Last-minute Labor Day deals
With airfare and hotel costs skyrocketing, the already-daunting summer travel season probably seemed even more out of reach this year. According to Bing.com, the average price of domestic air tickets has jumped about 16% in the last year (from $485 to $561), and hotel rates have gone up about seven percent (from $227 to $242). But there's good news: Great deals still exist, even if it takes a little more dedication to track them down. If sticker shock has kept you homebound this summer, we'll help you plan a budget-friendly getaway before the season's end.
FUN IN THE ORLANDO SUN FOR THE KIDS
Orlando, From $99/Night
The Deal Omni Orlando Resort at ChampionsGate is celebrating the dog days of summer with rates of $99 a night—reflecting a discount of up to 38% off normal prices—and the last days of its Weekend Splash Parties, featuring poolside tunes and movie screenings, scavenger hunts, and sidewalk chalk. The 15-acre resort is both kid- and grown-up-friendly, with two championship golf courses, a European spa, and an 850-foot lazy river. Plus, you can snag complimentary shuttle service to all Disney World parks. Price is per room.
Gateways A recent search on Kayak.com showed great flight deals to Orlando: $177 from Philadelphia on Delta, $211 from Detroit on Spirit, $222 from Phoenix on Delta, $241 from Chicago on US Airways, and $335 from Denver on AirTran.
When Through Sept. 5
Contact Omni Hotels, 407/390-6664, omnihotels.com
OUTDOORSY IDAHO FOR DAD
Idaho, 3 Nights, $385
The Deal Spend the weekend right on the river that boasts the best steelhead fishing in the West—early September marks the beginning of peak steelhead harvest season. You'll get three nights in a river view room with two queen beds at the Best Western Plus Lodge at River's Edge on the Clearwater River in Orofino, Idaho; a $75 gift card for dinner at Dining on the Edge, a restaurant featuring fresh local fare; a guided fishing trip for one adult and one child; daily breakfast; parking; and taxes. The price is per room, and accommodates a family of four. The AAA Three-Diamond hotel is located on the Lewis & Clark Trail—rooms feature decks that allow you to take in the expansive views, and there's an indoor pool as well as a hot tub.
Gateways A recent search on Kayak.com showed great flight deals to Lewiston, Idaho: $198 from Seattle on Alaska Airlines, and on Delta, $288 from Los Angeles, $325 from Houston, $335 from New Orleans, and $451 from Boston. Lewiston Nez-Perce, the nearest airport, is about an hour's drive away from the hotel (virtually a straight shot on Interstate 12), and you can rent a car for the weekend for as low as $24 per day, including taxes.
When Through Sept. 5
Contact Best Western, 208/476-9999
NORTHERN CALIFORNIA WINE ESCAPE FOR MOM
Northern California, Air/Car/2 Nights, From $599
The Deal Santa Rosa's Flamingo Conference Center and Spa—a AAA Three-Diamond resort complete with 20,000-square-foot health club and spa and two Olympic-size pools—is your home base for a weekend trip that includes a car rental, so you can explore the towns of California wine country, including Sonoma, Napa, Calistoga, and Healdsburg. The price covers airfare from Chicago, two nights' accommodations, and a three-day car rental with unlimited miles, plus daily breakfast and parking. Price is per person.
When Depart Sept. 2
Contact Gate 1, 800/682-3333, gate1travel.com
BERMUDA ADVENTURE FOR THE WHOLE FAMILY
Bermuda Cruise, 5 Nights, $699
The Deal A five-night cruise to Bermuda's King's Wharf on Royal Caribbean's 989-foot Enchantment of the Seas, sailing round-trip from Baltimore. The ship has something for everyone: for the kids, an interactive fountain made for splashing; for teens, a rock wall, bungee trampolines, and a lounge with games, TVs, and dancing; for the adults, an open-air shopping arcade, putting greens, and a champagne bar; and for everyone, the solarium, with a retractable roof over one of three pools onboard. You'll dock for two nights in King's Wharf, Aruba—from there, explore the island's pink sand beaches, boutiques, and markets, or take advantage of a shore excursion offered through the cruise line, like a glass-bottom boat tour (from $49). Price is per person.
When Departs Sept. 3
Contact Royal Caribbean, 866/562-7625, royalcaribbean.com
LONDON CITY BREAK FOR A LITTLE ROMANCE
London, Air/6 Nights From $1,089
The Deal Jet across the Atlantic for an escape to central London—where events such as The Thames Festival, celebrating the city's arts community, and the 2011 season of the Open Air Theatre in Regent's Park are in full swing. Roundtrip airfare from New York and six nights at London's Central Park Hotel, just across the street from Hyde Park. Price is per person, and does not include approximately $206 in airport taxes.
When Departs Labor Day (Sept. 5)
Gateway New York
Contact Virgin Vacations, 888/937-8474, virgin-vacations.com
CARIBBEAN BEACH FOR A MULTIGENERATIONAL GETAWAY
Aruba, Air/7 Nights, From $829
The Deal Why not spend the last days of summer lounging on a white-sand beach? This package includes air from Baltimore and seven nights at the Tropicana Aruba Resort & Casino, on Eagle Beach in the town of Noord. The beachfront hotel features a swim-up bar and a 150-foot waterslide. Aruba is one of the ABC islands (along with Bonaire and Curaçao), which don't face significant hurricane threats, so it's a good Caribbean vacation spot in the off-season. Price is per person.
When Depart Sept. 2
Contact Apple Vacations, 800/517-2000, applevacations.com
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Electric bike rentals smooth out sightseeing
When it comes to sightseeing, it's hard to beat riding from place to place by bicycle. Add a quiet, battery-powered motor to a bicycle, however, and you can make the experience that much better. Who doesn't want to pedal without breaking a sweat while on vacation? Riding a so-called "e-bike" feels like having a fairy godmother give you a little push from behind. The extra boost helps you cope with traffic and overtake hills with ease. Unlike a scooter, an e-bike has no noisy motor or smelly exhaust fumes. Few Americans have ridden the battery-assisted bikes in the U.S., where they average about $1,500. Yet Americans traveling abroad are increasingly test-riding the two-wheelers, as some rental companies make them available by the day at popular destinations. Last month in London, Hertz began renting electric bikes for £19 ($30.50) a day from its Marble Arch location. You rent the e-bike as if it were a vehicle, booking it through the Hertz website and standing in the same line as other customers. You pick up a bike, helmet, lock, and city map. Hertz sells two types of bikes: One type still expects you to pedal, matching your effort with a boost from its motor. The other type of bike doesn't require you to pedal, allowing you to use a throttle to power the two-wheeler instead. Both types of bicycle are powered by lithium-ion batteries (similar to the ones used in many laptops). Company employees charge the batteries at night, plugging them into standard electric sockets. In this way, the batteries still slurp up juice from the grid, so they're not quite as environmentally friendly as one might first think. Earlier this week in England's Lake District National Park, about 50 electric bikes were made available for nine special trails. Provider Electric Bicycle Network knows that their "e-bikes" remove much of the hardship of going uphill, making it pleasant for non-athletic travelers to appreciate the scenery without having to pedal heavily. The organization provides two-wheelers to local businesses, such as hotels and B&Bs;, which rent them out for about £25 a day. Last month, the company began the service in England's Peak District, near Manchester. Next month, it is rolling out the battery-powered bicycles in Devon in the country's scenic southwest. In Switzerland, travel agency Swiss Trails teamed up with the government and the Rent a Bike company to provide bike rentals along nine scenic trails, including three models of electric bike. You no longer have to be a fit cyclist to be able to tackle mountain passes and view lakes and alpine panoramas. You don't need a rental car to reach the trails, either. The e-bikes are for rent at 20 SBB train stations, which are easily reachable from the country's major cities. Sadly, the rental cost is high: 98 Swiss francs a day or about $119, though tax, helmet, and other items are covered. In Beijing, guided e-bike tours allow you to explore the city in small groups, allowing you to cover more territory than a walking tour can alone without getting exhausted. Half-day tours from 300 CNY or about $48. Details at bjebiketours.com. On Japan's Awajishima Island, near Osaka, more than 30 electric bicycles are available for rent as an alternative method of transport for the estimated 12 million sightseers who visit each year to see the stunning scenery. Prices start at 500 yen (about $6) for two hours. Details available at tourist offices on the island. MORE FROM BUDGET TRAVEL Theory confirmed! Credit cards have better exchange rates than banks Figure out which hotel you'll get on Hotwire How to travel like a lady
Ask Trip Coach: Camping
You can't get much closer to nature than when you're sleeping out under the stars. But make the wrong move at the campground and your crew will be seriously un-happy campers. In an upcoming Trip Coach column, we're taking a peaceful respite at the campground. Please send us all of your camping-related questions, and we'll answer as many as we can in the story. You might be wondering: What kinds of travelers should and shouldn't go camping? What are the best resources for locating and evaluating campgrounds? What kind of prices do campgrounds charge nowadays, and what do you get for the money? What camping gear is essential, and which products are gimmicks a camper can go without? What common mistakes do newbies make that drive seasoned campers nuts? For those just not into sleeping on the ground, what are some campground options beyond the classic tent site? Under what circumstances is it just a bad idea to go camping? Now it's your turn. Please send us your camping questions, so that we can focus on the most pressing issues in an upcoming issue of Budget Travel. MORE FROM BUDGET TRAVEL: Trip Coach: National Parks Trip Coach: Traveling with Pets Road Trip: National Parks (Minus the Crowds)
Wilderness for beginners
Not everyone wants to spend a week in the Utah wilderness and, let's say, rip out invasive olive trees. Or volunteer outdoors anywhere during a vacation, for that matter. But what if you were told that, for only $300 (plus your own airfare), you could have a getaway outdoors at your choice of a gorgeous setting in Hawaii, Arizona, or elsewhere in America? And what if that opportunity included a chance to be physically active, make new friends, and indulge in some digital detox—unplugging yourself from our stressed-out world? Maybe this idea has something to it after all, right? Since 1997, the nonprofit group Wilderness Volunteers has been organizing volunteer service to America's wild lands. First-timers are allowed to make reservations for this year's line-up of trips in January of each year. So book your trips now for departures later this year. By March, it may be too late, as all slots may be filled. For details on applying, visit wildernessvolunteers.org. Other great options—typically costing a little more—include Volunteer Vacations, run by the American Hiking Society, and Outings, run by the Sierra Club. For more planning tips, check out our recent story "Ask Trip Coach: Volunteer Vacations." MORE FROM BUDGET TRAVEL Like chocolate? You might like working with cocoa farmers in the D.R. Volunteer travel trend: Wwoofing Excavation vacations: Dig for a day
Council names the best tall buildings of '08. And the winner is...
We really like big buildings here at BudgetTravel.com. Lucky for us, there's an organization called the Council on Tall Buildings, which has recently awarded the "Best Tall Buildings" of 2008. The winner is the Shanghai World Financial Center. Topping out at 1,614 feet, or 101 stories, the tower has an observation deck that boasts the title of the world's highest publicly accessible space. It's pretty cool-looking, what with the trapezoid cut-out at the top and its slim, sleek shape (does anyone else thinks it looks a little like a bottle opener?) A Chicago-based group, the CTBUH (the UH is for Urban Habitat) hands out the awards annually, but the Council doesn't reward just glamour and a mammoth size; buildings are also judged on possessing "sustainable qualities at a broad level in order to preserve urban quality of life into the future," according to the Council's website. The other big winners were The New York Times Building in New York City, the Bahrain World Trade Center in Manama, and 51 Lime Street in London. MORE Read the Chicago Tribune's report on the awards The Next Big Thing