Mark Your Calendar: The National Cherry Blossom Festival

By Kaeli Conforti
March 13, 2013
Cherry blossoms in Washington D.C.
Courtesy <a href="" target="_blank"> bdinphoenix/myBudgetTravel</a>

It's that time of year again. Washington D.C. is gearing up for its 101st annual National Cherry Blossom Festival, set to take place this year from March 20th to April 14th—peak days, when at least 70 percent of the blossoms are open, will be from Tuesday, March 26th, thru Saturday, March 30th. Don't miss The National Cherry Blossom Festival Parade from 10 a.m. to 12 p.m. between 7th and 17th streets, NW, along Constitution Avenue on Saturday, April 13th, featuring performances by pop star Mya and singer Elliot Yamin from American Idol among a variety of floats, balloons, and marching bands. Grandstand seating costs $20 per person, but you can stand along the parade route free of charge. Download the free festival app for your iPhone or Android for the latest updates.


OnBoard Tours runs a guided bus tour featuring the best places to view the cherry blossoms, stopping at the U.S. Capitol, Lower Senate Park, The White House, The Old Post Office, the FDR Memorial, Jefferson Memorial, Martin Luther King, Jr. Memorial, World War II Memorial, and Washington Monument during the three-hour tour. Tours are available for $69.99 for adults and $59.99 for children ages 12 and under—enter promo code NCBF001 for a $5 discount per person when booking online.

Hotels in and around Washington D.C. are getting in on the action and offering special rates in honor of the Festival—click here to view all the options ranging from the Sheraton Pentagon City for from $87 a night to splurges like the Mandarin Oriental Washington D.C. for from $265 a night. Eleven Kimpton Hotels throughout Washington D.C. and Virginia are participating in the Blossoms & Bubbles Package, offering perks like a $30 room credit per stay (to use towards parking or dining), a bar of locally handcrafted cherry blossom soap, bubbles for kids, complimentary sake during wine hour at the hotel, and rates ranging from $135 to $185 per night depending on the hotel. Use promo code BLOOM when booking online between March 20th and April 14th.

Plan Your Next Getaway
Keep reading

Would You Sail on Titanic II?

Have you ever watched (the beginning of) the film Titanic and thought, such a great ship, such splendor, I wish I could have sailed on something like that? Well, thanks to Australian billionaire Clive Palmer, chairman of the Titanic II Blue Star Line, you may soon get your chance—he's working on an exact replica of the original Titanic, with its first voyage across the Atlantic (on, you guessed it, the original path) starting in 2016. According to this video report by, it's been Palmer's dream to build the second Titanic ship and recreate as much possible including the same details, amenities, and features as the first Titanic, a task which will cost him $500 million to complete. Palmer says the only real differences between his version and the original ship will be a special area at the ship's bow so couples can live out their Titanic film fantasies by recreating the iconic Jack and Rose "I'm flying" pose, and to accommodate modern safety updates—an extra deck to provide better visibility for the bridge, a few extra feet to adhere to international stability safety codes, and of course, plenty of lifeboats, you know, just in case. When asked by the reporter if he sees this whole endeavor as tempting fate, Palmer mentioned how one of the benefits of global warming has meant there are less icebergs to contend with. Whether or not you share his optimistic views on how the repeat voyage will be, Palmer says more than 45,000 people would be interested in sailing on Titanic II, most notably Helen Benziger, the great-grandaughter of the unsinkable Molly Brown, one of the Titanic's best known survivors. Unfortunately for budget travelers, tickets will be rather steep, with the best first class cabins rumored to be priced at $1 million, but we've got our fingers crossed for a good deal, even if it is technically in steerage. We want to know: would you ever sail on Titanic II, even if it is supposed to be safer than the original? Tell us what you think and check the Titanic II website for updates on prices and schedules as things develop.


Is Las Vegas Safe?

One of the reasons people like to visit Las Vegas—and 40 million of them do each year—is that the city has the aura of recklessness, even mild danger, that seems to come with casinos. But a recent spate of violent crimes may cause some to have second thoughts about visiting Sin City. Reality check: Violent crime around the Strip (the area around Las Vegas Boulevard that is home to major destinations such as the Caesars Palace, Paris Las Vegas, CityCenter, the Bellagio, and Circus Circus) fell by 13 percent in 2012, and has continued to fall in early 2013. But you wouldn't know it from the highly publicized, and somewhat bizarre, streak of violent incidents that have earned news coverage in recent weeks. Not only did a shooting and car crash kill a rapper, taxi driver, and passenger and injure several bystanders, but an unusually violent stabbing (in which the perpetrators themselves managed to stab each other in addition to the victim), the beheading of a bird, and New Year's Eve gunplay have also rocked the city's epicenter of hospitality. Although Las Vegas's tourism officials are concerned that vacationers may think twice before booking a gambling getaway, a bigger concern is convention business, which brings in thousands of visitors at a time and is a key component to the city's economy. Of course, it should be pointed out that the Strip is under the surveillance of guards, cameras, and undercover workers, and the area has banned knives, toy guns, and fireworks. (Nevada law allows people to openly carry guns.) For many, to go or not to go may have more to do with their perception of the situation than the reality—the Strip's high number of security workers and relatively low rate of violent crime (just 223 incidents in 2012) should add up to a safe trip with just the right kind of thrills. TALK TO US! Will the recent shooting on Las Vegas's Strip affect your travel plans?


8 Places to Go Before You Have Kids

Having kids doesn't mean you can never travel again, of course. Yet once you've gone from packing a suitcase and two carry-ons to dealing with travel cribs, car seats, strollers, and diaper bags (not to mention the snacks, changes of clothing, and toys needed to make it through a six-hour flight), you'll be asking yourself—why didn't we do this before we had kids? These are not babymoons, per se, which are best spent relaxing on the beach. These eight places are where you'll want to be on your own schedule to get adventurous, sample the local wines, and stay up into the wee hours. SEE THE PLACES! New Zealand The spectacular natural wonders and cool towns of New Zealand should be at the top of your pre-kids bucket list. Especially since they are a 13-hour flight away—and that's if you are coming from the West Coast (not to mention those flights typically cost more than $1,000 per person). Long haul flights are hard on everyone, and it will likely take kids longer to adjust to such a significant time change, cutting into your actual vacation time. Plus hopping between the North and South Island is mandatory if you want to see all the country has to offer. Do you really want to spend half your vacation repacking all the suitcases and searching under hotel beds for a lost lovey (or worse, realizing it's missing once you're at the next stop)? Do it: You have a lot of ground to cover, so be sure to give yourself a lot of time see the sites. Start in Auckland on the North Island, where you can take the unbelievable elevator 610 feet up the Sky Tower for 360-degree views. Then either head north to the Bay of Islands for sailing and hiking, or you can go south to the town of Wellington. On the South Island, meet the locals in Christchurch and go wine tasting at the surrounding wineries. Get to know a different type of local in the town of Oamaru, where you can watch the blue penguins march back to their nests in the early evening. Disney World Think the magical realm of Mickey and Minnie is just for kids? Think again. Going to Disney as an adult is a totally different experience than if you have toddlers (or even teens) along for the adventure. Some are obvious—not being relegated to the kiddie rides, not having to push a stroller around. Then there's the not having to go back to the hotel for nap and not having to decide between getting the kids dinner, bath, and into bed on time (and avoiding potential meltdowns) versus staying late for the awesome Main Street Electrical Light Parade. Disney has also caught on that they need to keep adults happy, too. That means things like gourmet restaurants. You can now even get a glass of wine with your dinner at Be Our Guest in the new Fantasyland section of the Magic Kingdom. Do it: Another perk to traveling to Disney without kids is that you aren't beholden to school vacations (when prices are higher and crowds are denser). September and October are good times to go, and the temperatures will be a little more bearable as well. Even so, you might want to stay at a hotel further from the action and less aggressively family-friendly. There is a premium for avoiding characters after-hours, though. The Dolphin is a boat-ride away from Epcot and, though it's not run by Disney, offers perks like Extra Magic Hours and free parking at Disney parks (from $169 a night in late September). The Four Points by Sheraton is on International Drive and closer to Universal Orlando than the Disney Parks, but starts at just $124 a night in late September. Paris Is there anywhere more romantic than Paris? It's a city where you want to embrace the clichés and roll with them. Strolling the streets, hand-in-hand? Yes! Taking a sunset boat ride down the Seine? Mais oui! Trying to keep the kids from hurling frites at each other at the quaint outdoor café? Not so much. Go now and get all the nuzzling under the Eiffel Tower out of your system. Bring your future children back in a few years to see the amazing museums and historic sites—once they are out of their food-throwing phase, that is. Do it: Stay in the charming, antique-filled Hotel de la Paix—one of our Secret Hotels of Paris—in the 14th arrondissement (from $130 per night). The centrally located hotel is within 20 minutes of the sites of Paris by Metro, and within walking distance of cafes and gardens. Route 66 Road Trip There are lots of great scenic road trips in the U.S. (California's Route 1, the Blue Ridge Parkway), but why not go back to the original and travel along Route 66. Well, what's left of it (see below). Road trips may not scream romance for some, but there won't be much time after kids to really just enjoy each other's company—and control what's coming out of the car speakers. This also means no kids rolling their eyes at every retro diner you want to stop at for a patty melt and a milkshake. And, most importantly, no chorus of "are we there yet??" from the back seat. Do it: To really, truly do this trip, you start in Santa Monica, California and drive the more than 2,000 miles to Chicago. It goes without saying that there is a lot to see along the way, from the Grand Canyon to the St. Louis Arch. The midpoint is the town of Adrian, Texas, home to the MidPoint Café and its famous pies and kitschy decor. The longest section of the original Route 66 starts northeast of Oklahoma City. Be sure to stop at the Route 66 Museum in OKC before you head out. Napa Valley Quick—why do people go to Napa? The wineries, of course. And there are more than 400 of them. That means days filled with sampling the Chardonnay, Pinot Noir, and Merlot. Which doesn't exactly scream "kid-friendly." Those tastings are best accompanied with the other local bounty. Munch on artisanal treats from Oxbow Public Market during the day, then have dinner at Thomas Keller's Bouchon Bistro. It's not French Laundry, of course, but entrees start around $20. Do it: You can actually bike through—not just past—vineyards with a tour from Napa Valley Bike Tours ($154 per person, not including tastings). Or use your two feet to walk around Downtown Napa. The Wine Tasting Card gets you samples at 12 tasting rooms ($25, plus 10 cents per taste). Either way, you'll be pretty tired at the end of the day. Retire to one of the 13 rooms at Yountville's Maison Fleurie, where the day starts with blueberry pancakes or artichoke quiche (from $150 per night). Macao In general, trips to destinations where casinos are a big part of the draw are hard with kids (since this is an 18-and-up activity done in smoky surroundings, after all). Chances are there will be a chance for a guys' weekend or a girlfriend getaway to Vegas in the future. So why not go for it and try your luck in Macao? This former Portuguese colony is about 40 miles from Hong Kong and has grown to be one of the top gambling destinations in the world (a cameo in the latest Bond flick helped raise its profile, as well). Do it: Outposts of Vegas hotels like the Venetian and the Wynn have opened in Macao in the last decade. Instead, try the Hotel Lisboa (from $120 per night). The hotel has expanded greatly since it opened way back in 1970 and now has more than 1,000 rooms, 15 restaurants, plus a casino on site. Its most famous feature? The roulette-wheel roof. Angkor Wat The world's most sacred temples are meant for quiet contemplation and obviously should be treated with the utmost respect. Something that even the most angelic children might find difficult. Which is why now is the time to take a journey to Angkor Wat, outside Siem Reap in northern Cambodia. The complex spreads over a stunning 494,000 acres with archaeological relics dating back to the 9th century and iconic Cambodian Khmer architecture. You will want to give yourself three days to see the complex, and keep in mind that heat and humidity will keep your days short. Do it: Angkor Wat is just a couple miles from Siem Reap, and easily reached by taxi (about $25). There are many hotels in Siem Reap. Spend a little bit more than your usual budget and stay at the Shinta Mani (from $170 per night). The boutique hotel is part of the Shinta Mani Foundation, which supports local education, health care, and small-businesses initiatives, and a portion of your room fee goes to the organization. Transatlantic Cruise Cruises usually make the top of lists for family travel. But a transatlantic cruise is different. They are usually more than a couple weeks in length, and involve many days and nights at sea. While to you that means more time to lay by the pool and do absolutely nothing more strenuous than ordering a cocktail, the kids could get a little stir crazy (no matter how awesome the kids' club is). The shore excursions are obviously minimal with these cruises as well, of course, but they often stop at lesser-used ports, adding to the adventure. Do it: Princess Cruises's 17-day Passage to Europe on the Crown Princess launches from Galveston, TX and ends in Southampton, England (from $1,089 per person). After calling in Fort Lauderdale, the next stop is Ponta Delgada in the Azores. 


Paris's Iconic Cathedral Will Chime New Bells for Palm Sunday

"The greatest products of architecture are less the works of individuals than of society," wrote Victor Hugo in his novel Notre Dame de Paris, aptly summarizing the centuries of construction and reconstruction that typically went into building a Gothic cathedral. Hugo's book, of course, immortalized Paris's cathedral of Notre Dame as the home of the hunchback Quasimodo, who went deaf from ringing the church's giant bells. Turns out those bells have had a reputation since the 19th century for being the most discordant in France. The original 10 bells were mostly destroyed during the French Revolution (by some accounts, they were melted down to build cannons), and their temporary replacements had a less-than-satisfactory ring to them. Now, in honor of the 850th anniversary of the iconic cathedral, which sees 20 million visitors each year, nine new bells are being installed. The immense bronze bells are on display until February 25, then they will be moved to their permanent homes in the cathedrals towers. The south tower will hold a more-than-six-ton bell nicknamed Mary, and the north tower will be home to her eight little siblings, Jean-Marie, Maurice, Benoit-Joseph, Steven, Marcel, Dennis, Anne-Genevieve, and Gabriel. The public will hear the bells for the first time on March 23, the day before Palm Sunday, and crowds are of course expected to welcome the new additions. A trip to Cathedrale Notre Dame de Paris is a must for anyone visiting Paris. It's one of several historic destinations on the Ile de la Cite, in the Seine, that can be combined for a knockout day trip: La Conciergerie will appeal to anyone whose favorite site in London is the Tower. The Conciergerie is a former palace and prison where, during the French Revolution, those awaiting death by guillotine were housed, including King Louis XVI and Marie Antoinette. Sainte-Chappelle is another masterpiece of Gothic architecture. Its name means literally "holy chapel," and the structure, with its soaring arches and stained glass windows, dates back to the 13th century. La Creperie du Cloitre is a reliable, affordable eatery near Notre Dame. Some folks like to grab a crepe to go and eat it while they wait in line to climb the tower stairs (Rue du Bloitre Notre Dame, from $10).