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  • Orlando, Florida
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    Orlando,

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    Orlando () is a city in the U.S. state of Florida and is the county seat of Orange County. In Central Florida, it is the center of the Orlando metropolitan area, which had a population of 2,509,831, according to U.S. Census Bureau figures released in July 2017, making it the 23rd-largest metropolitan area in the United States, the sixth-largest metropolitan area in the Southern United States, and the third-largest metropolitan area in Florida behind Miami and Tampa. Orlando had a population of 307,573 in the 2020 census, making it the 67th-largest city in the United States, the fourth-largest city in Florida, and the state's largest inland city. The City of Orlando is nicknamed "the City Beautiful", and its symbol is the Linton E. Allen Memorial Fountain, commonly referred to as simply the "Lake Eola fountain" at Lake Eola Park. The Orlando International Airport (MCO) is the 13th-busiest airport in the United States and the 29th-busiest in the world.Orlando is one of the most-visited cities in the world primarily due to tourism, major events, and convention traffic; in 2018, the city drew more than 75 million visitors. The two largest and most internationally renowned tourist attractions in the Orlando area are the Walt Disney World Resort, opened by the Walt Disney Company in 1971, and located about 21 miles (34 km) southwest of downtown Orlando in Bay Lake, and the Universal Orlando Resort, opened in 1990 as a major expansion of Universal Studios Florida and the only theme park inside Orlando city limits. With the exception of the theme parks, most major cultural sites like the Orlando Museum of Art and Dr. Phillips Center for the Performing Arts and world-renowned nightlife, bars and clubs are located in Downtown Orlando while most attractions are located along International Drive like the Wheel at ICON Park Orlando. The city is also one of the busiest American cities for conferences and conventions; the Orange County Convention Center is the second-largest convention facility in the United States. Like other major cities in the Sun Belt, Orlando grew rapidly from the 1970s into the first decade of the 21st century. Orlando is home to the University of Central Florida, which is the largest university campus in the United States in terms of enrollment as of 2015. In 2010, Orlando was listed as a "Gamma +" level global city by the Globalization and World Cities Research Network.
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    InspirationRediscover AmericaTravel Tips

    Most affordable destinations for New Years Eve 2022

    Priceline.com has released a list of the most affordable NYE destinations around the USA. *Based on average round-trip ticket costs and average daily hotel rates for travel anytime between December 17, 2021 - January 1, 2022. Most affordable round trip flights Times Square in NYC. Credit: schalkm, Getty Images 1. New York ($312) The ball drop in Times Square is a rite of passage, and Manhattan tends to go all out for new years eve festivities. 2. Las Vegas ($314) Vegas throws great parties! Our recommendation for NYE is this affordable 80s and 90s dance party on Fremont Street (must be 21+). Buy tickets here. 3. Fort Lauderdale ($317) Celebrate the new year in downtown Fort Lauderdale, which will have a band, free street festival, and a brilliant fireworks display at midnight. 4. Chicago ($319) Chicago has a new year's party for everyone. We count almost 30 different options for you to celebrate on the official city website, ChooseChicago. 5. Atlanta ($326) Atlanta celebrates the new year with a college football bonanza. Check out the Chic-fil-a Peach Bowl, and then celebrate your favorite team into next year. Most affordable hotels Credit: Sean Pavone, Getty Images 1. Las Vegas ($130) Say what you want about Vegas, it knows how to throw a party! Our recommendation? Dance the night away and then find a cheap hotel off the strip. Travelers can find great deals in Las Vegas on Priceline.com. 2. Pigeon Forge ($139) Pigeon Forge's Winterfest is a great family-friendly place to ring in the new year. The city puts up over 5 million lights to create a winter wonderland, as well as a fireworks display at midnight. 3. Washington, D.C. ($140) DC has a new year's party for every style and price range. Check out the list of great parties by clicking here. 4. Kissimmee, FL ($145) The Orlando area theme parks are a fabulous experience around the holidays, and several are staying open until midnight to ring in the new year, including Disney World's Epcot and Magic Kingdom. 5. Houston ($146) Houston has tons of family-friendly events to ring in the New Year. Our favorite is the High Noon Countdown at the Woodland Children's Museum on December 31. Celebrate with a dance party and several balloon drops, then get the kids home for bedtime! Check out Priceline's Season of Savings event - 6 weeks of rotating weekly deals on all types of travel. Travelers can save up to $625 on packaged bookings with extra discounts on select hotels in Las Vegas, Orlando, Mexico, and Hawaii including The Venetian Resort (LV), Virgin Hotels Las Vegas, Curio Collection by Hilton (LV), B Resort and Spa (Orlando, an official Walt Disney World Resort), Sheraton Waikiki (HI), Secrets The Vine Cancun Resort & Spa (MX, All-Inclusive and Adults Only), and more. All bookings must be made by Sunday, December 5, with travel to occur throughout 2022 (see website for exact details and terms as travel dates vary by hotel to receive additional savings). Be sure to check out Priceline.com to check out the deal of the week which is unveiled on Monday each week through January 3, 2022.

    DealsInspirationRediscover America

    Black Friday's best travel deals from around the web

    Whether you’re planning a staycation closer to home or an epic adventure in Mexico or the Caribbean, these Black Friday and Cyber Monday travel deals will help you do it for less, with rates starting under $250 per night and most travel dates extending into or through 2022. Note that blackout dates apply, most properties have flexible cancellation policies and some links won’t be active until November 26, 2021. Click here to join Budget Travel's free membership program for access to incredible deals year-round. Vacation Packages, Guided Tours and Cruises Apple Vacations & FunJet: Book November 24–December 4 to save up to $175 on mainland U.S. vacation packages and up to $500 on trips to Hawaii, Europe, Mexico, and the Caribbean. Beach Bound: Book your beach break November 26–30 to save up to $175 on trips to Florida and $500 on trips to Hawaii. Deals to Mexico and the Caribbean are also available, with $250 off stays of five or more nights with promo code BB250 and $500 off stays of seven or more nights with promo code BB500. Cheap Caribbean: This year’s specials include all-inclusive resorts from $49 per person per night, $250 off stays of five or more nights (with promo code CYBER250) and $500 off stays of seven or more nights (with promo code CYBER500) when you book November 25–30. G Adventures: Now through December 3, you can save up to 30% on over 500 guided tours around the world operating through March 31, 2022, and up to 20% on select tours through October 31, 2022, as part of G Adventures’ Cyber Sale. Go City: A great staycation option, you’ll get 15% off Go City passes in San Diego, Las Vegas, Los Angeles, San Francisco, Chicago, Boston, New York City, Miami, Orlando, Hawaii (Oahu), as well as Cancun and London, by purchasing them November 23–30. Passes are valid for up to two years so you can always wait until you’re ready to travel again before activating them. City Cruises: Celebrate the season with 20% discounts on dining cruises in various cities around the U.S., Canada and the U.K. when you use promo code CYBER20 to book November 23-29 and set sail in December 2021. Priceline: Its biggest sale EVER. Sales unlock throughout the day for deep discounts on hotels, rental cars, flights, cruises, and more. Email rewards members can be on the lookout for a mystery coupon offering up to 99% off on hotel bookings. Virgin Voyages: Those ready to get back into cruising can save 20% and score a $100 bonus bar tab (when purchasing a $300 bar tab) as part of Virgin Voyages’ sale. Book November 15–29 to save on Scarlet Lady sailings from December 1, 2021, to March 27, 2022, and Valiant Lady sailings from March 18, 2022, to May 22, 2022. Hotels in the U.S. Hyatt: You can save up to 15% at over 850 participating Hyatt hotels and resorts by booking now through December 21 and staying by April 30, 2022. Arlo Hotels: Book November 26–29 to save 40% on rates at Arlo Hotels’ Miami and New York City properties when you stay now through April 30, 2022. Caesars: Caesars’ Atlantic City and Las Vegas hotels are offering 25% off stays booked November 22–28 with promo code CYBER21 and 30% off rates booked on November 29 with promo code CYBERM and November 30 with promo code CYBERT. All stays must be completed by October 31, 2022. Lark Hotels and Bluebird by Lark: Save 25% at Lark’s properties in the Northeastern U.S. and California when you use promo code CYBER2021, book November 26–29 and stay by May 12, 2022. Westgate Resorts: Use promo code FRIDAY to save up to 50% off at one of Westgate Resorts’ 27 U.S. properties when you book November 26–30. Florida Thesis Hotel Miami: Save 40% on rates at this chic Coral Gables hotel when you book November 22–29 and stay November 22 through September 5, 2022. Shelborne South Beach: Book between Black Friday and Cyber Monday to receive discounts of up to 60% on stays through 2022. The Balflour Hotel: Reserve four or more nights now through November 30 to save 25% on stays through April 30, 2022. You’ll also receive a nifty $50 food and beverage credit to use while you’re there. Plunge Beach Resort: In Lauderdale-By-The-Sea, Plunge Beach Resort is offering 50% off weekday bookings made November 23–30. Use promo code Sale50 and stay for at least three nights by December 22, 2022. Sandestin Golf and Beach Resort: This popular panhandle resort is offering discounts of up to 40% when you book November 29–December 2 and travel by March 11, 2022. Tennessee Hu. Hotel: Use promo code CYBER to save 25% on rates at this newly redesigned Memphis property when you book November 26 to December 3 and travel from December 5, 2021, to February 24, 2022. Bode: With two properties in Nashville and Chattanooga to choose from, Bode is offering discounts of 25% on its apartment-style rooms when you book a stay of at least two nights between Black Friday and Cyber Monday and stay November 26, 2021, to February 28, 2022. Virginia The Alexandrian and Morrison House: Just a 20-minute drive from Washington, D.C. in Old Town Alexandria, these two luxury hotels are offering 20% off stays December 1, 2021, to March 31, 2022, when you book November 23–29. Colonial Williamsburg Resorts: Save 50% when you book November 23–29 and stay at least two nights between December 12, 2021, and March 31, 2022. Blue Ridge Parkway in Fall. Credit: Pgiam, Getty Images Rhode Island Hammett’s Hotel: Save up to 65% on your next trip to Newport, with weekday rates from $85 per night and weekend rates from $125 per night. Book November 26–30 and stay now through March 31, 2022, to take advantage of this offer. Pennsylvania $109 Poconos Ski Season Retreat: Includes Breakfast for two. Fully Refundable - Waking up to charming views of snowdrifts over Lake Wallenpaupack at Silver Birches in Hawley, PA, before days spent hiking, snowshoeing and cross country skiing through the Poconos. Philadelphia 4-star resort in city center: Flexible Deal - Hyatt Centric (Center City Philadelphia, PA) was so popular it sold out in under a week. In case you missed it last time, now's your chance to nab an upgraded room with killer views of Center City for just $149 per night through March. Massachusetts Those looking for a Berkshires getaway can save at the following properties when you book at least two nights November 26–30 and stay by May 26, 2022. Red Lion Inn: Save 65% at the Red Lion Inn in Stockbridge, where prices start at $100 per night during the week and $150 per night on weekends. Briarcliff Motel: In Great Barrington, rates start at $50 per night during the week and $110 on weekends. The Seven Hills Inn: This Lenox property has weekday rates from $79 per night and weekend rates from $99 per night, reflecting a savings of 45%. Porches Inn: Save 45% on rates at this popular North Adams property, which has weekday prices from $100 per night and weekend prices from $200 per night. New Jersey Wave Resort: In Long Branch, Wave Resort is offering 40% off rooms booked as part of its Black Friday / Cyber Monday deal, valid on stays now through April 2022 when you book by November 29. The Asbury: Celebrate Black Friday at The Asbury with 35% off rates (use promo code JUSTBOOKTHEROOM) and Cyber Monday with 40% off stays of at least three nights (use promo code YOUDESERVEIT) when you stay by April 30, 2022. Borgata Hotel Casino & Spa: Save 20% on rooms and 10% on suites at this fabulous Atlantic City resort when you book with promo code CYBER12 by December 2 and stay by April 30, 2022. Ocean Casino Resort: Save with king rooms from $59 per night and double rooms from $69 per night (each with a $20 food and beverage credit on Monday–Thursday stays November 28, 2021, to February 17, 2022) studio suites from $139 and one-bedroom suites from $239 on Sunday–Thursday stays within the same timeframe. Discounts to onsite shows and nightlife (valid November 22–29), and beauty services at the salon (valid November 22–December 6) are also available. Illinois Viceroy Chicago: Not only will you save 35% on bookings made now through December 6, you’ll also snag 30% discounts on dining when you use promo code CYBER2021 and stay by December 30, 2022. Sofitel Chicago, Swissotel Chicago and Fairmont Chicago: Three Accor hotels are offering 30% off stays November 22, 2021, to March 31, 2022, when you book November 22–29. Members of Accor’s loyalty program can also save an extra 10%. Gale Chicago: Save 60% during this Black Friday / Cyber Monday sale, with rates from $99 per night when you book November 26–29. Texas Hotel Granduca Austin: Save 20% on rates by booking November 29–December 3 and staying by May 31, 2022. As part of the deal, you’ll receive a $50 food and beverage credit and a $10 donation will be made to the Central Texas Food Bank when you use promo code CYBER21. Arizona Lodge on the Desert: In Tucson, guests who book November 26–29 with promo code BFCM21 and stay between January 1 and April 30, 2022, will receive 50% off rates and enjoy complimentary margaritas, chips and salsa. Hacienda Del Sol Guest Ranch Resort: This popular Tucson resort is offering 40% off rates on select dates from December 2021 through August 2022 when you book November 26–29 online or by calling (520) 299-1501.. Lower Antelope Canyon and Horseshoe Bend tour from $299: Fully refundable with 24 hours before experience cancellation. Explore this beautiful iconic canyon with the people of your choice.. Experience the West Rim of the Grand Canyon from $95: Free cancelation up to 24 hours in advance. This flexible West Rim coach tour offers optional activities to enhance your experience. California $249 Posh Sonoma Wine Country Resort. Fully Refundable - Retreat to Sonoma (Santa Rosa, CA) and stay on 92 acres of vineyards at the always popular Vintners Resort. The deal highlights the best of the resort and features everything you'd need for a relaxing, romantic wine country getaway — a plush room, farm-to-table dining, plus complimentary wine tasting for two people. The Meritage Resort & Spa and Vista Collina Resort: Both Napa Valley resorts are offering 30% discounts and $30 resort credits when you book November 24–30 and visit by March 31, 2022. As part of the deal, a $10 donation will also be made to The First Responders Children’s Foundation. Estancia La Jolla Hotel & Spa: This deal saves you 21% on rates, throws in a $21 daily food and beverage credit and donates $21 to Just In Time, an organization supporting foster youth, when you book by December 1 and stay by April 30, 2022. Newport Beach 4-star Hyatt stay from $159: Fully Refundable - Whether you're looking for a restful retreat or an action-packed adventure, The Hyatt Regency Newport Beach, CA has you covered. Hop on a beach cruiser and ride along the coast, soak up the SoCal sunshine by the pool or head to the nearby amusement parks through the end of the year. Hotels in the Caribbean and Mexico $569 Cabo beach resort for 3 nights w/ perks: Fully Refundable - Villa La Estancia – Cabo San Lucas, Mexico - This 4-star hotel sits on Medano Beach, one of the best beaches for swimming in Cabo, and it's only a five-minute drive from the happenings of the buzzing downtown area. St. Maarten All-inclusive beach vacation for 2: Kick back and relax on 10 acres of beachfront in the heart of Maho Village at Sonesta Maho Beach Resort & Casino St. Maarten, which is filled with shops, restaurants, and entertainment lounges. This deal covers 4-star digs, plus all your meals and drinks, for just over $100 per person, per night over peak winter season dates. All-inclusive Puerto Vallarta resort 3-night stay for 2 from $899: This luxe all-inclusive Hilton Vallarta Riviera in the heart of Puerto Vallarta Mexico first opened its doors in August. Be among the first to stay while nabbing a room with a private balcony overlooking the Pacific, with this deal for travel through 2022. Atlantis Paradise Island: In Nassau, Bahamas, Atlantis Paradise Island is offering 20% discounts when you book at least five nights November 25–29 and stay between November 28, 2021, and November 30, 2022. You’ll also receive two free Covid-19 antigen tests (for travel back to the U.S.) and a $50 daily resort credit — or a $100 daily resort credit if you sign up for early access November 22–24. Lighthouse Pointe at Grand Lucayan: This fabulous Grand Bahama resort is offering rates from $93 per person per night on bookings made November 23–30 for travel November 25, 2021–January 31, 2022. Rates include all taxes, fees, daily continental breakfast and unlimited greens fees at the onsite golf course. ​​Curaçao: ​​Celebrate Black Friday and Cyber Monday with deals at 13 hot hotels, including 45% off at Acoya Curaçao Resort, Villas & Spa; 20% off at Papagayo Beach Hotel and Papagayo Beach Resort; up to 50% off at Sunscape Curaçao Resort, Spa & Casino and Dreams Curaçao Resort, Spa & Casino; and perks like complimentary tours and breakfast, among other deals and discounts. Saint Lucia: Choose from more than 30 travel deals among Saint Lucia’s many hotels, resorts, tours and attractions, all part of the island’s Cyber Monday sale. Sonesta Maho Beach Resort, Casino & Spa: In St. Maarten, save 50% on stays of at least three nights at this all-inclusive resort when you use promo code BFSALE. Book now through November 28 and visit by December 23, 2022. Karisma Hotels & Resorts: Save 60% at Karisma’s all-inclusive hotels and resorts throughout the Caribbean and Mexico, including Azul Beach Resorts, El Dorado Spa Resorts, Margaritaville Island Reserve brands and Nickelodeon Hotels & Resorts when you book now through December 6 and stay by December 23, 2022. Iberostar Grand Bávaro, Coral Level at Iberostar Selection Cancún and Iberostar Grand Rose Hall: These fabulous five-star all-inclusive resorts — located in the Dominican Republic, Mexico and Jamaica, respectively — are each offering 60% off stays booked November 19–30. Las Brisas Hotel Collection: Score 40% discounts as well as 20% off food, drinks and spa treatments at Las Brisas properties in Mexico when you book November 22–29 and stay November 22, 2021–December 21, 2022. Call 1-866-221-2961 or email info@brisas.com.mx to book. Meliá Hotels International: This popular brand is offering two sales, each letting you save up to 50% at its U.S., Mexico and Caribbean properties. Now through November 28, use this link to book the Black Friday sale, then check this link for the Cyber Monday sale, available to book November 29–30.

    Theme Parks

    Disney during COVID-19: Is it safe?

    Disney closed at the start of the COVID-19 quarantine, laying off 32,000 employees by November. After 116 magic-less days, the parks reopened July 15, just as coronavirus cases soared in Orlando. Going to Disney World right now may seem ridiculous, and perhaps it still is. Now that months have passed since its reopening, it's not quite as empty, but it's not packed either. I'm not going to downplay the nuances of this decision to go to Disney World during the pandemic. There were cons. But to start, walking around Disney felt safer than your average grocery store. On a Thursday, during a crisp morning, the grounds of Hollywood Studios challenged my preconceived notions of how busy and crowded I thought it was going to be. Besides wanting to know if it is safe, the second most important question is: is it worth it? Warning: Florida coronavirus cases nearly surpass two million. While Orlando peaked over the holiday months, it's trending downward in February. Check regularly to monitor the flow of cases. The CDC also recommends against participating in anything revolving around crowds. When to go Unfortunately, there is just no way of knowing how busy the parks will get on any given day, but going during the week could give you better odds. At 100 percent capacity, Magic Kingdom can allegedly hold 100,000 guests. Parks are operating at 35% capacity, which is a jump from 2020 at 25%. While that is still 65% less than usual, that doesn't necessarily mean there aren't many people. You can still be in the park with around 30,000 people. When booking, pay attention to the colors of the day. Green means all the parks are still under the reduced capacity. Yellow means some parks are full, and red likely means no parks are available that day. Disney World precautionsDisney World requires attendants to wear a mask at all times, unless sitting or standing to the side, except in line. No food or drink permitted. Lines are maintained at six feet apart. You wouldn't think this could be true, but it was. Most of the lines snaked outside, so six feet apart didn't feel forced at all. Once you got inside, they tried hard to be smart about it. If the line snaked back in the direction of other people, they put plexiglass walls up to separate you. Or, when that wasn't feasible, they alternated the line so that you were never next to someone in a different section. Depending on your party size, you might get entire rows of the ride to yourself. On rides shared between two groups, they put up plexiglass. For example, there was plexiglass between our row and the people in front of us when we rode the Mickey and Minnie Runaway Train ride. There was also a noticeable increase in cleaning. You would often see employees wiping surfaces down. SafetyWe didn't see a soul without their mask on walking around the park, which is impressive considering that going to the grocery store, you don't always see the same respect. If you get caught walking and eating, they will quickly warn you to step to the side. I don't know if this is true for all parks, but I found Hollywood Studios' layout a little strange. Strange enough to where it was hard for people not to get congested at certain parts. I wore two masks the whole time, except when on a ride (then I wore one). The congestion obviously makes everything riskier, but it's definitely not the hoards of people you would experience here a year ago. It felt more like a packed grocery, but outside. It is worth bringing your own sanitizing wipes and hand sanitizer. While the employees are wiping things down, there are a couple of rides requiring 3D glasses. Only one person uses them before they get resanitized, but they get distributed in buckets where a grabby kid could touch a bunch of them. We wiped ours down. There are plenty of hand sanitizing stations at every ride entrance and exit, and walkway, but some of them are out. PlanningYou MUST get a Disney ticket and reserve a park. This is how they monitor capacity. The park reservation isn't extra, but it is required among admission. You also need a valid ID and the card you used to purchase. If you plan to park hop, you can only change parks starting at 2 pm with the park hopper pass. If you were hoping to get a boarding group for Rise of the Resistance, you must first go to Hollywood Studios. All we wanted to do was go to Star Wars: Galaxy's Edge. Since reopening, they reconfigured how you visit the park's most popular attraction: Rise of the Resistance. Instead of waiting in line and competing with fast passes (more on that in a second), this ride requires a boarding group. At 7 am the day of, the boarding group opens. You have to join a group that second, otherwise it fills. We didn't get it that first round (which was devastating and stressful). The only other opportunity you have is at one. Like I said, you MUST be in Hollywood Studios to be eligible to join a boarding group. Be aware of the time too. Otherwise, you might find yourself sitting in the car for Mickey and Minnie's Runaway Train, holding your phone as high as you can, trying to get enough service to join. Meanwhile, all the employees are shaking their heads... You know, it's just something I heard happens. Luckily, we got it. Once you have a boarding group, you keep doing what you're doing because it'll notify you when they call your group. At that point, you have an hour to make it to the ride. Word of the wise, if you can go as soon as your group is called, there is less wait than at the end of the hour. Another note, screenshot EVERYTHING. You don't want to take any chances with a glitch in the system. You can only ride this ride once. Fast passes and lines Disney World has currently suspended FastPass+ services, which means everyone stands in the same line, except for Rise of the Resistance, as it requires the boarding pass. Some people would die at the thought of not having the FastPass+, but for spontaneous travelers such as myself, I always found them stressful and unfair. I didn't want to be waiting in line for hours either, so this left me very unsure of what the day would bring. Surprisingly, I never waited more than 40 minutes for a ride, which was only for one. The Disney World app makes a huge difference in reducing your line wait. There is a map of the park with the wait times listed for each attraction in the app. I found the best strategy to tackle all of the attractions was to go against the flow. You could see how people were navigating their day. Everyone wanted to start at the main rides like Slinky Dog or the Millenium Falcon ride. We went straight to the back of the park to Rockin' Roller Coaster and Tower of Terror. The line was only 20 minutes long! The app is updated regularly, but the best gauge is when you get to the end of the line, an employee usually stands with the wait time posted on a sign. This happened once when we went to Slinky Dog; the app stated 40 minutes, but when we got there, the line was 55. We did not get in line. We got a snack instead. When the larger rides were that long we chose to eat snacks. That way, when everyone finished and went to eat themselves, we were ready to hop in a shorter line. Most of the lines were a lot faster than their posted time. The lines kept moving too, so it never felt like we were stuck waiting around all day. Getting foodLike I mentioned earlier, the best way to eat is to go while everyone else is in line for a ride. This is just smart theme park etiquette but also great for COVID-19 safety. For a sit-down experience, the restaurants are seating at a limited capacity and should socially distance (we didn't do this). Most of the restaurants also require a reservation with limited walk-up availability. If dining is important to you, these reservations need to be made weeks in advance. Oga's Cantina, by far the coolest dining experience for Star Wars, had nothing available for us. *Sigh* But that didn't stop us from having a great experience. All of the made to order vendors required you to order on the app first and then show the host your meal is ready before you are allowed to enter, limiting lines and exposure to people. We ate in between crowds, too, so we could feel more comfortable sitting down. Some were indoor-outdoor spaces, and some were just indoor. The app is super easy to use, and it will also help you scout out all the dining options. Note, some spots are closed because of COVID-19. So… was it all worth it? Was the magic still there? The answer is that it kinda depends. There are no fireworks shows in Magic Kingdom, arguably one of the most magical parts. You also can't meet any of the characters. Every now and again, you can spot one on top of one of the sets. We saw Chewbacca and Ray hanging out, but it wasn't quite the same. They were standing six feet from each other, and other than staring at them, there wasn't any interaction. You couldn't even get a good picture. They did have a mini-parade in Hollywood Studios with the Incredibles walking down the main street. Again, it wasn't the spectacular show and energy you are used to, but getting to experience all of the attractions before the day was up because lines were short? That was pretty cool. At this point, almost a year into COVID-19, our perceptions have changed so much. Our perception of crowds, time spent, life in general. For me, I thought it was great just getting to experience little moments of magic.

    Budget Travel Lists

    24 Socially Distant Getaways and Staycations You Can Do This Winter

    While many are staying home because of the pandemic, U.S. hotels and destinations have continued to carefully reopen, with contactless check-in and other cleanliness and hygiene protocols in place to help keep visitors and employees safe. A recent study by vacation rental search engine HomeToGo found that U.S. travelers are seeking more private, rural getaways with the family, with lots of short last-minute trips being planned — 44% to warm places by the beach and 24% to winter-weather destinations. The study also showed a 594% increase in searches for rentals near the Smoky Mountains compared to last year, indicating a preference for escapes to remote locations in the great outdoors this season. Whether you’re craving some quiet time in nature or an urban staycation closer to home, there are still plenty of options for those willing to travel safely — that means wearing a mask, practicing social distancing and adhering to local health and safety regulations. Here’s a look at 24 socially distant trips you can book this winter, all for under $250 per night. Maine In Camden, Hartstone Inn & Hideaway’s two-night package includes a tasting menu for two, daily breakfast and your choice of winter amenities — snowshoe rental, tickets to Gardens Aglow at Coastal Maine Botanical Gardens, a personalized Hartstone Inn cookbook or half-day lift tickets to nearby Camden Snow Bowl — from $199 per person. Use promo code Winter and book by March 31, 2021. New Hampshire The Sailmaker’s House in Portsmouth is offering a Skate & Stay deal now through February 28, with rates from $119 per night and two adult ice skating passes to nearby Puddle Duck pond available as a package add-on for $25. Vermont Stoweflake Mountain Resort’s Sensational Snowshoe Adventure package gives you complimentary parking, Wi-Fi and access to the Sports Club, one-day snowshoe and Nordic pole rentals for two and vouchers for breakfast or dinner at Charlie B’s. Rates from $224 per night based on double occupancy; book by April 14, 2021. Save 20% on accommodations, onsite dining or spa treatments at The Essex, Vermont’s Culinary Resort and Spa, in Burlington when you book by March 31, 2021. You’ll also receive hot chocolate and fireside s’mores each night of your stay. Note that you must charge dining at The Tavern or Junction, cooking classes at Cook Academy or spa treatments to the room in order to receive the 20% discount. Rates from $119 per night. Want to stay longer? Weekly rates are available from $109 per night for stays of at least seven nights through August 20, 2021. Connecticut The Inn at Middletown’s Sensational Family Winter Escape package includes a $40 room upgrade to a boutique one-bedroom suite, free Wi-Fi, one complimentary rollaway per room (based on availability) and snow tubing passes at Powder Ridge when you book and stay by April 30, 2021. Rates from $156 per night. New York The Rose and Thistle Bed and Breakfast in Cooperstown has a two-night package that includes two country breakfasts and a bottle of wine for $200 when you stay Sunday thru Saturday by March 31, 2021. Just mention the package when booking. Also in Cooperstown, The Curl Up and Unwind package at The Otesaga includes daily breakfast, complimentary Wi-Fi and parking and a signature hot cocoa mix kit created by the property’s culinary specialists. Book by March 31, 2021, to access rates from $149 per night. The Lake George Winterfest is happening every weekend in February and you can save 15% on area hotels by buying a $30 adult Winterfest Wristband for activities like axe throwing, cross-country skiing, snowshoeing, dog sledding or fat tire biking (kids’ tickets cost $15 each), bringing most area hotel rates below $200 per night. Washington, D.C. Thompson Washington D.C.’s Popcorn & Pints package treats you to one in-room movie, two bottles of Atlas District Commons beer and one bag of Capitol Kettle Corn, as well as perks like late 1 p.m. checkout and free parking. Rates from $199 per night when you book by March 31 for stays through April 4, 2021. Maryland The Hyatt Regency Chesapeake Bay Golf Resort, Spa and Marina in Cambridge, Maryland, is offering a 15% discount on rates and daily breakfast for two as part of its Getaway Winter special. Use promo code GET19A to unlock rates from $144 per night when you book by February 28 for stays thru April 3, 2021. Virginia Get your cabin-in-the-woods escape with a stay at James Riverfront Cabin, a cozy spot by the James River that’s within driving distance of the Appalachian Trail, Blue Ridge Parkway and some of the area’s best breweries and wineries. Rates from $159 per night, with enough room for up to seven people. At The Cabin on Back Creek — where rates start at $175 per night with a minimum two-night stay required — you’ll have two rooms to stretch out in and the chance to see or even help the owners make maple syrup. It’s nice and remote, too, about a three-hour drive from Richmond and 2.5 hours from Roanoke. ATV fans should check out The Real McCoy Cabins, a luxury campground located near the Pocahontas and Hatfield McCoy ATV trails, with rates from $139 per night. Train lovers can stay in a refurbished 1926 C&O Caboose, complete with Wi-Fi, access to streaming services and everything else you’ll need for a comfortable stay in the Virginia wilderness. Rates from $195 per night. Florida For a South Florida beach getaway, book now through February 12 to save 21% on rates all year long at SLS Brickell, SLS LUX Brickell, Hyde Midtown Miami and SLS South Beach during SBE Hotels’ winter sale. In Central Florida, Margaritaville Resort Orlando is offering rates from $149 per night through its Stay in Paradise package, which includes a one-time $50 resort credit and daily breakfast for two when you book at least two nights. Illinois The historic Drake Hotel in Chicago is celebrating its 100th year anniversary by offering 100 days of $100 rates when you book and stay by April 10, 2021. Nearby, The Drake Oak Brook offers an ideal wintertime escape, with more than 10 acres of gardens perfect for snowman-building and a cozy spot to warm up as you sip cocktails and play vintage board games by the fire. Rates from $158 per night. Want to take your beloved fur baby along for the ride? Hotel Zachary at Gallagher Way’s Bark & Park package comes with food and water bowls, a dog bed, a branded welcome amenity just for your pup, waived pet fees and free parking. Rates from $154 per night when you use promo code ZJ5 and book by November 24, 2021. Ohio The Mohicans Treehouse Resort & Wedding Venue, located about 90 minutes from Cleveland or Columbus, is offering special discounts on Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday treehouse stays now through March 16, 2021, when you use promo code BUDGET2021. With the discount, rates for the Moonlight, White Oak, Little Red, Old Pine and The Nest treehouses start at $200 per night, while rates for the Tin Shed, Silver Bullet, The View and El Castillo start at $250 a night. Tennessee If you’re in desperate need of a girlfriend getaway this winter, the Margaritaville Hotel Nashville’s Girls Just Want to Have Fun package comes with complimentary margaritas from Fins Bar, an in-room party pack, a $25 resort credit and late check-out when you book at least two nights. Rates from $174 per night. Wisconsin Give snowshoeing a try at Nine Mile Forest in Wasau or High Cliff State Park, about 45 minutes south of Green Bay. Lake Winnebago makes the perfect place for ice fishing, while the Dane Co CamRock Trail outside Madison and WinMan Trails at the North Lakeland Discovery Center are ideal for fat tire biking. Check out the ice caves near Lake Superior or along the Apostle Island National Lakeshore, or even take on the waves in Lake Michigan — there’s a reason this area is known as the Malibu of the Midwest. Whatever you do this winter, base yourself at the Blue Harbor Resort in Sheboygan, with rates from $161 a night that include access to its onsite 54,000-square-foot indoor waterpark. Colorado If you’ve always wanted to try winter trail running, ice climbing, backcountry skiing, cross-country skiing or snowshoeing, head to Estes Park, a lovely town 90 minutes from Denver that’s smackdab in the middle of Rocky Mountain National Park and Roosevelt National Forest. Stay at the YMCA of the Rockies, which rents out budget-friendly cabins and double rooms from $109 a night. Wyoming Head to Cheyenne to try your hand at wintertime activities like ice boating and ice fishing at Curt Gowdy State Park; snow tubing, sledding, snowshoeing and cross-country skiing at Pole Mountain; and ATVing at Terry Bison Ranch. Little America Hotel & Resort Cheyenne is close to all the action, with cozy Western-style rooms from $96 per night for up to four people.

    Inspiration

    Socially distanced scaring at your local haunted drive-thru

    COVID-19 is impacting a Halloween tradition that relies on close contact and screaming: haunted houses. While some attractions are staying closed this October, others have altered their plans to provide socially distanced scaring. This year, you will see haunted car washes, drive through courses, and increased use of special effects. The Rainforest Car Wash in Ohio was ahead of the curve. In 2019, they hosted a haunted car wash with goblins peering in your window behind colorful foam and clowns waving next to air dryers. This is a two-in-one, providing family friendly frights and a clean car. They plan to repeat their one-of-a-kind attraction this year at their Medina location. Dragon's House of Horror, which holds the Guinness World Record for longest walk-through haunted house, in New Mexico transformed the Mile of Terror to a drive-through trail. Visitors can experience the maze with several horror genres entirely from inside their car, which eliminates the risk of virus transmission. Actors won’t touch cars and windows must be rolled up as additional safety measures. Photo provided by The Haunted Road in Florida The Haunted Road in Orlando, Florida is another contactless Halloween drive-through event that has recently emerged, aiming to provide screams with “twisted creatures and theatrical storytelling.” At this attraction, visitors drive scene to scene at night and stop. While parked and trapped inside the car, scare actors appear, visual effects take place, and sound effects are synced to a radio station. Another take on a drive-through attraction takes place at The Horrorland in Miami, Florida. Car passengers “follow Rapunzel’s journey into a world of disarray” happening in real time and sit through six themed passages for a contactless haunting experience. Los Angeles will open an immersive Stranger Things “drive-into” adventure. In partnership with Fever and Secret Cinema, the theme of the attraction is based on the Netflix’s show Season 3 horrors. It will be a multi-level experience with cars stopping at each set like the Starcourt Mall, a subterranean Russian lab, and the Upside Down. Some haunted attractions will continue to be walking experiences but with additional safety and creative measures. Andrew Curran, president of design company specializing in haunted house design Practical Imagination, said, “People like new and exciting—this is the year to create new and exciting.” Curran hinted that use of special effects such as mirrors alter the appearance of distance, plexiglass barriers can be used in hospital scenes, and sound technology tricks will be utilized. Use of props and claustrophobia tunnels will be on the decline and animated figures will be used in close proximity to visitors. For those haunts with the occasional close contact, costumes with built-in PPE gear is recommended. The Dent Schoolhouse in Greater Cincinnati said their monsters will integrate a face mask into their costumes. Reservation-based ticketing is also a tactic attractions are using to reduce capacity and spread out groups. The 13th Floor Haunted House in Denver plans on doing temperature checks, limiting capacity, keeping groups private, and enforcing social distancing with ground markings. Dr. Margee Kerris, a sociologist who studies fear, said in May that COVID-19 should not cancel the spookiness Halloween. “Haunted attractions offer what we could all use right now: opportunities to take control of our fears and to be reminded that we can be brave.”

    News

    Amtrak is stopping daily service to hundreds of stations across the US

    Amtrak has estimated that passenger numbers could plummet by 50% over the next year, and ridership has already decreased by 95% during the pandemic. Though some states have started to reopen, passengers have not yet returned. Historic train station in Flagstaff at sunset ©Nick Fox/Shutterstock“Due to the long-term impact of COVID-19 on ridership, Amtrak has made the decision to operate with reduced capacity,” the company said in a statement. “Our goal is to restore daily service on these routes as demand warrants, potentially by the summer of 2021.” The downsizing comes a few months after news that Amtrak saw its largest ever number of riders in 2019 – 32.5 million passengers – and record growth on the Northeast Corridor, which runs from Washington, DC, to Boston, connecting through Philadelphia and New York City. California Zephyr train at Union Station in downtown Los Angeles ©Let Go Media/ShutterstockAmtrak relies on funding from the US government and told Congress in May that it needs almost $1.5 billion in funding to maintain “minimum service levels.” The train operator previously projected that in 2020 it would financially break even for the first time in its 50-year history. The exact schedules are still being determined, but long-distance routes that will be reduced to a triweekly service include the California Zephyr (Chicago to San Francisco), City of New Orleans (Chicago to New Orleans), Coast Starlight (Seattle to Los Angeles), Empire Builder (Chicago to Seattle) and the Southwest Chief (Chicago to Los Angeles). The Auto Train, which runs between smaller towns near Washington, DC, and Orlando, Florida, will continue to operate a daily service. Frequency will also be cut in the Northeast Corridor. This article originally ran on our sister site, Lonely Planet.

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