Designer tours

Travel companies are creating custom trips for group travelers

March 12, 2006|By NEW YORK TIMES NEWS SERVICE

A growing number of group tour operators are rolling out options for travelers who don't like to follow the herd.

Mountain Travel Sobek (mt sobek.com) is starting Explorations, 27 private adventures to 20 countries designed for families, couples or friends traveling together. The trips are shorter than its group tours, which typically run 12 days or more, and offer more flexibility. Travelers may choose departure dates, for example, and can modify itineraries to suit their needs. If you feel like sleeping in one day instead of going on a five-mile hike, no problem.

THE ROUGH GUIDE TO CAPE TOWN & THE GARDEN ROUTE

Rough Guides / $17.99

The oldest city in South Africa, Cape Town is somewhat of an enigma. Although it has a reputation for tolerance, authors Tony Pinchuck and Barbara McCrea say it has been the slowest city in South Africa to embrace post-apartheid multi-racialism, even though half of the city's 3 million people is of mixed race, 26 percent are black, 23 percent white and the rest are of Asian descent. Tourists ask: What to see, what to do? A lot. There's the vibrant nightlife, the flat-topped peak of Table Mountain, whale-watching, the ornate Cape Dutch architecture, hiking along the coastal Garden Route and savoring indigenous Cape cuisine, with its strong Indonesian influence.

[Chicago Tribune]

HOTELS

James heads to the Windy City

The James Chicago, the second hotel from New York restaurateur Stephen Hanson and Equinox Fitness Club founder Danny Errico, begins accepting guests this month, with an official opening April 20.

The first James, in Scottsdale, Ariz., was credited with raising that city's style quotient. But it was sold to the Morgans Hotel Group. Now Hanson and Errico are moving away from the "fun-in-the-sun" concept. The 297-room Chicago hotel will take a "more urban, more sophisticated approach," said Brad Wilson, chief operating officer for the James hotel group.

Still, the Chicago hotel will retain some James signatures such as iPod docking stations and cocktail fixings in rooms.

The James Chicago is also providing two concierges per shift instead of one, offering twice-daily maid service and placing larger, 350-milliliter liquor bottles in the minibars.

Rooms are bigger, too, ranging from 375-square-foot king guestrooms to 550-square-foot lofts that feature media rooms with oversize couches and TV projectors. Two penthouses at 1,400 square feet each and 26 one-bedroom apartments at 650 square feet will also be available. Cost: $250 to $2,000; jameshotels.com, 877-526-3755.

NEW YORK TIMES NEWS SERVICE

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