Pick the top theme park ride..."March Madness"-style
Even if you don't follow college basketball, you can still share in all the bracket fun. Our friends over at Theme Park Insider are having their own March Madness-style tournament to determine the "Best Ride in North America."
Voting has already started and every day a different bracket will be played out until a winner is crowned. Will Disney's Twilight Zone Tower of Terror—returning champ and a number-one seed—win it all again? Or will a Cinderella story play out and we'll see Peter Pan's Flight (ranked 64) upset them all? (About as likely as East Tennessee State upsetting Pitt in the real tournament.)
The seedings are 1–64, so for all of you veteran bracketologists out there, there are no 12-5 upsets you can count on.
Voting will go through the beginning of next month, when the championship and the title of "Best Ride in North America" is decided on April 3.
This weekend: Charleston opens 150 lovely historic homes
Charlestonians are used to being gracious hosts—the charming, old-fashioned city sees more than a million visitors a year. But they truly open their doors in spring, with the annual Festival of Houses and Gardens. Starting this weekend and lasting a month, the festival will showcase 150 historic homes in 11 colonial and antebellum neighborhoods. More than a dozen different three-hour tours hit eight to 10 properties, each of which often span several decades of design. There are two new tours this year: Architectural Gems, which will feature six homes, and Secret Gardens of the French Quarter, with guest lecturers. The very popular Glorious Gardens tour takes you through some of the most impressive gardens in town, with a specialized guide in each (March and April are peak blooming season, so the colors will be popping). The Historic Charleston Foundation puts on the show with the help of 650 community volunteers; this is its 62nd year. The foundation, started in 1947, protects buildings and landscapes important to Charleston's heritage. The tour cost might seem steep ($45 per person for each tour), but all that goes into education, advocacy, and maintaining and restoring the old houses. The foundation also leads two-hour morning walking tours of Charleston's Historic District. Although you won't see inside any private homes on these tours, you will get a good sense of the area and its traditions at a price that might fit your budget better ($20 each for adults). Tours sell out fast—last year, the festival attracted more than 12,000 guests. Tickets available at historiccharleston.org or 843/722-3405. PREVIOUSLY 25 Reasons We Love Charleston Trip Coach: A Girls' Getaway in Charleston & Savannah BT Upgrade: Exclusive Tour of Wentworth Mansion
Great (but not yet free) fares to Australia
Looks like those normally laid-back Australians are worried about one thing—the downtrodden global economy's effect on tourism. As The Age reported last week (and travel blog Jaunted picked up), the Australian government is mulling over a plan to pay for tourists' flights, as long as the tourists spend a certain amount of dough once they land (it would be something like $3,200). There's no guarantee that plan will pass—but it's already possible to get yourself to Australia cheaply these days. Qantas, the country's national carrier, just cut one-way fares from L.A. and San Francisco to several cities, including Sydney, Melbourne, and Brisbane. Flights start at $299 each way, or $598 round-trip, before taxes (which we saw running about $120.) The deadline to book is by Friday—so act fast. Travel is through Oct. 24. United Airlines has a competing sale, with rates from L.A. to Melbourne and Sydney starting at $299 each way before taxes (also around $120). Book by Monday for travel through June 15. Remember that the more flexible your dates, the more likely you are to get a deal (travel on weekends will almost always be more expensive). You can get more info on Australia's official tourism site and even plan a One Week Walkabout package. (Need to get inspired? Try watching the epic Australia; it's now out on DVD. Read what we said about it the 2008 edition of Movie Quest.)
A few good links: Stripping naked for Aer Lingus
Hundreds strip 'naked' to win free Aer Lingus flights Participants got "strategically placed shamrocks" to cover up a bit. What is it with Irish airlines? [Telegraph] Ryanair offers cash reward if you invent their next fee. And we thought the paying to pee was just a publicity stunt. [upgrade: travel better] Take five native New Yorkers… The Guardian asks for (and critiques) five locals' advice on hanging out in the city. Immigration Explorer A county-by-county map shows the origins of first-generation immigrants . [New York Times] Fear of Flying Completely non-actionable advice for making it into the air. [Morning News] Scoring a Restaurant Table Online OpenTable.com, Restaurant.com, and a host of others. [Wall Street Journal] Australia Says 'Mayday, Mayday, We'll Pay You To Visit Us'. A proposal that the Aussie government pay for your flight. [Jaunted] Sears Tower to be renamed Willis Tower. The nation's tallest building has a new name, but will anyone use it? [Chicago Sun-Times] Man sues American Airlines for revoking his lifetime travel pass. He paid $250,000 20 years ago for lifetime first-class seats. [Gadling]
Slimming down the lunch bill at Paris restaurants
A long and luxurious lunch is sometimes just what the doctor ordered. Other days demand a quick bite on the run. Between the splurge and the sandwich lies the average déjeuner, running €10–25 at most places. Keep to the low end of that scale by steering away from touristy joints and by following some of these très français lunch tips. • Skip the soda. French people rarely drink the stuff, and almost never touch it during meals. It's usually expensive, around €4 ($5.20) for a small iceless glass that doesn't come with a refill. Do as the locals do and order un carafe d'eau. This pitcher of tap water is free and, contrary to reputation, even more popular than wine at lunchtime. You may have to ask your server twice, always following this with s'il vous plaît. • Order less food. I felt obliged, when I first started dining in Paris restaurants, to order the full three courses (entrée-plat-dessert) at every meal. Later I realized that the locals were tailoring the formula to fit their midday hunger: a starter + main, a main + dessert, or just simply the plat du jour. The money and calories that you save will serve you well later on at the pâtisserie. • Tip like a Frenchman. As a former waitress, it took me a long time to shake the habit of overtipping in Paris restaurants. I knew that French waiters made a real salary (unlike their American counterparts, who earn only half the minimum wage), but I still felt cheap in only leaving small change. Nevertheless, locals leave no more than €1–2 per person for a typical lunch. Most often, a €2 coin is perfectly acceptable for two people. So keep some change handy: You'll be saving money and following local custom at the same time.