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Cruise Along These Holiday Lights Drive-Throughs Across The U.S.
As the current pandemic is changing how we celebrate the 2020 holiday season, the tradition of seeing public holiday lights displays at night can now be done from the safety of your car. From readapted walking tours to first-time happenings or continuing events, here are holiday lights drive-throughs around the U.S. to take a ride-along. Check their websites for tickets and health and safety protocols before attending. New England Coastal Maine Botanical Gardens in Boothbay has reimagined its annual Gardens Aglow as a drive-through event happening now through Jan. 2. The gardens will still dazzle with over 650,000 environmentally-friendly LED lights depicting trees, animals, flowers, and other delights. Plus, they’ve all been designed by the gardens’ staff. Roger Williams Park Zoo in Providence, R.I. is hosting its first Drive-Through Holiday Lights Spectacular now through Jan. 10. The inaugural spectacular features festive larger-than-life luminous displays and over 1.5 million illuminated lights. Now through Jan. 2, the Magic of Lights at the Toyota Oakdale Theatre in Wallingford, Conn. is presenting the latest LED technology and digital animations in this holiday experience. Now through Jan. 3, the New Hampshire Motor Speedway in Concord is holding the “Gift of Lights,” a 2.5-milelong drive-through show with 3.5 million lights, a new 150-foot RGB Tunnel of Lights, and characters from popular children’s books. There are also fan-favorite displays, including the 12 Days of Christmas scene. Hershey Sweet Lights, presented by T-Mobile. Mid-Atlantic “Wegmans Lights on the Lake” at Onondaga Lake Park in Liverpool, N.Y. is happening now through Jan. 10, and is a two-mile route featuring towering holiday displays, a larger-than-life land of Oz, twinkling fantasy forest, Victorian villages and a variety of animated scenes. Located down the road from Pennsylvania’s Hersheypark Christmas Candylane, ”Hershey Sweet Lights presented by T-Mobile” is happening now through Jan. 3 and consists of two miles of fields and wooded trails decorated with nearly 600 illuminated, animated displays created from about two million LED lights. Through Jan. 3, “Bayport Credit Union Holiday Lights at the Beach” is Virginia Beach Boardwalk’s festive nautical holiday lights display featuring festive fish, musical crabs, and elves join a surfing Santa and a new 40-foot dancing Christmas tree. Southeast At Charlotte Motor Speedway in Concord, N.C., “Speedway Christmas” is happening now through Jan. 17 and has more than four million LED lights in displays along a 3.75-mile stretch. This event also has holiday movies shown on a large HDTV screen Thursdays through Sundays. For an additional fee, attendees can skate on a 5,400-square-foot ice rink; mask-wearing is required. In Columbia, S.C., the South Carolina State Fair is putting on “Carolina Lights” at Lexington Medical Center Fair Park at the South Carolina State Fairgrounds now through Dec. 27. More than 100 individual LED light displays along a mile-plus stretch including a nativity scene and a 25-foot-tall Frosty the Snowman. In Savannah, the Coastal Georgia Botanical Gardens’ “December Nights & Holiday Lights” has been turned into a drive-through event, on now through Christmas Eve. Now through Jan. 2, “Jax Illuminations” will feature two mega trees, a 300-foot tunnel of lights and custom Christmas scenes at the Morocco Shrine Center in Jacksonville, Fla. Through Jan. 2, the Pinnacle Speedway in Lights at the Bristol Motor Speedway in Tennessee spread across a four-mile route illuminated by more than 2 million lights among 250 displays. In Nashville, at the Nashville Fairgrounds Speedway, the Jingle Beat is designed by the same artists and local creatives that behind some of the music industries biggest tours. This light show is helping to support the local music industry that has been decimated by the COVID-19 pandemic. The Southern Lights Holiday Festival at Kentucky Horse Park in Lexington is a three-mile driving tour full of a lot of twinkling lights, happening now through New Year’s Eve. “Santa Claus Land of Lights” at the Lake Rudolph Campground & RV Resort. Photo by Eric Scire. Mid-West Billed as Central Ohio’s largest drive-through Christmas light show, Wonderlight's Christmas at the National Trail Raceway in Hebron is now through Jan. 3. It has over one million LED lights synchronized to traditional and contemporary Christmas music played through your own car stereo. “Santa Claus Land of Lights” at the Lake Rudolph Campground & RV Resort in the (fittingly called) Santa Claus, Ind. happens now through Dec. 27. The story of Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer is depicted through lighted displays and storyboards. Now through Jan. 3, “Illumination: Tree Lights at The Morton Arboretum” in Lisle, Ill. has guests remaining in their cars and tuning to a synced musical soundtrack while driving nearly two miles among the Arboretum’s trees. The Wisconsin Christmas of Carnival Lights in Caledonia, 20 minutes south of Milwaukee at Jellystone Park™ Camp-Resort, features over two million twinkling lights on an over 1.6-mile path. Now through New Year’s Eve, the show allows attendees to experience lights on all sides, with displays ranging from forest friends and reindeer to Santa and his elves. South-West “Lights of Joy” in Branson, Mo. is located off of the Shepherd of the Hills Expressway and contains more than 300 displays with over one million twinkling LED lights throughout this 1.2-mile drive. The Automobile Alley Art Light Display in Oklahoma City has colorful LED lights covering buildings on eight blocks of North Broadway and district side streets. Various shops and restaurants will also feature window displays. The event is part of Downtown in December and runs now through Jan. 31. “Gift of Lights” at Fort Worth’s Texas Motor Speedway now through Jan. 3 is made up of over one million twinkling lights that people can see from their own cars. Lights at the Las Vegas Motor Speedway. Photo by Gabe Ginsberg West “Christmas in Color” at Bandimere Speedway in Morrison, Colo. is having drivers cruising along more than 1.5 million lights perfectly synchronized to holiday music heard through your car radio. Drive by giant candy canes, snowmen and more now through January 3. The Las Vegas Motor Speedway’s “Glittering Lights” features more than five million LED lights intertwining throughout a 2.5-mile course through the speedway, through Jan. 10. The Phoenix Zoo’s Cruise ZooLights can be seen from your car now through Jan. 31, with millions of twinkling lights and dazzling animal sculptures from the comfort of your vehicle. Now through Jan. 2, “Holidays in Your Car” is taking place both at the Del Mar Fairgrounds in San Diego and Ventura County Fairgrounds, with more than 1 million LED lights and some fixtures standing at 40 feet tall.
Theme parks are back, kinda
The country is still taking its time reopening after months of closings due to Covid 19. Though each state is still deciding on its own timeline for letting people get back to their lives, and large group outings are still shunned in much of the country, theme parks are beginning phased reopenings after shutting in March. Obviously, things will not be going back to normal yet, so it will be interesting to see what things look like in this new, coronavirus, world. Here then is an update on the country's most popular parks, and what you need to know before you and your family decide to plan a visit. ©Robert Noel de Tilly/Shutterstock Disney World Let’s start with the Happiest Place on Earth. Depending on the location, Disney’s many parks have different opening dates, rules, and regulations. For instance, limited shops and restaurants in Orlando’s Disney Springs began opening on May 20, and Universal Orlando opened on June 5—albeit accompanied by a warning on their websites. Disney Springs includes this, “An inherent risk of exposure to COVID-19 exists in any public place where people are present. COVID-19 is an extremely contagious disease that can lead to severe illness and death. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, senior citizens and Guests with underlying medical conditions are especially vulnerable. By visiting Disney Springs you voluntarily assume all risks related to COVID-19. Help keep each other healthy.” Not exactly the usual warm and fuzzy we expect from Disney. Disney World, also in Orlando, will begin opening on July 11, with Epcot and Disney’s Hollywood Studios delayed until July 15. The Top Things You Should Know section of https://disneyworld.disney.go.com/experience-updates/ outlines important health precautions, like required face coverings for anyone over the age of 2, random temperature screenings and physical distancing (that means you parades, shows and fireworks). Disney Land In California, Governor Gavin Newsom will not allow Anaheim’s Disneyland parks to open until Stage 3 of the four-stage reopening road map—with no firm date in place. UPDATE: Disney Land has announced that its reopening plans are postponed, and that it will no longer reopen to visitors on July 17 as planned. Universal Orlando Universal Orlando Universal Studios and Islands of Adventure (Including the Wizarding World of Harry Potter) will open to the general public on Friday, June 5. The park has been outfitted with new social distancing markers directing park goers to new flows and lines. The park has also been updated for contactless payment to protect visitors and staff from direct interactions. Attendees will be require to pass a temperature check when they enter the park, and people are encouraged to wear masks at all times. King's Island Kings Island makes the largest amusement and waterpark in the Midwest. Located in Mason, OH, neither park has announced a firm date for reopening, though a message from Mike Koontz, VP and GM of Kings Island on its website is touting the opening of its newest Orion roller coaster, with a drop of 300 feet, as well as a promise to put the safety of its guests first. The park’s Grand Carnivale nighttime parade and its Summer Nights block party, are both being pushed back until 2021, as well as all 2020 Season Passes and add-on products. Six Flags Six Flags is the largest regional theme park company and the largest operator of water parks in North America—with 26 venues in all. Though kids all over the country are disappointed they won’t be able to freely ride the coasters and waterslides from coast to coast, the Oklahoma City-based Frontier City opened its doors on June 5, with a 3-day preview mode for Members and Season Pass Holders only. Attendance levels will gradually increase during the month and Six Flags President and CEO Mike Spanos believes the park can easily manage guest throughput for social distancing. Other health restrictions include thermal imaging for temperature checks, advanced security screening technology for touchless bag checks, and expanded mobile food ordering. In addition, guests over the age of 2 will have to don masks and all guests must make a reservation to attend the park at www.sixflags.com/reserve www.sixflags.com/reserve. The only other Six Flags park open at this time is the Cream Ridge, NJ-based Wild Safari Drive-Thru Adventure. This too needs a reservation at the above website, and the COVID-19 rules include maintaining space between cars, a 5 mph speed limit and no bathrooms, food or gas availability. Stay tuned for more openings as the summer progresses. Dollywood Dollywood Dolly Parton’s extravagant Dollywood park, set in the Knoxville-Smoky Mountains metroplex in Pigeon Forge, TN, will begin a phased reopening on June 17, while the DreamMore Resort & Spa opens on June 10. The website’s “playsafe” message includes a similar warning to Disney, reminding customers of the danger of coronavirus and “By visiting Dollywood Parks & Resorts you voluntarily assume all risks related to exposure to COVID-19.” In addition, daily capacity will be limited and season passholders will be required to make reservations. Other health regulations include physical distancing, temperature screenings before entering the park, and face masks required for age 3 and up—though exceptions include water park rides.
6 Things To Do in Tulsa, Oklahoma
If Oklahoma native son Woody Guthrie could write a song about Tulsa today, he would sing about the vibrant creativity, the enterprising entrepreneurs, and the friendly locals, an idealized portrait of the kind of America he immortalized when he sang This Land Is Your Land. From its grand art deco architecture to its trendy cafes, shops, breweries, and bars, Tulsa pulls the rug out from whatever you're expecting from a trip to cowboy territory, particularly this town once known for its place in American history as the end of the Trail of Tears. That's in no small part due to a giant ongoing investment that Tulsa native and public-school alum George Kaiser, the billionaire banker and oilman-turned-philanthropist, is making in the city. (More on that in a second.) Here are a few places to check out and things to do to that bring the city's history and newfound energy together. 1. Gather at the Gathering Place (Shane Bevel) There is really no straightforward way to describe the Gathering Place (gatheringplace.org), which sprawls across 100 acres along the Arkansas River. It's part theme park, part public park, part recreational hub. It embodies a five-acre state-of-the-art playground that feels like something out of a German fairy tale forest, a stylish lodge-like community center with a giant fireplace and free Wi-Fi, plus a skate park, sports courts, nature trails, a labyrinthine “sensory garden” for kids with interactive, multi-sensory features, two desensitization spaces designed to have a calming effect on children with autism, a water play-space with contraptions that spray water seven feet into the air, family-friendly eateries and concession stands, green spaces, and even more. The $465 million Gathering Place was developed by the George Kaiser Family Foundation, making it the largest private gift to a public park in U.S. history. 2. Get Your Kicks (Liza Weisstuch) Of the many, many changes that Route 66 has undergone since it was established as one of the nation's original highways in 1926, the most recent ones have included closures of old roadside eateries and while many landmarks remain, others have disappeared over time. It’s in the name of renewal that in May, Mary Beth Babcock erected Buck Atom Space Cowboy Roadside Attraction, a 21-foot fiberglass statue of an animated astronaut, outside her store, Buck Atom’s Cosmic Curios on 66 (buckatomson66.com). It’s a tribute to an era when these mighty “muffler men” kept watch on the road from Chicago to L.A. Its retro style befits her store, a treasure trove of books, figurines, and sundry gift items that evoke the atomic era. This is just one of the stops on the walk down Tulsa’s stretch of the historic road. Set off from downtown, where it's designated as 11th Street, and you’ll pass a cemetery, established in 1902, the charming modern housewares and furniture shop Jenkins & Co. (jenkinsandcotulsa.com), the iconic Meadow Gold sign, which once tempted travelers with promises of ice cream, then a cluster of stores including Buck Atom's, a used record shop, a vintage clothing spot, and a depot for furniture made with reclaimed materials. Wrap up at Soul City, a vibrant old-school bar with indoor and outdoor stages and live music every night. 3. See Where Art and History Meet (Liza Weisstuch) You can go to the Philbrook Museum to gaze at the Renaissance paintings, works by Rodin, Picasso, and Pueblo artists, and plenty other gorgeous art and ancient artifacts. You can go to wander in the sprawling, meticulously landscaped gardens. Or you could go to get a sense of the way Oklahoma oil moguls lived when Tulsa was the Saudi Arabia of the west. The Philbrook (philbrook.org), located about three miles from downtown, is set in a 72-room Italian Renaissance villa built as the home of Waite Phillips, the magnate who founded Philips Oil. In 1938, Philips and his wife donated the villa to the city as an arts center, and the building itself is as much of an attraction as the works it holds. He clearly spared no expenses in construction--teak floors, marble fireplaces, ornate ceilings, Corinthian columns. His passion for beautiful things also shines through in the downtown buildings that he funded. The Philtower and Philcade, art deco masterpieces, are grandiose office buildings that still anchor the city's skyline. 4. Action! An Iconic 80s Movie Comes Alive (Liza Weisstuch) The house at 731 N. St. Louis Avenue is quite ramshackle and the yard is unkempt. It doesn’t inspire much enthusiasm. Unless, of course, you recognize the home from Francis Ford Coppola’s The Outsiders, the 1983 movie starring a pack of young heartthrobs whose names are now cornerstones of American pop culture: Tom Cruise, Patrick Swayze, Emilio Estevez, Ralph Macchio, Matt Dillon. It's based on the book written in 1967 by Tulsan S.E. Hinton when she was 15. It’s never gone out of print and remains on the reading list in many American public schools. According to Danny Boy O’Connor, founding member of 1990s hip-hop group House of Pain, the house is a national treasure, so when he visited Tulsa and discovered it in disrepair, he bought it and launched a Kickstarter campaign to rescue it from its scheduled date with a wrecking ball. With help from musician Jack White, he raised the money, gut-renovated the place, and painstakingly restored it to match how it looked on screen, down to stains on the wall and grime on the stove. With the support of Ms. Hinton, filled it with costumes and artifacts from the movie, including Coppola's director's chair, many editions of the books and VHS copies, and stills from the film. Tours, which involve meeting downtown for a van that will take you to tour the house and cruise around to a few of the various sites featured in the movie, (theoutsidershouse.com) 5. Dine Around: Mother Road Market Throughout America, food halls have begun to seem like the new shopping mall, not least because every city has one. Tulsa's Mother Road Market (motherroadmarket.com) makes for an exciting visit for a few reasons. First, the premise: It's a nonprofit. The Lobeck Taylor Family Foundation operates the market as well as a commercial kitchen with incubator programs that help entrepreneurs launch businesses. Check out the Kitchen 66 stall for pop-ups from the program's emerging food companies. Second, the Nashville hot chicken at Chicken and the Wolf, a local cult favorite that draws fans each day for its signature chicken--just be sure to heed the warnings that accompany the hottest menu items. There are vegan versions, too. (The owners also run a standalone hot chicken restaurant and the funky Lone Wolf Bahn Mi.) There's also an outpost of the much lauded Oklahoma Joe's BBQ, the requisite food hall taco stall (& Tacos), Nice Guys Shrimp Shack, the hard-to-resist Big Dipper Creamery and OK Cookie Monster, globally accented options at Bodhi Bowl, and, perhaps most attention-grabbing of all, Umami Fries, known for its fry options with kimchi or beef toppings. Add to that a sweet little general store with local produce, the full-service Wel Bar, sprawling covered outdoor area in the back with communal tables and a green space for kids to run around, and you can practically make a day of it. 6. Perk Up: Coffee Mania Let it be known: Tulsans love coffee. Coffee shops here, however, go far beyond the standard “third-wave” cafés, the term used to describe places that focus on single-origin beans, fair trade, and meticulous brewing techniques. Like many places around the U.S., coffee drinks at these cafes are made with the same level of craftsmanship as artisanal cocktails. Unlike many places around the U.S., Tulsa has several spots where you can hang out all day drinking top-rate java and stay in your seat when evening arrives and the cocktail menu goes into effect. Cirque Coffee (cirquecoffee.com), for instance, has stools along a long wood counter, cozy couches, colorful murals, and shelves of whiskey, gin, tequila, vodka, and rum on the wall. The sounds of an espresso machine resound through the airy warehouse-chic space all day long. Come evening, the many folks who’ve been typing on their MacBooks fold them up in favor of the beautiful hard-covered cocktail menu, which offers familiar classics and many originals, including, fittingly enough, creative coffee cocktails. (See: The Hotrod, a mix of cold brew coffee, curacao and simple syrup) Hodges Bend (hodges-bend.com), on the other hand, looks has all the trappings of a nouveau-vintage cocktail bar—exposed brick walls, dark wood furniture, pressed-tin ceiling— that also serves terrific coffee and specialty java drinks made with their own blend. Drinks here include classics, a few originals, and a thoughtfully curated wine list. A globally-accented menu ranging from duck confit tacos to veggie bibimbap round out the offerings.
7 Places to Experience Incredible Interactive Art
Quiet galleries lined with impressive collections displayed at arm’s length will always have their place, but lately, multi-sensory art installations that put the observer at the center of the action are capturing people’s attention. Destinations where visitors can interact with art through movement, touch and sound—often using the latest in digital technologies—are popping up everywhere. Here are seven solid locations that offer immersive experiences for a variety of audiences. 1. Meow Wolf's House of Eternal Return: Sante Fe (Kate Russell/Courtesy Meow Wolf) Built in a former bowling alley in Santa Fe and funded by Game of Thrones creator George R.R. Martin, Meow Wolf’s House of Eternal Return launched in 2016 and quickly garnered a reputation as an iconic immersive-art destination. Meow Wolf visitors start by entering the home of the fictional Selig family and, before long, start to discover portals throughout the house (hint: check the refrigerator), leading to fantastical spaces created by local artists. These surreal environments, which combine light, sound, and all manner of images and structures, are part of a mysterious story line involving the Selig family. While some visitors work hard to unravel the mystery, most just choose wander, explore, and experience the sensory wonderland. Meow Wolf is wildly popular, so expect to wait in line. Plans are in place for Meow Wolf Las Vegas AREA15 to open at the end of 2019. There are also spinoff experiences in the works for Denver and Washington, D.C.Admission from $17; meowwolf.com. 2. The City Museum: St. Louis Located in a repurposed shoe warehouse, the City Museum has been pushing the limits of art and fun since 1997, long before anyone thought to use the term “immersive art” to describe the sculptures, climbing structures, subterranean passageways, and multi-story slides filling the 600,000-square-foot space. Sculptor Bob Cassily and a team of around 20 artists created the destination’s large-scale, fanciful features using salvaged construction materials and other reclaimed objects found throughout St. Louis. The school bus hanging over the edge of the museum’s roof provides a hint of the over-the-top experience that awaits inside; an airplane fuselage suspended by a construction crane and accessible by a winding maze of caged ladders also beckons from the front of the building. Admission, $15; citymuseum.org. 3. Factory Obscura: Oklahoma City (Todd E Clark/Courtesy Factory Obscura) Those born after the ‘80s may not have cherished memories of creating or receiving a custom-compiled mix tape, but Factory Obscura aims to explore and evoke the nostalgia of this bygone art form with its first permanent installation, Mix Tape. An immersive art collective that got its start creating temporary installations throughout Oklahoma City, Factory Obscura introduced the first phase of Mix Tape, including a giant interactive boom box built into the building’s façade, in March of 2019. The full 6,000-square-foot playlist-themed multi-sensory adventure opens in September 2019. Fans of the OKC-based band the Flaming Lips may recognize the location: a brightly decorated downtown art complex called the Womb, located in Oklahoma City's historic Automobile Alley building and created by front man Wayne Coyne. It's been an event venue, music-video set, and art space for the Lips. An installation by Coyne, titled King's Mouth, is the centerpiece of the Mix Tape lobby. Free; factoryobscura.com. 4. Wisdome: Los Angeles (Courtesy Wisdome LA) People who have attended festivals like Burning Man or Lightning in a Bottle will likely feel at home at Wisdome, an immersive entertainment art park in downtown L.A. that opened at the end of 2018. Wisdome’s five 360-degree geodesic domes offer digital art, surround sound, and virtual reality experiences, often with a psychedelic bent. Samskara, the featured installation for 2019, is the work of artist Android Jones and includes a 3-D digital-art exhibit, a fractal-heavy 360-degree film that viewers take in while lying on the ground, and an interactive VR gaming experience. Wisdome also regularly hosts concerts and special events that are enhanced by the venue’s immersive elements.Admission $29 adults, $19 for students, $9 for children; wisdome.la. 5. ARTECHOUSE: Miami & Washington, D.C. (Courtesy ARTECHOUSE) Featuring a new installation every three months, this intimate experiential digital-art gallery gives visitors a chance to see how different artists are currently combining art, technology, and science. The ARTECHOUSE flagship location in Washington, D.C., which opened in 2017, features three distinct digital-art spaces as well as a popular bar that overlooks the exhibits and serves augmented-reality cocktails that imbibers activate with their phones using an ARTECHOUSE app. ARTECHOUSE opened a Miami Beach location in 2018, and a New York City location is set to open in 2019. D.C. admission from $16 for adults, $13 for students, seniors, and military; Miami admission, $24 for adults, $20 for students, seniors, and military, $17 for children 14 and under; artechouse.com. 6. Asleep in the Cyclone at 21C Museum Hotel Louisville: Louisville Asleep in the Cyclone offers the unique opportunity to have a site-specific art installation all to yourself for an entire night. Located in a guest room at the 21C Museum Hotel in Louisville, Asleep in the Cyclone is the work of artists Jonah Freeman and Justin Lowe, who say the installation is meant to create a parallel universe where guest inhabit an environment created wholly by the artists. Inspired by the 1960s hippie commune Drop City, some of the room’s features include a colorful geodesic ceiling, a record player with a vinyl collection selected by the artists, and a curio cabinet filled with collages, books, and sculptures they created. Nightly rates from $341; 21cmuseumhotels.com/louisville. 7. Mattress Factory: Pittsburgh While some interactive art destinations cater to all ages with an almost amusement park-like atmosphere, this contemporary museum housed in a former mattress factory is not the kind of place you take the kids for a free-ranging play date. (No kids under 14 are allowed without parental supervision). The Mattress Factory has been specializing in site-specific installation art since it opened in 1977 and currently contains permanent installations from a number of well-established artists, including two Infinity Mirror rooms by Yayoi Kusama, light sculptures by James Turrell, and the final work by the late transgender artist Greer Lankton, “It’s all about ME, not you,” a haunting and emotionally raw recreation of her Chicago apartment filled with paintings, dolls, and other personal ephemera.Admission, $20; mattress.org.
Travel News: 10 Most Welcoming Countries on Earth
Our friends at Booking.com (who power Budget Travel’s lodging-booking page) recently announced their annual Guest Review Awards, honoring more than 750,000 properties around the globe that deliver exceptional guest experiences. When a huge booking site crunches tons of user-provided data, some trends tend to emerge. Here, some of Booking.com’s findings, including some of the most welcoming places around the globe and in the U.S. TRAVELERS VALUE APARTMENTS AND OTHER UNIQUE LODGINGS In yet another sign of a significant paradigm shift in the way people travel, apartments were the top awarded accommodation category, comprising 36 percent of Booking.com’s award-winning properties worldwide in 2018. Hotels came in second. But perhaps most significantly, a full 73 percent of all award-winning properties were “unique properties,” including not only apartments but also private homes, bed and breakfasts, farmstays, riads, boats, and even igloos. 10 MOST WELCOMING COUNTRIES ON EARTH A significant number of travelers, more than 70 percent of those surveyed, reported that “friendly and interesting locals” are among the criteria they value most when choosing a destination. With that in mind, Booking.com for the first time compiled a list of the “most welcoming” countries in the world. We couldn’t help noticing that eight of the top 10 are affordable European destinations—let them inspire your next hop across the pond (or beyond): Austria Czech Republic Poland New Zealand Taiwan Romania Hungary Ireland Serbia Greece 10 MOST WELCOMING CITIES IN THE U.S. Further fuel for your wanderlust can be found in Booking.com’s most welcoming cities in the U.S., a good number of which Budget Travel has covered in recent years in our Locals Know Best and 51 Affordable Discoveries series: Newport, RISedona, AZOklahoma City, OKPittsburgh, PAFort Worth, TXBaltimore, MDLouisville, KYArlington, VAAnaheim, CAJacksonville, FL
7 U.S. Cities You Can Totally Afford
While the phrase “Hotel Price Index” may not sound like an edge-of-your-seat thrill ride, we travel editors look forward to the annual report on trends in, you guessed it, hotel pricing. We like seeing surprising downward price fluctuations in some of our favorite U.S. destinations, and we also enjoy making some discoveries based on unusually low prices in places we haven’t been to yet. Here, seven American cities that belong on your 2018 to-do list. 1. ALBUQUERQUE, NM (average hotel price: $95) The shockingly low average hotel rate in Albuquerque means that New Mexico’s biggest city may be the ultimate value destination right now. With a great art scene, centuries of history, incredible New Mexican cuisine, and even old Route 66 (now Central Avenue) with an iconic neon sign just waiting to be Instagrammed, you may want to book a room today. 2. OKLAHOMA CITY, OK (average hotel price: $97) Oklahoma City surprises visitors, not just with its under-$100/night average hotel rates but with its mix of culture, food, old-West history, working stockyards, and its unexpected nickname, the “Horse Show Capital of the World.” If you’re only experience of Oklahoma has been the classic Rodgers & Hammerstein musical of the same name, 2018 may be the time to get to know Oklahoma City. 3. RENO, NV (average hotel price: $101) Reno may bill itself as the “Biggest Little City in the World,” but its hotel prices are decidedly small. If you want to combine gaming and entertainment with fresh mountain air, this is the place to do it. You’ll love the Riverwalk District, kayaking, hiking and exploring the Sierra Nevada mountains, and, of course, trying your luck. 4. TUCSON, AZ (average hotel price: $108) Tucson is a big city that draws outdoorsy types, which, once you’ve experienced Tucson, makes perfect sense. When’s the last time you navigated a saguaro forest, hiked in the nearby mountains, and then sat down to a world-class meal in a vibrant cultural hotspot? 5. ORLANDO, FL (average hotel price: $116) We know, you think you know Orlando. Think again. Sure, it’s the world’s perfect confluence of theme parks, with Disney and Universal drawing families, couples, and everybody else all year long. But Orlando is also a destination unto itself, with one of America’s up-and-coming food scenes, natural beauty, and incredibly affordable, reliable lodging. 6. LAS VEGAS, NV (average hotel price: $125) Yes, time was you could nab a room in Vegas for practically nothing. Though the city has undergone a makeover in recent years and rates have risen, the average hotel rate of $125 still represents an incredible opportunity to kick back and relax while you soak up the entertainment, gaming, and cultural hotspots such as the “Mob Museum.” 7. PITTSBURGH, PA (average hotel price: $155) Pittsburgh’s hotel rates have been coming down as its profile has been rising, and that’s a very good thing. Home to cultural institutions like the Carnegie Museums and the Andy Warhol Museum (the groundbreaking pop artist grew up here, after all), this is a city that belongs on everyone’s must-see list.
More Places to go
Midwest City is a city in Oklahoma County, Oklahoma, United States, and a part of the Oklahoma City metropolitan area. As of the 2010 census, the population was 54,371, making it the eighth largest city in the state. The city was developed in response to talk of an air field being located nearby and named for the Tinker Air Force Base's original designation as the Midwest Air Depot. The city suffered damage during two tornadoes, the first in May 1999 and the second on May 8, 2003.
Edmond is a city in Oklahoma County, Oklahoma, United States, and a part of the Oklahoma City metropolitan area in the central part of the state. The population is approximately 94,054, according to estimates from ESRI. Edmond is the fifth largest city in the state of Oklahoma. The city borders the northern boundary of Oklahoma City. Public transportation is provided by Citylink Edmond bus service.
Central Oklahoma is the geographical name for the central region of the U.S. state of Oklahoma. It is also known by the Oklahoma Department of Tourism designation, Frontier Country, defined as the twelve-county region including Canadian, Grady, Logan, Oklahoma, Cleveland, McClain, Payne, Lincoln, Pottawatomie, Seminole, Okfuskee, and Hughes counties.Central Oklahoma is dominated by the largest urban area in the state, the Greater Oklahoma City area. Oklahoma City is the political, economic, tourism, commercial, industrial, financial, and geographical hub of the state, as well as being its primary cultural center. The only Central Oklahoma city which is not officially considered a suburb of Oklahoma City is Stillwater, Oklahoma.
Norman () is a city in the U.S. state of Oklahoma 20 miles (32 km) south of downtown Oklahoma City. The county seat of Cleveland County and part of the Oklahoma City metropolitan area, its population was 110,925 at the 2010 census. Norman's estimated population of 124,880 in 2019 makes it Oklahoma's third-largest city. Norman was settled during the Land Run of 1889, which opened the former Unassigned Lands of Indian Territory to American pioneer settlement. The city was named in honor of Abner Norman, the area's initial land surveyor, and was formally incorporated on May 13, 1891. Norman has prominent higher education and related research industries, as it is home to the University of Oklahoma, the largest university in the state, with nearly 32,000 students. The university is well known for its sporting events by teams under the banner of the nickname "Sooners," with over 85,000 people routinely attending football games. The university is home to several museums, including the Fred Jones Jr. Museum of Art, which contains the largest collection of French Impressionist art ever given to an American university, as well as the Sam Noble Oklahoma Museum of Natural History. Norman's National Weather Center (NWC) houses a unique collection of university, state, federal, and private sector organizations that work together to improve the understanding of events related to the Earth's atmosphere. Norman lies within Tornado Alley, a geographic region where tornadic activity is particularly frequent and intense. The Oklahoma City metropolitan area, including Norman, is the world's most tornado-prone area. The Storm Prediction Center (SPC), a branch of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), is at the NWC. SPC forecasts severe storm and tornado outbreaks nationwide. Additionally, research is conducted at the co-located National Severe Storms Laboratory (NSSL), which includes field research and operates various experimental weather radars.