Archive for August, 2013

City of the Month Itinerary: Can You Do It All in San Antonio?

Thursday, August 29th, 2013

TSBCotM

San Antonio is one of those cities that you really can return to again and again and experience something new each time. And yet, if you only have one day to check out this popular destination you could see most of what makes San Antonio unique without leaving downtown. Visitors with more time can extend their exploration into nearby neighborhoods and the Texas Hill Country.

And, if you’re looking for a destination for the whole family, you can’t go wrong with San Antonio!

IMG_9626If you only have a night or two then you will want to choose a hotel downtown on the Paseo del Rio, aka The River Walk. You’ll be within walking distance of all the popular attractions and can enjoy the strolls and views below.

Hotels near the River Walk

About The River Walk: This waterway walkway, constructed in the late 1960’s, adds a unique flair to the city and has been host to many a celebration. There is a walkway for pedestrian travel and is one level down from the main road. It winds its way along the banks of the San Antonio River and is lined with restaurants and shops and connects major tourist sites including the Alamo.

To get a good overview of what you may want to see and do, hop aboard one of the Rio San Antonio Cruises, the boats along the River Walk for a narrated tour. Tickets cost $7.75 adults, $2 ages 1-5.

IMG_9611Of all the cities that I have visited, San Antonio is hands down one of the easiest to get around in. Visitors can simply look up at signs on every street corner directing them to various points of interest. So, take your comfy walking shoes and get exploring!

From the boat ride: head to The Alamo. Like so many of our historic landmarks, the once religious mission turned symbol of courage and sacrifice, is now surrounded by a myriad of modern-day tourist traps. But don’t let this discourage your visit! The Alamo is as inspiring today as it ever was and treasures from the heroes of the fateful battle during the Texas Revolution are beautifully displayed and explained inside the hallowed halls.

If walking is too much, no problem! Catch the hop on-hop off trolley and see the rest of San Antonio’s major sites when you’re done with the Alamo.

Next, you can check out the Institute of Texan Cultures and the Buckhorn Saloon is also entertaining. If you’re at the Buckhorn you may want to go an extra block and look inside the historic St. Anthony Hotel, constructed in 1909 and well preserved as a glimpse of times past.

If you need a little retail therapy, try shopping at La Villiata, the historic arts village of San Antonio.

The San Antonio Children’s Museum is also great place to take the kids after a morning of historic site seeing.

Where to eat in San Antonio
Hungry? Options abound in San Antonio.

IMG_9540Breakfast
The kids and I enjoyed a morning stroll to Big Apple Bagels (headquartered in San Antonio) and even had a kitchen tour. But if you want a grand breakfast, then you shouldn’t miss starting your day at The Guenther House, an 1820’s historic mansion with awesome biscuits.

Lunch and Dinner
The Pearl Brewery area is a culinary destination for San Antonio and features the 3rd campus of the Culinary Institute of America (NYC and Napa are the others) and some really good restaurants. My personal favorites are Il Sogno Osteria, super-authentic and delicious Italian fare.

  • Biga on the Banks – for a really nice dinner, consider this one located right on the River Walk
  • The Station Café in Southtown is as cool and delicious as the neighborhood it is located in (which is really cool). It’s a great spot for lunch or dinner. The menu is super hip and super fresh.
  • Catch one of the best sunsets in Texas from the 750-foot-high Tower of the Americas, and then enjoy a memorable dinner at the new Chart House restaurant. It’s taller than Seattle’s Space Needle.

IMG_9668Nightlife in San Antonio
Not short on things to do after dark, you can visit more than 86 bars and lounges in San Antonio, like the Longest Bar in Texas at The Esquire.

Remember the ages of those we are traveling with and help them understand and appreciate what they are seeing on their level, so the historic vacation can be fun for everyone. For younger family members, pick out the historic facts that they can understand or would find most interesting and perhaps save some of the more sedentary tours for the return visit when they’re older.

With an extended trip to San Antonio, you can experience some of what I think are the city’s best kept secrets!

The Witte Museum is the museum of history, science and humanities. Its exhibits are engaging and educational for adults and kids alike. The biggest draw for kids is the fantastic HEB Science Treehouse, a four-level, 15,000-square-foot science center that sits behind the museum on the banks of the San Antonio River. You can spend an entire day (or two) in this museum complex.

IMG_9648Nearby is the Natural Bridge Wildlife Ranch, about 30 minutes outside of downtown San Antonio. These were both unexpected pleasures on our recent visit to San Antonio. The kids and I enjoyed learning about the recently discovered (1960s) underground cavern system located in the Texas Hill Country. And the Wildlife Ranch was something of an African Safari that my nearly two-year old just couldn’t get enough of.

And there is Sea World, and Elitch Gardens, golf and spas, and so much more. The Texas Hill Country is a great respite for Texas residents and visitors from all over.

SEE? There is so much to do in San Antonio! So what are you waiting for?

 

 

 
 

 

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City of the Month: San Antonio – not your typical Texas.

Wednesday, August 28th, 2013

TSBCotM

IMG_9780If you’re wondering what city to visit on your next vacation, consider the most popular city in Texas: San Antonio. Rounding out our summer vacation this year, we traveled to this city that consistently ranks in the top 10 most popular US destinations on Hotels.com’s Hotel Price Index.

San Antonio is surprisingly easy to navigate. Downtown is made for walking. And, if you don’t want to walk, you can bike share or take a horse drawn carriage, or even a boat along the famed River Walk. We ambled easily from our hotel to the Alamo, parks, restaurants, and museums. The streets and attractions are well marked with signs on every corner.

IMG_9531The meandering River Walk is really something special. A guided river tour is a must-do. The tour guides don’t simply give facts and history but share a true love and appreciation of this Texas City. But how can you not enjoy stories peppered with tales and historic characters such as Davy Crockett, Geronimo, Sam Houston and entertainers like Carol Burnett.

I enjoyed our stay at the Hotel Contessa located on the River Walk. You can’t go wrong with this all-suite hotel. It is perfectly located and we walked everywhere downtown. One warning: parking is a premium downtown. Expect to pay an additional $30/night for all-day valet parking at the hotel.

San Antonio’s interests extend far beyond its downtown. Neighborhoods like Southtown, Tobin Hill, and Alamo Heights are full of locals and visitors enjoying the restaurants, and perusing the stores. Site-seeing and entertainment extend from the Alamo in Downtown to the Texas Hill Country with spas, golf courses, and my favorites: the Witte Museum, the Natural Bridge Caverns and Natural Bridge Wildlife Ranch.

IMG_9552Being able to visit a national treasure like the Alamo is something we all should experience. All over the US, there are spots such as this famed battleground of the Texas Revolution that bring the pages of our history books to life and paint a lasting image of heroes, like the legendary Davy Crockett. In this spot, where a small band of Texans held out for 13 days against Mexican General Santa Anna’s army in 1836, my nine year old son truly processed the events that occurred inside the walls of the Spanish mission turned fortification in the name of freedom.

What I noticed: It wasn’t just families visiting San Antonio but couples, groups of friends, and conference and business travelers too.

Tips for Getting to Know a New City:

  • Talk to local people. They can tell you all kinds of things – and what better way to connect with a place than through human connections?
  • Take detours – planned and spontaneous - off the main highway. See what you can discover.
  • Visit the little museums. Most towns have one. Whether it’s funky or sophisticated, it can give you a glimpse into the town. And be sure to talk with the person at the desk! (It’s usually a volunteer who has lived there a long time.)
  • Stay local. Get to know more about an area by choosing local restaurants or a historic hotel, such as San Antonio’s Menger Hotel, during your visit.

Later this week, I’ll give you an itinerary full of fun things to do in San Antonio!

 

 

 

 
 

 

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Cycling through Cities: Seeing the Sites on Two Wheels

Friday, August 23rd, 2013

0_153975071This week in Colorado, the best cyclists in the world are convening for The 2013 USA Pro Cycling Challenge drawing record crowds to cheer them on. Now in its third year, the seven-day race includes this year’s Tour de France champion Chris Froome and Tour sprint jersey victor Peter Sagan.

There was a time when bicycling was merely a functional affair. Now, cycling is seen as eco-friendly, cool, healthy, cheap and practical. And bikes- and those who ride them – have become the epitome of style. But it’s more than that! From Millennials to older generations, more people are forgoing cars for bikes; and cities are responding with more bike lanes.

In bigger cities like New York, Denver, Washington, D.C. and Boston, to smaller cities such as Chattanooga, Tenn., and Spartanburg, S.C., bike-share programs are taking off.

Check out this article in last month’s USA Today for the Top Urban Bike Paths Across the US.

New York has one of the newest bike sharing programs that is also the largest in the U.S. so far. With over 6,000 bikes at 330 stations across Manhattan and Brooklyn, visitors can strategically plan their day of sightseeing with unlimited 30-minute trips for about $10. Stay at the Millennium Hilton (4.4 Hotels.com Guest Rating; rooms starting at $199) and take a bike across the Brooklyn Bridge or ride along the Manhattan Waterfront Greenway.

Chicago launched its bike share program earlier this year and will soon have 4,000 bikes at 400 stations in its bike share program. The 18-mile Lakefront Trail along the Lake Michigan coastline is one of the country’s top city bike paths. Stay on the waterfront at the W Chicago Lakeshore (4.0 guest rating; rooms from $199) and explore points north and south of the area.

0_161951320Washington, D.C. was the first city to automate bike sharing back in 2010 and currently has a fleet of 1,800 bikes at 200 stations around the nation’s capital and Arlington, Va. Visitors can avoid the city’s traffic and explore Rock Creek Park or visit the monuments of the National Mallon bike. Stay at the Graham Georgetown (4.6 guest rating; rooms from $229), which is centrally located near many of the city’s paths and trails.

Minneapolis was recently named the number one bike city in the U.S. by Bicycle Times. With over 1,550 bikes at 170 stations across the Twin Cities, visitors can enjoy unlimited 30-minute rides starting at just $6. Stay at the Depot Renaissance Minneapolis Hotel (4.4 guest rating; rooms from $139) for easy access to the riverfront’s many bike paths, as well as the Cedar Lake Trail – a paved three-lane bicycle freeway that connects downtown Minneapolis to the region’s other popular trails. Visitors to Boston enjoying a long weekend can take advantage of the city’s three-day bike share pass for only $12. Stay at the Hyatt Regency Cambridge, Overlooking Boston (4.0 guest rating; rooms from $199) and explore the Charles River Bike Path and the nearby university campuses. Or follow Paul Revere’s famous ride and embark on the Minuteman.

Other major cities including Los Angeles, San Francisco and Philadelphia are planning to introduce community bike projects soon. And even without bike shares, many cities are getting “on the bike” offering visitors a healthy and up close way to see their cities. Do you have a favorite bike tour?

 
 

 

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Check-in to the Kid’s Fantasy Suites by Omni Hotels

Wednesday, August 21st, 2013

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photo 1My kids are great travelers. They are even becoming quite the discerning travel critics. So on our recent adventure to San Antonio, we put the new family suites by Omni Hotels to the test.

Families visiting with Omni in San Francisco, Texas, Boston and Mount Washington can stay in the Kid’s Fantasy Suites, which are exactly that down to the bean bag chairs, art table, books, games, movies and video games, and toys plus a connecting room for the parents.

Upon arrival, you would have thought it was Christmas morning by the level of exuberance that was pouring out of my children. My greatest concern was how I would get them to leave the room to go experience all the great activities San Antonio had to offer.

photo 2What I noticed? The little details such as boy/girl specific bedding and books, the welcome note written to the children, and cold milk and warm cookies were simple and subtle touches that help to make a place memorable.

Yes, my connecting room was lovely. But what made it really nice was having the kids enjoy a space tailor-made for them. And, it was SO EASY to get them to go to bed at night!! On that note, it was equally nice to not have to go to bed with the kids because we weren’t exactly sharing a room.

A standard hotel room is definitely the more affordable and the usual route when a family is traveling.

photo 2 (1)However, the Kid’s Fantasy Suites by Omni Hotels are worth every cent of the extra expense!

I’d like to thank the Omni San Antonio Hotel at the Colonnade for a fun-filled stay. Not only did we enjoy the room, but also the float-in movies in the evening, the kid’s welcome packs upon checking and the always-helpful (especially when mom couldn’t work the Wii) staff!

 

 

 

 

 

 
 

 

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Sleep. Dream. Win. Twitter Chat!

Monday, August 19th, 2013

sdw

Join @Hotelsdotcom for their Sleep. Dream. Win. Twitter Chat taking place Tuesday, August 20 – at 3 P.M. EST. 

We’ll be using the hashtag #dreamshare & talking about dream-worthy travel, destinations, and of course some tips on catching some z’s while on the go!

During the chat we’ll be giving away one free Welcome Rewards night to a lucky participant, and there’s also still time to enter the official Sleep. Dream. Win. contest - where ten lucky participants will be chosen to receive one free night, and any participants whose dreams are reenacted by our team of improv actors will be upgraded to Welcome Rewards Gold. We’ll also be giving away some bags and flipcams during the chat as well!

So chat with @Hotelsdotcom, @TravelwithTLC and our improv team using #dreamshare, tomorrow, August 20 at 3 P.M. EST!

Hope to see you there!

 
 

 

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Last Minute Labor Day Deals

Monday, August 19th, 2013

laborday2013_1160x180_v1

 

 

 

What’s that? Summer is almost over and you haven’t had a vacation yet or you need another? So what are you waiting for? You still have plenty of time to make a last minute long weekend trip out of the upcoming Labor Day holiday.

Drive or Fly?

Will you drive or fly? If you are picky about your flight times, you may find last minutes fares at a premium for the holiday weekend. But, my research on www.airfarewatchdog.com, showed there are still some good fares available if you desire a destination that would be easier to fly to rather than drive.  According to AAA, last year on Labor Day weekend 31 million people hit the road and there was an almost 10% increase of travelers total.   For larger families, road trips are easier on the pocket since you avoid having to purchase individual air tickets.

According to the AAA’s fuel gauge report released earlier this month on August 5, 2013, the average price per gallon for regular unleaded gasoline is $3.61, which is an increase of 13 cents more than a year ago.

And if you are driving to your destination, be sure you have a car adapter phone charger so that you aren’t without a GPS or the ability to reach out and call someone while you are on the road.

Hotels.com Labor Day Sale

Wherever you go, stay and save from Dallas to Denver and Boise to Baltimore! Hotels.com is offering savings up to 30% on hotel stays over Labor Day weekend in some of the U.S.’s hottest cities.

Check out these additional hot hotel deals available over Labor Day weekend from Hotels.com:

 
 

 

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Kidcation Sweepstakes Winner!

Wednesday, August 14th, 2013

And the winner of the Kidcation Sweepstakes 2013 is:

2012-05-26T22-09-17_4Liz Newsome! 

Congratulations to Liz and her family!
They’ll be enjoying -

1)  A voucher for a two (2) night hotel stay for a family of four in a Luxury Double Suite at the Hotel Contessa – Luxury Riverwalk Suites in San Antonio, Texas!

2)  $500 USD VISA or MasterCard cash gift card for use toward travel expenses!

3)  Four (4) passes to The Witte Museum in San Antonio!

4)  Four (4) passes for the City Tours Inc. “Reflections Tour” in San Antonio!

5)  Four (4) passes to the Buckhorn Saloon & Museum and Texas Ranger Museum in San Antonio!

Liz and her family will be vacationing between August 12-18 for Kidcation Week in San Antonio!

Congratulations again and thanks to everyone who participated!

 

 
 

 

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Travel App of the Month: Tracking Your Travel Photos with Trover

Tuesday, August 13th, 2013

TSBApp


trover1trover2A new website/app is making it easier for you to share and see the world with a super convenient way to document your travels in the moment!

Trover is photo site with a Pinterest-like design but with the goal of being the world’s photo atlas.

Within the app, photos are categorized by location, themes, and other options like “what’s new.”  And what’s nice is that not only are you able to share photos, but tips and insights for others who may find inspiration in your photo and travel to that very spot.

You can see my trover travel photos here: http://www.trover.com/u/travelnicole.  My first photos are from my trip this week to San Antonio with my kiddos!

 

Check it out and share your thoughts on the app in the comments below!

 

 

 
 

 

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Wizards, Minions & Barney: Our Two Days at Universal Studios Florida

Friday, August 9th, 2013

IMG_9184We recently spent a few fun days at the Universal Studios theme parks in Orlando, FL. My nearly nine year old has been knee deep in Harry Potter books this summer so we thought it was the right time to visit The Wizarding World of Harry Potter at Islands of Adventure Theme Park.

The town of Hogsmeade is tucked away within Islands of Adventure. And what there is of it does not disappoint. It is a mini replica of Hogsmeade with Diagon Alley and all of the kid’s of Hogwarts favorite places, but we expected there to be more of it for all the hype. The best attractions were just out of reach (height limits) for Harry’s biggest fans (kids under 48 inches) including the Hogwarts main attraction, leaving the retail shops and a few small attractions available for the whole family to enjoy.

Islands of Adventure is more like a traditional amusement park with lots of roller coasters and water rides. I knew we were in for trouble when we saw the volume of people wearing swimsuits. I didn’t mind getting soaked with the kids but if you do, then be prepared. At least five rides at Islands of Adventures are super soaker water rides and there are splash fountains throughout the park.

Expert Tip: Wear a bathing suit, and pack a change of clothes and a towel

The 3D Spiderman ride was a ton of fun!

The 3D Spiderman ride was a ton of fun!

Universal Studios Florida is still a real working production studio complete with rides, shows, movie sets and attractions. This was our favorite day of the trip. Our favorite rides were, by far, the Despicable Me Minion Mayhem, MEN IN BLACK™ Alien Attack, Transformers -3D and The Simpsons Ride™. We really enjoyed this theme park as a family and felt there was more for kids to do under the age of 10.

Even Eleanor, our nearly two year old, was captivated by the Barney live show, A Day in the Park with Barney™. Yes, that giant purple dinosaur and his sidekicks still can get the little ones going!

With so many theme parks that cater to children under 13 in Orlando, it was nice to see these theme parks packed with thrill rides that older kids and adults can enjoy. In fact, I think these parks are better for teens and adults than I do for families with smaller kids. The fun for adults continues into the night as you enter and exit the parks into Universal’s City Walk, which features numerous restaurants and night clubs.

The kids and I with The Cat and The Hat's Thing 1 and Thing 2!

The kids and I with The Cat and The Hat’s Thing 1 and Thing 2!

Tickets to Universal Studios
The best place to purchase tickets is through the Universal Orlando website. There are discounts for multi-day ticket purchases and you can even print them at home and avoid the lines.

Get the Express Pass

To get through the lines faster and avoid long waits in the Florida heat, you can buy an express pass for each person. This is an additional purchase per person/per day on top of the base ticket price. Express Passes work on practically every ride (except for two or three) at the two theme parks. We never waited more than five minutes to get into an attraction, which really helped to maximize our time and make the most of our experience.

The tricky thing about purchasing an express pass is that the price varies by the day based on demand. A pass could be as low as $19.99 and could be as high as $89.99 per ticket.

The way to avoid these extra fees is to consider staying at one of the three Loew’s Universal resorts. When you stay at one of these on-site hotels, then Express Passes are exclusively included for the duration of your stay and for every guest in your group. Just make sure you indicate the correct number of guests on your initial reservation.

IMG_9192Hotels near Universal Studios Florida
There are numerous hotels and vacation rentals to choose from in Orlando. Based upon your budget and stay requirements, you shouldn’t have any trouble finding what you are looking for.

Consider these things when booking a hotel in Orlando: distance to the theme parks, free shuttle service, Internet, breakfasts, pools and activities. Hotels located on-site with theme parks may be the better value, so consider all of your trip expenses before choosing a hotel. If you can avoid a rental car because a hotel offers shuttle service to/from the airport and to the nearby attractions then you may want to consider it.

We stayed at the Loews Royal Pacific Resort and had a wonderful experience. Staying at this hotel made it super easy to get up and get to the parks in the morning. Staying on-site provides an exclusive additional hour at the parks before they open to the public each day. We were walking distance or a quick boat ride to the parks AND we received complimentary Express Passes (which were valued over $69/ticket during our trip). We also really enjoyed the lagoon style pool at the Royal Pacific Resort and the kids took part in many of the evening games and activities, including a Dive-In movie, hula show and more.

Next week, the kids and I are heading to San Antonio for Kidcation! I can’t wait to share our Texas adventure and hope to see some of you there!

 

 

 
 

 

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Newbie RV Tips

Monday, August 5th, 2013

by Evita Robinson

nomadness1 copyWhen the Nomadness Travel Tribe decided they were going to hit the open road for three weeks on a cross-country RV College tour, there were a ton of intimidating factors to the trip. First and foremost, no one had ever traveled in, nor driven, an RV before, ever. Seeing as there were no tickets, accidents, or damages, the Tribe wants to share a few of their pointers for surviving RV life, as a newbie.

  • Choose an RV that is big enough for your sleeping needs, yet the smallest version of what you need. In other words, don’t have extra RV for no reason. These vehicles are monsters. Keeping parking and gas prices in mind. You will thank yourself for not locking into more RV than you can handle.
  • Designate one person to be in charge of checking water and tank levels daily.
  • Never let the gas tank get less than a quarter full. After this point, certain functions of the RV itself (i.e. refrigerator) stop working due to the energy supply needed.
  • Make sure all cabinets are stowed and clicked shut. Normal bumps of driving along the road tend to pop cabinets open, leading to its contents falling out. If you have any loose cabinets, use a piece of construction tape to keep them shut.
  • When you pick up the RV, come with air fresheners and put one in each section of the vehicle. You can never have too much scent control in an RV.
  • Give ample time for changing lanes, keeping in mind that your vehicle is larger than most, requiring more space between vehicles.
  • Wind speed and direction can sometimes make the vehicle shake as you drive it. Make sure if in a windy area, that you drive at a speed that still allows control over the wind pressure.
  • Unless you are riding in the bus version RVs, the drivers portion will be exactly like that of any other truck-like, manual vehicles you’ve ridden in before. Play the psychological game, and act as if you’re driving an SUV, so the ride of the vehicle doesn’t intimidate you.
  • Have someone on lookout in the back window whenever backing up. Blind spots are heightened in a vehicle of this size.
  • Towards the end of the trip, spend at least one night at an RV Camp. Not only will you meet other experienced RV campers, but it’s a one stop shop for all your dumping and refilling needs. Most have staff that can take care of propane tank refills, fresh water tanks, and dumping gray and black water.

With these tips in mind, whether it’s two days or two weeks, your RV experience will run much smoother, even as a newbie.

 

 

 
 

 

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