Coming and Going: Swine Flu, Greenbrier Sale, James Beard Honorees, Sears Tower Ledge

Sunday, May 10, 2009


An Update

The number of H1N1 influenza virus cases was still increasing when CoGo went to press Thursday evening, but the general consensus was leaning toward the bug not being as virulent as once feared. Mexico had lifted its week-long shutdown of public gathering places. And although the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention were still recommending that U.S. travelers avoid nonessential travel to Mexico, Mexican officials were readying a request to lift that recommendation.

The changes left would-be visitors and those holding vacation packages wondering whether to stay home or go. Some facts to take into consideration:

-- As of Thursday, three mild cases of swine flu had been reported among residents of the eastern state of Quintana Roo, including two in the Cancun area. None had been reported in Riviera Nayarit, a popular tourist destination on Mexico's Pacific Coast.

-- Travelers scheduled to depart by May 31 can change plans without incurring airline penalty fees on most carriers, and that date could be extended. Details, including rebooking window, vary by airline.

-- Most major cruise lines will avoid Mexican ports at least through mid-June. Carnival was allowing passengers on affected ships to opt for cruise credits that can be applied to any sailing through 2010. Other cruise lines, including Royal Caribbean, were not allowing penalty-free changes.

-- Travel-insurance companies had not relaxed their strict policies. Basic plans will not cover canceling a trip for fear of contracting swine flu. Details are outlined on several Web sites, including

-- Travel promos have already started. For example, Apple Vacations announced Tuesday its "biggest-ever" sale to popular tourist spots in Mexico, including Cancun and Puerto Vallarta, for travel in summer and fall.


Greenbrier Changes Hands?

A West Virginia businessman announced Thursday he has purchased the Greenbrier resort in White Sulphur Springs, W.Va. Jim Justice, an agriculture and coal magnate, said in a news release he plans to seek dismissal of Greenbrier's Chapter 11 bankruptcy filing. Marriott International had planned to buy the historic resort from the railroad company CSX for up to $130 million. Marriott spokesman John Wolf said the Bethesda firm had seen no documentation of the transaction with Justice. "Our purchase agreement remains outstanding," Wolf said, adding that Marriott was reviewing its options. But Greenbrier spokeswoman Katie Barr Cornish said, "As far as I know, the Marriott deal is off the table and Jim Justice has purchased the resort."


Home Cookin' Stars

Last weekend at the James Beard Foundation Awards, the latest crop of America's Classics honorees was announced. Although the Beard Awards mostly fete upscale restaurants from across the country, since 1998 this category has been singling out small regional restaurants, usually family-owned and in operation for generations. The District's Ben's Chili Bowl was among the 2004 winners, the only showing for our area.

This year, two of the winners may help put their small towns (Sherrill, Iowa, and Barnegat Light, N.J.) on the map, while the others are big-city finds. They are: Breitbach's Country Dining in Sherrill; Mustache Bill's Diner in Barnegat Light; Totonno's in Brooklyn, N.Y.; Yank Sing in San Francisco; and Arnold's Country Kitchen in Nashville.


Glass Room With a View

We hear it all the time: "I've done the Grand Canyon's skywalk. What's next?"

What's next, all you high-altitude thrill-seekers, is the Ledge at Chicago's Sears Tower, a series of glass-floored additions that cantilever off the building's 103rd-floor Skydeck. It opens next month. "You'd only need to see the forehead prints on the windows to know that visitors are constantly trying to catch a glimpse below," the Skydeck's general manager, Randy Stancik, said in a news release.

Anyway, thanks to the new fully enclosed glass boxes that can, for cleaning purposes, be retracted into the building, Sears Tower visitors will soon be able to proudly proclaim that they can see, on a clear day, four states and points 50 miles distant. Oh, and 1,353 feet straight down. For more information and updates on the Ledge's opening date, see


United is offering a Summer in Europe sale. Discounted fares are available from Washington Dulles to cities throughout Europe, including Berlin, Moscow and Brussels. Round-trip fare to Berlin, for example, is $766, including $88 taxes. Other airlines are matching in some markets.

Complete travel by Aug. 30; seven-day advance purchase required. Cheapest fares apply to Monday-Wednesday flights. Purchase by May 19 at, or pay $25 more by calling 800-864-8331.

Reporting: Carol Sottili, Scott Vogel

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