Breathe easily in Philadelphia
Allergy sufferers and the environmentally concerned now have a hotel all their own in Philadelphia. The Sheraton Rittenhouse Square, which occupies five floors of a renovated building in the downtown area, bills itself as the first "environmentally smart" hotel in the country.
Its 193 rooms are equipped with nylon carpeting and mattresses, linens and drapes made of undyed, organic cotton. The air-filtering system throughout the hotel helps to remove mold, pollen and some bacteria from the air, and smoking is banned in the entire building.
Even the lobby is environmentally conscious. The floor is 93 percent recycled granite, and the paneling is bamboo, an easily renewed resource.
Room rates start at $229. Call 215-546-9400 for reservations.
SAILING AWAY FROM TAXES
Think twice about shopping before your next cruise. Many ships are now equipped with mini-malls offering Reebok stores, Haagen-Dazs ice cream shops and Bulgari jewelers. There's even a buzz about bringing a Tiffany & Co. onboard.
The latest addition to the high seas is the high-tech Sharper Image store aboard Royal Caribbean International's Monarch of the Seas. The store's signature 21st-century electronics are priced similarly onboard as off, but patrons need not pay tax at sea.
If, for example, you realize once aboard that you've forgotten your megaspeed neck massager and can't survive the cruise without, have no fear. The Sharper Image has come to your rescue.
Ever think you'd need to pay to be a volunteer? At the Great Smoky Mountains National Park, the All Taxa Biodiversity Inventory is looking for volunteers to take part in its project to catalog more than 100,000 species living in the park. Those interested will spend April 28 to May 5 taking part in the 50th annual Spring Wildflower Pilgrimage as well as gathering samples of area flora, which will be used to determine the species in the park. The charge is $1,495 per person and includes accommodations at the Eight Gables Inn at Gatlinburg, Tenn., and meals, but not air fare. At the end of the week, volunteers can see the extent of their work on a species distribution map. Call 800-628-7275, Ext. 136.
A full deck of states
Rand McNally introduces a new way to play cards. For each of the 52 cards in its Terracarta USA deck, a state is represented, as well as Washington, D.C., and Puerto Rico. Not only can you play a mean game of "War," you can also get a geography lesson. The museum-quality cards have Maryland on the 10 of diamonds, California on the ace of spades and Illinois on the king of hearts. On the flip side of each card is a state map, noting cities and rivers. The cards from Resource Games are available at Rand McNally stores (the nearest is in Bethesda) for $6.95 or by calling 800-234-0679.
Just for senior women
Women 50 years and older have an alternative to planning a trip on their own. Senior Women's Travel takes groups of no more than 10 to experience the food, shopping and culture of different countries. Founder Mary Ann Zimmerman, a widow who discovered the disadvantages of solo travel, says even if participants have been to certain destinations in the past, her agency can offer a different view.
Upcoming trips include Venice Oct. 16-23 ($2,650 a person) and Paris Nov. 3-10 ($2,750 a person). Price does not include airfare, but does cover single-occupancy accommodations, entertainment and most meals. Call 212-838-4740.