Archive for July, 2011

 

 

A Historic Summer: Making Memories in Some of the U.S.’s Most Famous Destinations

Monday, July 25th, 2011


To celebrate the 150th Anniversary of the Civil War, go to Mt. Rushmore for an inspiring symbol of democracy. (Photo courtesy of custersd.com)


Perhaps now would be a good time to take one last family trip before returning to school this fall. I am a firm believer that learning should be fun and interesting; and what better way to bring history, geography, science and literature alive than to experience them first hand? And yes! Before you ask me, I do believe that education and fun are not mutually exclusive. Last summer I recommended some of America’s most historic cities, but here are few more destinations to consider when planning a fun, fact-packed vacation.

Commemorate the 150th Anniversary of the Civil War

2011 started a four-year commemoration of the Civil War’s 150th Anniversary. If you are a U.S. history buff or just want to tour some beautiful cities with a story behind them, then consider the battlefields of one of America’s most controversial wars. While 60% of the war was fought in Virginia, I recommend these cities for a trip well worth making.

Charleston

Visit the spot where the first shot was fired at Fort Sumter in Charleston, SC.  Much of the old plantation architecture has been wonderfully preserved and a visit to the city is a great way to further your understanding of pre-Civil War America. Charleston is a walking city and it is, by far, the best way to see it and appreciate its history, architecture and southern charm whether on your own or by guided tour. With great bed & breakfasts in the historic downtown, romance in Charleston is alive and well.

Atlanta

In downtown Atlanta, The Reverend Martin Luther King Jr. had a dream that was instrumental in obtaining equal civil rights for all citizens of the United States, regardless of skin color. A visit to the Martin Luther King Jr. Historic Site is made up of several facilities, including the Visitor Center, Historic Ebenezer Baptist Church, The King Center and the Birth Home. There are several exhibits that document the life and career of Martin Luther King Jr. as well as the progression of the Civil Rights Movement, which began around the centennial year of the Civil War.

The Lore of the Black Hills and Badlands of South Dakota

Breathtaking vistas, amazing outdoor recreation and Old West history populate the Black Hills and Badlands of South Dakota. With legendary names like Crazy Horse, Sitting Bull, Red Cloud, General George A. Custer, Wild Bill Hickok, and Calamity Jane; visitors young and old will be captivated by the stories and scenes from the time when this part of the country belonged to the Sioux Indians, the gold rush and the railroad expansion. And don’t forget to see the homestead of Laura Ingalls Wilder, the famed Little House on the Prairie author.

It’s still a secret that the second-longest cave in the world, Jewel Cave, is in the Black Hills. The region notably enjoys Mount Rushmore, one of America’s most inspiring symbols of democracy. And, modern day entertainment options include six theme and amusement parks.

From Revolution to Constitution: Philadelphia

Throughout Philadelphia, you can learn about the founding of America, the history of the original Quaker colony, and even get a tour by “Benjamin Franklin” himself. Rivaled only to Boston, Philadelphia is home to many national historical sites that relate to 18th century and revolutionary America such as the Liberty Bell, the Betsy Ross house and Independence Hall. Additionally the city has more public art than any other U.S. city.

Next week, I’ll share my tips for preparing a child for travel whether by road, air or sea. Are you planning on taking any historical vacations this year?

 
 

 

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The ABC’s of Travel

Monday, July 18th, 2011


Planning a vacation should be fun, not stressful. I'll help you decipher some commonly used travel terms. (Photo courtesy of asiaportal.org)

Whether you are planning a trip a year in advance or trying to grab a last-minute deal, it’s a good idea to be familiar with various travel terms to help you discern what the best options are for your particular trip.

There’s nothing worse than making travel plans and not really understanding what it is that you are reserving. After all, vacations are big-ticket expenditures for most of us. And while it’s always good advice to “read the fine print”, if you don’t know what the industry terms are then you may just become more confused. I’ve compiled a glossary of sorts to help you along. Here are a few key phrases to know when booking your next vacay!

All-Inclusive: An all-inclusive resort is a resort that, besides providing all of the common amenities of a resort, charges a fixed price that includes most or all items such as lodging, tax, gratuities, unlimited food, drink, sports activities, and entertainment. However, inclusions do vary from resort to resort so be sure to investigate exactly what is included before booking.

Airport transfer: A transport service to/from an airport to a hotel, etc. Normally, airport transfers are prepaid and are more common and encouraged outside the U.S.

Availability: How many empty seats are available on a flight or how many empty rooms are available in an accommodation.

Bed & Breakfast: Typically a renovated home or mansion converted into a hotel-like accommodation. Guests spend the night and enjoy a full breakfast (included in the price of the room) in the morning. Some rooms may not have a private bathroom. Most B&Bs are located in residential areas and are often steeped in the local characteristics and history. Many travelers see these establishments as a pleasant alternative to hotel accommodations.

Blackout Dates: Blackout dates typically fall on or around major holidays or other peak travel seasons during which certain special offers (such as cheaper fares or hotel rates) or discounts are not available. The term is typically used with loyalty or point programs. Subscribers to the Welcome Rewards program from hotels.com never have to worry about blackout dates when using their reward nights.

Connecting Rooms: A hotel room that shares a wall with an adjoining room and is connected by a private door.

Cancellation Penalty: A fee that an airline passenger must pay if the passenger cancels flight plans after reserving a seat. Prices vary amongst airlines.  Cancellation penalties are also incurred when a customer cancels an already paid for and confirmed hotel booking after the policy deadline. Unlike most travel companies, hotels.com does not charge a change or cancellation fee.

Condominium: A condominium is one of a group of housing units where each homeowner owns their individual unit space, and all the dwelling share ownership of areas of common use. Owners can then rent out the condo through property management companies making them available for tourist use.

Change Fee: A fee imposed when a traveler makes a material change to an already purchased ticket or reservation. Some airlines allow for temporary holds on reservations before paying for them so that unnecessary charges don’t occur. Many hotels allow for changes up until a certain time before the actual date of the booking.

Damage Deposit: A fee often required in condos and vacation rentals by the unit owner imposed on guests often during specific times such as spring break and special events. Be sure to ask about additional fees before you book.

Double Occupancy:  Most hotel room pricing is quoted based on two adults to a room. This is also the way in which most cruises and tour packages are quoted. Additional persons in a room or to a cabin may incur added fees.

Family-Friendly: A term for accommodations or types of entertainment that are considered suitable for all members of the average family. Family-friendly hotels often provide portable cribs, children’s menus, play programs, etc. to guests traveling with children.

Before you start relaxing at the hotel pool, brush up on your travel lingo. (Photo courtesy of Manchester Grand Hyatt flickr.com)

Glamping: Otherwise known as glamorous camping. It’s a trend that has become quite popular in the past five years which supposedly satisfies the craving for the outdoors without sacrificing comfort.

Group Rate: Negotiated hotel rates for conventions, trade shows, meetings, family reunions, etc. Group reservations and rates are often based on the needs of the groups and are therefore unavailable online but handled by a separate team within a hotel or travel company.

Hostel: A budget-oriented, shared-room (“dormitory”) accommodation that accepts individual travelers (typically backpackers) or groups for short-term stays, and that provides common areas and communal facilities.

Hospitality Charges: Otherwise known as Resort Fees that are charged to guests in addition to the reservation fee. As hotels and resorts have had to lower reservation prices to stay competitive, many are levying these fees on customers to recoup and grow revenues. These fees include but are not limited to early departure fees, Internet fees (both Wi-Fi and Ethernet), newspaper fees, 
telephone call surcharges, room service delivery surcharges, mini-bar restocking fees, and in-room safes.

Here are some tips on sidestepping Hospitality Charges:

  • Be proactive. Ask when you book if there are any mandatory fees (and taxes) that will be added to your bill.
  • Politely complain at check-in with the front desk if you know you will need or use the services on which fees are being charged and ask for them to be waived. Desk clerks often have the authority to remove them. If not, ask for the manager.
  • Check your bill carefully before you sign it. It’s easier to dispute a charge at checkout than afterward.

Limited Service Hotel: A hotel without a restaurant or food service on the premises.

Non-Refundable:  In travel, reservations deemed “non-refundable” cannot be refunded either in cash or via a credit card credit; very seldom is there an exception. Be sure before you book a tour, hotel, transportation, etc. that you understand the refund policy.

Timeshare: An arrangement whereby several joint owners have the right to use a property as a vacation home under a time-sharing scheme. These involve individuals purchasing the ownership of accommodations for a specific period of time, usually one or two weeks a year. Owners may also have the unit rented out by the management company making the unit available for public consumption.

Off-Peak: A less expensive time to travel as result of lower consumer volume during this period. The off-season, as it is also referred to, is different by region, country and continent.

Pre-paid Booking: Also known as a reservation of a hotel room paid in advance. The payment is generally held until the arrival date or until checkout time the next day.

Package Deal: A fixed price travel product that is based on bundling travel options together for one less expensive price than the alternative of booking each piece separately. These pieces could include airfare, accommodations, restaurants, entertainment, cultural activities, sightseeing and car rental.

Price Match Guarantee: In travel, a customer who finds a better price for a hotel, airline ticket, tour, etc may have to meet a set of requirements to guarantee a price match. These requirements may include but not be limited to a window of match identification, exact itinerary match, identifying better deal before reservation is made, etc. Hotels.com will actually price match a hotel room rate right up until the date of a hotel’s cancellation policy regardless of when you booked the reservation.

Rack Rate: The price of a hotel prior to a discount.

Saturday Night Stay: In order to receive a specialty airline fare or accommodation discount, a Saturday stay over is sometimes required.

Shoulder season: The period of time between busy and quiet seasons in which prices are typically at a midpoint.

Suite: A hotel room that usually offers a living room and kitchenette in addition to the bedroom. All-suite hotels are becoming more popular and are a great value for families providing more space and comfort than a traditional hotel. Additionally, kid suites are becoming a popular option for families.

Vacation Rental: A vacation rental is a fully furnished property, such as a condominium, townhome or single-family-style home. Vacation rental properties are typically rented for a designated period of time, such as on a nightly basis similar to hotel rooms, although the more prevalent vacation rental industry practice is typically weekly rentals. Many offer the same services hotels offer to their guests, i.e., front desk check-in, 24-hour maintenance, in-house housekeeping, and concierge service. Vacation rentals are most common in Florida, Hawaii, and California. Once difficult to locate and secure, these spacious and cost-effective rentals can easily be found on hotels.com.

Let me know if there are any other words or phrases I can decipher for you before you go on your next vacation!

 
 

 

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Carmageddon: Are you Ready for a Staycation, L.A.?

Wednesday, July 13th, 2011


Beat Carmageddon by taking a 'staycation' or heading out of town for the weekend (photo courtesy of LATimesBlog.com).

Beginning Friday, a portion of the 405, otherwise known as the busiest highway in the U.S., will be shutdown for 53 hours (as if L.A. needs any help in the bad traffic department).

Los Angeles police and department of transportation officials have been doing their best to encourage residents and visitors alike to make alternative plans for the weekend in hopes of avoiding a colossal traffic jam.

My suggestion for those people that can get out of town before the closure begins, is to take the opportunity for a weekend road trip to one of California’s other picturesque cities such as Santa Maria, San Diego or head north toward Marin County.

But if you can’t get out of town then test your skills navigating the surface streets of Los Angeles and make it a Staycation weekend. Check out the last minute deals from hotels.com and have some fun.  I suggest that you consider booking in Hollywood, Pasadena or downtown Los Angeles to best avoid the 405 or simply stay on the beach in Santa Monica and walk to nearby shops and restaurants all weekend. Many local restaurants and shops are offering special deals on the 16th and 17th which makes this weekend a great time to help boost local businesses.

I was able to track down the following helpful transportation resources:

July 15th and 16th, the transportation authority will be offering free fares on 26 bus lines along major routes on the west side and in the San Fernando Valley. Additionally, the Red, Purple and Orange line subways will offer free service.

Prime Time Shuttle is offering shuttle service from LAX to anywhere in the San Fernando Valley for $20/ person (one way) and $10 for each additional person, on July 16th and 17th.

Follow @BeatCarmageddon on Twitter to keep up with the impending melee.  Click Here for the more details on the road project.

Good luck to my friends and family in L.A. this weekend, and keep me posted on all the freeway fun!

 
 

 

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Top 10 U.S. Beaches

Monday, July 11th, 2011

Nothing is more relaxing than a day at one of the top U.S. beaches. (Photo courtesy of patio-hammock.com)

With the summer sun scorching states across the U.S, you might be thinking how refreshing a trip to the ocean would be right now. For me, there’s nothing more cathartic than being able to put my toes in the sand and look out on warm crystal blue waters. And if you’re like me, the good news for us is that you don’t have to go far to experience some of the world’s best beaches. In fact, most are just a road trip away. So what are you waiting for? Grab the floaties, the cooler, a towel and some sunscreen, and hit the road for a fabulous summer beach getaway.

Here is the Travel Smart Blog’s 2011 Top 10 U.S. Beaches list. From the trendy to the virtually uninhabited, this year’s picks may be easy to get to but their beauty will make you feel like you escaped to exotic lands.

Factors considered in creating this list included size or stretch of sand, quality of sand, area use (activities), previous accolades, and of course, personal experiences.

1. Siesta Key, FL

Just off the coast of Sarasota, FL you will find paradise. Heralded by many travel publications and experts as the softest, whitest beach anywhere, Siesta Key is located on Florida’s southwest Gulf coast. I’ve always considered it one of Florida’s secret treasures but it is quickly becoming a beachgoer’s go-to spot.  That being said, it still seems to maintain a sleepy beach feel in an immaculate setting, which is partly because smoking is not allowed on this pristine beach.

2. Poipu Beach, HI

On the south shore of Kauai Island, Hawaii you can experience Poipu Beach. It’s definitely one of the most popular beaches on the shore and is also considered one of the safest in Hawaii. You can do it all here, from snorkeling to swimming and surfing or playing in a natural ocean wading pool.

3. Malibu Beaches, CA

Located along the northwestern coast of Los Angeles, CA, there are six beaches that stretch “27 miles of scenic beauty”. The relaxed and rugged feel of Malibu is a welcome respite from the pace and glitz of nearby L.A. And each of its beaches offers something different: from sandy shores to rocky cliffs to world-class surfing.

4. Saint Joseph Island, TX

Saint Joseph Island is an uninhabited barrier island off the coast of Port Aransas, TX. It’s also car-free which ensures peaceful solitude, and the farther you get from the ferry dock on this 21-mile-long isle, the better the beach. The pristine beaches are open to the public and make for excellent swimming, surfing, beachcombing and shelling.

5. Coronado Island, CA 

Lush subtropical vegetation, a Mediterranean climate, and warm, mild surf describes this beach. Stay at the Hotel del Coronado, a local landmark, which was built more than a hundred years ago. And if you are a sunset lover – then don’t miss the chance to digest this Coronado delicacy.

6. Anna Maria Island, FL

Anna Maria Island  is the barrier between the Gulf of Mexico and Tampa Bay. It is so picturesque that is also known as the “wedding capital of Florida,” and yet somehow it maintains that Old Florida feel. With its crystal white beaches and an average year-round temperature of 74.8 degrees, you’ll find a lot to do on Anna Maria Island, or just do nothing at all and relax on the white sand beaches all day.

7. Kiawah Island, S.C.

Visitors can canoe and kayak through the tidal inlets or bird watch as the beach is home to thousands of birds. You can also walk along the compact sand of the 10-mile barrier island for a truly serene way to relax.

8. Lanikai Beach, Oahu, HI

Tucked in a residential neighborhood, Lanikai Beach is a hidden gem on the popular island of Oahu. It is one of Hawaii’s most picturesque beaches with fine white sand and excellent swimming year-round thanks to an offshore reef that keeps the water calm. During the high tourist season and on the weekends it can get crowded with visitors and locals alike.

9. South Beach, Miami Beach, FL 

South Beach is more than a beach. After all, it has its own culture! By day and by night, the South Beach section of Miami Beach is a major entertainment destination with hundreds of nightclubs, restaurants, boutiques and hotels. And the beach is truly as beautiful as the people who lay on its sand with Caribbean blue waters, stunning art deco architecture surrounding it and miles of fun in the year-round sun.

10. Perdido Key, FL

Spanish for “lost island”, you could get lost in the beauty of Perdido Key. The island features several world-renowned state parks with abundant wild life and emerald green waters. The wide white sand beaches and the rolling dunes covered with sea oats make this a pristine oasis along the rapidly developing Florida panhandle. You can easily drive to Perdido Key but stay in hotels or vacation rentals on nearby Pensacola, FL beaches.

What other beaches would you add to the list? Have you been to any of the ones mentioned above?

 
 

 

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The Best Ballpark Food in America

Tuesday, July 5th, 2011

If you visit Miller Park, make sure to get a bratwurst and catch the 7th inning stretch "sausage race." (Photo courtesy of stltoday.com)

I hope you all had a fantastic July 4th weekend full of food, fireworks and fun.  Another all-American summer pastime where you often find the “three f’s” is major league baseball. 

In fact, when it comes to food, US ballparks offer a lot more than just hotdogs and popcorn! Many are now featuring some of the country’s best local fare, turning your baseball outing into a real culinary experience. I’ve yet to try to the Rocky Mountain Oysters at Coors Field in Denver. Personally, I would be more apt to try the Maryland’s lump crab dog at Camden Yards. Still, it’s great to see famed local cuisine infused into the ballparks of America.  

Wondering what else is out there? Here are few more of the best ballpark foods from around the country. 

Tampa Bay Devil Rays – Tropicana Field: St. Petersburg, FL – Ybor City Cuban Sandwich

A Tampa girl from the start, I have to tell you that this is my favorite sandwich on the planet from one of my favorite restaurants! The Columbia restaurant, a Tampa landmark, has been making this Cuban inspired treat for more than 100 years and now has its own venue within Tropicana Field. Made with smoked ham, salami, gooey Swiss cheese, sour pickles, and mustard on Cuban bread (the piece de resistance) and all grilled into a flat sandwich that makes this the most delicious treat.

Milwaukee Brewers – Miller Park: Milwaukee, WI – Bratwurst with Secret Sauce

In the land famous for cheeses and beers, enjoy the festival of sausages that is a trip to Miller Park. The bratwurst and spicy Italian sausage are topped with the Brewer’s special sauce at “The House That Bud Built” and are better than the cased meats you’ll find anywhere else. Brat Boys are stationed throughout the ballpark making it impossible to let a Brewer game pass you by without giving one a try. And when you just can’t get enough, cheer on your favorite sausage in the 7th inning stretch sausage race.

Seattle Mariners – Safeco Field: Seattle, WA – Sushi

Seafood may not be the first thing that comes to mind when you head for a ballpark concession stand, but in Seattle the fish are fresh and served a variety of ways throughout the park from Iver dogs (a fish sandwich) to clam chowder.  Most famous for its sushi, Safeco Field offers its signature “Ichi-roll” (a spicy tuna roll), named for star Ichiro Suzuki.

New York Mets – Citi Field: Flushing, NY – Shake Shack Burgers

New York’s Citi Field offers burgers and hot dogs from the Shake Shack in New York City. The “Shack-cago” dog is one of their most popular offerings with Shake Shack relish, onion, cucumber, pickle, tomato, pepper, and celery salt.

Philadelphia Phillies – Citizens Bank Park: Philadelphia, PA – Cheesesteaks & Crab FrieAnother local legend serving food at a ballpark is Tony Luke at Philadelphia’s Citizens Bank Park. Foodies flock to Philly for a bite of one of these cheesy delicacies. Pair yours with Chickie & Pete’s crab fries that are generously seasoned with bay spice for a meal that will truly melt-in-your-mouth.

Kansas City Royals – Kauffman Stadium: Kansas City, KS – KC Ribeye Stack

Winner of the best ballpark food competition at last year’s All-Star Game competition is the KC Ribeye Stack from Kauffman Stadium. This lauded ooey-gooey sandwich is made between potato bread buns with a heavenly combination of mushrooms, bacon, cheese, onion rings and the beautifully seasoned ribeye steak.

I feel bad leaving out vegetables on my list. So, if you are headed to Phoenix next weekend for the All-Star Game (tips for scoring tickets); be sure to try the homemade sweet potato fries in the Sedona Club. I’m looking forward to finding out which favorite food will win MVP during All-Star Week this year.

 What ballpark fare is tops on your list?

 
 

 

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