Flowers, chocolates, Champagne and … Mickey Mouse?
If Disney characters don’t exactly top your list of prerequisites for romance, you might be surprised by the findings of a recent Orbitz survey on Valentine’s Day travel. Based on bookings for the coming weekend, the site named its three most popular destinations for Valentine’s Day getaways: Las Vegas, Orlando and Cancun.
I’m not too shocked that Sin City made the list, considering that some 100,000 couples tie the knot there each year. But fighting the kiddie hordes at Disney World or getting trashed with a bunch of coeds in Cancun doesn’t really strike me as the epitome of romance.
If you’re dreaming of a getaway just for two, uncluttered by casinos and crowds, we have a few less-traveled alternatives to recommend:
1. For a truly serene desert getaway, forget about Las Vegas and head for Sedona, Arizona. Winter is one of the quietest times of year here, and the area’s trademark red rocks are often lightly dusted with snow. This is the perfect season for you and your partner to cozy up together in a romantic bed and breakfast, or indulge in a couples’ massage at one of the area’s many spas.
2. Just a few hours southwest of Orlando, the beaches of Fort Myers and Sanibel Island feel a world away. By day, you can go kayaking, explore the secluded shores of Lovers Key and collect seashells as mementos of your trip (this part of Florida is one of the country’s best spots for shelling). By night, you can sit on the sand with your sweetheart and watch the sun sink down into the Gulf of Mexico. Learn more in Florida’s Many Faces and Places.
3. Skip the mega-resorts and hard-partying atmosphere of Cancun and head instead to St. John, the least developed of the U.S. Virgin Islands. Two-thirds of the island is protected within Virgin Islands National Park, including the soft sands of Trunk Bay; its calm, clear waters and wide, white beach make this a perfect spot for snorkeling, swimming and relaxing in the sand. Couples can go hiking in the national park or take a scenic horseback ride through the mountains. Learn more in St. John Essentials.
Don’t miss our Seven Secrets for a More Romantic Trip.
– written by Sarah Schlichter
You walk into a hotel with a couple of suitcases, fully intending to bring them up to your room yourself. But a bellhop in the lobby, eager to help (and, well, eager to get a tip), leaps forward and grabs your bags. How do you react?
In a recent interview with manners maven Lizzie Post (great-great-granddaughter of Emily), we touched on the topic of hotel tipping, including what to give a bellhop who’s stored your bags for the day. But we didn’t get a chance to chat about what to do when someone forcefully offers a service that you don’t actually want.
So we want to hear from you, our well-traveled readers: how would you respond to an overly enthusiastic bellhop?
A. Just let him take the bags and give him a tip — it’s not worth making a scene.
B. Let him take the bags but don’t tip. You didn’t ask for the service, and you don’t want to reward pushy behavior.
C. Politely but firmly say, “No, thanks, I’ll carry them myself,” and wait for him to drop the bags.
D. Make a mad lunge for the bags and start an impromptu game of tug-of-war, with onlookers in the lobby taking bets on who will win.
Vote or suggest your own response in the comments!
– written by Sarah Schlichter
It’s traditional for visitors to Rome to throw a coin into the Trevi Fountain to guarantee that they will return someday to this most historic of Italian cities. But thanks to a new tax on Roman hotels, museums and other attractions, tourists will have to dig up a lot more than a single extra coin to pay for their next trip to the Eternal City.
As of January 1, 2011, non-residents must pay an additional tax when they stay in a hotel or pay an admission fee in Rome, CNN reports. For hotels, the tax varies based on what type of accommodation you choose. Here’s the breakdown:
Four- or five-star hotel: 3 euros ($3.89) per person, per night
One- to three-star hotels: 2 euros ($2.60) per person, per night
Campsites, bed and breakfasts: 1 euro ($1.30) per person, per night
Admission fees to museums and other attractions: 1 euro ($1.30) per person
Children under the age of 10 are exempt from the tax.
The city expects to rake in about 80 million euros ($103.6 million) a year from the new tax, which will be put toward improving cultural heritage and city infrastructure, according to CNN. But local hoteliers worry that the additional fees could deter potential tourists and business travelers.
Naturally, I’m not a fan of any tax that makes it more expensive to get up and go. But is it worth saying arrivederci to Rome over a few extra euros? Let us know what you think in the comments.
– written by Sarah Schlichter
I once examined a meal on the road as a scientist would an alien life form: with extreme care, a sense of awe and absolutely no intention of consuming it.
The setting was Moscow, 1997. Outside, old women who’d lost their pensions hawked cigarettes amid the Soviet gray of sky and concrete. We were in a “three-star” hotel dining room in a dingy, slightly bug-ridden hotel. Was there a menu? No, just a cast-iron skillet filled with lumpy white plasma.
The first taste was reminiscent of potatoes. A gooey, glue-like consistency left the food sticking to the roof of my mouth. With each bite, my oxygen intake was further diminished. (Was this an espionage tool to asphyxiate foreign dignitaries during State dinners?) The beverage to wash it down was a steaming carbonated liquid with an unidentifiable berry-like fruit on the label. The berry seemed to be glowing. Birds, which we all know can eat things humans can’t, were swarming the berry bush.
Thirteen years later, the acid-aftertaste still clings to the back of my tongue.
After a few bites, I could no longer swallow. So I explored with my fork, scalpeling through the membranous top layer and delicately separating glob from chunk. The consistency was creamy in places, milky in others. After some careful rooting, I exhumed … a fish skeleton. The whole thing struck me as a morbid version of the Kinder egg sold at the nearby souvenir kiosks. But instead of a plastic toy inside a chocolate egg, I got a rotting fish skeleton inside a noxious blob of potato-matter.
This was in the early days of digital photography, so no one thought to use their 35 mm or disposables on a food shot. Hopefully the prose picture was enough.
I’ve vomited up mine, so now it’s your turn: What’s the worst meal you’ve ever had while traveling?
– written by Dan Askin
Just a week after snowstorms grounded air traffic across Europe, the U.S. Northeast found itself besieged by a blizzard of its own. The storm has forced the cancellation of nearly 10,000 flights over the past few days — and a columnist for Daily Finance, Peter Cohan, notes that many of these flights were canceled even before the snow started.
Cohan’s flight was one of them. “On Sunday, my family had been expecting to fly back home to Boston from Milwaukee,” he writes. “But Frontier Airlines … canceled our flight, cheerfully notifying us that we could catch another one five days later.” Rather than sitting around in Milwaukee for the better part of a week, Cohan and his family rented a car and drove home instead. Even though his plane would have arrived before the worst of the blizzard that hit Boston, Cohan instead had to shell out extra money for the rental car, gas, hotels and meals for the two days it took him to drive across the country.
The early axing of Cohan’s flight is part of a growing trend that New York Times aviation reporter Matthew Wald calls “pre-cancellation.” Hoping to keep their planes from being stranded at airports where bad weather is expected, many airlines are opting not to fly to those airports at all, instead canceling the flights and sending the planes to other unaffected destinations. It’s good news for some travelers, as Wald explains:
“The advantage is suppose you have a plane that was supposed to go from LaGuardia to Charlotte to Orlando, if they [had] flown into New York, they could not have gotten back to Charlotte and then they couldn’t gotten from Charlotte to Orlando. This way, at least, they can fly back and forth between Charlotte and Orlando.”
This strategy also helps protect the airlines from financial losses by keeping people moving (and seats full) instead of leaving planes stranded for days at snow-struck airports. And it makes it easier for the airlines to avoid the hefty fines that the Department of Transportation has instituted for planes that sit more than three hours on a tarmac — up to $27,500 per passenger.
But is this strategy fair to passengers like Cohan, whose plane could have arrived safely before the blizzard hit? Is his anger justified, or are the airlines simply making the best of a bad situation? Let us know what you think in the comments.
–written by Sarah Schlichter
Imagine you’re 6’1″ (like me), a tad claustrophobic (like me) and no fan of air travel (I think you know where I’m going with this). Now throw in a packed flight from Philadelphia to Miami, and a young couple and their boisterous 18-month-old (“Sadie just loves to chat!”). Top it off with three hours of jostling, screaming and general unease — and those were her parents.
It could have been worse. At least the kid settled down for half an hour to ogle a “Yo Gabba Gabba” DVD, which I also found relentlessly fascinating.
I love kids. I do, really. But I’ve never been cornered in an airline seat for so long with a raucous child, who was so adorable it was almost easy to brush off her antics. And her parents were (somewhat) sympathetic to my plight, going as far as to offer me a napkin when an exploding juice box ended up splashing my face.
As luck would have it, a colleague headed in the same direction on another flight had a child seated near him, though with far less intrusion. (Ok, he was asked to switch from one aisle seat to another to accommodate the family, and was rewarded with a snack and a free cocktail for his effort. Envious? Me? A little.)
The New York Times recently addressed this very issue, reporting that some people are pushing for separate sections for families onboard planes, and others are pushing for kid-free flights. Let’s face it: This has been an issue forever, and the article’s 350-plus reader comments attest to that fact. The Times went to Air Transport Association spokesman David Castelveter for his take on the childless flights, and he wasn’t too encouraging: “This is an industry that’s working very hard to return to profitability. No way is any airline going to discourage someone from taking one flight over another. I just can’t see that happening.”
I can’t see it either, and I don’t really want to resort to that anyway. Kids are kids, and I probably squirm more during a flight than anyone. Over the long term, it’s the adults (drunk, loud, obnoxious, obese, etc.) who cause more vexation on a flight than anyone.
As for kids, I have a few tricks to ease the pain when I’m seating near some rowdy young’uns:
Keep your cool. Don’t scowl, mutter, grumble, etc. The kids aren’t going anywhere, and being angry for hours on end during a long flight is a waste of energy.
Engage with the parents. They’re going to be your true allies, and they feel your pain more than you realize, so offer an encouraging word or hold baby’s binky while mom and dad wrestle him into his seat.
Say something. Sometimes parents don’t realize that junior is kicking the back of your seat, so let them know. Nicely. (If they knew it all along and brushed it off, shame on them.)
Bring earplugs or an iPod. When the going gets rough, try to tune it out.
How do you cope when trapped at 32,000 feet next to a crying child?
Read More: Avoiding Children While Traveling
– written by John Deiner
And you thought your last airport delay was bad.
Check out this footage from Indira Gandhi International Airport in Delhi, where Air India passengers were apparently stranded for up to 15 hours earlier this week without any information about why their flights were delayed:
Gotta love the blank looks on the faces of the Air India employees as frustrated passengers repeatedly press them for information. “What — you think we know what’s going on?”
Over the past few days, Air India has faced some upheaval (including baggage disruptions and flight delays) in the process of moving its domestic flight operations at India Gandhi International from Terminal 1 to a new Terminal 3, reports New Delhi Television, an Indian news network. It’s not clear whether the preparations for the move may have contributed to the incident in the video above.
Air India is apparently untroubled by the reports; on its Web site is a press release celebrating its “smooth transition” to the new terminal.
You May Also Like: Airport Delays: Six Ways to Cope
–written by Sarah Schlichter
As if jet lag and traveler’s tummy weren’t enough, imagine adding “saddle sores” to the list of things you have to worry about when traveling!
A new type of airplane seat called the SkyRider, which will be revealed at an aircraft interiors conference next week, is shaped similarly to a horse’s saddle, reports USA Today. Its design would perch passengers at a slight angle, leaving only 23 inches of space between their seat and the one in front of them. (Compare that to the standard economy-class seat pitch of 30 – 32 inches, which already strains the joints of anyone taller than six feet or so.)
The “ultra high density” seat (in the words of its creator, Italy-based Aviointeriors) is intended to offer airlines a way to pack more passengers onto each plane and therefore reduce ticket prices. Several budget airlines, including Ryanair and Spring Air in China, have already proposed adding standing-room-only sections for ultra-cheap fares; the new SkyRider seats could operate in a similar fashion, with airlines charging less for passengers to squeeze themselves into this cramped section of the plane. (Whatever shall we call it — cowboy class?)
Aviointeriors director general Dominique Menoud suggests that the seats would be most appropriate for shorter flights, perhaps up to three hours. Whether any airlines will decide to adopt the new seats remains to be seen.
How low would fares have to be to get you to saddle up?
–written by Sarah Schlichter
Remember that infamous scene in “Ferris Bueller’s Day Off” in which the parking lot valet takes a 1961 Ferrari for a freewheeling joy ride once the keys have been handed off? Well, it looks like life is imitating art.
Mimi and Ulrich Gunthart, a pair of travelers who had left their car in the long-term parking lot at Kennedy Airport, returned from vacation to find that their vehicle’s mileage had mysteriously increased — by 724 miles. According to the Associated Press, “Ulrich Gunthart said he was ‘flabbergasted’ when he saw the number.” To make matters worse, the stereo blasted on at full volume when the Guntharts started up their vehicle (a BMW, according to the New York Post).
The manager of the AviStar parking lot said the company looked into the matter and saw no indication of foul play. The couple has not yet received a refund from AviStar, reports the New York Post.
This story is bound to strike fear into the hearts of luxury-vehicle-owning travelers everywhere (whereas those of us driving around in 1985 Yugos will probably be spared the regard of naughty parking lot attendants). After reading this, do you feel safe leaving your car in an airport parking lot while you travel? Did you ever?
It’s nice to snag a seat in the front row of a plane and exit early … but is it worth 20 bucks?
With American Airlines’ recently announced Express Seats service, travelers can now select seats in the front of the plane for quick and easy debarkation. This new program also includes Group 1 boarding, which means passengers who sign up for Express Seats can be among the first coach fliers to board the plane. This is an especially beneficial product for those impatient travelers who bypass the line and slyly sidle up to the gate opening moments before the flight attendant calls their group number (and yes, we see you cutting the queue).
Surprise, surprise: This will cost you. Prices vary based on mileage, but introductory fees start at $19 each way. For example, buying an Express Seat on a flight from St. Louis to Chicago will cost $19, and on a flight from New York to Los Angeles the cost jumps to $39 (the service is available for domestic flights only).
American is one of the last big-name airlines to jump on the pay-for-priority bandwagon. US Airways, Continental, United, AirTran and several others have similar systems, charging coach passengers more for earlier boarding, seats that are near the front of the plane, or window and aisle seats.
Airlines have long been advocates of the class system, forcing proletariat passengers to wait in lines and wedge into shoebox-size seats while the elites fully extend their legs and ponder the in-flight wine list. But we have to wonder: Has this gone too far? In ancient times when checked bags were free and front-row coach seats were first come, first serve, a passenger who purchased a standard-fare ticket was qualified for a comfortable, pleasant flight. These days, a “comfortable flight” costs way more than the airlines’ published fares — and budget-minded travelers who simply wait in line and book ahead are denied the perks once to credited to early birds.
Will the airlines continue to split coach seats into sub-classes, forcing passengers to pay a fee for virtually everything but the smelly row next to the bathroom? Such a scenario isn’t realistic (well, we hope it isn’t), but there are still plenty of free onboard features, from tray tables to reclining seats, that could cost extra in the near future if this trend continues. Tell us what you think!