Archive for February, 2014

Mardi Gras! Let the Celebrations Begin

Friday, February 28th, 2014

Get on your purple, green and gold and head to some of the best Fat Tuesday celebrations around the U.S.

Why is Mardi Gras called Fat Tuesday? Traditionally, it’s the last chance to binge on rich, fatty foods before the ritual fasting of the Lenten season. And, it’s a great cure for the winter blues with a festive celebration full of food, music, parades and a whole lot fun.

In New Orleans, Mardi Gras is truly a season – they have been celebrating for weeks! Things really kick into high gear this week through next Tuesday, March 4th. The “Crescent City” has more than 60 parades in total leading up to next Tuesday’s grand parade.

Should you even try to visit New Orleans for Mardi Gras? Yes! It is worth it. Use Hotels.com’s mobile app while en route to see last minute hotel availability and deals or call them at 800-246-8357 for a little help navigating nearby communities. Your best bet may be to stay in outlying areas. Hotels do have last minute cancellations and there are waiting lists, so know that before you go. If you are persistent and flexible, you can find a place.

A few tips to remember if you are heading to New Orleans for Mardi Gras:

  • Don’t depend on hotels to supply you with transportation to the French Quarter or to the parade routes during Mardi Gras.
  • Ladders, grills and tents must be at least six feet away from the curb on all parade routes and such items cannot block sidewalks.
  • Throwing back beads, etc. tossed from the floats is a $250 fine. Don’t do it.

Where else are the Mardi Gras celebrations in full effect?

St. Louis, MO

St. Louis celebrates its French heritage in the coming week with a Grand Parade on Saturday, March 1st at 11am at Busch Stadium, and the Light Up the Night Fat Tuesday Parade next Tuesday at 6:30pm, not to mention a whole lot of Cajun-style revelry at area bars and restaurants throughout the city, Check out www.stlmardigras.org for more details.

Mobile, AL
Did you know that Mobile was celebrating Mardis Gras 15 years before New Orleans? For the next week, the streets of Mobile will be filled with the sounds of marching bands, colorful floats, beads, and moonpies each and every day. There’s even a Mobile Carnival Museum worth checking out.

Chicago

The city of Chicago will turn 177 years old this year and is throwing a Mardi Gras birthday party in Daley Plaza on Fat Tuesday.

Visitors to the Windy City can take part in Mardi Gras festivities all week long including an Indoor Bar Crawl at Navy Pier. Seven bars along the pier are celebrating Mardi Gras style Saturday March 1st from 2pm – 8pm.

  • Chicago’s Commonwealth Tavern celebrates Mardi Gras, N’awlins style, with $7 Hurricanes and a Jambalaya with slow stewed Andouille sausage, okra, and seafood.
  • The Nouveau Tavern’s (celebration kicks off Friday, February 28 and keeps going  through Fat Tuesday with a series of Mardi Gras events in their “Bourbon Street Lounge.” The lounge, located in the back bar area at Nouveau Tavern will feature Nouveau’s “Flight of Hurricanes.”

Universal Orlando

Can’t make it this week but still want to get in on the New Orleans Mardi Gras fun? No problem. On Saturdays through May 31st, Universal Orlando’s will feature a Mardi Gras celebration complete with an elaborate Mardi Gras parade, dozens of colorfully costumed performers, authentic New Orleans bands, delicious Cajun cuisine, and live concerts.

Universal has really got it right this year with a Little Jester’s Parade Viewing Area, which has been set up just for kids. It is located next to the Terminator 2: 3-D attraction, opens one hour before the parade starts and is right next to the park exit  to make it a little easier to leave with your kids once the parade passes.

Where will you be celebrating Mardi Gras this year? Share your plans and traditions here on TSB.

 
 

 

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Hotels.com Has a New Biggest Fan!

Wednesday, February 26th, 2014

“The hotel pool is usually filled with water,” he says, as he dances, clad in a tight red swimwear with a number of lovely ladies in a luxurious hotel pool. He goes on to explain, “The hotel gym is short for gymnasium,” and “The hotel lounge is where you do your lounging.”

Hotels.com_Captain_Obvious_LockedUp

Who is this very observant man? Introducing Captain Obvious, the new biggest fan of Hotels.com and main character of the brand’s latest TV commercials. The new creative campaign, the most robust creative launch in the 23-year history of Hotels.com, shows why it is the obvious choice for booking hotels. Upcoming commercials will focus on obvious differentiators, such as the Hotels.com award-winning mobile app, hotel deals, the brand’s more than 10 million genuine guest reviews, and the Welcome Rewards loyalty program.

Take a look at the new ad here and let us know your thoughts! We think you’ll like it, obviously…

 
 

 

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Cozy with a Cocktail

Monday, February 24th, 2014

Not many stand-alone bars can match the swank and sophistication or just the sheer comfort of a hotel bar. From the décor to the signature selection of drinks, don’t forget to check out the coolest hotel bars on your next trip out of town.

colorful cocktails with olive and cherryNew York City: Rose Bar at the Gramercy Park Hotel
Rose Bar is an intimate hideway inside the trendy Gramercy Park Hotel. This is likely the reason that it’s also a celebrity favorite with visitors such as Janet Jackson, Sting and Chace Crawford. Complete with wood-beams, a walnut bar and a big limestone fireplace, this bar is a hotspot for the city’s most fashionable events.

New York: Soda Bar at NYLO Southside
On a warm night, the rooftop Soda Bar is a fun spot to hang with friends. Park yourself in a cabana next to the pool and take in the sweeping city skyline.

Aspen, CO: 39 Degrees Lounge at the Sky Hotel
A famous après-ski spot, Aspen’s best burger and wicked cocktails from Denis Cote make 39 Degrees a lively local favorite. Hang out by the pool, refuel after a day shopping or on the slopes and discover for yourself why 39 Degrees is a Celebrity Spotting hideaway.

Boston: Simple Truth Lobby Lounge at the Hotel Veritas
Located near the hallowed halls of Harvard Yard, the Hotel Veritas wreaks of higher education. And yet inside its lobby is the simply stated Simple Truth Lounge that is a welcome distraction or perhaps think tank for nearby academia types.

Snowmass, CO: The Lobby Bar at the Viceroy Snowmass
Well it is ski season… this uber chic bar keeps you feeling cool even when the lobby fireplace is roaring hot.

Los Angeles: Bar Marmont at the Chateau Marmont
If you want to see people having conversations that make things happen then spend an afternoon or evening at Bar Marmont. The dim lighting and exclusive feel make it a haven for celebs meeting up for networking or a little fun.

New Orleans: Carousel Bar & Lounge, The Hotel Monteleone
The drinks aren’t all that will make your head spin at this revolving bar inside on of New Orleans most historic and famous hotels.

Dallas: Dragonfly at Hotel ZaZa
Dragonfly oozes sophistication and sexiness. It feels offensive to merely call this a bar. Signature drinks and the occasional star sighting makes this “bar” located in the trend Hotel ZaZa the place to see and be seen.

Atlanta: Rooftop 866 at Renaissance Atlanta Midtown Hotel
Rooftop 866 offers the best rooftop views in Atlanta with a relaxed and welcoming atmosphere. While the bar can get crowded on the weekends, the great mix of cocktails and small plates make it worth waiting to find a spot. My favorite? The double dog dare!

 
 

 

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Top-Notch Hotel Nosh

Wednesday, February 19th, 2014

Eating at a hotel is no longer limited to marginal room service from an institutional supplier.  On the contrary, as hotels continue to find ways to differentiate themselves from the rest, some are adding signature restaurants with star chefs at the stoves and designer spaces.

Here are a few hotels serving up standout culinary experiences from the comfort of a hotel lobby.

0_1672R-54307Las Vegas: é by José Andrés at the Cosmopolitan

We expect culinary greatness from Vegas hotel restaurants. At the Cosmopolitan of Las Vegas, a new super exclusive restaurant has taken top billing as the ultimate culinary experience on the Strip. é is the eight-seat bar offering just two seatings a night for a 15-course avant-garde Spanish tasting menu. Plan ahead for a visit to é.

Louisville: Proof on Main at the 21c Museum Hotel

Located in one of the most creative hotels around, Proof on Main is as original of a restaurant as the art that flanks its walls.  The menu is eclectic and elegant and is ranked #3 best hotel bar according to USA Today. 21c Museum hotel is a former warehouse turned eclectic boutique hotel featuring a contemporary art museum that is free and open to the public all year long. The art spills over into the 90 rooms of the hotel and into the award-winning, Proof on Main restaurant.

Austin: The Driskill Grill at the Driskill Hotel

Nestled in the historic Driskill Hotel, The Driskill Grill has been charming guests since 1886 and it never gets old. Try the tasting menu, it’s as unique as a stay at this landmark hotel, which by the way, is said to be haunted. With well-trained staff and an ever-changing menu, The Driskill Grill has earned each of its four diamonds.

New York City: Gemma at the Bowery Hotel

On NY’s Lower East Side, you don’t have to stay at the Bowery Hotel (but you’ll want to) to enjoy the impressive Italian fare and cozy setting. The Italian trattoria is a great spot to see and be seen. During the summer, sitting outside is really something special and so is the pizza at Gemma. Try the weekend brunch to feel trendy with all of the Lower East Side hipsters.

Portsmouth, NH: SALT Kitchen and Bar at Wentworth by the Sea

Newly opened last summer, SALT is a contemporary restaurant in a historic setting as part of the more than 100 year old Wentworth by the Sea Resort. SALT features great locally inspired, seafood cuisine and small plates. Grab a seat at the chef’s bar to watch the masters in action or entertain friends in the glassed-in wine room that seats 12.

 
 

 

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City of the Month: San Francisco, the Most Charming City in the U.S.

Friday, February 14th, 2014

Each city has its own unique personality that shines through just like the characteristics we look for in a soul mate. San Francisco, the seventh most popular domestic destination for Americans according to the Hotels.com Hotel Price Index™ (HPI™), claimed the title of “Most Charming” in a recent Hotels.com survey.  This Valentine’s Day, we are honoring San Francisco as the most charming city to take a valentine, and for the rest of February, we’ll let you in on some of the best hotels, activities and hidden gems in this City of the Month.

How to Spend Valentine’s Day in Charming San Francisco:

Villa Florence, a hotel in the heart of Union Square, oozes 0_BYC59Tcharm.  In contemporary Italian style, it features a breathtaking marble lobby and rooms draped in colors of Tuscany.  The location is ideal, two blocks away from the Theatre district and in the midst of Union Square.  The adjacent restaurant, Kuletos, provides decadent Italian dishes, perfect for a romantic getaway.  Head over to close by Bar Norcini for cocktails in an intimate nightcap to the evening.  The hotel is not far from Fisherman’s Wharf and the Embacadero, where couples can sample delicious local foods, see beautiful sights off the Bay, and even embark on a romantic Valentine’s Day cruise.

To find the latest hotel deals and Valentine’s Day travel ideas, visit Hotels.com and follow @hotelsdotcom on Twitter.

 

About the Survey: Conducted by Google Consumer Surveys between January 25 – 31, 2014. Each question sampled at least 1,200 unique, randomly sampled internet users across the Google Consumer Surveys publisher network.

 
 

 

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Traveling When You Don’t Speak the Language

Monday, February 10th, 2014

English is one of the most popular languages in the world, which helps greatly when traveling outside the US.  But we can’t always assume that everyone is as willing or able to speak to us in English.  What can we do to get around comfortably in countries where we do not know the language without being the “ugly American?”

Know the basics.  People are appreciative of even a small effort by foreigners to speak their local language.  Learn how to “hello,” “please” and “thank you,” as well as “toilet,” “do you speak English?” “how much?” and “help.”

0_125347631Get directions in the native language.  Either print them online before you leave or have your hotel concierge help you by writing down the hotel, and any attractions you’re planning on visiting. This way you can show a taxi driver or someone trying to help you where you are trying to go using their native language. It’s great to make it easier on the person actually trying to help you.

Enjoy lessons with a local.  Make an effort to learn the local language by speaking with the locals. Once in Florence, Italy, my husband and I found some local college students at a pizza spot who were willing to converse with us.  They could practice their English and we could work on our Italian.

Ask the experts. Major tourist destinations such as Rome and Paris often have English versions of their restaurant menus. These will be given to you automatically upon arrival, but if you really want the foodie experience, ask the server for his or her favorite dish.

Be polite.  Don’t get frustrated with the locals when you are the visitor. Speak slowly and clearly and try to avoid slang.

Have a translator app available.  Be sure to download a few translator apps to help you communicate while traveling. Many now have audio translations available so that you can hear the proper pronunciation of a word or phrase. I like Jibbigo, which is available on iPad, iPhone and Android. It is available in offline mode after an initial download, which greatly saves on roaming charges.

If you really want to learn the language, Duolingo is a great website and app that has language learning programs and lessons for its users.

Have a good language barrier story or tip to share? Tell us about it!

 
 

 

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Subways, Buses, and Trains…Oh My! Let Public Transportation Be Your Tour Guide

Thursday, February 6th, 2014

“Live like the locals” is one of my favorite travel tips. And one of the best ways to do just that is to see the sites and get around by using whatever transport means the local residents use, and going it on your own.

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Just like a local, you have to discern whether driving a car yourself (car rental), taking a taxi or a bus, or just walking is going to be the safest, most convenient, and cost effective. The good news is that you don’t have to figure that out by yourself. You could ask the concierge at your hotel or a local, or check out PublicTransportation.org, which will help you find the best transportation options the city you are visiting.

Another great resource is HopStop. This website and smartphone app gives you door-to-door transit, walking, biking, and taxi directions in over 300 cities worldwide. It even helps you to estimate travel time and cost for a taxi.

The following three U.S. cities have the best FREE transit offerings:

Pittsburgh Free Fare Zone
Ride buses and light-rail trains at no cost seven days a week.

Portland’s Free Rail Zone
Passengers can ride light rail trains and street cars nearly everywhere downtown for free, all day, every day.

Seattle’s Ride Free Area
Ride free from 6 a.m. to 7 p.m. on Metro buses within Seattle’s downtown area.

Safety Tips to Remember When You Take Public Transportation.

  • Have your pass or fare ready before you board public transportation so that you aren’t rummaging in a wallet or purse, exposing money and credit cards.
  • Always sit near the subway or bus driver when riding late at night or by yourself.
  • Report any strange behavior from another passenger that makes you uncomfortable.
  • Be sure you know where you are going. Easier said than done. If you do need to stop and pull out a map, don’t just stop on the side of the road or in the subway terminal.  Take a break at a nearby coffee shop, sit down and figure it out. You won’t stick out as a lost tourist this way.
  • Always maintain control of your belongings and be aware of your surroundings.
 
 

 

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4 Financial Safety Tips When Traveling

Tuesday, February 4th, 2014

Scott Turner is an avid traveler and writer who shares tips about money management, frugal living, and life hacks. 

When you’re traveling, it’s easy to let your guard down regarding financial safety – you’re out and about, sightseeing, and enjoying your family – it’s understandable that such concerns would slip your mind. Unfortunately, travelers are frequently targeted for financial scams and thefts. Here are four safety tips to keep you and your money safe while traveling.

Traveling Basics1. Limit the Cash You Travel with
There’s no need to bring a ton of cash with you while traveling. Use travelers checks or your debit card instead. If you know you’ll need cash from time to time, locate the nearest ATM affiliated with your bank to avoid hefty fees when making withdrawals. This way you’re only carrying the cash you need, instead of cash for your whole trip.

2. Protect Your Identity
Be aware of your surroundings whenever entering your debit card PIN while on vacation. At the very least, stick your other hand over the machine so no one can watch you enter your information in. Sign up for alerts from your bank to receive text messages or emails whenever a transaction occurs above a preset limit.

Before you leave for your trip, remove any personal documents from your wallet or purse that contain financial information, such as insurance cards with your social security number on them. If you think you’ll need these cards, take photo copies and cross out your personal information, then carry the photo copies rather than the official documents. These tips are essential to protect yourself and prevent identity theft.

3. Alert Credit Card Providers
Contact your credit card companies before you travel. Many have heightened security protocols in place for unusual purchases, and if your card gets flagged because of an overseas or out-of-town expense, you might end up with a temporary hold on your account. Spending a day trying to get your credit freed up again could take some of the fun out of your trip.

4. Carry a Money Clip
Store the cash you carry in your front pocket inside a money clip or mini wallet. This makes it more difficult for thieves to gain access to your goods. You can pick up a cheap money clip on eBay or Amazon.

When you return home, log in to your credit card and bank accounts to make sure there were no unauthorized purchases. Keep your receipts from your vacation for reference and carefully check restaurant bills. If you notice inaccuracies, contact the business or your account provider immediately. Taking steps to avoid theft is important, but it’s equally important to address any potential account compromises as soon as they arise.

How do you protect yourself financially while traveling?

 
 

 

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