Travel writer publishes book on 100 things to do in Lansing

LANSING, Mich. — Anyone familiar with Lansing are most likely also familiar with the complaint that there’s nothing to do here.

Not true, according to travel blogger Amy Piper.

The Lansing native just published her first book, “100 Things to do in Lansing before you die.”

“Some people laughed at me literally when I said I was doing this and these were good friends of mine,” said Piper. “One guy said ‘Well, what do you do after 48?'”

Grounded and unable to travel for the first time in years because of the pandemic, Piper spent the last year compiling her top Capitol city go-to’s.

The book covers the 25-mile radius around Lansing and is divided into five chapters on food and drink, music and entertainment, sports and recreation, history and culture and shopping and fashion.

“I tried to put things in here that were evergreen,” Piper said. “In other words, you could come, you could pick up the book, and do it any day of the week.”

Inside the book you’ll find excerpts on familiar spots like Potter Park Zoo, and Saddleback BBQ, but you’ll also find hidden gems like Shigematsu Memorial Garden at Lansing Community College.

“This garden is right amongst the hustle and bustle of the city, but many people don’t know that it’s here,” Piper said.

Other city secrets include a private house museum that is open by appointment only and full of Beatles paraphernalia and the secret to enjoying a free concert any night of summer in Lansing.

For the rest of Piper’s Capitol city secrets? Well she says you’ll just have to read to find out.

You can read more of Amy’s travel tips, at her blog Follow the Piper.

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Boston Globe Travel Writer On Some Of The Best Sites To Vacation To — And Others You’ll Never Be Invited To

The Boston Globe’s travel writer isn’t saying that you should go against the advice of Icelandic meteorologists, but even though he and his husband were told not to climb a regularly erupting volcano at 2 in the morning, a piece on the very experience was published in the Globe.

Since COVID-19 restrictions have loosened, Christopher Muther has been traveling again. He joined Jim Braude on Greater Boston Wednesday from a cruise ship off the coast of Greece with some travel tips for Iceland, Vermont and right in your Boston backyard.

Muther, in Vermont, recently dined at — or rather, experienced — owners JuanMa Caldéron and Maria Rondeau’s new restaurant Esmeralda, an experimental location that functions more as a dinner party for 24 strangers sitting around one big table.

“What they’ve done is they bought a house in Vermont. This house, that they’ve renovated from nothing, they’ve turned into this restaurant. And the food is amazing,” Muther said. “JuanMa and Maria, as you know, fantastic and loving people, and they really do make you feel like you’re in their home.”

WATCH: Boston Globe travel writer Christopher Muther on returning to travel

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Review: Hackney-based writer Kate Wills makes strong return

Travelling solo as a result of a heartbreak or even a divorce may sound very much like the storyline of Eat, Pray, Love. 

However, Hackney-based travel writer Kate Wills brings a great element of reality and humour in her latest book. Leaving the UK may still seem far-fetched for many of us despite some countries being on the green list, so reading about travel for now transports us to a happier world and Kate’s sojourns do tug at the heartstrings for those who love a little adventure. 

The book begins with Kate’s love story and her divorce from her husband where she vividly describes her first adventure with him in Guatemala.

Being a travel writer, she is not alien to travelling alone, however she engages the reader in a funny and a heartfelt manner on why her trip was different this time. This time, she was coming back to an empty home with nobody to talk to or narrate her stories, this time she didn’t have to text anyone informing them that she had landed safely in her destination, she felt utterly alone. Travelling solo changed her life and in a way, prepared her to face the pandemic.

Seeking inspiration, she follows the footsteps of women travellers throughout history (the earliest dating to a fourth century nun) and realises that many of these women often broke boundaries and that they all had so much in common, being brave to travel solo for a start.

What I appreciated was that every chapter ended with a useful travel tip – right from a thorough plan (booking hotels or taking public transport) to an impromptu decision to travel, even some pointers on how to “travel in your own home”, there’s something handy here for all kinds of travellers. 

In a virtual world, this book gives the reader a brilliant tour of the places Kate has been to with a few eye-opening experiences and some ideas for future travel.

A Trip of One’s Own is available to order for £12.99 on Burley Fisher Books, Donlon Books, Waterstones, WH Smith in Hardback and an e-Book, Kindle and Audio version on Amazon.

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Experienced travel writer says New River Gorge “major breaking travel news story”

FAYETTEVILLE, W.Va. — A veteran travel writer calls the New River Gorge National Park a “major breaking travel news story.”

Richard Grant

Richard Grant, a member of the Freelance Council of the Society of American Travel Writers, said his visit this week to Fayette and surrounding counties has been eye-opening.

“The people are just so friendly, the food is great and the scenery is a big surprise. Nobody had any idea that West Virginia’s this pretty,” Grant said during an appearance Wednesday on MetroNews “Talkline.” “The National Park designation is going to give you so much publicity around the world.”

Grant and 42 other travel writers are meeting in the area this week. They wanted to come and see the nation’s newest National Park. The New River Gorge received the redesignation late last year.

Grant said the area has a nice mix of everything needed to start to become a major attraction.

He said the area doesn’t have the infrastructure of The Great Smoky Mountains or Branson, Missouri but it has things those areas don’t have.

“You can’t beat what you offer for natural resources in sheer beauty, for hiking, waterfalls, all of the adventure activities, they’re all here,” Grant said.

He said the New River Gorge is in a “very exclusive club” with the National Park designation. He said there will be lots of visitors who will include a visit to West Virginia in their efforts to see all of the parks.

Grant said the timing for the change in designation from a National River to a National Park comes at a time when people want to begin traveling again after a year off because of the COVID-19 pandemic.

“All of the studies say people are going to travel. They might travel longer this year but shorter distances,” Grant said. “They want to get away but it’s not the year to go to Europe.”

Grant said he’s been impressed this week with Fayetteville, Adventures on the Gorge, Greenbrier County and the Greenbrier Resort among other spots.

There’s a lot be optimistic about moving forward, Grant said.

“Outdoor activities are safe and people can come someplace new that’s exciting and different and it’s close by,” he said.

Grant writes for 

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6 Tips for Visiting Walt Disney World Right Now by Contributing Writer

Walt Disney World is operating differently right now with specific changes to prevent the spread of COVID-19. I experienced these changes during my trip to Walt Disney World earlier this month and today have some important tips for navigating these changes during your Walt Disney World vacation.

All of the changes made to the park experience are in service of creating the safest possible experience. I was extremely impressed by the precautions taken by Disney and the respect for the protocols by other guests. Everyone appreciated getting to be together and was clearly focused on visiting the parks safely.

Back in July, I shared my tips for planning a last-minute Walt Disney World trip during COVID. Now, I am back with an improved list from my recent trip with everything you need to know about visiting Walt Disney World right now.

1. Make a Park Pass Reservation

Disney’s Park Pass reservation appears to be here to stay with Walt Disney World requiring reservations through 2022. Time will tell if Walt Disney World removes this system once they can operate without limited capacity, but your best bet is to plan on this system being in place for your Walt Disney World vacation. Because of this, your first step to planning a Walt Disney World trip right now is to get your Park Pass reservation for your trip dates once you buy your park tickets.

How to Make a Reservation

  • Link your park tickets/admission to your Disney account. You will need valid park admission to make a reservation.
  • Create your party. Before you make a reservation, you’ll be prompted to create a party from your Family & Friends list on your account. This ensures your group has the same reservations for your trip.
  • Select a date and park. Choose the date and time you’d like to visit from the available reservations.
  • Review and confirm your plans. You will also be prompted to agree to a COVID-19 liability waiver.

I recommend making your reservations as soon as you know your trip dates and have your tickets since availability can change at any moment. You can read my full overview of the Park Pass system in my Walt Disney World tickets guide.

You can expect popular dates, like Walt Disney World’s 50th anniversary on October 1st 2021, to fill up faster so the sooner you reserve your days the better.

2. Know How to Park Hop

Walt Disney World brought back the ability to park hop in January 2021 which was a welcome step towards normalcy for many guests. Park hopping looks different now at Walt Disney World so it’s good to be prepared before you arrive.

Guests will still make a Park Pass reservation for the first park they plan to visit AND must enter that first park prior to visiting another. At this time, a park reservation is not required after the first park, however, reservation requirements are subject to change. The specific Park Hopper hours begin at 2PM each day and end at the park’s scheduled closing time.

During my recent trip we started the day in Animal Kingdom before enjoying Hollywood Studios in the afternoon. We experienced low crowds throughout both parks. Just before Hollywood Studios closed at 7 p.m. we rode Slinky Dog Dash with only a 15 minute wait! There are still great opportunities to enjoy the parks with low crowds. We cover Park Hopping as well as the evolving health procedures in our constantly updated Walt Disney World Right Now guide.

So far there haven’t been any reports of guests not being able to get into a park during park hopper hours which is great news for folks looking for more flexibility in their visit.

3. Arrive Early to the Theme Parks

The last thing Disney wants right now is to have all their guests gathered together in large groups in front of the entrance of the theme parks. One way they’ve been alleviating issues of morning crowding is by letting guests enter the parks much earlier than the official park opening. During my recent trip we got into the parks roughly 35 minutes to 50 minutes before the official park opening every day of our trip.

The author in a selfie at Disney’s Hollywood Studios park. Photo by Gavin Doyle.

When we got into the parks early in the morning the lines were nonexistent and in a couple cases we rode our favorite attractions multiple times. At Hollywood Studios my sister and I were the first ones to ride Rock ‘n’ Roller Coaster for the day (see selfie capturing the moment we were the first ones on Sunset Boulevard). After getting off from our first ride we immediately went again! We had similar experiences at the other parks. I wrote more about our experience and shared tips in our updated COVID Walt Disney World touring strategies guide.

If you plan to arrive at least an hour before the park’s official opening time, then it’s extremely likely you will be allowed to enter the park early and get in line for popular attractions. Depending on the popularity of the attraction, Cast Members will start running these rides early so you’re essentially getting early access to the park! I recommend being ready to board the transportation from your hotel to the parks roughly 1.25 hours before official park opening.

Walt Disney World has announced that early theme park entry will return for guests later this year in honor of the 50th anniversary celebration at Walt Disney World. Guests staying on-site at a Disney Resort hotel will receive a 30-minute early entry to any theme park, any day of the week. While this perk isn’t in place yet, when it does return if you’re staying on-site, you’ll get this same early access but with more limited capacity greatly maximizing the beginning of your day

4. Book Your Dining Reservations

Walt Disney World’s restaurants are still operating with limited capacity making popular dining reservations harder to get than ever before. If you don’t want to miss out on your restaurant of choice, it’s important to make your dining reservations as soon as possible.

You can now make dining reservations 60 days in advance for your Walt Disney World trip. You can make dining reservations online or by calling (407) WDW-DINE or (407) 939-3463. Guests under 18 years of age must have parent or guardian permission to call.

If you don’t get your first choice of dining reservations, keep trying! We wrote up more specific tips on getting last minute Walt Disney World dining reservations. One important tip to remember: many guests cancel 24 hours before their reservation because that’s when Disney starts charging a cancellation fee of $10 per person for no shows.

5.Watch for the Return of Popular Experiences and Find Characters

Walt Disney World is just as anxious to return to normalcy as the rest of us and as things begin to improve we’ll begin to see popular experiences return to Walt Disney World. For instance, Blizzard Beach, one of the popular Disney water parks, reopened on March 7 after being closed for nearly a year.

Walt Disney World has also announced the return of the popular show The Festival of the Lion King (with modifications) at Animal Kingdom! No specific return date has been announced yet but Disney has said we can expect this popular show to return this summer.

Sully waves to fans during a procession through Disney’s Hollywood Studios. Photo by Gavin Doyle.

Walt Disney World has also been fantastic about introducing characters into the parks in unique ways so that guests can continue to interact with their favorites from popular Disney films. For example, in Epcot you can see Winnie the Pooh catching butterflies in the lawn next to the Living with the Land attraction. Or over in Magic Kingdom, look up as you pass the Country Bear Jamboree and you might see Chip n Dale waving at guests from above.

Aside from these subtle ways of integrating characters into the background of the theme parks, there have also been spontaneous character cavalcades throughout the day for guests to enjoy. These character cavalcades are like “mini parades” as they often utilize parade floats from popular Walt Disney World parades featuring your favorite characters. The best part is there is no need to plan to see these cavalcades since there are no announced times. As you spend your day at the park, you’ll randomly experience them which is a great way to get that Disney magic without necessarily having to spend the time reserving a spot to do it.

Donald Duck greets patrons at the Topolino character breakfast. Photo by Gavin Doyle.

Another great way to enjoy characters right now is through character dining. During my most recent trip I got to experience the Topolino character breakfast at Disney’s Riviera Resort and had a marvelous time. Instead of the traditional hugs and autograph routine the characters now rotate through the restaurant with ample room posing and waving from six feet away. The Topolino breakfast features Mickey Mouse, Minnie Mouse, Donald Duck, and Daisy Duck. After all the characters rotate through the restaurant they all return for a dance routine (see video in my review linked above). At the end of the meal they gave us a photo sheet with all of the character’s autographs. The characters provided a great atmosphere and the meal was delicious.

As Walt Disney World remains successful in its health and safety practices, I expect to see smaller steps towards bringing back popular experiences for guests especially as we move closer to Walt Disney World’s 50th anniversary in October!

6. Book Your Trip With a Disney Certified Travel Expert

With all of the current changes to the Walt Disney World experience it has never been more important to have someone working on your behalf. I always book my Walt Disney World and Disneyland vacations with Get Away Today. They will ensure you have the best possible price and provide free concierge services as you plan your trip.

Gavin Doyle is the founder of and His tips help people save money and experience more at Walt Disney World and Disneyland and have been featured at Forbes, Travel+Leisure, OC Register, ABC News, LA Times, Yahoo! News, and more.


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year without travel

My year without travel: Long-time Cleveland travel writer reflects on a pandemic year of staying close to home

year without travel

CLEVELAND, Ohio — Without a building or human in sight, we arrived at a fork on a woodsy trail with no idea where we were going, for which we were grateful. A serendipitous choice passed through a patch of red and yellow leaves still dangling in November, perhaps just waiting for these two world travelers, thankful even for the slightest sense of being lost in Berlin.

No, not that Berlin. Germany and all the other countries of the world are off the discovery charts in this self-protective year of 2020. Instead, we were exploring a ridge of trails about an hour’s drive west of Cleveland in Edison Woods MetroPark in Berlin Township, Erie County.

What a lifestyle change this year has been, without travel.

Nearly every week for the past 37 years, the focus of my work and life was travel, the first 24 as travel editor of The Plain Dealer and more recently as a freelance writer. When I wasn’t writing about travel, editing other writers’ stories, planning presentations, talking with friends and readers about their vacation issues, or researching and arranging my own travel, I was in the air, on the road on one of six continents (visiting more than 120 countries), or at sea on one of an estimated 150 cruise trips. My daughter says that she pictures me, as she grew up, with a notebook in my back pocket. Much of the time I was coming home or going somewhere, and wherever we traveled as a family, I was working a newspaper or magazine travel story.

Along came COVID-19. One day the virus was a foreign curiosity; the next, it seemed, the virus might be in the air we breathed, every surface we touched. Fear and loathing attacked us all, in different ways. For me, my work and lifestyle disappeared in February as if someone had switched off the lights.

Related: Where will you travel in 2021? Looking forward to a new year, a new vaccine and a renewed commitment to explore

Still, my writer wife and I were fortunate that we didn’t get caught up in the cruise ship virus spin. Our travel ended just as the virus appeared. We flew home from Miami after disembarking from perhaps the only cruise ship that never reported a known case of coronavirus. (Earlier, on a trip West, I caught a serious, lingering bout of flu but so far have no COVID-19 perceptible damage).

Since then, we have not boarded an airplane nor a ship, not a bus nor a train, not a taxi nor a tram. Frequent restaurant goers, we have not ventured inside an eatery since early March, though a bunch of local restaurants know our names well from continuing takeout orders (with a generous tip for beleaguered servers).

These past 10 months, mostly in isolation, have been a serious test of resilience, patience and flexibility. Masked, we keep socially distant, which is such a big distance from our normal lives of riding on public transportation, walking in crowds, attending meetings and lectures, museums, concerts, ballgames, interviews, talking to people we know and don’t know – strangers on the street, on the plane, in taverns, cafes, restaurants, coffee and noodle shops in cities and hamlets all over the world.

I miss the closeness of connecting with fellow travelers, even simple smiles and nods of recognition as we wait in passport lines to enter a country far from home. I miss the kindness of strangers that appears naturally among worldly travelers on the road – and from locals I encounter along the way. I’ve gotten quite good expressing myself non-verbally when I don’t know the language.

Now, I despise my wariness of anyone within 6 feet, especially people without masks who arouse my suspicion about their seriousness in not spreading their potential or real virus toward me.

I miss the anonymity of walking for miles in a foreign city, attempting not to stand out too much (although people all over the world easily recognize Americans because of our fashionable dress and our image of moving and talking so confidently as if, they sometimes complain, we owned the place). I miss mixing with foreign cultures, tasting their food, noticing their styles and odors. I miss the sea, the roll of the ocean, its spray, its squalls, its night sky, and the sound of wind.

Zooming with friends, family and colleagues has made talk and eye contact possible, though Zoom is no replacement for the lack of warmth and hugs from my children and grandchildren.

My wife, Fran, and I walk a lot – close to home around the Shaker Lakes and recently at the Cleveland Cultural Gardens in Rockefeller Park, which I had driven past for 50 years and now have thoroughly toured. In Cuyahoga and surrounding counties, we have explored an abundance of nature trails, as well as wildlife refuges in marshes along the shore of Lake Erie. Using online maps to make a plan offers some satisfaction as an alternative to the missing, more complex travel preparations. Local trails provide a tingle of joy from walking unknown paths.

Year without travel

Poland? No, Cleveland. The bust of the Frédéric Chopin, composer and virtuoso pianist, is in the Polish Garden on East Boulevard in Rockefeller Park.

Year without travel

Italy? No,Cleveland. This large bronze of Dante Alighieri, dedicated in 2012, is part of the Italian Cultural Garden on East Boulevard in Rockefeller Park.

For drives farther into the countryside, Fran bought a light-weight portable potty that we store in our car, setting it up behind a tree in a roadside park. The potty is easy to use, with foldout seat, legs and disposable bag. For such occasions, Fran dons a muumuu (a long loose dress from Hawaii), which is an image that has created some mirth among friends and family. One friend suggested a YouTube production, but so far we have declined.

Our biggest excursion mistake was visiting a popular trail in Cuyahoga Valley National Park during a warm, sunny weekend. The trail we chose turned out to be crowded. We masked and dodged people until we climbed a set of about 40 steps, which were steep and too narrow for people to pass. As I neared the top, breathing heavily, I realized that more than a dozen people, most without masks, stood in a crowd, waiting for us to arrive so they could walk down the steps. Suddenly, I felt foolishly trapped, sharing their air and consuming it in massive amounts of deep breathing. As I hurried up the last two steps and through the crowd, I promised myself that I would not return on a weekend. My new favorite days for exploring Northeast Ohio are Tuesdays, Wednesdays and Thursdays.

Someday, probably in 2021 if vaccines work, normal travel will resume. I will wait until I am safe, and others are safe from me. I expect to carry a protective mask with me, perhaps forever. For decades I have been careful about what I ate and touched, washing hands often and paying attention to my health. I suspect all of us will be more careful in the future, now that we have learned how vulnerable we are, not only to bacteria but also viruses. COVID-19 has taught us that whatever is exhaled in China could find its way to our neighborhood tavern in a matter of months.

I am not finished with world travel. So much of who I am, what I know and feel about life outside my comfortable American bubble has been a gift from travel. I realize that most people in the world are just trying to get through the day, focusing on food, clothing, shelter, and, if they are fortunate, love, gratitude and a sense of spirituality.

Images are burned into my memory bank: An evening of Hindu services on the Ganges of India; a Bedouin woman, sequestered from the men having tea with her father, sneaking a peek at me from the back flap of the family tent in the desert; tales from a guide in Vietnam, a boat person who never made it to America; entering East Germany as the wall and Soviet Union fences came down in November 1989; two boys from Iraq sweeping away donkey poop at the entrance of Petra in Jordan, laughing with me and pointing at the front page of my International Herald Tribune with pictures of their Saddam Hussein and my President Clinton; walking in Greece with my daughter to the Eastern Orthodox monasteries at Meteora.

Antarctica awaits, my seventh continent. So do Poland and Belarus, where Fran’s family once lived, and maybe to the Black Sea. Good friends want us to visit, reason for another trip to Israel, and maybe renting a gulet in Turkey. I would like to return to Cape Town and sail up the eastern coast of Africa. England and France repeatedly call me back for more research into my family that left Normandy for a battle in 1066, then left England for America in 1791.

I love my home and leaving home, setting out on an adventure of discovery. At the moment, I don’t know when the next journey will arrive.

Molyneaux, of Cleveland, is the editor of He and Fran Golden are authors of “Unique Eats and Eateries of Cleveland.”

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