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    This week we offer live webcams from the Golden State of California. Check out current pictures of Laguna Beach and the State Capital (Sacramento).
  • Laguna Beach
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  • Can you believe it’s that time of year again? The trees will soon change colors, so we put together all the info-packed websites you need for leaf-peeping nationwide. There are even hotlines and webcams.

  • FrontSteps.com
    This video of "Europe vs. Italy" is hilarious! Check it out to see the difference between Italians and other Europeans as they drive, fly, wait in line -- and a whole lot more.

HOUSE KEEPING: Remember when you click on the pictures in "Where's Johnny Jet," they will open up in another window. Just click the "x"(close) in each picture to get back to the newsletter. This should alleviate complaints about closing Johnny Jet. Thanks again for your support, and remember: If you book trips on the web, please go through JohnnyJet.com. (It will save you money).

"Maps of Johnny's travels courtesy of MyTripJournal.com. Start a travel website of your own for free now."

Check Out Johnny Jet's New Blog!
Greetings from Southern California! And yes…it’s nice to be home.

Before we get started I want to alert everyone that we made a Hurricane Katrina webpage. It's for everyone affected by the hurricane - which is all of us. On that page -- besides travel news -- is information on where to donate money, miles and points. Please do what you can, and keep everyone in your prayers.

Last week we left off at Heathrow Airport in London. It was a madhouse -- and this was BEFORE the British Airways strike. I flew United Airlines. The check-in lines were around the corner, and not moving quickly. I was fortunate to be flying First Class, but I still had to wait 30 minutes. That’s totally ridiculous. If I had paid the $14,700 ticket price (Instead of using 100,000 miles) I would’ve gone ape.

Fortunately, every airline’s first and business class passengers were allowed to bypass the long security line, using Fast Track. This speedier alternative took only 15 minutes. I have no idea how long the normal line was, but my advice is to show up at Heathrow a good 2 ½ to 3 hours before your flight.

Instead of going shopping (Heathrow has tons of great places), I went to United’s International First Class Lounge. It’s a bit nicer than United’s Red Carpet Lounge (for members and International Business Class passengers), because it is less crowded and has plenty of free snacks and drinks. From there I went to the gate, where there was another huge line. Again, United didn’t take care of its top paying customers. There was no separate line for first and business class passengers, like at other airlines. Instead I watched them wait like everyone else. I didn’t care, because when I’m on a long-haul flight in first class (meaning guaranteed overhead space) I like to be one of the last on the plane. Besides, it was amusing to see the premium passengers’ reactions when they were told to get to the back of the line (a 30-minute wait).

The 10-hour, 35-minute flight was easy like Sunday morning. I sat in seat 1A (yeah baby!), which had a 180-degree flat bed, my own personal video monitor complete with an in-flight map, and a number of TV shows and movies. In addition, first class passengers could choose from a briefcase filled with films. I watched "Life Aquatic." Passengers who wanted to work on their laptops could use an electric outlet (it requires a special adapter, which can be bought on the plane from duty free for about $100). The flight attendants were pleasant, but nothing special, and the other passengers kept to themselves.

We had two main meals. Dinner was served an hour after takeoff. For starters I had a salad with tandoori chicken. My entrée was chicken breast with vegetables. My favorite course -- dessert—was fresh fruit, cheese, crackers and a hot fudge sundae. A couple of hours before landing we had lunch (I think that’s what it was): a cheese plate with fruit. (For a more detailed description, here’s a scanned copy of the menu). The highlight of the flight (besides landing safely) was flying over Iceland and Greenland. I’m sure the flight attendants thought I had never flown before, because I was waving to my friends in Iceland, snapping pictures left and right. Hey, if you can’t be excited flying in first class, then where can you?

I was the first off the plane and one of the first to go through customs, but the agent said to me, "You’re not in the system." My stomach dropped. Then I said, "Come to think of it, I never went through any passport control leaving England." When she chuckled, I was very relieved. She typed for a few minutes, and I was on my way.

After settling in at home, I went to Geoffrey’s in Malibu for Sunday brunch. The drive from LAX takes about 45 minutes (without traffic) ,and most of it is along beautiful PCH (Pacific Coast Highway). The restaurant is past Pepperdine University, on a cliff with picturesque views of the Pacific Ocean. This setting is California dreaming at its best. I was surprised there wasn’t a big buffet, just a normal menu. It’s just as well though, because I would definitely have overeaten like I always do at buffets. Geoffrey’s Malibu, 27400 Pacific Coast Highway, Malibu, CA; tel.: 310-457-1519.

A couple of days later I was thinking, "I really need a vacation from my vacation." I know you’re thinking, "Poor Johnny is wiped out from three weeks in Europe?" But running around is exhausting. In fact, I walked so much that when I weighed myself at home, I had lost 8 pounds. Maybe I should start a new diet: "the Europe Effect." Since I had not had a chance to kick back and relax in Europe I was ready for another vacation, but I didn’t want to deal with airports, trains or long drives. So I jumped in my car and went down to the Ritz-Carlton Laguna Niguel for two nights.

The Ritz Carlton is 60 miles from LAX, 24 miles from SNA (Orange County Airport), and 66 miles from SAN (San Diego Airport). I hadn’t been to this Ritz in at least 10 years. Even then I did not sleep there; I just picked up my parents after a romantic weekend. I wasn’t sure of the location, so after driving through the quaint artsy beach town of Laguna Beach I stopped a couple of middle- aged dudes in a pickup truck for directions. When I mentioned the Ritz-Carlton, their eyes lit up with envy. They smiled and said "oh" (that meant "you lucky bastard"), and pointed me down the road just a couple of miles to Dana Point. The hotel really is in Dana Point -- but it used to be Laguna Beach, until the city changed its zoning to collect more taxes. The hotel kept the name, which is smart. No offense to Dana Point, but most people know Laguna Beach. Even if they don’t, the word "Laguna" still sounds a whole lot better.

Pulling into the perfectly manicured driveway and being immediately swarmed by a horde of bellmen/valets ($25 for overnight parking) quickly reminded me why the Ritz Carlton is known for excellent service. It was top notch. The hotel is massive: 393 guest rooms in a four-story Mediterranean-style building that sits on a 150 foot-bluff, with 18 acres of unbelievable panoramic views of the Pacific Ocean. The location of the hotel is perfect, which is why the lobby has floor-to-ceiling picture glass windows. I could never get sick of that view. Looking out over the beach reminded me of Don Henley’s "The Boys of Summer" video. If they didn’t film it there, they should have.

The hotel is so large, it’s hard not to get lost the first few times walking around. But that’s okay. The Ritz-Carlton is all about service. Wherever you look, you’ll see an employee happy to stop what he/she’s doing to point you in the right direction.

All the guest rooms recently had a $40 million dollar makeover. So did most public spaces. I was in a standard room on the ground floor, and it was stylish. It wasn’t overly huge, but it was cozy --especially the king-size bed with a goose down comforter and pillows (guests with allergies can get non-allergenic foam). The first thing I noticed was the 42-inch plasma screen TV – connected to a DVD player. Bring some DVDs with you, because that TV and bed make a perfect combo to watch a movie. To make the experience complete, raid the mini-bar.

The bathroom was sleek. It had white/gray wall-to-wall marble, with European bath products and soft towels. To make lounging in the room more comfortable I donned the lightweight terrycloth robe, and pretended I was Hugh Hefner (minus the pipe and hookers). When I felt like checking email I had a desk with a high-speed internet cord (the internet was included in the $20 resort fee). I’m not a big fan of resort fees, but I’d rather pay one that includes use of the tennis courts, gym and aerobic classes than pay for each service separately. However, I think they should just charge $20 extra for the room and make everyone feel it’s free. Then again, what do I know about hotel pricing?

Every room has a private balcony -- though because I was on the ground floor, it wasn’t particularly private. Still, I enjoyed sitting outside admiring the view and watching the bunnies, chipmunks and squirrels run around and play in the grass.

The one thing I did not like about the room was that I could hear people walking by in the hall. To avoid this, request a room away from hallway traffic (the end of a hallway is best). Another option is to pay an extra $100 and reserve one of the 38 rooms on the Club Level. A hundred dollars seems steep, but not only is there less traffic up there – you’re really paying for the five daily complimentary food and beverage presentations. They looked tasty! They also had jars of candy lined up along the mantle above the wood-burning marble fireplace. Now that’s worth mentioning!

Speaking of food: I had dinner in the new Restaurant 162’ (that’s how high it is above sea level). It was good, fresh and creative (especially the dessert). Half of the hotel’s guests are there on business, attending either a meeting or corporate event. That’s why there are 18 banquet rooms, and there is always a function in one of the courtyards or yard areas. I even saw a wedding.

The other half of the hotel guests are there for leisure, and about 90 percent of them are from L.A. People from L.A. love to work out, and they won’t be disappointed with the Ritz-Carlton hotel gym. It’s definitely the nicest hotel fitness center I’ve ever seen. That’s not just because they have state-of-the-art machines and free bottles of water everywhere. The view is so inspiring. I bet folks could ride these bikes five times longer than they could in a dark, depressing room (I know I did). In addition to the fine gym, the hotel offers Pilates, tai chi and yoga classes in a quiet outdoor gazebo. And don’t forget about playing tennis (remember, it’s included in the resort fee) on one of the four courts, or a round of golf at the nearby Monarch Beach course (green fees start at $153).

For those (ahem, me) who want to kick back, there are two pools. Both are kid-friendly; however, most kids hang at the larger Dana Pool. The most peaceful place to lie down (and my favorite) is the beach out front. If you don’t feel like walking up or down the steep stairs and walkway, the hotel offers a free shuttle every five minutes. The driver will even round up beach chairs and an umbrella if you ask. It’s all part of the resort fee.

The ultimate place to relax is the Spa. Guests will relax the moment they walk in the entrance, because the wall consists of a cascading water fountain. Down the hall are separate men’s and women’s lounges. The very attentive attendants provide locker keys, sandals, towels and robes. There are showers, sauna, steam (after the hot steam try the ice-cold, dripping wet cucumber- infused towels), and a peaceful room to relax before getting a massage. The room has fresh fruit, nuts, Fiji water and elixir drinks. My masseuse, Anna, has been working at the hotel since it opened in 1984. That’s impressive! You don’t find such dedication at many U.S. hotels. I had a Swedish massage ($135 for 50 minutes). Other types are offered, as well as body treatments and skin care services. Mine was perfect. Afterwards Anna said, "You had a lot of knots. Have you been carrying a lot of luggage?" I just laughed.

There is so much to do at the Ritz and in Laguna that I could easily have spent a week. I could’ve shopped, explored the art galleries and dined in Laguna Beach, visited Mission San Juan Capistrano or gone hiking in Wood Canyon Wilderness Park. But when you stay at a hotel as nice and big as the Ritz, guests get in a lazy mode (at least I did). That’s exactly what I needed. While researching this article I learned the hotel is consistently ranked among the best resorts in the world. After my short but rejuvenating stay, I now know why. The Ritz-Carlton, Laguna Niguel, One Ritz-Carlton Drive, Dana Point, California, tel.: 949-240-2000. During peak season (June to Sept 6), rooms start at $425. During off peak season, rooms start at $375. Through December 31, 2005 they have a great package deal.

Next week we explore more of Southern California, as we travel down the coast to San Diego. We stay in another plush hotel, and catch a couple ball games at the new Petco Park. Plus, we enjoy a behind-the-scenes story that will knock your baseball caps off.

Happy Travels,

Johnny Jet

*Please tell us what you think of this week's newsletter!


  • Geoffrey’s Malibu
  • The Ritz-Carlton Laguna Niguel
  • Coast Magazine
  • Orange Coast Magazine
  • Orange Coast Register
  • Laguna Beach Weather


  • Frommer's ® California 2005
  • Frommer's Los Angeles 2005
  • Fodor's Southern California
  • The Unofficial Guide to California with Kids
  • Fodor's California 2005
  • Karen Brown's California: Charming Inns & Itineraries 2005
  • Thomas Guide 2005 Riverside And Orange Counties, California
  • Mobil Travel Guide Southern California, 2005 : Southern California, South of Fresno
  • Zagatsurvey 2005 California Wine Country Restaurant Guide
  • Not For Tourists Guide To Los Angeles 2005
  • Laguna Beach : Life Inside the Bubble
  • Laguna Beach - The Complete First Season

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    • I just want to say that I have been a fan of yours since the beginning and whatever style you choose for your newsletter is fine by me! I am just happy to receive your letter each week filled with personal info, tips and beautiful pictures. However you lay it out -- is fine!! :) I know how time consuming it can be (I was on the road for 3 months this summer and kept a daily travel blog with tons of pics....it would take close to 3 hours on some nights...wow)! I savor your newsletters, but maybe a lot of people don't realize just how much time it takes. Whatever you chose, I support you 100%!! Best to you and I can't wait to see what 2006 has in store. PS. I loved reading about your Europe travels! One Aldwych looked amazing and really what can one say about Italy......magical and breathtaking come to mind but there should be a NEW words made up to describe just how beautiful Italy really is! :)) Sincerely, Desiree Sousa - Providence, RI
    • How funny. I stayed in one Aldwych years ago -- probably 1999. I spent three nights there. Great place! I was in that same suite to photograph! Amazing terrace ... Roseanne – Paris, France
    • Hi there, I always enjoy your newsletters - they are great and often very funny. In case no one has pointed this out already - it's called Covent Garden not Covenant Garden. Thought you might like to know, although I bet you've got lots of emails about this already. Best regards, Per Hansen - London, UK
    • You are hardly a loser for being alone, I travel alone 99% of the time, and I never feel like a loser, it's kind of nice to set your schedule to what YOU want to do! Next time let me know where you'll be, I may be there, too! :-) Nicole S - New York, NY
    • I don't intend any offense, and I'm sure neither do you, but your comments regarding your being a "loser" for seeing a play alone indicate a certain bias about travel: namely, that it must be done with someone. While many of us are in the happy position of sharing our travels with likeminded companions, others learn to enjoy or simply do enjoy traveling alone; instead of bemoaning that a traveler has no one to share things with, such traveler could instead focus on the greater independence and self-confidence that come with traveling alone (as well as the far greater likelihood of meeting locals). In addition, solo travelers do have those to share their experiences with, albeit when they return--your own web site is proof of this. Caroline B - Santa Barbara, CA
    • What happended to your cute friend Mike? Last week you said you were both leaving Rome. Did you have an argument with him? Why were you alone in London? You two guys look great together! You should do more trips with him as you sounded very happy in his company. P.S. Your weekly reports are the best travel writing on the Internet! So totally authentic. B. Bagnall – Philadelphia. REPLY: Thanks for the kind words! I forgot to write that Mike flew back to the States to his Fiance’ and I went on to London solo.
    • I am moving on from Fort Lauderdale to Key West. I booked a separate reservation for that. Another tip I give to you. I have no choice but to connect, as there are no direct flights from Chicago to Key West. For more than $100 in savings, I am willing to pick up my luggage in FL baggage and bring it to another airline counter to check in again. I think the savings is worth the little effort. Nancy C - Chicago
    • "Other than looking like a loser and having no one to share it with, it wasn’t so bad." -JJ Hey now, the world is filled with business travelers who occupy their off time by doing touristy things all by themselves. There is nothing loser-ish about this, IMO. Being on the road for work 50% of the time I often go out to plays, movies, dinner, etc. by myself. The other option would be to just sit in my hotel room doing nothing. That seems much more loser-ish than going out by myself, again IMO. Which is why I like your newsletter so much, it is always giving me ideas and inspiring me to get out and see the places I travel to. -Michael Moretsky – Seattle, WA
    • It sounds like the photos are important to many of your readers. I will start to look at them in the future. I hope they don’t detract from the wonderful travel stories you have been sharing with us! Maybe your words tell a better story than the pictures. Mark Snyder - Geneva, Illinois
    • I'm a new subscriber......have you been to Scotland? I plan to go June 2006...and would love to know (if you have visited there) of any small "off the beaten path" villages you may have wandered into to. I'll be flying into Glasgow...so I'll be exploring that surrounding area. Thanks! Joanna. REPLY: Thanks for the email. Unfortunately, I have never been to Scotland. I hope to go one day soon!

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