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beach travel deal Attention Cyber Monday shoppers: Sneakers and flat-screen TV’s aren’t the only discounted Web perks on offer today. Travel providers are cashing in on the Cyber Monday shopping craze, serving up cut-rate hotel stays, vacation packages and plane tickets galore. But if you need a vacation, do book post haste. Many of these deals are extremely limited-time bargains that expire by the end of today.

Flights to Europe from $389 RT
Icelandair has just released this winter Europe fare sale, which features flights to popular spots on the Continent starting at $389 roundtrip. Destinations include Amsterdam, London, Paris, Oslo, Frankfurt, Glasgow, Stockholm and more. Additional taxes typically add up to about $200 roundtrip, so you’re looking at a transatlantic flight for roughly $600 total (depending on where exactly you’re flying), which isn’t bad. Travel is valid between January 15 and April 10, 2011, and bookings must be made by December 6.

One-Day Sale: U.S. Flights from $29 OW
Frontier Airlines is enticing Cyber Monday shoppers with dirt-cheap $29 domestic flights (taxes and fees not included). More than 1,800 routes are on sale, for travel through mid February. Want to snag a seat? You’ll have to hurry. This offer expires at 11:59 p.m. Eastern Time today.

JetBlue “Top Secret Sale”: Vacation Packages for $99
This is a pretty good deal, at least for travelers who aren’t nitpicky about hotels. Today only, you can book a three-night air-inclusive JetBlue vacation package for just $99 per person, choosing from destinations including the Caribbean, Mexico, Florida and Las Vegas. Here’s the catch: You won’t know what hotel you’re staying at until 72 hours prior to your departure date. At that time, JetBlue will send you an e-mail revealing the surprise hotel where you’re going to be spending your mini-getaway. (Read: You’ll most likely be booked at whichever local hotel has extra rooms available at that time.)

Funjet Vacations from $59/Night
You have just 24 hours to book this Funjet Vacations Cyber Monday deal, so set your watch and start planning. Air-inclusive vacation packages to places in Mexico, Hawaii, the Caribbean, Las Vegas and other dreamy destinations are on sale starting at $59 per person, per night. And unlike the JetBlue sale, you’ll actually know well ahead of time where you’re going to be staying.

Virgin America Flights from $39 OW
Virgin America flights to domestic cities from Boston to San Francisco are on sale starting at $39 each way, not including taxes and fees. Travel dates are broad — fly from December 6 through May 11. But day-of-week restrictions and holiday blackout dates do apply. (In other words, you can’t fly on weekends or around Christmas and New Year’s.) The best part about this bargain is that, unlike many other Cyber Monday deals, the offer stands through December 6, giving you a few days to think before booking your flight.

Receive 30% Off New York & Boston Hotels
Save up to 30 percent on hotel stays in Boston and New York with this 48-hour Orbitz sale, which ends Wednesday. Nightly hotel rates start at $109 in Boston and $152 in New York. Even the famed New York Plaza hotel on Fifth Avenue is listed at 20 percent off (although, at the discounted rate of $836 per night, it still costs a small fortune). Other discounted properties include New York’s Dylan Hotel, Boston’s Seaport Hotel and Hotel Wales in the Big Apple.

— written by Caroline Costello

airport line crowd crowded air travelAre you flying tomorrow for Thanksgiving? Brace yourself. Standing between you and your turkey dinner at Grandma’s could be a perfect storm of long lines and ticked-off travelers at the airport.

The Wednesday before Thanksgiving has always been one of the year’s busiest travel days (to give you an idea, Boston’s Logan Airport is expecting 100,000 fliers tomorrow — about 30,000 more than normal). But this year, the combination of the TSA’s new security procedures and a traveler-led protest of those procedures could make the usual long holiday lines even worse.

Virginia resident Brian Sodergren created National Opt-Out Day to urge fliers to opt out of the TSA’s new full body scanners and go through a more time-consuming pat-down instead. He encourages fliers to be patted down in public because “Every citizen must see for themselves how the TSA treats law-abiding citizens.”

Frankly, considering that videos of the pat-downs have been splashed all over the media already for the last few weeks, I can’t imagine that the protest is going to raise too much awareness — or do much beyond irritating travelers who simply want to catch their flight and get home for Thanksgiving.

There’s no way to know how many travelers will take part in National Opt-Out Day until it happens, but here are some tips for getting through the airport as swiftly and smoothly as possible tomorrow:

Allow plenty of time. I generally recommend arriving two hours early for a non-peak domestic flight (longer for an international one). Tomorrow I’d allow three or four hours, just in case.

Know what to expect. The new scanners haven’t made it to every security line in every U.S. airport yet, so you may go through the same old metal detector that you’re already used to. But you’ll want to read up on the pat-downs and full body scanners as well so that you’re familiar with all of your options. The TSA offers a list of airports that have the new scanners (though there have been rumors that the list is not 100 percent accurate).

Be polite. Arguing with or abusing the security officers at the checkpoint is not only a great way to slow down your screening but also an unfair way to treat people who are simply carrying out policies they had no hand in creating. Many of them don’t like the TSA’s new procedures any more than you do. Consider a little Thanksgiving kindness to help get all of us through a potentially very rough day.

–written by Sarah Schlichter

crying child 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

airport security In light of the recent controversy surrounding the TSA’s new airport security procedures — you know, those revealing full-body scanners and extra-thorough pat-downs — we wanted to find out what you, our readers, really think about all the hoopla. Shockingly, a whopping 34 percent of readers polled said “Both the scanners and the pat-downs are outrageous; I would rather not fly.”

This is according to a poll posted on our travel message boards, which is still open for votes. (Haven’t weighed in yet? Share your opinion!) The second most popular poll choice, currently at 32 percent, is “I hate both the scanners and the pat-downs, but I will choose one in order to travel.” Eighteen percent of voters don’t have any problem with the new procedures.

Whew! We’re glad to know that most people will continue flying despite recent — and unpopular — airport security changes. Still, the number of voters who have declared an end to their air-traveling days is unsettling. Almost every other continent can only be reached by air or sea (fun fact: it is possible to drive from North America to South America, taking a bridge over the Panama Canal) and a cruise ship will only get you so far. For those of us who want to see the world, air travel is pretty much indispensable.

What do you say? Are you seriously considering taking the scissors to your frequent flier card?

For more information on the controversy, check out From Pat-Downs to Full Body Scanners: The TSA Firestorm, which offers a hard, factual look at the new security changes.

— written by Caroline Costello

holiday trafficOver the river and through the woods and . . . into a horrific travel nightmare?

Maybe. According to AAA, the number of Americans traveling over the upcoming Thanksgiving weekend (Nov. 24-28) is expected to increase more than 11 percent over last year. That translates into 42.2 million travelers driving at least 50 miles from home. Last year, 37.9 million Americans made the jaunt.

Tellingly, that’s significantly lower than the 2005 peak of 58.6 million travelers.

AAA says it all goes to show that distant family and friends still matter (that’s no surprise, is it?) and, more importantly, that wallets have a bit more cash in them this November. According to AAA President Robert L. Darbelnet, “While Americans remain cautious with household budgets and discretionary spending amidst high levels of unemployment, many are in a better financial position this Thanksgiving than a year ago.”

The automotive club explains that the increase “appears to be the result of modestly improved economic conditions since last year, including an increase in gross domestic product, real disposable personal income and household net worth combined with a decrease in consumer debt.”

Bottom line: When all is said and done, a little more traffic on the roads will be a good thing. Unless, that is, you’re stuck in traffic, in which case you’ll rue the day you decided to pack up the green-bean casserole and hit the road. I’ve been traveling up and down the Northeast Corridor between Washington, D.C. and New York City for years, often on busy holiday and summer weekends. Here are some things I always try to do to avoid the rush — or what I have on hand when I can’t.

Avoid peak times. Easier said than done, I know, but I hate traffic so much I’ll wake up at dawn or take a nap in the evening and head out at 5 a.m. or 10 p.m. if I have to. I’d rather move at my own pace than sit behind an oil tanker for 13 miles. Conversely, if you can’t change the time of travel, consider changing the day — returning home on Monday or leaving Tuesday night could make a big difference.

Pack a GPS, a smartphone or a good atlas. Seems obvious, but I’m always surprised when I’m in a car that has none of them. My wife and I have gone to the atlas countless times and plotted workarounds when traffic reports paint a dire picture. (Better yet, pore over the map beforehand so you have a Plan B or C before you walk out the door.) There are also numerous smartphone apps (e.g. Google Maps Navigation) that track traffic flow, and don’t forget about dialing 511 when you’re stuck in a jam for the latest info about what lies ahead.

Fill up and stock up. Sure, highway rest areas are convenient spots to fuel up, but the lines can be a real drag if you hit them at the wrong time. I always hop off the highway (even toll roads) and get gas that way. And be sure there are snacks, bottled water, car games, DVD’s, etc., in the vehicle — you never know when nuisance congestion will become an epic wait.

Pay tolls electronically. Many regions have programs that allow you to affix a device to your car and whiz through toll plazas. How come more people don’t use these? In my experience, the E-ZPass lanes in Delaware, New Jersey and New York are frequently car-free; even better, some toll areas establish E-ZPass-only lanes well in advance of the plaza itself, while others have overhead transponders allowing cars to drive through at full speed.

What are your tips for hassle-free holiday driving? (“Stay home” doesn’t count.)

Read More: Holiday Travel 2010: What You Need to Know

— written by John Deiner

A few weeks after ExpressJet pilot Michael Roberts made waves at the airport security checkpoint by refusing both a full body scan and an enhanced pat-down, the TSA once again finds itself embroiled in controversy.

This time it was a California man, John Tyner, who came up against the TSA’s new security procedures. Tyner was selected to go through a full body scan at the San Diego airport; because he refused, he was taken aside for a pat-down. When the screener described the pat-down procedure, which was to include a manual exploration of Tyner’s hips, thighs and groin, Tyner responded, “If you touch my junk, I’ll have you arrested” — prompting the screening officer to call for a supervisor. In the end, Tyner was not permitted to fly, and he could face a fine and/or a civil lawsuit from the TSA for failing to complete the full security check before leaving the screening area.

Here’s a report (with video from Tyner’s cell phone) from CNN:

To read Tyner’s account and watch the unedited video of the incident, check out his blog.

Meanwhile, another pilot has joined Michael Roberts in standing up against the new security procedures. Continental pilot Ann Poe, who has an artificial hip that has necessitated additional screening in the past, declined to go through the full body scanner on November 4 due to concerns about radiation and the violation of medical privacy laws. She also objected to the enhanced pat-down, which she describes as “being sexually molested.” She was detained for two hours and prevented from flying her scheduled route.

Poe and Roberts aren’t alone; several pilot unions have also spoken out against the full body scanners and enhanced pat-down procedures.

If you face a choice between a full body scan and a pat-down on your next flight, what will you choose? Do you think the new screening procedures are fair?

–written by Sarah Schlichter

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

rockefeller center christmas tree angels holiday new york cityFor anyone planning a holiday trip to New York City, a fully packed schedule awaits. New York’s holiday celebrations number in the hundreds, and include everything from world-famous events, like the Times Square ball drop or the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade, to Christmas shows and community concerts. The following 10 events are some of our favorites, but to see a more complete list of seasonal activities in the Big Apple, check out the NYC.gov Event Calendar.

Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade
The Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade marks the start of New York’s holiday celebrations. The parade, which marches in on November 24, features bunches of fantastical balloons, dozens of mega-floats and performers strutting down the streets of Manhattan. To get the best views of the parade, book a hotel room facing the street on Central Park West or Broadway (these rooms fill up well in advance, so make reservations early). If it’s too late to snag a room with a view, you can always wake up early and stake out a spot on the street where the parade comes through.

Grand Central Terminal Holiday Fair
For the 12th consecutive year, Grand Central’s beautiful Vanderbilt Hall will convert into a bustling holiday fair this season. This urbane market isn’t exactly your local holiday bazaar selling pine cone wreaths in the elementary school gym. The fair, presented by the New York Times, features 76 unique vendors offering tasteful, eclectic gifts, from hand-crafted jewelry to fine art and photography. Shops are open daily from November 15 through December 24 (with the exception of Thanksgiving Day).

Radio City Christmas Spectacular
The Rockettes kick-start the season with a colorful, eye-popping musical extravaganza featuring dancing armies of Santas, festive holiday tunes and a living nativity scene with real animals. The G-rated performance is popular with families with young children, but the show works for anyone who isn’t too old to enjoy Christmas songs and sky-high leg kicks. Performances are going on now and run through the end of December.

Hanukkah Concert
On December 12, the second night of Hanukkah, Town and Village Synagogue at 334 East 14th Street will host a sing-along Hanukkah concert with a reception to follow. The concert includes a Hanukkah candle lighting, and everyone is invited to sing along to traditional Jewish folk songs.

New York Botanical Garden Holiday Train Show
From November 20 through January 9, the New York Botanical Garden exhibits a charming half-mile train track with G-scale model trains and more than 100 hand-constructed mini-New York City landmarks, which are all crafted of plant materials. Grab some hot chocolate and ginger snaps in the Botanical Garden Cafe and spend an afternoon exploring the festive 250-acre display.

George Balanchine’s “The Nutcracker”
The New York City Ballet’s world-famous “The Nutcracker” performance has been a New York holiday tradition since the 1950’s. Stunning costumes, an iconic score and even a massive one-ton Christmas tree transport viewers to a dreamy fairy-tale world in which toys dance and reindeer fly. There are roughly 45 “The Nutcracker” performances each year between November 26 and January 2, and it’s best to book your tickets early to snag prime seating.

Rockefeller Center
On November 30, thousands will gather to witness the lighting of Rockefeller Center’s iconic Christmas tree. There will be special musical performances during the lighting ceremony (this year Susan Boyle, Mariah Carey and other celebrities will be putting on a good show), but if you can’t make it on that day, it’s always fun to rent some skates and take a spin on the Ice Rink at Rockefeller Center next to the sparkling tree.

The Pond at Bryant Park
Waiting for a ticket to get into the Ice Rink at Rockefeller Center can take an hour or longer, as only 150 people are allowed on the rink at a time. A nice, less touristy and free (that’s right — admission is free!) ice skating alternative is the Pond at Bryant Park. The outdoor rink stays open from the end of October through the end of February, and skate rentals are available on site.

The World’s Largest Menorah
The lighting of the biggest menorah in the world — the monument is 32 feet tall — happens at 4 p.m. on December 11 at the Grand Army Plaza in Manhattan (Fifth Avenue at 59th Street). The ceremony will include dancing, Jewish foods and performances by folk singers. Admission is free.

New Year’s Eve in Times Square
Okay, this one’s obvious. The Times Square New Year’s Eve ceremony pretty much marks the end of the city’s holiday festivities — and it’s the world’s most famous New Year’s Eve party — so we had to give it a mention. If you want to get in the action, you’ll have to arrive in the square pretty early on December 31 to stake out a good spot. No public restrooms are available, and there are no food or drink vendors, so make sure to do your business before you head to the square, and pack a snack.

For more information on the Big Apple, don’t miss our Top 25 Ways to Save on New York City Travel.

–written by Caroline Costello

carnival splendor An engine-room fire that broke out onboard Carnival Splendor yesterday left the ship — and more than 3,000 passengers — stranded in the ocean, reports our sister site CruiseCritic.com. No passengers or crew were injured, but the ship’s engine is out of commission.

Carnival Splendor is currently adrift off the coast of Baja California, waiting for commercial tug boats to guide it back to shore. For those onboard, who had initially signed up for a seven-day Mexican Riviera cruise, this has undoubtedly been the vacation from hell. The fire broke out on day one of the cruise, and it appears that passengers went without flushable toilets and running water for a period of time. To make matters worse, the ship’s air-conditioning is no longer working.

Carnival Splendor’s passengers, of course, are due some compensation. Carnival will be shelling out full refunds, reimbursement for transportation costs and an additional free future cruise. Still, something tells me Splendor’s passengers are not presently excited about going on another cruise as they drift in the Pacific Ocean on a ship without air conditioning.

For more information on this story, including timely updates, check out Carnival Splendor Q&A: What You Need to Know About the Cruise Ship Fire on CruiseCritic.com.

–written by Caroline Costello

london houses of parliamentWhich destination would you choose as the best in the world?

It’s a tough question for any globetrotter, but travel agents across the world came together to vote on just that in the 2010 World Travel Awards, announced yesterday. London took the title of the World’s Leading Destination for the fourth time in six years (other recent winners have included Dubai, Las Vegas and Orlando — though how the Mouse beat out cities like Paris and Rome in 2006 is a mystery to me).

In addition to selecting a “leading destination,” the annual awards highlight the cream of the crop in a heap of other categories including airlines, hotels, cruise lines, tourist boards and more.

To no one’s surprise, the fee-happy U.S.-based airlines were barely represented in the “world’s leading” list — Etihad Airways took top honors for the best overall airline, while Cathay Pacific earned a nod for its economy-class experience (Virgin Atlantic won for business class and Etihad racked up another trophy for first class). However, there was one lonely U.S. airline on the list: Frontier, which beat out JetBlue and several other discounters for the title of the world’s best low-cost carrier.

Given the perennial complaints about the lack of comprehensive train transportation in the U.S., I was a little shocked to see Amtrak take top honors as the World’s Leading Rail Service — beating out Eurostar, which had won the award every previous year since 1998. Dare we hope this means that U.S. train travel is on the rise?

Other highlights from the list: InterContinental Hotels & Resorts was named the world’s best hotel brand, Royal Caribbean ruled the seas as the top cruise line and the self-proclaimed “seven-star” Burj Al Arab in Dubai took the “best hotel” crown for the sixth year in a row. Click the link above to see the full (and lengthy) list of winners.

–written by Sarah Schlichter