Travel-centric Web sites that might inspire you:
• So you love cruises, haven't been on one in a while and you're desperate to see one of those towel animals that the cruise lines like to put on your bed when they spruce up the room? Carnival Cruise Lines has a new section of its Web site with a video featuring talking towel animals, and a link that will show you how to roll your own towel critters. www.carnival.com/funville.
• Information for planning a European vacation by train is available at the new Rail Europe Web site, www.raileurope.com.
• Suggestions on dining options at 10 major U.S. airports are at www.chicagotribune.com/airportfood.
• If you're headed to New York and want to take in the Empire State Building, you can buy your tickets early and read all things ESB at www.esbnyc.com.
• Follow in the footsteps of the president-elect on your visit to Hawaii at Barack Obama's Hawaii, www.gohawaii.com/obama.
Favorite domestic airlines
From Travel+Leisure magazine's 2008 reader poll (last year's rank in parentheses):
1. Virgin America
2. Midwest Airlines (1)
3. JetBlue Airways (2)
4. Sun Country Airlines (7)
5. Hawaiian Airlines (3)
6. Frontier Airlines (6)
7. Southwest Airlines (9)
8. USA 3000 Airlines (4)
9. Alaska Airlines (8)
10. Horizon Air (10)
All that jazz onboard
Jazz aficionados have several notable choices for cruising the Caribbean in January. First, the "Smooth Jazz Cruise" on Holland America's Westerdam sails round trip from Fort Lauderdale Jan. 18-25, with music by Gerald Albright, Tom Braxton and others. Prices start at $1,700 for an inside cabin and $1,775 for outside accommodations, plus $285 for fees, tax and tips (toll-free 1-877-330-5299; www. thesmoothjazzcruise.com).
That's followed by the Jan. 25-Feb. 1 "Playboy Jazz Cruise," also on the Westerdam, with Herbie Hancock, Dianne Reeves and Keb' Mo' holding sway on a round-trip Caribbean sailing from Fort Lauderdale. Stateroom prices start at $1,250 inside and $1,500 outside (toll-free 1-866-923-7269; www.playboyjazzcruise.com).
Finally, the Jan. 31-Feb. 5 "Smooth Music Cruise" on the Celebrity Century, sailing round trip from Miami, features headliners Larry Carlton and Nick Colionne. A Super Bowl party is also on the agenda, with rates starting at $999 per person for an interior stateroom, plus $249 in fees, taxes, tips and port charges (toll-free 1-877-529-9729; www.smoothmusiccruise.com).
Turn photos into postcards
Next time you travel, consider sending your own photos as postcards.
A new Web site called HazelMail.com allows you to upload your pictures and mail them anywhere in the world, with a personalized message, for $1.50.
The company uses printers in North America, South America, Asia and Europe to create and postmark the postcards. So if you were in Paris, for example, mailing home to Ohio, you could upload your photo and order the postcard while still in Europe, but it would be printed up and mailed from the United States, because that's closer to the destination address. Turnaround time is four or five days, depending on local postal service.
The service is available in English, French, Italian, Portuguese, German and Spanish.
Gift books for your traveler
• The Europe Book: A Journey through Every Country on the Continent (Lonely Planet, $40)
This handsome coffee-table tome offers nutshell portraits of every European country. The boundaries, though, are a bit more generous than similar books. For example, the editors include all of Russia and countries south of the Black Sea. They also include a historical time line and brief sections on "great journeys" such as the Grand Tour, Behind the Iron Curtain and Nostalgia on the Orient Express.
• The Travel Book: A Journey through Every Country in the World (Lonely Planet, $24.99)
Similar to The Europe Book but this time every single country in the world is included. At nearly 900 pages, it is a squat, hefty book, but given that so many countries are profiled and space is limited, the text is more concise. Consider it your literary passport to the entire planet.
• Route 66 Backroads (Voyageur Press, $24.99)
Famous Route 66 begins at Grant Park in Chicago and ends by the Pacific Ocean in Santa Monica, Calif. The road and this book recall a time before franchise restaurants and chain motels choked America's highways. The journey begins in Illinois, travels through Missouri and Kansas, continues through Oklahoma, crosses Texas, enters New Mexico and traverses Arizona before ending in California. What truly sets the book apart from similar titles, though, is the more than 200 color photographs.
Compiled from Times wires