Three Perfect Days: The Florida Keys
Story by Jacqueline Detwiler | Photography by Tristan Wheelock | Hemispheres December 2016
The moment you set foot in the Florida Keys, you see them: Conch Republic flags, a seashell on a yellow sun in a blue field of stars. The flags stem from a quixotic secession campaign the islanders hatched in 1982, after the U.S. Border Patrol set up a checkpoint near Homestead, Florida, about 45 minutes south of Miami, that effectively cut the Keys off from the mainland. The U.S. government, unsurprisingly, rejected the proposal, and the Keys did not secede. But, in a way, they never really had to. This pleasing, sun-bleached archipelago has been its own thing from the very beginning. Just 45 of the 1,000 or so tropical islands are connected to Florida by a single road; the rest are accessible only by boat. (Everyone has a boat.) In many places, chickens walk the streets. The lobsters are striped, and people eat meat out of conch shells. The Keys are still a little wild in all the best ways. They're the kind of place where you can still legitimately get lost — which is when things get really interesting.
In which Jacqueline catches mutton snapper, meets some turtles, and spends time at the preferred resorts of two former U.S. presidents.
The gentleman at the other end of the bar at Mangrove Mike's is wearing an eye-popping Hawaiian shirt that is completely unbuttoned. It is blearily early, and it's all I can do to focus on my Mangrove Oscar — an English muffin topped with poached eggs, béarnaise sauce, spinach, and blue crab. The man is absorbed in the TV on the wall, which is playing sport fishing's equivalent of a big-wave-surfing highlight reel.
“Have a nice day, Pete," the waitress says as the man pays his bill.
“You too, sweetie."
Pete must be going fishing. There is no other reason to be awake at 6:30 a.m. in Islamorada, a sandy village that spans six islands about a third of the way down the Florida Keys. Snapper, bonefish, tarpon, marlin, mahi-mahi, wahoo, amberjack, goliath grouper — the waters here teem so heartily with marine life it doesn't seem fair to try to catch it. But people do: More saltwater sport fishing records have been established here than anywhere else in the world.
Smathers Beach in Key West
With about 6,500 residents, Islamorada is one of the larger communities in the Keys, the homes set back from the road along the water, most with a boat docked at a slip. Alongside the electric-blue sea, the buildings look blanched and bony, a row of pastel shells. Shops sell their mementos — sea sponges, wind chimes — along either side of U.S. 1, which evolved from the “railroad into the sea," built by oil tycoon Henry Flagler in 1912, into a highway that now connects the archipelago to the mainland.
I've dragged my boyfriend, Alex, along on this trip because we're both keen sport fishers. Actually, that isn't true. I've brought Alex along because I'm from Orlando, which makes the Keys a sort of idyllic backyard to the Disney- and alligator-filled jungle of my youth, and I feel he should see it. Also: I've brought him because my parents fell in love here, and I figure I should too. But let's not get ahead of ourselves — maybe we'll just start with some fishing.
Down the road from Mangrove Mike's, Captain Randy Towe's boat is docked in a small marina behind Lorelei Restaurant & Cabana Bar. When we find him, he's already hopping on and off the boat, tying knots and placing important doodads in necessary locations. Captain Randy has lived in the Keys for 35 years, since an injury ended his minor-league pitching career, at which point he started a rod-making business. (He counts former President George H.W. Bush among his clients.)
Randy Towe, fishing guide
We step aboard Captain Randy's boat, a 34-foot Pursuit Center Console with twin 300 Yamaha engines — which in English means midsize and fast. About 20 minutes later, we reach a spot where he's had luck catching mutton snapper. The current tugs us slowly over the Crocker Reef as Captain Randy baits the lines and casts for us. Almost immediately, the lines zing with bites, and soon I've reeled in three flapping fish. Nothing to it.
Having tossed our haul into chilled seawater, the captain steers us back to dry land. “These'll be the best fish you ever tasted," he says, deftly stripping the fillets from the bones. “Because I don't put them in fresh water. If you rinse them in saltwater, like I do, they'll last a week. If you freeze these, they'll last a year." Captain Randy is not a man of many words, but the words he does say are awfully useful.
Like most restaurants in the Keys, the Lorelei does “catch and cook." I hand over our fillets and the chef pan-fries them in blackening spices and serves them with fries. While we wait on the deck, we order a round of key lime coladas, which taste as if someone dropped a slice of key lime pie into a blender full of rum. The snapper is indeed some of the best fish I've ever tasted. The key lime colada, however, is the best thing I have ever tasted.
“The best time to see the bars and restaurants in Islamorada is at sunset. The Lorelei goes crazy every night. Another good place is the Tiki Bar at Holiday Isle, which they're famous for. And the Postcard Inn is kind of a landmark." –Randy Towe
Fed and buzzed, we return to our previous night's hotel, Cheeca Lodge & Spa, an oceanfront resort that opened in 1946. A siesta is probably in order, but instead we head to the nearby beach to borrow paddleboards from the activities desk. We paddle out to a submerged log. I make the first complete circumnavigation, and Alex claims it in the name of room 403.
Back ashore, we wander past photos of the Lodge's notable visitors, who have included Bing Crosby, Paul Newman, and Jack Nicklaus. (It was also a favorite of the senior President Bush.) Our room has an open-air terrace and a soaker tub that fills from a faucet in the ceiling. I lie on the bed under an old wicker fan until the tub is full, then take a bath in the fresh air to wash off what's left of the ocean salt.
On our way down to Marathon Key, we stop at Robbie's Marina, where they'll let you look at tarpon for a buck and feed them for three and change. At first I think this is a scam. Then I hear the screams. I walk to the end of a dock and hold a limp fish over the water. One second. Two seconds. Three. A tarpon appears and opens its weird bony mouth under my hand. Its jaw looks like the prongs on a Trapper Keeper. Alex gets a slow-motion video of my face contorting as I recoil in horror. It's definitely worth $4.
Colonial architecture on Key West's Duval Street
Back on the elevated highway, I get the sense we're following the perspective line in a painting of the sea. We are surrounded by water, and the view is so beautiful that, over the next half-hour, we see three people driving convertibles while holding GoPros on selfie sticks.
We stop at Marathon because I am determined to see the Turtle Hospital, a former motel where vets rehabilitate ailing rescued turtles before releasing them back into the sea. One tank is full of turtle hatchlings the size of key limes. These guys aren't sick; they just got lost and need a ride back out to the ocean. They are unreasonably cute.
Back on U.S. 1, we drive 20 minutes to the check-in desk of Little Palm Island Resort and Spa, on Little Torch Key, to board a boat to the resort's private island. The boat is named the Truman, largely because the former president and his wife were regulars on the island. Our room is a thatch-roofed cabin with a private deck and hot tub. There's a four-poster bed trailing mosquito netting, and a standalone bath fitted with a candleholder. A path down to the water leads to a secret nook with a firepit and two chairs. Other paths lead to small clearings with white hammocks. If I can't fall in love at a place like this, I'm a lost cause.
The Key West lighthouse
Dinner is at The Dining Room at Little Palm, which won Zagat's Best Hotel Dining award in Florida in 2010, achieving “extraordinary to perfection" ratings in every category. At a table by the sea, we completely overorder: raw oysters, wahoo in coconut milk, butter-poached lobster, steak, corn biscuits, wine. More wine.
After dinner, we head down to our little cove, where we find a crackling fire, lit by some secret handyman while we were away. We lie back, listening to lapping waves and flip-flopping fish trying to escape tiny sharks, looking up at the stars and thinking about nothing at all. A storm rumbles off in the distance, but it, like everything else, is too far away to worry about.
In which Jacqueline stumbles on a shark, staples a dollar to a bar wall for all eternity, and goes to a bar that's unsuitable for children — or anyone, really.
Breakfast this morning shows up at a more reasonable hour, and we eat it in bed because it's a bed that's exceedingly difficult to leave. Eventually, we head off to meet Ray Scarborough, an adventure guide at the resort who also leads spearfishing, sunset sailing, and fishing charters.
Scarborough is the first person I've met in the Keys who didn't come on vacation and just decide to stay. He was born in Miami but grew up here and has been a boat captain since he was 20. “I've had a boat since before I had a car," he says. “I used to drive it to high school. At Key West High School, the beach is about a block away." I imagine the kind of grades I would have gotten at a school like that and shudder.
The old Hemingway haunt Sloppy Joe's, on Duval Street
Scarborough is taking us to Looe Key, which is not a Key in the shops-and-sandy-beaches sense but rather a part of one of the largest coral reefs in the world, which skirts the Keys along the Atlantic Ocean side like an eyebrow. When we arrive, there's a sense of utter isolation. We are in the middle of the sea. Underwater, though, it's like an aquatic rainforest. Purple fan corals wave. Iridescent parrotfish make audible crunching noises as they chip bits of algae off the coral with their beaks. Eventually, a four-foot reef shark appears out of the murk and heads straight for us, which we take as our cue to head back to the boat. Reef sharks usually aren't dangerous if you leave them alone, Scarborough tells us, but swimming mere feet from one is about as much adrenaline as I can handle before lunch.
Back on dry land, we check out of Little Palm, taking a boat back to Little Torch Key and our car, which waits, A/C on, in front of the check-in office. On the dash is a small bottle of the mango-coconut scent used in the hotel's shampoo and conditioner. Was it all a dream? It already seems like it.
Before following U.S. 1 to its terminus, at Key West, we double back to Big Pine Key, to eat lunch at a strange little bar called No Name Pub. Once a bait and tackle shop, it's spent several decades as a popular and quirky watering hole, completely papered in signed dollar bills. “About $250,000 worth," says the bartender when I ask. “It's 20 layers deep in places." We eat spicy Caribbean-style wings and sweet, vinegary smoked fish dip, washing it all down with the house ale, No Name Amber. All the while, we doodle on a dollar bill with markers supplied by the friendly bartender. On the way out, we staple the bill below the TV stand. “Jacqui + Alex," it says. May we last as long as this bar.
Ray Scarborough, adventure guide
Also on Big Pine, we find the National Key Deer Refuge, which is home to about a thousand of the smallest subspecies of white-tailed deer in North America. We take a short walk to Blue Hole, a small freshwater-surfaced lake in an abandoned rock quarry, and, lo, a Key deer comes rustling through the leaves for something to nibble on.
Adorable deer photo secured, we drive to Hogfish Bar and Grill on Stock Island for even more food. Hogfish is a sprawling tiki-roofed garage bar in the back of a working marina covered in out-of-state license plates. Because it serves only fresh-caught seafood (and because the species, sadly, is overfished), Hogfish doesn't always offer its namesake. If it is available, order it — the flesh is uniquely flaky and tasty. We try it fried in taco form, and it's even better than the snapper we caught yesterday.
Next, it's on to Key West, which has an architectural style similar to New Orleans' French Quarter, as well as the same laissez les bon temps rouler spirit. We drop our bags at the Cypress House Hotel, which consists of three traditional 19th-century Conch houses — the homes of the descendants of Bahamian settlers known as Conchs. The hotel's main building is a frothy double-porched thing with a green pool grotto made mostly out of palm fronds.
“There are about a thousand islands in the Keys, and a lot of them are secluded and uninhabited. It's beautiful, and you can just get in the water and swim. When I'm off work I do pretty much the same thing. I can't say I hate my job at all." –Ray Scarborough
After stopping in at the Ibis Bay Resort and renting a couple of bikes, which we take cruising along the waterfront to soak in the salty air, we decide that we're ready for another drink. So we stroll down to Duval Street, Key West's equivalent of Bourbon Street, to see what's what. Live music issues from dozens of open bars and porches. Cover bands play Led Zeppelin, Sublime, the Red Hot Chili Peppers. Most people look at least slightly soused.
Two bars, Sloppy Joe's and Captain Tony's Saloon, claim to have been the preferred watering hole of the notoriously booze-soaked writer Ernest Hemingway, who once lived down the street. As far as I can tell, Papa drank at both. Alex and I end up in a mint green Victorian mansion with white trim, where the cocktail bar Caroline's Other Side is hopping. I order a Hemingway daiquiri — a concoction of rum, lime and grapefruit juices, simple syrup, and maraschino liqueur that its eponymous author was rumored to double fist during his time in Cuba.
Hemingway daiquiris are quite strong, which is the best excuse I have for our next stop: Garden of Eden, a clothing-optional bar up a wrought-iron staircase from Bull & Whistle Bar. Inside, the scene feels a lot like a middle school dance—most of the patrons line the walls, nervously sipping well drinks, while an uninhibited middle-aged gentleman dances, well, uninhibitedly, in the center. We take this as our cue that it's bedtime.
In which Jacqueline goes exploring with a photographer, visits the home of a great American author, and chows down on some ribs.
I awake bleary-eyed and demand a heavy breakfast before I'll set foot on another boat. We walk three blocks to 2¢ Restaurant and Pub, a brunch spot with a large garden and a polished wood interior that looks like the inside of an expensive yacht. I order the Thai chicken wings and waffles. Alex orders something healthy and then steals some of my wings.
After breakfast, we walk to the Key West Yacht Club to meet Jeffrey Cardenas, a gallery owner and photographer who once wrote a Walden-esque memoir about living alone on a boat. Right now, he's working on a project about the Keys and Cuba called Twins of Nature. He has graciously offered to take us on a trip to nearby Woman Key, where he's shooting some landscapes.
Feeding a tarpon at Robbie's Marina
Cardenas drops anchor about 50 feet offshore, near a feeding frenzy. “It's like the Serengeti out here, only wet," he says, watching brown pelicans dive into a school of glass minnows so large it darkens the water to a deep gray. He hops out of the boat and wades up to a small island. On shore there's an impromptu art project created by the island's sporadic visitors — a towering heap of driftwood, netting, buoys, and found objects that looks a bit like a parade float created by a magpie. “Anyone can add to it," Cardenas says. “If you see something you like, pick it up and put it here."
We walk the beach in search of goodies. Camera in hand, Cardenas sits in the sand to get an angle on a piece of driftwood that looks like a cow skull.
“It's hard to believe we're still in America," I say.
“Not for long," Cardenas says. “America ends 20 miles from here."
Before we leave, we add an old milk crate and some sea glass to the construction. Cardenas hangs a piece of string from a stick so that it looks as if the parade float is going fishing. Artists are so creative.
Jeffrey Cardenas, photographer
On the way back, Cardenas drops us off at his gallery/shop, Salt, a couple of blocks from Key West Cemetery, where we pick up salt scrubs and locally crafted jewelry for friends back home. Most of the houses around here are candy-colored Victorians bestrewn with wind chimes and flying Conch Republic flags. A person could walk here all day, imagining buying a house with a hammock and starting, say, a combination yoga studio and laundromat.
The heat down here can be exhausting, which is one reason (along with proximity to Cuba) the coffee's so strong. We stop at Cuban Coffee Queen, a cheery roadside stand in a tin-roofed hut, for a pair of buccis — thick and sugary espresso shots — along with Cuban bread topped with cream cheese and guava jam. It's sweet and rich and pairs beautifully with the taste of coffee and salt.
“There's a guy who makes honey from the mangrove trees here, and another couple has the Earth and Sea Farm — they evaporate the Gulf Stream water and make sea salt out of it for eating. You can buy both at Salt Gallery in Key West." –Jeffrey Cardenas
Now it's time to see the home of the man himself, Hemingway, who lived, boated, and drank in Key West from 1928 to 1939. The house is a bit touristy, but its mystique is powerful enough that it doesn't matter. It's an old place, creaky, with rambling porches and a pool and the writer's peaceful studio up a flight of steps in a separate building. He wrote much of For Whom the Bell Tolls here, surrounded by a rabble of six-toed cats, the descendants of whom still roam the grounds, hoping for snacks.
The fish in the Keys is so fresh it seems like sacrilege to cry uncle, but we do anyway and head to Firefly, a Key West soul-food-fusion restaurant in a two-story Southern-style house that's run by Tricia Coyne, who went to culinary school in Atlanta. We order fluffy bacon-and-crab beignets, deviled eggs, fried green tomatoes, bison short ribs that are falling off the bone, and a pair of beers we've never heard of from an eclectic booze list. Everything is rich and fatty and wonderful and, yes, not fish.
Fishing off the dock at Cheeca Lodge
We are starting to get into the idea of spending the rest of the evening doing nothing, and there's a fine porch waiting for us back at the Cypress House, so we stop at a gas station to pick up a pair of Landshark Lagers, the house beer from local hero Jimmy Buffett's Margaritaville. The foliage beyond the porch is thick and glossy, and we peer through it at people riding by on bikes on their way down to Duval.
“What's so interesting about the Keys is how seriously people take relaxation," Alex says. He mentions the “no public cell phone use" signs staked all over Little Palm Island, and the man we saw at a bar on Duval who'd brought his own beer koozie. He has a point. We've met so many people who came here on vacation and decided to stay. It's such a common story that there's a look people give you when they tell it, a twitch of a smile and a raised brow that says, “Are you next?"
A decision like that might come easily, but it's a decision nonetheless: Leave the malls and entertainment centers and office buildings to move to a place that is exceptionally beautiful and full of life, but faraway and slower-paced. Risk the hurricanes for a shot at real happiness. Live more, by doing less.Popular Mechanics articles editor Jacqueline Detwiler wonders if her boss would notice if she installed a hammock behind her desk.
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Independence Day celebrations in 5 countries
Every country celebrates a birthday, and some celebrations are bigger than others. Here are five of the biggest birthday celebrations, which also happen to occur in the summer months in places worth paying a visit, birthday or not.
Canada Day – Canada
July 1 in Canada has a lot in common with its southern neighbor's celebration three days later. Many Canadian cities stage concerts, carnivals, parades and fireworks to celebrate the British Empire's 1867 recognition of the Dominion of Canada. Canada Day festivities in the capital city of Ottawa are the most robust, as the city center shuts down for the day for an acrobatic air show by the Snowbirds (the Royal Canadian Air Force's version of the Blue Angels), 10 hours of free concerts, a big fireworks show and a speech by Prime Minister Justin Trudeau. Even the color scheme is similar: red and white, but skip the blue.
Independence Day – USA
July 4 was the date in 1776 when colonists declared their independence from England—and Americans have been commemorating it since 1785 in Bristol, Rhode Island. That's the site of the oldest and longest celebration—three weeks of events that climax with a big parade and fireworks over Bristol Harbor. America's most-watched pyrotechnic spectacle is the Macy's 4th of July Fireworks Show, best viewed from Manhattan's Lower East Side (or on NBC). The Fourth is also celebrated with a massive fireworks display in Washington, D.C., where crowds pack the National Mall to see them illuminate the monuments, and in Chicago where they're admired from Navy Pier as they dazzle over Lake Michigan.
Bastille Day – France
July 14 is the day when the 1789 “Storming of the Bastille" is celebrated. The rebellious act to free seven political prisoners was the flashpoint for the French Revolution, which ended the monarchy of Louis XVI. Celebrations in Paris conclude with fireworks that gush dramatically from the Eiffel Tower, best viewed from the adjacent Parc du Champ-de-Mars or from one of the nearby bridges over the Seine. A morning military parade on Champs-Elysees is also a Bastille Day tradition. Fireworks and other celebrations are enjoyed in many other French cities, too, including a big pyrotechnic show in Marseilles over the Mediterranean Sea.
National Day – Switzerland
August 1 was the date in 1291 that the Swiss Federal Charter was signed, uniting the three original cantons (states) of the Swiss Confederation that would become modern-day Switzerland. The Swiss only began observing the occasion on the 600th anniversary in 1891, but it's become a big deal. Parades, carnivals, traditional folk music performances and fireworks enliven many Swiss cities and towns on National Day, as do special brunches in many restaurants, public bonfires and the ringing of every church bell from 8:00 to 8:15 p.m. Festivities in Zurich are the biggest, although celebrations in Geneva, Bern, Lausanne and Basel are also exuberant.
Independence Day – Mexico
September 16 is Mexico's Independence Day—not May 5, the date of a heroic battle and the excuse for so many Cinco de Mayo celebrations in the U.S. It was on September 16, 1810, when the rebellion that eventually toppled the Spanish colonial rulers began. The holiday is observed most heartily in Mexico City, where the biggest celebration, following a speech by President Enrique Peña Nieto, takes place in the massive Zócalo Square. But there are also celebrations in every part of the city and in every city in Mexico, typically featuring a parade, street parties and fireworks.
If you go
United Airlines offers numerous flights to all of these countries. MileagePlus® Rewards can help pay for your hotel room and rental car once you arrive. Go to united.com or use the United app to celebrate the birthday of a country.
United offers Star Alliance flight status information
We're expanding the availability of flight status (FLIFO) information for our customers and employees. On June 14, we began offering access to flight status information for all Star Alliance member flights within the United app, and through Google Home and Amazon Alexa (e.g. "Alexa, ask United to check the status of my flight on Lufthansa").
We're committed to providing our customers and employees with the tools they need to ensure a seamless journey when connecting with our partners," said Alliance Partner Operations Senior Manager Katie Russell. "These enhancements will allow our employees to make real-time decisions for customers with connecting flights and provide our customers with easy access to information from partner carriers without requiring them to use another app.
While onboard United flights, customers can even check the most current status of their connecting Star Alliance member flight utilizing our complimentary access to the United app through United Wi-Fi℠, available on all mainline and two-cabin regional aircraft.
After a tragic accident, a father's lessons resonate with his daughter
As far as fatherly wisdom was concerned, there were a few things that Ramp Service Employee Allen Gullang was determined to pass along to his daughters, Heather and Amanda.
Under his guidance, they learned the importance of hard work and the virtue of putting the needs of others first. They also developed a love of the outdoors and of travel that bonds them as a family to this day. But it's what they learned from their dad when he didn't think they were looking that made the biggest impact of all.
On a snowy March afternoon 12 years ago, Allen and two of his ramp colleagues were driving home from their shift at O'Hare International Airport when a car drifted over the center line and hit them head on. The next thing Allen remembers is waking up in a hospital bed weeks later, lucky to be alive but left with permanent disabilities.
Heather, who was 10-years-old at the time, watched as her father fought his way through a year-long rehabilitation, re-learning how to walk and talk, slowly regaining his memories and putting his life back together, piece by piece. Though his frustrations mounted at times, his will never waned, a lesson in perseverance that Heather has not forgotten. It's one of the attributes that she brought with her when she joined United herself last December, realizing a life-long dream of following in Allen's footsteps.
In honor of Father's Day, watch the video above to hear the Gullangs' story of how a single moment forever changed their family, leading Heather to a greater admiration for the man she not only calls Dad, but also her colleague.
A final farewell to the Queen of the Skies
Have you ever wondered what happens to an aircraft after the end of its useful life? Well 13 lucky MileagePlus® members and two of our employees got to find out after winning an Exclusives auction.
The auction prize was a behind-the-scenes trip to Universal Asset Management's (UAM) facility in Tupelo, Mississippi, where our last four Boeing 747s are being disassembled and the parts prepared for recycling. It also included a champagne toast onboard N118UA, our last 747, and dinner under the stars with the Queen of the Skies.
As we arrived at the facility, adjacent to Tupelo Regional Airport, several of us were a little emotional when we saw the aircraft in different stages of disassembly. But in the company's lunch room — decked out with Malaysia Air first class seats, airplane art and a table made from a stabilizer — Keri Wright, UAM's CEO was firm about her company's mission. “We don't tear down or scrap aircraft. We focus on recycling," she stated. “Think of it like organ donation. These parts can help other aircraft continue to fly. And you are among the few people in the world to see all of this from behind the scenes."
We then headed to the facility's Global Distribution Center warehouse. The lobby of the facility featured our first class seats and galley carts, along with a tire rim-and-glass coffee table and a credenza/bar made from the window section of a 737 fuselage.
Wright, along with Senior Manager, Fleet Transactions Jim Garcia walked us through the warehouse and explained how parts were tracked and cataloged. Among the items we saw were two wrapped helicopters, Boeing 777 landing gears, 747 tire rims, thrust reversers and a cowling from the center engine of a McDonnell Douglas DC-10.
When the warehouse tour ended, it was back to the airport facility. We went out on the tarmac and took pictures of the 747s, including the star of the show — N118UA. Though, all four jets' engines had been removed already.
After a series of photos, we climbed the air stair onto N118UA, where we were able to walk around. I had the honor of being on the last United 747 flight in November 2017, so I grabbed a glass of champagne and sat in my seat — 8C — one last time. We all joined in a final champagne toast to the jet, then deplaned for dinner.
One of the lucky winners was Eric Chiang, an economics professor at Florida Atlantic University, who brought his friend Vicky Chiu, who flew in from Hawaii. “We've been friends for years and we love to travel. I was onboard a flight to London and read a short newspaper article about this auction," he recalled. “We were about to take off and I called Vicky and asked her to bid on this event. I bid 168,000 miles, but got it for less.
Chiang and Chiu are both 1K flyers on United. “I expect to do around 15 international trips this year. I love United because they're able to reach more global destinations than any other airlines," said Chiang.
They both appreciated the chance to attend such a unique event. “Experiences like these are different. We really appreciate the chance for this behind-the-scenes event," said Chiang. “It was also a great chance to meet United executives and share feedback on what's going on at the airline."
John Ikeda, a United Global Services member who is approaching two million miles, brought his partner Michael Phelps to the event. He also read about the event in a newspaper article, but he also had a special reason for wanting to attend the 747 farewell.
At the last MileagePlus® Experiences auction, I won an altimeter that was on an older 747, and I wanted to see if I could trace where it came from," said Ikeda. “Jim Garcia was able to trace it for me. I was thrilled that I was able to see other parts from that same 747 in the UAM warehouse.
The event exceeded Ikeda's expectations. “I thought it would just be a warehouse tour, a walk on a plane and not much else," he said. “It was great to hear Keri and Jim discuss this side of the business. It was fascinating to learn that this place wasn't about scrapping aircraft, but giving them new life."
Although this event has passed, it's not too late to bid on hardware from N118UA, including single window and American flag cuts out and tail numbers. Join the MileagePlus® Exclusives email list to stay in the know on the hardware auction and other future events.
Bay Area youth surprised with spots in Warriors championship parade
San Francisco-based Customer Service Manager O'Morris Adams has volunteered at local Boys & Girls Clubs for more than 20 years, so it wasn't a surprise when he stopped by one of the Bay Area clubhouses Monday afternoon.
This visit was about more than just spending time with local youth, though. O'Morris knew he would be in the Golden State Warriors championship parade on Tuesday, since as the official airline of the Warriors, United would have a float in the parade. So this particular visit to the club was to let two of its kids know they'd be joining him and two dozen of his United colleagues on the float, in the parade. Coolest field trip ever.
Watch the surprise and the unforgettable day that followed.
3 under the radar places to travel to in July
July is a popular travel month, which means you may be sharing your vacation with scores of fellow travelers if you choose to travel to a popular destination. This summer, expand your horizons and travel to these under-the-radar destinations for a more off-the-beaten-path experience.
When you think of Sweden, Stockholm and Gothenburg might be the first cities to come to mind, but Malmö is an underrated gem. Sweden's third-largest city blends medieval Scandinavian charm with modern urban appeal. Malmö sits on the southeast coast and is a 45-minute train ride or drive from Copenhagen, connected by the iconic Øresund Bridge.
This picturesque beach-side town was first established in the 13th century, but Malmö has undergone a massive revitalization over the last two decades. Walk along the cobblestone streets and take in beautiful old buildings and centuries-old statues alongside cutting-edge architecture, public art and plazas. The city has an abundance of greenery and parks, including five public beaches. Ribersborg Beach is the most visited beach and is a leisurely walk or bike ride from the city center.
Some of the city's most popular attractions include Malmö City Square, which you'll find in the heart of old town (Gamla Staden); St. Peter's Church, the oldest building in the city; and Malmöhus Castle, a 16th-century fortress and the oldest castle in Sweden. Explore the history of the castle and Renaissance art in the Malmö Art Museum inside the castle. The nearby Moderna Museet Malmö and Malmö Konsthall house permanent collections and exhibitions.
Malmö is also a worthwhile destination for foodies. National Geographic named it one of the best places to visit in 2018 thanks to its global food culture. From casual cafes and food carts to a few Michelin-starred restaurants, you can sample a variety of cuisines during your stay in Malmö.
Many flock to experience the Incan ruins of Machu Picchu, but the high traffic of visitors is threatening the sustainability of the site. For those who want to visit an ancient marvel that's less trodden with tourists, Chachapoyas fits the bill. Archaeological and natural wonders abound in this region once inhabited by a pre-Incan civilization. Chachapoyas stands for “The Cloud Warriors," who called this region home about 1,500 years ago.
The town of Chachapoyas serves as a home base to explore several breathtaking sites of ancient Peru. This town is nestled in a valley surrounded by the Andes Mountains and a cloudy forest in northern Peru, and offers an opportunity to explore waterfalls, archeological ruins, burial sites and even a mummy museum.
There are also numerous treks for experienced hikers, including the Chachapoyas' mountaintop fortress Kuelap, built 600 to 900 years before Machu Picchu. Kuelap has largely flown under the radar because this region is so remote and it's difficult to cover much ground by foot or car. But cable cars installed last year make it possible to cover about 2.5 miles of Kuelap in just 20 minutes. When you disembark the cable car, you can explore the vast complex and the remains of hundreds of structures, homes, buildings and other remnants of the ancient Chachapoyas civilization.
Other attractions close to Chachapoyas include hiking to the Gocta Waterfall. It's one of the tallest waterfalls in the world and was only made known to the public in 2005. The Leymebamba Museum is also well worth a visit, housing mummies and other remains from the civilization that once thrived here.
Best known for its vibrant fall foliage and top-rated ski resorts, Vermont can be easily overlooked as a summer destination. But there's still plenty to experience in July, especially in and around Burlington. Vermont's largest city is also home to the state's largest university. Visiting in July means you can expect fewer students crowding restaurants and bars, but no lack of shopping, entertainment and festivals. Burlington serves as an excellent hub for outdoor activities in the region.
The center of downtown Burlington is Church Street Marketplace. The open-air pedestrian-only mall spans four blocks and has over 100 major retailers, boutiques and restaurants with events and live entertainment. July's events include free concerts sponsored by Burlington City Arts, a farmer's market every Saturday, fitness classes and the month's biggest event for craft beer drinkers: The Vermont Brewers Festival, which features breweries from all over the state.
Nearby beaches include the beautiful sandy Blanchard Beach, the secluded Oakledge Cove and the picnic-perfect Leddy Beach with its grassy picnic areas, grills and tables. North Beach is Burlington's largest beach and the only one with active lifeguards on duty. You can also rent kayaks, canoes and stand up paddleboards at North Beach.
United Airlines offers service from U.S. cities to Burlington International Airport. To travel to Malmö, it's more direct to fly to Copenhagen than Stockholm. Lima is the closest international airport to Chachapoyas. United and our Star Alliance™ partner airlines offer service to Copenhagen and Lima from multiple U.S. cities. Visit united.com or use the United app to plan your vacation to one of these under-the-radar destinations this July.
Guide to Singapore: An island apart
Singapore is about the size of New York City, and like The Big Apple, it's a small place surrounded by water, but packed with people, intriguing attractions and great restaurants.
Singapore is more densely populated than New York City with 5.6 million people packed on the island, but tucked in the shadows of its 4,300 high-rises are two world-class gardens that have helped Singapore earn its nickname of “The Garden City." The Singapore Botanic Gardens is a 200-acre oasis of green established in 1859 where the revered National Orchid Garden is one of dozens of unique gardens. In 2015, it became one of only three gardens to be named a UNESCO World Heritage Site. An equally impressive contemporary take on botanic gardens is Gardens by the Bay, a waterfront collection of gardens, massive glass conservatories and the awe-inspiring Supertrees.
The National Gallery Singapore opened in November 2015. The gallery holds the world's largest public collection of Singaporean and Southeast Asian art displayed inside two stately buildings that previously served as City Hall and the Supreme Court during Singapore's British colonial days. A few blocks away on the waterfront are two iconic contemporary landmarks: the bowl-shaped ArtScience Museum (part of the $8-billion Marina Bay Sands casino and resort that opened in 2010) and Singapore's honeycomb-like performing arts center, Esplanade Theatres on the Bay.
Fusion of flavors
Singapore has a long history of colonization, occupation and trade with European and other Asian countries, which is reflected in the variety of cuisines expertly presented in its best restaurants. Of 37 Michelin-star restaurants in the city, five serve Japanese fare, eight serve Chinese food and, oddly enough, eight serve French cuisine. Surprisingly, none of the restaurants on the list serve uniquely Singaporean food, although you can get a taste of local favorites like Bak kut teh (pork rib soup) and Wanton Mee (noodles with pork dumplings) at the city's open-air street food markets.
For a place that's so compact, Singapore offers a wealth of outdoor-activities. Most are found at the 10-mile-long, beach-hugging East Coast Park, where you can choose to hike, bike, swim or wakeboard. Further inland, you can take advantage of Singapore's distinction as one of only two cities in the world with a significant rainforest inside its boundaries. Hike the trails in Bukit Timah Nature Reserve to reach the island nation's highest point, 537-foot Bukit Timah. Although there are more than 50 Singapore skyscrapers that are taller than this hilltop, taking the elevator to a top-floor bar just isn't the same.
The island of Singapore has many of its own islands and islets, and the small islands of Kusu and Sentosa just off its southern shore have a lot to offer. Kusu, which means tortoise in Chinese, can be reached by ferry in one hour — the perfect day trip to escape Singapore's urban buzz. Kusu is known for its swimming lagoons, quiet beaches, Malay shrines and a tortoise sanctuary. Sentosa is quite different — a buzzy resort island accessible by monorail or a pedestrian bridge. It has its own beaches, spas, a world-class golf course and several adventure-oriented theme parks.
Singapore's equatorial location ensures warm weather year round as the average highs range from 86 to 90 each month. The monsoon season from November to January brings the most rain with about 11 inches per month compared to 6 inches the rest of the year. Singapore is also known for safety, and Tokyo is the only city worldwide that's considered safer. Hotel prices are comparable to New York City and London, and English is one of the official languages. Most Singaporeans speak English as their primary or secondary language, so no need to worry about anything being lost in translation.
If you go
United Airlines offers flights to Singapore from numerous U.S. cities, including nonstops from San Francisco and Los Angeles, and from cities worldwide. MileagePlus® Rewards can help pay for your hotel room once you arrive. Go to united.com or use the United app to plan your Singapore vacation.
Tips for traveling with children
Flying with kids can be a source of anxiety for parents. In addition to all the details you have to remember for yourself, you're also responsible for tiny travelers whose schedules and comfort zones can be disrupted when they take a trip.
We welcome families with children, and we do our best to make the experience smooth and comfortable. But, as many of our employees who travel with kids can attest, a little information goes a long way. We've outlined a few of our policies on child and infant travel here.
Ticketing and seat assignments
When you're looking at United's reservation system or policies, an infant is any child under two years old. Children under two can travel on an adult's lap without a seat assignment.
You'll need to add all children to your reservation regardless of their ages, but whether or not your infant gets a ticket depends on your itinerary. If you're traveling within the U.S., Puerto Rico or the U.S. Virgin Islands, your infant will not be a ticketed passenger; for all other destinations, you'll purchase an infant fare.
As soon as your child turns two, the child must have a ticket and occupy a seat. That means if you leave for your vacation before your child turns two, but return after the child's second birthday, the child will require a ticket for the return portion of your flight.
Another reason your young child might need a seat? Only one infant is allowed to sit on each adult's lap during the flight. That means if you're the only adult traveling with two or more children under two years old, you'll need to purchase seats for all but one of the children.
For all families that want to sit together, we recommend booking in advance and either choosing a fare category that lets you select seats, or purchasing advance seat assignments if you're flying on a Basic Economy ticket.
FAA-approved child restraint systems, child safety seats, and car seats manufactured after 1985 are safe to use, and necessary if your infant is traveling in his or her own seat. Booster seats, belly belts attached to adult seat belts, and vests or harnesses that hold an infant to an adult's chest cannot be used for safety reasons.
Traveling with strollers, breast pumps and other necessities
In addition to your normal baggage allowance, you can check a stroller free of charge. Some travelers prefer to use their strollers in the airport and check them at the gate, but be sure your stroller is collapsible. Strollers can't be carried onto the aircraft — you'll be able to pick up your stroller at the aircraft door in your connecting or destination city.
Nursing mothers are welcome to breastfeed or pump on United aircraft or in our facilities. In fact, many of our airports have dedicated rooms and Mamava nursing pods. Breast pumps are also allowed in addition to your normal carry-on baggage allowance.
Staying comfortable during the flight
Changing tables are available on many of our larger aircraft. Your flight attendant will be able to direct you to the correct lavatory.
On international flights, a complimentary bassinet may be available for use in flight, when the seatbelt sign is off. You can request bassinets by calling the United Customer Contact Center, which we recommend doing early since there are a limited number available.
For more on our policies, visit https://www.united.com/ual/en/us/fly/travel/special-needs/infants.html
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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If a United beverage cart could talk, it would tell you how we select the brands we serve in the sky. But since they can't talk, host Phil Torres will have to spill the proverbial beans. Join him as he visits an illy Caffè and the family behind Colby Red wine.
"Many years ago at an air show, I saw a T-shirt that said 'Chicks fly,'" said Orlando-based Aircraft Maintenance Supervisor and Chix Fix team coach Laura Spolar. "And I told my husband, 'Chicks can fly, but chicks can also fix!' A lot of people don't know that women are aircraft mechanics."
Laura didn't know it at the time, but that conversation would serve as the inspiration for the team name of our history-making, all-female team of technicians that competed in the
2018 Aerospace Maintenance Competition (AMC). Of 69 teams at this year's AMC, only three were made up entirely of women, and Chix Fix was the only one representing a commercial airline.
"It's so important for us to show young girls and women that this is a career option for them," said Airframe Overhaul and Repair Managing Director Bonnie Turner, the Chix Fix team captain.
Chix Fix is made up of technicians from five stations. As a group, they only practiced together three times before the competition, but they bonded instantly.
"I feel like I've known these women my whole career," said Denver-based Line Technician Janelle Bendt. "It's been a lot of fun getting to know them and learning from them."
"As a team we just communicate really well; we all respect each other," said San Francisco-based Base Technician Katrina Oyer. "The biggest thing I've taken away from this experience is confidence. Working with these ladies is an eye opener. We really can do anything."
Watch the video above to learn more about Chix Fix and their journey to the AMC.
On March 8 we announced a new global relationship with Special Olympics, an organization we've partnered with for many years focusing on supporting the spirit of inclusivity with our employees through local communities and through our Charity Miles Program. Through our expanded relationship, we are proud to be a part of the Special Olympics 50th Anniversary celebrations in Chicago, the 2018 Special Olympics USA Games in Seattle and we're excited to also engage with local programs in our key markets and around the world.
Special Olympics embodies our shared purpose to connect people and unite the world. With more than five million athletes and one 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.
Working to break down barriers and promote inclusion begins with offering the best possible service to all of our customers. We will work together with Special Olympics to ensure new employee training recreates real-life situations that individuals with intellectual disabilities face when they travel. By the end of 2018, more than 60,000 United frontline employees will participate in new training modules that reflect Special Olympics' insights as United takes steps to lead in inclusion.
Check back this summer for coverage from Special Olympics 50th Anniversary celebrations in Chicago and 2018 Special Olympics USA Games in Seattle.