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When the Classroom Comes With Room Service and Poolside Cabanas



This summer, Michelle Carucci’s family canceled its annual Jersey Shore vacation because of the pandemic. So when Ms. Carucci, who lives in White Township, N.J., learned that The Great Wolf Lodge, a family-favorite indoor water park in Pennsylvania’s Pocono Mountains, was setting up a “schoolhouse” and socially distanced activities this fall, she jumped at the chance to take her youngest child.

Gianna Carucci, 11, has all her classes online, and during the mornings of her and her mother’s two-day stay (in the middle of the week, when rates were lower and crowds were smaller), she headed to “Wiley’s Schoolhouse”: a large conference room repurposed to be a socially distanced learning space for children ages 5 and up.

Named after the brand’s wolf mascot, each space is equipped with desks that are placed eight to ten feet apart and fitted with plexiglass partitions. Open Monday through Thursday, the room is staffed to help children connect with their schools, provide snacks and lead break-time activities. Reservations are required for the program, which costs $85 per day. All participants must wear masks.

It would be “nice to have a few hours to myself while Gianna is in school,” Ms. Carucci, 45, a health and fitness coach, said in an interview before their trip. After classes wrapped up, she and her daughter played at the lodge’s water park together.

The coronavirus has left hotels and resorts scrambling for guests as occupancy rates plummeted in the spring. Some properties have tried to drum up business by touting new cleaning regimens, rethinking amenities and offering free nights. Others closed entirely, waiting or unable to wait for the public health situation to improve. Now, with the pandemic ongoing and millions of school-age children juggling remote learning, some hotels are beckoning families with offers of “schoolcation,” including new staffed learning spaces, technology and tutors — even partnerships with museums and other educational experts.

The assorted packages, available at a variety of hotel types, aim to provide parents some help and peace of mind. Prices range from free to hefty.

Usually, families with schoolchildren are tied to their school’s calendar, with vacations often limited to during the holidays, spring break and summer.

But now, for those with the flexibility and desire to travel, “there’s an opportunity for a change in scenery,” said Kathleen Reidenbach, chief commercial officer with Kimpton Hotels & Restaurants, a line of boutique hotels owned by IHG.

Kimpton recently introduced a “chief virtual learning officer” to nine of its properties this fall, an on-site employee who will take on this role to help with Wi-Fi, virtual meeting software or other technical needs. Some locations will also provide free school supplies, kid-sized desks or booster seats, snack packs, document printing and flexible checkout times to guests with school-age children.

Ms. Reidenbach said that while many families can now travel in September and October, they may need help managing remote work and school. “We wanted to adjust our programming,” she said, to make that possible. (Ms. Reidenbach has experienced some of the issues firsthand: Vacationing at a California beach with a fourth and an eighth grader, “we needed to find a way to print out work sheets and reading logs,” she said.)

Nancy and Jim Liddell from Darien, Conn., decided to venture into New York City for a few days this month with their three children. The family hoped to go to the newly reopened Metropolitan Museum of Art and to see the new Suffragist statues in Central Park.

The Liddell daughters, ages 9 to 13, attend public school and now have a school week that alternates between in-person and online instruction depending on the day. “We planned to go when class was online,” Mr. Liddell said. Staying at the Kimpton Muse Hotel in New York City, the girls were given festive school supplies and had the desk space and Wi-Fi they needed to attend class.

“The hotel made sure we didn’t have to worry about the girls not being able to complete their school work,” said Mr. Liddell, 43, who works in financial services. He also rented an additional room at a reduced day rate where he and his wife, who runs a line of health and beauty products, could go to for their own meetings or phone calls.

While five Great Wolf Lodge properties are repurposing conference rooms into “Wiley’s Schoolhouses,” the brand is not alone in carving new “virtual classrooms” out of existing space. The W South Beach hotel in Miami, after closing completely in March, plans to reopen in November with poolside cabanas that can be set up with desks, including small ones for grade schoolers, as well as Wi-Fi and a sound system. Prices range from $500 to $700 a day (Private academic tutors are also available, as are personal trainers to provide physical-education classes. Pricing is ala carte.) Also in Florida, the Four Seasons Orlando Resort is outfitting a dedicated staffed learning spaces for a maximum of six children per room, with an outdoor terrace for breaks and craft time. Half-day sessions cost $50 per child.

Some hotels that don’t have the space are partnering with a local museum: Schoolchildren staying at the Wyndham Grand Clearwater Beach can complete their schoolwork at the nearby Clearwater Marine Aquarium Education Center, in a socially distanced setting, and then can participate in tours and activities with a marine biologist there. Stays include two spa treatments for the parents and start around $479 per night.

Technology offerings are expanding too. At the Domio extended stay hotels, with locations in Chicago, Miami, Nashville and New Orleans, guests can make use of laptop-expansion kits, which include a monitor, keyboard, mouse and power strip. The equipment is free to borrow for guests who book directly through the hotel website.

Hotels are also marketing existing offerings with language meant to catch a parent’s eye. The “Teach by the Beach” package at The Shores Resort and Spa in Daytona Beach, Fla., highlights learning “the physics of waves” at surfing class, biology lessons viewing birds at a nearby nature preserve and history with “a touch of PE” as children climb the local lighthouse. Midweek rates start at about $170. San Diego Mission Bay Resort’s “Recess at the Pool” package includes S’mores and rental bikes with midweek rates starting at $205.

Earlier this year, Kimberly Bolan, a 51-year-old waxing-center franchisee, had planned a short getaway alone with her husband from their home outside of Memphis to the Casa Marina resort in Key West, Fl. But when school for the couple’s three children, ages 13 to 19, went online, the couple decided to take them along. Casa Marina, part of the Waldorf Astoria Resorts brand, offered a “Home School Package” with tickets to local museums and a bottle of wine for “the teachers.” Prices start at about $475 per night, with a four-night minimum.

Their eighth grader, Gabriela Bolan, brought a five-day homework packet and “got started on the plane,” she said, so she would have more time for fun. The teens interspersed swimming and fishing with Zoom classes and work on schoolwork packets.

“It’s a new world and I feel like we should take advantage of it,” Ms. Bolan said.

By: Julie Weed
Title: When the Classroom Comes With Room Service and Poolside Cabanas
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Published Date: Thu, 24 Sep 2020 17:42:58 +0000

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Limited time Amex points transfer bonuses ending soon!




During normal times, points transfer bonuses by Amex or any other issuer gain a lot of traction. However, we live in unusual times. Travel is nowhere close to normal and only a small minority is actively looking to book travel. Amex Membership Rewards points, along with Chase Ultimate Rewards points are two of my favorite transferable points currencies. Amex, in particular, has the edge over Chase when it comes to international airline partners. At the moment, Amex is running two lucrative points transfer bonuses with their Membership Rewards points. However, if you’re looking to travel any time soon then now is a good time to transfer time as these limited time bonuses end on October 31.

Amex Points Transfer Points Bonuses

Amex is currently running points transfer bonuses for Hilton and Marriott. These limited time offers expire on October 31, 2020.

Hilton Honors

The standard points transfer ratio for Hilton Honors is 1:2. With this bonus, you’ll get a ratio of 1:2.8. For example, if you transfer 1,000 Membership Rewards points, you’ll get 2,800 Hilton Honors points.

Marriott Bonvoy

The standard points transfer ratio for Marriott Bonvoy is 1:1. With this, bonus you’ll get a ratio of 1:1.4. For example, if you transfer 1,000 Membership Rewards points, you’ll get 1,400 Marriott Bonvoy points.

Crunching the Numbers

During normal times, many frequent travelers tend to jump on these limited time transfer bonuses. However, how lucrative are these bonuses during the current situation?

For example, let’s say you want to book a top tier Hilton hotel. One night will cost you at least 95,000 points for a standard room. With this bonus, you’ll need 39,000 Membership Rewards points instead of 48,000.

Similarly, let’s say you want to book a top tier Marriott hotel. One night will cost you at least 85,000 points for a standard room. With this bonus, you’ll need 61,000 Membership Rewards points instead of 85,000.

In short, the higher the category of the hotel, the more lucrative these transfer bonuses become for you.

Credit Card Bonuses

If you’re falling short on Marriott or Hilton points, another option is to sign up for co-branded credit cards from Marriott and Hilton. Currently, many of these cards are running limited time offers. Please note that Amex and Chase restrictions may apply to these credit cards.

Card Name Sign-up Bonus Application Link
Chase Marriott Bonvoy Boundless 30k points
Apply Now
Chase Marriott Bonvoy Bold 5 free nights (up to 50k points each)
Apply Now
Marriott Bonvoy Brilliant American Express Card 125k points + Platinum Status for 2021
Apply Now
Amex Marriott Bonvoy Business Card 100k points + $150 in credits
Apply Now
Hilton Honors Business Card 130k points
Apply Now
Amex Hilton Honors Card 95k points
Apply Now
Hilton Honors American Express Surpass Card 140k points
Apply Now
Hliton Honors American Express Aspire Card 150k points + 1 free night
Apply Now

The Pundit’s Mantra

In most cases, I don’t recommend transferring points speculatively. However, if you do have a trip on the horizon, then it makes sense to use these Amex points transfer bonuses to your advantage.

In the past, I’ve used transfer bonuses to book some really cool trips. For example, I used a transfer bonus to British Airways in order to book a last minute trip to Colombia. However, given the current scenario, not many of us are planning such trips on the go.

Do you plan to make use of either of these points transfer bonuses before the end of the month? Tell us in the comments section.


The Chase Sapphire Preferred is currently offering a limited time welcome bonus of 80,000 Ultimate Rewards points. You’ll earn a welcome bonus of 80,000 Ultimate Rewards points after you spend $4,000 in the first 3 months. You’ll also earn 2x points all on all travel and dining spend and 5 x on Lyft rides.

Apply Now


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Disclosure: The Points Pundit receives NO compensation from credit card affiliate partnerships. Support the blog by applying for a card through my personal referral links. This article is meant for information purposes only and doesn’t constitute personal finance, health or investment advice. Please consult a licensed professional for advice pertaining to your situation.

By: The Points Pundit
Title: Limited time Amex points transfer bonuses ending soon!
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Published Date: Tue, 20 Oct 2020 12:10:32 +0000

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Cruise Ship Rescues 24 People From Sinking Boat Off Florida Coast




The Carnival Sensation was sailing in international waters off the Florida coast on Saturday when crew members spotted a crowded 36-foot boat that appeared to be in distress.

The ship maneuvered alongside the boat and crew members handed over blankets, life jackets, food and water to the 24 people onboard the smaller vessel, including two children, according to the Carnival Cruise Line.

As it floated 37 miles off the coast of Palm Beach, the boat began to take on water. The passengers were quickly ushered aboard the cruise ship through a side hatch that is typically used in port to load supplies via a gangway. The boat sank after the rescue, a Coast Guard spokeswoman said.

The rescued passengers were the first guests to board the cruise ship in months, Carnival said. They were evaluated by the cruise ship’s medical staff and quarantined away from crew members, the cruise line said. They were picked up by the Coast Guard after about six hours, the spokeswoman said.

The rescued boat was coming from Freeport, Bahamas, said Nicole J. Groll, the Coast Guard spokeswoman. It was not clear where the boat was headed, she said, nor was it clear what had happened to the boat that caused it to sink.

“The disabled vessel sank and actions are currently being taken to coordinate the transfer of the individuals ashore,” Ms. Groll said in a statement Monday.

The $45 billion global cruise industry serves 20 million passengers in a typical year. But since the beginning of the coronavirus pandemic, ships have been roaming the seas for months without guests, staffed by skeleton crews. Operations have been suspended until Oct. 31, and some lines have canceled cruises into next year.

Carnival operates 23 ships. While they are idle, they maintain a “minimum nonoperational manning status,” according to a spokesman. That means they are staffed by 75 to 100 crew members, including marine engineers, technicians and officers, as well as housekeeping, culinary and other staff members.

Occasionally, they perform rescues, the spokesman said. In July, the Carnival Legend responded to a call for help from a boat that had run out of fuel off the coast of the Bahamas. The Legend gave the boaters 25 gallons of gas to help them make their way back to Jacksonville, Fla.

Ships are obligated under maritime law to respond to vessels in distress, said Jim Walker, a Miami-based maritime lawyer.

The duty to rescue a derelict vessel falls to a ship’s captain, who “has both a moral and a legal obligation to help,” he said.

There are typically three or four such rescues every year, some of which involve migrants, Mr. Walker said.

“Often there is no true ‘rescue’ of foreign immigrants at sea because the cruise ship will call the U.S.C.G. who will pick them up and then return them to their home countries,” Mr. Walker said in an email, referring to the Coast Guard. “It is not so much a ‘rescue’ but an ‘interception’ at sea.”

In some cases, he said, a ship’s captain or the captain’s employer could face criminal charges for ignoring a cry for help.

In 2012, Princess Cruises was sued after one of its cruise ships, the Star Princess, failed to help a disabled fishing boat that had been adrift for days when it was spotted by crew members and passengers. Two of the people on the fishing boat died.

The cruise industry has come under fire during the coronavirus pandemic, particularly early in the outbreak as passengers and crew members were trapped aboard ships where the virus spread rapidly.

In February, more than 700 passengers were infected on the Diamond Princess as the ship idled off the coast of Japan. Nine of the infected passengers died.

In August, the cruise industry voluntarily suspended operations until Oct. 31, following the extension of a no-sail order for cruise ships through Sept. 30 issued by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The agency noted that from March to July there had been nearly 3,000 suspected and confirmed coronavirus cases and 34 deaths on cruise ships in U.S. waters.

The Carnival Corporation, which operates Carnival, Princess and other brands and serves roughly 50 percent of the global cruise market, has dealt with outbreaks on several of its ships, including Holland America’s Zaandam, which tried to unload sick passengers in Florida in April. Last week, Carnival Cruise Line canceled several cruises that were scheduled for November and January.

By: Marie Fazio
Title: Cruise Ship Rescues 24 People From Sinking Boat Off Florida Coast
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Published Date: Mon, 19 Oct 2020 22:51:45 +0000

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2,000-Year-Old Cat Etching Found at Nazca Lines Site in Peru




The image, stretching for 40 yards on a hillside in Peru, shows a creature with pointy ears, orb-like eyes and a long striped tail. It appears to be a cat lounging, as cats often do.

Archaeologists stumbled across the faded etching while remodeling a section of a UNESCO heritage site known as the Nazca Lines, Peru’s Ministry of Culture announced last week.

The catlike geoglyph — which experts say dates to 200 B.C. to 100 B.C. — is the latest discovery among the carvings of larger-than-life animals and plants previously found between the towns of Nazca and Palpa, in a desert plain about 250 miles southeast of the capital, Lima.

“The discovery shows, once again, the rich and varied cultural legacy of this site,” the ministry said in a statement.

The Nazca Lines were first discovered by a Peruvian aerial surveyor in 1927. Images of a hummingbird, a monkey and an orca were unearthed at the site. UNESCO has designated the Lines and Geoglyphs of Nasca and Palpa a World Heritage Site since 1994.

The cat etching is believed to be older than any of the prehistoric geoglyphs previously unearthed at Nazca.

“It’s quite striking that we’re still finding new figures, but we also know that there are more to be found,” Johny Isla, Peru’s chief archaeologist for the Nazca lines, told Efe, a Spanish news agency.

The designs were believed to have been created when ancient Peruvians scraped off a dark and rocky layer of earth, which contrasts with lighter-colored sand underneath. Researchers believe that the figures once served as travel markers.

Drone photography has led to several discoveries in recent years, Mr. Isla said. In 2019, researchers from Japan, aided by satellite photography and three-dimensional imaging, unearthed more than 140 new geoglyphs at the site.

Research and conservation work had continued at the site even during the coronavirus pandemic, when most tourist sites have been closed. Archaeologists and employees were working on the Mirador Natural, a lookout point in the protected site, when they began unearthing something intriguing. When they cleaned the mound, clear lines showing the sinuous body of a cat emerged.

“The figure was barely visible and was about to disappear because it is situated on quite a steep slope that’s prone to the effects of natural erosion,” the culture ministry said in a statement.

The authorities said that even a stray footprint could mar the fragile grounds, and have imposed strict rules against trespassing at the site. Before the pandemic shut down tours, visitors were permitted to view the lines and figures only from planes and lookout points.

But disturbances at the Nazca lines have occurred, drawing widespread condemnation.

In 2014, Greenpeace activists left shoe marks near a large hummingbird design when they placed a sign that promoted renewable energy, Peruvian officials said.

“You walk there and the footprint is going to last hundreds or thousands of years,” Luis Jaime Castillo, a Peruvian official and archaeologist, told The Guardian at the time. “And the line that they have destroyed is the most visible and most recognized of all.”

In 2018, a truck driver was arrested after intentionally driving his tractor-trailer across three lines of geoglyphs.

Even as Peru works to preserve its ancient sites, officials reopened Machu Picchu this month for one lucky tourist after he became stranded during the pandemic and waited seven months to see the 16th-century Inca citadel.

By: Tiffany May
Title: 2,000-Year-Old Cat Etching Found at Nazca Lines Site in Peru
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Published Date: Mon, 19 Oct 2020 08:48:43 +0000

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