the reported amounts that were being purchased I calculated that we had funded 3 trips back east. I know that she will be more pleased with the gift of travel than any other gifts.

My family was lucky in that we knew what type of travel certificate to buy for our mom. If you are uncertain as to where someone wishes to go I suggest visiting a local travel and establishing a gift account for the traveler. All the traveler has to do is work with the agency on selecting a product and the gift amount will be applied to their purchase. The travel agency option gives your traveler maximum flexibility and does not lock them into a specific trip or supplier. Pick up a nice colorful travel brochure at the agency, gift wrap it and attach a catchy note. Now you’ve given a gift that is really going to be looked forwarded to.

Not the travel agency type then visit the website of just about any major travel product producer like Southwest Airlines, Carnival Cruise Lines or Marriott hotels and explore their gift certificate options. You should discover a world of options out there.

A point to remember is that travel gift certificates make wonderful options for many special occasions. Birthdays, graduations, retirements and don’t forget honeymoons. How many new couples really need another toaster? Give the gift of travel and help dreams become reality.

Monday, December 17, 2007

Viva Las Vegas

My Las Vegas conference was being held at the Mandalay Bay resort and they extended a conference attendee rate of $112.00. This was a nice discount off of their regular rates but I just need a clean comfortable sleeping room so I decided to shop around.

Wanting to stay fairly close to the conference hotel I priced the nearby “on the strip” hotels and discovered rates ranging from $60.00 a night and up.

I took my research one step further and looked at the smaller non casino properties situated a few blocks off the strip.

Motel 6 and America’s Best Inn both located on Tropicana and an easy 7 minute stroll to the strip priced in at $35.00 and $30.00 a night respectively. Both of these hotels are basically located across the street from the main entrance of the MGM so it’s a great location for the budget conscious traveler.

No perks just clean comfortable & affordable lodging.
What I saved on this trip’s accommodation will allow me to catch another seminar next year and not exceed my professional development allowance.

Photo courtesy of the Las Vegas News Bureau/LVCVA

Thursday, December 13, 2007

Navigating Las Vegas McCarran airport

Navigating your way from the passenger gates to baggage claim and ground transportation at Las Vegas’s McCarran (LAS) airport is quire an experience. In 2005 over 44 million passengers deplaned at here factor in travelers arriving in Las Vegas by car, bus and train and you have a very bustling destination.

These statistics rank LAS as the US’s 5th busiest airport and 10th in the world.

It’s well marked but quite a hike from the gates to your bags but there has to be miles of moving sidewalks here so you can ride to the baggage area . Also depending on your carrier there’s a tram from the remote gates to the main terminal. As you make your way to reclaim your luggage you’ll be lured by the siren’s song of the present slot machines or enticed to drop a pretty penny in many of the luxury shops in the concourse’s public areas.

With bags retrieved it’s a short walk to the public transportation area. You’re surrounded with plenty of options ranging from taxi cabs, stretch limousines and shared ride vans. I opted for the last option a shared ride to my hotel and it cost $6.00 each way ($12.00 round trip plus a gratuity) as compared to $15-20.00 for a cab.

Many of the tour packages today offered a prepaid airport to hotel transfer option so you may want to build these costs into your travel plans. Unless you're a "whale" Vegas's term for a big time gambler free hotel/motel shuttles are non-existent. So plan on paying for your ride.

Downside of the shared ride is that your hotel may be the last stop on the journey but hey you’re getting a tour of Las included in your transportation fee.

For cost savings I selected an almost on the Strip hotel but I’ll talk about lodging options later.

Monday, December 10, 2007

Viva Las Vegas

It’s about an hour flight up to Las Vegas from Phoenix or Tucson with nonstop service on Southwest or USAirways. There are frequent departures to select from but I’ve discovered that the 1st flight of the day or early in the afternoon seems to work best with checking in and getting through security in a timely fashion.

The 7:00am-10:00am departure window is packed with travelers and flights so you have to struggle with the volume of other passengers. Avoid this if possible.

Another consideration when you’re planning your flights is to try and avoid the last departure of the day. Any flight irregularities or if you’re running late and you won’t get out of town until tomorrow. Earlier flights will give you more options and flexibility.

And if possible leave a day or two before you really have to be somewhere. The cruise ship will not wait for you nor will they hold your tee times. Invest in your peace of mind and spend a night or two in your destination prior to your scheduled event.

I’m off the retrieve my luggage. I’ll just follow the racket of the slot machines as I head towards baggage claim.

Two constants in Vegas: 1) slot machines are everywhere and 2) you’ll never see a clock.

Happy travels!

Sunday, December 9, 2007

Tucson's US Air Force museum & bone yard

Before I catch the short hop up to Las Vegas I’d like to share another 2 more interesting Tucson sights with you. These attractions are airplane “Bone yard” at Davis Monthan Air Force and the Pima Air & Space Museum.

The Air and Space Museum is the largest one of its type west of the Rockies . You can see over 270+ aircraft in an open air environment. Exhibits here range from the Wright brothers to space travel. Here you will walk among the giants of our aviation heritage, including military, commercial, and civil aviation. Among them are a B-29 Super Fortress, the SR-71 Blackbird, and a rare World War II German V-1 "buzz bomb."

They also offer a tour of the United States Air force’s Aerospace Maintenance and Regeneration Group (AMARG), also known as the Bone yard. This is a huge parking lot of decommissioned aircraft and a spare parts and recycling depot. Due to the low humidity in the desert planes are stored or “moth balled” here. There has to be billions of dollars worth of equipment parked here.

If you enjoy planes both of these are worth the visit. I’ve been to the Smithsonian air and space museums in Washington DC plus the one at Dayton’s Wright Patterson air base and would include the Pima museum in the same category of excellent.

OK now it’s on to Vegas! I promise.

Saturday, December 8, 2007

Taking the desert home with you

It’s pretty simple just visit one of the cactus and succulent greenhouses that are located in the area.

Arizona law prohibits the removal of specimens discovered in the wild but you’ll have plenty of selections in place like
B and B Cactus Farm or
Tohono Chul Park Greenhouse. Even the mass market box stores like Wal-Mart and Home Depot have an interesting selection of native plants.

I found the staff at B and B Cactus Farm to be extremely helpful and knowledgeable plus they packaged my plants for the air flight home.

Well it’s time to leave the Old Pueblo and head up to Sin City-Las Vegas.

I’ll catch you up on Vegas happenings soon.

Wednesday, December 5, 2007

My last posts have been directed towards the landscapes that we find out here in the great American Southwestern Arizonian desert.

Yes it is spectacular in the grand scale but we can still bring some of the desert back home with us. That’s where the cactus and succulent garden shops come into play. These retailers offer a broad range of desert plants that we can take home to our own unique desert environment.
My problem is that these “tend to forget & water” species require a little bit more care. Yes I’ve killed cacti or two but I’ve not quiet trying to have an in door “desert garden”.

There are a multitude of local “desert plant “dry houses” but here’s a link to greater Tucson area cacti & succulent shopping suggestions: Cacti & plants in Tucson.

I’ve just covered the flora& fauna of this region. I can go on & on but that’s later.

It’s about a 2 hours trek mostly via the interstate from Phoenix down to the Tucson region. Then it’s off the highway and a short drive through the country side en route to the Arizona-Sonora Desert Museum.

The Arizona-Sonora Desert Museum is a world-renowned zoo, natural history museum and botanical garden, all in one place! Exhibits re-create the natural landscape of the Sonoran Desert Region so realistically you find yourself eye-to-eye with mountain lions, prairie dogs, Gila monsters, and more. Within the Museum grounds, you will see more than 300 animal species and 1,200 kinds of plants.

The Museum offers interpretive displays of living animals and plants native to the Sonoran Desert -- an arid region encompassing parts of Arizona and California in the United States and the Mexican states of Sonora and Baja California.

At the ASDM you can enjoy fine dining and beverages in the Ocotillo Café or serve yourself in the Ironwood Terraces.

You’ll also find some of the areas best shopping in their gift shops. The Mountain House Gift Shop is located near the main entrance area, featuring Native American crafts from Arizona, New Mexico and Mexico. The displays of traditional southwestern jewelry shine alongside the newer contemporary styles. In addition, there is a fine selection of books on the human and natural history of the area, including all of the Museum's own ASDM Press. Children will find their own book selection, as well as toys to remind them of some of the animals they have met here.

The Ironwood Gift Shop, completely remodeled in fall 2005, is located near the highly acclaimed Ocotillo Café. This unique shop offers designer jewelry and handcrafted items from southwestern and local artists including Nancy Lenches t-shirt designs and tableware by Chris Bubany.

There are almost 2 miles of paths traversing 21 acres of beautiful desert so wear comfortable walking shoes, bring plenty of water and your camera. I’d plan on spending the morning or afternoon here.

For more on the Tucson region contact the visitor’s bureau at or call 1-888-2-TUCSON.

By the way for baseball fans the Cleveland Indians will be relocating their spring training camp to the Greater Phoenix area in 2009 plus the Cincinnati Reds are also being aggressively recruited to move to Arizona.

It may be time to start planning your desert getaway.

Tuesday, December 4, 2007

Desert gardens part 2

After visiting the Desert Botanical Garden we’ll head east on U.S. 60 for about an hour and explore to the Boyce Thompson Arboretum, a unique plants of the of the World’s Desert Garden. This attraction is a world class 320 acre collection of plants cooperatively managed by a non profit organization and the University of Arizona. More than 3200 different desert plants are encompassed within the arboretum, from A to Z. Most can be seen along the 1.5 mile main trail. Additionally more than 230 bird and 72 terrestrial species have been tallied over the years as both permanent and migratory Arboretum residents.

Both venues offer classes, special themed displays and activities so check with them prior to visiting. Special discount admission programs also exist so be sure to explore these options.

The next part of our journey will take us south down I-10 to the old pueblo city of Tucson. There is plenty of history, heritage and culture here but that’s another day down the road. But then that’s a whole different story so check back with the Travel Professor.

Monday, December 3, 2007

Phoenix's Desert Botanical Garden

With an inherited love of plants from my grandparents and mother I frequently search out interesting horticultural venues when I travel. Getting out in my yard and gardening is a chance for me to relax and release so I’m always on the lookout for new gardening ideas and opportunities. I mention this in passing as the Travel Professor has departed for the like of Arizona and Nevada.

Admittedly it’s a strange combination, researching the history and heritage of a destination along with their tourism venues, employment options plus the golf courses, spicy chicken wings, authentic Mexican restaurants, brew pubs, arboretums’ and all the other tourism related items but hey someone has to do it.

I’ve been able to visit many fascinating sights on my travels and would like to share a couple of desert gems with you.
When visiting Phoenix and the Valley of the Sun region two unique desert ecosystem locations are worth the visit.

Start off your desert vegetation tour at the Desert Botanical Garden ( nestled in the buttes of the Papago Park, which is adjacent to the Phoenix Zoo. This one of a kind nature preserve showcases 50 acres of beautiful outdoor exhibits. Home to 139 rare, threatened and endangered plant species from around the world, the Garden offers interesting and inspiring experiences to more than 300,000 visitors each year. There are hiking trails to explore and when you are done visiting the Garden be sure to spend some time and money at the Garden and Plant shops.

In the Garden shop you have a diverse and thoughtful selection of merchandise and plants that reflect the wonders of the Sonoran Desert and Southwest. A full array of books for adults and children, decorative items, gourmet foods, jewelry, apparel, stationary and toys are available.

Then stop by the Plant Shop which specializes in the unique and unusual plants adapted to the desert environment. In addition, we feature cactus dish gardens, seeds, pottery, bird feeders and attractive garden decorations that depict the beauty and serenity of our Southwestern lifestyle.

Special packing and shipping arrangements can be made to get your purchases back home.

In the next post we’ll head east on U.S. 60 for about an hour and explore to the Boyce Thompson Arboretum.

On the road to Arizona & Nevada

With the Cleveland Browns playing the Arizona (Phoenix) Cardinals and the impending move of the Cleveland Indians spring training facility to Goodyear AZ in the spring of 2009 the Travel Professor has hit the road.

The photo to the left is the University of Phoenix Stadium, home to the Cardinals and the 2008 NFL Superbowl.

One notable feature about the stadium is that it has a grass field that is rolled outside during non playing times to enjoy the elements then rolled inside prior to game time.

I’ll keep you posted as I travel from Internet Wi-Fi hot spot to hot spot.