Southern Smackdown: Savannah vs. Charleston
We pitted two of the most popular southern cities against one another to see which one would come out on top. We compared all of the things that give a city personality: boutique shopping, culture, creative cuisine and that special, indescribable feeling that makes you want to come back time and time again. Our conclusion? Each place has its own special appeal. Depending on your interests you'll gravitate to one or the other—keep reading to find out which one belongs at the top of your list (and what to see once you're there).
SEE THE CITIES
Best For: Art Lovers, Twentysomethings, Paula Deen Fans
Founded in 1733, Savannah has numerous claims to fame: it was the birthplace of the Girl Scouts, the setting for John Berendt's Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil, and is home to Paula Deen's The Lady & Sons Restaurants. It's sometimes called the Hostess City of the South and the Creative Coast for its cultural attractions and architecturally significant buildings, including 18th- and 19th-century mansions, from stately Federal to the more ornate Queen Anne, Greek Revival, and Italianate. The city has a population of 136,256.
Four of Savannah's 22 public squares date to the city's founding, but only one feels brand-new. Buried under a parking garage for 50 years, Ellis Square was restored in 2010 as a sleek plaza with an interactive, kid-friendly fountain. In a town known for its haunted inns and cemeteries, why shouldn't a park have an afterlife? Barnard St. between Bryan St. and Congress St.
This genteel Southern belle has a surprisingly hip side: cult film houses, indie music venues, and shopSCAD, which sells Savannah College of Art and Design student-fashioned pieces like ceramic skull tumblers and pyrite earrings. 340 Bull St., shopscad.com, tumbler $17.50.
Even queues around the block won't keep fans from dinner at Paula Deen's The Lady & Sons. For dessert, follow another Deen cue and head to Back in the Day Bakery, where Paula says the old-fashioned cupcakes taste just like her grandmother's (or try nostalgic Southern staples, such as red velvet cake or banana pudding). 2403 Bull St., backinthedaybakery.com, cupcake $3.
Savannah has been a regional art hub since 1886, when the Telfair Museums opened as the South's first art museum. Admission includes entry to the original building, as well as the Jepson Center for contemporary art and the Owens-Thomas House decorative-arts gallery. 121 Barnard St., telfair.org, admission $20.
WHERE TO STAY
Built in 1851 as the city's first hotel, The Marshall House doubled as a hospital for Union troops during the Civil War. The property was renovated in 2008, but it still retains its green shutters and charming wrought-iron veranda. 123 E. Broughton St., marshallhouse.com, from $119.
CHARLESTON, SOUTH CAROLINA
Best for: Foodies, History Buffs, Shoppers
Charleston was founded in 1670, more than half a century before Savannah. Sometimes called The Holy City for the prevalence of churches found here (over 400 in total), the city is also known for the Charleston single house—a unique local style that is only one room wide, often pastel-hued, and famed for its two-story porch. If the town looks familiar, it may be because it was the setting for the film Porgy and Bess. Two things every visitor should sample here: she-crab soup and the potent Planter's Punch. The city has a population of 120,083.
A three-year, $5.5-million renovation has left Charleston City Market feeling more like a boutique than the tourist trap it once was. It's still a go-to spot for classics like benne (sesame) wafers and sweetgrass baskets. 188 Meeting St., thecharlestoncitymarket.com, wafers $5.
It's no secret that Charleston is a hotspot for African-inspired, seafood-rich Lowcountry cuisine. Now the city is also a hub of New Southern dining, thanks in part to chef Sean Brock's restaurant Husk. The James Beard Award winner promises that every ingredient—from Tennessee truffles to Texas olive oil to South Carolina oysters—hails from the South. 76 Queen St., huskrestaurant.com, oyster stew $12.
By 1800, the city's reputation for spiritual tolerance helped draw America's largest Jewish population—more than New York City! After a visit to Kahal Kadosh Beth Elohim, America's oldest temple in continuous use, nosh at Hyman's Seafood & Aaron's Deli, where pastrami shares the menu with grits and okra. 215 Meeting St., hymanseafood.com, pastrami $9.
No self-respecting history buff would miss Fort Sumter, where the Civil War's first shots were fired. But don't skip Fort Moultrie, which guarded the city from 1776 to 1947. Its original palmetto-log walls were so powerful, they earned the tree its spot on the state flag. 1214 Middle St., Sullivan's Island, nps.gov/fosu, $3.
WHERE TO STAY
Located about a half hour from town on the Ashley River bluff, The Inn at Middleton Place is a minimalist gem with floor-to-ceiling windows and cypress paneling. Stays give you access to the on-site 1755 plantation house and America's oldest landscaped gardens. 4290 Ashley River Rd, theinnatmiddletonplace.com, from $129.
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11 New Hotel Wonders
If the best architecture aims at eternity, to paraphrase famed English architect Christopher Wren, then these new hotels are bound to be immortal. The 11 hotels on our list all opened within the last four years, and each is an example of awe-inspiring design in its own right. You can stay in a wave-like skyscraper in Chicago, a stack of cantilevered cubes in Portugal, or a hotel tucked into the wild cliffs of an Australian island. And, even better, it won't cost a fortune to spend a night in these architectural wonders. Seven of the 11 are under $200 a night. SEE THE WORLD'S MOST AMAZING NEW HOTELS 1. BELLA SKY COMWELL Copenhagen, DenmarkThe two structures that make up the Bella Sky each incline at a slightly different angle. Or as the architects sweetly put it, the towers are drawn to each other, "yet seem a little shy." In fact, the creative use of angles is employed both inside the property and out—geometric angles give the exterior a filigreed look, while inside the hotel there are rooms where there are no 90-degrees at all (there are over 200 different room shapes in the 812-room hotel). The location, in the Copenhagen neighborhood of Orestad five miles from the city center, actually inspired the leaning-tower design. The buildings are so close to the airport that height restrictions dictate that they must not exceed 246 feet. 011-45/3247-3000, bellaskycomwell.dk, from $155 per night. 2. JUMEIRAH AT ETIHAD TOWERS HOTEL Abu DhabiQueensland architecture firm DBI Design won the World's Leading New Hotel Award for 2011 for this stunning $1 billion residential and retail center. The complex is made up of five towers on a beachside stretch on a peninsula in Abu Dhabi. Constructing the buildings that now dominate the modern skyline posed structural challenges. The towers all curve, meaning each floor slab is a different shape. The 382-room Jumeirah hotel takes up 66 stories of one of the towers. 888/645-5697, jumeirah.com, from $192 per night. 3. HOTEL CONSOLACIÓN Teruel, SpainPerched atop a ridge, this collection of 10 freestanding, wood-clad modernist cubes, or "Kube" suites, opened in 2009. Located in the rural mountain town of Teruel (a three-hour drive from both Barcelona and Valencia), the sleek cubes create a beautiful juxtaposition with the groves of olive and almond trees that surround them. Each suite has a sliding glass wall that opens onto a private terrace, and, inside, sparse interiors combine slate, copper-treated pine, and metal sheeting. The hotel incorporates some classic elements as well: a converted 14th-century hermitage serves as a communal area for guests. 011-34-978/85-67-55, consolacion.com.es, from $185 per night. 4. SOUTHERN OCEAN LODGE Kangaroo Island, Australia Architect Max Pritchard designed this lodge to blend into the dramatic surroundings of Kangaroo Island. Tucked back behind cliffs, the hotel opened in 2008 and consists of 21 suites cascading down a windswept slope, following the natural curve of the land, each with floor-to-ceiling glass walls and sweeping views of the Southern Ocean. Suites were constructed from lightweight materials—steel screw piles, timber framing, iron cladding—that could be carried in to create minimal disturbance to nature, and which also could handle the challenge of building on precarious soil conditions (several feet of sand atop solid limestone). Inside are environmentally sound sandblasted limestone floors and recycled spotted-gum walls. The off-the-grid location led to innovations such as sculptural containers for collecting rainwater. 931/924-5253, southernoceanlodge.com.au, from $1,000 per person, per night with a two-night minimum. 5. MARINA BAY SANDS SingaporeThis trio of 55-story towers opened in 2010 and hold an incredible 2,561 hotel rooms, plus a museum, casino, convention center, waterfront promenade, shops, and restaurants. Architect Moshe Safdie has said that his challenge "was to create a vital public place at the district-urban scale-in other words, to address the issue of megascale and invent an urban landscape that would work at the human scale." His way of dealing with that was to design the complex around two central axes to give a sense of orientation. The towers are connected at the top by the cantilevered, two-and-a-half-acre SkyPark, home to gardens, 250 trees, a public observatory and a 492-foot swimming pool—all perched high in the sky like a fantastical cruise ship forever suspended in midair. 011-65/6688-8868, marinabaysands.com, from $350 per night. 6. YAS VICEROY HOTEL Abu Dhabi This 499-room hotel was the first to be built straddling a Formula 1 racetrack (it opened in 2009 and was renovated in 2011 to become a Viceroy). The structure consists of a pair of 12-story towers joined by a sweeping, 700-foot curvilinear skin of glass and steel—actually 5,800 pivoting, diamond-shaped glass panels that reflect the sky by day and are illuminated up by an LED system at night. The architects' aim was to reflect artistry and geometries associated with ancient Islamic art and craft traditions, and from a distance the panels create the appearance of a spectacular veil. 888/622-4567, viceroyhotelsandresorts.com; from about $210 per night. 7. RADISSON BLU WATERFRONT HOTEL Stockholm, SwedenThe piece de resistance at this 414-room hotel of white polished stone and rough black stone is its attached conference center—a glass structure with an exterior made up of 13 miles of semi-transparent stainless steel rods. They reflect the sky and water, radically change the skyline, and are what architect Hans Forsmark describes as "a reminiscence of the Nordic Light." The interiors of the hotel, which opened in 2011, follow straight lines and geometric precision. 800/333-3333, radissonblu.com, from $155 per night. 8. AXIS VIANA HOTEL Viana do Castelo, Portugal The 88-room Axis Viana Hotel was a striking addition to the folkloric village of Viana do Castelo when it opened in 2008. The exterior is made up of reflective aluminum, black glass, and green stone, and the cantilevered design changes the shape of the hotel depending upon your vantage point. The contrasting interior consists of white finishes and materials including wood and stone. It's all edged by a shimmering outdoor pool and surrounded by views of the Lima River and Mount St. Luzia. 011-351/258-802-000, axishoteis.com, from $100 per night. 9.HÔTEL AMERICANO New York, New York The 10-story Americano sits on the site of a former parking garage in Manhattan's Chelsea neighborhood. Neighbors were likely pleased with the swap when the hotel opened in 2011. The building looks like a massive metal sculpture—perfect for the gallery-filled neighborhood—with floors connected by catwalks and wrapped with stainless-steel mesh. The industrial façade holds 56 rooms plus two restaurants, a lobby café and two basement bars; for urban escape, there is a roof deck with a pool, bar, and peaceful garden terrace. 212/216-0000, hotel-americano.com, from $295 per night. 10. MIURA HOTEL Celadná, Czech Republic Rising like a geometric spaceship in the Beskydy Mountains is this distinctive hotel made of concrete, sheet metal, violet glass, Corian, and stone. Miura opened in 2011 and is divided into three parts, one of which seems to levitate above the ground, plus two side wings containing the 44 rooms. The arrangement means that all of the rooms have views of the surrounding mountains. The striking hotel also has an impressive art collection, with works by Andy Warhol, Damien Hirst, and Czech sculptor David Černý. Known for his large-scale installations, Černý's works here include an almost 30-foot-tall stainless-steel man pushing against the exterior of the hotel. 011-420/558-761-100, www.miura.cz, from $126 per night. 11. RADISSON BLU AQUA HOTEL Chicago, Illinois Architect Jeanne Gang literally made waves in a city full of iconic skyscrapers with her showstopper building. The 82-story glass structure's exterior has undulating concrete balconies resembling the swirls and ripples of nearby Lake Michigan. Such a unique design brought with it a unique construction challenge—each floor plate is a different shape, which means a different concrete pour was required for every story. To manage it, the concrete was poured into a specially designed flexible metal edge that was reused over and over again—an important detail for green architecture. Much of the building is designated for private residences, but the 334-room Radisson Blu Aqua opened on 18 floors in November 2011. 312/565-5258, radissonbluchicago.com, from $175 per night. SEE MORE FROM BUDGET TRAVEL: 12 Elevators You Have to See to BelieveWorld's 16 Most Picturesque Villages15 International Food Etiquette Rules the Might Surprise You12 Hot Springs Worth Traveling For
The 14 Most Beautiful Home and Garden Tours in America
You might think home and garden tours are merely a superficial pleasure (the kind Grandma might enjoy), but you're only half right. Sure, these estates offer their fair share of sensory pleasures—the scent of blossoming flowers, the gurgle of fountains, the warmth of the sunshine as you traverse the grounds—but their beauty is far from skin-deep. To make our list, a property had to be as interesting as it is beautiful, and the result is a collection of homes with real stories to tell. A Georgian Revival mansion that housed descendants of Abraham Lincoln, a palatial, Charles II-style mansion so striking that three classic Hollywood films were shot there—these are the kinds of places you'll still be talking about long after you've left. And then there are the gardens—romantic, Italian-inspired grounds, tropical forests, the gardening world's versions of the Mona Lisa and David. Yes, Grandma would like these places, but who wouldn't? 1. FILOLI, WOODSIDE, CALIFORNIA Husband-and-wife gold-mine owners built this Georgian-inspired 36,000-square-foot house between 1915 and 1917, about 30 miles south of San Francisco. But the property's star feature is the 16-acre English Renaissance garden, which was completed in 1929. The 654-acre Filoli estate is known for its bonsai and magnolia collections, as well as the largest heirloom orchard in private hands in the United States. Best time to visit: In February through August on the fourth Wednesday of every month (and the third Wednesday in September and October), Filoli hosts afternoon teas, where visitors snack on scones with fresh lemon curd and sip tea out of china cups. Open Tuesdays-Sundays (except holidays) until October 21 in 2012, 86 Cañada Rd., 650/364-8300, filoli.org, admission $15, tea $45 (including admission). 2. HILDENE, MANCHESTER, VERMONT The 107-year-old Hildene is a must-see for presidential-history buffs: After all, it was built by Robert Lincoln, the only son of Abraham and Mary Todd Lincoln to survive into adulthood. Set on a promontory 300 feet above the Battenkill Valley in Vermont's southwest corner, the Georgian Revival mansion housed descendants of the president until 1975 and still contains Lincoln family heirlooms, such as a 1,000-pipe organ installed in 1908, as well as one of only three of the President's iconic stovepipe hats in existence today. Hildene's gardens are notable for their multi-colored flowers, including more than 1,000 peony blooms, planted to resemble a cathedral-style stained-glass window. Best time to visit: Mid-June marks the start of peony season; visit the Hoyt Garden to see Hildene's massive collection of the flowers (many from the original plantings) in bloom. Open daily (except for major holidays), 1005 Hildene Rd., 800/578-1788, hildene.org, admission $16. 3. VILLA TERRACE DECORATIVE ARTS MUSEUM, MILWAUKEE, WISCONSIN Built in 1923, the Villa Terrace was once owned by Lloyd Smith, president of the A.O. Smith Corporation, which made bicycle parts, hot water heaters, and later heavy munitions during World War II. The place now serves as a decorative arts museum, housing pieces from the 15th to the 18th centuries, including an extensive collection of artisan iron crafts. The estate's grounds, which overlook Lake Michigan, are known for the Renaissance Garden, which was modeled after 16th-century Tuscany and restored in 2002. Highlights include bushes that sprout culinary and medicinal herbs and the Scaletta d'Aqua, a water stairway that flows down past three terraces of crab apple trees into a fishpond.Best time to visit: Every year, on the first Sunday in June, the Renaissance Garden celebrates its official opening with free admission. Open Wednesday through Sunday, 2220 N. Terrace Ave., 414/271-3656, villaterracemuseum.org, admission $5. 4. MONTICELLO, CHARLOTTESVILLE, VIRGINIA Designed by Thomas Jefferson in the neoclassical style, this plantation home sits on a mountaintop 70 miles northwest of Richmond. From oval flowerbeds to winding paths, Jefferson designed every fruit, vegetable, and flower garden over two centuries ago. Today, those gardens are planted up to three times per year to let seasonal flowers shine, including bee balm and calendula. Don't miss the home itself, where you can see Jefferson's 18th-century furniture, books, and gadgets such as the polygraph, a device which used pens and ink to make exact duplicates of his letters as he wrote them.Best time to visit: Spring and early summer bring the prettiest blossoms. Vibrant tulips reign late April; ornamental Sweet William and delicate Canterbury bells bloom in May. Open daily except Christmas, 931 Thomas Jefferson Parkway, 434/984-9822, monticello.org, admission $17-$24 (depending on the season). 5. BILTMORE ESTATE, ASHEVILLE, NORTH CAROLINA Set against the Blue Ridge Mountains, George Vanderbilt's 250-room chateau-style estate ranks as the largest private home in America. The 75 acres of formal and informal gardens—from a tree-specked shrub garden with meandering paths to a manicured Italian garden dotted with pools—were designed by master landscaper Frederick Law Olmsted, best known for creating New York City's Central Park. There's also a conservatory filled with tropical plants and a rose garden, which houses more than 250 varieties of the flower.Best time to visit: During the annual Festival of Flowers (April 7-May 20), Biltmore's gardens burst with color as tulips and azaleas start to bloom. Open 365 days a year, 1 Lodge St., 800/411-3812, biltmore.com, admission varies by season and ranges from $35-$64. 6. BARTRAM'S GARDEN, PHILADELPHIA, PENNSYLVANIA Located less than 15 minutes from downtown Philadelphia, this 45-acre farmstead's bucolic vibe belies its urban surroundings. Not only do the grounds hold native species of ferns, wildflowers, and trees, including America's oldest gingko, but they're also home to the country's oldest living botanical garden, which botanist John Bartram started in 1728. Best time to visit: In past springs, boats to Bartram's have departed from Philadelphia's Central City, though prices and dates have not been set for this year. After a cruise down the Schuylkill River, visitors are led on a tour of Bartram's grounds. Open year-round (except holidays), 54th St. and Lindbergh Blvd., 215/729-5281, bartramsgarden.org, admission $10; boat tour tickets available at schuylkillbankstours.tix.com. 7. MAGNOLIA PLANTATION & GARDENS, CHARLESTON, SOUTH CAROLINA A former slave plantation established in 1679, Magnolia contains America's oldest public gardens. They were constructed in 1840 by John Grimké Drayton, the original estate owner's great-great grandson, and opened to visitors three decades later. Today, the English-style gardens feature winding paths lined with native azaleas (Grimké Drayton is said to have introduced the flower to the U.S.) and antique camellias, as well as a pre-Revolution-era plantation house and a petting zoo with African pygmy goats and whitetail deer.Best time to visit: Magnolia is known for its azalea collection—the biggest in the U.S.—so go in late March or early April when the flowers start to pop. Open year-round, 3550 Ashley River Rd., 800/367-3517, magnoliaplantation.com, admission $10. 8. VIZCAYA MUSEUM AND GARDENS, MIAMI Biscayne Bay glitters just beyond the 10 acres of European-inspired gardens and native forest at Vizcaya, an opulent, European-style villa built in 1916 as a winter home for agricultural industrialist James Deering. The mansion-turned-museum houses international antiques and art from the 15th through 19th centuries. But the real scene-stealer is the outdoor sculpture garden, which features artifacts like a Roman altar from the second century AD and the 290-year-old Sutri Fountain, imported from Italy especially by Deering.Best time to visit: Romantics will dig Vizcaya's moonlight garden tours, which offer live music and a chance to gaze at flowers under the stars and are scheduled around full moons. Check the website for dates. Open daily (except Tuesdays and Thanksgiving/Christmas), 3251 South Miami Ave., 305/250-9133, vizcayamuseum.org, admission $15. 9. NAUMKEAG, STOCKBRIDGE, MASSACHUSETTS This Gilded-Age mansion in the Berkshires was completed in 1886 as a summer retreat for prominent New York attorney Joseph Choate and his family. The 44-room house—which contains the Choates' furniture and artwork from Europe and Asia—sits among 10 acres of terraced gardens designed by America's first Modernist landscape architect, Fletcher Steele. Of particular note are the Blue Steps, four tiers of fountain pools surrounded by a grove of white birches.Best time to visit: The fall foliage in the Berkshires is considered some of the most stunning anywhere in America. The leaves hit their peak in October so head to Naumkeag as close to the end of the season as possible to see the leaves beginning to turn. Open daily, Memorial Day through Columbus Day, 5 Prospect Hill Rd., 413/298-3239, thetrustees.org, admission $15. 10. OLD WESTBURY GARDENS, OLD WESTBURY, NEW YORK Hollywood has made good use of this palatial, Charles II-style mansion on Long Island's Gold Coast: North By Northwest, The Age of Innocence, and Cruel Intentions were all shot here. The estate was built between 1904 and 1906 for financier and lawyer John S. Phipps, with elements borrowed from classic British country estates and the medieval Battle Abbey. The collections of English antiques, American furnishings, and Chinese porcelain were amassed over the family's 50-year residence. Westbury House sits on a 200-acre property that once held a number of Quaker farms, surrounded by eight formal gardens, plus wooded paths, ponds, and more than 100 species of trees.Best time to visit: Over 40 flower varieties (from lilacs to irises to tropical water lilies) bloom April through July, but leaf-peeping is a must in October, when Westbury's grounds burst with bold red, orange, and yellow fall foliage. Open daily (except Tuesdays), April 30 through October 31, 71 Old Westbury Rd., 516/333-0048, oldwestburygardens.org, admission $10. 11. HERMANN-GRIMA, NEW ORLEANS Built in 1831 by a German-Jewish immigrant, who made his fortune in cotton, the pink-bricked Hermann-Grima house—which still includes its original mahogany dining table and hurricane shades—contains the only horse stable and functional outdoor kitchen in the French Quarter. Outside, the grounds include Versailles-inspired ornamental parterre filled with antique roses and citrus trees.Best time to visit: Every October, Hermann-Grima commemorates 19th-century Creole mourning rituals with a "celebration" called Sacred to the Memory. The house is draped in black crepe, and a coffin is stationed in its parlor. It's morbid, sure, but it also happens to be the house's most popular annual event—and the closest you'll get to reenacting a scene from 1800s New Orleans. Open Monday-Saturday, 820 Saint Louis St., 504/525-5661, hgghh.org, admission $12. 12. GREEN ANIMALS TOPIARY GARDEN, PORTSMOUTH, RHODE ISLAND Have you ever seen a tree that looks like a teddy bear, or a reindeer, or a unicorn? You will at Green Animals Topiary Garden, one of the oldest of its kind in the country. Here, more than 80 plants (including California privet, yew, and English boxwood) have been clipped to resemble mammals, birds, and geometric shapes. The garden, which sits on seven acres overlooking Naragansett Bay, shares its land with a rose arbor and fruit trees. The grounds also include a white clapboard house that cotton manufacturer Thomas Brayton bought in 1872—a charmingly meager counterpoint to the ostentatious mansions of Newport, about 10 miles south of here.Best time to visit: Summertime at Green Animals brings sensory overload: The herb gardens are fragrant, the on-site orchards brim with fruit, and Naragansett Bay is guaranteed to be a picturesque shade of blue. Open May 12-October 8, 380 Cory's Ln., 401/847-1000, newportmansions.org, admission $14.50. 13. HISTORIC DEEPWOOD ESTATE, SALEM, OREGON The 4.2 acres of formal English gardens and nature trails at Deepwood—a multi-gabled, Queen Anne Victorian home built in 1894—were designed by Lord & Schryver, the Northwest's first female landscape architecture team. The gardens, which are surrounded by the Rita Steiner Nature Trail, are full of romantic touches: gazebos, ivy-covered arbors, and fleur-de-lis-adorned gates.Best time to visit: TheDeepwood Wine & Jazz Fest takes place in the estate's gardens on June 30; for $10, guests can stroll among the flowers while jamming out to local musicians. Oregon wine and gourmet snacks are on hand, too. Open daily (except Tuesdays), May 1-October 15; open Wednesdays, Thursdays, and Saturdays, October 16-April 30, 1116 Mission St. SE, 503/363-1825, historicdeepwoodestate.org, admission $4, though access to the grounds is free. 14. TALIESIN WEST, SCOTTSDALE, ARIZONA Frank Lloyd Wright's winter home and studio, where he lived from 1937 until his death in 1959, sits at the foothills of the McDowell Mountains in the Sonoran Desert. (The 550-acre property is now the main campus of the Frank Lloyd Wright School of Architecture and the international headquarters for the Frank Lloyd Wright Foundation.) The house, considered to be one of the architect's masterpieces for touches like the cabaret theater and shaded pool, was constructed with native materials such as desert rocks, and its translucent roof and slanted windows let natural light flood in. Wright was so energized and reinvigorated by Taliesin's desert landscape that he designed some of his most renowned buildings, like New York's Guggenheim Museum, in the abode's drafting room. Outside, the grounds include a sculpture garden filled with bronze statues and desert plants.Best time to visit: The year 2012 marks the 75th anniversary of Taliesin, and the milestone is being celebrated throughout the year with a series of symposiums, fundraisers, and concerts (check website for dates). If you want to skip the fanfare, sign up for the Night Lights tour, which runs Fridays from February through October. The two-hour trek starts at twilight and lets you experience Taliesin's grounds under the dusky desert sky. Open daily (except major holidays), 12621 North Frank Lloyd Wright Blvd., 480/627-5340, franklloydwright.org, admission varies by tour ($18-$60), Night Lights, $35. SEE MORE FROM BUDGET TRAVEL: 15 International Food Etiquette Rules That Might Surprise You To Go or Not to Go: 11 Places With a Bad Rap Secrets of the 10 Most Popular Cruise Ports World's 16 Most Picturesque Villages How to Do America's Most Scenic Drive—Without the Traffic
Upgrade Secrets from the Experts!
I have a long, transcontinental flight coming up. I dread being cramped in a coach seat, but I can't afford first class. What are my chances of getting bumped up for free? They're actually better now than ever. To cut costs, some U.S. airlines have been offering fewer flights in recent years, and coach can be overbooked. If a carrier bumps passengers, it's frequently required to provide either a substitute flight or a refund or both, per government regulations. The airline may not want to bump people if first-class seats are available. So how do carriers select the lucky few who get ferried to first class? It's all about the miles. Computers track frequent-flier and program miles and upgrade passengers automatically, based on who has earned the most. About 95 percent of those in first class on domestic flights last year were upgraded or used frequent-flier miles (sometimes with an additional fee), according to Joel Widzer, author of The Penny Pincher's Passport to Luxury Travel. But you need a lot of miles to qualify: Delta requires you to fly at least 25,000 a year to qualify for its entry-level Silver Medallion level. On the other hand, you can sometimes find upgrade certificates for sale online, courtesy of frequent fliers who can't use them before their expiration date. For instance, some United/Continental vouchers on eBay start with bids as low as $1. But even if you don't travel often, simply being a member of the airline's frequent-flier program helps your chances. It indicates some level of brand loyalty. Having an airline-sponsored credit card in your name helps, too, though those may come with hefty annual fees. Does dressing up so that you look like you'd belong in first class improve your chances of getting upgraded? Looking polished helps, but not as much as it once did. There's one outfit that seems to work better than even the finest couture: a military uniform. In the past few years, it's not unusual to see a first-class passenger give up his or her seat for military personnel. Any other tips for flights? Remember that gate agents deal with a lot of demanding, obnoxious passengers, and offering a few kind words and a smile goes a long way. John E. DiScala, founder of travel-advice site johnnyjet.com, reveals that chocolate helps him get upgraded-or at least moved to a better coach seat-about half the time. DiScala says he brings one-pound chocolate bars for the gate agents and flight crew, who have discretion on seating after the cabin door closes. Some people swear by the sob- or celebration-story strategy. Personally, I wouldn't go this route unless you really are a newlywed, on your way to a funeral, etc. Karma, you know. Showing up late might work, but it's risky. A man sitting next to me once in business class on Air New Zealand was huffing and puffing-he confessed to being intentionally late for every international flight, because then they rush you on the plane and into any available seat. Of course, the downside is you'll be turned away if the flight is already full. One big upgrade advantage is flying solo. Airlines try to put families together, and they may need your coach seat to do that. Chances are there's only one empty seat in first or business class. Finally, before you book the flight, you may want to consider trading in your frequent-flier miles for an upgrade, though the numbers may be steep: On Delta, it takes 10,000 miles for an upgrade on domestic round-trip tickets and 30,000 miles for flights from the U.S. to Europe-but that's not applicable on certain discount fares. That said, there are more opportunities now than ever to earn frequent-flier miles, not only by traveling but also through credit cards, hotel stays, car rentals, and online shopping sites. "When you consider that one can earn three points per $1 spent on a credit card, 10,000 miles seems less daunting," Widzer points out. A friend of mine ended up getting upgraded to a suite at a hotel in Vegas. She's not a high roller, so how did she land that freebie? Just as with airlines, brand loyalty really helps. If you're visiting a chain hotel, sign up for its frequent-traveler program. Also, according to Widzer, you're more likely to get upgraded if you book directly with the property, on the hotel's website or by phone, rather than with a third party, such as hotels.com. "Booking direct is by far the biggest thing you can do to get an upgrade," Widzer advises. If you see a lower price online, call the hotel and ask them to match it. Unlike with the airlines, however, you are most likely to get a hotel upgrade if you travel during a low-occupancy time, such as weekends at business-oriented hotels. When vacant suites are available, the hotel may bump you up, hoping to impress you and gain future business. You also may have better luck at a new property that's angling to create good word of mouth. The time of day matters, too. It helps to check in later, once the hotel has a better handle on its occupancy for the night. If you arrive at 8 p.m. and their suites still aren't full, they may upgrade you for free or for very little, since few new guests are likely to come and pay for them. Another strategy DiScala says has worked for him: Befriend the bellman. "I visited Vegas at a not-busy time once and tipped the bellman well," he says, "so he gave me a free upgrade." The same tactic may work with the concierge. What about rental cars? Is it true you're most likely to get upgraded if you book the cheapest car at first? Yes, and here's why: The cheapest rental cars tend to sell out first, leaving the company no choice but to upgrade you. That said, the check-in clerk may try to sell you an upgrade for a discounted fee. Say no. If they don't have the car you reserved, they usually give you a better model at no extra charge. Arrive early in the day, before most people return their cars, for the best shot. Loyalty also counts. Join a car-rental company's membership program, and you may get special offers for upgrades. You should also search online for coupons. The site carrentalupgrade.com is worth bookmarking, in particular. Some car-rental firms also run their own promotions for upgrades through organizations such as AARP and AAA. And always remember to ask: Politely requesting an upgrade is often the best, easiest bet. Reader's Best Upgrade Strategies What's it take to get out of the cheap seats? We asked BT readers to share their favorite upgrade strategies. Volunteer to Get Bumped: My flight from JFK to Amsterdam was over-booked and someone was in my seat. He was adamant: He wouldn't move. I was so embarrassed by his behavior that I told the flight attendant if I could catch my plane from Amsterdam to Glasgow I'd be OK getting bumped. After 15 minutes she said "follow me" and turned up a flight of stairs. I had never even seen first class before! —Cyndi Armstrong, South St. Paul, Minn. Speak in Romance Language: My hubby and I got upgraded to business class to Ireland for our honeymoon. We just mentioned the purpose of the trip during check-in and the flight attendant did it-no questions asked. Another time, we got upgraded to a suite at a Crowne Plaza because we mentioned we were there for Valentine's Day. It was a nice surprise, since we'd scored the hotel on Priceline for a song. —Caroline Dover Wilson, Greer, S.C. Rent at the End of the Week: Most compact and midsize cars are rented out early in the week to business travelers, so if you try to rent closer to the weekend, you have a good chance of getting upgraded because they are out of "business" cars by then. —Megan Cushman Dezendegui, Miami