Travel News: Fake Hotel Reviews Can Land You in Jail, Christmas Flight Booking Tips, and the World's Best Wine List Is in Tennessee
From the shadier-than-you-thought world of online hotel reviews to expert data-driven strategies for nabbing holiday flight bargains to an award-winning restaurant wine list in an unexpected place, this week’s travel news is all about surprises that may change your travel assumptions.
FAKE HOTEL REVIEWS CAN LAND YOU IN JAIL
We’ve always known that writing fake hotel reviews is wrong. But now somebody is actually going to do time for it. The owner of an Italian company, PromoSalento, that accepted money from hotels to post fake reviews on TripAdvisor has been sentenced to nine months in prison and fined more than $9,000. TripAdvisor has been investigating and removing fake reviews by PromoSalento since 2015. If TripAdvisor notifies a hotel that it is engaging in fake reviews and the hotel fails to act, users are warned that the hotel may be manipulating its reviews. The jail sentence for writing fake reviews is the first of its kind.
CHRISTMAS FLIGHT BOOKING TIPS
With fewer than 100 days until Christmas, we reached out to our data-crunching friends at Skyscanner.com, the global travel search engine, who have collated and analyzed data from its more than 60 million monthly users to deliver the 411 on holiday air travel:
- Best week to buy domestic Christmas flights: This week (September 17 - 23), with potential savings of 15 percent.
- Best month to book domestic Christmas flights: September
- Worst weeks to book domestic Christmas flights: December 17 - 23.
THE BEST WINE LIST IN THE WORLD IS IN TENNESSEE
The World of Fine Wine, in association with Gaggenau, has announced the 2018 World’s Best Wine Lists Awards winners, and we were psyched to see that the winner of the Wine List of the Year 2018 is The Barn at Blackberry Farm, Walland, Tennessee. The awards are based on a wine list’s “breadth, depth, interest, quality, value, clarity and accuracy.” And while you might assume that the world’s finest wine list might be developed in, say, Tuscany, the Loire, or Napa, Blackberry Farm’s list of more than 9,000 selections was developed in the Great Smoky Mountains of Eastern Tennessee.
Travel News: Airport Security Bins Are Dirtier Than Toilet Seats, Celebrate National Bourbon Heritage Month, Save During NYC’s Off-Broadway Week
From a hair-raising study of those filthy airport security bins (and how you can keep yourself and your loved ones safe) to a great reason to raise a glass of the all-American libation, bourbon, this month to a two-for-one ticket deal that NYC culture vultures will snap up, this week’s travel news is all about escaping the everyday. AIRPORT SECURITY BINS ARE DIRTIER THAN TOILET SEATS We have some not-so-great news for germaphobes –and, sorry to say, everyone else, too. A recent study conducted by Finnish and British researchers reveals that the plastic bins used to inspect personal items at airport security have as much of a 50 percent chance of carrying the viruses that cause upper respiratory infections. Based on swabs taken at Helsinki Airport at three points during the 2015-2016 flu season, the surface of as many as one of every two bins, which are typically handled with a strong, open-palm grip, contain rhinovirus or adenovirus, the culprits that cause cold- and flu symptoms. This is a much higher rate of contamination than toilet seats in airports because bathrooms are cleaned much more frequently. But there is a glint of good news to come out of all this. The scientists write in the paper, which was published in the BioMed Central Infectious Diseases journal, says, "This knowledge helps in the recognition of hot spots for contact transmission risk, which could be important during an emerging pandemic threat or severe epidemic." Meantime, be sure to wash your hands after you get through security and, out of respect to your fellow passengers, maybe wash them before the TSA check, too. Now, we’d like to know who’s studying the carpet square in the body scan machine that many passengers stand on barefoot? CELEBRATE NATIONAL BOURBON HERITAGE MONTH Believe it or not, there have been times in U.S. history when lawmakers reached across the aisle to get things done. This month, we celebrate one of those moments: In 2007, senators voted nearly unanimously to pass a bill that declared September National Bourbon Heritage Month. Resolution 294, as the bill is known, is a reinforcement of the 1964 Bourbon Act, a Congressional decree that recognized bourbon as America’s only “native spirit” and established a legal definition and guidelines for production. Among those guidelines: bourbon whiskey can be made anywhere in America—not only Kentucky—and must be distilled from at least 51 percent corn and aged in brand-new charred American oak barrels. The 2007 bill is a salute to the spirit’s deeply entrenched role in American history as well as its past and present impact on commerce. While there are small independent distilleries in every state today producing bourbon, the most important, historic distilleries are in Kentucky, where there are 1.5 barrels aging per each of the 4.5 million people living there. That accounts for 95 percent of the world’s supply, making it an $8.5 billion industry. The drink has become such a source of intrigue that an entire tourism industry has evolved around it. In 1999, the Kentucky Distillers' Association established the Kentucky Bourbon Trail, a road-trip-style experience. New smaller distilleries that have opened throughout the state over the subsequent years led to the creation of the Kentucky Bourbon Trail Craft Tour in 2012. A few years later, the outstanding whiskey bars in Louisville came together to establish the Urban Bourbon Trail, arguably the best bar crawl in the USA. So head to Kentucky and hop on one of those trails or head to your local watering hole and order a glass of bourbon on the rocks. If anyone questions your motives, tell them it’s your civic duty. SAVE DURING NYC’S OFF-BROADWAY WEEK Theater buffs headed to New York can save big thanks to NYC Off-Broadway Week, with two-for-one tickets on sale now for 38 Off-Broadway productions between September 24 and October 7, 2018. A few examples of the theatrical gems available at half price include Avenue Q, Drunk Shakespeare, and Stomp. Learn more, and purchase tickets, at nycgo.com/off-broadway-week.
Travel News: 10 Tasty Food Festivals for Autumn 2018
Apples and pumpkin-spiced everything are as much a part of autumn as foliage and trick-or-treating, but there's more to seasonal flavors than oversize gourds and crisp early-harvest McIntoshes. Throughout the U.S. and the Caribbean, local and regional culinary customs have become reasons to celebrate--some of them distinct and intriguing enough for hungry travelers to check out and see for themselves. We rounded up 10 unique and delicious events that are worth the trip this gorgeous season. 1. Festival and Flavor: Beer, Food & Football: Foley, AL Fall weekends were pretty much made for college football in Alabama, so you better believe that a food festival on a Saturday in Alabama is going to feature plenty of pigskin. The Festival and Flavor event, which is taking place for the seventh year in Foley, about 40 miles southeast of Mobile, near the Gulf Shore, will have televisions broadcasting the day’s games so fans don’t have to miss a beat as they sample bites from area food trucks and local restaurants and chefs. And that’s to say nothing about the wine and beer that will be poured. Each entrance ticket comes with three drinks and unlimited food. Additionally, jewelry, soaps and oils, pottery, and heaps more from local makers will be on sale. ($20 adults, $10 kids under 13; October 6, alabamafestivalofflavor.com) 2. Harvest Festival at El Ranch de las Golondrinas: Santa Fe, NM New Mexico’s traditions, from crafts to food, are the draw at this Harvest Festival, which takes place at Santa Fe's El Ranch de las Golondrinas, a sprawling, living history museum devoted to preserving the traditions of Hispanic culture of Spanish colonial, Mexican, and Territorial New Mexico during the 18th and 19th centuries. Throughout the festival weekend, El Ranch, which consists of over 30 historical buildings and agricultural fields on 200 acres, becomes a flurry of museum staffers and volunteers dressed up as “villagers” and leading guests in time-honored activities, like crushing grapes by foot in deerskin vats (kids only, please), pressing apples for cider, making tortillas, and grinding sorghum for molasses. There’s also an artists' market, live music, and mule-drawn carriage rides. ($8 adults, kids under 12 free; October 6-7, golondrinas.org/festivals/harvest-festival) 3. Hometown Homegrown: Pittsburgh, PA It’s fitting that the John Heinz History Center, an institution named for the late senator, Pittsburgh native son, and descendant of the ketchup kingpin. After all, is there any food item more popular than that iconic condiment? Pittsburgh’s food scene is quickly gaining visibility on the national radar, and all the reasons why are available for sampling at Hometown Homegrown. Local chefs, food purveyors, distillers, and brewers will be on hand for the one-day event, where they’ll participate in cooking demos and showcase their specialties—not to mention their hometown pride. With tables organized by neighborhood, the expo provides a flavorful map of Steel City’s exciting and ever-evolving culinary landscape. ($16; October 20, goodtastepittsburgh.com/hometown-homegrown) 4. Sauerkraut Festival: Waynesville, OH It was October 1970 when the Waynesville Retail Merchants served a sauerkraut dinner as part of a sidewalk sale. About 1,500 visitors indulged in 528 pounds of fermented cabbage during that inaugural meal, and now, nearly half a century later, the annual event draws some 350,000 visitors who collectively consume no less than seven tons of sauerkraut—and not just piled on bratwurst. Yes, you can get cabbage rolls and a Reuben—from a variety of vendors, in fact—but some maverick chefs have been known to push boundaries, dishing out sauerkraut pizza, brownies, pies, donuts, and bread. There are local purveyors selling non-cabbage nourishment too, with 450-plus vendors from 25 states offering handmade goods and art over the course of the two-day event. (Free; October 13-14, sauerkrautfestial.waynesvilleohio.com) 5. Cranberry Fest: Eagle River, WI The berry that’s all too often relegated to juice or pigeonholed in its role as a Thanksgiving dinner side dish gets the spotlight during the first weekend in October at the Cranberry Fest in Eagle River, Wisconsin, about 100 miles south of Lake Superior. Tours of the nearby cranberry marsh will run Thursday through Sunday and include shuttle transportation (reservations required). But on the weekend, you can try more cranberry food and drink than you ever imagined—cranberry brats, char-broiled chicken sandwiches, soups, beer, and baked goods. In fact, there’s an entire tent where you can buy sweet treats to take home for later. And that’s to say nothing of the 10,000 pounds of fresh local cranberries and craisins expected to be sold that weekend. Add to that live music and nearly 300 vendors selling original arts and crafts, as well as dining and shopping activities off the festival grounds, and you’ll end up with enough to do to fill the whole weekend. (Free; October 6-7, eagleriver.org/featured/cranberry-fest) 6. Harvest Fair: Bristol, RI Leave it to a New England institution to show you how farmers lived, circa 18th century. And in Bristol, a harbor town established in 1680 that became a seafaring commerce and industry hub in the subsequent two centuries, farming life was vibrant, so history is rich. Coggeshall Farm Museum preserves it magnificently year-round and during special events, like the 45th annual Harvest-to-Table Fair combines old-world regional foodways (see: johnnycakes, a signature of the museum’s eatery) with a showcase of the area’s contemporary food scene. East Bay chefs will be presenting samples of seasonal dishes, largely made with local ingredients. But back to the 18th century. There will be plenty of ways for kids to get a sense of life back then with pony rides, hayrides and art and craft activities. (Free; October 14, coggeshallfarm.org/events-programs-and-workshops) 7. Chicago Gourmet: Chicago, IL (chicagogourmet.org)Chicago’s high-profile, Bon Appetit-sponsored culinary fest is just over a week away, and while the weekend’s main event is sold out (and at $310 a head, it wasn’t exactly budget-friendly to begin with), you can still snag tickets to some mouth-wateringly tempting ancillary affairs. The crowd-favorite Hamburger Hop may be at capacity, but tickets for the after-party—dubbed Late Night Gourmet, with small bites, cocktails, a dance floor, and DJ-driven beats—are still available. Blues, Booze & Bites at River Roast takes the “chefs are the new rock stars” meme literally, with an assortment of local talent serving up snacks and suds as everyone rocks out on the waterfront. Perhaps most relevant to the peripatetic set is Global StrEATS, a celebration of international street fare from Chicago chefs of wide-ranging cultural influences. But if only the main event will do, day passes are still available for Sunday, but they’re going fast, so you’ll want to grab them asap. (From $40 for individual events; Sept. 28-30, chicagogourmet.org) 8. New York African Week Food Festival, New York, NY Historic Harlem plays host to the Taste of Africa Festival, part of African Restaurant Week. Flavors from all over the continent will be shared by more than 25 area restaurants and food purveyors. Plus chefs from far and wide, as well as down the block, are part of a packed schedule of food demos. But this festival is about more than eating your way through a mid-October Saturday. Check out the fashion, beauty, and cultural items for sale and DJ sessions as you learn everything you never thought to ask about the foodways of many different African nations. (From $12; Oct. 13, purchase tickets here.) 9. Toast of Brooklyn: Brooklyn, NY Few places in the United States are more culturally diverse than Queens and Brooklyn, a fact that manifests in the rich culinary landscape of each borough. The bounty of the latter takes center stage at the annual Toast of Brooklyn, which started in 2007 as a celebration of the socioeconomic revitalization of Bedford Stuyvesant. Today it takes place at the William Vale, a sleek boutique hotel in the ultra-hip Williamsburg neighborhood. The walk-around tasting, a fundraiser, will include bites from chefs who helm area restaurants. Accompany those with what promises to be an exciting assortment of beer and spirits, from small batch Brooklyn-made hooch to familiar global brands. There are two tasting sessions (12:30pm-4:30pm; 5:30pm to 9:30pm) ($60; thetoastofbrooklyn.com, Nov. 13) 10. St. Bart's Gourmet Festival: Saint Bart’s, West Indies One year after hurricanes Irma and Maria wreaked havoc on the Caribbean, Saint Bart’s is bouncing back. Most of the the island’s villas and hotels have reopened for business, and its pricier signature resorts are slated to welcome guests within the next few months—just in time for the fifth-annual St. Bart’s Gourmet Festival in early November. The four-day event features multi-course tasting menus from Michelin-starred French chefs for the high-rollers and free activities everyone else. Cheer on local mixologists at the bartender competition, support aspiring pastry masters at Les Petites Toques, where kids 15 and under battle for dessert supremacy; check out the Chefs Challenge, a cook-off judged by this year’s guest chefs; and take in La Course des Garçons de Café, in which business-attire-clad servers race down the street bearing trays laden with bottles and glasses, and the first to cross the finish line with their tray intact takes home the prize. (From $110 for fixed-price menus; November 1-4, stbarthgourmetfestival.com)
Travel News: Airline Baggage Fees Just Went Up, D.C.’s Black Restaurant Week, CityPASS Helps With Foliage Getaways
From the newly imposed checked-baggage fees at some (but not all) major carriers to an unexpected autumn benefit of CityPASS, plus a cool new restaurant week coming to the nation’s capital, this week’s travel news is all about giving you options that’ll save you money and open up new experiences. AIRLINE BAGGAGE FEES JUST WENT UP Let’s start with the good news: As we go to press, Southwest still allows you to check two bags for free. And Delta and American still charge $25 for your first checked bag and $35 for your second. The bad news for Budget Travelers is that United, JetBlue, WestJet, and Air Canada all raised their baggage fees over the past week or so, charging $30 for that first bag and $40 for the second. JetBlue is also raising its fee for a third checked bag from $100 to $150. You don’t need an 800 on the math SAT to see how this could affect, say, a family of four departing for a big trip, right? We suggest pricing postal and overnight delivery rates and researching door-to-door luggage shipping services to see how they compare with the new checked-bag fees. We’ll be doing the same, and sharing more baggage advice to fliers ASAP. D.C.’S BLACK RESTAURANT WEEK Washington. D.C., joins Houston, Philadelphia, New Orleans, and other U.S. foodie hotspots in hosting a restaurant week that celebrates African American culinary talent. The city's DMV Black Restaurant Week will run from November 4 to 11, showcasing some of D.C.'s top chefs and mixologists. In addition to the discounts you’d expect from a restaurant week, the event will also include panel discussions and awards. (An array of “restaurant week” organizations exist across the U.S. You can learn more about DMV Black Restaurant Week at dmvbrw.com.) CITYPASS HELPS WITH FOLIAGE GETAWAYS Sure, we appreciate CityPASS for its obvious benefits: Discounts and perks like line skipping at popular attractions in major cities. But this time of year, when the countryside turns from green to red, orange, and gold, you can take a CityPASS-fueled fall foliage road trip linking major cities via gorgeous drives decked out in autumnal finery. Just a few ideas include NYC toward Boston on the historic and often beautiful Merritt Parkway; NYC toward Philly in the Millstone Valley Scenic Byway; San Francisco to Seattle on the 101 Up the coast; or Houston to Dallas for the Pineywoods Autumn Trail (citypass.com).
Travel News: 100 Most Scenic Restaurants in America
We’ve been devouring OpenTable’s list if the 100 Most Scenic Restaurants in America, which is based on more than 12 million reviews of restaurants across the U.S. by “verified diners” (meaning the reviews were not written by the restaurants themselves or by public relations reps). The varying vistas these eateries offer range from seascapes, nature to city skylines to iconic landmarks. But even a quick glance at the list makes it clear that some of the most beautiful restaurant views come with a hefty price tag. With that in mind, we did a deeper dive into the scenic restaurants whose menu items are aimed a bit more at bargain seekers like us - those where dinner with a drink and tip will come in roughly under $30/person. The good news is there are plenty of affordable options in all regions of the U.S. Here, a few of the standouts (to learn more or book a reservation, look them up on OpenTable). THE WEST It’s no secret that Budget Travelers love California’s Central Coast, and Ventana Grill, right on the water in Pismo Beach, will knock you out with seascapes (ventana, after all, means “window” in Spanish), good prices, and great Latin American fare and, of course, seafood.. Beachcomber Cafe - Crystal Cove, in Newport Beach, CA, is right on the water and gets high marks for breakfast and beignets. Duke’s, in La Jolla and in Malibu, CA, wows visitors with its ambience and Hula Pie. El Five serves up a popular paella - not to mention breathtaking views of downtown Denver, CO. THE NORTHEAST Boat House Waterfront Dining, in Tiverton, RI, offers lobster fritters along with waterside views. Legal Harborside, in Boston, MA, is the place for fish and chips (and, do we have to say it… chowder), served, yes, harborside. Parc, on beautiful Rittenhouse Square, in Philadelphia, PA, gets raves for its French cuisine, including the cheesy, bubbly onion soup. THE MIDWEST The Bistro at Gervasi Vineyard, in Canton, OH, offers beautiful vineyard views plus a posh interior and, of course, great wine. Primavista serves affordable Italian food with sweeping views of Cincinnati, plus a bread pudding you should save some room for. THE SOUTH The Boathouse at Rocketts Landing, on the water in Richmond, VA, generates plenty of buzz for its shrimp and grits. Columbia Restaurant - SandKey, in Clearwater, FL, pours a popular sangria in an open, airy space with windows looking out on the water. Fleet Landing Restaurant & Bar, in Charleston, SC, focuses on seafood, including its ever-popular shrimp and grits.