Cruise Ports Secrets I Wish I'd Known Before My Last Vacation

By Chris Gray Faust
February 15, 2012
A year's worth of cruise data reveals the most visited cruise ports on earth. Fortunately, there are hidden attractions to be enjoyed in each one of them. Here's how you can follow the wisdom of the cruising crowds—without having to spend all of your time with them.

If you're planning a cruise, chances are high that you'll be traveling to the Caribbean. According to's annual report, nine of the ten most popular cruise ports in the world are in the Caribbean (or close enough to count).

The website's list, which is compiled from cruise quotes requested by potential customers, shows that Alaska is also a perennial favorite for cruisers. Several Inside Passage ports made the cut, with Juneau coming out as the most requested cruise stop in the 50 states.

With so many people wanting to go to the same places, you might worry about crowds—but you don't need to. It turns out that even the hottest port has a few places where you can get off the beaten path. Here are some recommendations that will make you feel like you're in the know, before you get off the ship.



#1 Nassau, Bahamas

Just 180 miles from Miami, the Bahamas are usually the first or last stop on an eastern Caribbean cruise (even though the archipelago is technically in the Atlantic). People love the islands—there are approximately 700 in all—for first-class snorkeling, casinos and fine dining, and it's top four ports are Nassau, Princess Cays, Great Stirrup Cay and Half Moon Cay, it's the most requested country in the world for cruising, according to CruiseCompete. Two of them made the list for the top ten most visited ports in 2011, including the capital, Nassau, which is a major shopping center.

Secret: If you'd rather mingle with locals than join the crowd heading to Senor Frog's, take the Number 10 Jitney to Arawak Cay, where you'll find several stands serving up fried seafood. Go to Goldie's, and order a cold Kalik beer with some conch fritters; if you go to the back porch, sometimes you'll see workers pulling up the conch from the water.

#2 Cozumel, Mexico

Mexico's Yucatan Peninsula continues to draw sun seekers who want some culture with their cruise, particularly this year when the Mayan calendar predicts the end of days. But there's plenty of room for fun, too. Cozumel, an island off the coast, offers countless snorkeling and water-based activities, as well as gorgeous beaches: Corona ads are often shot here.

Secret: Can you stand the heat? If so, the Mayan Steam Lodge/Temazcal experience—a spiritual sauna-like ceremony that includes native rituals—may be for you. Afterward, you'll jump into the property's freshwater cenote (underground spring) to cool off (there are also showers, if you'd prefer to rinse off there). The four-hour excursion costs $80 per person, and includes transportation to and from the ship.

#3 Charlotte Amalie, St. Thomas, U.S. Virgin Islands

If you're on an eastern Caribbean cruise, you'll probably stop in St. Thomas, as it's one of the world's busiest cruise ports. A Mecca for duty-free shopping, the Charlotte Amalie port has plenty of jewelry, perfume, and electronics stores; check prices at a few shops before you buy to ensure the best deal. St. Thomas can also be a good place to unwind on a beach or provide a good jumping-off point for exploring the nearby island St. John, which is quieter and less developed.

Secret: While everyone else on your ship heads for the famed Magens Bay beach, pick up some groceries at Crown Bay Marina for a picnic lunch and catch a ferry to Water Island, sometimes considered the fourth Virgin Island. Not only is the sea at the island's palm-lined Honeymoon Beach calm, the cove is quiet—you won't find the shops or tour operators here that you see on other St. Thomas beaches.


#4 Philipsburg, St. Maarten / St. Martin

One island, two cultures: With portions settled by the French and the Dutch, the island is one of the smallest to be governed by two countries (don't worry, though, almost everyone speaks English). Philipsburg, on the Dutch side, rivals St. Thomas for duty-free shopping, while the towns of Marigot and Grand Case on the French side are filled with  fine and casual restaurants with French flair where you can find dishes like escargot (snails) or bouillabaisse (fish soup).

Secret: If you don't want to join the crowds breathing jet fumes at Maho Beach, take a short cab ride to French Cul-de-Sac, where you can catch a ferry to Pinel Island (regular service starts around 9 a.m.). The uninhabited island off St. Martin has several restaurants where you can rent beach chairs, have drinks and go snorkeling; there's a designated snorkel trail in a protected marine reserve on the island's south side, where you can spot sea fans, urchins, turtle and rays among the coral.


#5 Grand Cayman, Cayman Islands

Known for offshore banking, the Cayman Islands have a natural side beyond the shops of George Town. Grand Cayman is one of the few places where you can see the world's most endangered iguana, the blue iguana, and thousands of tourists converge on Stingray City to watch the sea animals. Seven Mile Beach offers an uninterrupted view of the Caribbean that seems like a postcard come to life.

Secret: If you like Jimmy Buffet music, catch the Grand Cayman's resident beach bum, the Barefoot Man (in real life, George Nowak). He plays most Tuesdays and Thursdays at the Reef Resort on the island's East End. If you don't have time to catch a show, pick up a CD for $16 in one of the souvenir shops in George Town.

#6 San Juan, Puerto Rico

It's hard to escape history in Puerto Rico; its capital, San Juan, dates back to the 16th century. The immense San Felipe del Morro fortress anchors Old San Juan and Ponce de Leon, the island's first governor, is buried at the Cathedral of San Juan. If you venture off into the countryside, you'll find beaches, rain forests and a bioluminescent bay where you can kayak.

Secret: Puerto Rico's cuisine is infused with unique Latin flavors that you'd be hard-pressed to find elsewhere in the Caribbean. Why not spend a few hours learning how to duplicate the recipes at home? Flavors of San Juan teaches you how to make either tapas or Puerto Rican food in two-hour group classes that include a full meal and a recipe book that you can bring home., advanced reservations required, $98 per person for a 2-hour group class


#7 Grand Turk, Turks & Caicos

Although technically in the Atlantic Ocean instead of the Caribbean, the island chain of Turks & Caicos has the glorious, talcum-powder-soft sand beaches and turquoise skies that make the region famous. While luxury vacationers flock to Providenciales and celebrities such as Bruce Willis, Christie Brinkley, and Keith Richards have homes on Parrot Cay, Grand Turk has become the country's main cruising center, with a large terminal and new shops.

Secret: If you love stamps (or love someone who does), make a stop at the Philatelic Bureau, located on Church Folly street. The island is known for its colorful and unusual issues, which are prized by collectors.


#8 Juneau, Alaska

An Inside Passage cruise appears on many bucket lists, and no wonder. The state's scenery, particularly its magnificent glacier- and wildlife-viewing opportunities, are unparalleled. Surrounded by mountains and the sea, Juneau, the state's capital, is accessible only by water or air. Nature is all around you: Look for bears fishing in the streams near Mendenhall Glacier, and eagles nesting on the slopes of Mount Roberts.

Secret: Once you get out of downtown, cruise ship crowds disappear, or at least it feels that way; Alaska's vastness has a way of making people seem insignificant. With hiking trails and a stone labyrinth garden, the Shrine of St. Therese, on a peninsula about a 20-minute drive from Juneau (take a taxi), is a reflective place to commune with nature. Visitors often spot seals, whales, and otters nearby.


#9 Roatan, Honduras

The Bay Islands, which lie about an hour north of the Honduras mainland, have become a major attraction for cruise ships, which come for the area's colorful fish and clear, warm waters. Roatan has become the center of commercial development for the islands, and you'll find countless opportunities for snorkeling, diving, and interacting with marine life such as grouper, moray eels, turtles, and rays.

Secret: Give your tastebuds a charge with a jam and jelly tasting at Marble Hill Farms on the East End of the island. Sample flavors include hibiscus jelly, mutton pepper jelly (made with chili cabro, this one has quite a kick) and island plum jelly made from fruit grown on the property. You'll need to take a taxi to get to The Farm; once you're there, have spiny lobster for lunch at their restaurant, the Crow's Nest.


#10 Princess Cays, Bahamas

Eleuthera, one of the Out Islands is the other Bahamas port that made the top ten. Here, you can swim and sunbathe at private beaches and resorts without safety concerns (the U.S. State Department does warn about the possibility of muggings and other crime occurring on New Providence Island, where Nassau is located).

Secret: Located on the island of Eleuthera, the private beach resort owned by Princess gives you a glimpse of how laid back life on the Out Islands can be. Most people spend their time on Princess Cays either on the beach or in the water (head to the sand early to corner a lounge chair and bring your snorkel gear to get up close and personal with the colorful corals, fish, and sponges that blanket the ocean floor). If you want to do some exploring, there's a small local cemetery that contains the graves of some of the island's early 1900's residents. The cemetery is walking distance from the beach—just make sure you wear bug spray and solid shoes for the mile-long trek.



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The 6 Most Inspiring Travel Films of the Year

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How to Eat Your Way Across America!

If you're like us, you consider travel an opportunity to taste. And we're not just talking metaphorically. We're talking about filling your plate with chicken and waffles, downing a bag of freshly fried pierogies, or asking for seconds of BBQ. We're not saying all eating rules are null and void on the road, but, y'know... That's why we put together this east-to-west guide to America's greatest regional treats. From Jersey Shore taffy to Hawaiian chocolate-covered macadamia nuts—with plenty of sweet spots in between—we've mapped out an all-American, binge-worthy tour you can take from the comfort of home. Idaho: Idaho Spud Of the 13 billion pounds of Idaho potatoes grown annually, none are as sweet as these spuds: coconut-flecked dark chocolate surrounding a springy cocoa-flavored marshmallow center. No actual potato here! But like the venerable veg, they're nothing if not versatile. Melt 'em down for fondue or ice cream topping, whip them Bavarian style into a pie, or pop 'em in the freezer for a ice-cream-like treat—or, you know, straight out of the package just like folks in the Gem State have been doing since 1918. Get it: The confection was invented by Boise's Idaho Candy Company, which offers tours of the factory and has a shop onsite.; $4.99 for a pack of six. Hawaii: Chocolate-Covered Macadamia Nuts Honolulu's Ellen Dye Candies was the first to market the chocolate-dipped nuts back in 1927. The “Godiva of the Pacific” sold the company to Mamoru Takitani 33 years later. Under the new tiki banner Hawaiian Host, Takitani perfected the recipe and created a brand as iconic today as the crunchy milk chocolatey spheres are addictive. Descendents of the Dye family got back in the game in 2010 with varieties that include a touch of chili pepper, ginger, and sea salt all hand-dipped in haute chocolate made from locally grown and roasted cacao. Get it: Order online from Waimea Chocolate Company (; from $8 for a six-piece box). Or find more mass-market brands—Hawaiian Host, Mauna Loa—anywhere and everywhere on the islands (around $6 for 14 pieces). California: Turtles It's a story too sweet to be true. Legend has it that back in 1932 Los Angeles, See's Candies chef Louis “Gordy” Hooper wooed Bobbi in the packing department with a surprise gift of soft vanilla caramel and chocolate poured over toasted pecans, inspired by her pet turtles. It took off, and so did the lovebirds, forming their own company up in Oakland and delivering orders on a beat-up Harley Davidson (allegedly a gift/blessing from Mary See herself). The candies have survived, but alas, the meet-cute doesn't have legs. Get it: Turtles went mass market and are sold in drug stores nationwide. For a more local version, See's sells the treats under the name pecan buds at the company's numerous old-timey, black-and-white stores on the West Coast.; $20.40 for a one-pound box. New Mexico: Bizcochito Biscochitos in the north, biscochos in the south—or simply “that cookie grandma makes”—bizcochitos (with a “z”) were christened as America's first official state cookie in 1989. Anise and cinnamon combine with a touch of wine or brandy in these Latin-inflected shortbread crumblies, first introduced by Spaniards to then-Mexico in the 16th century and now a staple at Christmas celebrations as well as quinceañeras and weddings (the traditional diamond shape represents purity). The secret to the flaky melt-in-your-mouthness? Love. And lard. Get it: Golden Crown Panaderia sells classic bizcochitos in their Albuquerque shop and online (; $4 a dozen in store; $16.95 a pound online) Osito's Biscochitos spices things up with a raspberry/habanero version (; $39.99 for a 92-count tin). Wisconsin: Candy Raisins When Necco closed shop in Milwaukee back in 2008, along with local factory jobs went Candy Raisins. The odd little gumdrops had been a local rite of passage since 1930: Yellow-tan with a wrinkly top, the taste was floral, honey-ginger perhaps, a mystery. Also a mystery: the name (there are no raisins in the mix). But, in a lesson for Occupy Sweet Street, devotees rallied, started a website, and inspired 7,000-plus to sign a petition—and it worked. Sort of. Using what is thought to be the last bags in existence, the people behind Osmanium Candy Company reverse-engineered a new version called Candy Sunshine. The fruits of their labor debut in March 2012. Get it: Candy Sunshine will be available at many shops in the Milwaukee area, including Candyman Snack Shop (7259 W. North Avenue; 414/393-7647) and Half Nuts (9617 W Greenfield Ave., West Allis, 414/476-6887). You can also order directly from Osmanium (; $5 for a pack of three bags). Florida: Coconut Patties When it comes to chocolate-covered-coconut, sometimes you feel like a nut, sometimes you don't. Down in Florida, the homespun creamy crunchy coconut squares offer bigger flavor decisions: plain, key lime, orange, mango, almond, or piña colada. Versions of the candy have been enjoyed for decades, but Orlando's family-owned Anastasia Confections took them from the home kitchen to the masses when it started boxing them up as Sunshine State souvenirs in the early '80s. Get it: Brands like Anastasia are found in tourist shops and drug stores (; $5.99 for a nine-piece box). For a fancier, hand-dipped version, try Melbourne's Grimaldi Candies, near the beach (; $10.85 for eight pieces). Virginia: Peanut Brittle Paul Bunyan might have dug the Grand Canyon out west, but down in the south, lumberjack folk hero Tony Beaver made peanut brittle. The legend goes that he stooped a flood by dumping peanuts and molasses into a river, not only averting disaster but also creating a tasty treat. It's one of America's oldest candies, one that soldiers survived on (and popularized) during the Civil War. January 26 was even declared National Peanut Brittle Day. And that's no tall tale. Get it: Forbes Candies—an 80-year-old institution—sells their classic peanut brittle at five shops in Virginia Beach.; $5.99 per pound. New Jersey: Salt Water Taffy From America's archetypal seaside resort comes the quintessential beach treat. Although businessmen like Joseph Fralinger and Enoch James built a boardwalk empire out of the pastel-hued chews, legend has it the first pieces were sold in 1883 after a tidal surge swamped David Bradley's Atlantic City candy shop, soaking his stock of taffy in sea water. Later, when a young girl came in and asked for a bag, he sarcastically told her to help her herself to the “salt water taffy.” You, and your dental fillings, won't be surprised to hear that the name stuck. Get it: Fralinger's Original Taffy and James Candy carry more than 40 flavors of taffy at shops up and down the Atlantic City boardwalk; $5.95 per pound in stores or $8.99 per pound online. Vermont: Maple Sugar Candy From the Algonquin sinzibukwud (“drawn from wood”) to today's Grade A, maple syrup has been a staple since pre-colonial times. The simplicity is refreshing. One ingredient: sugar maple sap. One process: boiling. Keep the boiling going and you get sugar, which is compressed into leaf shapes and enjoyed in all its tooth-aching glory. Maple sugar is actually twice as sweet as regular sugar, so much so that sour dill pickles make a great accompaniment. Trust us! Get it: Family-owned since 1782, Morse Farm Maple Sugarworks sells the candies in the shape of leaves, hearts, and even rabbits (; $8.95 for a 12-piece box). Alas, they don't carry pickles. Pennsylvania: Peanut Chew Goldenberg’s Peanut Chews were the original PowerBar, back when candy was considered a low-cost nutritional supplement (anyone remember Sperry’s Chicken Dinner bar?). The chews were formulated in 1917 for ration boxes, and four years later these gobs of rich molasses and peanuts all slathered in dark chocolate were wrapped up for the general public and sold as Chew-ets. They've been a hit ever since. Get it: The Peanut Chews are easily found at most gas stations and grocers, particularly around Philadelphia, and online.; $24.83 for a 24-count box. Maine: Whoopie Pie Who knew creamy frosting smooshed between two moon-shaped pieces of chocolate cake could engender such controversy. Is it a cookie, a pie, or a cake? Did German immigrants in Maine invent it in 1925? Or did the name instead come from Pennsylvania Amish farmers who would find their rival version in their lunch pail and shout “whoopie!”?  Well, in 2011 the Maine legislature fired the first shot, naming the whoopie pie the Official State Treat. Your move, Pennsylvania. Get it: The treats are found at shops all over the state, but Labadie's Bakery claims to have baked the original back in 1925 (; $26.95 per dozen). Oprah approves of Wicked Whoopies (; $26 per dozen). Tennessee: Goo Goo Cluster Said to be the first-ever combination candy bar, this choco-covered sugar bomb of caramel, marshmallow, and peanuts was once promoted as a “nourishing lunch for a nickel.” That was way back in 1912, and for its centennial Goo Goo Clusters got a makeover. Out with milk chocolate shortcuts (i.e. no more additives and partially hydrogenated oils), in with fluffier nougat, slicker packaging, and real pecan chunks in a Supreme version. Many in Nashville think its name is in deference to the Grand Ole Opry (GOO), but company lore nods towards babes: a candy so good they'll “ask for it from birth!” Get it: The candies are deliciously ubiquitous and can be picked up at Cracker Barrels and Kroger markets throughout Tennessee as well as most tourist shops in Nashville.; $3.95 for a three-pack. Louisiana: Pralines Pralines (praw-LEENS) are to the south what maple candy is to the north, a sweet to celebrate the local plenty. In this case, sugar cane and pecans (puh-CAHNS). French settlers in the 17th century brought over the treat (named for diplomat Caesar du Plessis-Praslin) and soon swapped out the traditional almonds for the local nut. The secret to the deconstructed candy is to combine the milk, cream, sugar, butter, and nuts together in one pot and scoop the mixture onto a marble slab. No secret to sweet-toothed New Orleans locals: Samples are easy to come by. Get it: Swing by Southern Candymakers when you are in New Orleans for handmade pralines and other chocolate treats (; $21.95 for a one-pound box). And yes, they give out samples. Ohio: Buckeyes Thanks to the official state tree, Ohio is known as the Buckeye State, and the famed Ohio State athletics teams battle as the Buckeyes. So it should come as no surprise that the favored regional sweet has the same moniker as the tree's shiny nut. Buckeyes (which, like the nut, are named after their resemblance to the eyes of a white-tailed deer) are a peanut butter mixture dipped into chocolate. Just don't mistake it for the real thing; the latter is toxic (and markedly less delicious). Get it: Visit Schmidt's Fudge Haus in the German Village outside Columbus to see buckeyes being handmade.; $10.99 for a half-pound box. Washington: Aplets &amp; Cotlets An immigrant success story for our taste buds, Aplets &amp; Cotlets were the brainchild of Armenian fruit farmers at Liberty Orchards in Cashmere, Washington. When faced with a surplus in their orchard, they turned to their homeland for inspiration. The result: a new take on Turkish Delight featuring walnuts jellied with apple and apricot (“cot”) juice instead of the traditional rose water. More than 90 years on, the sugar-dusted Confection of the Fairies draws about 80,000 pilgrims a year to the orchard, and once wrangled with the nutty-toffee Almond Roca over official state candy status. The fight ended at an impasse. Get it: Liberty Orchards is where to go for the original creation, as well as varieties like pineapple, cranberry, guava, and rose-pistachio.; $9.50 for 16 pieces.

12 Hot Springs Worth Traveling For

In the world of spa treatments, it all goes back to water-and travel. After all, the word "spa" itself comes from Spa, Belgium, a popular watering spot back in the 1600s. In the centuries since, cultures all over the globe turned to natural, mineral-rich waters to treat a wide array of concerns, from the medical (sinus issues, muscle and joint pain) to cosmetic (skin clarity, psoriasis). The ancient Romans turned soaking into an art form-and a part of daily life-and as the Roman Empire grew, baths known as thermae were established wherever mineral springs were discovered. Over the years, many of these ancient hot spring towns grew into wellness resorts, particularly once European doctors started recommending "water cures" in the 18th century. With so many steamy spots to choose from in the world, we've narrowed our list down to natural hot, mineral, and geothermal springs in historic, picturesque locations, including two right here in the U.S. Here are some of the prettiest places to jump in and say "ahhh." SEE THE HOT SPRINGS! Banff Upper Hot Springs, Banff National Park, Alberta, Canada Soak in the Rockies at this national park. Surrounded by dramatic alpine views, these hot springs in western Canada were considered a sacred healing site by the area's native residents. In 1882, workers building the Canadian Pacific Railway happened upon two of the spring pools at the base of Sulphur Mountain-and the news quickly spread. The first European visitors arrived in 1884, and two years later construction on a bathhouse begun. The Banff Upper Hot Springs bathhouse, completed in the mid-1930s, has been declared a protected Heritage Building. The Benefits: Located at 5,200 feet above sea level, Canada's highest natural springs are rich in key minerals like sodium, magnesium, bicarbonate, calcium and sulfate, which have skin healing and muscle-relaxing properties. Despite their long journey from the center of the earth, these waters are also the hottest in the Rocky Mountain range, clocking in at up to a muscle-warming 104 degrees. How to Soak: The Banff Upper Hot Springs complex-which includes one large pool and a bathhouse-is located about a mile and a half south of the town center, and is accessible by public Banff Roam Bus service; buses run every 40 minutes. The pool is fed by water directly from the spring source, which lies in a protected part of the National Park., $7.30 entrance fee. Ma'In Hot Springs, Jordan A spa with biblical roots. Like those of their neighbor, the Dead Sea, the healing powers of these desert oasis springs are biblical: King Herod would travel here often for medical treatment and legend has it that Salome did her famous dance in his nearby villa. Since then, kings, queens, and commoners of all types have come to enjoy the hot and cold springs, many of which tumble down from picturesque waterfalls. The Benefits: Known locally as Hammamat Ma'in, the springs originate from winter rainfalls in Jordan's highland plains. As the water makes its way through the Wadi Zarqa Ma'in valley, underground lava fissures help heat them (temps range from 104 to 145 degrees) and infuse them with skin-healing minerals like hydrogen sulfide, potassium, magnesium, and calcium. Stand under one of the hyperthermal waterfalls for a natural deep-tissue massage. How to Soak: The springs are located in a desert valley near the Dead Sea, about 866 feet below sea level; it's around a 20-minute drive from the town of Madaba and one hour from capital city Amman. The public bathing complex at Hammamat Ma'in includes Roman baths at the base of a waterfall (; $14 entrance fee). The facility is popular with local families and can get crowded on weekends.  For a more private experience, check-in to the Evason Ma'In Hot Springs resort next door, where guests enjoy after-hours entry to the main springs, as well as access to falls and pools located on the hotel grounds. (011-962-5-324-5500;; from $207 per night). San Miguel de Allende, Mexico Discover balnearios popular with emperors-and movie stars. Modern-day Mexico is home to hundreds of mineral spring sites, and it's said that the tradition of soaking in these balnearios can be traced far back as the Aztecs (16th-century emperor Montezuma was a fan). Today, some of the most popular, and prettiest, sites lay just outside San Miguel de Allende in central Mexico. Though native peoples were surely making use of these thermal waters for centuries, it wasn't until the town's "re-discovery" by artists and Mexican movie stars in the 1950s that formal spas and baths were constructed. The Benefits: The area around San Miguel de Allende features thermal, alkaline, sulfur and fresh water springs, though the first two are most popular for bathing. Despite legends that these waters have "age-reversing" effects, most bathers come to relax under the heated falls and soak up the generally therapeutic natural minerals. How to Soak: There are several mineral springs along the road from San Miguel de Allende to Dolores Hidalgo that are open to the public for a fee. Escondido Place is a favorite and has five open-air thermal pools, three covered springs, and lush grounds perfect for picnics.; $7.50 entrance fee. Blue Lagoon, Iceland The scenery, and the effects, are otherworldly. A heating company formed the lagoon (which holds 1.5 million gallons of sea- and freshwater) to explore geothermal heating methods in the late 1970s. By 1981, people were bathing in the lagoon-and noticing marked improvements in skin conditions. The site became a popular tourist attraction, with official public facilities opening in 1987 and a full spa in 1999. The Benefits: With its volcanic rocks, electric green moss, and steaming waters, the area around the Blue Lagoon looks like something from another planet. Fans of the waters agree that the results are otherworldly. High amounts of silica help exfoliate skin, strengthen its barrier function, and heal inflammation, while minerals from the seawater revitalize skin. Microorganisms found here also help reduce signs of UV damage and stimulate collagen production. Skin care products made with the therapeutic waters make great souvenirs. How to Soak: The facility, 40 minutes from the center of Reykjavik, includes steam baths, sauna, relaxation areas, and lagoon pools. Enjoy the massaging waterfalls and lather on some pure geothermal silica mud (provided free of charge). In-water massages and other spa treatments are available for an additional fee.; $39 entrance fee. Budapest, Hungary Drinking the water is as healing as soaking in it. Ancient Celtic settlers were the first to make use of the therapeutic waters (they named the area Ak-Ink, or "ample water"), followed by the Romans, who built the first official baths and re-dubbed the place Aquincum. Though the bathing culture continued through centuries of Hungarian and Turkish rule, the traditions floundered in the 18th century-until the re-discovery of some thermal springs in the 1800s. A scientific interest in the benefits led to the construction of some of the city's most famous bathhouses, some which remain today. The Benefits: The thermal waters are rich in a variety of minerals, including fluoride, calcium, hydro-carbonate, sodium, magnesium, sulphate, and metabolic acid. The combination has proved effective in treating chronic arthritis and other joint illnesses and orthopedic issues. The water from drinking wells is also high in similar minerals, and is good for treating gastric ulcers and various internal inflammations. How to Soak: There are enough mineral springs under the city of Budapest to feed more than 50 public baths and pools, numerous private spas, and countless drinking fountains. We suggest the stunning Szechenyi Bath, which opened in 1913. The complex includes three large outdoor pools, heated to varying degrees, plus several pools with jets and waterfalls, saunas, and spots for aqua-aerobics and other therapies.; entrance fee from $12.50   Bath, England Take the cure among Roman ruins. Archeological evidence suggests activity around these springs in southwest England as far back as 8,000 B.C. Those water-crazy Romans constructed the first formal baths in the first century AD (visitors can tour the remains today) and the baths' popularity didn't wane in the centuries that followed. As Jane Austen fans know, the waters were popular throughout the 1700s and 1800s with travelers looking to "take the waters." In 2006, after more than a decade of renovations, the Thermae Bath Spa complex opened in some of the most historic bath sites. The Benefits: The three wellheads under the center of Bath are sourced by ancient rainwater that has made its way up through the region's limestone faults. The waters (which can be as warm as 117 degrees) contain more than 42 minerals, including sulphate, calcium, silica, iron, and chloride. Doctors have sent patients here for centuries to treat rheumatism, psoriasis, gout, and even infertility; injured WWII servicemen also came here for rehab. These days, most soakers seek relaxation and relief from skin issues. How to Soak: The Thermae Bath Complex is right in the center of Bath, about a 15-minute walk from the railway station. The main building houses the largest of the thermal baths, the New Royal Bath, has a whirlpool as well as a "lazy river," a heated rooftop pool, aromatherapy steam rooms, and a full-service spa (; entrance fees from $34). Across the street, the smaller (and very basic) thermal Cross Bath stands at the site where ancient Celts and Romans honored their respective goddesses (; $21 for 90 minutes).   Arenal Hot Springs, Costa Rica Where the volcano views are as stunning as the waters are relaxing. Costa Rica is home to six active volcanoes and 61 more that are dormant or extinct. Thanks to all this geothermal activity, the country also boasts several hot springs sites, most notably around the Arenal Volcano in the northwest. Technically still active (it's said to be "resting"), Arenal's heat and minerals infuse streams that flow through the marshes and grasslands at its base. Several hotels offer access to the springs, but the original-and the gold standard-is the Tabacón Grand Spa Thermal Resort, opened in 1993. The Benefits: Tabacón's hot springs are 97 percent rainwater that has sunk to the earth's core and been heated, and the remaining three percent is magma-based. As the mixture rises back to the surface, it brings with it the minerals imbedded in the earth. The springs are naturally heated to a muscle-relaxing 77 to 122 degrees and the high levels of hydrothermal flora and fauna strengthen the skin's defense system and repair surface damage. Even better, the springs are low in sulfur. Meaning you won't stink after taking a dip. How to Soak: If staying at the luxury resort is not in the budget, buy a day pass to enjoy the dozen mineral pools (including one with thermal water slide and another with a swim-up bar), three thermal waterfalls, and sweeping volcano views.; from $60 for a day pass.   Dunton Hot Springs, Colorado An old mining town is reborn as a spa haven. Back in the early 1500s the Ute Indians enjoyed these southwest Colorado hot springs, which sit about 8,600 feet above sea level. Ore miners (and speculators) came to the region in the 1880s, and a private homestead was established on the land that's now Dunton. The owners recognized the hot springs' moneymaking potential and started charging a nickel to take a dip. The first "hot tub" was built in a log-lined pit, followed by various shack bathhouses. By 1918, though, the mining boom was bust and the town deserted. The current owners took over in 994 and spent seven years turning the whole town into an upscale resort. The Benefits: Controlled by tectonic forces, the naturally heated Dunton springs are high in iron and magnesium, with trace amounts of lithium. Along with the therapeutic benefits of the minerals and heat (temps range from 85 to 106 degrees), soakers get the added bonus of calcium bicarbonate, which helps open peripheral blood vessels and improve circulation. How to Soak: Dunton's deluxe cabins start at $550, but day passes are available for travelers who aren't spending the night or booked in the spa (treatments are $185). Once on site, you can choose to soak in one of several pools, including the renovated 19th Century bathhouse, two outdoor pools, or directly at the source.; $115 for a day pass, including lunch.   Saturnia, Italy Thank the gods for these healing waters. Legend has it that hilltop Saturnia's thermal springs bubble up at the exact spot where Jupiter's thunderbolt fell in a battle with Saturn. The Bronze Age Etruscans were the first to partake of the waters, and even built a temple on the site to thank the gods for this gift; later, the Romans constructed what some say was the world's first public bathhouse. After getting a bad rep in the more puritanical 14th century (some thought the hot waters marked the gates of Hell), the springs were re-discovered in the 1800s and continue to be the Tuscan town's claim to fame. The Benefits: The waters originate from Monte Amiata, a dormant volcano that still pumps water from its craters and rivers. Along with a mineral mix including sulfur, bicarbonate, and alkaline, the water contains plankton, known for its ability to calm and strengthen skin. The combination has also proven beneficial for muscle, joint, cardiovascular and respiratory issues. How to Soak: The stunning Cascate del Mulino, just outside of town, is a series of thermal waterfalls that cascade into natural pools of travertine rock. The water bubbles up at about 99 degrees year-round, making this a popular relaxation spot even in the winter, and at night (access is available 24/7, at your own risk.) There aren't any facilities at the park-just strip down to your bathing suit and hop in.; free.   Hot Springs, Arkansas Taking the waters, Victorian-style. Evidence suggests that a variety of Native American tribes came together in peace to bathe in these waters in the Ouachita mountain valley. A naturalist and a chemist were sent to the region following the Louisiana Purchase, and sent word in 1804 of steaming waters and natural minerals. By 1828, simple hotel had been built to shelter bathers and over time dozens of thermal spas were opened, with the additional enticement of horse racing and gambling. The casinos aren't as prominent now, but you can still stroll streets lined with Victorian houses and historic hotels. The Benefits: The town's thermal waters are sourced from 47 springs on the western slopes of Hot Springs Mountain. As they make their way up through the earth, the springs are infused with an array of minerals and heated to about 143 degrees; the combination has proved effective in treating symptoms of arthritis, gout, and joint and rheumatic issues. You are welcome to fill up on cold mineral drinking water at several pumps around town. How to Soak: There are several hotels and spas in town that make use of the thermal waters, but for a more traditional experience, head into Hot Springs National Park. Get a history lesson at the Fordyce Bathhouse, now a museum. Then get in the waters yourself at the Quapaw Bath. First opened in 1922, the facilities include private mineral baths—the perfect choice for those not excited about soaking with strangers., $30 for a private mineral bath.   Kusatsu, Japan Continue a tradition that dates back to the 2nd century. The mountain town of Kusatsu in central Japan is one of the oldest hot springs sites in the country, with claims of travelers soaking here as early as the 2nd century. Samurai came in the 1600s, looking to heal their wounds. By the 1700s Kusatsu was a booming resort destination for those suffering from red light district illnesses like syphilis. The interest became scientific in 1876 when a German doctor began researching the healing powers of the waters, and helped create more targeted medical treatments using the springs. The Benefits: Kusatsu's location near one active volcano and two dormant ones means there are more than 100 springs and baths, called onsen. Full of sulfur and healing minerals from the volcanic earth, the waters treat bruises, sprains, stiff muscles, and burns, as well as chronic indigestion. Temperatures can reach a scalding 129 degrees, so bathing is not allowed in the hottest pools. How to Soak: There are several public bathhouses in Kusatsu, one of the most popular being Sainokawara Rotenburo. This open-air bath in Sainokawara Park can accommodate up to 100 bathers and is open year-round (; $6 entrance fee). Otakinoyu has outdoor pools and a wooden bathhouse with seven tubs of varying temperatures (; $10 entrance fee). Located near a source spring, Shirohatanoyu, one of the eighteen free local communal baths, has two small tubs (; free).   Yambajan, Tibet Soak in some of the world's most picturesque springs—if you can get there. Tibet can be a complicated country to get to (see our advice here). Once there, you can visit numerous hot spring sites, with Yambajan easily being the most picturesque. Glaciers, ancient forests, and snow-capped hills surround the town, which sits on a cold plateau at the base of the Nyainqentanglha Mountains. There are eight springs here, all with evocative names like Bread-Steaming Hot Spring (where bread can be cooked over the steam heat), Vinegar Boiling Spring, and Fish-Cooking River (which runs so hot, fish get boiled and float to the surface). The Benefits: Yambajan is home to several types of thermal waters, including geysers and springs ranging from warm to boiling (the water in the main bathing pools is cooled in open-air cisterns before it is deemed safe for soaking). While the springs are high in sulfur and other minerals thought to be therapeutic, most travelers come to soak up the muscle-relaxing heat and peaceful atmosphere. Note that because of the high-altitude, long soaks and vigorous exercise in the hot waters are not recommended and you should drink plenty of water to stay hydrated. How to Soak: The safest place for soaking is in one of the indoor and open-air bathing and swimming pools that have been built along the geothermal field. For the best views, come in the early morning, when the steam rising off the pools seems to melt into the snow-capped mountains in the background. Yambajan is accessible via public bus from Lhasa.; $5 entrance fee. SEE MORE POPULAR CONTENT: 12 Elevators You Need to See to Believe5 Credit Cards Every Traveler Should Consider 10 Most-Visited Caribbean Islands25 Dazzling Snow Scenes To Go or Not to Go: 11 Places With a Bad Rap