Wednesday, December 31, 2014

January is the odds-on favorite month for visiting many vacation hot spots

What's the most affordable month for visiting a hot destination?

Travel booker recently pulled together some data on the subject. Here's when, according to their findings, are the best times to visit 15 top markets -- and the percent savings vs. peak season:

Las Vegas (44 percent savings vs. peak season)
London (55 percent)
Rome (99 percent)
San Francisco (88 percent)
Los Angeles (37 percent)
Chicago (67 percent)
Washington, D.C. (58 percent)
San Diego (109 percent)

Paris (64 percent)
New York City (77 percent)

Honolulu (46 percent)

Madrid, Spain (77 percent)
New Orleans (69 percent)

Miami (91 percent)
Orlando, Fla. (40 percent)

Take the percentages with a grain of salt: Savings depends on how savvy you are about where you stay and what you do.

But on the whole, the findings do point out what months great deals are more abundant.

The Associated Press photo at the top of this post, by the way, shows the hands of a player in the poker room at Caesar's Palace, in Vegas.

Tuesday, December 30, 2014

5 great backup destinations when your 2015 vacation goes kaput

OK, maybe your dream vacation of 2015 hit a scheduling snag, or came up short when you mentioned it to your travel companion. just came up with a list of  five "Go here, not there" alternatives you may want to consider.

Biloxi, Miss., instead of Las Vegas. The Vegas-like city on the Gulf Coast "boasts eight casino resorts serving up round-the-clock gaming and everything from upscale restaurants to headliner-laced entertainment."

Toronto instead of New York City. Ontario's capital has more than just a stunning skyline:  It "puts up plenty of off-screen allure that allows it to go head to head with New York: a host of cool neighborhoods to explore, a multicultural population, lots of arts and culture."

Buena Park, Calif., instead of Orlando, Fla. The town just southeast of Los Angeles  is home to Knott's Berry Farm, an "entertainment-laden locale serves up more than 165 rides, performances and other attractions, a seasonal 13-acre water park and family-friendly dinner shows. You can even get a touch of Disney magic with a visit to Knott’s Berry Farm’s Camp Snoopy."

St. Lucia instead of Hawaii. "St. Lucia’s rugged coastline, lush, enchanting scenery and romantic vibe mimic many a Hawaiian hot spot."
(St. Lucia's white sand beaches are shown in the MCT photo at the top of this post.)

Ibiza, Spain, instead of Cancun, Mexico. Ibiza "will not disappoint during party season, which lasts from about June to October. Summertime on the Spanish island is sure to be raucous with well-known DJs and music groups filling up the venues."

Bottom line: Always have a backup plan.

Wednesday, December 24, 2014

Travel 'bug' stats: Idaho is the healthiest state to visit

One thing you don't want for a souvenir is poor health -- and a Baltimore-based firm called Sickweather has compiled a list of the healthiest states... and the sickest.

Sickweather provides clients with information on more than 23 different symptoms and illnesses. Its just-released list of states data-mined analyzed social media reports of allergies, flu, cough, colds and fever from January through October.

The numbers next to each state is "sick reports per thousand people," and that's what determined their ranking.

The 10 healthiest states:

Idaho (1.16) ‑- that's Boise, in winter, in the Idaho Statesman photo above.
New York (1.16)

Mississippi (1.22)
Montana (1.24)
Vermont (1.38)
Washington (1.39)
Maine (1.39)
New Jersey (1.41)
New Hampshire (1.48)
Utah (1.48)

The 10 least-healthy states:

Kansas (3.96)
Nevada (3.26)
Kentucky (3.25)
Texas (3.10)
West Virginia (2.99)
Oregon (2.95)
Indiana (2.91)
Oklahoma (2.72)
Massachusetts (2.63)
Nebraska (2.48)

Thursday, December 18, 2014

Charlotte is No. 4 on list of 2015 cheap-o travel hot spots

The discount ticket-booker announced  on Wednesday its "Top Travel Hot Spots for 2015."

Unlike many of the myriad "top 2015" lists, Priceline's is based on affordability -- specifically, the average per-market, per-day room rate in 2014.

The rankings:

1. Dallas ($86.31; a shot of Dallas is at the top of this post)

2. Salt Lake City ($88.24)
3. Orlando, Fla. (89.57)
4. Charlotte ($92.37)
5. Phoenix ($93.44)
6. Tampa, Fla. ($94.03)
7. Las Vegas ($96.27)
8. Atlanta ($96.99)
9. Louisville, Ky. ($101.69)
10. San Antonio ($102.69)
11. Houston ($103.72)
12. Orange County, Calif.  ($107.91)
13. Minneapolis ($106.69)
14. Denver ($109.20)
15. Portland, Ore. ( $109.30)

These are  major metropolitan areas that are de facto hubs for major conventions or -- like Charlotte, Salt Lake City and Louisville --  aspiring ones; they include Sunbelt and Snowbelt cities where tourism ebbs and flows at various times of the year.

As prices are market-driven, off-season discounts probably reduce the average costs of popular places like Orlando, San Antonio and Orange County -- all warm places stocked with major American theme parks.

Priceline's second "top 2015" list, also released Wednesday, is based on that site's advance hotel reservations at domestic and foreign destinations -- a better indicator of a city or area's tourist pull:


1. Orlando
2. Las Vegas
3. New Orleans
4. Miami
5. Fort Lauderdale, Fla.
6. New York City
7. Orange County
8. Boston
9. Atlanta
10. Oahu, Hawaii


1. Puerto Rico
2. Cancun/Cozumel, Mexico
3. London
4. Rome
5. Costa Rica
6. Paris
7. Toronto
8. Los Cabos, Mexico
9. Sydney

10. Barcelona, Spain

Wednesday, December 17, 2014

If your kids are screaming for a "Frozen" vacation...

OK, OK. So your family saw the Disney "Frozen" movie far too many times and you've heard its "Let It Go" song enough to fry your CD player.

And you want more.

The travel site has come up with a list of destinations where you can plan your own "Frozen" dream vacation.

Among them:

Walt Disney World, Orlando, Fla. At Magic Kingdom, "Frozen" characters Anna and Queen Elsa are subbing for the Fairy Godmother when it comes to lighting up Cinderella's Castle every evening; Mickey's "Once Upon a Christmastime Parade" features Anna, Else, Kristoff and Olaf; a " 'Frozen' Sing-Along Celebration" takes place almost hourly at the Premiere Theatre. Ice skating is also available at the park.

WDW will be adding a "Frozen" ride to Epcot in 2016 to the Norway Pavllion..

Fayetteville. Through Dec. 21, the Disney on Ice "Frozen" show is playing at Fayetteville's Cumberland County Crown Coliseum. It moves to Cleveland's Quicken Loans Arena (Jan. 9-19) and Chicago's United Center (Jan. 28-Feb. 8) and other venues around the country before returning to our area in late spring: the Florence (S.C.) Civic Center May 28-31 and the Greenville, S.C. Bon Secours Wellness Arena, June 10-15.

Norway. One of the countries famous for the "northern lights" is the destination for a "Frozen"-theme Adventures by Disney tour. It begins in Bergen -- the city that inspired the movie's Arendelle.

Quebec. Elsa's ice palace was inspired by the Hotel de Glace, the ice hotel 10 minutes from Quebec City. Yep -- it's up and running for the season;  check the photo of  it at the top of this post.

Tuesday, December 16, 2014

Survey: Fall in gas prices doesn't translate into spike in holiday travel

Gas prices have plummeted... but is savings at the pump translating into increased holiday travel?

Not that much, according to a survey by, which monitors fuel prices.

The record-low gas prices are not affecting the travel plans for 77 percent of those surveyed --  but for the 23 percent whose plans have changed, 29 percent say they will be traveling greater distances.

The impact on lower gas costs translates into spending more on holiday gifts to 35 percent of those surveyed, spending on  "other" to 17 percent, and  spending more on accommodations to 8 percent.

In different question however, those surveyed were asked how they plan to spend extra money saved with lower gas prices. The most popular options: paying off some bills (45 percent) and saving the cash (38 percent).

According to the survey, slightly more than half of respondents (52 percent) play to travel anytime between Dec. 20 and Jan. 1;  of them, 30 percent plan to go 500 miles or more, roundtrip. Of all traveling for the holidays, autos are the preferred transportation mode (90 percent).

Other interesting findings:
The most popular day for hitting the road for year-end travel: Dec. 29 (29 percent).
Least popular day: Dec. 21 (7 percent)
Christmas Day -- Dec. 25 -- was second most-popular (23 percent) followed by Christmas Eve (19 percent).
Most popular day for starting your return home: Jan. 2 (24 percent), followed by Christmas Day (21 percent).
Least popular: Jan. 1 (6 percent)

The vast majority of those traveling cite "to visit family  and/or friends" (78 percent).

Wednesday, December 10, 2014

White Christmas? Try these 5 major U.S. cities

AccuWeather is predicting the five major U.S. cities most likely to see a white Christmas, based on 30 years of NOAA weather data.

1. Minneapolis (77 percent chance)
2. Denver (50 percent chance)
3. (tie) Milwaukee (47 percent chance)
3. (tie) Detroit (47 percent chance)
3. (tie) Buffalo (47 percent chance)

The northernmost states in the Lower 48 are most likely to get a Christmas snowfall, from eastern Montana to the Great Lakes to upstate New York and the northern half of New England.

One factor is the proximity to water -- the "lake effect" that provides the moist air necessary for substantial snowfall when the air temperature drops to freezing or below freezing.

Another factor ground temperature: If the ground is frozen -- 32 degrees or colder -- fallen snow won't melt as readily.

The photo at the top of this post? A Milwaukeean stands on a picnic table at the Lake Michigan lakefront to get a better view of winter waves crashing toward the beach. The photo was taken in early December 2011, in advance of a snow storm.

Tuesday, December 9, 2014

2015 cruise forecast: Caribbean remains top choice by wide margin

Cruise Holidays, a cruise marketing  network, has released its 2015 forecast for cruise destinations, based on information from more than 1,300 cruise-focused travel agents across North America.

Here's their top 10 list. Can you spot the itinerary on the rise?

Caribbean (includes the Bahamas)
2015 ranking: 1
2014 ranking: 1
2013 ranking: 1

Europe ocean cruises (includes Mediterranean, Baltic, Scandinavian and Greek isles)
2015 ranking: 2
2014 ranking: 2
2013 ranking: 2

Alaska (the photo at the top of this post shows Holland America's Zaandam at Glacier Bay National Park)
2015 ranking: 3
2014 ranking: 3
2013 ranking: 3

European river cruises
2015 ranking: 4
2014 ranking: 4
2013 ranking: not available

2015 ranking: 5
2014 ranking: 5
2013 ranking: 4

2015 ranking: 6
2014 ranking: 7
2013 ranking: 6 (tie)

Panama Canal
2015 ranking: 7
2014 ranking: 6
2013 ranking: 6 (tie)

China/Japan/Southeast Asia
2015 ranking: 8
2014 ranking: 15
2013 ranking: 12

Hawaiian Islands
2015 ranking: 9
2014 ranking: 8
2013 ranking: 5

South Pacific (includes Australia and New Zealand)
2015 ranking: 10
2014 ranking: 9
2013 ranking: 8

There's no surprise that the Caribbean tops the list: According to Cruise Holidays, that destination group will capture 50.5 percent of all bookings, with European saltwater cruises a distant second, at 12 percent.

The most intriguing change is the rise in China/Japan/Southeast Asia: As a destination, according to these findings, it tops sluggish interest in the Hawaiian Islands.

Both remain small beans in the greater cruise casserole: less than 3 percent.

Monday, December 8, 2014

Best airport for healthy dining options? Baltimore tops new list

Which airport has the best offerings for healthy dining?

According to a new survey by the nonprofit Physicians Committee, it's Baltimore, when it comes to restaurants offering at least one cholesterol-free, plant-based, fiber-packed meal. The study says 92 percents of eateries there have at least one such meal.

Charlotte Douglas came in 16th, with 73 percent of restaurants having at least one "healthy" choice.

The news release from Physicians Committee said, "Menu items that garner healthful points this year include dark leafy green salads, ancient grain bowls, roasted vegetable wraps, Mediterranean- or Mexican-inspired vegetable plates, and gluten-free macrobiotic sushi. Healthful snacks and meals-to-go include portable fruit cups, steel-cut oatmeal bowls, vegetable crudités and cups of lentil soup or black bean chili."

Here are the top rankings, with their "healthy dining" percentages in parentheses:

1. Baltimore/Washington International Thurgood Marshall (92)
2. Seattle-Tacoma International (90)
3. Los Angeles International  (88)
4. Reagan National, Washington area (87)
5. Newark Liberty International  (86)
6. (tie) LaGuardia , New York  (84)
6. (tie)  Detroit Metropolitan Wayne County (84)
8. Denver International  (83)
9. San Francisco International (82)
10. Dulles International Airport, Washington area (80)
11. Boston Logan International (79)
12. (tie) John F. Kennedy International, New York (78)
12. (tie) Chicago O’Hare International (78)
12. (tie) Philadelphia International Airport (78)
15. Phoenix Sky Harbor International Airport (74)
16. Charlotte Douglas International  (73)
17. Las Vegas McCarran International (72)
18.  Miami International (69)
18.  Minneapolis–Saint Paul International Airport (69)
20. Dallas/Fort Worth International (67)
21. Orlando International (66)
22. Houston George Bush Intercontinental (65)

23. Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International  (52)

Wednesday, December 3, 2014

No time for the beaches of Asia? Perhaps you can get up to High Point

The Tripadvisor travel website has released its 2014 "Travelers Choice" lists, and one of the rosters is for "Top 10 destinations on the rise":

Da Nang, Vietnam
Sihanoukville, Cambodia
Limassol, Cyprus
Ao Nang, Thailand
Bodrum City, Turkey
Naha, Japan
Hurghada, Egypt
Kazan, Russia
Manaus, Brazil
Eilat, Israel

Well, they may be on the rise, but the price to get there is too steep for many of us in the months ahead.

Their also-out list of "10 places that look awesome from above" is a tad more economical:

Rio de Janeiro
Niagara Falls, Ontario
Great Barrier Reef, Australia
Las Vegas
Masai Mara National Reserve, Kenya
Grand Canyon
New York City
Cappadocia, Turkey
Sydney Harbor, Australia
Kauai, Hawaii

The list includes recommended copter or  balloon tours.

Still too distant and pricey?  Check the Tripadvisor list of "10 quirky attractions." You may want to fold and file in your memory the 10th one listed.

Lombard Street, San Francisco
Robot Restaurant, Tokyo
Diggerland, Stroud, England
Bata Shoe Museum, Toronto
Carhenge, Alliance, Neb.
Karni Mata Temple, India
Gnome Reserve, West Putford, England
Tiger & Turtle roller coaster, Magic Mountain, Germany
International UFO Museum, Roswell, N.M.
World's Largest Chest of Drawers, High Point

And before you start snickering at the World's Largest Chest of Drawers, note that the photo at the top of this post was taken by Christobol Perez of the Las Vegas Sun. 

Can't help but wonder how awesome High Point's attraction looks from the air. ...

Tuesday, December 2, 2014

Mixed signals from America's airport bars?

Aside from shopping malls, there are few places as annoyingly cookie-cutter generic as American airports. Seen one, seen them all.

And, as beverage columnist Wayne Curtis notes in the December issue of Atlantic magazine, that extends to mixed drinks.

The title of his column says it all: "Your Airport's Bartender Problem: Why it's so hard to get a decent drink before your flight...."

But the rest of the headline  -- "...and why that may soon change" -- adds a slight twist.

Among the factors Curtis cites about why quality cocktails are so rare at airport bars:

* TSA and FFA background checks  make it hard for some top-notch bartenders to get employment clearance at these places.

* Airports tend to be located in un-hip parts of town, and where just getting to work means dealing daily with  traffic, parking and security logjams.

* Given the ever-changing assortment of people boarding or exiting aircraft, it's hard to build a regular customer base or acquire a niche.

Never said but obvious through other passages in the article: The bars are chain operations. One person quoted extensively in the story is the "senior director of adult beverages and restaurant development at HMS Host, which oversees nearly 400 full-service bars at airports across North America."

Four hundred airport bars!

The article also mentions OTG, a smaller outfit that manages restaurants and bars in 11 airports.

The time-honored American concept of interchangeable parts -- making identical product components to guarantee easy assembly and reduce the time of assembly, the skills of the assembler and per unit cost -- and its descendant, the assembly line, revolutionized how items are created.

This eventually applied to the mass production of processed food and short-order dining: Everything is designed to be the same.

Throw in corporate America -- which treasures such ploys -- and there's small wonder there's mixed-drink boredom at the chain bars in airports.

The "why that may soon change" at the end of the headline for Curtis' story -- and at the end of his column -- mentions how the overseer of cocktail operations at the "nearly 400" HMS Host lounges is trying to get its bartenders to learn drinks that require three or four ingredients. Also, he's trying to localize some of the operations.

The one mentioned in this article is Barcuterie, in Houston's George Bush Intercontinental Airport, "which now serves a Texas Smoked Manhattan featuring house-brandied cherries and Balcones, a well-regarded local whiskey."

OTG, Curtis adds, operates One Flew South, in Atlanta's Hartsfield-Jackson's Terminal E. The story notes that the lead bartender often adjusts frequently ordered drinks. In the Cosmo served there, Curtis explains, Clement Creole Shrubb is often used instead of Cointreau.

Of the One Flew South cocktail menu, Curtis writes that it "wouldn't be out of place in a Lower East Side speakeasy."