Experience Mardi Gras like a rock star
Why party like a rock star when you can hang with the rock stars instead?
The latest trend in travel—musician and celebrity-led trips—is hitting Mardi Gras this year, as alt-rockers Better Than Ezra announce a personally-guided weekend tour of their home state's annual festival.
The band, famous for 90's hits such as "Good" and "Desperately Wanting," will host a 3-day event, dubbed the Krewe of Rocckus, during the last weekend of Carnival, from Thursday, March 3rd to Saturday March 5th.
(Mardi Gras officially kicks off Friday, February 25th and runs through Fat Tuesday, on March 8th.)
Lead singer Kevin Griffin told us by phone this week that he got the idea after seeing the success of musicians John Mayer's and Kid Rock's cruises last year. Kid Rock's 2010 trip was such a hit, in fact, that the sponsor company, Sixthman, is already planning a 2011 sailing.
"We're neophytes in the travel industry," Griffin said, "but New Orleans is our town, and what better way for visitors to experience it than with insiders like us? I want to take people to the neighborhoods I love, the restaurants where I eat, and the music venues I like best."
In many ways, the Krewe of Rocckus package is like a fast-pass to the rock star treatment. Tickets grant guests the kind of exclusive access that would be next to impossible for most to come by on their own, like admission to private balconies on Bourbon Street and stands on historic St. Charles Avenue to watch the parades. Also included are tickets to two nights of concerts by Better Than Ezra and other Louisiana musicians at the House of Blues.
Griffin said his "love affair" with New Orleans began when he lived there after college, right around when he founded Better Than Ezra with fellow Louisiana native Tom Drummond. "The architecture, the music, the literature, the food—there's just something inherently inspiring about New Orleans," he said.
After Katrina, Griffin and the other members of Better Than Ezra established a non-profit called The BTE Foundation and raised more than $2 million to help rebuild the city and restore the coastline.
"Rebuilding post-Katrina is still ongoing, but New Orleans is in a much better place today than it was before," Griffin said. "So now I want to get people down here to show them what the city's all about. Mardi Gras is not just some college party weekend—it's a beautiful cultural event, with incredible music and food and pageantry. We're going to be bending over backwards to make sure people have a good time and see that side of it."
If this year's Krewe of Rocckus is a success, Griffin said he hopes to make the trip an annual tradition.
Krewe of Rocckus packages start at $695 per person, including meals, open bars, all tickets, and three nights' stay at the Hilton Riverside Hotel. Airfare not included.
Booking details can be found here.
Readers' best sign photos
Instead of dreamy destination shots, this time we're embracing the funny side of travel. From your submitted photos of bizarre, evocative, and lost-in-translation signs, we selected 27 that range from retro neon lettering in Utah to a Mumbai warning to curb honking addition. See the slide show. RECENT READER SLIDE SHOWS Japan | Skylines | Caribbean Sea STILL IN SEARCH OF... We're now collecting your photos of coastal views. Upload them through myBudgetTravel, tag them, and check back in the coming weeks for a slide show of the best submissions.
Summer's harvest in the middle of winter!
You could spend the winter holed up at home, or you could relive the glories of summer's harvest by heading to these indoor markets. Nature has spoiled us. First there were those summer tomatoes, then August's sweet corn, September's apples, and October's pumpkins. Now, the Northeast winter chill has officially arrived; the pickins' at our farmers markets are slim, and our beloved pick-your-own orchards are closing shop. So what's a harvest-lover to do? Take the produce party inside. On October 15, Harry and David launched pop-up "orchards" in cities across the country. The company—known for gourmet gift baskets—is transforming urban retail spaces in cities like Boston and New York to mimic country stores (think: wooden decor and fresh hearth scents). Patrons can peruse the fresh fruit and sample seasonal treats. Foodshed Market also recently opened in Brooklyn. Each Sunday, two-dozen vendors set up their regional produce in The Commons - an indoor community center. Fresh food? Yes. Frostbitten fingers? No. Then there is the mother of all new food destinations: New York's Eataly, a vision of gourmands Mario Batalli, Joe Bastianich, and Lidia Matticchio. Opened in September, this indoor food market of everything Italian serves up the raw goods and prepared dishes. On a cold winter day, browse the specialty purveyors and get cozy with a bottle of wine and a hunk of cheese (and some pasta and pizza and gelato and—well, you get the picture). There are also the oldies but goodies. Philadelphia's Reading Terminal Market bustles with food peddlers all year. Highlights include the seasonal fruit pies offered by numerous Amish vendors and the fresh-churned ice cream Bassetts has been scooping since 1861. To make a day of it, hop on a market tour or sign up for a cooking class. Stew Leonard's (in Connecticut and New York) has been dubbed the "Disneyland of Dairy Stores" by The New York Times; animatronics power singing cows in the dairy section and a dancing Chiquita Banana in the produce section. Winter activities don't have to be limited to movies and museums. With this bounty of indoor food destinations, you can make a day of your meal. —Jessica Campbell SEE MORE FROM BUDGET TRAVEL: San Francisco: The 5 Best Farmers Markets 5 Tasteful US Trips Farm Tours Where You Can Pitch In
Would you ever book a trip to Chernobyl?
The word "Chernobyl" conjures many images. Nuclear wasteland. Radioactive deadzone. World's next top tourist spot? Until now, the last option would sound downright laughable. But the Ukrainian government is working to change all that. if (WIDGETBOX) WIDGETBOX.renderWidget('46c0afdb-0373-4370-8964-edb81a817a2b');Get the Poll Creator Pro widget and many other great free widgets at Widgetbox! Not seeing a widget? (More info)That's right, Ukraine's Ministry of Emergency Situations (!!!) announced this week that the site of the world's greatest nuclear disaster will be open to official tours beginning in 2011. The backstory: in 1986, a nuclear reactor at the Chernobyl power station exploded, killing 32 workers and firefighters. Radioactive materials spread by wind across much of northern Europe, and the blast has been blamed for ongoing health problems in Ukraine, Belarus, and Russia. Before now, private tour companies ran trips to Chernobyl out of the Ukrainian capital of Kiev, but the Guardian reports that these tours are illegal and potentially dangerous. The big question—is the new plan safe? Ukrainian officials promise that measures will be taken to ensure the medical safety of all tourists. But it must be noted that the area is far from back to normal. When the reactor was destroyed, a concrete "sarcophagus" was placed over the site, but it has been steadily deteriorating for the past 25 years. A new 20,000 ton shell is expected to be slid over the zone by the year 2015. According to a Washington Post article, the new structure will be taller than the Statue of Liberty or Paris' Notre Dame Cathedral. It will cost $1.15 billion. If you're wondering what Western officials think of the plan, the United Nations Development Program chief Helen Clark has toured the facility and gives Chernobyl tourism her stamp of approval. She argues that the move could bring big money to the area and teach an important environmental lesson. I guess I trust her opinion, but still, I'll pass. How about you? MORE FROM BUDGET TRAVEL The 2007 "Not" List The 7 Most Dangerous Travel Jobs Coolest Small Towns 2011
New ways to make friends while traveling
We hear a lot about companies trying to help you get vacation tips from friends. But a few companies are going a step further. They're trying to help you travel with acquaintances and like-minded strangers. Here are some new ones of note: Globetrooper Helps you connect with like-minded people (usually complete strangers) to plan experiences abroad. About 1,400 people, mostly Aussies, have "liked" the year-old service on Facebook so far. Vacation Relation This is for Spring Breakers only. Teaming up with StudentCity shortly, this site will let young people find out if their far-flung friends are going to be at a warm-weather destination at the same time as they are. Travel with Spirit Want to do some faith-based traveling with a fellow Christian? Post an ad in the forums of this site, which also spotlights nifty package trips and suggests destination ideas. Rent a Friend Yes, it's come to this. People in cities around the world offer their time on an hourly basis to accompany you to attractions, etc. A $20 an hour rate is common. MORE FROM BUDGET TRAVEL Scavenger hunts by cell phone are all the rage The ultimate app tool kit London: Royal wedding-themed vacations