Travel Smarts

TRAVEL SMARTS

August 14, 2005

HILTONS CHECK IN WITH NEW UPGRADES

The hotel upgrade race continues. Hilton recently announced that it was adding new amenities. As of July 15, 250,000 rooms in Hilton properties in the United States had new, easy-to-set alarm clocks, with large screens and cables for connecting to iPods or computers. All but a few hotels offer high-speed Internet access, either wired or wireless.

Other upgrades vary by the brand. Hilton Hotels and Resorts will feature toiletries from Crabtree & Evelyn, and new metal accessories, like tissue-box covers, soap dishes and ice buckets. Nineteen-inch televisions will be replaced by 27-inch versions, and armoires are being taken out, leaving more space.

Guests at Doubletree and Homewood Suites can expect renovated bathrooms, with curved shower rods and granite countertops. Embassy Suites are getting larger, fluffier towels, and Hilton Garden Inns will have Herman Miller desk chairs and high-definition televisions. Matt Hart, the company's president and chief operating officer, said that the upgrades are partly a response to more demanding guests.

It all started with the battle of the beds. In the wake of upscale bedding programs at Westin and Sheraton, Hilton Hotels is bringing out plush-top Serta mattresses with extra coil support, plus 250-thread-count linens. The company's other brands are also improving their mattresses and linens and adding pillows.

Hilton isn't the only chain looking past beds. Marriott announced a plan to install 50,000 32-inch high-definition televisions in its hotels in the next four years. Hyatt will have in-room XM satellite radio service this fall.

BIRD CITY

100,000 gannets take up residence on a tiny piece of Quebec

The seasonal inhabitants of Ile Bonaventure, Quebec, are noisy. And smelly. And they come to the island by the thousands, with their offspring and their strange customs.

They are gannets -- downy, cream-colored seabirds. Each year from April to October, 100,000 of them take up residence on tiny Ile Bonaventure, in eastern Quebec's Gaspe region. They form the largest gannet colony in North America and the second-largest in the world (the other is in Scotland).

A one-hour boat ride takes you from the nearest town, Perce, past Bonaventure's cliffs and beaches -- which are literally white with birds -- to a dock. From here, choose any of four trails through woods and meadows to the bird colony. The easiest trail, called the Colony, is 1.7 miles.

You'll pass fields of wildflowers like purple fireweed and goldenrod. Seals cavort just offshore from the rocky beaches. But the most amazing sight is the birds' nesting area. Long before you see them, you'll hear the cacophony of their cawing and squawking. Often two birds will clack their beaks together in a sign of affection.

The cruise from Perce offers other memorable sights as well, passing by a Canadian landmark -- Rocher Perce, which means "pierced rock." This arched cliff rises 290 feet from the sea, an outcropping with a hole bored through.

Getting to Perce is a long trip for most visitors. The nearest major city, Quebec City, is 485 miles away. But the journey itself offers unique opportunities for sightseeing, like a stop in Tadoussac for a whale-watching tours of the St. Lawrence River.

For more information, contact the Perce Tourism Bureau: 418-782-5448; www.perce.info.

Pennsylvania has a splashy deal

For a late summer visit to Dorney Park and Wild Water Kingdom in the Lehigh Valley of eastern Pennsylvania, there are 30 hotels in the area that offer Dorney Deals through Sept. 6. Most packages combine accommodations, discounted park tickets and breakfast; taxes of 9.5 percent are extra. A few properties include free all-day tickets as part of the package.

Details: 800-747-0561; www.lehighvalleypa.org.

Gas for the trip back

Guests who book the Free Ride Home package at one of more than a dozen participating Stowe, Vt., properties until Aug. 31 will receive a $50 Mobil gas card when they leave. The card must be used at Maplefields, a local store and gas station. A three-night minimum stay is required.

For more information: 800-247-8693; www.gostowe.com.

-- From wire reports

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