A Fortunate Spinner Will Discover the Azores this January

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Azores Express and the Portuguese Trade and Tourism Office to promote Azores Islands on TV’s Wheel of Fortune. Carnaval in the Azores heats up.

Just four hours away from the East Coast of the United States, the Azores are the closest point in Europe to America. That has been a secret until now, but on January 20, 2006, the 14 million daily viewers of the Wheel of Fortune Game Show will see firsthand why the Azores are emerging as a new destination for Americans.

To promote the nine volcanic islands, the Portuguese National Tourist Office, in partnership with Azores Express (part of the SATA Group, Portugal’s second largest carrier) and the Bensaude Turismo hotel group will offer two Prize Puzzle packages to the Azores to a pair of lucky contestants.

The prizes consist of round-trip tickets on SATA International Airlines in business class, six nights' hotel accommodations at their choice of any of the six four-star hotels on the isle of Sao Miguel. The approximate value of the prizes is more than $6,000. The Prize Puzzle is the long running game show’s most prestigious segment with an entire round of play dedicated to winning this prize. Home viewers that have registered on Wheel of Fortune's Web site have an opportunity to win the prize the contestant wins.

The archipelago of the Azores, the closest point in Europe to New England, is made up of nine islands. The sapphire blue and emerald green lakes, fertile prairies, volcanic cones and craters, colorful hydrangeas and azaleas, 15th century churches and majestic manor houses make the Azores unlike anywhere else on earth. As a destination, the Azores has won many accolades: One of 10 Best Values, USA Today; Top 10 Places for Whale Watching, Sherman’s Travel; Top 3 Places to See Foliage Outside of the US, Wall Street Journal and Top 10 Islands You Never Heard of from Budget Travel.

Wheel of Fortune is the number-one rated show in syndication in the United States, covering nearly 99 percent of the American market with more than 14 million viewers a day and has recently been renewed of rebroadcast until the year 2010.

This year, a Mardi Gras celebration is only four hours from Boston if you opt to spend the holiday on the Mid-Atlantic Islands of the Azores, where "Shrove Tuesday" celebrations have taken place for centuries. The Azores Express, a U.S.-based tour operator, is offering travel packages starting at $669 per person (plus tax, double occupancy). Travelers can chose from six hotels on three islands to enjoy the festivities.

In the Azores, Mardi Gras is known as "Carnaval", a four-day celebration starting on Saturday, February 25, 2006 and continuing through Tuesday, February 28, 2006. Parades and pageants are the heart of the Carnaval festivities. There is lively music, colorful costumes, hand-made masks, and floats.

On the island of Sao Miguel, known for its mild weather, you can chose from four hotels in historic Ponta Delgada, the Azores' main city. Stay in the heart of the downtown at the Hotel Vila Nova for just $669. For $749, choose between three other downtown hotels: the Avenida, the Holiday Inn Azores, and the Sao Miguel Park. Weeklong packages are based on a departure of February 25th, returning March 3rd, 2006, with 6 nights lodging, air transport from Boston, and breakfast included.

Carnaval has a sweet taste on Sao Miguel, with street vendors selling fried sweet dough, called a Malassada. The festival on the Azores' biggest island starts off with a black tie grand ball, then and heats up with Latin music at the recently restored Coliseu Micaelense. There is a children’s parade in the streets of Ponta Delgada with children from each school district on the island coming in costume. Then a massive carnaval parade fills the streets into the wee hours.

Smaller town have choir concerts, parades, and the town of Lagoa has a big fried dough festival, called the Festa da Malassada.

Two new resort hotels on the islands of Terceira and Faial are both available from $869, which includes the connecting airfare between islands. Travelers can choose a package that combines a stay on either Terceira or Faial and Sao Miguel for the same price.

The Carnaval of Terceira is the most lively and colorful in the islands with thousands participating in its main parade in the cosmopolitan city of Angra, and lots of concerts and parties. Aside from boisterous street parades and open-air celebrations, Terceira has an ancient tradition to celebrate carnaval called "Dancas de Entrudo" (Carnaval dances) – a name given by the locals to Terceira’s Carnaval traditional folk theatre. Hundreds of islanders and visitors follow the dancers' itinerary around the island, whose themes are related to everyday life. The dances are composed by two rows of eight dancers, a "Master" (with a whistle and a sword or tambourine), and a variable number of characters for the "plot," together with a group of musicians. The people from Terceira, it is said, find in these dances the magic needed to tell what goes on in their souls.

The new seafront Terceira Mar Hotel and Resort is on the island of Terceira is available for just $869 per person. The Terceira Mar Hotel and Resort is located in the island's main city, Angra do Heroismo. Set on a bay, Angra do Heroísmo is a wonderful mix of the cosmopolitan and the traditional; it is a lively city full of culture and great shopping.

The recently opened Hotel do Canal, located on the marina of the cosmopolitan town of Horta on the island of Faial, is also available at $869 a person. Horta is the home of one most famous harbors in the world. Yachts from the seven seas call here year-round. The city’s colorful main street winds along the harbor where the sea walls are painted from top to bottom with the calling cards of the many yachts that have visited Horta.

All Azores Express travel packages are per person, and include roundtrip airfare between Boston and the islands, six nights lodging, and all breakfasts. These packages are available for Tuesday and Friday departures. The prices listed are for Friday departures, which are recommended for the full enjoyment of the Carnaval celebration. But, great package deals are offered from Boston to the Azores every Friday and Tuesday this winter and spring.

Bensaude Turismo, the Azores’ largest and most respected hospitality and tourism company, offers fine lodging on the three main islands of the Azores. For reservations and more information, please log on to http://www.bensaude.pt.

Azores Express, a U.S.-based tour operator and member of the SATA Group, offers direct flights on wide body A310 aircraft to São Miguel, the main island in the Azores archipelago. Connecting flights from São Miguel are offered to Lisbon and the island of Madeira. Azores Express has connected New England with the Azores and mainland Portugal for more than 18 years. The carrier is part of the SATA Group, which connects the Azores, an autonomous region of Portugal, with the world.

For more information and reservations, contact Azores Express at 800-762-9995, http://www.Azores-Express.com.

For more information about the Azores Islands visit Portugal's official tourist board site at http://www.visitportugal.com and http://www.drtacores.pt.

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