Save Big by Traveling During "Shoulder Season"!
If you're planning a winter vacation, you've probably noticed that some of the most beautiful, luxurious spots are also the most crowded and expensive. It's just the laws of supply and demand. But what if I told you there was a "sweet spot" that travel experts call Shoulder Season between the pricy high season and the less-desirable (often rainy and cold) low season? Over the next few months there are a few great opportunities to beat the crowds, enjoy nice weather, and even save some money.
Some warm-weather destinations become super-popular over the holidays and into January and February. But escaping to the desert or a beach in between the Thanksgiving and Christmas travel rushes can yield nice bargains:
Arizona. The desert sun, spas, and golf courses are warm and inviting in mid-December, but the crowds stay away. Book a room at the lovely Wingate by Wyndham, Scottsdale, for around $111 on Kayak, half of what it will cost in January.
The Bahamas. Just one example of a mid-December Caribbean bargain, the Sheraton Nassau Beach Resort and Casino runs about $139, compared with $175 in January.
Some Southern U.S. destinations see a serious drop in travel traffic right after the holidays. Early January is the time to see:
New Orleans. Before the Mardi Gras hoopla (plus crowds and rising hotel rates), you can enjoy warm weather and NOLA hospitality for a song. Westin New Orleans Canal Place is a stylish steal at $169 in mid-January, but soars to $229 in February as Mardi Gras approaches (March 4).
Orlando. Sure, central Florida can be a tad chilly in early January, but tie a sweater around your waist before setting off to Universal Studios, Walt Disney World, or SeaWorld Orlando and reap the benefits of the post-Christmas, pre-winter-vacation lull: The Best Western Plus Orlando Gateway is $70/night compared with $105 during Christmas week.
Okay, February is actually one month out of the year when there's technically no true "Shoulder Season"—warm weather destinations are packed and everywhere else is a bit cold and rainy. BUT we have two exciting suggestions nonetheless:
Venice. Yes, it may be rainy, and you may even experience the "high water" that can turn sidewalks into mini-lakes. But as the water rises, rates tumble. Pack some rainboots and prepare to score bargains and have this truly magical one-of-a-kind city all to yourself. The Bonvecchiati Hotel runs only $158/night in February, compared with $359 in May!
Hawaii. Good news: Hawaii's weather is always good! February is a little on the rainy side, but that just means misty mornings and rainbow-producing showers at unexpected moments during the day. We love Honolulu's Hotel Renew, on Waikiki Beach, which is yours for $152 in early February, compared with $205 during popular July.
Dublin, Ireland. Really, any European capital is going to be a crowd-free bargain in March—just bear in mind that a seat at a café will be a little chilly! We love Dublin right now because of the year-round good deals, like the historic Gresham Hotel Dublin (a gorgeous classic that makes an appearance in James Joyce's "Dubliners"), which is $122/night, a 10 percent savings over July.
Ko Phi Phi, Thailand. March is also a good time to consider a far-flung destination, like this perfect Southeast Asia beach, which has made a striking comeback from the tsunami of 2004 and has added so many hotel rooms lately that prices have fallen, especially compared with its more-famous neighbor, Phuket. Mama Beach Residence starts at $98/night.
TALK TO US! We want to know: Do you have any favorite Shoulder Season steals to share?
Great Getaways: Chicago
If you're looking for a fun, affordable Chicago city getaway, the options are endless: you can spend the day shopping your heart out along the Magnificent Mile, cruising the Chicago River, and even go to the beach on beautiful Lake Michigan. It's a great walking city—you'll even see tourism officials around to steer you in the right direction, and if all else fails, the L metro system isn''t hard to navigate. In short, there are enough parks, museums, and family-friendly attractions to keep everyone entertained. Plus, there's great food everywhere—deep dish pizza or Chicago-style hot dogs, anyone? We've got eight ways to soak up the city whether you're in town for the week or the weekend. Take your picture with Cloud Gate (aka. The Bean)A great only-in-Chicago photo-op is having your picture taken while your image is reflected in Cloud Gate, or The Bean, an impressive work of public art by British artist Anish Kapoor. It's located in Millennium Park, a popular spot for concerts and festivals in the summer, so keep an eye out and visit this website to learn more about upcoming events. Free. Face your fear of heightsIf you're going to do it, do it in style. Chicago is home to two of the tallest buildings in the country, Willis Tower (aka. The Sears Tower until 2009) at 110-stories (1,729-feet tall) and The John Hancock Observatory, located on the 94th floor of the 1,506-ft tall John Hancock Center. Both are covered by the Chicago CityPASS, giving you beautiful panoramic views of the city around you—the John Hancock Observatory offers great views of Lake Michigan, while Willis Tower is home to the ultimate daredevil photo-op: Skydeck Chicago on the 103rd floor gives you the chance to stand on the Ledge, a series of four glass boxes 1,353-feet up that extend out from the building by 4.3 feet, letting you look out and straight down, if you're brave enough. This is one of those only-in-Chicago experiences you'll want to have, if only for the bragging rights. Both attractions are covered by the Chicago CityPASS. Skydeck Chicago costs $18 for adults ages 12 and up, $12 for children ages 3-11, or save time in line with the express pass for $40 per person. The John Hancock Observatory costs $18 for adults ages 12 and up, and $12 for children ages 3-11. See the city by boatFor a totally different take on the city, try a 90-minute boat ride along the Chicago River and on Lake Michigan with Wendella Boat Tours, a family owned and operated Chicago business that's been showing visitors around town since 1935. Enjoy smooth sailing and hear all about the amazing architecture and buildings around you—you might even recognize parts of the city that were featured in The Dark Knight Rises and other Hollywood hits. During the last half of the tour, you'll go through the lock and sail into Lake Michigan, giving you spectacular views of the Chicago city skyline and Navy Pier along with views of Museum Campus from the water. The Combined Lake and River Tour is not covered by the Chicago CityPASS; tickets are $28 for adults, $26 for seniors 65 and up, and $14 for children ages 11 and under. Children under the age of three ride for free. Save five percent by booking your tickets online. Visit Wrigley Field, home of the Chicago CubsBaseball season may be over right now, but check back in March of 2014 for tours of this 100-year-old classic American ballpark. You'll get the inside scoop on the history of the ballpark and learn little background stories about things that influence the game we know today. (Did you know this was where the tradition of singing the National Anthem originated? During the 1918, it was sung to honor the Veterans of World War I. Wrigley Field is also home to America's first concession stand and the first place that allowed fans to keep homerun baseballs as a souvenir.) You'll hear all about the infamous Goat Curse, a strange phenomenon that started in 1945 when someone was refused entry because they wished to be accompanied by their billy goat mascot and placed a curse on the field so the Cubs would never win a World Series (it's been 68 years and they still haven't won!) and get a chance to get your picture taken in the Cubs dugout. Tours last about an hour and cost about $25 per person; check the website for more details. Ride the Ferris wheel at Navy PierThe Windy City is home to one of Budget Travel's favorite boardwalks and one of the most incredible Ferris wheels in the country: The Navy Pier Ferris Wheel at Pier Park. Embrace your inner child and treat yourself to a seven-minute ride that gives you a whole different view of the city and Lake Michigan—take in the festive amusement park atmosphere at night to see the city really sparkle. If you're really feeling the vibe, take a spin on The Wave Swing and enjoy all the inevitable childhood amusement park flashbacks as you swing to the music with all the other big kids. Visit this website for pricing options at Pier Park. Rides on the Ferris wheel or Wave Swing cost $6 each. Save time and money by investing in a Chicago CityPASSThere are so many things to see and do in the Windy City, and a big chunk of them happen to be covered by the Chicago CityPASS, a package that effectively saves you 49 percent and gives you VIP admission to five major attractions. You'll score VIP entry to Shedd Aquarium, fast pass entry to Skydeck Chicago, an all-access pass to The Field Museum—the last two options are your choice of entry to either the John Hancock Observatory or the Museum of Science and Industry, and entry to either the Adler Planetarium or the Art Institute of Chicago. Chicago CityPASSes for adults over the age of 12 cost $89, while passes for children ages 3-11 cost $79. Indulge in a little museum hoppingChicago's is home to world-class museums like the Adler Planetarium, Shedd Aquarium, and The Field Museum, all located in the city's Museum Campus area along Lake Michigan—The Art Institute of Chicago (one of BT's picks for world's most beautiful museums) is located nearby between Millennium Park and Grant Park, so make a day of it! Youngsters will love the Chicago Children's Museum, where they can splash, build, climb, and explore to their heart's content. Admission to the Chicago Children's Museum is not covered by the Chicago CityPASS and costs $14 for children and adults, $13 for seniors. If you're not using the Chicago CityPASS options: admission to the Art Institute of Chicago is $23 for adults and $17 for students and seniors over age 65; basic admission to the Field Museum starts at $15 for adults, $10 for children ages 3-11, and $12 for students and seniors; general admission to the Shedd Aquarium starts at $8 for adults, and $6 for children ages 3-11; admission to Adler Planetarium costs $12 for adults and $8 for children ages 3-11. Stay in the heart of the city for lessI stayed at Embassy Suites Chicago-Downtown, an affordable family-friendly hotel in the middle of all the action on North State St. between E. Ontario St. and E. Ohio St. Besides being within walking distance of most major Downtown attractions—there's even a free trolley you can take from Navy Pier back to State Street within a block of the hotel—Embassy Suites treats every guest to a complimentary cooked-to-order breakfast every morning and free drinks and refreshments every evening at the Manager's Reception, the perfect pick-me-up after a long day of visiting the sights. Prices vary, but a quick search shows rooms starting from $139 a night in December.
Is Travel the Secret to Living to 100?
This article was written by Emily Deemer of Natural Habitat Adventures. Elsa Bailey made national headlines last May by celebrating her 100th birthday at Colorado’s Arapahoe Basin—on skis. She may have hung up her ski boots for good that night, but she sure didn’t hang up her thirst for adventure.Bailey is still crossing items off her ambitious travel bucket list, which until recently included a dream of seeing polar bears in the wild. This spunky 100-year-old’s dream became a reality when she traveled to Churchill, Manitoba, as Natural Habitat Adventures’ guest this past October. She spent four days tracking polar bears in the tundra outside Churchill, a small Canadian frontier town known as the Polar Bear Capital of the World. One day while Bailey and her group were traversing the tundra, a couple of curious bears approached. Bailey eagerly traced their every move from the outdoor viewing deck of the massive Polar Rover—a vehicle designed to traverse the rugged terrain while keeping guests warm and toasty in the sub-arctic temperatures. “We just stopped, and the bears came over! The bears are so used to the Polar Rovers that it didn’t bother them at all,” Bailey told a reporter for the Winnipeg Free Press who was covering her adventure. “It was two male bears, and this time of the season the male bears very often tolerate each other.They talked a bit to each other, and then one of them tried to climb up on the great big tremendous tire of the Polar Rover!” Bailey recounted. (This is the why Polar Rover tires are six feet tall!) Natural Habitat Adventures (NHA) first connected with Bailey when staff member Becky Pahl was on the ski slopes at Arapahoe Basin last May and noticed quite a commotion at the bottom of the hill. She skied toward the party, and saw Bailey making seasoned turns on skis. Pahl was amazed to learn that Bailey was celebrating her 100th birthday. When Pahl turned on her TV that night, she saw Bailey being interviewed on the local news. Bailey told the reporter she still had items on her bucket list, and seeing polar bears in the wild was at the top. Pahl immediately told NHA’s president, Ben Bressler, and within the week she was driving down to Bailey’s Colorado Springs home to surprise her with a belated birthday present—a trip to see polar bears with the company. “I wanted to do this for years, and all of a sudden it just manifested,” Bailey told the Free Press.“They asked me what I wanted to do for my 100th birthday, and I said I wanted to see the polar bears.I’ve seen them on TV, but this just feels different, when it’s real.” NHA staff member Andrea Reynolds was Bailey’s personal escort for the week.“When the opportunity came up, I jumped at the chance,” says Reynolds. “It was an exciting prospect to spend time with this ‘100-year-young’ woman who has inspired so many in our office.” They spent three nights at the Tundra Lodge—a unique “hotel on wheels” placed in the heart of polar bear habitat.“We saw a smorgasbord of wildlife—not just polar bears, but arctic hare, arctic fox, ptarmigan, and more,” says Reynolds. Another highlight for Bailey was their dog-sledding excursion, as it reminded her of the winter she spent living in Alaska when she was 50, where the dog-sled was her preferred mode of transportation. So, that brings me to my question: Could it be that travel is the secret to living to 100+? Bailey seems to prove this theory. The other travelers in her group were treated to a daily dose of inspiration as they watched Bailey take on each day’s activities with vigor and enthusiasm—she even got up in the middle of the night to watch the northern lights, twice! “She showed us that one of the secrets to living to 100+ is shooting for the moon, and embracing each and every moment,” said Reynolds. What’s next on Bailey’s bucket list? Yellowstone, America’s oldest national park. She says she plans to travel there with Natural Habitat Adventures this summer to see bison, moose, and wolves. We can’t wait to see where your 101st year takes you, Elsa! We want to know: what's the most ambitious item on your travel bucket list and have you checked it off yet? Tell us about it below!
What's Hot in Phoenix
This article was written by Jason Stokes, an artist, adventurer, and travel writer who can be found ranting to no one in particular on Twitter: @JSGestalt. It's hot in Phoenix. While this may not come as a surprise to most, what may be shocking is the sheer multitudes of people who are moving to the capital city year after year. In the summertime, temperatures in the Phoenix area have been recorded at well over 100 degrees, even reaching 120 during the 'peak months.' Yet despite this fact AZCentral.com reports that the city welcomed 40,000 new residents in 2012. According to the U.S. Census Bureau, the city stands poised to overtake Philadelphia as the fifth most populous city in the country. So what is it about Arizona? What is this magical pull from the 'Valley of the Sun' that has new residents from across the country picking up stakes and moving to the desert? Determined to understand the mass exodus that had so many of my colleagues flocking to the desert wilderness of Arizona, I packed my bags and headed out west to follow them. The first thing I discovered cruising at ten thousand feet over the sprawling landscape below is the sheer enormity of this city. As a habitual traveler, you discover that most metropolises look compact from the air, a core commercial district surrounded by rings of suburban real estate. Usually this view will easily fit in the tiny space provided by a standard airplane window. To my surprise, in the valley between the Camelback and Superstition Mountain ranges resided a landscape that refused to be contained. I found myself pressed against the glass trying unsuccessfully to locate the edges of an impossibly expansive development. I've been to Dallas, and those who say everything is bigger in Texas should come to Phoenix. As I soon discover, the reasons for living out here in the 'untamed west' are as varied as the people who move here. Anna, a former east coast native like myself, meets me at the airport and we're soon driving off into the city surrounded by the most surreal landscape imaginable. I feel as if I'm in an old time movie with painted landscapes providing the backdrop to otherwise mundane activities. Mile markers tick by on the highway with gorgeous purple and red mountain peaks glowing in the setting sun on every horizon. "I am beginning to understand", I remark as we make our exit. "Just wait," she says. "I haven't shown you anything yet." She assures me I am going to love my visit and it will be something I will never forget. Anna is a rock climber. She fell in love the west during one of her family's cross country journeys as a child and made the move out here a little over six years ago. "It feels like home. It's not the lush green mountains of the Blue Ridge parkway, but that's the point." This is a place like no other in the world. Where the scenery itself is both captivating and at times seems magical. An admitted romantic, I wonder what else this city has in store for the more practical minded explorer. My first day we drive outside the city at sunset to South Mountain. An hour away from city center, this secluded overlook provides a full view of millions of twinkling lights. I take five pictures and fail to capture the entire skyline. We are looking down on the cities of Phoenix, Mesa, Scottsdale, Glendale, and Tempe. More than four million people reside below and more just beyond the peaks behind us. The scenery is only the beginning of the Phoenix area experience. Over the following weeks, we attend concerts at intimate venues like the Musical Instrument Museum (It could take a few days to experience the entire collection), take hiking expeditions in Sedona Valley and spend Sunday afternoons at University of Phoenix Stadium. Evenings at local restaurants like The Angel's Trumpet and The Cornish Pasties Company reveal that commercialism isn't as rampant here as I'm used to in bigger cities like Philadelphia and Miami. There are still McDonald's on every corner and more Starbucks than you can shake a stick at (seriously how many can there really be?), but local businesses with unique concepts and local charm make me reminiscent of smaller towns like Asheville or Raleigh. While it's very hot in the daytime, I am assured I've arrived at the perfect time. Over the next couple of weeks temperatures drop from an oppressive 110 degrees down to the mid-eighties. By October, the afternoons are pleasant, like a warm spring afternoon anywhere else in the world and nights have just a tinge of chill in the air, dropping down to the low-to-mid 60s. It's so comfortable outside you begin looking for excuses to get outdoors. These are the nights perfect for drinking on the patio and taking walks through the park. The best part? It stays like this all winter long. This is as cold as it will ever get. Two hours north of here, in Flagstaff, it's snowing! Where most residential areas would have green manicured front lawns, there is plenty of sand. But it works here somehow. There are palm trees and everything thing else you'd expect in a dry, arid environment. Homes are decorated with colorful desert flowers, palms, and cacti. It's interesting to note that this is the only place in the U.S. that grows the iconic Saguaro cactus portrayed as so abundant that they appear in almost every single old west movie ever made. In reality they grow in huge groves along I-8 west and I-10 south in the Sonoran desert and virtually nowhere else. Some stray plants may be seen in Southern California, but this is considered rare. The city itself covers so much ground that virtually every desire can be satisfied here. Nature lovers come for the massive red rock enclaves that surround the valley. Spiritualists like Stephanie, a massage therapist I met a few weeks back at the Grand Canyon (also in Arizona), stays here for the mysticism she experiences with other like-minded individuals she has found out here. She explains that spiritualists believe there are focal points of energy throughout the desert where they can commune with nature more freely than other places. It doesn't stop there though. Let's not forget that ASU, a nationally accredited research institute has an annual enrollment of over 72,000 students between its Tempe and surrounding campuses. Phoenix is a young city. It is a place where young people live, work and play. With reasonable rent, $825 on average, clean air, and abundant activities, this one of the greatest places in the nation for 20-somethings (No. 9 according to Greatist.com). Nightlife here is very active, especially downtown near the city center and Mill Avenue. in nearby Tempe, which resembles Mardi Gras on a good night. The population may be getting younger too. Almost 30% of the city's population is under 18 years of age. 17% are between 24 and 34 years old. The longer I stay here, the more I discover what is amazing about Phoenix with very little in the way of negative.There is an almost never-ending list of things to discover and I feel safer here than in most big cities. There is an attitude of perseverance that seems ingrained in the people that live in the valley. Remember Anna the rock climber? Recently sidelined (temporarily) with a diagnosis of MS, she has begun rediscovering her beloved city from new point of view, with a new attitude. "This is like nowhere else in the world." she says. I think she's right.
An NYC Must-See Reopens to Visitors!
When I write about Ellis Island, it's a little personal. Okay, it's a lot personal. If my great-grandfather Angelo Cappiello hadn't left his little village in Italy more than a century ago and passed through the "Island of Hope, Island of Tears," I wouldn't be here. He was one of the 12 million immigrants who were processed at Ellis Island from 1892 to 1924. He (and I) got lucky—my great-grandfather gained entry into the U.S. while many others were sent back home. One year ago, Ellis Island was not nearly so fortunate. The National Park Service site, which debuted as a museum in 1990, was dealt a tremendous blow by Superstorm Sandy, whose storm surge caused serious flooding and extensive damage to electrical systems and other infrastructure. While some areas remain closed to the public, we're really psyched that the island is once again welcoming visitors from around the globe. READ ABOUT OTHER DESTINATIONS THAT SURVIVED SANDY A visit to Ellis Island—which is part of the Statue of Liberty National Monument—begins at either lower Manhattan's Battery Park or in Jersey City's Liberty State Park, where Statue Cruises operates ferry service to both Liberty and Ellis islands (statuecruises.com, $17 adults, $14 seniors, $9 children 12 and under, free for children under 4). An audio tour of the island is included in the ferry/admission price (which also includes a stop at Liberty Island). The Great Hall of the island's Beaux-Arts main building is open, giving you the chance to see where long lines of hopeful immigrants once stood, and to savor Spanish architect Rafael Guastavino Moreno's stunning ceiling, featuring interlocking terra cotta tiles. While some exhibits, such as "The Peopling of America 1550-1890," are now reopened, others, such as "Peak Immigration Years," remain closed. On a sunny day, even in late fall or winter, the ferry ride alone is a beautiful way to experience the vast, deep harbor that helped make New York City and its neighboring communities in New Jersey one of the world's most valuable ports. And whether or not you have an Ellis Island immigrant in your family, I heartily recommend the somewhat geeky—and slightly sentimental—recitation of Emma Lazarus's famous poem "The New Colossus" as your ferry approaches Ellis Island and the Statue of Liberty: Keep, ancient lands, your storied pomp! cries she with silent lips. Give me your tired, your poor...