Travel Smarts

TRAVEL SMARTS

June 05, 2005

AT HOTEL, YOU'RE NOT IN KANSAS ANYMORE

Steve Beaumont has built a fantasyland for couples on the Kansas prairie.

Chateau Avalon, near Kansas City, is a luxury hotel with 24 themes in its 62 rooms, although Beaumont likes to call them "experiences."

The Tahitian has two 8-foot Easter Island heads, a palm tree, a bed draped in mosquito netting and a jetted bathtub under a thatched roof. Walk into Camelot and there's a suit of armor between two flaming sconces, a ship cradling a bathtub and a drawbridge leading to a bed inside a turret. Serengeti has a rhino head bursting through the wall.

"This is our most expensive room," Beaumont said as he led the way into the three-story Monte Cristo. "It's $499 a night, and booked every Saturday through October.

"But even the rooms that go for $99 a night on weekdays are like something that nobody has ever seen. This isn't a hotel -- this is entertainment."

Other "experiences" include Pirates' Cove, Jesse James Escape, Egyptian Palace, Mayan Rainforest, New York Penthouse and Roman Dynasty.

Each room comes with a flat-screen TV, surround sound systems, two-person jetted tub, and breakfast in bed.

The hotel is the newest addition to the Village West district at the intersection of Interstates 435 and 70, about a 30-minute drive from downtown Kansas City.

The development began with the opening in 2000 of the Kansas City Speedway. That was followed by Cabela's sporting goods store, Great Wolf Lodge, Nebraska Furniture Mart and Community America Ballpark.

For more information: 877-522-8256; www.chateauavalon.net.

Bright Spots

Three lagoons in Puerto Rico glow from bioluminescence

At night near Fajardo, Puerto Rico, in a lagoon fringed with mangrove thickets, kayakers set their paddles down and look to the dark water for a secret of nature seen in few other places.

You simply run a hand through the water, and a greenish glow whirls off your fingers like radiant stardust. Many who come here choose to jump out of their kayaks and watch the bioluminescence stream off their hands and forearms as they swim breast stroke.

"Bioluminescence is actually very common, but not in the intensity we find in these ecosystems," says guide Mark Donaldson, who has been leading groups to the bioluminescent lagoon for eight years.

The mosaic of light underwater, each tiny dot of it resembling a firefly, is produced by microscopic plankton that create light through a chemical reaction when disturbed. The tiny organisms, known as dinoflagellates, feed on the abundant blue-green algae in the saltwater lagoon, making their concentrations higher than in regular seawater.

Visitors reach the enclosed lagoon by making a half-hour paddle from a marina in the eastern town of Fajardo through a canal that winds through mangroves. As the sun sets, bats can be seen swooping past overhead.

When first-time visitors emerge in the lagoon and their paddles begin to stir up the glow, some exclaim, "Whoa!" Children point excitedly.

"It was like beads of light that were going off the hairs on your arm," says Carl Wolf, a lawyer from San Francisco visiting for the first time.

When the bioluminescence is brightest, usually from August through October, streaks of light from darting needlefish and stingrays can be seen from the surface. In other months, cooler waters generally decrease the bioluminescence, but it still can be seen.

Puerto Rico is uniquely blessed with three bioluminescent lagoons. Tour guides on the outlying island of Vieques claim that their spot at Mosquito Bay is probably the brightest in the world. There is another lagoon at La Parguera in southwestern Puerto Rico.

The closest to San Juan and its international airport is Fajardo's Laguna Grande, or Grand Lagoon.

For more information on the tours:

Las Tortugas Adventures: 787-725-5169; www.kayak-pr.com.

Yokahu Kayaks: 787-604-7375.

Eco Xcursion Aquatica: 787-888-2887.

Tour Asia in a week

Ritz Tours offers three Asia in a Week packages that start at $1,199 a person, double occupancy (excluding taxes) for departures from Los Angeles and San Francisco. Prices are higher for departures from other cities.

Each tour starts in Tokyo and adds Bangkok, Beijing or Hong Kong, and each is seven days and six nights.

Included are airfare, hotel, air-port-hotel transportation, Amer-ican breakfast buffet and sightseeing. More information: 800-900-2446; www.ritztours.com.

Take a hike: the world's best

The best classic hikes in the world, from National Geographic Adventure magazine:

Buckskin Gulch, Utah

John Muir Trail, Calif.

Kalalau Trail, Kauai, Hawaii

McGonagall Pass, Denali, Alaska

Fitz Roy Grand Tour, Argentina

Kungsleden, Sweden

Mount Everest Base Camp Trek, Nepal

Mount Kilimanjaro, Tanzania

Routeburn Track, New Zealand

Shackleton Crossing, South Georgia Island

-From wire reports

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