Three Perfect Days: New Orleans
Story and Photography by Sam Polcer | Hemispheres, March 2017
Few places know how to throw a party like the city that gave us jazz, the po'boy, the Sazerac, and the expression "Laissez les bons temps rouler." Indulgence, creativity, and celebration are cornerstones of the culture here. The most common dinner-table topic is tomorrow's lunch. People dance with strangers in the street because that's just what you do. And even as the city nears its 300th birthday next year, age has not slowed it down; reinvention and renewal are a part of life here. Musicians, chefs, artists, entrepreneurs—even the lushes staggering down Bourbon Street in the early hours—all are driven by the bright belief that tomorrow will bring something new. "Let the good times roll," indeed.
In which Sam ignores good advice, discovers two secret gardens, and applauds a bag of fish
My younger brother, Ben, a jazz musician, doesn't dispense advice often, but upon hearing I was going to New Orleans, he weighed in on Bourbon Street: "If you only have three days, you can probably skip it."
Having enjoyed a fortifying night's rest at the hip Seattle export Ace Hotel, I start the day by ignoring my brother's advice, making my way through a lobby of leather couches, eclectic art, and dark wood finishes and heading out into the sunshine in search of the most theatrically hedonistic spot in the U.S.
No more than 10 steps into the French Quarter, I find myself dancing around the sudsy rivulets left behind by the street cleaners. For a city that so famously honors the past, New Orleans sure seems in a hurry to put last night behind it—which is more than can be said for the pair of imbibers who emerge from a doorway, blinking, attempting to solve The Riddle of the Upside-Down Cellphone.
A Brandan Odums mural in the Bywater
Farther "downriver"—cardinal directions are scoffed at here, due to a grid that takes its cues from the winding Mississippi—Bourbon Street reveals its quieter side, the wrought-iron balconies and signs promoting daiquiri-and-pizza combos giving way to homes with painted shutters and manicured foliage.
A block after Bourbon turns into Pauger Street, I hang a right, and I'm at Horn's, a casual eatery on a quiet corner of the Marigny, a madly colorful neighborhood where the strains of practicing violinists drown out the traffic. Waiting for me at a covered sidewalk table is Catherine Todd, cofounder of Where Y'Art, a local gallery whose online branch allows users not only to view and purchase the works of local artists but to chat with them as well.
A native New Orleanian, Todd has offered to show me around the Bywater, a J-shaped neighborhood east of the Quarter that was once plantation land and is now a flourishing artist enclave. Despite its preponderance of hip restaurants and rising rents, the Bywater mercifully avoids Brooklyn comparisons—the Big Easy is the only place you'd find the sun-drenched Creole cottages, the bushes draped with Mardi Gras beads, and the swampy, edge-of-the-Earth stillness that surrounds you here.
Catherine Todd, co-founder, Where Y'art
Todd is a part of an insurgence of businesspeople who are setting up shop in the city's converted warehouses and formerly shuttered storefronts. "The entrepreneurial community is huge," she says. "There's a compacted creative energy here that sparks true originality." Breakfast served, our waitress notices how eagerly I'm digging into my ample order of fried-oyster Benedict atop cornbread. "Waffle for the table?" she suggests, gently. "Sure," I mumble. "For the table."
From here, we walk two blocks to Todd's gallery, which has bright street artworks displayed on peeling plaster and brick walls. Then we hop over to the New Orleans Art Center, a warren of studios and exhibition spaces in the Ninth Ward. In the main space is an ambitious photography show featuring work by Louisiana artists, including a hauntingly beautiful image of a clarinet transformed (not destroyed) by Hurricane Katrina, its metallic components oxidized into striated patterns that seem to glow.
Next up is Good Children, which was one of the first galleries to plant its flag in the neighborhood, about a decade ago. It's in a white box space run by a 12-artist collective that includes Louisiana-born Brian Guidry, who is waiting for us when we arrive. Guidry's work runs the gamut from collages of found materials to paintings, some of which use flattened La Croix drink boxes as canvases. "Grapefruit works well," he says of the medium.
"The New Orleans dialect is a little-known slice of the English language known as Yat, which stems from our tendency to shorten any expression into something slurrier. Hence, 'Where you at?' becomes 'Where y'at?' becomes 'Yat?'" —Catherine Todd
Upon exiting the dim space, Todd shields her eyes. "I feel like I just walked out of a casino!" she says, and then: "Come on, let's close out this tour with a visit to a giant alligator." She is referring to Nnamdi the Gator, a vast purple mural by Devin DeWulf. We arrive to find the artist applying the finishing touches. He seems to be in a buoyant mood: "Hey, want to hear some fun facts about 'gators?"
Having learned that alligators are capable of eating 23 percent of their body weight in one meal, I head for lunch at the Joint, a Bywater mainstay where co-owner Pete Breen delivers a basket that's straining to hold smoky brisket, juicy pulled pork, and tender dry-rubbed ribs. This type of slow-cooked barbecue wasn't easy to find before Breen and his wife came to town. "New Orleans always had chicken, ribs, and soul food," he says, but before he can finish the thought, a guy at the next table initiates a barbecue-related discussion so complex you might mistake the two men for chemists.
"That's New Orleans for you," Breen says when the guy has left. "He could have called his wife, she would have come down, and we'd be sitting here for another two hours."
I head up Esplanade Avenue, past blocks of 19th-century mansions, then walk off my meat basket with a stroll through the Sydney and Walda Besthoff Sculpture Garden. It's a lovely spot, its 200-year-old live oaks draped with Spanish moss and interspersed with scores of artworks ranging from Renoir's bronze Venus Victorius to Leandro Erlich's gravity-defying protest piece Window and Ladder—Too Late for Help. Young musicians lazily strum guitars alongside a lagoon. The effect is mesmerizing.
Ribs at the Joint
My next stop is another secret garden of sorts, this one hidden behind a two-story corrugated steel wall. Inside, the nonprofit outfit New Orleans Airlift recently created Music Box Village, a shantytown of treehouselike sound sculptures: Stairs are keyboards, window shutters are drums, pluckable piano wire is strung across walls. It's like a park-size music studio codesigned by Rube Goldberg and Dr. Seuss. The venue is hosting a performance tonight by local outfit Tank and the Bangas, but before the show Airlift founders Delaney Martin and Jay Pennington (aka DJ Rusty Lazer) allow me to rattle, bang, honk, and squawk my way through the structures, which causes the sound techs to wince.
Mercifully, the performers soon commandeer the houses for a musical adaptation of Alice in Wonderland. A rapt audience sits on picnic blankets as Tank, in a blue ball gown and golden tiara, joins a trio of ballerinas in a whimsical musical yarn. Things take a turn for the weird when the "Queen of Bounce," Big Freedia, starts rapping into the mouthpiece of a modified phone booth topped by a spinning loudspeaker. Only in New Orleans.
I go from looking glass to Collins glass across town at the recently reopened Pontchartrain Hotel's Caribbean Room. A smoky, tiki-esque rum cocktail is followed by a spicy, sweet appetizer of crispy oysters topped with bacon jam, blue cheese, and a spot of jalapeño. For the finale, a waiter slices into a piping hot paper bag to reveal delicate pompano, fingerling potatoes, saffron, and shrimp soaking in a crab butter sauce. It's so good, when the waiter asks me how it was, I clap.
A piece in the Sydney and Walda Besthoff Sculpture Garden
As I leave, a hostess tells me the waiting area outside the dining room is one of the most Instagrammed spots in all of the Big Easy, thanks to a painting of New Orleans hip-hop star Lil Wayne with an order of the restaurant's signature Mile High Pie, his eyes closed and teeth bared in an expression that can only be described as rapturous. Maybe I should have had the pie.
There's time for a final cocktail at the Pontchartrain's fashionable rooftop bar, Hot Tin. I order a Menage Mule—the bar's floral, Frenchified take on the classic Moscow Mule—and then I order another. All around me, the city glimmers, its unsteady constellation of lights sending a kind of coded message: "Oh go on, one more."
In which Sam wakes up to Satchmo, finds a freak flag to fly, and tries a classic cocktail more than once
I'm roused from my sleep by the historic, tourist-stuffed St. Charles streetcar rolling down Carondelet Avenue, visible from underneath the single eyelid I've pried open in my corner room at the Ace.
The decor in the room is as thought out and impeccably disheveled as the staff's haircuts, with an assortment of Deco-inspired furniture, vintage accents, and approximately 50 shades of black. There's also a bedside Martin guitar, along with a turntable and a small vinyl collection by the window. Having bungled a few chords on the guitar, I thumb through the records, passing on The Art of the Japanese Bamboo Flute for Louis Armstrong's "What a Wonderful World." When he gets to the bit about "the bright, blessed day," I glance at the window. Maybe a little too bright.
I head out and make my way through Lafayette Square to Revelator Coffee Company, purveyor of "third wave" artisanal joe. I supplement the high-end caffeine with a croissant and a bottle of Big Easy Bucha kombucha, and board the historic sleep-disturbing streetcar feeling much revived. We roll along for a while on St. Charles Avenue, heading upriver, until it's time for me to jump out for some shopping on Magazine Street.
Garden District architecture
First, I swing by the candy-toned gallery of Ashley Longshore, who painted that portrait of Lil Wayne. The sought-after artist (Penélope Cruz, Ryan Reynolds, and Eli Manning are collectors) leads me past her oversize paintings, folksy avant-garde depictions of famous faces, and through to her studio. "Anyone can come back here," she says. "But they may have to do some bedazzling. It's like, 'If you're gonna gawk, you're gonna glue while you gawk!'"
I dodge bedazzling duty and instead get Longshore's take on the local arts scene. "We celebrate weirdness and wildness in a way that no other city does," she says. "You'll see a herd of people in Elvis or Wonder Woman costumes and think, 'Oh, just another Saturday in New Orleans.' It's a place where people can really let their freak flag fly."
If you're in the market for freak flags, Magazine Street is a good place to start. My first stop is the quirky vintage shop Funky Monkey, where you can buy anything from a Hawaiian shirt to an astronaut helmet. At Saint Claude Social Club, hand-painted scarves share space with sequined dresses and French candles. At Defend New Orleans, a pierced shopkeeper presides over a selection of ironic posters, small-press books, and other dorm-room essentials (not surprisingly, another location recently opened at the Ace). I end up buying a black banner bearing a skull emblazoned with a fleur-de-lis, the symbol of New Orleans.
Robin Barnes, "The Songbird of New Orleans"
Mom's gift secured, I head for brunch at Cavan, a new "coastal American" restaurant set back from Magazine Street in a Victorian townhouse. I secure a table by the window and settle in with a Sazerac, a classic New Orleans whiskey-based drink that some believe to be America's oldest cocktail. Next comes a cast-iron skillet sizzling with buttery shrimp and grits, along with roasted tomato toast topped with goat cheese, bacon marmalade, and a fried egg. If ever there was a meal designed to make you smile, this is it.
After brunch, I go for a stroll through the tony Garden District and get lost among showy crepe myrtle trees and towering live oaks, peeping through rod-iron fences at block after block of Greek Revival and Italianate mansions. Initially a retreat for New Orleans' merchant class in the mid-19th century, the neighborhood now claims Sandra Bullock and John Goodman among its residents.
"People are sometimes shocked by how engaged I am with the audience. But that's New Orleans. They're always dancing and laughing and taking off their shoes by the end of the night." —Robin Barnes
I'm enjoying the walk; it's wonderfully serene, even with the three-cocktail-lunch crowds tottering out of celebrity chef factory Commander's Palace. Across the street is Lafayette Cemetery No. 1, one of the city's aboveground graveyards (when much of your city is below sea level, it doesn't make sense to put anything underground, even tombs) but pass on a tour, thinking the folks inside have the right idea. It's time to lie down.
Back downtown, I check in at the recently restored Windsor Court Hotel, where it's afternoon tea time, just off the lobby in Le Salon. It's an unabashedly refined welcome—in keeping with the decor and in stark contrast to the Ace—with polite laughter rising above a tinkling harp. As wonderful as it all is, I skip the tea, opting instead for a plump pillow, billowing curtains, and zzzzz. I awake just before dusk to catch a glimpse of the Mississippi from my balcony—the Windsor Court is one of the few big hotels in New Orleans to boast such a feature—and hit the town.
Dinner is nearby at Compère Lapin, housed in The Old No. 77 Hotel & Chandlery and helmed by Top Chef alum Nina Compton. Seated in a converted warehouse with industrial accents and faux–French farmhouse details, I gnaw on a starter of spiced pig ears dipped in smoked aioli. "New Orleans is such a beautiful city, and the people really appreciate food," Compton tells me between courses. It's easy to appreciate her Caribbean-meets-Creole seafood stew, and also the curried goat with sweet potato gnocchi and cashews.
A little later, at the Windsor Court's Polo Club Lounge, I let it slip to jazz singer Robin Barnes that I skipped dessert to catch the end of her first set. She flags down a waitress. "Two Bananas Foster, please!" The local girl has just learned that her latest album debuted on the Billboard Jazz chart, but her enthusiasm appears to be a constant. "I'll pick somebody outta the crowd and be like, 'Are you texting? What are you doing?'" she says of her local shows. "We're very much entertainers here in New Orleans. We'll get in your face and then make you sing and dance with us."
As Barnes takes the stage, joined by her father on bass, I sink back into a couch and sip another Sazerac. By the time she breaks into the blues classic "Can't Help Falling in Love," I've decided I'd happily spend the night sitting right here. But I can't call it a night without hitting the local music scene, so I heave myself to my feet and hail a cab to Frenchmen Street.
Tank and the Bangas play at Music Box Village
I have no idea which club I'm going to, but that's OK. There is so much music packed into a two-block stretch that it feels like a festival. The street is jammed with people ping-ponging from club to club; discovering what's happening inside each of them is half the fun. Due in part to a steady stream of Louisiana-brewed Abita beer, the sounds blend together: reggae into bluegrass into Dixieland. After a set by the energetic Jumbo Shrimp Jazz Band at The Spotted Cat Music Club, I take a breather at an outdoor night market tucked into an alley, where I pick up a pair of coyote paw–bone earrings for Mom (in case the black flag isn't a hit).
Before bed, I stop for a game of pool at R Bar, a local dive around the corner that offers both a shot-and-a-beer and a shot-and-a-haircut special. After a while, I realize that I'm as likely to get a buzzcut as I am a beer, so I head back to the hotel, passing through streets that, disconcertingly, have started to twitter.
In which Sam ponders the patients of a saint, dances in the street, and learns his future
As day breaks over the Mississippi, I'm feeling a bit like the guy in "The House of the Rising Sun," the cautionary song about the debilitating effects of New Orleans nightlife popularized by the Animals in 1964: "Oh mother tell your children/Not to do what I have done!"
A blurry half-hour later, I'm in a cab heading downriver to Press Street Station, a warehouselike eatery operated by the NOCCA Institute, a tuition-free arts school that counts among its alums Wynton Marsalis and Harry Connick Jr. The space feels appropriately youthful and arty: A drums-and-keys duo performs lounge music while neon-haired line cooks prepare comfort food. I have sourdough teetering with sausage, pimento cheese, and fried eggs, served with lyonnaise potatoes. That's better.
For a further pick-me-up, I pop into the St. Roch's Campo Santo, a cemetery in the nearby St. Roch neighborhood, to pay my respects to the patron saint of the sick. In a small neo-Gothic chapel, I find an anteroom cluttered with discarded medical items: crutches, braces, prosthetic limbs, plaster models of brains, dental plates, plus some handwritten prayers. I don't have anything to leave behind, so I give the statue of Saint Roch—a 14th-century French-Italian priest who miraculously survived a dose of the plague—a hopeful wink instead.
Tombs at St. Roch's Santo Campo
That wink is about to be put to the test. I'm watching floats, musicians, and dancers muster in a high school parking lot in the Desire neighborhood, in preparation for the Nine Times Social Aid & Pleasure Club Second Line Parade. DJs dry-run their rumbling sound systems; trombones and trumpets blast. An elderly woman dressed in her Sunday best stands nearby, peering through a fence. I ask if she's part of the club. "I just came from church to see my grandson, who's marching," she replies, adding, "My feet hurt."
The parade rolls down Higgins Boulevard, and what follows is the most fun a person can have while walking—well, dancing—down the street. Acrobatic kids leap and sway while twirling elaborate parasols. Costumed club members toss beads from the backs of floats. Men ride by on tricycles carting coolers stocked with cold beer while smoke pours from enormous grills along the "neutral ground" (the New Orleans term for a median). "This is my absolute favorite thing in all of New Orleans," a local woman says above the booming drums. She's in luck: Events like this happen somewhere in the city nearly every Sunday.
I'm still buzzing when I arrive at The Napoleon House, a bar and restaurant in a landmarked French Quarter building. I'm having lunch with Ben Jaffe, the wild-haired, tuba-playing leader of the famous Preservation Hall Jazz Band. I tell him about the parade, which gets us talking about the city's many social aid and pleasure clubs, whose lineages can be traced back to 19th-century "benevolent societies." More recently, these clubs played a vital role in the post-Katrina recovery, especially for African-American communities.
"New Orleans has its own unique ways of dealing with its complicated, painful, and beautiful past," Jaffe says. "I've heard this city described in so many ways, and so many of them are true. All I know is, we gave the world Jelly Roll Morton, Louis Armstrong, Sweet Emma Barrett, Fats Domino, Allen Toussaint, the Neville Brothers, Dr. John…"
New Orleans also gave the world the muffuletta, a sandwich comprising a seeded roll the size of a small Frisbee stacked with ham, salami, pastrami, Swiss and provolone cheese, and olive salad—antipasto in a bun, basically. I order mine with a side of red beans and rice and a fruity Pimm's Cup. The Napoleon House serves more of this low-alcohol cocktail than any other establishment in the world. I add to the lead by ordering another.
As I say goodbye to Jaffe, he invites me to swing by Preservation Hall later for a performance. Until then, I'm leaving the past behind. My next destination is the future.
Ben Jaffe, bandleader, Preservation Hall Jazz Band
Brought to Louisiana by West African slaves in the 18th century, voodoo has deep roots in New Orleans. So when I go for a spiritual reading, I'm not expecting to be greeted by a 30-something Pacific Northwest transplant named Geoff. But there's Geoff, standing amid the candles and chicken feet at Island of Salvation Botanica, a shop set in a former city jail. Mysterious items fill the shelves: protection fetishes, voodoo dolls, crystal balls, an apothecary of oils, powders, herbs, and tinctures with names like "Banishment." Geoff locks the door, dims the lights, and leads me to a small table. He closes his eyes, opens them again, flips a few tarot cards, and gives me a quick rundown of my destiny. I learn that I should not, under any circumstances, quit my job to become a trombonist in a second line.
Eerily, a trombone happens to be in my immediate future. It's in the hands of Freddie Lonzo, who's leading a conga line around Preservation Hall, doing a rousing rendition of "St. Louis Blues." Founded in 1961 by Ben Jaffe's parents, "The Hall" hosts performances every night. The shows tend to be lively affairs, but there's a reverential feel to the austere room, which has wooden benches but no bar (patrons can bring their own booze). When clarinetist Orange Kellin wails the last solo on Fats Waller's "Honeysuckle Rose," I'm fully transported to another time.
"There are a lot of people who feel the pain of not living here. They come to New Orleans, and they experience the magic of this city, and when they leave, there's this piece of them that's missing." —Ben Jaffe
Back in the present, I summon a taxi and head to the Garden District. The car drops me at Shaya, the modern Israeli legend-in-the-making eatery that won the 2016 James Beard Award for Best New Restaurant. Even the basics here, like the pillows of steaming pita sliding out of the blue-tiled oven in the back, are extraordinary. I get an order and use it to scoop up harissa-spiced lamb and creamy hummus. Gumbo schmumbo, I think. Crawfish schmawfish. A battery of small plates follows, many with names I don't recognize but tastes that feel familiar, even ancient. A waiter comes by to clear the table, but I ward him off as if I'm hoarding precious stones. "More bread, then?" Yes. Bring the bread.
I'm starting to resemble a steaming pillow of pita myself, so I head back to the Quarter for a nightcap at the upscale rum house Cane and Table. When I arrive, two metalheads are comparing musical notes with a bartender who's wearing a bow tie over a Hawaiian shirt and doing something with a coconut. Co-owner Nick Detrich arrives to walk me through the drinks menu, part of which includes cocktails inspired by the favorite tipples of the founding fathers. I get a Price of Pearls, based on a punch that allegedly fueled the drafting of the Bill of Rights. "It tastes like a lemon tree smells," a waitress offers. It does. It also has me feeling patriotic, so I salute the helpful staff and march off into the night.
Mid-march, I get a text from my brother. One of the bands he plays with, King James and the Special Men, is performing at Saturn Bar, not too far away on St. Claude Avenue. I should come, he says, and this time I listen. When I arrive, I wonder if he texted half the people in New Orleans. The place is packed and sweating to a version of Little Richard's "Good Golly Miss Molly." I hit the dance floor and lose myself in old sounds made new, the traditional made wild and jubilant—which is the way they do things here.
Brooklyn-based writer and photographer Sam Polcer didn't get the reaction he was hoping for when he returned home and began dancing down the street swinging a parasol.
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Best aviation-inspired museums to visit
With National Aviation Day right around the corner (August 19), a great way to celebrate is by visiting an aviation-themed museum. Many of the museums have hands-on, interactive exhibits —and some even have retired airplanes you can visit. Below are seven museums to visit this Aviation Day and beyond.
The Museum of Flight in Seattle bills itself as the largest independent, nonprofit air and space museum in the world. The museum's 20 acres is home to more than 160 significant aircraft and spacecraft, including the world's first fighter plane, the first jet Air Force One and the Boeing 787 Dreamliner. It's also one of a handful of museums in the world that has a Concorde supersonic jet on display —located in its British Airways livery. The campus also includes the original Boeing factory, the NASA Space Shuttle Trainer and the only exhibit to house the original rocket engines used to launch Apollo astronauts to the moon. Additional activities include flight simulators that make you feel as if you're flying an airplane, a 3D movie theater and an aircraft exhibit that includes the world's only presentation of the first Boeing 727, 737 and 747 jets.
The Pima Air & Space Museum in Tucson boasts 2,600 acres and is one of the largest non-government funded aviation and space museums in the world. It features more than 350 historical aircraft, from a Wright Flyer to a Boeing 787 Dreamliner. Visitors can take an hour-long tram tour narrated by experienced docents who share stories about the planes' significance and personal stories of service. There are bus tours of its aircraft boneyard, home to more than 4,000 military and federal government aircraft. If decide you want to participate in the tour while visiting the museum, it's recommended that you make a reservation 10 business days ahead of time.
Each year, Oshkosh attracts nearly 500,000 spectators to what is considered the largest airshow in the world — EAA AirVenture. But if you can't make this annual event in July, you can still visit the EAA AirVenture Museum year-round. While there, check out the museum's display of more than 200 historic aircraft — aircraft like the 1918 Curtiss JN-4D 'Jenny', a 1945 Chance-Vought F4U-4 Corsair and a 1930 Cessna CG-2 Glider. For attractions, visit the Eagle Hangar, a tribute to World War II aviation. And lastly, make sure to take a ride in a vintage 1929 Travel Air E-4000 open-cockpit biplane located at Pioneer Airport.
Palm Springs, California
Named by CNN as one of the best aviation museums, the Palm Springs Air Museum is one of the few that actually allow visitors to go inside aircraft to explore the exhibits. It features 59 aircraft from World War II, the Korean War and the Vietnam War. Aircraft include a Boeing B-17 Flying Fortress, an F-14A Tomcat and even a Russian MiG-21+. Take a ride in aircraft like the P-51 Mustang, the iconic plane flown by the Tuskegee Airmen in World War II. The museum is also home to permanent and temporary exhibits, artifacts, artwork and a library.
The National Smithsonian Air & Space Museum has two outposts — the original building in downtown D.C. and the more than 100-acre Steven F. Udvar-Hazy Center facility near Washington Dulles International Airport. The downtown location has aircraft like the Bell X-1 flown by Chuck Yeager when he first broke the sound barrier, an Airbus A320 flight deck simulator and the forward fuselage of a Boeing 747 jumbo jet, along with the popular “How Things Fly" exhibit.
The Udvar-Hazy center has thousands of aviation and space artifacts on display, including a Lockheed SR-71 Blackbird, an Air France Concorde, the Space Shuttle Discovery and the Boeing 367-80 — the prototype for the Boeing 707 and America's first commercial jet airliner. There's also the Airbus IMAX® Theater and the Donald D. Engen Observation Tower, which gives you a 360-degree bird's-eye view of Washington Dulles International Airport and the surrounding area.
The Wings Over the Rockies Air & Space Museum is located on a portion of land that used to be Lowry Air Force Base, a technical training center until it closed in 1994. The museum is home to aircraft including a Boeing B-52 Stratofortress, a Cessna O-2 Skymaster and even a Star Wars X-Wing Starfighter. The brand-new Boeing Blue Sky Aviation Gallery at Centennial Airport is phase one of the museum's second location that will focus on the present and future of aerospace. It offers interactive exhibits, the latest in general aviation technology and the chance to fly realistic Red Bird simulators as well as tours of the airfield.
New York, New York
The Intrepid Sea, Air & Space Museum complex in New York is located on a World War II aircraft carrier. Among its many exhibits are Enterprise, the prototype of NASA's Space Shuttle and a Harrier fighter jet. It also includes the British Airways Concorde that made the world's speed record for passenger airliners in 1996 when it flew from New York to London in 2 hours, 52 minutes and 59 seconds. Before leaving, make sure to check out the 4D aircraft simulator, something you won't want to miss.
United flies to most of the destinations above, including Denver, New York, Palm Springs, Seattle, Tucson and Washington, D.C. You can fly into neighboring Appleton, Wisconsin, to visit Oshkosh. Visit united.com or use the United app to plan your aviation-themed museum trip.
United and Special Olympics
Taking inclusion to new heights
Our shared purpose is to connect people and unite the world — and no organization better embodies that principle than Special Olympics.Learn more
Weekend inspiration: Savannah
The key to visiting Savannah in the summer? Planning outdoor and indoor activities, so you can enjoy all of the treasures this charming Southern city has to offer. If you only have a few days to spend here, it is even more important to plan your time and itinerary carefully. Luckily, we've gathered the best of the best to visit in historic Savannah with carefully planned air-conditioned stops along the way. Put on your walking shoes, grab some sunscreen and get ready to explore.
Before your trip, make sure to make reservations for dinner at The Olde Pink House restaurant in advance. Adjacent to the Planters Inn, this popular spot has been serving Southern food at it's finest at one of Savannah's oldest mansions. While there, make sure you order the fried chicken — voted one of the best in Savannah and it does not disappoint. The braised pork shank is also a must-try. From there walk over to Leopold's Ice Cream. Choose a fancy pre-made ice cream or create your own treat. A Savannah tradition, this shop has been serving the best ice cream in Savannah since 1919.
Abe's on Lincoln | Photo credit: Kelsey + Courtney Montague
If you're looking for a dive bar instead of ice cream, drop in to Abe's on Lincoln. Create your own artistic rendition of Abraham Lincoln on your napkin, and your creation might end up on the ceiling where other patrons' artwork is displayed.
The next morning get started before the crowds and visit the Waving Girl Statue. This statue commemorates Florence Martus who (from 1887-1931) became the unofficial 'greeter' of Savannah and waved at every ship that came into port. From there head down River Street to Huey's on the river for beignets and their potato casserole. Don't worry about the calories, you will walk them off.
The potato salad at Hueys on the river
Photo credit: Kelsey + Courtney Montague
The Georgia Queen on River Street
Photo credit: Kelsey + Courtney Montague
After Huey's, stop by the Savannah Bee Company and sign up for a mead tasting. For just a few dollars you will get to taste all sorts of variations and flavors from all over the country. Interestingly mead, created from fermenting honey, is one of the oldest alcohols in human history. Evidence of mead in clay pots dates back to 7000 BC. After you've had a few sips of mead and tasted the honeycomb, head out for a bit of shopping. We recommend Broughton Street, especially 24e and the Paris Market.
The Artillery restaurant | Photo credit: Kelsey + Courtney Montague
Stop by Juliet Gordon Lowe's birthplace (Girl Scout's founder) to see when the next tour is and make a reservation. Go to Husk for lunch while you wait. Husk, founded by James Beard award-winning chef Sean Brock, uses local ingredients in his ever-changing, scrumptious menu. After your tour of Ms. Lowe's home, put on your finest and head over to Artillery for a fancy cocktail and then on to The Collins Quarter Restaurant.
Collins Quarter restaurant | Photo credit: Kelsey + Courtney Montague
The Collins Quarter restaurant is an Australian take on Southern food and is exquisite. Get the hot chicken — it's delicious. Wander over to Chippewa Square after dinner where the movie Forrest Gump was filmed. The exact bench he sat on for the movie is no longer there, but everything else in the park is the same. Nearby on Bull street is another boutique, Red Clover, you should stop at if you're in the market for a gorgeous new frock. End the evening with dessert at Chocolate by Adam Turoni. Adam's shop feels like you stepped into wonderland, complete with a grass floor and bookshelves full of delicious treats.
All that's left is to head home full of southern food and southern hospitality.
P.S. If you have a few extra hours rent a car and go see the Wormsloe Plantation. The entrance will take your breath away. Also check out the Bonaventure Cemetery where poets, revolutionaries and the founders of Savannah have ornate gravestones in a picturesque, photo-worthy setting.
How to prepare for your child's first flight
Traveling can be stressful at times, even when you're flying solo. But imagine what a child must feel, especially as they prepare to take their first flight. The key to any successful first flight is to take a cue from the Girl Scouts motto: be prepared. I'm a mother who started traveling the world with her child since she was 10 days old. So if you're planning your child's first flight soon, read on for my helpful tips to make your child's first flight a success.
Before the flight
Make sure to choose your seats as soon as you book your flight. Since restrooms are usually located at the back of the plane — and also near the front of the cabin, depending on the aircraft — you may want to choose seats near those areas so you won't have to go far if you and your child need the restroom or you need to change your baby's diaper. Additionally, children oftentimes enjoy looking out the window during a flight, so you may want to opt for a window seat so they can see other planes, a busy tarmac or clouds once you're up in the air.
Most airlines, including United, allow a child under the age of two to sit on a parent's lap. But if it fits within your budget, you could consider buying them their own seat and, depending on the child's age, bringing a government-approved child seat for them to use in the purchased seat. This allows you and your child to travel more safely and comfortably, and can help create a better sense of security for your child if they're used to the child seat you bring along.
Make sure to prepare your kids prior to the flight. Although airplanes can be exciting, they can also be scary for kids at first. Take time to explain what to expect during your journey, from the time they arrive at the airport until the plane lands at your destination. You can tell them about the kinds of people they will meet, such as gate agents, flight attendants and pilots, and the different events that occur, like boarding, the flight attendants' safety message and the sound of the aircraft engine during takeoff. This way they can enjoy identifying the people and events that make up their first flight.
At the airport
To avoid any unnecessary stress, print your boarding passes or download them to your mobile device before arriving at the airport. Also plan to check your baggage as soon as you get to the airport so you don't have to worry about carrying along extra gear.
You can check with the Transportation Security Administration (TSA) if you're unsure about what's allowed past security checkpoints, but baby formula, breast milk, food and medications aren't subject to the 3.4 ounce liquid restriction, so you're able to bring larger amounts of those items with you. Just make sure to let TSA officers know right away that you're carrying those items so you're not slowed down during the screening process.
After you've made it through security and are waiting at the gate, make sure your children have entertainment to keep them occupied while you wait. While most flights offer entertainment, there may be times when the inflight entertainment is not available, so bring toys, games, a tablet, coloring books or whatever it takes to keep them occupied and happy during a flight. If you're traveling with babies or toddlers, be sure to double check your diaper bag and make sure it has clothing, baby wipes, lotion, toys and extra bottles. Also, pack a favorite blanket and pillow for inflight naps.
You'll also want to carry various snacks, such as sandwiches, fruit, nuts, crackers or popcorn, and account for possible delays because food options may be limited. It's also a good idea to pack empty sippy cups or water bottles to fill up with inflight beverages.
On board the flight
When it's time to board your flight, you can take advantage of United's policy that allows families with children two and younger to pre-board. This will give you that much-needed time to stow your items and get you and your children in your seats so you're comfortable and ready for your flight.
By request, strollers can be checked at the gate at no additional cost. Before boarding starts, simply ask the gate agent to put a baggage tag on the stroller and you can leave it at the bottom of the jet bridge as you board the plane. When you get to your destination, your stroller will be waiting for you on the jet bridge after you exit the plane.
Once you're on board and settled, it helps to have a bottle on hand during takeoff and landing because it can help alleviate ear pressure for babies and toddlers. For older children, tell them what's about to happen and encourage them to look out the window to see what's going on before take-off. While in the air, create easy access to all the things you need to keep your children entertained and happy, and before you know it, you'll be on the ground again in no time. With just a little preparation, flying for the first time can be an exciting experience for both you and your child.
United heroes: Saving the life of a newborn
Pediatrician Elizabeth Triche was so touched by how our employees went above and beyond to transport her critical ill newborn patient from Saipan to Guam then Honolulu to San Francisco and from there to their final destination of San Diego, that on July 27, she wrote the heartfelt note below to CEO Oscar Munoz and President Scott Kirby.
"Mr. Munoz and Mr. Kirby,
I am writing to give you my greatest gratitude for running a company that just did everything possible, every step of the way, to allow us to get our critically ill newborn with a fatal heart defect to life-saving emergency specialty care in San Diego.
Geoff Larson [Customer Service De-escalation Senior Manager] had given me his cellphone number one month ago and said to call if we ever needed any help getting patients to critical care. When I did call 3 days ago, he burst into action. We exchanged at least 10 emails and phone calls over the next 36 hours as he opened seats on fully booked flights, got us cleared to use oxygen (a process that usually delays our exit by 48-72 hours), and called on colleagues to make sure that all of our "special handling needs" in the airports were met. He emailed me as our first (of 4) flights arrived, letting me know that he was available to help with any glitches.
In Honolulu they held everyone on the plane so that we could get TSA and customs clearance first, gate side, avoiding our having to carry a sick baby in a car seat through an entire airport to customs. Helpers met us at each destination as gate agents from our departing cities warned the gate agents at our next arrival destination that we would need a wheelchair and help with bags.
Finally, as we were 30 minutes from our final destination, the pilot of United Flight 284 on 7/26/2018 from SFO to SAN called me up to the front of the plane to chat, as [there was] fog in San Diego. He wanted to know if the baby would be adversely affected if he [diverted] the flight to LA to refuel. We truly appreciated his taking our patient into account.
Ultimately, we arrived in San Diego without any major mishaps, and our newborn is currently undergoing definitive treatment for his condition.
Mr. Larson and his colleagues at United helped to save a life yesterday, as this baby may not have survived to make the flights had we had to wait for an open seat. Now that he has gotten to care, he will likely have a great chance at a normal life.
I just wanted everyone know that there are truly compassionate, dedicated people working for your organization."
We fly Australian firefighters to wildfires
As parts of Oregon and California continue to battle blazing wildfires that have already consumed thousands of acres of land, we stepped up to help and flew a group of Australian firefighters to Boise, Idaho, over the weekend.
We created an extra section to fly a group of firefighters from all over Australia to Los Angeles International Airport, where they departed on a flight to Boise, Idaho on August 4.
Australia/New Zealand Contingent Field Liaison Officer Barry James explained that firefighters were selected to come help based on their qualifications, and they're all proud to support their fellow firefighters in the United States.
"We're flying to Boise for a couple of days of training and then we'll be splitting up. Some of us are going to Northern California and the rest are going to Oregon for a six-week deployment," explained Officer James, who flew United for the first time, but said it won't be his last. "It was an awesome, awesome experience; it was really hospitable," he added.
Our Los Angeles based employees and crews made sure the firefighters felt their appreciation by giving them a special welcoming message in the gate area, where they thanked them for their hard work.
"It was such an incredible honor for us at LAX to meet and fly these men and women, who are sacrificing their time and putting their lives on the line to help us battle the wildfire devastation in this part of the country," said LAX Station Operations Control Manager Maggie Ronan. "The crew in general was just outstanding. They were all so honored to fly this group and felt it was amazing that United built the extra section for their journey. There was a very special energy felt on the flight as we closed up to send them off to BOI."
We're teaming up with leading disaster relief organizations to provide aid to those impacted by the California wildfires. We will match up to $50,000 in total donations made to our charitable partners, Airlink, American Red Cross, Americares, North Coast Opportunities and Shasta Regional Community Foundation. For more information and to make a donation California Wildfire relief efforts, visit our CrowdRise fundraising campaign.
Lots of sweat, lots of on-time departures: Summer on the ramp
It's 10:30 in the morning and the temperature gauge already reads 89 degrees. The Texan summer sun beams down from above. Heat waves emanate from the ground. Sweat glistens atop Ron Davis's shiny, bald head.
This isn't bad at all, Davis says. "I played high school football. Two-a-day practices? Those were hot. Some of the really hot days out here? Those feel more like three-a-day practices. We got it easy today."
A few gates down, employees revel in the "relief" that this weather feels like compared to the prior week.
"This is nothing," quips Tom Saavedra.
"A few clouds up there and a bit of a breeze – it's our lucky day," Leroy Taylor chimes in, a wide smile on his face.
Air temperature nearing 90 degrees. Tarmac temperature eclipsing 100 degrees most everywhere you step. 10:30 in the morning. And this is "easy". Welcome to life as a United ramp service employee at Houston's George Bush International Airport (IAH) in the summer.
United isoperating more than 500 flights out of Houston each day this summer, and thanks in part to the hard work of our ramp service employees, more flights have left Houston on time this summer than any prior summer.
How? Hydration and nutrition have played huge roles.
Posters with hydration reminders adorn the walls of ramp break rooms and hallways. It's the first topic of every meeting. Regular reminders are sent out over the group's radio system.
Employees have a flight schedule to keep, but as leaders, we have to provide them with the tools to do their job, says Gary Snead, a United supervisor based at IAH. "That includes keeping them fit to work in the summer heat."
And provide they do. Here are the resources deployed in an average summer month on the ramp in Houston:
- Over 10,000 bags of ice, totaling more than 100,000 pounds of ice.
- 313, 5-gallon water coolers refilled at least four times per day.
- An athletic trainer on site.
- One day a month, the IAH ramp holds a fruit & hydration day, where supervisors distribute over 1,000 pieces of fruit to our sun-soaked employees.
- 1,000+ cooling towels distributed.
- 10 misting tents
The increased focus on hydration has helped increase productivity, and it's also resulted in a record-low number of heat-related illnesses among employees.
You take care of the employees, Snead says, "and the employees will take care of your operation."
That's proved true around the world, as we have flown more customers this summer than ever before, all while topping our competition in on-time departures in recent months. Our 13,000+ ramp service employees have played a huge role in that.
Summer heat? It's been beat.
Top 7 things to experience when visiting Las Vegas
When picturing Las Vegas, you probably see shimmering lights, felt-covered poker tables and the ecstatic sound of slot machines. But the truth is that the city offers visitors far more to experience than just gambling and excess. Located on the edge of the vast Mojave Desert, this uniquely American destination is constantly reinventing itself with every passing day, which makes it an ideal vacation spot for virtually every type of traveler. To help you get the most from your next trip to Vegas, here are seven attractions in and around the city that you won't want to miss.
The Neon Museum
Since 1996, this magical outdoor art gallery has collected hundreds of old and discarded neon signs from the Las Vegas strip and displayed them for visitors on a 2-acre plot of land. With so much colorful history available to see, it's no wonder that the Neon Museum is one of the city's top Instagram spots. Though new signs are constantly being acquired and refurbished, many date back to the glory days of the 1950s, when Vegas icons like Frank Sinatra, Dean Martin and Sammy Davis Jr. were the entertainment headlines at the casinos.
Red Rock Canyon
This stunning nature preserve is just a 15-mile drive west of Las Vegas, and is the perfect place to experience all the scenic beauty that Nevada has to offer. Red Rock Canyon features 26 clearly marked hiking trails, indoor and outdoor conservation exhibits and a plethora of majestic wildlife and desert flora to view. There's even a picturesque waterfall, so bring your camera along with your sunscreen and bottled water. A variety of educational programs are held each month, including a popular “Bats in Our Belfry" presentation in which rangers take visitors on a bat sightseeing tour of the canyon.
The Mob Museum
Because the birth of Las Vegas is intricately connected with organized crime, this fascinating museum is a must-visit for anyone who wants to understand how a dry Nevada desert became a worldwide symbol of glitz and glamour. Filled with amazing artifacts, vintage photos and life-size recreations of some of the city's most infamous residents, the Mob Museum focuses on both the gangsters who built Las Vegas and the law enforcement heroes who pursued them. A rotating collection of exhibits brings the town's colorful history to life in a way that no movie or book could ever hope to duplicate.
The Hoover Dam
A monument to man's industrial spirit and a marvel of American engineering, the spectacular Hoover Dam is located less than an hour's drive from Las Vegas — and it's truly an unforgettable sight to behold. Tours of the 726-foot-tall dam are highly encouraged and will fascinate young and old alike. While you're in the area, why not spend some time cruising the beautiful waters of nearby Lake Mead, which was created by the dam itself. Boat tours are available all week long from several locations around the lake, so advanced reservations are not needed.
Dig This Last Vegas
Are you visiting Las Vegas with children? If so, then this one-of-a-kind experience should definitely be on your travel itinerary. Dig This Last Vegas lets you and your kids drive and safely operate heavy duty construction equipment like bulldozers and excavators on a massive outdoor playground in the heart of the city. Anyone who grew up with toy tractors and plastic earth-moving machines can now climb behind the wheel and try them for real. With the help of trained instructors, kids as young as 8 years old can make their dreams of operating a genuine Caterpillar D5 bulldozer come true at this hands-on attraction site.
Spring Mountain Ranch
This Nevada state park is a relatively short drive from downtown Las Vegas and will instantly transport you back to the region's historic past. The perfectly preserved old west-style ranch is an excellent place for an afternoon picnic when you need a break from the hustle and bustle of the casinos. Thanks to the lush green surroundings and man-made lake, the temperature at Spring Mountain is noticeably cooler than you might expect of the hot Nevada climate. Explore further as gentle hiking trails allow you to stretch your legs in comfort while you navigate some of the loveliest scenery in the entire state.
Lotus of Siam
Widely considered to be one of the best Thai restaurants in the United States, Lotus of Siam earned its prestigious James Beard Award the hard way; by serving incredibly delicious Northern Thai dishes every day for the past 19 years. Owner and head chef Saipin Chutima recently opened a second location in Las Vegas, which means you'll have no trouble making reservations while you're in town. Considering that top foodie magazines like Gourmet, Saveur and Bon Appétit have praised this restaurant's incredible dishes for almost two decades, you'd be wise to book a table in advance. Try their crispy rice salad with house-made pork sausage for a flavor that will make your taste buds sing.
When you're ready to experience the fun and excitement of Las Vegas, book your flight at united.com or by using the convenient United app, and share your story on social media with the #UnitedJourney hashtag.
The 8 most underrated American road trips
You've gotten your kicks on Route 66. You've wound through Highway 1. So how do you take another quintessential American summer vacation without repeating yourself? Good thing this country is not lacking in incredible vistas and varied landscapes—trust us: there is so much more than purple mountains majesty and amber waves of grain (although, those aren't so bad themselves). From badlands to waterfalls, here are eight American road trips to consider.
Top of the Rockies Scenic Byway, Colorado
This western road trip through and around the Rocky Mountains has three separate routes that converge in Leadville, Colorado (the highest incorporated town in the country at 10,152 feet above sea level). There's no rule against traversing all three, especially since each is pretty short (82 miles total). First, take in the five enormous mountains surrounding Leadville, two of which are the tallest in the state. Head up through Tennessee Pass and cross the Continental Divide to reach the majestic town of Minturn for incredible fields of wildflowers. The route through Independence Pass toward Aspen has unbelievable views of the Rockies and Twin Lakes. Driving along the Arkansas River through Fremont Pass to Copper Mountain is ideal for spotting ranches, old mines and—fingers crossed—some Colorado wildlife.
Overseas Highway, Florida
You do not need a boat to enjoy the Florida Keys, and we can prove it. The Overseas Highway is one of the most unique roads in the country, as it basically island hops along Florida's hottest vacay spots like Islamorada (home of the Florida Brewing Company) and Marathon (home of Long Key State Park). The Seven-Mile Bridge is a highlight nestled into the 113-mile trip, so make sure to cross during the day for sprawling views of turquoise water and boaters galore. Other fun pit stops: Swim with dolphins at the Dolphin Research Center in Grassy Key, snorkel with sea critters at John Pennekamp Coral Reef State Park and pose for a selfie at Southernmost Point Buoy, the farthest south you can get on the continental U.S.
Jason W Lacey/Getty Images
Columbia River Highway, Oregon
This stretch of highway was the first of its kind to be officially declared a National Historic Landmark, and it's easy to see why. Set out from Troutdale, Oregon, and immediately you'll see the gorgeous Columbia River Gorge. Get ready for a roller-coaster decent as you roll into Crown Point—the 600-foot drop toward the Columbia River is designed specifically for road trippers as it curves and winds through lush green forests. There are at least six notable waterfalls you'll pass along the way; step out at Multnomah Falls for a pic of its stunning bridge. Once you hit the town of Mosier, consider trekking through a tunnel of lava rock on the Mark O. Hatfield Trailhead. The road officially ends after roughly 70 miles at The Dalles, conveniently close to the Sunshine Mill Winery. Treat yourself to a glass of the wildly popular Nirvana, a white blend with touches of honey and melon.
Bobbushphoto /Getty Images
Hana Coast Highway, Hawaii
While Hawaii's island of Maui is a hot destination for tropical romance, the Hana Coast Highway is not for the faint of heart. The road is affectionately called the “Divorce Highway" in honor of its precarious turns and proximity to the edges of tall cliffs. That said, the frequent waterfalls, black sand beaches and eucalyptus trees along the country's lengthiest rainforest highway make the trip totally worth the adrenaline rush. Though it's only 52 miles, the 25-miles-per-hour speed limit (with blind spots and one-lane bridges galore; this is a very good thing) makes it a two- to three-hour trip. But we have a feeling you'll happily take your time—the views from Kahului to Hana are beyond breathtaking.
Trail of the Ancients Scenic Byway, New Mexico
If you're in the mood for dry heat and history up close, the Trail of the Ancients Scenic Byway is calling. West of Albuquerque is Chaco Canyon, an important ceremonial site for the Pueblo peoples between 850 and 1250 A.D. After taking in the incredible expanse of the canyon, drive south through the towns of Crownpoint and Grants toward the El Morro National Monument. Ogle the 2,000 or so signatures weary travelers have carved into the sandstone over centuries. Continue east through the Zuni Reservation to Zuni Pueblo, an arts community still practicing ancestral traditions and ways of life. Cap off this winding 360-mile desert tour in Farmington, where you can see Aztec Ruins National Monument and Salmon Ruins, both of which date back to the 1050s.
The Black Hills and Badlands, South Dakota
Together, the Black Hills and Badlands National Park in South Dakota offer 5 million acres of grassland, forest and rock formations. Might we recommend not hitting it all in one day? Instead, start out on the Badlands Loop State Scenic Byway near the town of Interior. Check out the millions-year-old (literally) jagged geographic deposits before heading north to Spearfish Canyon, home of sky-high pink limestone and gorgeous waterfalls. Meander down through Black Hills National Forest to check out Crazy Horse Memorial, Custer State Park and (drumroll, please) Mount Rushmore. Set aside a few days for the entire 232-mile journey because you'll probably find yourself either driving slowly to take it all in or stopping the car every few miles to hike or swim.
North Shore Scenic Drive, Minnesota
For a truly otherworldly experience, drive along the coast of the biggest freshwater lake in the world: Lake Superior. The northern Minnesota gem means ample opportunity to really get away from civilization. (Heading off the beaten path into the Boundary Waters just north of the coastline leaves you with no cell service, almost complete solitude and a chance to catch the northern lights!) Start your drive in Duluth and head north, scoping out the many lighthouses dotting the rocky coastline on your right and the distant Sawtooth Mountains on your left. Everywhere else is covered in pine and birch trees—and crawling with wildlife. Beaches pop up along the 142-mile ride, although Lake Superior is notoriously chilly, reaching 65 degrees Fahrenheit max during the hottest months of the year. But, in the height of summer, this might be exactly the cool-down you need.
Rangeley Lakes National Scenic Byway, Maine
For the ultimate, rugged New England road trip, you must drive the Rangeley Lakes National Scenic Byway. On the western side of the state, near New Hampshire, the lake is flanked by Rangeley Lake State Park and rolling hills of trees, flowers and wildlife. Start at Smalls Falls, and let the Appalachian Mountain ridgeline be your guide on this 36-mile tour. The route is straightforward but provides sights of everything from lakes and rivers to valleys and farmland. Swift River and Mooselookmeguntic Lake (who named this lake?) are outstanding photo ops. Summer is always a good time to visit when it comes to temps, but come autumn, the bright colors pop along this route, and might just be worth a second trip.
The comparisons between New Zealand and California are inescapable. Both are long and narrow with Pacific coastlines that seamlessly combine cliffs and beaches. Both boast some of the world's most spectacular national parks in the mountains and some of the most prized wine regions in the hills and valleys.
Some similarities are flip-flopped, because NZ straddles the 38th parallel south of the equator while California is on the 38th parallel north. That's why New Zealand's North Island shares Southern California's warm, dry climate and the South Island shares Northern California's cooler, wetter climate. That may also be why New Zealand's two largest cities (Auckland and Wellington) are in the sunny north, while California's (L.A. and San Diego) are in the south.
There are differences, too, and they favor New Zealand. Although it's about two-thirds the size of California, NZ is only about one-tenth as crowded (4.5 million compared to 40 million people). And NZ is surrounded on all four sides, not just one, by the Pacific.
But don't take our word for it — visit New Zealand to make your own comparisons and with new nonstop service between Auckland and Chicago, New Zealand is even easier to get to. Starting November 30, Air New Zealand will operate nonstop service between Auckland and Chicago, and vice versa three times weekly on the Boeing 787-9 Dreamliner aircraft. And beginning in April 2019, we will extend our service between San Francisco and Auckland to year-round with service three times weekly on the Boeing 777-300ER aircraft between November and March, and on the Boeing 777-200ER aircraft between April and October. Now that you have your travel plans set, read on for what to do while you're there.
From the 1,076-foot-high Sky Tower that dominates the Auckland skyline, you'll behold a city bordered by bays and peppered with parks. Locals take full advantage by sailing in the city's two harbors (Auckland is the “City of Sails") and participating in almost every other type of water and land sport — especially rugby, cricket, golf and tennis, all imports from the British who founded New Zealand.
Auckland's literal high points besides the Sky Tower include Mount Eden, Mount Victoria and One Tree Hill, three of the dozens of small dormant volcanoes with 360-degree views that punctuate the city. Another is Auckland Harbour Bridge across Waitemata Harbour, where you can climb the span or bungee off. Additional Auckland attractions include the Auckland Museum and Auckland Art Gallery; the family-friendly New Zealand Maritime Museum and Sea Life Aquarium; and sprawling Cornwall Park, where cricket enthusiasts share the grass with sheep.
Wellington and Christchurch
These two coastal cities south of Auckland are each about a quarter of the population of Auckland, making them favorites of visitors who prefer compact cities. In the capital city of Wellington, most attractions are along the waterfront promenade, always teeming with walkers and runners, while others are in the steep hills. Be sure to visit the Museum of New Zealand and ride the Wellington Cable Car. Christchurch is still recovering from the big 2011 earthquake, but the Botanic Gardens and Hagley Park are still lush and lovely, and Quake City at the Canterbury Museum is both educational and moving as it chronicles the devastation of the quake and the rebuilding efforts.
South Island Mountains
New Zealand may be best known for its mountain hiking, known to the locals as tramping. The highest peaks are in the Southern Alps, topped by 12,218 foot Mount Cook, but surely the most famous hike is the Milford Track — so popular that reservations are required to tackle the 33 mile hut-to-hut walk through glacially carved mountain passes, fjords, majestic waterfalls and rainforests in Fiordland National Park. But you needn't hike at all to appreciate the beauty of New Zealand's mountains. Driving past them or through them, such as the drive to Milford Sound where the Track begins, or to Mount Cook Village, does the trick.
Beaches and volcanoes
Stellar surfing and sunbathing beaches are found throughout the country, even in Auckland, although keep in mind that “beach weather" is more likely on North Island. NZ's Volcanic Zone, however, is concentrated in one North Island region, not far from Auckland. It's there, especially in Tongariro National Park, that you'll discover recently erupted volcanoes, lava flows, steaming geysers and hissing ponds — plus thermal pools, springs and baths in the towns of Rotorua and Taupo. You may recognize some of this region's mountains, where the hiking is nearly as splendid as on the South Island, from scenes in “The Lord of the Rings" movies.
Towns, villages… and sheep
Sheep are everywhere in New Zealand, even in the cities. You can even observe them being herded and sheared at SheepWorld near Auckland, but mostly you'll see them in the countryside while driving between cities and national parks, such as on one of NZ's 10 themed highways. You'll also go past farms, vineyards, mountains, coastline and dense wilderness. But don't drive straight through. Your fondest NZ memories after the trip may be of conversations with locals at a village café over coffee or a country pub over a Double Brown beer.
New Zealand's 14 wine regions blanket the east coast of both islands, but the Marlborough region near Blenheim at the top of South Island has the most wineries, including dozens that offer tastings. This region's Sauvignon Blancs are internationally acclaimed. While you're in the area, you should also stop by the charming town of Nelson and visit Abel Tasman National Park, a marvelous mix of rainforest paths and beaches.
Sauvignon Blanc pairs nicely with fish — and that's a good thing, because New Zealand fishermen operate in the sixth-largest fishing zone in the world, making seafood a NZ specialty. While myriad fish choices fill menus in coastal restaurants, expect a wide variety of cuisines (often broadly called “Pacific Rim cuisine") in the cities. That's especially true in Auckland, where nearly half of residents are non-natives from China, India, Fiji, Samoa and elsewhere. Wherever you dine, the food was probably grown or raised locally because importing ingredients is expensive — the nearest continent, Australia, is 1,300 miles away.
Besides New Zealand's two main islands, smaller islands off their shores are a treat to visit. The largest (about the size of Maui) is Rakiura/Stewart Island, a one-hour ferry ride from the southern tip of South Island, where a national park occupies 80 percent of the land. NZ's most populous small island (pop. 9,000) is Waiheke, a 45-minute ferry ride from Auckland, which features forest trails, beaches, restaurants and wineries.
Don't forget that the seasons are reversed in New Zealand, so their “summer" starts in December. Plan a trip between November and April to enjoy mild temperatures and to avoid too many rainy days. When you arrive, driving a rental car is the best way to see the country. (You'll soon get used to driving on the left side.) And driving won't be tortuous within the country because there are no “boring" stretches of road — and a scenic, 3 1/2-hour Interislander or Bluebridge car ferry connects Wellington and Picton, letting you travel freely between North and South Islands.
If you go
Service between San Francisco and Auckland operates three times weekly with year-round nonstop service launching in April of 2019. Starting November 30 of this year, Air New Zealand will operate service between Auckland and Chicago, and vice versa three times weekly. Air New Zealand code share service will be offered on around 100 flights across the U.S. for convenient connections to Auckland via Chicago. Visit united.com or use the United app to plan your trip.
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Five magnificent stops between Honolulu and Guam filled with spectacular scenery along the way, and then back again. Join Big Metal Bird host, Phil Torres, as he explores our unique Island Hopper route, and discovers what the route means to the people of Micronesia.
It was an unusual sight: a flame on a plane -- but that's exactly what passengers on a flight from Boston to Chicago witnessed as we transported the very special cargo on July 18. The flame was enclosed in a secure lantern and accompanied by a Special Olympic athlete and two Guardians of the Flame – members of a group of more than 100,000 law enforcement officers whose role is to protect and ensure the delivery of the Special Olympics Flame wherever it travels.
This wasn't just any flame, however; it was the Special Olympics' Flame of Hope, the flame which lit the Eternal Flame of Hope to kick off Special Olympics' 50th anniversary celebration Friday morning.
CEO Oscar Munoz, General Counsel and EVP Brett Hart; and Community Affairs VP Sharon Grant, along with many employees and customers, greeted the Flame upon arrival to O'Hare International Airport, where it was presented to local Guardians of the Flame.
We didn't just transport the Flame of Hope on board one of our flights, said Oscar. "That flight symbolized how we are taking the values of inclusion and respect, which that Flame represents, fully on board as a company."
From O'Hare, the Flame traveled to Soldier Field, the site of the very first International Special Olympics Summer Games 50 years ago, and where the Law Enforcement Torch Run® took place the morning of Friday, July 20. More than 100 employees participated in the event, a four-mile course along the lakefront in downtown Chicago, along with hundreds of law enforcement officers and Special Olympics athletes from throughout Illinois and the world.
I saw people from all over the world come together for a great cause, said Global Catering Operations Projects and Performance Manager Yana Strutz, who participated in the Torch Run, "It is wonderful to see my colleagues take time out of their busy schedules to ensure that Special Olympics athletes get the time and attention they deserve."
The run concluded with the lighting of the Eternal Flame of Hope monument, a flame that symbolizes the eternal hope that Special Olympics provides to athletes and their families. The flame will stay forever ignited inside the permanent, 30-foot monument outside of Soldier Field.
United will go beyond just flying the Flame of Hope on one flight, we will 'carry the torch' everywhere we fly and spread the light of this inclusion revolution. We intend to be ambassadors for this movement everywhere we operate, said Oscar.
Our partnership with Special Olympics represents our continuing effort to break down barriers and further build on Special Olympics' remarkable legacy of inclusion by engaging our employees around the world.
On March 8, 2018, we announced a new global relationship with Special Olympics, an organization we've partnered with for many years focusing on supporting the spirit of inclusion with our employees through local communities and through our Charity Miles Program. United's increased sponsorship includes support for major Special Olympics events, including the Special Olympics 50th Anniversary celebrations in Chicago, site of the very first International Special Olympics Summer Games in 1968, and the 2018 Special Olympics USA Games in Seattle.
In addition, United will engage with local Programs in our key markets around the world. Special Olympics embodies our shared purpose to connect people and unite the world. With more than 5 million athletes and 1 million coaches and volunteers in 172 countries, our employees and customers will join forces with Special Olympics to achieve our shared vision of inclusion. Together, we hope to end discrimination against people with intellectual disabilities.
Our relationship with Special Olympics represents a continued effort to break down barriers and further build on the organization's remarkable legacy by engaging our customers and employees around the world. Working together, we created new training that specifically reflects insights from Special Olympics, including training scenarios with real-life situations that individuals with intellectual disabilities face when traveling. By the end of 2018, more than 60,000 United frontline employees will have participated in the new training modules that reflect Special Olympics insights as United takes steps to deliver a world full of inclusion.
Check back this summer for coverage from Special Olympics 50th Anniversary celebrations in Chicago and 2018 Special Olympics USA Games in Seattle.