So You Want to Stay Awhile

By Adrien Glover
June 2, 2006

Vacations are never long enough, but this morning we found out about a way to make them last while still being affordable.

Some folks from a company called Extended Stay Hotels stopped by our office to talk about one of the fastest growing trends in leisure travel--long-term stays. Extended Stay Hotels has 675 properties in 44 U.S. states and Canada, all of which the company owns and operates, i.e. no franchises.

Destinations include Orlando and San Rafael, Calif. (just over the Golden Gate Bridge in San Francisco). There are four hotels in Vegas alone. The best part is their average nightly rate is $55, which makes it a smart choice for traveling seniors, families contending with overflow during the holidays, and just about any traveler with time on their hands.

All the properties have snappy new looks, and each suite comes with a full kitchen, living and dining areas, satellite TV, and even Wi-Fi.

Extended Stay Hotels charges a refreshing price of $4.95 per stay, not per day, for access. All of their locations are pet-friendly, too. To find out about discounts, we recommend signing up for "Suite Savings" email list.

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How Would You Spend $100?

Back in March we asked you how you'd spend $100 of our money during an upcoming trip. Over 500 e-mails later, we picked five lucky winners (one of whom we featured in the June issue) who all felt the urge to splurge. "My dear friend and I are going to a concert in Orlando and I'd love to have a momento from our girl's night out," wrote Julie Lowery of Wray, Georgia. Along with her friend Tiffany, she headed to the House of the Blues where they watched pop artist James Blunt perform. After the show, they bought a concert T-shirt, CD, and poster--plus two margaritas--with the $100 we gave her. "Not only did we spend much needed time doing something fun and frivolous, but we got to buy some great keepsakes," she wrote. "We had an absolute blast!" Other winners: "After returning from my first trip to Ireland, I placed a Waterford bowl on my coffee table for all to admire. About a month after my return, my cat went crazy and knocked my prized bowl onto the floor shattering it into a million pieces. When I read about Budget Travel's contest with my next trip to Ireland only three weeks away, I knew that I would spend it on replacement Waterford bowl. The bowl was my perfect splurge--and yes, I still have the cat!" --Karen M. Hughes, Cantonment, Fla. "A wine tasting in Paris courtesy of Budget Travel? What's not to like about that? I sampled three whites and four reds, ranging from lightest to fullest. My personal favorite was the Bergerac-Chateau la Robertie 2003, a merlot cabernet sauvignon blend. And this was a true tasting: it included silver buckets to empty the remainder from your glass; you were expected not to drink it all. And so I didn't, except for the Bergerac! Altogether it was a very satisfying and authentically French-feeling splurge." --Sheila Ruof, Laredo, Tex. "As an avid fisherman, I was excited to spend my $100 on a half-day fishing excursion in Cancun, Mexico. Just as the captain guaranteed, everyone onboard hooked a fish--my friend caught two Mahi Mahi while yours truly caught a Red Snapper and a Queen Triggerfish. The crew was very professional and a great time was had by all." --Andy Pappalardo, Thunder Bay, Ontario

Wilmington, North Carolina

Despite the grits and sweet-potato fries on the menu and a name that sounds like Bo and Luke Duke would fit in nicely, the Dixie Grill is not your typical Southern diner. Dalí-esque paintings of fish decorate the lime-green walls, and above the grill is a mural of a sunny-side-up egg screaming as it's about to get eaten. Local musicians sometimes play out back, where a small bar serves microbrews and $2.50 bottles of Pabst Blue Ribbon. The staff is a young, tan bunch who could work as extras on a hip teen drama. And considering that One Tree Hill and Dawson's Creek were filmed in town, along with dozens of movies, they may very well have done so. Founded in 1739, Wilmington remained North Carolina's largest city through the early 1900s. The action clusters where it always has, the east bank of the Cape Fear River, 29 miles upstream from the Atlantic. The red-brick streets were largely paved over with asphalt years ago, but there are a few holdouts, including a handsome, if faded, section of Dock Street near the river. Wil-mington's 230-block historic district includes ramshackle factories converted into restaurants, pubs, galleries, and shops, in addition to Victorian homes so postcard-quaint that the owners must be tempted to run them as B&Bs. (Two home owners who did just that with particular success operate Camellia Cottage and Blue Heaven, which both have big porches and are located five minutes by foot from the river.) With a slew of artists and musicians calling the place home, a state university down the road, and fantastic beaches that are 20 minutes farther, Wilmington simultaneously appeals to hipsters, beach bums, and fans of traditional Southern gentility. But thus far tourists pay more attention to the two port towns it's often compared to--Savannah and Charleston--so Wilmington remains relatively quiet by comparison. Visitors naturally gravitate to the boardwalk lining the Cape Fear. Known as the Riverwalk, it's ideal for strolling at dawn and dusk (and oppressively hot midday in the summer). A $3 ferry does a quick cruise-by tour of town before dropping you off at the Battleship North Carolina, across the river. Head belowdecks on the World War II ship to check out the old bakery, chapel, and sleeping quarters, and placards with soldiers' personal recollections (like the private who complained about how often "wallpaper paste"--rehydrated potato--appeared on the menu). On spring Friday evenings, classic movies are shown under the stars and next to the fighter planes and huge guns that once launched artillery up to 20 miles away. Back on Wilmington's shore, grab an umbrella table at The Pilot House, built in the 1870s and dragged to the riverfront a century later for a new life as a restaurant. The prices that come with a river view are worth it, especially considering the elegant setting (impeccably dressed waitstaff, tables with fresh flowers) and regional favorites (pork loin sandwiches, fried green tomatoes, tons of seafood). Guided ghost walks, trolley rides, river cruises, and tours of the Burgwin-Wright House and other mansions keep folks happy who are into those kinds of things. Others will be content browsing for antiques or nursing a pint at the grungy (in a good way) Barbary Coast, the oldest tavern in town, or at Hell's Kitchen, a market that was re-vamped as a Dawson's Creek set and has since become a hangout for more of those folks who look like stand-ins for Pacey and Joey. Lodging   Camellia Cottage 118 S. Fourth St., 866/728-5272,, from $135   Blue Heaven 517 Orange St., 910/772-9929,, from $100 Food   Dixie Grill 116 Market St., 910/762-7280, two eggs, bacon, and grits $6.25   The Pilot House 2 Ann St., 910/343-0200, pork loin sandwich $7.25 Activities   Battleship North Carolina 910/251-5797,,$9 (movies $1)   Burgwin-Wright House 224 Market St., 910/762-0570, tour $8 Nightlife   Barbary Coast 116 S. Front St., 910/762-8996   Hell's Kitchen 118 Princess St., 910/763-4133

Portland, Maine

An intense revitalization effort began years ago in Portland's cobbled Old Port area, transforming it into a clutch of galleries, microbreweries, and stylish boutiques. Today, it seems like every corner of Portland is being rehabbed, including the once-dicey Munjoy Hill. Inventive chefs in search of ultrafresh seafood and produce are hanging out shingles like mad. The result is that Portland has more restaurants per capita than any other U.S. city except San Francisco, and many serve a lot more than just lobster rolls and a good bowl of "chowdah." Some places, thankfully, never change. For 15 years, Becky's Diner has opened at 4 a.m. to serve pancakes and eggs to fisherman. You can see what the fishermen caught at the Harbor Fish Market. You can even buy lobsters packed for travel--around $50 for four (prices are seasonal). Portlanders love the chowder at Gilbert's and the "raw and nude" oysters on the waterfront at J's, which hasn't changed a bit since the 1970s. Any non-seafoodies should check out The Flatbread Company, a dockside restaurant that bakes organic pizzas, like its nitrate-free maple-fennel sausage pie, in an igloo-shaped wood oven. Or head to restaurant row on Middle Street for a meal at Duckfat, specializing in indulgent snacks like Belgian fries (cooked in duck fat) and panini filled with sour-cherry butter. Walk it off by trekking crosstown to the Victoria Mansion, one of the country's best-preserved pre-Civil War residences. Sea-inspired masterworks by Winslow Homer and the Wyeths hang on the walls of the nearby Portland Museum of Art, designed by I.M. Pei's architecture firm. After a long day hoofing it around Portland's hills, treat yourself to an expert foot massage at SOAK Foot Sanctuary and Teahouse, followed by dinner at Portland's best new restaurant, 555. Run by two transplants from Napa Valley, it has a well-curated list of wines available as tasting pours. If you eat just one thing while in town, let it be the Bang's Island mussels, steamed in chive butter with pickled cherry peppers, roasted garlic, and white wine. The West End, a historic residential neighborhood with a leafy promenade, is full of B&Bs that are great alternatives to the city's pricey waterfront hotels. Guests at the Percy Inn stay in one of seven antique-filled rooms named after poets; the narrow 1830s townhouse also features a cozy reading room with fireplace and a 24-hour help-yourself snack pantry. For an only-in-Portland tour by water, hitch a ride with the mail boat as it makes deliveries around Casco Bay. One of the prettiest stops is Great Chebeague Island. See Mac, "the Bike Guy," at the intersection of South and North Roads, and sign out one of the sets of wheels in his front yard that he loans out for free. If you're tempted to spend the night, reserve a room at the Chebeague Orchard Inn B&B. Neil and Vickie Taliento have been innkeepers for 15 years and have the details nailed--cut sweet pea blossoms from their garden, tubes of Tom's of Maine toothpaste, and blueberry pancakes at a farmhouse table. They'll even greet you right at the dock. Transportation   Casco Bay Lines 207/774-7871,, round trip to Great Chebeague $9 Lodging   Percy Inn 15 Pine St., 207/871-7638,, $139   Chebeague Orchard Inn 66 North Rd., 207/846-9488,, from $125 Food   Becky's Diner 390 Commercial St., 207/773-7070   Gilbert's 92 Commercial St., 207/871-5636, chowder $5   J's Oyster 5 Portland Pier, 207/772-4828   Flatbread 72 Commercial St., 207/772-8777, pizza $16   Duckfat 43 Middle St., 207/774-8080 555 555 Congress St., 207/761-0555, mussels $12 Activities   Victoria Mansion 109 Danforth St., 207/772-4841, $10   Portland Museum of Art 7 Congress Sq., 207/775-6148, $8   SOAK Foot Sanctuary 30 City Center, 207/879-7625, from $25 Shopping   Harbor Fish Market 9 Custom House Wharf, 207/775-0251