NEW AND NOTEWORTHY

A House in the Country

For fans of the PBS series Downton Abbey, seeing the Crawley family and their servants on the big screen this past fall must have felt like greeting old friends. For those who want even more of the English country-house milieu, Viking Cruises introduces its Great Homes, Gardens and Gin pre/post-cruise extension, a five-day extension available beginning 2021 on Viking’s Rhine Getaway river cruise and British Isles Explorer ocean cruise.

The new Great Homes, Gardens and Gin extension goes even further than Viking’s popular Oxford & Highclere Castle pre/post-tour extension. It combines Viking’s Privileged Access tour of Highclere Castle, filming location of Downton Abbey, with a visit to several other famous British homes, including Chavenage House in the Cotswolds (seen in the PBS series Poldark) and Broughton Castle (PBS’s Wolf Hall). The latter is home to the Fiennes family, whose members include British explorer Sir Ranulph Fiennes and actors Ralph and Joseph Fiennes. Also on the itinerary: a stroll through the gardens of Highgrove House, the private home of Charles, Prince of Wales.

Mark Your Calendar

January 28 is National Plan for Vacation Day, an initiative of the U.S. Travel Association to encourage Americans to plan their days off for the coming year. So, get a jump on your coworkers by requesting your preferred vacation days now. Even better, start planning that trip you’ve been dreaming of. AAA can help. Attend one of our free travel events to learn more about popular destinations, or visit a AAA Store for a free consultation with a AAA travel agent. Go to AAA.com/Stores to find an agent or an event near you.

Two New Places to Love

With a shared passion for travel, AAA has teamed up with PBS travel host Samantha Brown, and you’re invited to come along on the adventure. Join AAA and Brown on one of two exclusive vacations: a rail journey through the Canadian Rockies or a cruise on France’s Garonne and Dordogne Rivers.

Ride the rails aboard the legendary Rocky Mountaineer on its popular seven-night First Passage to the West itinerary, departing May 17. Guests on this exclusive excursion will meet Brown at a welcome reception and travel with her through western Canada’s dramatic scenery as they journey from Vancouver to Calgary. Or, join Brown aboard the AmaDolce for AmaWaterways’ Taste of Bordeaux cruise departing August 6. This seven-night trip includes two exclusive travel talks hosted by Brown and a $150 onboard credit per stateroom. For details, go to AAA.com/SamanthaBrown.

Off-Season Is the Right Season

Are you stuck in a summer vacation routine? You may want to consider following the lead of the nearly one-quarter of Americans who prefer to travel during the winter. Off-season travel appeals to these mavericks for several reasons, including fewer tourists, lower costs and the opportunity to escape cold weather at home. The survey undertaken by flight comparison site us.jetcost.com also found that sightseeing (22 percent), city breaks (19 percent) and adventure-based travel (15 percent) all outrank beach vacations (12 percent) in popularity.

AAA Knows River Cruising

AAA Travel has set a course to become the source for river cruise vacations. Building on our existing partnerships with leading river cruise companies that provide best-in-class benefits for AAA members, we’ve now strengthened our travel agent education to ensure that AAA agents are your most qualified resources for river cruise vacations.

Last year, nearly 300 of our club’s travel agents completed extensive certification programs offered by AmaWaterways, Tauck, Uniworld Boutique River Cruises and Viking Cruises. They also participated in a full-day classroom program, AAA Knows River Cruising, focused on geography, cruise line differences, specific itineraries and AAA member benefits. The majority of those agents embarked on a river cruise to gain firsthand experience so that they can better serve AAA members seeking a river cruise vacation. Another 100 or so agents will participate in river cruise familiarization trips this year. Look for the “AAA River Cruise Expert” designator at AAA.com/TravelAgent to locate agents who have completed this program.

On-site at SFO

The October opening of the Grand Hyatt at SFO means travelers using San Francisco International Airport can finally stay right at the airport and enjoy easy, direct connection to all terminals using the SFO AirTrain. With the Grand Hyatt at SFO’s location adjacent to the international terminal and airfield, some of the 351 guest rooms offer close-up views of airplanes through soundproofed floor-to-ceiling windows. The lobby likewise provides views of SFO and the hills beyond. In addition to a restaurant open for breakfast, lunch and dinner, there’s a multifunctional lounge with a 24/7 market as well as 24-hour room service.

Lands of the Free

Since the designation of Yellowstone National Park in 1872, our country’s national park system—famously called “the best idea we ever had” by 20th-century writer and environmentalist Wallace Stegner—has grown to include 419 areas covering more than 85 million acres. Some parks are free, while others charge a nominal fee. On annual fee-free days, though, it’s free to visit even such popular sites as Acadia National Park in Maine, Denali National Park and Preserve in Alaska and Badlands National Park in South Dakota. (Find the complete list of participating parks at nps.gov/planyourvisit/fee-free-parks-state.htm.)

This fall, the National Park Service announced five fee-free days for 2020: Martin Luther King Jr. Day, January 20; the first day of National Park Week, April 18; the National Park Service’s birthday, August 25; National Public Lands Day, September 26; and Veterans Day, November 11.

Not the best days for your plans? The $80 annual America the Beautiful National Parks and Federal Recreational Lands Pass allows unlimited entrance to more than 2,000 federal recreation areas, including all national parks that normally charge an entrance fee. You can purchase the pass at your local AAA Store.

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