Amtrak is discounting rail fares in the Midwest now through April 30. Affected lines include routes between Chicago and downstate Illinois. Savings also are available on Wolverine Service, Pere Marquette and Blue Water routes between Chicago and Michigan and on the Missouri River Runner between Kansas City and St. Louis.

A few examples include Normal to Chicago, $13; Chicago to Springfield, $14.40; and Chicago to St. Louis, $19.20. If you're going farther, Chicago to Detroit is $26.35 and Chicago to Grand Rapids, Mich., is $25.50.

Big fests in Texas

Texas travel officials invite folks up north to attend several upcoming festivals.

New Orleans isn't the only place to celebrate Mardi Gras. Galveston Island hosts Mardi Gras from Friday through March 8 with parades, masked balls and flamboyant costumes.

The Western Heritage Classic is May 12-14 in Abilene. The event celebrates the ranch cowboy with a parade, rodeo, nightly dances and more. San Antonio hosts its annual Fiesta from April 7 to 17. The schedule includes more than 100 events, including carnivals, sports, fireworks, entertainment, ethnic feasts, art exhibits and parades.

While in the neighborhood, veer 100 miles east to Hallettsville for the Championship Fiddlers Frolic from April 15 to 17.

Before that, Austin hosts filmmakers, musicians and multimedia artists from March 11 to 20 during the internationally recognized South by Southwest Conferences and Festivals.

For more information, go to

Top islands reports Oahu's hotel occupancy rate was tops in the world for island and sun destinations during the first nine months of last year. The Hawaiian city's occupancy rose more than 6 percent over last year, to 78.3 percent.

The Hospitality Advisors and Smith Travel Research survey named Guam as No. 2 with 76.6 percent, followed by Bali and Puerto Rico.

Other Hawaiian islands ranked well, too, with Maui fifth and Kauai at No. 10.

Still, the Hawaiian Islands remained competitive with rooms, averaging $155 per night in Maui, $115 at Oahu and $112 at Kauai. Rooms on the Big Island were $102.

B&B wins honor

Mission Oak Inn in Henry is chosen by guests as North America's "Best Chef" for 2011 through Pamela Lanier's Bed and Breakfast Directory at gave readers a chance to vote for the Best Chef. Mission Oak Inn had the greatest number of votes out of 8,500 properties by their B&B guests and regular visitors to

Mission Oak Inn was called the "ultimate bed and breakfast destination for any traveler in search of an unforgettable, unique experience."

"Warm, welcoming and full of character and charm, Denny and Jan Reed offer exceptional hospitality and effort to go that extra mile, earning themselves the designation of "Best Chef for 2011" with Lanier readers. This B&B truly stands out above the rest," Pamela Lanier said.

Also, Chicago by CBS Channel 2 TV named Mission Oak Inn as one of five best B&Bs outside the city. Visit or e-mail or phone 309-370-4083.


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