Is It Time To Rebook That London Hotel?
If you've planned a trip to London for the Summer Games, you may want to consider starting a new hotel search. The Telegraph is reporting that room rates for London hotels during the Olympics have plummeted since June—with rates for one–star hotels dropping by an average of 38%, according to data from Hotels.com.
Analysts point to a glut of hotel openings and lower–than–expected demand for rooms during the events to explain the cuts. And while a recent survey by hotel booking site Tingo found that 80% of travelers don't bother to check hotel rates for changes after making an initial reservation—even though canceling and rebooking would save them money about a third of the time—we think there's never been a better time to buck the trend.
Of course, this strategy only pays off when you have a no–penalty cancellation (or find a new price that saves you more than the cost of any cancellation or rebooking fee), but it certainly doesn't hurt to look. And while you're at it, why not consider an upgrade? The Telegraph story also cited research estimating a 25% vacancy rate in London hotels during the Olympics, so you may even be able to trade up for nicer digs than those you've already booked—for about the same price.
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Are You Ready for the Olympics Cash Crunch?
As more than one million visitors descend upon greater London for the Summer Olympics, you might guess that certain commodities could be difficult to come by: hotel rooms, taxis, dinner reservations. But did you ever wonder what would happen if the supply of cash runs short? We’re not talking about the cash in any one particular visitor’s wallet, mind you. We’re talking all the cash in the scepter’d isle. Londoners and their sports–loving guests may soon find out, warns the UK’s Payments Council. It is advising tourists to arrive in London with cash in hand and to have a back–up plan in the event that visitors’ credit cards aren’t accepted or ATMs across the city run out of bills. Oh, and it’s worth reminding everyone that the UK’s official currency is pounds—cab drivers and other locals on the ground have reported confusion on this point, with some visitors attempting to pay for goods and services with euros or American dollars. The thought of ATMs running out of cash citywide may seem like some sort of doomsday scenario, but it happened this spring during Diamond Jubilee celebrations and last week during an Olympic “test event.” If a credit card malfunction strikes you as even more unlikely than a cash drought, consider this: At Olympics events, the only card accepted is Visa. The Payment Council reports that Visa removed 27 ATMs from Olympics venues, replacing them with cash machines that work only with Visa cards. For its part, Visa assures us that it doesn’t expect this maneuver to cause problems for visitors—and most British citizens—who will likely account for about 80 percent of Olympics crowds—carry a Visa debit or credit card. London is, of course, one of the world’s most expensive cities. USA Today reports that a ride on the tube can cost more than $7, a movie ticket can run $22, and a simple pub lunch with a half-pint of beer can put you out more than $15. —Robert Firpo–Cappiello MORE FROM BUDGET TRAVEL London's Seven Newest Attractions for 2012 Paris to London by Premium Bus Can Save Money Passengers On Virgin Atlantic Will Soon Be Able To Use Cell Phones In–Flight
Four Towns That Have Their Own Currency
Credit and debit cards may win over travelers for their universal use, but there’s something to be said about the complete opposite—currency so unique that it’s only used in one town. These four towns each have their own monetary units, accepted at local shops and restaurants, and reflective of each location. They’re so unique, in fact, that you might be tempted to save them as a souvenir. But it’s better to spend them. Unlike U.S. dollars, which circulate far and wide, local currency keeps money close to home and spurs the town’s economy. Ithaca, New York This was the first town in the U.S. to create its own local currency, called Ithaca Hours, back in 1991. Valued at $10, each Hour represented the average hourly wage in the area. Today there are $100,000 worth of Hours in circulation and they are accepted at more than 900 locations. Berkshires region, Massachusetts Introduced in fall 2006, BerkShares were designed by area artists and feature notable locals including Norman Rockwell, Herman Melville, and W. E. B. DuBois. More than 400 businesses, including restaurants, bookshops, and clothing stores, accept the 2.7 million notes. The program has been so successful there's even talk of BerkShare ATMs and checking accounts. Traverse City, Michigan The Bay Bucks currency launched in 2005 with aims at stimulating the local economy. The notes that make up the $99,000 worth of Bay Bucks are decorated with cherry blossoms and morel mushrooms. Salt Spring Island, British Columbia North of the border, the currency on this Canadian island is accepted at nearly every business. Salt Spring Dollars are colorfully designed by local artists with pastoral and maritime scenes like misty mountains and breaching orcas. —Alison Brick MORE FROM BUDGET TRAVEL 7 Tricks for Getting Gas for Less 8 Ways to Save Big on Summer Travel 30 Vacations Budget Travel Readers Will Never Forget
Should Celebrities Be Able to See Museums Privately?
Madonna recently caused a stir—surprise, surprise—when she paid Florence's Uffizi Gallery a private visit after hours with her boyfriend, her son, and a 15-person entourage. After closing hours, Madonna paid an undisclosed sum to be led around the best collections of Renaissance painting in the world, says London's Sunday Times. Uffizi museum chief Cristina Acidini told reporters that Madonna was keen on Botticelli's Birth of Venus, spending a few minutes in front of it. Italy has a long tradition of letting high-paying travelers have access to its cultural treasures in seclusion. Case in point: The Sistine Chapel, part of the Vatican Museums in Vatican City, gives after-hours private access via companies like Italy With Us for prices of about $350 a person. Madonna's visit contrasted sharply in style with actor Pierce Brosnan's afternoon tour last Wednesday around Paris's Musée D'Orsay. The former James Bond walked by himself among the crowd, taking a break from filming a new movie with Emma Thompson. No entourage, no fuss, and paying as an ordinary visitor. Should there be a limit to how museums can open up national cultural treasures for private tours to the highest bidder? Or are celebrity tours a smart way for museums to gain new revenue without having to rely on taxpayer funds? MORE FROM BUDGET TRAVEL Is Florence's Museum Card Worth the Price? (12 comments) Google's Street View Maps Uffizi and Other Major Museums 10 Celebrity-Trashed Hotel Rooms
5 Amazing New Water Park Rides
Looking for a fun way to cool off? These five new water rides at parks and piers across the country deliver exactly the type of thrills and chills these dog days call for. Pirate's Plunge Log Flume Galveston Island Historic Pleasure Pier, Galveston, Tex. It's been a long time since Galveston's 25th street pier saw this kind of action—51 years, in fact. The city's original Pleasure Pier, once the largest amusement park of its kind, was wiped out by a hurricane in 1961. This May, an all–new park opened with 16 rides spread out over an area the size of three football fields. The most refreshing one is the Pirate's Plunge Log Flume, which includes two drops—22 feet and 40 feet in height—and has plenty of bystander–soaking power. Pleasurepier.com, adult full–day pass $27, must be 42" tall to ride Pirate's Plunge. River Adventure and Wipeout! Morey's Piers, Wildwood, NJ This old-school (since the 1960s) waterfront amusement park introduced several new features for the 2012 season, including a souped–up lazy river called River Adventure, with waterfalls, geysers, and grottoes; and Wipeout!, a six–lane head–first race–style waterslide that harks back to the original 12–lane fiberglass slide the entrepreneurial Morey brothers bought in 1968. Moreyspiers.com, adult full–day water park access $38; River Adventure all–ages, must be 42" tall to ride Wipeout. The Wild Vortex Wilderness at the Smokies Resort, Sevierville, Tenn. The daredevil in your family will likely consider the just–opened Wild Vortex waterslide to be seven seconds in heaven. That's how long it takes to travel the crazy, translucent loop–the–loop tube that starts with a 39–foot free–fall (through a trap door, no less) and carries the rider through a full 360–degree vertical spiral at speeds of up to 40 miles per hour. You have to be a guest at the resort to use the waterpark, but given that room rates are comparable to a single adult admission to some of the larger theme parks—and you get free access to the resort's indoor and outdoor water parks for the full day after you check out—we think it's still a deal. Wildernessatthesmokies.com, room rates from $99, must be 48" tall to ride the Wild Vortex. The Fishpipe Grand Wailea Waldorf Astoria, Maui, Hawaii You might have seen its predecessor, the Zorb, in a recent Toyota commercial—or in any number of would–be–viral videos on YouTube. Now, the makers of that human–sized hamster ball have made a stationary, water–slicked version called the Fishpipe that spins up to three riders at a time at speeds of up to 11 feet per second. It's being snapped up by hotels and resorts across Australia, New Zealand, and the U.S., and most recently arrived at Maui's Grand Wailea. Grandwailea.com, rides $15, ages 5 and up. Legoland Water Park Legoland, Winter Haven, Fla. The latest addition from the beloved toy company debuted May 26, 2012—an expansion of its less–than–a–year–old amusement park in Central Florida, about an hour southeast of Orlando. The water park has all the basics you'd expect—a wave pool, a lazy river, five slides, and a play area for the littlest kids—and adds just $11 to the cost of a day pass to the rest of the park. Florida.legoland.com, adult full–day passes to Legoland Florida and Water Park from $77. MORE FROM BUDGET TRAVEL 5 U.S. Theme Parks Under $50 8 Ways to Save Big on Summer Travel 25 Summer Travel Deals You Don't Want To Miss