Archive for April, 2013

Itinerary of the Month: Portland, ME

Monday, April 29th, 2013

If I had 36 hours in Portland, I would…

Portland really is one of those cities that feels much smaller than it actually is. It seems to have found a balance in that which is quaint and historic, and all things current and modern. Time seems to slow down a bit in Portland, which is good news if you only have 36 hours to spend there.

Portland Head Lighthouse Cape Elizabeth MaineDay 1:

You’ll be out and about in Portland! There’s much to see and do. Start your visit with a cruise on the Bay or in the Harbor. Several cruise lines start their seasons in late May into June and Casco Bay Lines adds fun cruises to its normal inter-island schedule.

Then you can walk the Old Port area of downtown Portland for lunch and peruse the shops and galleries located in this revitalized commercial district.

In the fall, visit an apple orchard during September and October, and pick your own apples, collect pumpkins, and enjoy a hayride. Continue to celebrate Maine apples on the Great Maine Apple Day at the Union Fairgrounds.

If you’re looking for a spot that sizzles for dinner, then look no further than

Grace on Chestnut Street, a New American restaurant housed in an 1850s Gothic Revival-style church. You may just have a spiritual moment when you taste the inventive cuisine.

Day Two:

I can’t think of a better way to start the day than with a walk down the beach. Within minutes of Portland, you can find Crescent Beach State Park in Cape Elizabeth, Scarborough Beach State Park, Higgins Beach, and Pine Point Beach in Scarborough, and Old Orchard Beach. Spend a few hours at the beach and the head off to explore area lighthouses.

Portland Head Light, one of the oldest continuously operating lighthouses on the Atlantic Coast, is located in Fort Williams Park in Cape Elizabeth. Pack a picnic lunch or pick up a deli sandwich and enjoy the view and the park. Continue to the outer ledges of Casco Bay with a stop at Two Lights State Park in Cape Elizabeth to see Cape Elizabeth.

Kids of all ages will enjoy the 19th Century Willowbrook Village, a living history museum of what life was like in 1800’s Maine.

Many of Maine’s restaurateurs are proud to be part of the burgeoning farm-to-table movement and are doing their best to use all produce, meats and seafood from local farmers, fishermen and suppliers. Royalty Free stock

And much like Grace, a few other Portland restaurants are turning old Portland spots into happening dinner destinations. El Rayo Taqueria turned a lonely gas station into a festive Mexican café. And the old Portland Savings Bank became Sonny’s, featuring New World cuisine and excellent bartenders!

If you can fit it in – try not to forget that Maine is home to one of the most respected outdoor outfitters in the world - L.L. Bean. L.L. Bean is located in Freeport, not too far a drive, and is open 24 hours a day, 365 days a year

Travel Tip: Be sure to sign up for Groupon deals to Portland, Maine to take advantage of any saving you can find on food and food while visiting. I noticed many deals on restaurants and activities that would save you big on your Portland adventure!

 
 

 

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City of the Month: Portland, Maine

Wednesday, April 24th, 2013

Portland Head Lighthouse

Where should you go if you want Lobster for breakfast, lunch, and dinner; a pre-civil war history lesson; the beach in the summer and apple orchards in the fall? Portland, Maine!

Yes, along the southern coast of Maine and situated on Casco Bay, Portland has become quite the popular spot. And understanding why is not too hard; there is something for everyone in Portland.

Bon Appétit Magazine named Portland, “Foodiest Small Town in America” for its innovative restaurants and growing number of award-winning chefs. In 2003, the National Historic Trust honored Portland by naming it one of its “Dozen Distinctive Destinations” due to the city’s enjoyable natural, historic, aesthetic, recreational, and cultural experiences. Even the Advocate has endorsed Portland as the “3rd Gayest City in the US”.

Children of all ages can play, learn and enjoy the Maine capital. A day trip to the Maine Wildlife Park, a visit to one of the state’s many fairs and festivals that cater to active kids and family, or a trip to one of the coast’s pristine sandy beaches will keep everyone entertained.

For a city established in 1632, it is a well-blended mixture of modern and timeless. Back in the day, the port of Portland was a major hub for shipping and trading companies. Today, The Old Port is a quaint, Victorian district of shops and restaurants in restored commercial buildings.

Getting around in Portland is super easy. The airport is a mere five minutes from town and hotels are along the waterfront. You can walk, you can take a bus, you can ride a train, or you can go by car. Figuring out what not to do on a visit to Portland is the hardest problem you are going to have.

Take any one or more of a number of cruises around the Portland Harbor or Casco Bay. You can catch lobsters with Lucky Catch or view whales, seals and/or dolphins with Odyssey. You can also enjoy a 2-hour sail in a vintage schooner from either of the sail or schooner companies.

There are several lighthouses within the greater Portland area that are accessibly by car. Spring Point Ledge Light and Portland Breakwater Light are both located in South Portland. Spring Point Ledge Light is open to visitors on weekends during the summer and Portland Breakwater Light (also known as Bug Light) is located in a park which used to house the Liberty Ships shipyard during WWII and has an interesting exhibit.

Where to Stay in Portland

Hilton Garden Inn Portland Downtown Waterfront
Great location to the Old Port and walking distance to everything downtown.

The Inn at St. John
A great little inn with big value. The service is great, breakfast is plentiful, and And for Boston Red Sox fans – the minor league team practices just a block away.

Old Orchard Beach Inn
Beautiful and comfortable, this inn is a perfect summer spot. There’s something special about a Bed & Breakfast stay.

Where to Eat in Portland

Gilbert’s Chowder House
Eat where the local’s go for the best “chowda” and lobster rolls around. Gilbert’s is as affordable as it is delicious and that is saying a lot! Eat outside on the deck for a waterfront view.

Bar Lola
Bar Lola has a really creative, multi-course tasting menu that is fresh, fabulous and fun. This quaint restaurant on the East end of Portland has become a foodie favorite.

What else can you do in Portland? Later this week, I’ll share with you an itinerary for 36 Hours in Portland.

 
 

 

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National Park Week

Monday, April 22nd, 2013


Looking for the next budget-friendly spring destination? Starting today, travelers will have five days of free entry to nearly 400 National Parks coast-to-coast as part of National Park Week.

Yosemite National Park, CaliforniaFrom marvelous landscapes and seascapes to the nation’s most precious arts and culture exhibitions, each national park offers breathtaking views and unique outdoor experiences that can help relax and recharge travelers.  Hotels.com, together with The Active Times, has listed the perfect lodge or hotel, plus activities to explore to help make your trip a complete success.

Yosemite National Park

Where to Stay:  The Ahwahnee (4.2 guest rating): This four-star luxury property is located at the foot of Yosemite Village and has some of the park’s most iconic locations, such as Glacier PointHalf Dome, and Upper Yosemite Falls.

What to do: Take a short, 2.2-mile roundtrip hike into the heart of the Mariposa Grove, where walking among the hundreds of 200-foot-tall sequoias—the biggest living things on earth—reminds us of how small we are in the grand scheme of nature.

Glacier Bay National Park & Preserve

Where to Stay:  Gustavus Inn at Glacier Bay (5.0 guest rating): Located minutes from Glacier Bay National Park & Preserve and the ocean, this quaint bed and breakfast offers complimentary daily breakfast and locally-sourced, fresh cuisine served daily.

What to do: Take a day-long boat tour cruising through the park’s rich waters, spotting sea lions, puffins and whales, making brief island stops and, at last, getting you close enough to hear the dramatic thundering of building-sized chunks of ice calving from the glaciers and dropping into the ocean.

Acadia National Park

Where to Stay:  Primrose Inn (4.9 guest rating):  Walking distance from Bar Harbor, the Primrose Inn is in close proximity to Abbe Museum, Bar Harbor Whale Watching, Acadia National Park and Cadillac Mountain.

What to do: For one of the best views, head up the steep but rewarding Precipice Trail, a hike that incorporates stone steps and iron-rung ladders up a cliff-face to the 1,058-foot summit of Champlain Mountain.
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Glacier National Park

Where to Stay: The Lodge at Whitefish Lake (4.7 guest rating): Located close to Whitefish Mountain Ski Resort and Glacier National Park, this property offers a full-service spa, onsite recreation in the winter like snowshoeing and ice skating, and in the summer hiking and biking trails and kayaking.

What to do: Take a day-hike into the rugged-yet-spectacular Granite Park Chalet will introduce you to the local bighorns and take you past gushing waterfalls.

What are your plans for Earth Day and National Park Week? Let us know in the comments!

 

 

 
 

 

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All-Inclusive Resorts

Friday, April 19th, 2013

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The idea behind an all-inclusive resort is to provide guests with everything they could want within a resort. The appeal of the all-inclusive vacation is obvious: you know what your total cost is going to be before you ever leave home. And often times, these vacations are good values compared to buying food, beverages, lodging, and activities a la carte.

However, what many of these all-inclusives have in “value”, they have faltered in the luxury department as their “value” treatment diminished the experience and service that many of their guests expected. Until now! A new crop of all-inclusive resorts have appeared that are ultra-chic, ultra-luxurious, and ultra-too good to miss!

All-inclusives come in different shapes and sizes, from adult-only to family friendly, to traditional resorts that are now offering all-inclusive packages. You can find most in Mexico and the Caribbean, and there are some sprinkled across the U.S., too. Expect to pay extra for special services and amenities like spa treatments, premium drinks and late-night baby-sitting.

For example, the Fairmont Mayakoba, an upscale resort just south of Cancún, recently introduced its first inclusive meal plan with the “appetite for luxury package,” which starts at $499 a night, per couple, and covers the room, two children five years or younger, bike rentals and unlimited food and beverages.

Dirty Dancing in a NY All-inclusive

Immortalized in the cult-favorite flic Dirty Dancing, the luxurious, yet family friendly all-inclusive resorts of the Hudson River Valley have been offering a well earned respite from the hustle and bustle of life in the city since the late 1800’s. There are many to choose from such as the Mohonk Mountain House in New Platz, NY and the Rocking Horse Ranch in Highland.

Dunton Hot Springs, Dolores, CO

Just outside of Telluride lies an amazing, small luxury retreat that is perfect for honeymooners or for those just looking to get away from it all. At Dunton Hot Springs all meals and premium drinks are included, but you won’t be treated like cattle at this one-time ranch.

The Caves All-Inclusive, Negril, Jamaica

This boutique all-inclusive is big on service and just right for couples looking to get away from it all: private and luxurious. Perched on the cliffs of Negril, the resort is made up of 12 cliff-side cottages and offers private cave dining. There is no beach here but the water is beautiful.

Sandos Caracol Eco-Resort and Spa, Playa del Carmen, Mexico

This eco-chic resort overhauled most guest rooms, installing water recycling systems, solar water heating, low-energy air-conditioning, and wooden furniture made from forests certified as responsibly harvested. A water park with 17 slides uses rain capture and filtration systems to help conserve water. From May to October guests can participate in a sea-turtle release program. There is also an on-site freshwater swimming hole, mangrove swamps and Mayan ruins to explore just steps from the resort.

One & Only Palmilla Resort, San Jose del Cabo, Mexico
You’ll feel like the one and only guest with the attentive service that you receive at One & Only Palmilla. A five-star resort, One & Only Palmilla is just right for couples and families, and even offers a complimentary kids club. This chain of all-inclusive resorts is the epitome of luxury.

Hermitage Bay All-Inclusive Hotel, Antigua

Secluded, serene and so fabulous; the five-star Hermitage Bay is situated on Antigua Bay and made up of 50 cottages some with private infinity plunge pools. Guests say it’s absolutely “enchanting”.

What is your experience with all-inclusive resorts? Tell us in the comments!

 

 
 

 

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Advice for Travelers In the Wake of the Boston Bombing

Tuesday, April 16th, 2013

Our thoughts and prayers go out to the city of Boston, all those who ran and supported the Boston Marathon, and all who were affected by yesterday’s events.

If you or someone you know is in or traveling to/from Boston this week, please heed the following:

The Massachusetts Emergency Management agency asks that if you are trying to reach friends and family and can’t get through via phone, texting is your best option as it requires less bandwidth.

If you are ‘Safe and Well,’ please register to say so

The Red Cross Safe and Well” page exists to let concerned friends and family know you’re OK. Sign in there if you are in the Boston area and someone might be worried about you. The Red Cross also urges you to update your social media pages.

Travelers who had planned to visit Boston but changed their mind in light of the deadly blasts may be able to cancel their trip or leave early without penalty.

Hotels.com has instituted an emergency flex policy. Please refer to the the customer service page should you need to contact customer care.

Some Boston hotels are already offering no-questions-asked refunds. If you have a reservation downtown near the site of the bombing, I would cancel and ask for refund. As it is now a FBI crime scene, it may be difficult to get in and out of the area.

Expect security lines to take longer and more police presence at public events. From airports to hotels and other large public places, precautionary measures are being taken to ensure our security. Some hotels are restricting access to guests, others are encouraging guests to stay indoors per police department instructions.

Other affected areas include New York City where some businesses and hotels, especially those in the usually busy Times Square neighborhood, have been beefing up security, too.

When a tragedy such as yesterday’s events happen, I like to remember the words of childhood television icon, Mr. Fred Rodgers:

“When I was a boy and I would see scary things in the news, my mother would say to me, ‘Look for the helpers. You will always find people who are helping.’ To this day, especially in times of ‘disaster,’ I remember my mother’s words, and I am always comforted by realizing that there are still so many helpers – so many caring people in this world.”

 
 

 

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Nomadness Q&A with Evita Robinson

Friday, April 12th, 2013

EvitaWith graduation ceremonies fast approaching, many new graduates may still be unsure of their next step.  Whether they decide to join
the workforce, continue their education, or are still undecided, there are several options available to them.  What about packing up a bag and jumping on the road for an inspiring trip to see the world? This is exactly what members at Nomadness Travel Tribe decided to do.  Thousands of Nomadness participants have enjoyed unforgettable experiences through their trips across the globe. Leading the way is the program’s founder, Evita Robinson. We were thrilled to have had a chance to speak with her to hear just how Nomadness really came together.

1. How and why did Nomadness start?
After living in Asia for almost a year and a half, I came back to New York to find myself in severe travel withdrawal  When looking for groups that I related to, I didn’t find any that kept my interest or energy level. I decided to create one that bridged my lifestyle, with my type of traveling, and my background.

2. Why did you pick the name Nomadness?
I didn’t, it picked me. I was having a casual conversation with a friend, via Skype while I was in Japan. He wanted me to work on a project with him and I was explaining how much I move around. His response was ‘I know. I’m taking your nomadness into account’. I had just shot the first video and was actively trying to solidify a name. It stood out so clear to me.

Rio Nomadness3. What is the goal of Nomadness?
To have people think of urban travel, and think about us. Our physical goals are to become our own social media network in 2013 and to lock in a travel television show, all inspiring travelers with an urban background to get out into the world.

4. Why did you pick Facebook as the host of your online community?
Because I realized I wasn’t Superwoman and couldn’t start manning a social media network on my own. One of my close friends, and member, Stephanie suggested I start there and see what happens.

5. You are about to embark on a cross-country road trip with Nomadness travelers. What’s the end goal of this trip?
To spread the word of Nomadness to a group of students that I know no one else would do this for. The HBCU’s, like our demo in traveling, tend to be forgotten. I want to give them this opportunity to be a part of something great. They deserve to be inspired too.

6. How do you see Nomadness evolving and continuing to grow?
We are going to completely encompass the space of exclusivity and affordability in travel. We will be on tv, our merchandise will be in stores, and our members will continue to grow all over the world. I believe College Tours and speaking engagements will be a staple after this is done.

Thanks so much to Evita for taking time to talk with us about this great program!

Nomadness

 

 
 

 

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5 Eco-friendly Yet Stylish Hotels in Honor of Earth Day

Monday, April 8th, 2013

ecohotels

It may have started with a recycling bin in a guest room or a “please conserve water” sign, but these hotels in the top 5 most popular U.S. destinations according to the Hotels.com Hotel Price Index (HPI) are ramping up their conservation efforts in innovative ways. Hotels.com is highlighting them in honor of Earth Day 2013 to be sure guests think about reducing their carbon footprints without skipping a moment of vacation time. Visit these fun and resourceful hotels for an eco-conscious and guilt-free stay.

Las Vegas: The Palazzo Resort Hotel & Casino

What makes it green? This deluxe resort is LEED certified and designed to reuse waste energy, reduce environmental impact and, in some sections, operate as self-sustaining. Guests of one of the more famous casinos on the strip can enjoy a luxurious and stylish stay without guilt.


New York City : 
ink48 hotel, a Kimpton Hotel

What makes it green? ink48 hotel not only offers eco-conscious amenities but also engrains green living into its business practices and staff mindsets through its EarthCare program. Program members frequently brainstorm new ways to care for the planet by applying simple practices, such as printing collateral with soy-based inks and implementing water-efficient products in each of the rooms.


Orlando: 
Renaissance Orlando at SeaWorld

What makes it green? Roll up at the Renaissance Orlando at SeaWorld in a hybrid vehicle and receive complimentary valet parking. This “Excellent” Hotels.com Guest Rated hotel also utilizes motion sensors and timed light switches in offices and storage rooms and uses organic foods whenever possible.


Los Angeles: 
The Westin Bonaventure Hotel and Suites

What makes it green? This was LA’s first hotel to reach the environmental standards set by Green Seal, going to great lengths to create the ultimate urban oasis and be its own “city within a city.” The hotel utilizes biodegradable washing and laundry detergent, participates in composting, and collaborates with environmentally responsible vendors, among many other eco-friendly practices.


Chicago: 
Hotel Felix Chicago

What makes it green? Chicago may be number 5 on the HPI Top Domestic Cities list, but it is number one in the green hotel initiative. As the first hotel in Chicago with a Silver LEED certification, The Hotel Felix epitomizes these sustainable values. Even the artwork at this hotel is sustainable by using found and reclaimed materials like the sculpture, “Loren the Doorman,” which consists of pipes, a bucket, a drill bit and an umbrella stand.

 
 

 

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Where to Stay for Earth Day? The Animal Kingdom Lodge

Friday, April 5th, 2013

The view from our balcony – watching a cape buffalo graze.

Recently, we took our children to the savannas of Africa where giraffe, ankole cattle, gazelles, wild boar and zebras grazed right off our balcony. Okay… so we weren’t exactly in Africa. We were actually experiencing all this during a recent stay at the Animal Kingdom Lodge in Walt Disney World Resort.

It’s this amazing dichotomy of luxury accommodations, environmental conservation and education that make Animal Kingdom Lodge so unique. With over 30 species of African wildlife roaming the resort, the views from the public observation decks – to the early morning and late evening viewing from our room – were so exciting and breathtaking.  Staying there transports you from the fantastical fun of the Magic Kingdom and other nearby theme parks, which is actually a welcome retreat when you are visiting Disney for a few days.

Environmental Conservation

The generosity of Animal Kingdom Lodge guests helps to fund many conservation projects led by The Disney Worldwide Conservation Fund. Established on Earth Day in 1995 to support the study and protections of the world’s wildlife and ecosystems, projects have included protecting lions in Africa to projects closer to home. From efforts to protect the Northern Jaguar in Mexico to rehabilitating thousands of sea turtles along Florida’s Gulf Coast.

Waking up with the giraffes at Animal Kingdom Lodge

Additionally, Walt Disney World Resort’s approach to water conservation begins with using less water where possible and maximizing use of reclaimed water. Approximately 30 percent of the resort’s overall needs and 80 percent of its irrigation needs are met with reclaimed water. And waste not, want not! Disney’s Animal Kingdom provides some unique forms of “waste.” In 2011, more than 4,500 tons of manure from Disney’s Animal Kingdom and the Tri-Circle D Ranch was sent to the compost facility and produced more than 8,800 tons of compost throughout the year.

Family Fun

In true Disney fashion, the resort makes a stay at The Animal Kingdom Lodge unforgettable. Cast members (Disney employees) from all over Africa willing to talk and share about their countries, while there are also crafts in the lobby for the kids, evening campfires complete with marshmallow roasting and storytelling, and an 11,000 square foot pool area complete with water slides and pool-side games for the whole family to enjoy.

A variety of room types are available at the resort. The bunk beds in our room were a hit with my 6 and 8 year-olds, along with the towel animals left by the staff each day on our beds.

Campfire fun with marshmallows and the staff of the Animal Kingdom Lodge

Fun Fact

Animal Kingdom Lodge has one of the largest collections of African Art in the United States.

I’ll admit that it is not the most affordable accommodation option when traveling to Orlando (#3 US destination for travelers according to the Hotels.com HPI) with the family, but I do think it is worth the extra expense if you have some time to spend at the Lodge and can enjoy all it has to offer.

How do you plan to spend Earth Day this year?

 
 

 

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Plan Your Vacation Adventure

Wednesday, April 3rd, 2013

With winter slowly transitioning into spring, you might be thinking about checking off a few adventurous things on your bucket list…and you’re not alone. According to the Outdoor Industry Association, nearly 140 million Americans nationally participate in outdoor activities each year and spend $646 billion each year on those endeavors.

So it’s no surprise that the eco-tourism and adventure tourism markets are growing like crazy.

Last summer, my family hiked and explored like the settlers of the Wild West in Crested Butte, CO.

The first thing you need to realize is that adventure travel is for everyone. Depending on your experience level: from the faint of heart to doing things that make your momma faint, there are guide services designed to help you have a successful trip. This year, you could tour the once forbidden island of Cuba, help the forests of Colorado, and track gorillas in the deepest rainforest.

Adventure Tours for 2013

Add a little excitement to your spring and summer vacations.  And don’t forget to share your accomplishments – social sharing has become the standard in “bragging rights.” In fact, GoPro camera sales have more than doubled every year since the first camera’s debut in 2004. In 2012 the company sold 2.3 million cameras and grossed $521 million.

The latest in tours for 2013 include:

Naturalist Journeys, a top nature and birding tour company, has upcoming spring birding tours in the Florida Keys & Everglades and Texas.  Summer tours include wildlife excursions through Nome and Denali in Alaska, and an Active Hiking Nature Adventure tour was just made available in Utah.

Vail Resorts announced last week that Breckenridge, CO will encourage “learn through play”, with Epic Discovery this summer by featuring extensive environmental educational elements interspersed between numerous fun, new activities located in the already developed areas of its mountain peaks. Vail Resorts will work with The Nature Conservancy to bring scientific content to the eco-discovery experiences and will be contributing 1 percent of all summer lift ticket and activity revenue toward forest restoration projects.

From the East Coast to the West Coast, Trekamerica is a great way to explore and experience the best of American adventure tours. Treks are designed for ages 18-38 and last from 3-21 days.

This year, a number of companies are rolling out new trips to Cuba that combine cultural interactions like hiking with local university scientists and sampling cigars at a tobacco farm, road cycling through neighborhoods full of Colonial-era architecture, hiking in the Zapata Peninsula national park (also a UNESCO Biosphere Reserve), and sailing through the limestone caves near the Sierra de los Organos. Caution: The US government is clamping down on tour licenses.  Make sure the company that you choose is fully licensed to lead your excursion in Cuba BEFORE you put any money down.

And where’s the sky’s the limit – for $300,000 you too can reserve a seat for a space-bound flight – with Virgin Galactic.

Of course, your entire trip doesn’t have to be an episode of The Amazing Race. An easy day excursion may be all you need to add a little excitement to any trip, from zip-lines to white water rafting trips.

Get out and find something adventuresome to do this spring or summer, and let us know of other great adventure opportunities with a comment below!

 
 

 

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