Royal treatment: how to skip the horrors of Heathrow

Olympic challenge ... Heathrow airport is preparing for the busiest day in its history.
Olympic challenge ... Heathrow airport is preparing for the busiest day in its history. Photo: Reuters

Five-star delivery

Smart Traveller likes the idea of a service that bypasses the inevitable schlep at one of the world's busiest airports - London's Heathrow.

Once available only to royalty and heads of state, Heathrow by Invitation includes a kerbside drop-off and pick-up point at an inconspicuous place. While your luggage is checked in by staff, you (and up to five in your party) can relax in a luxury suite for up to three hours.

Passport control and security screening are conducted in private and a limousine whisks travellers to or from the suite to the aircraft steps. And the cost? From £1500 ($2330).

See heathrowbyinvitation.com.

Athletes en masse

Heathrow airport, like the rest of London, is in training for the Olympics and Paralympics, when it will handle 80 per cent of Games air traffic to the city, including athletes and their associated equipment such as canoes and javelins.

However, the biggest challenge will be on August 13, the day after the closing ceremony, which is predicted to be the busiest in the airport's history. More than 200,000 bags will pass through, 50,000 more than usual.

One thousand volunteers, speaking a total of 20 languages, will be at the airport from early July to help travellers. Construction of a dedicated athletes' departure terminal is under way, with 31 check-in desks and seven security lanes.

See heathrow.com.

Muppets get New York gig

While financial giant Goldman Sachs has been trawling its emails for references to the Muppets, New York City will employ the much-loved variety, including Miss Piggy and Gonzo the Great, as family ambassadors.

Family-friendly attractions including the Bronx Zoo, Brooklyn Bridge Park and Coney Island are included in the characters' personal preferences.

Kermit the Frog (pictured) offers advice on navigating the five boroughs. The Swedish Chef offers dining tips, and Miss Piggy, of course, has the last word on shopping. It's a worthwhile investment; last year 15 million family visitors added about $US14 billion to the city's economy.

See nycgo.com/family.

Swipe and scroll

Passengers on Emirates, the first airline to have individual seatback video screens in 1992, will be able to swipe and scroll through the airline's new entertainment system using a graphical user interface (GUI).

The technology, being implemented across its A380 fleet and most of its Boeing 777 aircraft, is part of an upgrade that will include larger video screens in all classes from next month.

So far, wi-fi is available for a fee on 18 of its 21 A380s and will be installed on the remainder this year. It costs $15 for 25MB using a laptop; $7.50 for 5MB for mobile phones in all classes.

See emirates.com.

Taronga's traditional tour

Appreciating Australia's native wildlife from an indigenous perspective is part of a new tour at Sydney's Taronga Zoo.

Led by one of six Aboriginal guides, Nura Diya, which means "this country or camp", includes learning about traditional uses of native plants for food, tools and medicine. The two-hour morning tour, when kangaroos, echidnas, wallabies and emus are most active, includes morning tea at the zoo's cafe.

See taronga.org.au/nuradiya.

High country fun

Would-be brewers, picklers and winemakers will be in good company at the inaugural High Country Harvest Festival in north-east Victoria, where a healthy concentration of food and wine producers extends from the Victorian Alps to the Murray River. More than 40 events are planned, including a Harvest Celebration in Beechworth and Myrtleford's Italian festival, La Fiera.

Craft your own beer at Bright Brewery or get your hands dirty with Patrizia Simone while foraging for mushrooms, nuts and vegetables. Back at her cooking school, Simone will teach foragers how to pickle and preserve.

For those happier to be served, there is a four-course dinner in Stanley celebrating the chestnut, matched to Pennyweight wines.

From May 18 to 27.

See highcountryharvest.com.au.

Shore leave

Viator.com has launched shore excursions during cruises, suggesting 500 activities in 80 ports worldwide, including whale watching in Juneau and seeing the volcanoes of Hawaii.

A spokeswoman says only tours relevant to itineraries are included, and lines include Carnival Cruises, Holland America and Royal Caribbean.

The San Francisco-based company says a passenger is yet to miss the boat after one of its excursions. In that event, it will pay the costs of getting to the next port.

See shoreexcursions.viator.com.

Send news items to smarttraveller@fairfax.com.au.

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