Archive for the ‘Holidays/Events’ Category

I’ve Just Got to Have a King Cake! Bring Home a Taste of Mardi Gras

Saturday, March 1st, 2014

One of my favorite Mardi Gras traditions is the King Cake. I always looked forward to getting my slice as a child and hoping that I would find the “baby” in my piece and have good luck for the coming year. Eating the delicious combination of sugar and cake was a special treat heading into the Lenten season. Secretly, I still get excited for this tradition. 

The celebration dates back to the story of the Three Kings bringing gifts to the baby Jesus. The King Cake is baked in honor of Three Kings and is generally shared any time, these days, during the Mardi Gras season.

Originally, King Cakes were a simple ring of dough with minor decorations. Today’s king cakes are much more elaborate and creative in their recipe. After the rich Danish dough is braided and baked, the “baby” is inserted. The top of the ring or oval cake is then covered with delicious sugar, cream cheese or fruit fillings.

In Louisiana alone, hundreds of thousands of King Cakes are consumed at parties, offices and in homes every year. Feeling left out? Don’t! Bakeries now ship King Cakes overnight if you can get your order in fast enough, and local bakeries in cities everywhere tend to offer their take on a King Cake during the Mardi Gras season.

Check out a few of these sweet standouts for your King Cake:

New Orleans: Manny Randazzo’s King Cakes
The best King Cakes are said to come from this New Orleans bakery. Order online and receive the cake, Mardi Gras cup, beads, doubloons, history of the cake brochure, and overnight delivery.

Syosset, NY: Mara’s Homemade
Located on Long Island, you can order King Cakes year-round for pickup or shipping. This Louisiana seafood and BBQ restaurant gets royal with their creations that include Nutella®, pecan praline or cream cheese fillings.

Arlington, VA: Bayou Bakery, Coffee Bar & Eatery
Why stop at King Cake alone? This VA bakery also caters shrimp etouffee and chicken and Andouille gumbo. Featuring his King Cake with cream cheese filling creation just this week on the TODAY Show, Chef and owner David Gaus, holds an annual block party with Carnival foods and a costume contest on Fat Tuesday.

San Francisco, CA: Boxing Room 

The chef is a New Orleans native, so you are in good hands at this Hayes Valley locale.  Try slices of cream cheese-filled King Cake, topped by sugar colored with mint, hibiscus and saffron, with braised pineapple on the side.

Austin, TX: Easy Tiger Bake Shop & Beer Garden 

For just $15, you can take home a twisting circle of buttery Danish filled with cinnamon sugar, and topped with bright ropes of beads. It’s the clever combination of bakery and beer garden that keep the locals and visitors coming back again and again.



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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’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 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.


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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Do you believe in New Year’s Superstitions?

Monday, December 30th, 2013

In the U.S. and all over the world, many different superstitions exist around New Year’s and what will bring good luck for the coming year and chase bad will away. We’ve compiled a list of the top 10:

In the United States:


  1. Open all the doors and walk around banging on pots and pans moving towards the doors to scare anyghosts or lingering spirits away.
  2. Eat black-eyed peas and rice for good luck in the new year. Alsoeat cabbage or greens for financial prosperity and ham for health.
  3. Wear all new clothing (shoes, socks, pants, shirts, underwear) on New Year’s Eve. The idea here is by beginning the year with new and good things,  you will continue to receive them for the remainder of the year.
  4. Don’t wash any clothes on New Year’s Eve or on New Year’s Day as you may “wash” out people you love from your life.
  5. The direction of wind during sunrise on New Year’s morning tells us about the coming year. Wind from south foretells fine weather and prosperous times ahead. Wind from north foretells bad weather. Wind from the east brings natural calamities. Wind from the west says plenty of food for all, but death of a person of great importance. No wind means joy and prosperity throughout the year.

Around the world:

  • Colombia: Tape a high denomination bill ($100) on top of the doorframe so wealth and prosperity will enter the house.
  • Russia: The tone of New Year’s Eve will set the tone for the rest of the year. A quiet evening may bring a quiet, uneventful year, while an exciting, happening New Year’s party will bring an exhilarating year full of new activities.
  • Uruguay: Have your cupboards and refrigerator stocked with food and your wallets filled with cash on January 1, to ensure a prosperous year ahead.
  • Vietnam: Pay off all your debts before New Year, or else you’ll be poor for the entire year.
  • Philippines: Turn on all the lights inside the house for a bright year ahead.

Do you have any to add? What are you superstitious about?



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Happy Holidays!

Wednesday, December 25th, 2013

Happy holidays to all of our readers! Thanks for reading our posts this past year!

In the spirit of holiday cheer, we wanted to share some of our favorite submissions from our #FilmItFriday series.

Thanks to everyone who submitted!


“Fun with Santa” from @rkosully

“Me and my furbabies” from @xriyah


“Merry Christmas” from @juanrj83



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Travel Sticky Situation: Delayed/Stranded by Winter Weather

Wednesday, December 18th, 2013

Tis the season to be traveling, so as we prepare for another holiday travel week, let’s review the top winter travel tips. The good news is that The Weather Channel is not predicting any major snowstorms in the U.S. over Christmas. Nevertheless, Mother Nature is never beyond a good storm surprise, so let’s be ready for whatever she throws at us this winter.

Trouble Ahead! Travel To-Dos

AA046865When winter storms approach, airlines begin preemptively waiving change fees in order to avoid stranded travelers.  If you have a trip on the horizon, DO stay tuned to national weather forecasts and check the travel advisories of your airline for delays, cancellations and rescheduling policies to see how any of it may affect your trip. You may not need to cancel your trip yet, but you should be aware of the possibility and begin considering alternate plans.

You are your best advocate. DO always have the hotel phone number, airline number, all of your confirmation numbers, and directions ON PAPER in addition to stored in your smart phone. You never know when you’ll be without battery, coverage or a charger.

If you are heading to your destination and get delayed, DO be sure to keep your hotel informed of your situation so you do not incur unnecessary charges for a no-show. If you are heading home and find yourself needing to stay an extra night, check availability as soon as you can to avoid having to scramble for other accommodations.

If You Get Stranded…

Remember when weather puts your trip to sleep, it doesn’t mean the airline owes you a good night’s rest in a hotel.   If you are already at the airport when delays or cancellations occur, DO be sure to have enough of the essentials to get you through a day… or two. For me, that’s contact solution, my phone charger, laptop and cord.

  • DO pack your patience: you are not the only one trying to cancel and rebook – be kind, don’t give up.
  • DO claim any reimbursement you are entitled to (for example, accidental charges for change fees) in writing and keep a copy. File claims as soon as possible.
  • DO forward copies of all documents to your travel insurer, if you have one.

Road-Trip To-Dos

And if you are behind the wheel this winter, possibly one of the best to-DO suggestions is to make a trip plan.  Pilots file a flight plan before takeoff, so driving our cars shouldn’t be any different. Make sure you DO advise someone of your trip plans.  DO call ahead to your destination and let someone know when you intend to leave, what route you will be traveling and your expected time of arrival.  If someone at your starting point and someone at your destination know your plans, help can reach you much more quickly, in the event of an emergency.

Safe Travels throughout the holidays and a merry and bright 2014!



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Top Three Ways to Use Your Days

Tuesday, December 3rd, 2013
happy new year 2013 on the beach; Shutterstock ID 115836760

Achieve your 2013 Travel Resolutions by the End of the Year

With many Americans failing to use their allotted vacation time, we thought it would be fun to come up with the best ways to use those days before 2013 is over.  After you check out the top three ways to use your days, talk to @HotelsDotCom on Twitter to let us know what you will do with #OneMonthLeft:

Turn your obligations into “obli-cations”

One may not choose to go to Ohio for a family reunion or to Seattle for a business trip, but obligatory travel doesn’t mean you can’t turn it into an “obli-cation.” After the dishes are cleaned up, or the meeting is over, head to a nearby city to extend obligatory travel into an obli-cation; something relaxing, budget-friendly and effortless. Check out the mobile app for last minute hotel deals, and find that this convenient vacation option can be extremely fulfilling.

Completely Disconnect

Eighty-five percent of American travelers use a smartphone on vacation, according to, but hotels are helping travelers re-discover the benefits of getting off the grid. For example, Buccament Bay Resort in Saint Vincent and The Grenadines offers a “digital detox” package where guests surrender their cell phones and gadgets to implement complete relaxation. Other hotels, such as The SPA Retreat Boutique Hotel in Jamaica and Enchantment Resort in Sedona, Arizona are offering more spa, yoga and wellness options to relax travelers and remind them of the purpose of a vacation in the first place.

Get out of Your Comfort Zone

This travel resolution is a two-in-one, as it accomplishes travel goals and personal goals simultaneously. Whether it’s tackling a crazy adventure, learning a new language or traveling solo for the first time, anything is possible! For instance, the Six Senses Zighy Bay hotel in Oman requires all guests to choose an extreme form of transfer service from the airport.  Arrive at the hotel via speedboat, parasail or an all-terrain Jeep. The Hard Rock Hotel Chicago allows guests to use guitars with personal sound systems so neighbors don’t hear them learning from the in-room video tutorial. The Mistral Singles hotel in Greece helps guests embrace the feeling of traveling alone in a foreign destination.  Whatever the goal may be, hotels of all kinds can help employees achieve what cannot be done by sitting in an office.



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Happy Thanksgiving from the Travel Smart Blog!

Wednesday, November 27th, 2013

We want to wish you all the very best holiday this season!

Whether you’re flying, driving, or taking the train – be prepared for busy travel hubs and possible delays. Certain areas of the country may be experiencing some severe weather over the next week, so please remember to travel safely!

In order to help you celebrate this fantastic Thanksgiving holiday with family and friends, is offering an amazing promotion…

Stay tuned to find out just how far $1.00 can really go...

Screen Shot 2013-11-26 at 6.13.24 PM




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America’s Newest Holiday: Thankshopping Day!

Thursday, November 14th, 2013

The appeal of Black Friday is at a five year high, with 55% of shoppers saying they’re likely to shop the holiday kickoff event. And 38% told consulting firm Accenture that they plan to shop on Thanksgiving this year, and that of those, 41% said they’ll be out between 6 p.m. on the holiday and 5 a.m. on Black Friday. Perhaps we should just rename the whole event “Thankshopping Day.”

0_117085750I’ll admit it! I’ve gotten into Black Friday shopping and perhaps not for the reason you think. Sure, it started out as a quest for a few great deals but it has become something more. Actually, I like that I can leave my house at 3AM (yes, I know I am missing a ton of deals this year and I may reconsider) and spend a few fun hours alone or perhaps with a friend without feeling guilty about missing out on family time because my kids and husband are sleeping.

If crowds aren’t your thing, a new report from analytics firm ShopperTrak pegs Wednesday, Dec. 4, as the best day to shop with the least amount of store traffic during this year’s holiday season. Not to alarm you but you have one less weekend between Thanksgiving and Christmas compared to last year, which will mean more crowds and fewer shopping days. Online sneak-peak ads for Black Friday are already out. Here are a few tips to help you score big during the new holiday tradition of Thankshopping: holiday shopping steals!

  • Use the Internet to compare prices, not just the Black Friday ads but also retailers’ regular websites. Doing this ahead of time will help you know if the prices are just inflated to make it look like you are getting a deal or to know if it really is a steal.
  • Take the ad with you so that you can find the exact item at the price advertised. In fact, you may want to check the items out at the store ahead of time just to be sure it is something that you actually want to buy and don’t just get caught up in the frenzy.
  • Follow your favorite travel companies on Facebook and Twitter to get access to Black Friday codes that unlock deals and discounts. Monitor tweets tagged #BlackFriday and #CyberMonday. And, sign up for email alerts that could get your coupons for the nation’s shopping holiday.

Top 3 Black Friday Shopping Cities

  1. 1.     New York City
  2. 2.     Houston, TX
  3. 3.     Minneapolis, MN

How many hotel rooms could you book for the cost of an item from’s Christmas Shopping Basket? Keep checking back on for special holiday promotions.

Will you be taking part in Thankshopping this year? If so, what’s your plan for shopping success?



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Family Obligation or Vacation? Try an Oblication!

Tuesday, November 12th, 2013

Stressed TravelerMany of you will be taking that obligatory family vacation over the holidays. And even though you’ll be taking your hard-earned time off of work, it doesn’t always feel like a vacation when you are going to visit your brother, in-laws, or attending a wedding or a family reunion across the state or across the country. It’s called an Oblication (Get it? Obligation + Vacation); and in fact, most of us can admit to traveling in the name of “duty” over “desire”. But the two don’t have to be mutually exclusive.

On the contrary! It’s entirely possible to make a mini-vacation out of almost any type of travel, whether that’s a family visit, wedding weekend, work trip, or even over Thanksgiving: the most popular holiday for an Oblication. Look for opportunities to combine obligation and leisure travel. For example, a family reunion in Chicago is an ideal set-up for a getaway whether you stay a few extra days to tour the Windy City or to visit Lake Geneva, Wisconsin (about 75 miles away). When we visit our families in Florida each year, we try to take time for some added excitement at the amusement parks of Orlando.

Tips That Will Have You Looking Forward to Your Next Oblication!

Get a Tour: What a better way to spend time with family and friends than in exploring their city or nearby attractions. You might be surprised what you’ll discover, so ask relatives to give you a tour. I enjoy playing tour guide to family and friends visiting with us in Colorado. I even take it as a challenge to show repeat visitors something new each time they come to town.

Leave Time for Off-the-Map Adventures. If you’re driving to an obligation like a wedding or family visit, allow yourself the time to enjoy the sights along the way. There are some great road trip travel apps that can help guide you to these roadside wonders. Plus, you may just end up with a good story to tell the in-laws.

Royalty Free stockAnd because so many of you will be traveling later this month, here are a few Holiday Travel Do’s and Don’ts to remember.

Extend Your Trip. If you have more than a few extra hours to spare then add a day or two to the beginning or end of your trip and visit a place you’d really like to see before you go home. Doing this will help you feel like you did get something special out of your trip, something just for you. TSB Insider Tip: booking multiple one-way tickets is often less expensive than booking one multi-city airfare when you are traveling to more than one destination.

Pack your patience. Anytime you are traveling and a larger group is involved, whether a holiday or if you’re attending someone else’s special event, things are automatically more complicated. Accept that schedules will be delayed or changed; some people may disagree. The travel tips in a recent post Travel Sticky Situation: Vacation with the In-laws are tailor-made for oblications!

What about you? Do you feel like most of your travel is devoted to obligation trips? Do you try to turn some of those trips into potential leisure getaways? What, in your opinion, are the advantages and disadvantages in doing so?






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Are You Ready? Holiday Travel Do’s and Don’ts

Wednesday, November 6th, 2013

Halloween may be over but there’s another scary scene upon us, the holiday travel season! Shriek! Yes, traveling over Thanksgiving, Christmas and New Years to visit with family and friends is often a blessing and a curse. Staying on par with the resurgence of travel confidence demonstrated this year; the 2013 holiday travel season is forecasted to be the busiest and most expensive in five years. So, here are a few things you need to know if you are planning to travel for the holidays.

0_219004The Flying Frenzy: The Truth About Airlines at the Holidays

The best time to buy lower fare tickets has long since passed (for holiday travel specifically). In fact, the leading airfare booking sites are already reporting that prices are up significantly over last year’s holiday fares, as much as 17% into popular destinations such as New York City, San Francisco and Orlando. And, airports are expecting record traffic this Thanksgiving.

So, here are my big holiday flying tips:

  1. If you see a flight that you want, don’t wait for a deal, book it! Last minute deals between now and New Years will be just like your Halloween candy…gone. And soon all the seats will be, too.
  2. Travel on actual holiday days is always more affordable than the one or two days before. The most expensive days to fly: the Sundays before Christmas and New Year’s Eve.
  3. Watch your connections! Weather this time of year can wreak havoc for travelers trying to get to grandmother’s house for some pumpkin pie. The best time to avoid weather delays and missed connections is traveling in the morning before flights get backed up or cancelled. Give yourself enough time between connections to avoid missing your flights, especially if you are flying in and out of airports in Chicago, Atlanta, or New York.

Is Your Family Sitting Together?

Airlines are increasingly charging extra to pick a seat when travelers buy their tickets. But you don’t have to pay extra for that. Just make sure you check in online as soon as you can to try to secure seats together. Airlines do and will separate families, even with small children. During this busy time when planes are full, switching seats will be a challenge. Check now so you know what effort you may need to make. You can even try to call the airline to see if there is any “seat shifting” that they may be able to help you with once you’ve booked your ticket. Otherwise, arrive to the gate early and make your request to the Gate Agent, and don’t be afraid to ask another passenger to trade with you so that you can sit with your children. When I have been in this situation, I have purchased a drink for the passenger who was willing to switch with my family member. Just let the flight attendant know and they can tell the helpful traveler of your thankful gesture.

Reserve Your Parking Spot NOW

Reserve your airport parking spot ahead of time. You can count on airport parking lots to be full this year, too. You’d hate to miss your flight because you couldn’t find a place to park. Many companies such as Parking Spot, Wally Park and Park Ride Fly USA take reservations and even offer premium valet services in cities across the US.

Family Driving to Hockey PracticeFor the Holiday Road Warriors

Next week, AAA should give its forecast for the actual number of travelers taking to the road for Thanksgiving. What we already know is that 90% of travelers will drive to their destination over Thanksgiving with the busiest travel day being the day-before Thanksgiving. Want to avoid long lines at the pump or on the roads? Plan ahead. Fill up the tank a day or two ahead, if possible. If you can make it to Aunt Irma’s house in four hours on most days, plan for six or seven. Tack on some extra time so you aren’t late for the festivities. And know alternate routes along the way in case you run into accidents or heavy back-ups. You can save time and your sanity with a little preparation.

Save Big with Off-Airport Car Rentals

Do you have to rent a car from an airport location? No! If you rent a car from an off-airport location you will save significantly over the holidays; as much as 50% savings even on premium rentals. Some off-airport locations offer shuttle service from the airport. I recently did some checking for car rentals in Denver over Christmas and New Years and was able to save family members over $1,000 simply by finding an off-airport car rental location.

Do You Really Need to Take That?

Whether you are traveling for two days or ten, scrutinize the items going into your suitcase. Those traveling for a quick trip may be able to get away with a carry-on only. Even if you check a suitcase, be sure to pack your essentials in a small carry-on, in case of delays (or dare I say it) or your bag gets lost. A change of clothes, power cords, medicines, important numbers, should all be in your carry-on bag.

Most airlines now charge for checked baggage and some even charge for carry-ons. Southwest and JetBlue are the last two major carriers that still offer free checked bags and carry-ons. Southwest even allows a second checked bag free of charge. United, American and Delta all offer free carry-on, so try to keep clothes to a minimum.

Hotels at the Holidays

Hotels in major holiday cities are equally busy and pricey this time year. But, you can save big if you don’t mind staying just outside these cities. For example, you can save big on a trip to NYC if you are willing to stay just 15 minutes away from Manhattan in Brooklyn. Also, keep checking the Deals page for last minute hotel deals in cities across the US. Thanksgiving Hotel Deals are currently featured on the site.

Happy Holidays! And remember: preparation is key! Check-in for your flight online, allow lots of time to get to the airport, to go through security and to board the plane. Pack your snacks, a few good manners AND YOUR PATIENCE. Lines will be long, traffic will be heavy, but this is what holiday folklore is all about!

Safe travels!





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