Archive for the ‘Tours’ Category

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 Hotels.com 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 Skift.com, 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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City of the Month: Niagara Falls Wanderlust

Thursday, October 24th, 2013

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Did you know that Niagara Falls State Park is the oldest state park in the U.S?

How about that it was once the scene of one of the most famous battles of the War of 1812? And, did you know it was a pivotal stop on the Underground Railroad?

0_73070662For most visitors, the Falls are the big attraction but there is much to explore and learn in this historic park.

Old Fort Niagara, the longest operational fort in North America, features the oldest original buildings on the Great Lakes and is the place to teach the kids a little history. The fort played an important role in the struggles of France, Great Britain, and the United States to control the Great Lakes region. Especially in summer, there are battle demonstrations and living history programs, though the Fort is open all year. Come and learn about the Fort’s ghost at Halloween and celebrate the holidays with two special weekends in December.

There’s no match for the experience of standing under the thundering American Falls on the Hurricane Deck. You can do this on the Cave of the Winds tour and on the Maid of the Mist Boat Tour, which I mentioned in my post earlier this week. Then, you should grab lunch or dinner at the Top of the Falls Restaurant. There’s not a bad view in the place, with floor-to-ceiling views of the Falls from every table.

But the Falls are not the only game in town. The Niagara region of Ontario, Canada is also becoming renowned for its wines. 25 wineries are within a 20-minute drive north of the Falls. The Niagara Wine Trail showcases not only wine but the beautiful countryside. Niagara Falls is well known in Canada for its Icewine, a dessert wine made from grapes frozen on the vines. In fact, every January there is the Niagara Icewine Festival.

stk213274rkeNightlife

Nightlife options are aplenty on both the US and Canada sides of the Falls from local pubs to nightclubs for late night dancing. The legal drinking age in Canada is 19 and many of the nightclubs caters to the energy of this crowd. And for those who want to test their luck, casinos are located a little further down the road. Major casinos include the Casino Niagara and the Niagara Fallsview Casino Resort in Ontario and the Seneca Niagara Casino and Hotel in New York.

Hotel recommendations for your visit to Niagara Falls are coming up tomorrow.

 

 

 

 
 

 

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City of the Month: Next Stop Niagara Falls

Tuesday, October 22nd, 2013

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Tourist Boat in Niagara FallsFrom Marilyn Monroe to Superman, to The Office wedding of Jim and Pam, Niagara Falls is an icon of romance and adventure. Located between two major urban areas: Toronto, Ontario, Canada to the north and Buffalo, New York, USA to the southwest, Niagara Falls is not actually one waterfall, but three.

More than eight million visitors flock to the falls each year. You’ll spend more money and face more crowds by visiting in the summer but you can take full advantage of the weather and attractions. Spring and fall see fewer tourists with colder weather. And the winter sees many attractions like the boat tours to shut down. My husband actually surprised me for a Valentine’s weekend of fun in Niagara and nearby Toronto. And even on the coldest day of the year (at that time), we had a blast taking the Journey Behind the Falls tour. And you will definitely need a passport and an additional photo ID if you want to walk across the Rainbow Bridge to Canada or to participate in any of the attractions that originate on the Canadian side of the falls (like the Journey Behind the Falls tour).

Getting There

From US cities, I think flying into Buffalo Airport is the easiest and least expensive way to get to Niagara Falls. From the airport and depending on your trip plans, rent a car or take a shuttle to visit the falls.

Things to Do

It’s touristy for a reason! The Maid of the Mist boat tour is as good as it gets for that impressive, “as close as you can get”, experience seeing the American and Horseshoe Falls. These boat tours have been operating for more than 100 years.

stk211412rkeAnd if you are into how stuff works then be sure to visit The New York Power Authority free visitor center. See first-hand how the water from Niagara Falls generates enough electricity to power nearly two million households. Check out the view from the Power Vista’s Observation Deck 350 feet above the Niagara River Gorge. Kids will enjoy the hands-on activities.

Holidays in Niagara Falls

And, if you are looking for a haunted getaway to Niagara Falls, check out their spook-tacular Halloween happenings coming up this weekend. Plus, the Falls are lit up with lights for Christmas in Niagara Falls.

Later this week, read more about great spots to explore in and around Niagara Falls and the best hotels in the area, too.

 

 
 

 

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Party Earth: Trick or Treat? Halloween in Los Angeles

Monday, October 7th, 2013

Double, double, toil, and lots of trouble. Welcome to Halloween in Los Angeles where the spookiest and most bone-chilling events are hosted non-stop for the entire month of October. Rest your vocal chords now because the list of scary things to do in Los Angeles this season is nearly endless, but here are a couple of haunted haunts you should make sure not to miss!

Party Earth HalloweenNot Just for the Kiddies

A hayride hasn’t been anywhere near our list of scary things to do for Halloween since we were kids, but the Los Angeles Haunted Hayrides in Griffith Park are a different story. These horrific rides place you in the heart of the park’s history of murder, torture, paranormal activity, serial killers, and abduction. But if you’re not ready to call your mommy after that, try your hand battling your way out of “The In Between” – a maze filled with all manner of ghouls, demons, ghosts, and other less-than-friendly supernaturals. Oh, and did we mention the maze was in pitch-black darkness? Good luck with that.

Real-life Horror

Some of the most renowned creators of horror in the film industry thought keeping their terrific plots confined to the big screen wasn’t enough. For The Purge: Fear the Night, the masterminds behind thrillers including Paranormal Activity and Insidious came together to create a bloodcurdling experience that allows guests to experience the frightening future depicted in the eponymous movie firsthand. This Halloween you get to be the star of your own horror story; think you can handle it?

Float On

There’s not much local Los Angelenos are surprised by when it comes to special effects and theatrics. So if you’re one of those who think you’re too cool for scaring, we dare you to remain calm, cool, and collected as you pick your way through the fog-filled, monster-ridden mazes at Queen Mary’s Dark Harbor in Long Beach. While the festivities aboard the Queen Mary do include live concerts, food, and cocktails that are more fun than fright, don’t let the popularity fool you. The ship’s haunted depths are not for the faint of heart.

Suit Up

Halloween comes with a built in excuse for dressing and acting completely out of character: costumes! But you already knew that. So suit up, have an extra shot or two, and get ready to rage with the pharaohs at the Egyptian Theatre’s King Tut’s Tomb party. This all-out extravaganza on All Hallow’s Eve promises to be an evening you won’t forget—well, figuratively speaking. We fully expect you to have enough fun that you remember nothing in the morning.

So, make sure you get out while you’re visiting for some of the best Halloween parties in Los Angeles! If you’ve done Halloween right, by November the creepy memories might make it hard to leave your house without putting the ghostbusters on speed dial first.

 
 

 

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

Thursday, August 29th, 2013

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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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Red, White & Brew

Monday, July 8th, 2013

0_154968845Beer has been a part of American life since the colonial days. From macrobrews to the growing popularity of microbrews, beer is the most popular alcoholic beverage in America. In fact, the craft brew industry alone generated $12 billion in revenue in 2012.

So if you’re at least 21 years of age, consider paying a visit to some of these top breweries for a tasting and a tour this summer.

Travel Smart Blog’s Top 10 US Brewery Tours

Shlafly Bottleworks St. Louis, MO – Schlafly Bottleworks, the Gateway City’s proudly independent craft brewery and taproom, is revitalizing American brewing in St. Louis. The 20-year-old brewery produces 50 handcrafted beers per year, half of which are available exclusively in St. Louis. Free tours run on the hour every Friday through Sunday, guiding guests through Schlafly tastings as well as its on-site “brewseum” of St. Louis beer history.

Deschutes BreweryBend, OR – You don’t need beer to be your excuse to visit Bend, but if it is you won’t be disappointed. Deschutes offers a free guided walking tour of the production facility where you’ll about the history of the Brewery, its brewing process, and meet the beer-obsessed folks who cultivate them. Tours run 7 days a week at 1, 2, 3, and 4pm.

Coast Brewing CompanyCharleston, SC – In addition to having one of America’s hottest food scenes, Charleston has a thriving beer community. Family-owned Coast Brewing Company is housed in a former naval base. The sustainable facility runs entirely on recycled biodiesel waste, and even works with local farms to repurpose its used beer grains as livestock feed. Tours include tastings of four cold house brews and a look at its organic brewing process.

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When our friends, Elizabeth and Brooks, visited Denver we couldn’t miss a fresh, cold brew on the Coors Tour.

Coors BreweryGolden, CO – Just 12 miles west of Denver you’ll enjoy the town of Golden, long time home to the Coors Brewery (since 1873). You can tour the largest single-site brewery in the world for free and sample some of the coldest, freshest beer around. At the end of the tour, visitors can take a look at the collection of historical beer cans, bottles and memorabilia. Summer tour hours are Monday – Saturday from 10am-4pm and Sunday noon-4pm.

Dogfish Head Craft Brewed Ales Milton, DE – Since first opening its doors in 1995, Dogfish has been known for its brewing creativity. What was once America’s smallest commercial brewery now produces nearly 20 styles of beer and boasts both a small experimental brewery and a spirit distillery at Dogfish Head Brewings & Eats in Rehoboth Beach, DE.

Screen Shot 2013-07-08 at 1.40.17 PM

My husband Ryan outside New Belgium Brewery on its symbolic Fat Tire bike.


New Belgium Brewery
Fort Collins, CO – In the picturesque town of Fort Collins, The NBB Liquid Center is open Tuesday – Saturday from 10am – 6pm. Tours are free, 90-minute strolls around the brewery that incorporate beer sampling and do require reservations. Reservations fill up weeks and months in advance, so sign up early!

Flying Dog Brewery Frederick, MD – Located some 50 miles outside of Washington, D.C., Flying Dog is most mobile of American brews. It began in Aspen, CO in the early 90’s and then moved its operations to Denver. In 2006, Flying Dog acquired the Wild Goose brand and moved all operations to its new home in Frederick. The brewery tours here are frank and funny, cost just $5 and include pours of up to five beers and a commemorative tasting glass. When the staff feels like cooking, Flying Dog will serve complimentary barbecue alongside house brews like In-Heat Wheat Hefeweizen and the intimidatingly named Raging Bitch IPA. Looks like these guys are taking the Taylor Swift approach to naming their beers.

Sam Adams BreweryBoston, MA – You’ll learn all about Samuel Adams, American brewer and patriot, experience the entire craft brewing process on the tour of this award winning brewery. Free Tours (a small donation for local charities is appreciated) depart approximately every 45 minutes and last about 1 hour.

0_93174299Harpoon BreweryBoston, MA – You get two-for-one when you visit Boston! Add a visit to the Harpoon Brewery on you trip itinerary. Narrated beer tastings are offered during the week, and full tours of the brewery are conducted on weekends. Tours are $5, and include a souvenir glass and beer tasting.

Bell’s Beer Kalamazoo and Galesburg, MI – A fantastic regional craft brewery that recently opened a new 200-barrel brewhouse offering free, guided tours on Saturdays at 12:30 p.m., 2 p.m. and 3:30 p.m. Self guided tours are also available. Samples are not available at the new Comstock brewery but are available original and still functional Kalamazoo factory. Bells offers 20 craft beers for distribution and a number of other small batch beers at its Kalamazoo pub.

Let us know which you decide visit this summer or if there are any great breweries that we missed in the comments below!

 

 

 

 
 

 

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