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Travel News: Cruise Bookings Are Up, a Blowout Day of the Dead Celebration in San Antonio, and California's Wildfires Rage On

By The Budget Travel Editors
August 10, 2018
A cruise ship navigates a waterway in beautiful New Zealand mountains
Helena Bilkova/Dreamstime
There’s a great big world out there, and our latest “news you can use” may inspire a trip you never knew you needed.

Got a hankering for adventure? So do millions of other travelers, which is giving a big lift to the cruise industry, a new report shows. In this edition of Travel News, we have the details on the study, an update on the ravaging wildfires, and a not-so-subtle reminder that it’s never to early to start planning fall travel, especially if you’re interested in the country’s biggest Day of the Dead celebration.

CRUISES GROW IN POPULARITY AMONG ADVENTURE-HUNGRY AMERICANS

More than 27 million people board cruise ships each year and that number is on the rise. According to a recent report from the Cruise Lines International Association, 62 percent of agents surveyed report a spike in cruises booked to Alaska, which now ranks the fastest growing destination in the cruise industry. The Caribbean/Bermuda/Mexico, Mediterranean Europe, and Canada/New England are also seeing popularity growth by 41 percent, 36 percent, and 36 percent, respectively. Most agents cite more vacationers with an itch for adventure as the driving force, a major reason for Alaska’s popularity. It makes sense, then, that the report found younger travelers taking more cruises. Over the past two years, bookings by travelers ages 40 to 49 have increased by 39 percent and by individuals aged 30 to 39 by 43 percent. The enthusiasm has also played out in consumers’ willingness to spend more, shelling out cash to add land-based excursions to their trip.

IN TRUE TEXAN STYLE, SAN ANTONIO GOES BIG TO CELEBRATE DAY OF THE DEAD THIS FALL

New Orleans has Mardi Gras, Boston has its St. Patrick’s Day Parade, and San Antonio has Día de Muertos. The ancient traditional Mexican holiday, Day of the Dead, is a commemoration of those who have passed away. It’s so historic that it was added to UNESCO’s Representative List of the Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity in 2008. This year, as San Antonio celebrates its Tricentennial, it’s pulling out all the stops for the three-day holiday, holding 20 events from October 20 through November 3. Free music and cultural performances will take place pop-up-style in the city's public spaces. Plus there are various festival-esque events like Muerto Fest, a free festivity with traditional open-air alters, parades, live poetry and a remarkable range of live music. Local youth steal the spotlight on November 2 and 3 for Say Si Muerititos, a community event where students showcase their art as local dancers and musicians perform throughout the day. And restaurants around San Antonio are pitching in with specials throughout the two weeks. In short, if you haven’t arranged your travels to this city to celebrate its centuries-long heritage, you can double-down on the revelry if you start planning now.

WEST COAST WILDFIRES CONTINUE TO BURN

With 16 active blazes in the state and one just over the border in Oregon, California’s first responders are putting out fires on multiple fronts, from the Ferguson Fire, which forced parts of Yosemite National Park to close for the first time in nearly three decades, to the Mendocino Complex Fire, the largest in the state’s history. In northern California, outside of Redding in Shasta County, firefighters continue to battle the Carr fire, the state’s sixth-most destructive of all time. As of Friday morning, California’s Department of Forestry and Fire Protection is reporting that the Carr fire is 51 percent contained, but it’s burned 181,496 acres and claimed eight victims so far, with a red-flag warning in effect through Saturday night due to hot, dry conditions and gusty winds. While the Whiskeytown recreation area has been evacuated and is closed to visitors until further notice, some of the region’s notable attractions remain open, including McArthur-Burney Falls Memorial State Park, the museum at Turtle Bay Exploration Park, Lake Shasta Caverns, and Santiago Calatrava’s Sundial Bridge. “We have been so impressed by the tremendous efforts and sacrifices made by emergency services personnel, and we are so proud of this community,” says Laurie Baker, CEO for the Redding CVB and general manager of the SCWA.

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Travel News: Last-Minute Labor Day Deals, Safety Apps for Solo Travelers, and Halloween Fun Starts in September

From exceptional savings for the closing weekend of the summer (New York to West Palm Beach for under $300, anyone?) to important steps every solo traveler must take to ensure peace of mind to the kickoff of spooky fall fun at Universal (yes, it’s almost that time of year again), this week’s latest travel news is all about making the most of the waning days of summer 2018. LAST-MINUTE LABOR DAY DEALS So you think we’re already past the best day to buy airline tickets for Labor Day weekend getaways? Think again. With Labor Day flights at their lowest price point in about four years, our friends at Skyscanner have been busier than every digging into super-low airfares, delivering tons of great deals under $300: Miami to Nassau, New York City, or San FranciscoNew York to Toronto, West Palm Beach, or Portland, MaineLos Angeles to Austin, Chicago, or Washington, D.C.Chicago to Boston or San DiegoHouston to Denver or Los AngelesSkyscanner offers a complete list of exceptional Labor Day Deals worth checking out asap. SAFETY APPS FOR SOLO TRAVELERS While we feel strongly that travel is accessible to everyone, and we’d be the last to tell you that traveling is “unsafe,” we’re also proponents of being prepared for all possibilities while on the road. When it comes to solo travel, that preparation can be all the more vital. With that in mind, we were psyched to learn about a few apps that can easily help solo travelers stay in control on their next adventure: Download Burner to obtain a “dedicated travel phone number,” so when you make new friends on the road, you’re not sharing your permanent mobile number. If you decide that your dedicated travel number has fallen into the wrong hands, you can just “burn” it and get a new one. Companion will connect your friend and family into virtual body guards by allowing them to view a live map of your trip and receive updates on your safety status. Noonlight is super-simple: You push a button when you feel unsafe, then the app gives you a few seconds to enter a 4-digit PIN that means “I’m ok.” If the PIN is not entred, Noonlight sends a message to local authorities telling them where you are and that you need their help. TripWhistle will give you the local emergency phone number anywhere you happen to be in the world. Think of it as the 411 on 911s. HALLOWEEN FUN STARTS IN SEPTEMBER We know, you want to enjoy the rest of your summer without thinking about stocking up on trick-or-treat candy or fabulous costumes. But tickets just went on sale for Universal Studios Hollywood’s Halloween Horror Nights, including an R.I.P. tour featuring a guide, trolley access, buffet dinner, and Unlimited Universal Express Privileges. The festivities open on September 14 and run on select nights through November 3. Now, resume your summer fun:)

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Travel News: 50 Best Southern Restaurants and Two New Studies Reveal Americans' Travel and Spending Habits

Like fashion and music tastes, travel habits are an ever-evolving sign of the times. This week we bring you the results of two separate studies: one that found a sizable increase in solo travel, something that was considered dangerous or even taboo in the past, and another that revealed that more Americans of all ages are prioritizing travel over other long-term money-saving goals. And since we're never one to overlook food news, we can't get enough of OpenTable's list of the top 50 Southern restaurants across the United States. The best part is they're not all south of the Mississippi, so you might not have to travel far for top-rate fried green tomatoes or chicken and waffles.  MORE AMERICANS ARE TRAVELING SOLO While family vacations and girlfriend getaways will always be American traditions, a new study reveals an increase in solo travel. According to Hostelworld (hostelworld.com), an online hostel-booking platform with 36,000 properties in more than 170 countries, solo bookings increased 42 percent between 2015 and 2017. The finding applies to women more than men, with a 45-percent increase in bookings and 40-percent increase respectively. Hostelworld’s study also shows a shift in top destinations. Cuba more than quadrupled its popularity, rising to the top of the list as solo travelers' favorite destination. After Cuba, Macedonia, Guatemala, and the United Arab Emirates are the top vacation spots for women, while men prefer the  UAE, Luxembourg, and Sri Lanka if they're going it alone. Increased internet access, better gadgets, and the growing acceptance of working remotely all contribute to the ability and desire to hit the road without a sidekick. VACATIONS TOP THE LIST OF SAVINGS GOALS The economy will always have its ups and downs, but according to a new study, one thing that’s a constant amid the fluctuations is Americans’ need to travel. A recent report from SunTrust Banks (suntrust.com) revealed that 45 percent of people say that travel is their top reason for saving money—a finding that’s consistent across generations, with millennials reporting at 47 percent and the silent generation (ages 73 and up) at 38 percent. In other words, vacation is now a higher priority than having a stash of cash for emergencies or home-buying. Building a nest egg ranks second on the list, with 37 percent, and retirement pulls up the rear at 30 percent. Those results are proof of our human instinct for immediate gratification. While buying a home or retiring might seem a far-off, distant event for many, a safari or a weekend in the tropics are a much more attainable goal, and one that can result in more instant happiness. THE BEST SOUTHERN EATS IN THE USA There is no shortage of restaurants in America that turn out fried chicken, shrimp and grits, and fried green tomatoes. But only a select few of them—50, to be exact—are treasured enough by diners to land a spot on OpenTable’s Best Southern Restaurants list, which was unveiled earlier this week. The site, which handles online reservations for more than 25 million diners at 46,000 restaurants each month, compiled results based on more than 12 million verified OpenTable diner reviews for more than 27,000 restaurants in all 50 states and Washington, D.C.  The winners span 10 states, and it’s no surprise that Louisiana took the crown with eight chart-toppers, including longstanding low-key New Orleans institutions like Mr. B’s Bistro and Willa Jean. Popular Southern cities Nashville, Birmingham, Charlotte, Charleston, and Savannah all claimed multiple selections on the list as well. But as proof that Southern food is American food, winners can also be found north of the Mississippi. Maple Tree Inn in Chicago, known for its Creole-Cajun fare, and the rustic-chic Root & Bone in Manhattan also landed on the lineup. Summer comes to a close on September 21, but it’s reassuring to know that you can depend on any of these restaurants for warm-weather eats all year round. 

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Travel News: Most Instagrammed Movie Locations, Vancouver’s Bird Parade, and More U.S. Travelers Are Buying Trip Insurance

From the posh shopping of Beverly Hills to the mountains of Austria, from an unusually colorful and playful parade in Vancouver, B.C., to new findings about the value of travel insurance, this week’s top travel news is all about empowering you to make your last-minute summer or fall vacation plans right now. MOST INSTAGRAMMED MOVIE LOCATIONS It’s no coincidence that some of the most beautiful and intriguing movie locations also make some of the best vacation destinations. After all, film location scouts spend much of their time on the road discovering and evaluating potential shoot locations for unique beauty and atmosphere. When the folks at On The Go Tours decided to crunch the numbers on how often popular movie locations were tagged on Instagram, we had to know their findings. Here, some of the most Instagrammed movie locations in the world: Beverly Hills, CA. In the heart of Tinseltown, this little city-within-a-city boasts iconic Rodeo Drive, perhaps best known as the site of Julia Roberts’s shopping spree in Pretty Woman. Maybe that’s why Beverly Hills tops the list, with 3.9 million Instagram hashtags.Salzburg, Austria. You know it as the home to the Von Trapp family in The Sound of Music (it’s also Mozart’s birthplace), and this gorgeous mountain city has logged 1.7 million hashtags.Dubrovnik, Croatia. This ancient city has become better known in recent years thanks to its supporting role in TV’s Game of Thrones, earning it 1.5 million hashtags to date.Caesar’s Palace, Las Vegas. This eye-popping casino attained movie-icon status when Dustin Hoffman and Tom Cruise rode the escalator in Rain Man, and the site’s 1.3 million hashtags suggest many of us have never forgotten that scene.Notting Hill, London. We'll give you one guess which 90s rom-com made this neighborhood an Instagram sensation, with 950,000 hashtags to date. Hint: The film starred Hugh Grant and Julia Roberts, suggesting that Roberts, thanks to Pretty Woman and Notting Hill, has attained the (admittedly niche) distinction of being the world’s most Instagram-hashtag-inspiring actor.VANCOUVER’S BIRD PARADE Psst! Are you busy on August 20? Well, clear your calendar and fly to Vancouver, B.C., where bird lovers will, um, flock for Birds on Parade, celebrating the 2018 International Ornithological Congress and the Vancouver International Bird Festival, which runs from August 19 through 26. The parade will include costumed bird stilt dancers, bird choruses, and handmade bird puppets, with an emphasis on the birds that live in or migrate through British Columbia. MORE U.S. TRAVELERS ARE BUYING TRIP INSURANCE AAA reports that nearly four in 10 Americans are likely to purchase travel insurance for international trips, with 88 percent saying that trip-cancellation protection is their top priority when considering insurance. “More than 30 million family travelers will visit an international destination this year, 9 percent more than just two years ago,” said Bill Sutherland, senior vice president of AAA Travel and Publishing. “There are just too many unknowns, like family emergencies and natural disasters, which can throw an unexpected wrench into a planned vacation. Travelers are increasingly not taking chances and they’re choosing to invest in the value and peace of mind that travel insurance can provide, for international as well as domestic and cruise vacations.”

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Travel News: Yosemite Fires, Tours through Tennessee Whiskey Territory, and New Regulations for Airbnb

About to leave for your summer vacation? We’ve got some urgent news about wildfires spreading through Yosemite. Like whiskey? If you're like the millions who visit the Kentucky Bourbon Trail, you certainly do. Now there's a new way to check out whiskey landmarks in Tennessee. Enjoy this week’s empowering travel news. WILDFIRES SHUT DOWN PARTS OF YOSEMITE VALLEY Wildfires raging near Yosemite National Park in California have forced the park to close Yosemite Valley to visitors for the first time in 28 years. Officials encourage current visitors to “get yourself out of here.” All hotels, campgrounds, and visitor services in Yosemite Valley and Wawona are closed at least through July 29. Same goes the Mariposa Grove of Giant Seqouias. Vendors servicing these areas are issuing cancellations and refunds for reservations. While the park itself is not within the burn area, smoke in the Valley has created low visibility and health concerns for visitors and staff. Additionally, portions of the park, including Glacier Pass, are being used as staging areas for firefighting operations.    The good news is that there are several nearby options for modifying Yosemite travel plans. Tuolumne Meadows and Hetch Hetchy Reservoir, on the North side of Yosemite, are still open, as is the Eastern Sierra, Mono Lake, Mammoth Lakes, and Devil’s Postpile. Additionally, King’s Canyon and neighboring Seqouia National Parks, a few hours south, are unaffected by the fires. Travelers coming to Yosemite from San Francisco might consider rerouting north through Muir Woods and to Redwood National Park. The park will continue to monitor the situation. For 24-hour updates on Yosemite National Park road and weather conditions call the hotline (209-372-0200) or visit the park's website (nps.gov/yose). LONGSTANDING WHISKEY-CENTRIC KENTUCKY TOUR COMPANY EXPANDS ITS OFFERINGS TO TENNESSEE Even with GPS and self-guided walking tours that many city organizations offer for download, nothing quite beats being shown around by a local expert. Now more and more tour companies are going off the well-trod path to show the best the city has to offer, with thematic excursions that provide a rich taste of local culture. Mint Julep Tours (mintjuleptours.com), known for its expeditions to various distilleries along the Kentucky Bourbon Trail, is expanding its repertoire to Tennessee. (Thank you, designated driver.) Smaller distilleries are making names for themselves, even as they operate in the shadows of Jack Daniel's, and whiskey lovers are drawn there to discover the spirits and all the cultural Southern hallmarks that influence distillers. Half-day tours include stops at a barbecue restaurant, a boot designer, and a mixology class at a historic mansion. Full-day tours include visits to a leather company in Jack Daniel’s hometown of Lynchburg, lunch at an old-world soda fountain, and a VIP tour of the distillery. There’s also a border crossing into Kentucky to visit Maker’s Mark and a few other nearby bourbon makers. Meantime, in celebration of its 25th anniversary, Chicago Trolley & Double Decker Co. launched new stops to its 14-stop flagship route, which covers all the historic downtown sites. SHORT-TERM RENTAL COMPANIES FACE NEW RESTRICTIONS It hasn’t been a great couple of weeks on the home-share front. As cities like Boston, New York, and San Diego pass legislation aiming to curb short-term rentals, they join a groundswell of international and domestic push-back to Airbnb, HomeAway, and other online services. In June, Boston’s city council voted to ban rentals that aren’t owner-occupied, and mandated that short-term rental hosts register with the city, pay fees, and notify their neighbors. The San Diego City Council voted to collect fees from hosts as well, and also acted to limit short-term rentals to primary residences, outlawing second homes from the vacation-rental pool—a bombshell decision for the tourism-friendly destination. And if New York’s new bill becomes law, hosts will be required to register with the city there too, making it easier for government officials to crack down on illegal rentals. But the companies profiting from these short-term rentals aren’t going quietly into the night. A lawyer for Airbnb and HomeAway reportedly promised legal action in San Diego, and both companies released statements condemning the Boston decision. Airbnb also opposed the bill in New York, with the company’s head of global policy telling Bloomberg that the city council “is a wholly-owned subsidiary of the hotel industry, and they aren't interested in working together.” How it will all shake out remains to be seen, but you might want to arrange for those home shares while you still can, or do it the old fashioned way and book a hotel room instead. 

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