Don't Miss These Holiday Travel Sales!
Tour packages, hotels, cruises, and train travel are all on sale this holiday season. Here's what you need to know.
• Be on the lookout now thru Dec. 24 for the 12 Days of G sale by G Adventures. Check their website, Facebook page, or Twitter feed daily for new discounts on tours from all over the world and while you're there, enter to wiin a free trip for two to the Galápagos Islands. So far, they've offered 15 percent discounts on select tours to China, North America, East Africa, Patagonia, Australia, New Zealand, as well as 15 percent off several of their sailing and local living packages. Participating packages must be booked by Dec. 31, 2013 for travel by Sept. 30, 2014.
• Contiki, a company that specializes in tours for 18-35-year-olds, is offering 15 percent off 15 of their European trips when you book now thru Dec. 31, 2013, and use promo code EUROPE15. Tours on sale include the following: European Discovery, European Highlights, European Horizon, Simply Italy, Italian Espresso, European Magic, Spanish Spree, European Whirl, Amsterdam to Barcelona, European Escapade, Eastern Road, European Experience, Mediterranean Highlights, Great Britain & Ireland, and European Inspiration, and range anywhere from 8-21 days. Be sure to check out their 31 Days of Contiki page daily for inspiring travel quotes, travel tips, and giveaways.
TRAIN TRAVEL IN EUROPE
• Rail Europe is offering two big year end specials to help travelers get around Europe this month. You can save 35 percent off all TGV train tickets when traveling with France and to and from Milan and Luxembourg—prices usually start around $66 before the discount is taken, so be sure to use promo code TGV35 when booking your tickets now thru Dec. 31, 2013. The Swiss Pass Free Day deal gives you five days of travel around Switzerland for the price of four with the purchase of a First Class 4-Day Swiss Pass. You'll get five consecutive days of unlimited travel on scenic routes like the Glacier Express, Wilhelm Tell Express, and Golden Pass Line, and have access to public transportation in 75 Swiss cities, complimentary admission to more than 470 museums, and save 50 percent off most mountain railways. Swiss Pass Free Day deal must be booked by Dec. 20, 2013 for travel thru Dec. 31, 2013. Passes start at $482.
• Cruisevoyant is celebrating the holidays with its 12 Days of Cruisemas sale and will be releasing a new cruise deal every day now thru Dec. 25—check the website daily for specials like a 7-day Eastern Caribbean cruise from Fort Lauderdale for from $594 per person or a 15-day cruise to Hawaii and Mexico from San Francisco for from $1,099 per person. Specials may vary; based on availability. Check the website for more details about travel dates.
• You can save up to $2,000 per stateroom and earn up to $100 worth of onboard spending with the Season of Savings sale by Princess Cruises, happening now thru Friday, Dec. 20. You'll save on more than 125 cruises to the Caribbean, Hawaii, Tahiti, and the Panama Canal—offers include a 4-day Western Caribbean cruise from Fort Lauderdale from $249 per person and a 3-day cruise from L.A. to Ensenada, Mexico, for from $169 per person. Use promo code RXZ when booking this deal. Sale ends at 11:59 PST on Dec. 20, 2013.
• Book your Resort Holiday Getaway at one of several participating Marriott properties now thru Dec. 26 for travel thru Jan. 31, 2014, and you'll receive a $50 resort credit per night (up to $200 resort credit). Rooms at the following hotels start at $149 a night: Fort Lauderdale Marriott Harbor Beach Resort & Spa, Hutchinson Island Marriott Beach Resort & Marina, JW Marriott Orlando Grand Lakes, Key Largo Bay Marriott Beach Resort, Marco Island Marriott Beach Resort, Golf Club, and Spa (pictured above), Palm Beach Marriott Singer Island Beach Resort & Spa, Orlando World Center Marriott, Renaissance Orlando at SeaWorld, The Vinoy Renaissance St. Petersburg Resort & Golf Club, Sanibel Harbour Marriott Resort & Spa, Sawgrass Marriott Golf Resort & Spa, Hilton Head Marriott Resort & Spa, and the Fort Lauderdale Marriott Pampano Beach Resort & Spa. Visit marriott.com/resortholidaygetaway.com and enter promo code P91 when booking. Based on availability; room rate does not include taxes and fees.
• You can save 15 percent off the best available rate at Aston Hotels & Resorts this holiday season thanks to the 12 Days of Aston sale happening now thru Dec. 23 at twelve of their properties. Sale prices include rooms in Hawaii at the Aston Waikiki Beachside Hotel from $89 a night, Aston Waikiki Circle Hotel from $123 a night, Aston at the Waikiki Banyan from $127 a night, Hotel Renew by Aston and the Aston Waikiki Sunset from $135 a night, and rooms at the Aston Waikiki Beach Tower from $382 a night; on Maui, rooms at the Aston Ka'anapali Shores are offered from $184 a night, while the Aston at The Whaler on Ka'anapali Beach has rooms from $221 a night; on Kauai, you can stay at the Aston Waimea Plantation Cottage for from $210 a night; on the Big Island of Hawaii, rooms at the Aston Waikoloa Colony Villas start at $178 a night; in Lake Tahoe, California, rooms at the Aston Lakeland Village Beach & Mountain Resort start at $93 a night; and in Lake Las Vegas, Nevada, the Aston MonteLago Village Resort has rooms from $85 a night. Book by Dec. 23, 2013 for travel by Mar. 31, 2014. Based on availability; prices quoted do not include taxes and fees. Call 866/774-2924 or visit astonhotels.com to book your stay.
• Best Western is offering 20 percent off hotel prices when you book the internet-only rate on stays now thru Feb. 2, 2014. For an even better deal, register for the Best Western Rewards program to earn 1,000 bonus rewards points on stays prior to Feb. 2, 2013—elite level members will earn 500 more bonus points per stay, for a total of 1,500 points. For bookings now thru Jan. 5, 2014, Best Western will donate an additional 500 points for every elite stay to the Best Western For A Better World Charities.
• Red Roof Inn properties around the country are offering 20 percent off the best available rate when you book your stay 10 days in advance. Please note that the Nicest Price deal is largely nonrefundable (a full advanced payment is required at the time of booking and no refunds or credits will be given for cancellations, no-shows, or changes with your reservation), but you can score some great deals by planning ahead of time. Choose the Nicest Price option when booking this deal online, or call 800/733-7663 to book your stay by phone.
Have a Hoot at Edinburgh's Hogmanay Celebrations
Sophie Gackowski writes for HomeAway UK New Year's Eve in Edinburgh: there's nothing else quite like it. From the infamous Street Party to the 'Loony Dook' on New Year's Day (and trust me—it's pretty loony…), it's not just one evening that Hogmanay heralds; it's three fun-filled days and nights of celebration, Scottish-style. And so, the countdown begins... This year is Edinburgh's 21st annual Hogmanay festival, and as such, there's a lot to take in. On the 30 December, some 35,000 people will attend the Torchlight Procession, which sees thousands illuminate the city with fire. Led by Shetland's 'Up Hella A' Vikings, it's free to attend; you only need to purchase a torch, the profits of which go to local charities. Finishing in an equally dramatic manner, the procession marches from George IV Bridge to a spectacular sound, light and fireworks show on Calton Hill. On the big night itself, 31 December, over 80,000 will head to the world-famous Street Party; but before that, there's plenty to choose from. Many head to the Candlelit Concert at St Giles Cathedral (sadly sold out for this year), where the music of Haydn and Bach, alongside more Baroque classics, is made all the more beautiful by the candles and incense. For some, however, Hogmanay has to be about Scottish music; and for those eager to dance a 'Gay Gordon', there's nowhere better than the Keilidh. Unfortunately, tickets have also sold out for this event: if you were lucky enough to bag tickets for these incredible nights, well done! If not, never fear: there's so much more to see and do in the Scottish capital. This year, there will be 12 giant screens to watch all the live music on, and fireworks displays at 9 pm, 10 pm, 11 pm and midnight. At Waverley Bridge you could catch bands like Django Django, or at Frederick Street, listen to the sounds of Treacherous Orchestra on the Scottish Stage. Finally, at the Mound, the Rewinder DJ set will be sounding out beats from back in the day until 1 am. If you'd rather the Concert in the Gardens, even the Pet Shop Boys will be playing! But wherever you are at the stroke of midnight, you'll want to join hands with friends and strangers alike. When the last bell is struck and fireworks flurry, the world's biggest rendition of 'Auld Land Syne' takes place: For auld lang syne, my dear / For auld lang syne / We'll tak a cup o kindness yet / For auld lang syne! Once you've shaken hands with innumerable strangers, free bus transport will take all revellers home. But it doesn't end there: it's the1st of January, after all! Thumping head? Feeling rough? The 'Loony Dook' is sure to sort you out. Clear your mind the morning after with a dip in the River Forth at South Queensferry. On New Year's Day, thousands take to the Dookers Parade through the High Street (many in fancy dress), all before plunging into the freezing waters of the Forth, with the beautiful bridges as their backdrop. Having raised thousands for charities over the past 25 years, things can only get better for the loons in 2014! Of course, if that's all a bit much, head off with SCOT:LANDS on a New Year's tour of Edinburgh's Old Town. Starting at the National Museum of Scotland, you'll be given a postcard with instructions, before travelling to nine different venues throughout the city's old centre. Entirely free to attend, dance performances and folk music, storytelling and art exhibitions will take over the city. Set to be one of the capital's most impressive cultural itineraries ever, it's one that aims to showcase everything Scotland stands for. And if that doesn't do the trick, you could always nurse a bottle of Irn-Bru instead. Happy New Year! Follow Sophie Gackowski on Google+
Montevideo: The World's Most Amazing Carnival
This article was written by Lisa Marie Mercer on behalf of Tucan Travel, providers of tours to Uruguay, South America, and beyond. In 2011, after exploring most parts of the globe, she and her husband wandered off to Uruguay, and decided to give it a new name: home. Rivaled only by its momentous soccer games, the Montevideo Carnival is the second largest event in Uruguay. Lasting six weeks, it's also the longest carnival in the world. Although it bears some similarity to the Carnival celebrations in other corners of the globe, the Montevideo Carnival differs dramatically in its origins and raison d'etre. The Story Behind CarnivalCarnival—also called Mardi Gras or Fat Tuesday—dates back to pagan fertility festivals, including the rambunctious Roman festival of Saturnalia, before the arrival of Christianity brought religion to Rome. Although the priests did not condone any type of hedonistic celebration, they realized the futility of any attempt to abolish the festivities. Instead, the priests figured "if you can't beat them, join them," and incorporated the events into their religious rituals. It so came to pass that Mardi Gras took place on Tuesday on the day before Ash Wednesday, the beginning of lent. It represented a last chance for binging and merrymaking before the forthcoming period of austerity and sacrifice. That's not how Carnival evolved in Uruguay. As a country that places high value on the separation between church and state, Uruguay refers to Christmas morning as Family Day, and Holy Week as Tourism Week. Yet, having endured many years under a fascist dictatorship, Uruguayans understand the value of freedom of the human spirit, which the Carnival celebration embraces with open arms. Despite Uruguay's South American location, about 93 percent of its citizens claim European descent. In 1750, the monied European families residing in Montevideo decided to import slaves from Eastern, Equatorial and Western African countries. The slaves, stripped of their culture and ethnicity, would often gather to practice candombe, a drum-based dance and music form, indigenous to the various African cultures. Its lyrics conveyed nostalgia for the homeland, and the despair at being forced into slavery. Uruguay eventually abolished slavery, but candombe prevailed as an art form. During the 20th century, the ethnic music and dance form evolved into Carnival, and became a municipally sanctioned annual event. PreparationsAlthough Carnival usually takes place in February or March, preparations for it begin in December. Groups of men, and sometimes a few women, parade through Montevideo's Barrio Sur, their handcrafted wooden drums slung across their chests. These comparsas, as they are called, are rehearsing for the Llamadas, the event that signals the start of Carnival. In 2005, the first group of female candombe drummers entered the Carnival scene. A total of 78 women now form La Melaza, and all-female candombe group. In the past, dressing in scantily-clad outfits and performing seductive rhythmic dances was the role of the female Carnival performer; now they play the big drums and help make the music. Meanwhile, the election of the zonal carnival queens usually takes place in December, and the Carnival of Promises, a children's parade, happens in January. A Time Of CelebrationOn the first night of Carnival, thousands of drummers, dancers, and flag wavers march through the streets of Montevideo. This is not just a parade. The different comparsas compete for the best dancers, costumes, and strongest drum beats. Later on, in addition to the music and dancing, the Murgas, a type of street performer, entertain visitors with their satirical comedy acts, which are often of a political nature. The Lubolos are white men who paint their faces black, and perform the songs of the former African slaves. Although this might evoke images of the racist minstrel shows of yesteryear, its intent is quite different. The minstrel show expressed mockery. In contrast, the Lubolo performance is a form of empathy, and perhaps, a belated, albeit awkward apology. One final tip: Hotels book up early during Carnival season. If you plan to go, make your reservations as early as possible.
Holiday Travel Tips From Samantha Brown
Traveling with little ones this holiday season? Check out these great holiday travel tips from Travel Channel host and new mom, Samantha Brown. Be prepared. Pack your own childproofing items—like outlet covers, foam corners, a sliding door lock, and a cord wind-up—and plan to protect your kiddies from any potential dangers whether you're going to Grandma's or staying in an unfamilar hotel room. Samantha recommends crouching down on the floor as soon as you get there to get a better idea of what's interesting and within reach at your child's eye level. Bring the holidays with you. Going to be away from home during the holidays? Pack or pick up some festive goodies like mistletoe, tinsel, garland, or other meaningful keepsakes and decorate your hotel room! It'll help keep everyone in the holiday spirit and let the kids feel more at home in a new place. Samantha says to be careful and not bring any cherished, irreplaceable items in case they break or get lost during your travels, but to still let each family member bring something special along. TSA cares. Last year, the TSA made travel easier for families by allowing children ages 12 and under to walk through airport security while keeping their shoes and light jackets on. Always check TSA.gov before you go, but this latest development will help make the process a little easier for those traveling with youngsters this holiday season. The TSA also released this fun animated video to help kids prepare for their security line experience. Always pack extra food. Samantha recommends packing enough snacks for you and the kids so everyone stays in good spirits and no one—especially parents—arrives cranky with a tummy ache. Don't forget your camera! Bring your camera or camera-phone along for the ride and have everyone in the family get in on the act. Encourage teens and tweens to help capture the memories, laughs, and special moments on their cameras and smartphones, then, Samantha says, use everyone's photos to create an album as a thank you to your holiday host or as a way to commemmorate your family's trip away from home. Always be a good house guest. If you're visiting family for the holidays, keep in mind that your host has gone through a lot of planning and preparing to make sure you have a wonderful visit. Encourage the whole family to be on their best behavior, bring your host a gift to say thanks, always compliment the food, and help to clean up once you're done feasting. Samantha says it's the little things that count. Do your homework before you go. If you're visiting a new city during the holidays, do some research to see where you can find beautiful Christmas lights displays, local attractions, and fun, family-friendly treats like festive markets and affordable ice skating rinks, before you get there. Samantha recommends a family trip to New York City's Central Park Zoo to watch the monkeys "undecorate" a small tree covered with treats, and visiting the "Christmas Around the World" event at Chicago's Museum of Science and Industry to learn about how different cultures celebrate the season. Keep your sanity. A recent study by Embassy Suites Hotels shows that 70 percent of Americans admit they'd rather stay in a hotel than with their family members—if they knew it wouldn't upset them. Samantha says it's not meant to offend your relatives, but rather to make sure everybody gets along and has enough space; in other words, a sanity-saving measure. Samantha recommends Embassy Suites, an affordable hotel brand that is dedicated to making vacations easier and and more fun for families. Start the day off right with a full (and free) made-to-order breakfast, and enjoy free snacks and drinks at the hotel's complimentary evening reception at night. The best part: every room at an Embassy Suites property is a two-room suite, giving your family a chance to spread out with two separate sleeping areas and a large table for the kids to use when they want to draw and color.
Visiting Myanmar's Golden Shwedagon Pagoda
No trip to Myanmar is complete without a visit to the legendary golden Shwedagon Pagoda in Yangon. The huge 110-meter tall gilded pagoda, which lies to the west of the Kandagyi Lake on Singuttara Hill, dominates the city skyline. Its warm, golden glow and its intricately encrusted dome and stupa will leave you absolutely gobsmacked. According to legend, the Shwedagon Pagoda is over 2,600 years old, making it the oldest historical pagoda in the world, and is Myanmar's most sacred Buddhist Pagoda. It is covered with gold plates, making it a spectacular sight when it catches the sun, and the top of the stupa is encrusted with 4531 diamonds—there's even a 72-carat diamond up there! The magnificent Pagoda contains relics from the past four Buddhas: the staff of Kakusanha, the water filter of Konagamma, a piece of Kassapa's robe, and eight strands of Guatama's hair. It started out at only 8.2 meters high, but now is a golden giant that will leave you standing there, mouth open, and eyes wide in wonder. The Pagoda was originally created to house the eight hairs of Prince Siddartha who had just attained Buddhahood. Two merchant brothers, Tapussa and Bhalhika from Asitanjana came across the new Buddha who sat under a tree revelling in his newfound emancipation. They gave him honey cakes and asked for a gift in return. The Buddha took eight hairs from his head and gave them to the brothers, who gave half of the sacred hairs away to two kings they met on their way home. They then put the hairs on a pile of pearls shaped like a Pagoda and King Ukkalapa came to see them, vowing to return the hairs to their original eight. They took the hairs back to Asitanjana to add to the other relics they had, and built the Pagoda on Singuttara Hill, where it stands today. As well as a place of worship and a focal part of the city's skyline, the Swedagon Pagoda is a place to keep and display art, history, and architecture. You can find out more in the Shwedagon Pagoda exhibit, a photo exhibit showing the history and symbolism of the Pagoda. The Shwedagon Pagoda plays hosts to religious festivals almost every month, during which time it is full of people from dawn until midnight. Some of these festivals are celebrated all over the country and all the pagodas are busy, but some are specific to the Shwedgon Pagoda. The Tabaung festival is especially important, as it commemorates the Full Moon Day of Tabaung that King Ukkalapa and the two brothers enshrined the sacred hairs. Opening timesThe Pagoda is open 4 a.m. to 10 p.m. daily, except for the important religious festivals of Waxing Day of Tabaung (around March) and Waxing Day of Wakhuang (around June), when it is open 24 hours. Dress codeYou'll need to dress modestly. This means, trousers or at least a knee-length skirt or shorts, and enter barefoot. This article was written by Hannah Vickers, who has lived in Lima, Peru, for a year and a half and is the editor of Peru this Week. You can read more of her work on her blog.