London, UK – We would like to apologise for a terrible omission in last Sunday’s feature 10 Steps to a Stress-Free Summer. We forgot to include “Don’t go to the USA”.
Fortunately, Michael Chertoff, baldie boss of the Department of Homeland Securitisation, has now reminded us that we’re not wanted. Or, rather, that we are wanted (because tourists bring lots of nice money with them), but only if we jump through lots of hoops in the process.
Chertoff has let it be known that Europe is a platform for terrorism. He says it’s important to step up checks on travellers. Yes, that’s right, step them up. In fact, it would be really, really great, he didn’t say, but was probably thinking, if all we prospective visitors could be so good as to stay at home and just send our holiday money over in an envelope.
“Travelling to the US offers experiences like nowhere else on earth.” That’s what it says at discoveramerica.com, the official travel and tourism website of the United States, and it’s absolutely right. Nowhere else can a visitor expect such a spirit-crushingly frosty reception.
A preflight e-interrogation, epic queues at immigration, thin-lipped questioning from aggressive border guards, and an outside chance of a rubber-gloved rectal rummage are all part of the fun. So, if Chertoff and co want to tighten Fortress America further, it’s time we considered other more welcoming holiday options. Such as Iran or North Korea.
Here are a few sunny alternatives to consider before you book your flight, take your shoes off and try to convince our friends stateside that you’re not intent on the destruction of America, you’ve just come for the hamburgers.
NEW YORK? Try Hong Kong
New York is irreplaceable, but so is Hong Kong, so replace it with that. As approaches go, the Star ferry from Kowloon trumps the Staten Island ferry to Manhattan. The view from the urinals at Felix, the Peninsula hotel’s penthouse bar, is just as jaw-dropping as the one from the Top of the Rock(efeller).
And, most important, iPods are the same price. Yes, you have to sit on the plane for another five hours, but there are no queues or rubber-glove probes at the other end. Hong Kong likes tourists.
The Peninsula (00 800 2828 3888, www.peninsula.com) has the classic views and the Rolls-Royces, with double rooms starting at £233. Or try the Philippe Starck-designed Jia Boutique Hotel (00 852 3196 9000, www.jiahongkong. com), in Causeway Bay. Trendy, but not irritatingly so, it has doubles from £130. Fly to Hong Kong with British Airways (0870 850 9850, www.ba.com) or Virgin Atlantic (0870 380 2007, www.virgin-atlantic.com); from about £450.
DISNEYWORLD? Just east of Paris
How will poor little Johnny manage without his once-in-a-lifetime overdose of saccharine-soaked, rodent-based Floridian amusement? By being dragged to Disneyland Paris instead – yes, like Father Christmas, Mickey Mouse can be in two places at once.
And, by hopping on Eurostar rather than a 747, you’re reducing your carbon footprint as well as your chances of immigration-based superhassle. Thomas Cook (www.thomascook.com) does easy-peasy packages from shiny St Pancras; from £326pp for three nights at Disney’s three-star Explorers Hotel, based on two adults and two children (aged 2-11).
Or skip Disney altogether and try a more continental take on the theme-park experience. PortAventura (www. portaventura.co.uk), an hour from Barcelona, offers a less commercial family adventure than the big American theme parks – and the food is more sophisticated.
COWBOYS? They do it better in Spain
American tourism has a knack of spiralling into toe-curling theme-parkery at the drop of a Stetson, so finding a genuine ranching experience (free from wannabe actors recreating pukey scenes from City Slickers) isn’t easy. Why not go somewhere where men are still men and cowboys still herd cows (as opposed to driving a toy train around the OK Corral)?
You have two options (yeehah!): the Argentine pampas or Extremadura, Spain’s wild west. The first option is obviously half a planet further away, but comes with excellent steak: talk to Last Frontiers (01296 653000, www.last-frontiers.com) about a tailor-made gaucho adventure. An eight-night trip, with four nights being a cowboy and three in Buenos Aires, starts at £1,995pp, including flights from Heathrow.
Relatively speaking, the second option is in your back garden, but what a wild and thoroughly overgrown garden it is – join the vaqueros, Spain’s more grizzled answer to the cowboys, through Ride World Wide (01837 82544, www.rideworldwide.com).
VEGAS, BABY? Macau, darling
Until recently, every casino in this former Portuguese colony was owned by one man – the Hong Kong businessman Stanley Ho – and their services were pitched squarely at the Chinese gambler. Then the Chinese changed the rules, allowing the Las Vegas billionaires Steve Wynn and Sheldon Adelson to set up shop.
Two years later, Macau has eclipsed family-friendly Lost Wages by offering glitzier casinos in which to lose your money, prettier croupiers to take it from you and fancier hotels in which to cry yourself to sleep. Leave Las Vegas to Bette Midler and head east.
Macau is a 55-minute ferry hop from Hong Kong (£18 return, with Turbojet, www.turbojet.com.hk; for flights, see above), which you’ve already chosen instead of New York. Stay nowhere but the Wynn (00 853 2888 9966, www.wynnmacau.com; doubles from £150).
HIGHWAY ONE? Do the wigglier version
Wind in your hair, curve after curve of beautiful bitumen ahead of you, rolling waves to your right: is there any road quite as liberating as California’s Highway One? Yes – it’s called the Great Ocean Road, and it runs west out of Melbourne. It’s got much less traffic, and you have absolutely no chance of bumping into a toothsome Arnold Schwarzenegger on a cafe terrace.
But you’re right, Australia is too far to go to make a stand against Mr Chertoff’s tourorist crackdown. How about the Amalfi, Highway One squished down, cultured up and served with a cornetto? It’s bumper to Cinquecento bumper in summer, so go in early May or late September. Citalia (0871 664 0253, www.citalia.com) can fix you up with a car and six nights’ five-star accommodation from £899pp, staying in Positano and Amalfi, flying from Gatwick with British Airways. Or do it yourself: airlines flying to Naples include Thomsonfly (www.thomsonfly.com) and EasyJet (www.easyjet.com). Travelsupermarket.com has a week’s inclusive car hire from £122.
ASPEN? St. Moritz is posher
The Swiss resort invented the idea of snowy holidays for posh people back in the 19th century. Aspen is a johnny come lately by comparison – it has nothing to match the extracurricular activities on offer in its European rival, such as the Cresta Run and polo matches on ice.
Descent International (020 7384 3854, www.descent.co.uk) has a chalet there to rival the most lavish celebrity homes in Aspen – the palatial Chesa Albertini, built in 1655 and owned by the same family ever since. One week, arriving on March 9, costs £30,700 for a party of up to 12 (plus four children), including food as well as free-flowing champagne.
If you’re after North America’s empty pistes, rather than its celebrity lifestyle, try Canada. Fly into Calgary and take a road trip through the wilds of the Rockies and British Columbia. There’s a scattering of resorts there – Kicking Horse, Lake Louise, Fernie, Panorama – that make America look like Oxford Street on a Saturday afternoon. Packages are available through Frontier Travel (020 8776 8709, www.frontier-travel.co.uk).