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Skip the Lines at Popular Attractions

By Robert Firpo-Cappiello
updated September 29, 2021
Vatican rooftops at sunset
Courtesy City Wonders
These travel experiences, all under $150, are favorites among travelers who want to live in the fast lane.

There are some travel destinations that are so wonderful, you come home with only one complaint: The lines were too long.

After visiting Universal Studios Hollywood and Disneyland last summer, and then reveling in my hometown NYC’s holiday window displays and museum mega-shows, I have become super-eager to learn how I can skip the lines at popular attractions without breaking the bank. As luck would have it, TripAdvisor’s 2018 Travel Trends Report (tripadvisor.com) includes a list of the most booked tours under $150, and many of the top tours on the list are, you guessed it, skip-the-line deals. Here, some of the most popular affordable travel experiences as ranked by TripAdvisor.

SKIP THE LINES IN ROME

“Holy wait time!” is surely an often-heard quip for people stuck in line to see the stunning art collections and sacred spaces at Vatican City, in Rome. TripAdvisor found that the no. 1 most-booked travel experience under $150 was City Wonders’ Skip the Line: Vatican Museums, Sistine Chapel, St. Peter’s Basilica (citywonders.com, under $80). City Wonders brings small groups (20 and under) led by expert guides to the Vatican 30 minutes before other tours and 90 minutes before the general public enters. The attractions you can expect to see without crowds include the Sistine Chapel ceiling and the “Last Judgment,” both by Michelangelo, the stunning interior of St. Peter’s, designed by Michelangelo, and that over-achiever’s sculpture “Pieta.” Not only did City Wonders’ Vatican tour top TripAdvisor’s list, but the company’s Skip the Line: Colosseum & Ancient Rome Small Group Tour with Forum & Palatine Hill was ranked third.

SKIP THE LINES IN BARCELONA

Priority Access: Barcelona Sagrada Familia Tour is another skip-the-line experience that ranked well on TripAdvisor’s survey, coming in at no. 5. The famously gorgeous and crowded cathedral, with its unique fairytale spires and surreal look, is even more enjoyable when you visit using the early-access option for under $50.

SKIP THE LINES IN PARIS

Eiffel Tower Summit: Priority Access With Host offers a skip-the-line one-hour guided tour for under $80, bringing what is perhaps the most iconic of travel icons up close for a relatively reasonable price.

OTHER TOP TRAVEL EXPERIENCES UNDER $150

TripAdvisor’s top 10 travel experiences under $150 also included some experiences that don’t involve skipping any lines but are nonetheless must-dos for anyone keeping a bucket list.

The top domestic U.S. experiences were a Chicago Architecture River Cruise and tickets to the observation decks at New York’s Empire State Building.

And other top experiences were decidedly Euro-centric, including a Rome Hop-On, Hop-Off Sightseeing Tour; Warner Bros Studio: The Making of Harry Potter With Luxury Round-Trip Transport From London; Murano, Burano, and Torcello Half-day Sightseeing Tour (Venice): and a Tuscany in One Day Sightseeing Tour.

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Travel Tips

How to Get a Good Sleep on a Plane

Remember how well you slept on your last flight? How the hours in the air just melted away in a haze of happy dreams, and how you woke up refreshed and ready for your vacation? Neither do we. But we do have great advice on how to make your next flight the most restful ever. Our authority is Roy Raymann, PhD, the resident sleep expert at SleepScore Labs (sleepscore.com) and former “sleep czar” for Apple, where he helped developed NightShift and Bedtime. Here, Raymann’s easy steps to grabbing maximum shuteye at 30,000 feet. 1. BOOK A WINDOW SEAT While the window is prized by travelers who want to watch takeoff and landing and spot landmarks like mountain ranges and lakes down below, Raymann says the window seat also has an advantage for those who want to sleep: Lean against the window, and enjoy the relative peace and quiet of not being disturbed by seatmates who have to visit the plane’s restroom. 2. GET COMFORTABLE Raymann recommends that you wear comfortable clothing (including sleep socks), pack a neck pillow, use the airplane blanket (or pack your own). The more your airplane seat feels like a comfy home away from home, the greater the chance you’ll stay asleep and wake up refreshed. 3. SHUT OUT NOISE Most of us need quiet to sleep properly. Raymann recommends that you use earplugs to dampen the noises of the plane’s engines, flight crew, and fellow passengers. Or employe noise-cancellation headphones and listen to something relaxing, such as nature sounds or gentle music. 4. EMBRACE DARKNESS People sleep better in the dark. Pack a sleep mask to help you create your own personal darkness and to discourage you from opening your eyes. 5. EAT & DRINK IN MODERATION While it’s not a good idea to try to sleep on an empty stomach, it’s also a mistake to eat large portions or fatty or spicy meals. Opt for light, healthy snacks, such as nuts. And while drinking wine, beer, or spirits may help you fall asleep, remember that it will likely make it more difficult for you to actually stay asleep. 6. RECLINE & STRETCH Use what legroom you have to stretch your legs and recline your seat (remember to do so politely). Raymann recommends straightening your legs, bent slightly at the knees in order to fall asleep more easily, and leaning back tells your brain that you want to rest or sleep. WHAT ARE YOUR FAVORITE WAYS TO GET A GOOD SLEEP ON A PLANE? We want to know what sleep tips work for you. Post a comment, email us at info@BudgetTravel.com, or follow us on social media to join the conversation.

Travel Tips

Spring Travel Tips From Our Twitter Chat

When Budget Travel hosts a Twitter Chat (@BudgetTravel, #BT_Chat), it’s basically like a cool party packed with expert travelers, travel professionals, and those friends you can always count on for a great under-the-radar getaway suggestion. Our Spring Travel chat earlier this week yielded far too many excellent suggestions for us to republish here, but we’ve picked some of our favorites, organized according to the questions we posted on Twitter. If you like what you see, check out Budget Travel on Twitter (@BudgetTravel) and join our next #BT_Chat, in early April. 1. Tell us about your favorite Spring Travel destination “We love beach towns that start warming up in spring, including Myrtle Beach, SC, for great food (including Gordo’s Tacos), watersports, and more.” @BudgetTravel “National parks across the south are open, warm, and less crowded in spring: Great Smoky Mountains, Everglades, and some portions of Grand Canyon are ready for visitors.” @BudgetTravel “Recharge this spring with an outing to Connecticut’s awe-inspiring waterfalls” @CTvisit “We've got some great recommendations when it comes to #springbreak destinations for families.” @ChoiceHotels “Santa Cruz is a must-visit destination in the spring! Explore dreamy forests, surf without huge crowds, & taste wine amidst blooming flowers.” @visitsantacruz “Hitting the slopes in Park City, Utah is the Perfect Spring Getaway!” @HamptonByHilton “Take a road trip! It means you don't have to spend money on a plane ticket, and you get to experience way more of the life and culture of the countryside. There are beautiful places within a days drive of pretty much everywhere!” @LBonPlanetEarth “Spring is a great time to visit Cannery Row [in Monterey, CA] before the summer travel season. Whether you’re looking for a relaxing getaway or an outdoor adventure on the waterfront, you’ll find plenty of options to make for an unforgettable vacation.” @VisitCanneryRow 2. What are your favorite spring activities? Gardens? Parks? Beaches? Historical sites? All of the above? “Spring is the only time of year when you can take a maple syrup road trip to see tapped trees and visit a ‘sugarhouse’ where maple sap gets turned into syrup and sugar. @BudgetTravel “We can’t get enough of the gorgeous gardens in bloom across America and beyond.” @BudgetTravel “Spring activities are in abundance in North Dakota! Hike bike or ride through the beautiful badlands, kayak the waterways or explore many museums and historic sites. You're certain to find something #NDLegendary!” @NorthDakota “There's simply no better way to take in the fresh air than a budget-friendly outing to Connecticut’s hiking trails.” @CTvisit “I <3 hiking the forests of @MyHockingHills in spring for gorgeous wildflowers and foraging for ramps, morels & fiddleheads. #SpringTravel means waterfalls are rushing too, thanks to rains.” @AmyMWeirick “Spring in the 49th state doesn’t mean the winter fun stops! Our favorite spring activities include dog mushing, skiing + fat tire biking.” @alaskatravlnews “Going to shows at @thestonepony [in Asbury Park, NJ], sunset cocktails at @theasburyhotel rooftop, taking a stroll through #DannyClinch’s Transparent gallery to check out new prints, annnnnnd the beach. We surf, bro.” @AsburyParkNow “We love sharing the Basque culture in Boise. Our Basque Block has a museums, a cultural center, Basque restaurants and bars.” @BoiseCVB 3. What tips do you have for families who are planning a spring trip? “Popular theme parks have a ‘shoulder season’ in May and early June, when school breaks are over and summer vacation hasn’t arrived yet. @BudgetTravel “Think beyond the obvious ‘kid’ destinations. Europe’s cities welcome families with affordable museums, parks, and hands-on experiences too.” @BudgetTravel “Kid-friendly travel should be fun for the whole family! Ride the Giant Dipper at the @beachboardwalk and then hop on a @roaringcamp train through the redwoods. Ditch the phone and discover nature together with these 5 kid-friendly hikes. @visitsantacruz “Get everybody outside! Hunt out hiking trails, waterfalls, zip-lines, unique rock formations, wildlife experiences, and timeless aquatic activities.” @enjoyillinois “Check out the deals with the Museum Row on Main Ticket! Can be used for admission to 8 different museums & attractions in Downtown Lou! [Louisville, KY]” @gotolouisville “Boise is a blend of urban & outdoors - big enough to have the comforts of a big city, small enough to enjoy it all.” @BoiseCVB “Pack snacks, have a killer road trip playlist and make sure everyone in the family can choose a spot to visit in #Pennsylvania!” @visitPA 4. Any money-saving secrets for a spring trip? “Stay flexible in terms of choice of destination, flight dates, and airports. Window-shopping a site like Kayak or Skyscanner can yield surprise deals to places you didn’t know you needed to visit.” @BudgetTravel “Have a work obligation this Spring? Stay a few extra days and bring the family. Make it an ‘Obli-cation!’” @HamptonByHilton “If you head to Louisville, start at our Visitor Center downtown! Discounted attraction tix & friendly faces! Also check out our free museums.” @gotolouisville “Hiking & biking are great ways to enjoy #Boise's views. Plus they won't cost your family a dime.” @BoiseCVB “Do your research and seek out authentic local experiences and events. Spring signals the launch of so many free festivals, markets, music, theater performances, and sport.” @enjoyillinois “We share tons of budget-friendly attractions in #Pennsylvania where families can have amazing experiences without breaking the bank!” @visitPA “Booking a trip in the spring months of April + May means visiting during Alaska’s ‘shoulder season.’ Many tour operators + hotels offer discounts for shoulder season travelers – just ask!” @alaskatravlnews 5. What's your favorite "secret" for a successful couples getaway? “Delete the word ‘romantic’ from your travel vocabulary and get real: What activities do you and your partner love to share? What new experiences are you open to? @BudgetTravel “There is nothing that builds relationship with another person quite like climbing a mountain together! I love doing strenuous hikes in National Parks.” @LBonPlanetEarth “Fire pits with an ocean view are a great way to relax at the end of a fun-filled day. We've got a helpful list of where you'll find them on Cannery Row.” @VisitCanneryRow “We love to do something adventurous - a hard hike, snorkeling, skiing but also fun stuff, like #wine tasting in @InsideSonoma.” @ctopkin “I think the best romantic weekends are when you experience or learn something new together. That's why I love hotels that offer things like mixology classes, etc. for romantic getaways.” @DestinySibert1 “Definitely opt for something unique and memorable. Step out of the comfort zone and try something new together whether it be a cooking class or challenging your special someone in a NASCAR style race!” @visitPA “Explore the @niagwinetrail with over 22 wineries, breweries and cideries. Fresh air + delectable wines + tranquility of the countryside make for a peaceful, romantic escape!” @NiagaraFallsUSA “Connecticut's comfy, cozy inns make for the perfect romantic getaway this spring.” @CTvisit “Try something new - together. Hubby and I did a hot air balloon outing in @AspenSnowmass - I flew, he helped the crew assemble the balloon! Good times.” @theopensuitcase

Travel Tips

What’s Your Favorite Airline?

Say the word “airline” to any traveler and you’ll get an earful: Opinions, anecdotes, gripes, suggestions, outrage, and sometimes even some happy memories. About those “happy memories”: Consumer Reports (consumerreports.org) recently surveyed 55,000 members to rate major air carriers. The people surveyed had logged nearly 98,000 domestic economy flights and more than 8,000 first-class and business flights, and responded to factors including seat comfort and legroom, cleanliness, service, food and beverages, Wi-Fi, and pricing transparency. We’re finding Consumer Reports’ survey results enlightening and inspiring. TOP-RATED AIRLINES Southwest topped the list of airlines, with high scores for service, check-in, and cleanliness, and also scored well for pricing transparency. We’re not surprised, as we’ve appreciated Southwest’s listing of fees and free two-bag check-in policy. Other domestic carriers that ranked favorably include Alaska Airlines, JetBlue, Virgin America, and Hawaiian Airlines. Alaska and Hawaiian both ranked especially well among first-class and business travelers. As for those airlines that didn’t rank as well? Let’s just say it was “the rest of them” and leave it at that. PEOPLE SAY “NO” TO HIDDEN FEES Coach passengers are not fond of unclear pricing policies and hidden fees. More than half of the survey respondents told Consumer Reports that they had paid extra to select a better seat and 40 percent were charged an extra fee to check a bag. IS COACH GETTING LESS COMFORTABLE? Thirty percent of surveyed coach passengers said their seat was uncomfortable, with seat comfort and legroom being a major negative factor on economy flights. Similarly, food and beverages (both complimentary and paid) were ranked below average by coach passengers, and most airlines ranked poorly for Wi-Fi and entertainment options. WHAT’S YOUR FAVORITE AIRLINE? Now it’s your turn: We want to know which domestic carrier you rank number one. Post a comment below, email us at info@budgettravel.com, or follow us on social media to get in on the conversation.

Travel Tips

This Could Be Your Passport to Big-City Savings

If you've visited a major American city like Seattle, San Francisco, or New York in the past 20 years, you've probably heard of CityPASS—since 1997, the company has offered discounted, prepaid admission to a variety of destination-specific attractions, and between the rave reviews and the 17 million-plus tickets sold, the people have shown that they’re here for it. CityPASS is now active in 12 locations, with a new one coming in 2018, and it’s introduced a host of improvements to the roster over the years. For the latest on its offerings and amenities, read on.  1. Get Artsy in San Francisco As of March 1, the CityPASS booklet for the City by the Bay includes admission to the revamped San Francisco Museum of Modern Art (sfmoma.org), and passholders receive a three-day unlimited-ride Cable Car and Muni Bus Passport to get there. Check out the museum’s $305 million expansion and take your time wandering through the recently enlarged gallery space—there’s three times as much to see as before, with rotating exhibitions (look for one focused on the latter half of René Magritte’s career, with works never before seen in a U.S. museum, coming in May), a floor almost entirely dedicated to the Pritzker Center for Photography, and pieces commissioned especially for the new space, in addition to favorites from the permanent collection. For $89 for adults and $69 for children ages 5-11, passholders can choose between SFMOMA and the Exploratorium, a family-friendly learning lab and museum with interactive exhibits combining science, art, and education; they’ll also receive prepaid admission to the California Academy of Sciences, a Blue & Gold Fleet Bay Cruise, and the Aquarium of the Bay, for savings of 45%. (Everyone needs a ticket for entry at SFMOMA, but kids under the age of 18 get in free, so if you’re traveling with youngsters, the Exploratorium option probably offers the most bang for your buck.) 2. Choose Your Own Adventure in the City of Brotherly Love The normal CityPASS model offers a set number of tickets for a set price, but visitors to Philadelphia now have the option to customize their approach and decide whether they want to see three, four, or five of the 12 attractions on offer, starting at $49 for adults and $34 for kids age 3-12. Can’t decide between the Museum of the American Revolution, the Philadelphia Zoo, or the Eastern State Penitentiary? Don’t panic: You can pick on the fly and visit sights in whatever order you prefer, as long as you do it within nine days of your first use. 3. Make Plans on the Go If you’re tempted to explore but nervous about spending a good chunk of change on a bundle of paper tickets you may or may not lose by the end of your visit, consider a destination with a mobile ticket option—so far, that's just New York, Tampa Bay, and Toronto, but the aim is to roll it out in all 12 cities by the end of 2018. Another upside to the digital revolution: Tickets download in the language selected when browsing the CityPASS website for a seamlessly translated experience.