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Confessions of a Luggage Tester

By Robert Firpo-Cappiello
January 2, 2018
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Artefficient/Dreamstime
Think flying is tough on your bag? You may not believe the ordeal it went through before you bought it.

Of course you expect every zipper, strap, axle, and handle on your suitcase to hold up under the pres­sures of flying. But you know who’s really got your back? Mike Mulvey, a quality engineer at luggage brand Travelpro International’s testing facility. Here, he unpacks some of the secrets of the trade.

Q: What does a luggage tester do?

A: Most of Travel­pro’s products carry a lifetime warranty, so it’s my responsibility to run all of our luggage lines and fabrics through a series of exacting tests de­signed to replicate the punishment a bag will face in the real world.

Q: What are your favorite kinds of tests?

A: Lifting a bag loaded with 70 pounds of stuff and dropping it at 24 different orientations at subzero temperatures in less than a minute for our “cold crack” test. We also put every bag (and sometimes those of competitors) on our handle-jerking machine, which we call The Enforcer. I’ve seen the handles and shells of competitors’ $1,000 bags break apart under that pressure.

Q: How should Budget Travelers keep their stuff safe when traveling?

A: After seeing the damage we inflict on luggage during testing, I pack liquids, valuables, and delicate items in the center of the bag to avoid high impact. And I actually prefer to carry on my bags to save time, money, and effort.

Q: Gotta ask: Any packing tips you’ve picked up on the job?

A: Lay out everything before you start packing so you can see what you want to put where. Use the bag space in the smartest way possible. Avoid empty spaces. I even pack stuff inside my shoes, though you should limit the pairs of shoes you bring be­cause of how heavy they are. Roll your casual clothing to maximize space and avoid wrinkling. Put heavy items on the bottom and folded dress shirts in the lid pocket to keep them sharp.

Q: Do you have personal contact with customers?

A: We have visitors to our test lab and repair center in Boca Raton, Florida, and they’re always surprised at how rigorous the test­ing is. Travelpro was the inventor of the original Rollaboard suitcase, so when I’m at the airport, I often approach pilots and flight attendants to tell them what I do and to ask for their “wish lists” for upcoming luggage collections.

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Travel Tips

Ultimate Guide to Visiting Harry Potter

Two kids who’ve read each Harry Potter book at least twice. And seen every movie. Two parents who want to squeeze every bit of magic out of one day at Universal Studios Hollywood’s Wizarding World of Harry Potter. We arrive early one July morning, park the car, and embark on what will turn out to be one of the most perfect days of our California summer vacation. Our secrets? Read on. EASY TIPS TO STREAMLINE YOUR HARRY POTTER VISIT A little bit of planning goes a long way when tackling a park like Universal Studios Hollywood. Sure, we were there for Harry Potter’s immersive land, but some common-sense tips for visiting Universal (some of which apply to other theme parks as well, of course) worked like one of Hermione’s spells. Buy your tickets online in advance. What could be more fun than approaching the Wizarding World of Harry Potter, its stately towers looming and the unforgettable John Williams film score blaring? How about entering the Wizarding World an hour before normal park hours? You can do that when you buy your tickets online at UniversalStudiosHollywood.com. Early entrance gives you a chance to beat the long lines for the land’s two super-popular rides, Harry Potter and the Forbidden Journey, and Flight of the Hippogriff. Download the Universal Studios Hollywood app. You’ll get up-to-date intel on wait times for attractions, set an alert to let you know when wait times are low, suggested itineraries, and even a reminder of where you parked your car. Get a locker. There are locker rentals just inside the park entrance and in additional locations. We used our locker to store snacks, water, sunscreen, and change of clothes. Enjoy Universal City Walk. Between the parking lot and the park entrance, Universal City Walk offers restaurants, shops, and even some fun photo ops. It’s a low-key place to relax before, during, or after your park visit. Give your kids a souvenir budget. The Wizarding World is packed with incredible shops. Grownups will be struck by the high quality of the merchandise, the eye-popping designs, and the sheer volume of products available. But the inevitable “can we pleeeeeease get just one more souvenir?” will almost certainly become a recurring theme unless you give your kids a firm budget. Frankly, it doesn’t matter whether you tell them they can spend $10 or $100 - they just have to know what the limit is, and you have to be prepared to enforce it. Not only will you end up spending only what you feel you can afford, but you’ll also teach your kids a valuable lesson in shopping.Don't forget about the rest of Universal Studios Hollywood. Although we, like some other Harry Potter-obsessed families, no doubt, spent most of our day at the Wizarding World, it goes without saying that Universal is packed with other incredible attractions. A Jurassic Park ride, a Simpsons immersive land, and the classic Universal studio tour are just some of the must-sees. If you opt for a studio tour, do it early in the day while wait times are relatively short. TAKE THESE RIDES FIRST The wait times for the Wizarding World’s two rides can be longer than an hour on a busy day. Regardless of whether you arrive early (thanks to an online ticket purchase) or later in the day, you should head to the rides first, in this order: Harry Potter and the Forbidden Journey. Even if wait times are long, this ride is so worth it. As you enter through the castle gates and walk down corridors that will be familiar to fans of the Harry Potter books and films, through Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry, you’ll stop in Dumbledore’s office, the iconic classroom for Defence Against the Dark Arts, the Gryffindor common room, and more. As cool as those stops are (you don’t really feel like you’re “waiting” but rather already immersed in the Hogwarts experience), nothing really prepares you for the ride itself, in which you soar above the castle grounds, flying with Harry and friends, facing an array of magical creatures (full disclosure: I was a little scared when the dragon appeared to be exhaling real flames in my general direction). Flight of the Hippogriff. This family-friendly roller coaster is only slightly less packed than the Forbidden Journey, and the ride itself is brief but thrilling. As you wait in line, you pass through the Care of Magical Creatures grounds, Hagrid’s hut, and you even receive instructions about how to approach the Hippogriff (a hybrid eagle-horse). SPEND SOME TIME ENJOYING LIVE ENTERTAINMENT You’ll appreciate the talent and sheer energy that goes into the Wizarding World’s live shows, including: Frog Choir. An exceptionally well trained choir of Hogwarts students sing in the open space near the entrances to Harry Potter and the Forbidden Journey and Flight of the Hippogriff, accompanied by their giant frogs, of course. Triwizard Spirit Rally. Kids will love cheering for the procession of wizarding schools on their way to a tournament. YOU’VE GOT TO TRY A BUTTERBEER I was skeptical. Sure, I’d heard from friends and family that the Butterbeer on sale at the Wizarding World was worth every dollar (and it’s a few dollars, believe me). But I wasn’t sure I wanted to load up on cold soda pop first thing in the morning. But the short line at the Butterbeer cart, the beautiful John Williams film score playing from the loudspeakers, and, yes, the eager smiles on my kids’ faces, convinced me to give it a try. And it’s totally worth it, an icy, creamy blend that was especially perfect on a warm July day. EAT AT THREE BROOMSTICKS (OR TRY AN EASY NEARBY ALTERNATIVE) Three Broomsticks restaurant is renowned for its great breakfasts and pub grub such as The Great Feast, Fish & Chips, Shepherd’s Pie, and more. It’s also a charming environment, a nice replica of Merry Olde England in the heart of Southern California. The friendly staff deals with wait times politely and efficiently even on busy days. That said, right outside the entrance to the Wizarding World, there are a variety of restaurants serving Universal guests, and the wait times are often much shorter than at the themed restaurants. On our visit, we opted for Mel’s, a classic California “drive-in” style restaurant whose San Francisco location's interior appeared in George Lucas’s classic coming-of-age film American Graffiti. Mel’s serves up traditional burgers, fries, and shakes for a reasonable price. Basically, we stepped into the America of the 1950s for lunch, then stepped back into Hogwarts for the afternoon. VISIT THESE SHOPS As mentioned above, it’s essential to give kids a souvenir budget, as generous or as chintzy as you please, to avoid constant nagging and potential meltdowns. That said, the shops at the Wizarding World are exceptional and, in their own way, as engaging as the other park attractions. Ollivanders, Makers of Fine Wands Since 382 B.C. This shop literally puts on a show, as you watch a wand choose a wizard in an interactive experience. (On our visit, our older daughter was selected out of the crowd to demonstrate this choosing process.) The shop is packed with character wands, wand sets, and Interactive Wands that allow you to cast spells throughout Hogsmeade, the town-square setting in which the shops and restaurants are arranged. (Park staff are on hand to show kids where and how to use their Interactive Wands throughout Hogsmeade.) Honeydukes. Oh boy. You know that aroma of fresh chocolate when you step into a really good candy shop? Multiply that by 100 and you get the aroma of Honeydukes. Our kids may have spent more time mulling over their souvenir budgets at Honeydukes than anywhere else in the immersive land, with Acid Pops, Exploding Bonbons, Peppermint Toads, Fudge Flies, Fizzing Whizzbees, and Chocolate Frogs, among other sweet treats, lining the shelves. Owl Post. Kids can send letters and postcards through the U.S. mail with a Hogsmeade postmark from Owl Post, which also sells an array of branded stationery, pens, and Wizarding World stamps. And don’t forget to look up at the robotic owls in the rafters of the shop, which is built in the style of a medieval market hall. Then look down at the (replica) owl poop on the stone floors (you can see some in my photograph, above, taken just outside Owl Post).

Travel Tips

How to Save Big on NYC Hotels

After the onslaught of travel that defines November and December, January is a notoriously slow month for the hotel industry. It’s a challenge that restaurants face, too, so as a solution, cities like Chicago, New York City, Santa Monica, Kansas City, Asheville, and Oakland offer Restaurant Week, when you can get three-course prix fixe meals at a wide variety of restaurants for a jaw-dropping price. Nancy Friedman took her cues from that movement when she launched Hotel Week NYC in 2012. This year’s takes place from January 5 through 15. 17 PARTICIPATING HOTELS New York is the leading American city for hotel construction, Friedman says, with 55 projects in the works, which translates into nearly 140,000 rooms. Bargain hotel rates aren’t impossible to find in Manhattan on any given day, but Hotel Week offers some pretty exciting steals, mainly because most of the 17 participating hotels are independently owned boutique hotels, the kind that garner attention because of their singular design focus or special amenities.  UNIQUE EXPERIENCES AT GREAT PRICES In fact, part of what makes Hotel Week exciting is that it features hotels that are experiences in and of themselves. To whit: a night in the Library Hotel near Grand Central Station, which features books of a different category of the Dewey Decimal system on each of the ten floors, is yours for a cool $200. Same goes for Hotel 50 Bowery, which boasts a lively lobby restaurant with food by “Top Chef” competitor Dale Talde and a rooftop bar with knockout views; the Gansevoort in the Meatpacking District, which features a heated rooftop pool (yes, it’s open in the wintertime) and a lively bar that's popular among locals; the centrally located, ultra-stylish Refinery Hotel, which is designed to winkingly play up the building’s former incarnation as a hat factory; and the James Hotel, part of the super-chic and elegant James Hotel—NoMad. And that’s just to name a few.   AN AFFORDABLE STAYCATION FOR NEW YORKERS As far as Friedman sees it, in addition to catering to the countless tourists that visit, Hotel Week is a prime opportunity for locals to indulge in a staycation. “There isn’t anywhere you can find 24-hour entertainment that’s as enjoyable and relaxing as staying in a hotel. No better vacation than getting out of house and having someone make your bed, you don’t have to clean up and it’s okay to throw your clothes on the floor. They you can go down for a drink at night or breakfast in the morning and you don’t have to prepare a thing.”

Travel Tips

Cheap Flights for Christmas and New Year's

No plans for the holidays? No problem. Our friends at Skyscanner.com have got big plans for you: They’ve crunched the numbers on Christmas and New Year’s airfares to deliver some truly amazing deals. Your only challenge will be to pick one of these dreamy destinations and book now. CHRISTMAS 2017 FLIGHTS UNDER $400 Houston, TX, to Los Angeles, CA (December 23 – 27). When a city is named for angels and nicknamed Tinseltown, you’d better believe it’s a sweet place to sing “White Christmas” (in fact, Irving Berlin wrote that iconic song in Los Angeles). From the Hollywood Christmas Parade to the L.A. County tree lighting to festivals of lights and music all over Southern California (not to mention the year-round warm beaches, diversity of world-class cuisine, and gorgeous museums), we heartily recommend flying west for the holidays. Washington, DC, to Miami, FL (December 24 – 28). When all you want for Christmas is a sunny beach, Miami delivers. The decidedly design-forward city is brimming with tree-lighting celebrations, holiday sand sculptures, and its always-vibrant medley of cultures and cuisines. Miami, FL, to Denver, CO (December 24 – 29). Ready for a real Winter Wonderland? Your holiday vacation in Denver can include the city’s great museums and public spaces, and a drive up into the Rocky Mountains will put you at the epicenter of Colorado’s epic skiing scene. Orlando, FL, to Salt Lake City, UT (December 24 – 29). Craft beer, amazing choral music, and jaw-dropping mountain trails just outside of town for skiing and snowshoeing make Salt Lake City one of America’s most welcoming holiday cities. Atlanta, GA, to New York, NY (December 23 – 28). You’ve seen NYC decked out in its holiday finery on TV, now drop in for a first-hand experience. From storybook store-window displays to the towering tree at Rockefeller Center, from the timeless grace of The Nutcracker ballet to uptown jazz and gospel celebrations, the Big Apple is welcoming more visitors than ever before. NEW YEAR’S 2017/18 FLIGHTS UNDER $400 Chicago, IL, to Charleston, SC (December 30 – January 7). For a taste of delicious Low Country cuisine, a charming small-town feel, and streets and public spaces that feel like a trip back in time, Charleston is one of our favorite mid-size cities, and its holiday displays, concerts, and unique shopping opportunities will charm you, too. Dallas, TX to San Francisco, CA (December 30 – January 5). A New Year’s Eve stroll through Golden Gate Park to the Pacific Ocean is one of the sweetest ways to say buh-bye to 2017. And San Francisco’s mild winter climate, exceptional wine and food (on every corner), and buzzy party scene make it one of the coolest places to ring in the New Year. Boston, MA, to West Palm Beach, FL (December 30 – January 5). For a warm beach escape with personal pampering available everywhere you turn, Palm Beach is a great spot to catch up with loved ones, eat and drink to whatever extent you like, and drink in the beauty of the Atlantic Ocean. Miami, FL, to Las Vegas, NV (December 30 – January 4). New Year’s Eve. Sin City. Any questions? Detroit, MI to New York, NY (December 30 – January 4). Everything we love about NYC at Christmas is available over the New Year’s weekend as well, and, if Times Square at midnight is on your bucket list, Skyscanner has found a way to get there for a price that won’t break the bank. Skyscanner is a travel search site offering a comprehensive range of flight, hotel, and car rental deals. Skyscanner’s Christmas deals and New Year’s deals are subject to change as we get closer to the holidays.

Travel Tips

Jump on These Black Friday & Cyber Monday Travel Sales

With money-saving Black Friday and Cyber Monday deals extending throughout late November and early December, now is one of the best times of year to find bargains on hotels, package tours, and other travel experiences. We’ve rounded up some of our favorite Black Friday and Cyber Monday travel sales and we’ve organized them into tropical bargains, warm American beaches, great American getaways, international  travel you can actually afford, and some incredible sales from major hotel chains. Please note that some Black Friday and Cyber Monday web links won’t be active until the date that the sale begins, and most deals are for specific travel periods and may be based on availability and may involve minimum stays and blackout dates. Happy travels! TROPICAL BARGAINS Aruba Hyatt Regency Aruba Resort Spa & Casino: Save 25 percent, plus parents can save 50 percent off a second room when traveling with children 18 and under. Sale dates: November 27 to 30. Bahamas Grand Lucayan, Grand Bahama Island: Cyber Monday rates starting at $91 per person, a $50 spa credit, and more. Sale dates: November 23 to 30; reference code BLKFR when booking. Dominican Republic Casa de Campo Resort & Villas: 35 percent off and up to 50 percent off villas. Sale dates: November 24 to November 27. Hard Rock Hotel & Casino, Punta Cana: Up to 40 percent off deluxe room rates. Sale dates: November 20 to 27. Mexico The Westin Los Cabos Resort Villas & Spa: 20 percent discount for stays between December 7 and January 15 (blackout dates: December 25 to 31). UNICO 20’87 Hotel, Riviera Maya: Up to 20 percent off an all-inclusive stay for two. Sale dates: November 20 to 27. Mahekal Beach Resort, Playa del Carmen: Up to 50 percent savings. Sale dates: November 16 to December 8. Hacienda Encantada Resort & Residences and Marina Fiesta Resort & Spa, Los Cabos: Up to 50 percent savings, with up to 60 percent savings for a hotel and flight package. Sale dates: November 23 to 27. Turks & Caicos Sailrock Resort, South Caicos: 50 percent off beachfront villas. Sale dates: November 24 to 27. The Somerset on Grace Bay: 30 percent off a villa vacation. Sale dates: November 20 to 29. WARM AMERICAN BEACHES Florida The Don CeSar, St. Pete Beach: Up to 45 percent off the lowest available room rates. Sale dates: November 24 to December 1. The Brazilian Court Hotel, Palm Beach: Up to 25 percent off, plus a complimentary upgrade, and free parking. Sale date: November 27. The Gates Hotel Key West and 24° North Hotel: A wedding deal gives newlyweds a complimentary three-night stay when they book their wedding at the new 12,105-square-foot event lawn. Sale dates: November to 27; email sales@thekeyscollection.com. Pelican Grand Beach Resort, Fort Lauderdale: 25 percent off the best available rate and a $50 resort credit when guests book two nights. Sale dates: November 27 to 30. The Gates Hotel South Beach, Miami Beach: 20 percent off, plus two welcome drinks at check-in. Sale dates: November 24 to 27. Hawaii Hilton Hawaiian Village, Honolulu: 30 percent off rooms. Sale dates: Now through November 28. GREAT AMERICAN GETAWAYS Arizona Hotel Valley Ho, Scottsdale: Up to 50 percent off lowest available rates. Sale dates: November 24 to December 1. The Wigwam: 50 percent off its best available rate with a minimum two-night stay. Sale dates: November 24 and November 27. California Carmel Mission Inn, Carmel-by-the-Sea: Complimentary welcome drinks for two and complimentary breakfast for two. Sale dates: November 24 to 30; use loyalty code CM. Colorado The Broadmoor, Colorado Springs: Up to 50 percent off lowest available rates. Sale dates: November 24 to December 1. Illinois The Talbott Hotel, Chicago: Up to 40 percent off the best available rates. Sale dates: November 23 to 29. JW Marriott Chicago: 15 off room rates. Sale dates: November 24 to 27. The Godfrey Hotel Chicago: $89 per night, plus 20 percent off at the hotel’s Dolce Italian restaurant. Sale dates: November 27 to December 1. The Gwen, a Luxury Collection Hotel, Chicago: 15 percent off the lowest available room rates. Sale dates: November 22 through 27. Chicago Athletic Association Hotel, Chicago: Up to 40 percent off. Sale dates: November 27 to 29. Louisiana NOPSI New Orleans, a Salamander Hotel: 50 percent off lowest available rates. Sale dates: November 24 to December 1. Maine The Kennebunkport Resort Collection (KRC): Gift card discounts include a $100 resort credit for the purchase of a $500 gift card, and a $25 resort credit for purchase of a $200 gift card. Sale date: November 27. Massachusetts The Godfrey Hotel Boston: 50 percent off. Sale dates: November 24 to 27. Hotel Commonwealth, Boston: $100/night (more than a 50 percent savings). Sale date: November 27 at 10 a.m. EST, concluding at 11:40 a.m. (100 minutes); use offer code Score100. Minnesota Radisson Blu Mall of America, Bloomington: 35 percent savings off the best available rates. Sale date: November 27; use promo code CYBER. Missouri Hotel Phillips, Kansas City: 20 percent off, plus complimentary breakfast for two. Sale date: November 27. New Jersey Borgata Hotel Casino & Spa, Atlantic City: 25 percent off Classic Rooms and 35 percent off Flore Suites. Sale dates: November 26 to 30; use promo codes CYB79 (for rooms) and CYB109 (for suites). The Asbury, Asbury Park (Budget Travel’s Coolest Small Town in America 2017): 50 percent off. Sale dates: November 24 to December 1; use code CYBERSTAY. New Mexico La Fonda, Santa Fe: Up to 30 percent off lowest available rates. Sale dates: November 24 to December 1. Sunrise Springs Spa Resort, Santa Fe: 30 percent off stays, plus, for those traveling with dogs, one free private “puppy play session,” part of the resort’s “animal interactions” program. Sale dates: November 27 to December 4. New York Gansevoort Meatpacking NYC: Up to 35 percent off (depending on the day of your stay, with discounts ranging from 10 percent for Fridays and Saturdays to 35 percent for Sundays). Sale dates: November 24 to 27; find promo codes on the hotel’s social media accounts, @Gansevoort. Hotel Saranac, Lake Saranac: $90 credit at the hotel’s salon and spa, food and beverage venues, and retail shops, and a portion of the credit can be used toward the nightly rate. Sale date: November 27. The Maritime Hotel, New York City: $208/night. Sale date: November 27; use code MANICMONDAY. Executive Hotel Le Soleil New York: 20 percent off. Sale dates: November 27 to December 3; use promo code CYBER. Circle Line Sightseeing Cruises, New York City: Buy one ticket, get one free. Sales date: November 27; use code BOGO17. New York Water Taxi, New York City: $17 tickets (more than a 40 percent savings) for ferry rides including an all-day access pass, Statue of Liberty Express, and Statue by Night cruises. Sale date: November 27; use code CYBER 17. Box House Hotel Group, Greenoint, Brooklyn: 20 percent off. Sale date: November 27; use promo code CYBERBOXHOUSE. Vermont Hotel Vermont, Burlington: Rates starting at $129. Sales date: November 27; use promo code CYBER. Woodstock Inn & Resort, Woodstock: Up to 50 percent off standard rates. Sale dates: November 27. Kimpton Taconic, Manchester: Book a deluxe room for $201.50 and get a second night free. Sale date: November 27 from 11:27 a.m. to 1:19 p.m. EST. Virginia Williamsburg Inn, Williamsburg: Up to 30 percent off lowest available rates. Sales dates: November 24 to December 1. The Omni Homestead Resort, Hot Springs: $99 ski passes. Sale date: November 27. Washington, D.C. The Jefferson: Up to 40 percent off lowest available rates. Sale dates: November 24 to December 1. Fairfax at Embassy Row: Up to 30 percent off lowest available rates. Sale dates: November 24 to December 1. Wyoming Spring Creek Ranch, Jackson: Book a two-night stay and get the third night free, plus 50 percent off a massage at the ranch’s spa. Sale date: November 27. INTERNATIONAL TRIPS YOU CAN ACTUALLY AFFORD United Kingdom One Aldwych, London: Get three nights for the price of two. Sale dates: November 24 to 27 (Greenwich Mean Time). Dukes, London: 40 percent off. Sale date: November 24 (Greenwich Mean Time). Italy NH Collection Grand Hotel Convento di Amalfi: Up to 30 percent off lowest available rates. Sale dates: November 24 to December 1. NH Collection Florence Porta Rossa, Florence: Up to 30 percent off lowest available rates. Sale dates: November 24 to December 1. NH Collection Venice Palazzo Barocci, Venice: Up to 30 percent off lowest available rates. Sale dates: November 24 to December 1. Package Tours Intrepid Travel: 15 percent off more than 1,000 trips, including a 9-day tour of Peru, 8-day “best of Jamaica,” and 14-day “real food adventure” in Jordan, Israel, and the Palestinian Territories. Sale dates: November 20 to 30. HOTEL BOOKING DEALS Budget Travel’s Book a Hotel page: Always a good place to save money on hotels around the world, not only during Black Friday and Cyber Monday, but every other day of the year. Pacifica Hotels: 40 percent off rooms at 26 California hotels. Sale date: November 27, PST; use promo code CYBER. Loews Hotels: 20 percent off. Sale dates: November 27 to 29. Hotels.com: Up to 50 off. Sale dates: November 21 to 29.

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