Head to this City for Futuristic, AI-augmented Cultural Experiences
San Francisco's cultural heart beats just a few blocks from 'Cerebral Valley,' a nickname coined last year for the Hayes Valley neighborhood following an influx of Artificial Intelligence (AI) start-up activity. Civic Center is home to the city's most established performing arts institutions—America's oldest professional ballet company, San Francisco Ballet, the 101-year-old San Francisco Opera, and the 112-year-old San Francisco Symphony.
A tech revolution unfolding outside the doorsteps of stately performing arts institutions may seem incongruent, but this is San Francisco, where innovation is the ethos. Artistic visionaries at those institutions, along with cultural leaders, curators, and artists throughout San Francisco, are at the forefront of leveraging AI and other technologies to push creative boundaries, forge new works, and enhance the audience experience. Often while exploring the profound implications of new technology.
As San Francisco Symphony Music Director Esa-Pekka Salonen explained it, “We're in San Francisco, the hotbed of invention and imagination…The Symphony is over 100 years old, lots of inventions that shape our everyday lives are made here. We're trying to combine those things.”
Premiering this winter and spring in San Francisco are a number of performances and exhibits incorporating technology or addressing its implications. Here are a few highlights to add to your next trip to the innovative, artistic city.
See an AI-inspired ballet
When San Francisco-based OpenAI gave ChatGPT to the world in late 2022 and ushered in the modern Artificial Intelligence (AI) revolution, was Pandora's box opened? The ethically complicated discovery and proliferation of AI was the inspiration for San Francisco Ballet's world-premiere commission, Mere Mortals, an immersive reimagining of the Pandora and Prometheus myths.
“Artificial intelligence continues to grow and evolve, and Mere Mortals will tackle the complicated issues and feelings as well as the exciting creative promise that this new technology holds,” said Tamara Rojo, SF Ballet's new artistic director. This is the first season programmed by Rojo.
The groundbreaking Mere Mortals viscerally explores the risks and opportunities of technological progress. Audience members can expect to be confronted with questions surrounding love, change, human connection, societal advancement, and more in the immersive experience.
Marking many 'firsts' for the company, including SF Ballet's first full-length commission from a female choreographer (Aszure Barton), Mere Mortals has been brought to life by an international collective of artists across disciplines. Performed by a 43-member cast, Mere Mortals pushes new boundaries in ballet with gender-neutral principal pairing, AI-influenced stage design, and live mixing of electronic and classical instrumentation. The work marks the first-ever composition of a ballet score by Floating Points (a.k.a Sam Shepherd), an accomplished U.K.-based artist, composer, and producer who creates transportive sonic environments. He will be performing alongside the SF Ballet Orchestra on the Buchla, a synthesizer created in the Bay Area in 1963, which will interpret and loop the orchestra's instrumentation live each night. An after-party follows each evening's 75-minute performance. (Mere Mortals premieres on Jan. 26. Performances are scheduled through Feb. 1 at the War Memorial Opera House.)
Experience a multi-sensory symphony
Myth also takes the stage at the San Francisco Symphony, which premieres a multisensory performance of Alexander Scriabin's Prometheus, The Poem of Fire on March 1. Devised by SF Symphony Music Director Esa-Pekka Salonen, pianist Jean-Yves Thibaudet, and Cartier in-house perfumer Mathilde Laurent, the dynamic musical and light performance and olfactory curation aim to realize Scriabin's unrealized vision of a genuinely synesthetic work.
"Scriabin scored Prometheus for light and color as well as music, but one of his dreams was to add more senses to the score, including scent. This idea has always fascinated me, as somebody who has always loved working together with artists from a variety of disciplines," said Thibaudet. "I am excited that we now have the technology to bring Scriabin's dream to life, and to be a part of this project with Esa-Pekka and Mathilde. This project shows us what is possible when there is collaboration within the arts: how different art forms and different senses can enrich one another, and in doing so enrich our lives and our experiences both inside and outside of the concert hall.” (March 1-3 at Davies Symphony Hall.)
In April, SF Symphony collaborative partner and roboticist Carol Reiley is curating a first-of-its-kind, human-machine interactive SoundBox program showcasing various Artificial Intelligence (AI) uses. Press Play: Carol Reiley and the Robots is designed as a fun, human-centered experience with audience participation. SF Symphony's experimental live music SoundBox series is a laboratory for the exploration of new musical ideas and immersive audience experiences that continuously push the envelope with adventurous programming and innovative design. (April 5 and 6 in SF Symphony's 7,600-square-foot warehouse-like rehearsal space adjacent to Davies Symphony Hall.)
Encounter experimental fashion
The Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco teamed up with Snap Inc. to debut an interactive augmented reality installation at the de Young for its new major exhibition, Fashioning San Francisco: A Century of Style, which opened on Jan. 20. The de Young is the first museum in the U.S. to feature Snap's AR Mirrors, which let visitors “try on” three couture ensembles featured in the exhibit by the late French designer Yves Saint Lauren, Italian designer Valentino, and Chinese-American Bay Area-based designer Kaisik Wong.
Fashioning San Francisco presents the work of more than 50 fashion designers, from Balmain to Miyake, Valentino to McQueen, with the majority of the over 90 ensembles on view for the first time. The exhibit chronicles how style in the Bay Area has evolved over generations and its role as a marker of social identity. Spanning a century of high fashion and haute couture worn by Bay Area women, fashions range from bohemian styles and power suits to LBDs (Little Black Dresses) and elegant evening wear.
The Fine Arts Museums are home to one of the most significant holdings of 20th and 21st-century high fashion and haute couture in the U.S. San Franciscans have a long-standing history of being among the first to embrace the experimental in dress, both supporting and wearing designers with a knack for the radical. Japanese designers such as Rei Kawakubo, Issey Miyake, Junya Watanabe, and Yohji Yamamoto are featured in a section that explores the avant-garde creatives who redefined conventional fashion. Fashioning San Francisco also explores the work of Western designers inspired by the aesthetics of Asian, African, and other international cultures to address cultural appropriation and its contemporary discourse. (On view at the de Young through Aug. 11.)
Grab coffee with a robot
Not far from the Museum of Craft and Design, guests of Mission Bay's LUMA Hotel San Francisco can receive their morning coffee delivery from new OG robotic team members Lumie and Lucy. The robotic duo is fitted with custom 3D-printed inserts that enable them to carry hot beverages ordered via QR code from guestrooms. But one day will these robots become collaborators? The Museum of Craft and Design's upcoming exhibition, Mr. Roboto, tests creative possibilities through a new showcase of design activities and experiments.
“The work in Mr. Roboto expands the customary role of the robot… by inviting the robot to be a collaborator, not just an executor of repetitive or dangerous tasks, we create possibilities, discover ways of making, develop design innovation, experiment with materials, and forge a future that we could not build alone,” said Virginia San Fratello, who guest curated the exhibition along with Eleanor Pries.
Featuring experiments conducted by approximately 60 San José State University students, the exhibition demonstrates how designers and robots can work together to generate new ways of creating the world around us. Over 100 objects, including 28 3-D printed textiles, 26 robotic letterform drawings, 36 robotic light paintings, and a robot-aided stop-motion animation, will be featured, highlighting how this type of education and experience can open the door to the future of craft and design for the next generation. (On view Feb. 24 through June 30 at the Museum of Craft and Design.)
Watch a play about the ethics of a digital era
The American Conservatory Theater (A.C.T.) is staging the world premiere of Big Data, a play exploring questions of attention, connection, nourishment, and the dizzying possibilities of AI. Do our devices—tantalizingly incarnate in this funny, sexy, uncanny premiere—really know us best? Are our digital footprints predictive of our future choices, or are they choosing for us? The play explores these questions with a cast that includes Tony Award winner BD Wong.
A.C.T. Artistic Director Pam MacKinnon, who will direct the play, said, “[Playwright] Kate Attwell has written a play so topical about how AI is rapidly and maybe forever changing how we interact and think about what we want…I am also grateful that while the Bay and the world wrestle with the fundamental ethics of where we are headed, that this play is in the wrestle too.” (Feb. 15 to March 10 at A.C.T.'s Toni Rembe Theater)
Visit a thought-provoking museum
The family-friendly Misalignment Museum opened last fall in Thrive City, the 11-acre plaza surrounding Chase Center. The pop-up installation showcases the capabilities of AI technology through thought-provoking, interactive art pieces. Through dynamic and playful art pieces such as Spambots and Paperclip Embrace, the museum is a space to learn about AI and reflect on its power for both destruction and good. (Free entry. Open Thursday and Friday from 4 to 8 pm and Saturday and Sunday from 2 to 5 pm.)
February is Black History Month, and if you're looking for an excellent destination to celebrate, head to the Sunshine State. Events in Orlando, Florida kick off in late January and continue throughout February with commemorations and celebrations of African American history and culture, available throughout 2024. With limited-time exhibitions and live performances – along with year-round cultural attractions, tours through historic towns and landmarks, and a robust collection of Black-owned businesses – the destination offers a range of opportunities for locals and visitors to experience the inspiring, rich culture of the African American community. Catch limited-time Black History Month events Amina Scott quartet - courtesy of Visit Orlando Central Florida locals and visitors can pay tribute to African American culture through exclusive musical performances, art exhibits and more. Some highlights include: The 35th Annual ZORA! Outdoor Festival of the Arts, (Jan. 26-28) featuring live performances, an international marketplace, arts and craft booths, and more, takes place in the historic town of Eatonville, the first African American incorporated municipality in the United States. The Hannibal Square Heritage Center is the permanent home for the Heritage Collection: Photographs and Oral Histories of Winter Park, which will unveil new images and oral histories collected by historian Peter Schreyer to depict life in Winter Park's Hannibal Square in the mid-1990s. The new additions will be on view Jan. 15 – June 1. The Dr. Phillips Center for the Performing Arts presents two performances by the Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater (Jan. 30-31). The beloved modern dance company is celebrating its 65th season with special performances lovingly created by Amy Hall Garner, granddaughter of Alvin Ailey. The African Americans and the Arts Exhibition (Feb. 2 – March 31) at the Terrace Gallery at Orlando City Hall presents an opportunity for local artists to showcase African American history and celebrate the many lasting contributions Black Americans have had on visual arts, performing arts, literature, film, music and cultural movements.The Orange County Regional History Center's Black History Month commemoration will include History Alive: Bessie Coleman Aviation Adventure (Feb. 3), a special tribute to America's first Black and Native American woman pilot and her impact on Central Florida's aviation history. The Sanford Jazz Ensemble's Black History Month Concert (Feb. 11) at the historic Ritz Theater at Wayne Densch Performing Arts Center in Sanford will showcase musical genres like Motown and classic jazz, and celebrate acclaimed African American musicians such as Marvin Gaye, Smokey Robinson, The 4 Tops, The Temptations, Michael Jackson, Earth Wind & Fire and more. Timucua Amplifies Black Voices is a three-day event (Feb. 16 – 18) at the Timucua Arts Foundation in downtown Orlando's SoDo District that will offer performances by jazz musician Solomon Jaye, percussionist Britton Rene Collins, singer Jarred Amstrong Trio, The DeAndre Lettsome Quartet and singer Brandon Martin, and conclude with the Authentic Selves Poetry and Open Mic Night. Who's Bad: The Ultimate Michael Jackson Experience (Feb. 16) comes to House of Blues Orlando. The musical act, performed by the longest-running Michael Jackson cover band, features songs from the expansive catalogue of the unrivaled King of Pop. Enjoy year-round African American cultural attractions Hannibal Square Heritage Center - courtesy of Visit Orlando Beyond Black History Month, Orlando offers opportunities to learn about African American culture and local history throughout the year. Just outside the tourism districts, the historic town of Eatonville – home to celebrated author Zora Neale Hurston – was one of the country's first self-governing African American communities. Today, it honors Hurston's memory with the Zora Neale Hurston National Museum of Fine Arts (aka The Hurston) and the annual ZORA! Festival (Jan. 7 - Jan. 28) with other events throughout the year, including HATitude Cultural Flair (Oct. 19) and Gathering & Gabbing Zora Neale Hurston Book Club (Feb. 17, March 16 & May 18). The Hurston also displays work by legendary and emerging artists of African descent. The only Commercial National Registered Historic District in Orlando, Parramore is Orlando's oldest and largest African American neighborhood with a diverse collection of historic buildings like the Wells' Built Hotel, now the Wells' Built Museum of African American History and Culture, dedicated to preserving the memory of Orlando's African American heritage with Civil Rights artifacts and memorabilia. The Orange County Regional History Center features a permanent African American history exhibit highlighting the triumphs and tragedies of African Americans in Central Florida's past, along with luminous paintings of Florida's Highwaymen, a group of acclaimed African American landscape artists. A community founded for black families in 1881, Historic Hannibal Square is home to the Hannibal Square Heritage Center, which welcomes visitors to explore the district's origins and offers guided walking tours of the historic landmarks of “West Winter Park,” describing the hardships and the triumphs of the African American community from the 1900s to the present. Visitors can also experience small-business shopping, free yoga, food and music during the SOKO Marketplace every Saturday morning, where proceeds support the development of culturally relevant programming for the historic African American community of Hannibal Square.Visitors and locals can join Juneteenth (June 19) celebrations throughout Orlando, particularly in Eatonville and Hannibal Square. Also known as Freedom Day, Jubilee Day, Liberation Day and Emancipation Day, Juneteenth commemorates the official end of slavery in the United States. Dine and shop at Black-owned restaurants and businesses A mural in Eatonville - courtesy of Visit Orlando With an exploding food scene, Orlando is home to a multitude of Black-owned restaurants offering flavors across various cuisines – from traditional to contemporary and beyond, along with locally owned businesses with specialized services. BBQ and southern food fans can dine at Orlando Famous Pete's BBQ in Downtown Orlando on the weekends and Brick & Spoon in Maitland. For seafood or wings, visitors can support Big Lou's Single Wing Express in Downtown Orlando; Stonington's Fried Shrimp in Metro West and Altamonte Springs; and Mad Crab Seafood & Wings in Eatonville. Chicken Fire in Orlando specializes in Nashville-style hot chicken.For delicious Carribean-inspired eats, foodies can enjoy Mark's Jamaican Bar & Grill or Island Thyme Carribean Grille in East Orlando, or Oley's Kitchen & Smokehouse in Downtown Orlando.Those looking for soul food can visit Nikki's Place and P&D Soul Food Kitchen in Downtown Orlando, and Soul Food Fantasy in Eatonville. For a healthier kick, there's Vitality Bowls in the Dr. Phillips area. And for a sweeter option, head to downtown Orlando for custom flavors from the doughnut bar at Pattie Lou's Donuts or the award-winning Sister Honey's serving all kinds of sugary delights, including pies, cookies and pastries.Other Black-owned eateries include East Orlando's Streetwise Urban Food – serving urban favorites in a family-friendly, casual atmosphere – and Downtown Orlando's The District GastroBar – paying homage to old world American taste and cuisine – where legendary musicians like Ella Fitzgerald, Louis Armstrong, Ray Charles and B.B. King performed at the South Street Casino that once stood nearby.The Pretty Peacock Paperie specializes in custom stationery and invitations in Winter Park, while the Naked Bar Soap Co. offers all-natural bath and body care products made from sustainable ingredients. Bloom in Glory is a full-service floral design company. —Additional information on Orlando's Black History Month and year-long events can be found at VisitOrlando.com.
With 300 days of sunshine, world-class dining, a thriving cultural scene and endless outdoor adventure, Denver, Colorado is the perfect destination to for an epic vacation. Take advantage of the beautiful winter season and use the tips below to plan your next trip to the Mile High City. Along with classic favorites, there are plenty of great new restaurants, hotels and attractions to check out this year. Dine at new and award-winning restaurants Colorado state flags decorate a street in Denver by Logan Bonjean - Unsplash MICHELIN recognized 26 Denver restaurants in their inaugural and highly anticipated Colorado-based Guide this past September. The famously anonymous MICHELIN Guide inspectors selected a diverse range of restaurants across the city that exude culinary excellence. Denver joins Boulder, Aspen and Snowmass Village, the Town of Vail and Beaver Creek Resort in the Colorado MICHELIN Guide, the eighth Guide destination in North America. In addition to being the home of many fine-dining restaurants, the Denver area has a number of new and soon-to-open establishments that are worth checking out. Alama Fonda is a new restaurant by chef Johnny Curiel in the Lower Highlands Neighborhood north of Downtown Denver. The intimate space offers Mexican dishes deriving from Curiel's upbringing.After winning season five of Top Chef, Hosea Rosenberg opened Blackbelly Market in Boulder, which received a MICHELIN Green Star. Rosenberg is opening a second Blackbelly Market location on Tennyson Street in Denver in late February 2024.Corsica is planning to heat up the Denver restaurant scene this season, serving coastal French- and Italian-inspired shareable plates. The space will also feature wine, cocktails and aperitifs in what was once a warehouse transformed into a central bar and dining room with private dining options.A new concept in Lower Downton Denver (LoDo) is opening February 2024. Wonderyard Garden + Table is inspired by The Secret Garden and The Great Gatsby and will feature indoor and outdoor spaces with birdcage booths, teacup tables and a repurposed turntable “carousel." Of course, long-time favorites such as downtown's Tavernetta, Cherry Creek's Barolo Grill and many more serve up delicious meals in cozy environments this season and are a staple on any Denver itinerary. For a complete list of Denver's best restaurants, bars, breweries, distilleries and more, head to the Visit Denver. Book a trendy hotel stay A colorful mural in Denver by Pieter Van de Sande - Unsplash Denver's Kimpton Hotel Born rebranded as the Limelight Hotel in spring 2023. The Limelight Denver is under the operation of Aspen Hospitality, the hospitality division of Aspen Skiing Company. Conveniently located adjacent to Denver's Union Station, the hotel is the first urban location for the Limelight brand and joins the existing Limelight portfolio in Aspen and Snowmass, CO., and Ketchum, Idaho making it the perfect complement for a Colorado winter vacation. The new Acoma House, Denver's premier boutique art hotel, is in the vibrant Golden Triangle district. Guests can immerse themselves in a one-of-a-kind experience as they step into 24 custom rooms, each thoughtfully designed by a unique artist. Head to the Halcyon in Cherry Creek for Denver's new rooftop skating experience complete with breathtaking views of the Mile High City. Guests can also gather for a dip in the rooftop hot tub, enjoy hot beverages and bites, warm blankets and more. Immerse yourself in the arts The Denver Art Museum by Acton Crawford - Unsplash The Denver Center for the Performing Arts (DCPA) boasts an impressive calendar of performances and events this season including Jesus Christ Superstar, Chicago, Cebollas and more. And do not miss DCPA's Off-Center's Space Explorers: THE INFINITE at the Hanger in Stanley Marketplace Feb. 3- May 5. The Denver Art Museum's (DAM) exhibit, Amoako Boafo: Soul of Black Folks is on display through Feb. 19. This is the debut solo exhibition for Ghanaian artist Amoako Boafo, featuring more than 30 of Boafo's creations between 2016 and 2022 telling stories about the beauty and complexity of Black life. While you are at the DAM, check out the All Stars: American Artists from The Phillips Collection through March 3, which highlights some of the best American art from one of the most celebrated collections in the United States. See landmark works by more than 50 artists, including Jackson Pollock, Georgia O'Keeffe, Jacob Lawrence, Childe Hassam and more. Meanwhile, the Museum of Contemporary Art's (MCA) exhibit Cowboy speaks to the museum's ambition to challenge, revise and reconceive how such a myth originated and might be probed in exciting, courageous and nuanced ways. It brings together loans and new commissions from 27 artists representing a wide range of perspectives, including Asian American, Latinx and Native American/Indigenous. The Museum of Illusions is new to downtown Denver. The space offers an intriguing visual, sensory and educational experience with illusions ranging from tried-and-true classics to the never-before seen. Guests will enjoy more than 80 visual and educational exhibits featuring holograms, stereograms, optical illusions and immersive rooms that are designed to tease the senses and trick the mind. The season brings many blockbuster concerts to Ball Arena including Enrique Iglesias, Pitbull and Ricky Martin on Feb. 13, Nicki Minaj on March 3, and Madonna on March 19. For more intimate concerts, check out Denver's Gothic, Bluebird or Ogden theater's line-up. There is something for every music taste. And don't miss Icelantic's Return to the Rocks on April 19, 2024 with IceCube, The Game, BoneThugsNHarmony, and Living Legends. Learn more here. Enjoy family-friendly activities Snow adorns the lawn around the State Capitol building by Shelby Ireland - Unsplash Alongside new things in Denver, there are many beloved winter activities, events and traditions perfect for the whole family. Feel the energy at Ball Area this season with the 2023 NBA Finals Champions, the Denver Nuggets, the 2022 Stanley Cup winners, the Colorado Avalanche or the Colorado Mammoth lacrosse team. Bring the whole family along for your Denver adventure with a wide array of kid-friendly activities. Head to the Denver Zoo to see more than 3,000 animals including elephants, orangutans, lions and more. Visit the Denver Museum of Nature & Science to explore fossils and dinosaurs, ponder the mysteries of space at Gates Planetarium, discover Egyptian mummies and watch larger-than-life films at the Phipps IMAX 3D Theater. The Downtown Aquarium is a perfect spot for kids to awe at astounding marine life, feed the stingrays, pan for gold, see a mermaid show or become a marine biologist for a day. Experience winter in the Rockies Snow across the mountains and red rock around Denver by Ravi Patel - Unsplash Denver is the perfect winter destination, with a backdrop of the beautiful Rocky Mountains. Head northwest to the Boulder Flatirons or Rocky Mountain National Park to enjoy iconic stretches of scenic trails and spots that offer spectacular views. Try out cross-country skiing or snowshoeing in nearby Idaho Springs, Estes Park or Golden. Or hop on the Winter Park Express Ski Train to enjoy mountain adventures without the hassle of renting a car and driving on mountain roads. Service for the seasonal train began January 12 and will run through the weekend of March 29 with departures each Friday, Saturday and Sunday. The train leaves from downtown Denver at Denver Union Station at 7 am and arrives at the mountain at 9 am. The return trip departs Winter Park at 4:30 pm and arrives in Denver at 6:40 pm, so it is a great option for a weekend or day trip. Bring the whole family because kids ride for 50% off! After a full day of outdoor adventures, return to the city and have a feast at an award-winning restaurant, grab a craft beer along the Denver Beer Trail or explore the city's vibrant neighborhoods, teeming with arts, culture and urban flair. Browse adventure day trip ideas and more on the Visit Denver website.
Where to Celebrate Mardi Gras 2024
This year, Mardi Gras falls on February 13, 2024—but you can catch parades, festivals, and celebrations starting weeks before the big day and, in some locations, the party even keeps going through the spring. Parade down coastal Mississippi Mardi Gras parade in Coastal Mississippi - courtesy of Play Coastal Missisippi Coastal Mississippi kicks off the 2024 Mardi Gras season with a stellar lineup of parades, balls, and specialty events beginning in January and ending on 'Fat Tuesday' February 13. Much loved Mardi Gras traditions, including colorful parades featuring costumed revelers, colorful beads, king cakes, and the vibrant rhythms of Zydeco music filling the air welcome Mardi Gras aficionados and new enthusiasts to enjoy unforgettable experiences and manageable gatherings in a family friendly atmosphere. Known for its picturesque beaches, coastal charm, and lively atmosphere, the 62-mile coastline of Coastal Mississippi will host dozens of events across the tri-county region, including its oldest parade, the Gulf Coast Carnival Association's Annual Mardi Gras Parade on Fat Tuesday, as well as the Children's Walking Parade, and the unique Jeep-a-Gras featuring hundreds of Jeeps parading down the coast. Travelers can celebrate from sun-up to sundown with family-friendly experiences, coronation balls, several spectacular parades, festive waterfront celebrations, live music, and, of course, world-renowned Gulf-to-table Coastal Mississippi cuisine. Find a full list of 2024 Carnival events here. "Visitors to Coastal Mississippi can expect a rich tapestry of cultural experiences throughout our destination during the 2024 Mardi Gras celebration," said Judy Young, CEO of Coastal Mississippi Tourism. "With so many unique events spread across our 62-miles of shoreline, we hope all who come to celebrate this season of merriment with us will appreciate the vibrant energy and atmosphere of unity and celebration that only Coastal Mississippi can create." Coastal Mississippi Mardi Gras brings together locals and visitors annually for a fun and festive season of rich cultural heritage mixed with local characters and, of course, southern charm. Set against a backdrop of stunning beachfront sunsets, mild winter days, and coastal beauty, travelers are sure to find unique and unforgettable experiences for revelers of all ages. To start planning your 2024 Mardi Gras Vacation, visit CoastalMississippi.com. Party at the theme parks in Orlando, Florida Celebrate at the International Flavors of Carnaval - courtesy of Universal Orlando Resort Universal Orlando Resort invites guests to “laissez les bons temps rouler” (let the good times roll) from February 3rd through April 7th during Universal Mardi Gras: International Flavors of Carnaval. This year’s festivities present a vibrant Mardi Gras party like no other, featuring an expansive menu of sweet, savory, and spicy dishes inspired by New Orleans favorites and iconic Carnaval flavors from around the globe, a dazzling Mardi Gras parade featuring all-new, incredibly detailed floats inspired by elements, and - on select nights - live concerts by top names in music like DJ Khaled, Ava Max, Luis Fonsi and more. And guests can enjoy all of the fun as part of regular theme park admission to Universal Studios Florida. Watch a spectacular Mardi Gras concert lineup – This year’s spectacular concert series will feature ten live performances by some of the most popular names across all genres of music – including GRAMMY-winning artist DJ Khaled, the artist behind the mega-hit, “Sweet but Psycho” – Ava Max, and five-time Latin GRAMMY-winning artist Luis Fonsi. Performances will take place on select nights following the Mardi Gras parade at the Music Plaza stage, located in front of the thrilling Hollywood Rip Ride Rockit roller coaster. Catch the New Elements Parade Theme – This year’s Mardi Gras parade theme will bring the elements to life in six new, beautifully designed parade floats inspired by Earth, wind, fire, water, the sun and the moon. The new collection of element floats will join Universal’s traditional lineup of New Orleans-inspired floats to create this year’s parade – complete with high-energy music, dozens of performers donning elaborate costumes and tons of beads.Taste the International Flavors of Carnaval – Mardi Gras guests can savor the mouthwatering flavors of global Carnaval celebrations from New Orleans to Spain to China and beyond with an expansive menu featuring more than 60 tasting-sized items. While venturing throughout the parkwide celebration, guests will find kiosks featuring delicious culinary delicacies inspired by various locations from around the globe – including the classic Fried Green Tomato Po’boy and fan-favorite fluffy Beignets from New Orleans, Chicken Schnitzel from Germany, Chilaquiles Verdes from Mexico and so much more. The best way to experience the flavors of Mardi Gras is with the specialty Universal Orlando Resort Food and Beverage Card, which allows guests to taste and save more by paying $65 for a $75 card. Annual and Seasonal Passholders also receive special savings with the purchase of an exclusive $150 card for only $120. The Universal Orlando Resort Food and Beverage Card will be available for purchase at Mardi Gras food and beverage locations throughout Universal Studios Florida. The best way to experience Universal Mardi Gras is with a stay at one of Universal’s eight incredible hotels, where guests can enjoy exclusive benefits including Early Park Admission and complimentary transportation to the theme parks. Universal Orlando hotels will offer exclusive Mardi Gras food and beverages this season, such as theCrawfish and Andouille Sausage Egg Roll at Islands Dining Room in Loews Royal Pacific Resort, Mardi Gras Empanadas at Amatista Cookhouse in Loews Sapphire Falls Resort, Jambalaya at Beach Break Cafe in Universal’s Endless Summer Resort – Surfside Inn and Suites and more. Access to Universal Mardi Gras is included with regular theme park admission to Universal Studios Florida. Guests can now take advantage of these incredible offers to experience Mardi Gras and all that Universal Orlando’s theme parks have to offer: Florida and Georgia residents get two days free with the purchase of a 2-Park, 1-Day ticket – allowing them three days of access to Universal Studios Florida and Universal Islands of Adventure (click here to learn more). U.S., Canada and Latin America residents can enjoy two free days of admission to Universal Studios Florida and Universal Islands of Adventure with the purchase of a 2-Park, 2-Day ticket – giving them four days of theme park thrills (click here to learn more). Become a Universal Orlando Passholder and get three months free on any 2-Park or 3-Park Annual or Seasonal Pass. Universal Annual and Seasonal Passholders also receive exclusive event perks, including a complimentary Mardi Gras-themed magnet, access to a special viewing area to enjoy the Mardi Gras parade, food and beverage discounts up to 15% off, special merchandise and more. Click here to learn more. Plus, Universal Orlando Passholders and Florida residents can save 40% on rooms at all Universal Orlando hotels during select dates this Mardi Gras season. For more information about Universal Mardi Gras and additional offerings, like the Mardi Gras Float Ride and Dine Experience, visit www.UniversalOrlando.com/MardiGras. Head to the beach in Pensacola, Florida The iconic Mardi Gras celebrations will return to Pensacola with some of the destination's largest vibrantly decorated floats and family-friendly festivals, featuring live music, food, drinks, and free public access. As a city with deep Creole and French roots, it's no wonder Pensacola was the stomping grounds for one of the first Mardi Gras celebrations in the U.S. Visitors can enjoy special events such as the Mardi Gras Mambo featuring Flo Rida on January 26, 2024, the Pensacola Pawdi Gras on January 28, 2024, the Krewe of Lafitte Illuminated Parade on February 9, 2024, the Pensacola Grand Mardi Gras Parade on Feb. 10, 2024, and the Krewe of Wrecks Beach Parade on February 11, 2024. Celebrate big in New Orleans, Louisiana Carnaval parade in New Orleans by Library of Congress - Unsplash Of course, there's nothing like a classic: New Orleans is the quintessential destination for Mardi Gras. If you haven't yet booked a trip, take some sage advice from mardigrasneworleans.com: "Okay, so it's January, and you decide you want to visit New Orleans on Fat Tuesday. Should you even try? Yes! It is worth it, but just be prepared to spend a lot of time on the phone. Keep calling. Hotels have cancellations, and there are waiting lists. If you are persistent, you just may find a place somewhere." If you're willing to make the effort, visitors may still be about to book Mardi Gras packages and find hotel vacancies at BestNewOrleansHotels.com. Additionally, if you have some flexibility on travel dates, its important to know that the festivals begin well before Fat Tuesday—this is often when hotels will have the most availability, and you won't miss out on any of the fun (plus, you'll beat the crowds!). Be sure to book dining out, too; reservations fill up fast along parade routes. For a full list of parades and schedules, visit mardigrasneworleans.com..
Romantic Stays to Book with Your Valentine This Year
With Valentine's Day just around the corner, now is the perfect time to plan a romantic getaway for two. Each of the accommodations below feature charming details and luxurious amenities—perfect for the couples that simply want to stay in and enjoy each other's company. For those that want to get out in explore, these places are also each surrounded by beautiful scenery and located near top attractions. Waimea Plantation Cottages - Kauai, Hawaii A view from the porch of a cottage at Waimea Plantation Cottages - courtesy of Waimea Plantation Cottages Resort Established in 1884 as a dairy and then a working sugar cane plantation, Waimea Plantation Cottages was reborn as a resort in 1984. Each of the 59 cottages has a unique floor plan with comfortable Hawaii-style furnishings. Most of the historic cottages carry a nameplate next to the front doorframe with the surname of a plantation worker who once called the cottage home. The 43-acre property is landscaped with tropical plants, trees, and expansive green lawn areas providing a sense of serenity and quiet. Walking along the beach guests are treated to spectacular sunsets with the island of Niihau in the background. Nestled on the shores of West Kauai, the resort also recently announced 2024 as their 40th Anniversary as a historic resort. “As we celebrate the 40th anniversary of Waimea Plantation Cottages Resort, we are pleased to share our Anniversary Celebration Sale with new and returning guests,” said Gregg Enright, general manager at Waimea Plantation Cottages. “Known for spectacular sunsets and starry nights, Waimea Plantation Cottages offers an ideal location for a couple's getaway, a family vacation, or to celebrate special occasions.” An oceanside hammock - courtesy of Waimea Plantation Cottages Resort Guests booking cottages with the 40th Anniversary Celebration Special will enjoy 20% off Best Available Rates. Upon check-in, guests will be treated to a complimentary selection of Kauai Cookies, shell leis, one bottle of water per person, and complimentary coffee and tea. Beyond the anniversary sale, guests can enjoy the oceanfront pool, a 2-mile-long black sand walking beach, and an on-property restaurant serving American and BBQ fare. Beachside hammocks, three propane grilling stations, free parking, complimentary current movie DVD rentals, and a free guest laundry facility round out the experience. The resort offers 59 one- to five-bedroom cottages, built between the 1880s and 1930s, across 43 acres of oceanfront grounds. Lovingly refreshed to harmonize contemporary comfort with the simplicity of the plantation era, each cottage features a fully equipped kitchen and a private lanai. Nearby the awe-inspiring Waimea Canyon, known as the "Grand Canyon of the Pacific," Koke'e State Park, the breathtaking Napali coastline, and Kekaha Beach, one of Hawaii's longest white-sand beaches, are some of Kauai's most loved attractions. For those seeking local charm, Waimea Town and nearby Hanapepe Town offer eclectic boutiques and eateries. For more information on Waimea Plantation Cottages or to book reservations, please visit www.waimeaplantationcottages.com or call 800-619-6199. Villa Dulce - Cabo San Lucas, Mexico Villa Dulce in Cabo San Lucas - courtesy of Cabo Platinum The newest addition to Cabo Platinum's portfolio, "Villa Dulce," is peacefully situated in the prestigious Pedregal community of Cabo San Lucas. This unique villa embodies a serene escape, providing a distinctive experience for those seeking solace in one of Mexico's highly-regarded destinations. Paying homage to the region's natural allure, boasting 4 bedrooms, 5.5 bathrooms, and room for 8 guests, this exclusive property features expansive glass windows that integrate panoramic vistas into its interior décor. Open-concept living spaces showcase elegant furnishings and meticulous attention to detail. Security is ensured within the gated community, providing 24/7 surveillance and access to a quiet beach on the Pacific side. Within Villa Dulce, the four bedrooms provide guests with practical amenities such as individual thermostats, flat-screen TVs, and full private bathrooms. These features ensure a comfortable and functional retreat for each guest. The kitchen is equipped with Brazilian granite countertops, emphasizing the villa's commitment to quality while blending into the overall design. Founded in 1975, Pedregal is often likened to the "Beverly Hills" of the region. Perched on a mountain overlooking downtown Cabo and the IGY Marina, this community offers not just homes but a lifestyle. Basic amenities, featuring pickleball and tennis courts, enhance daily life. It's architectural grandeur, sense of community, and commitment to natural harmony define Pedregal as a timeless and prestigious destination. More than just a vacation rental provider, Cabo Platinum goes the extra mile to connect visitors with the pulse of Cabo San Lucas. Their concierge services extend to crafting bespoke itineraries, arranging exclusive yacht charters, and securing reservations at the city's finest restaurants, offering a seamless blend of opulence and local immersion. Villa Dulce beckons travelers not just to a luxurious retreat but to an experience that encapsulates the true spirit of Cabo San Lucas. It's a tranquil escape, a commitment to quality, and a collaborative venture that extends beyond the villa's walls, enriching the fabric of the local community. In partnership with Cabo Platinum, Villa Dulce stands as a testament to the fusion of modern luxury and authentic local engagement. Lily Hall - Pensacola, Florida Enjoy pristine beaches in and around Pensacola, Florida - courtesy of Visit Pensacola Pensacola, Florida continues to see a boom in boutique accommodations and adaptive reuse, like the recently-opened Lily Hall, a 15-room boutique lodging house breathing new life into the bones that once housed the historic Old Mount Olive Baptist Church and includes Brother Fox (Lily Hall's signature restaurant) and its attached speakeasy, Sister Hen. Pensacola's first-ever speakeasy will have a password-protected entrance that leads guests into an intimate candlelit setting offering inventive cocktails with innovative presentations. Fitting only about two dozen guests, the patrons of Brother Fox will get skip-the-line priority for Sister Hen via a secret passageway inside the restaurant. Inspired by the finer hospitality of the 1920s-1940s era, the prohibition-style hideaway will feature a dress code and even “house rules.” For another local option, there's also The Oyster Bay Boutique Hotel—the first hotel in Pensacola to focus on sustainability and wellness and cater to adults-only clientele. Oyster Bay's goal is to create rich experiences that focus on local authenticity, modest luxury, and natural design. The accommodations are sumptuous, and the service is personalized at the eight-room property. Pensacola is the perfect destination for re-centering, recalibrating, and relaxing with purpose. Lovelock offers several options to practice mindfulness and prioritize mental health with massage therapy, energy, sound and spirit classes, nutrition counseling, and even hypnosis. Those looking to test the waters can take part in one of several classes or workshops offered while others can partake in the six-week courses to take a deeper dive into their practice of choice. There's also the Aqua Spa at Beach Club, which has created an environment where health and well-being are elevated to an art form, and the rediscovery of balance is the primary goal. Guests can rejuvenate with a selection of treatments, including the Sea Breeze Anti-Pollution Facial and Sea Foam Body Wrap. And for those looking for more natural relaxation, Pensacola and Perdido Key boast unmatched natural beauty ideal for reconnecting with one's self and nature, not just with pristine sugar-white beaches, and glittering waters but with nature trails like the paths within the Gulf Islands National Seashore, Perdido Key State Park, Tarkiln Bayou Preserve State Park and more.