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With a lobby on the 103rd floor and a rooftop bar on the 118th, the brand-new Ritz-Carlton hotel in Hong Kong puts a whole new spin on the term “a room with a view.” The ultra-luxe property, which opened on Tuesday, is now the world’s highest hotel; its 312 guestrooms and suites overlook Victoria Harbour and Hong Kong Island from a height of some 1,600 feet. (A nice perk: Telescopes are available in all suites.)

ritz carlton hong kong hotel aerial view

Dining options at the hotel include the Italian restaurant Tosca, Tin Lung Heen (for Cantonese cuisine) and the Chocolate Library, where chocoholics can indulge in everything from savory dishes to chocolate afternoon tea. And don’t miss the 116th-floor spa, where you can savor the view through floor-to-ceiling windows while you indulge in a variety of therapeutic treatments. (Afraid of heights? Slap a few cucumber slices over your eyes and you’ll be just fine.)

ritz carlton hong kong tosca italian restaurant

ritz carlton hong kong ozone bar

Rates are nearly as sky-high as the hotel rooms. The best deal we’ve seen so far is the special Introductory Package, valid through the end of April — you’ll pay about $500 a night for a single-occupancy room with buffet breakfast.

ritz carlton hong kong hotel night victoria harbour international commerce centre

Learn more about Hong Kong in Hong Kong Essentials.

— written by Sarah Schlichter

suitcase pack packing travel tripEvery Wednesday, we’ll feature one practical travel tip here, on our blog. Get our clever weekly tips and other travel resources in your inbox by subscribing to our blog (top right) or signing up for our newsletter.

On the first morning of a recent trip, I found myself rifling through my suitcase and grumbling under my breath. Neatly folded clothes went flying as I tried to find the sweater and pants I had in mind for that day’s events. Of course, they were all the way at the bottom of my bag. The matching shoes were in a different compartment altogether. And where the heck were those black socks?

Keeping your suitcase neat and orderly can be a challenge, especially on multi-stop trips when you’re packing and unpacking in several different hotels. But fellow haphazard packers, take heart: There is a better way. IndependentTraveler reader Debbi G. explains how she stays organized when packing for a trip:

“I buy two-gallon zip-lock bags to use when packing. I pick out a complete outfit (shirt, pants or skirt, underwear and socks to match — all wrinkle-free materials) and pack them in the large bag, removing as much air as possible. This prevents having to rummage through the clothes to find coordinating items and messing up the suitcase. I make sure that I have one bag per day or event, then just pull out a bag and get ready!”

This tip would work just as well in reverse too — you can fold and seal dirty duds in the bags again when you’re done with them, keeping them separate from your clean clothing. (Just make sure you remember which bags are which!)

You can see more practical advice from IndependentTraveler.com members in Packing Tips from Our Readers. And don’t miss our essential list of What Not to Pack.

— written by Sarah Schlichter

Spirit AirlinesWe thought it couldn’t get any worse. We were wrong.

Spirit Airlines, the only U.S. carrier that charges fees for carry-on luggage, has managed to dump even more baggage fees on fliers. Spirit passengers who pay for their carry-on bags within 24 hours of departure will be charged an additional $5 for doing so online or $10 for doing it by phone. This change is effective for travelers booking on or after March 24.

Spirit’s original carry-on bag fees are now, according to the airline, an “Early Bird Discount.” Spirit customers can catch the disappointing, dried-up worm by paying $30 per carry-on bag ($20 for members of Spirit’s $9 Fare Club) when purchased at least 24 hours in advance of departure. Spirit’s backhanded interpretation of “discount” troubles me. Like a petulant child who “picks up” his clothes by picking them up and then dropping them on the floor again, Spirit is twisting words in the face of its eye-rolling, grudging customers.

And the fees get steeper. The last-minute Larry who shows up at the airport without pre-purchasing a carry-on bag will be charged $45 at the airport gate and $40 at the airport kiosk. (These particular fees aren’t new, but I think they’re noteworthy).

With its newest carry-on baggage charges, Spirit seems to be slapping the concept of customer service square in the face. But the airline’s bread and butter has always been its extremely cheap fares, with flights as low as $9 each way (and sometimes even cheaper) for members of its $9 Fare Club — and Spirit’s never been one to worry about maintaining a squeaky-clean image. We’ve reported on Spirit’s devilish antics in the past, from scuffles with stranded passengers to shocking and offensive ads. Really, nothing Spirit does should surprise us anymore.

In the airline’s defense, its fees are cheaper for checked bags than for carry-ons. (Take a look at the full list of what Spirit charges in Airline Baggage Fees. ) This should, at least, free up some overhead space on the plane.

Will you still fly with Spirit?

— written by Caroline Costello

Sheraton Sand Key ResortEvery Tuesday, we’ll feature the best travel bargain we’ve seen all week right here, on our blog. Be the first to find out which deals make the cut by subscribing to our blog (top right) or signing up for our weekly deals newsletter.

The Deal: Travelers with summer vacation on the brain should take note of this timely package deal, which features an array of warm-weather discounts at Starwood Resorts properties in the U.S. Purchase an air-inclusive Southwest Vacations package of three or more nights at select Starwood Resorts and receive up to $100 off the price of your trip, a free night’s stay, a free room upgrade and more money-saving perks.

This offer is valid at resorts in a variety of U.S. destinations, from breezy beachfront lodging in Florida to golf resorts in the sunny Southwest. Already-low nightly rates include roundtrip airfare from select U.S. cities, but keep in mind that discounts and prices vary by property. For example, at the Sheraton Sand Key Resort in Clearwater, guests can receive a free night’s stay and a $50 resort credit in addition to up to $100 off the price of their package, with nightly rates starting at $144. Whereas at the Westin Mission Hills Resort & Spa, you can snag a free night’s stay, free breakfast, free meals for kids and golf discounts — plus, of course, that $100 discount — with rates as low as $108 per night.

The Catch: To save the most, you’ve got to stay awhile. To receive $100 off your package price, your trip must be five nights or longer. Book a stay of four nights and receive $80 off the price of your vacation, or book a stay of three nights and save $60.

The Competition: It’s not hard to find discounted packages on the Web, so Southwest Vacations has some healthy competition, well, just about everywhere. One comparable offer we unearthed is this Wyndham Resorts deal, which features free nights plus a $100 American Express gift card at destinations in the U.S., the Caribbean and Mexico. Prices are a bit steeper than Southwest Vacations’ rates, but Wyndham’s selection of eligible resorts in domestic and international locales gives budget-minded travelers a wider range of options.

Find these bargains and more money-saving offers in our Vacation Package Deals.

— written by Caroline Costello

Would rainbow lights, disco dancing and short shorts get you to pay attention to a pre-flight safety demonstration?

Air New Zealand hopes so. Yesterday, the airline rolled out a new safety video called “Fit to Fly with Richard Simmons,” featuring the famed fitness guru as well as a handful of local Kiwi celebs. Backed by dancers in sweatbands and wearing his signature itty-bitty shorts, Simmons is in full “Sweatin’ to the Oldies” form as he exhorts fliers to lose their baggage, buckle their seatbelts and follow crew instructions at all times. “FANTASTIC!”

You can check out the video below. (“Amazing Race” fans, keep your eye out for host and New Zealand native Phil Keoghan, who demonstrates the brace position in his seat — and even has a brief dance solo.)

Air New Zealand isn’t the only airline to get creative in an attempt to make jaded fliers pay attention to a safety demonstration; see our recent post about the dancing flight attendants on the Philippines’ Cebu Pacific airline.

— written by Sarah Schlichter

Every Monday, we’ll post the answer to the previous week’s Photo Friday quiz. Play along with future photo guessing games by subscribing to our blog (top right).

The correct answer to last Friday’s photo guessing game is Montreal! The building with the green roof is Montreal’s 1870’s-era city hall, located in the part of town known as Vieux Montreal (Old Montreal). Nearby is Place de Cartier, a popular square that bustles with street performers and sidewalk cafes in the summertime. Learn more about the city in Montreal Essentials.

Check back this Friday for another photo guessing game!

— written by Sarah Schlichter

Every Friday, we’ll feature a photo of an unidentified place here, on our blog. Think you know where the photo was taken? Leave your guess in the comments below — and check back on Monday to see if you were right! Get the answer in your inbox by subscribing to our blog (top right).

Hint: This landmark building is located in the oldest part of a bilingual city.

Leave a comment below to guess the destination!

— written by Sarah Schlichter

Food, wine, parades, live music and finally getting outdoors after a long winter … what’s not to love about the spring festival season? If you’re seeking inspiration for a last-minute spring trip, don’t miss the festivities going on around the U.S. in celebration of everything from strawberries to Cinco de Mayo. Read on for info on our five favorite upcoming spring festivals.

New Orleans Jazz & Heritage Festival: New Orleans, LA
Despite its name, the New Orleans Jazz & Heritage Festival showcases much more than just jazz music; headliners this year include Jimmy Buffett, Robert Plant & the Band of Joy, Cyndi Lauper, Wilco, Wyclef Jean and dozens of other artists in every musical genre you can imagine. In addition to live concerts every day, the festival — which runs for 10 days from April 29 through May 8 — also offers a Louisiana Folklife Village and a Native American Village where visitors can watch crafts demonstrations and enjoy traditional local music. And don’t forget the food! This is your chance to sample N’awlins favorites like muffuletta, red beans and rice, po’boys, and crawfish pie.

big sams funky nation new orleans jazz festival 2010

California Strawberry Festival: Oxnard, CA
Whether you like ’em baked into a shortcake, dipped in chocolate, slathered with whipped cream or even tossed on top of a pizza, strawberries are the center of the action at Oxnard, California’s annual Strawberry Festival on May 21 and 22. Check out the Strawberry Promenade to watch cooking demonstrations and take in an informative exhibit on the “Life of a Strawberry.” Live music, a kids’ area, and locally made arts and crafts round out the offerings.

california strawberry festival oxnard ca

Cinco in the Park: Denver, CO
Denver celebrates Mexican culture and heritage with its annual Cinco in the Park festival, scheduled this year for May 7 and 8. The holiday of Cinco de Mayo commemorates a battle in which the Mexican town of Puebla overcame the French back in 1862; in modern-day Denver, the fiesta includes music, dancing, a parade and a Green Chili Bowl Cook-Off, in which local restaurants duke it out over who has the best spicy recipe.

cinco de mayo dancers denver

Nantucket Daffodil Festival: Nantucket, MA
After a long and snowy winter, the island of Nantucket celebrates the spring thaw each year with its colorful Nantucket Daffodil Festival. This year’s festivities, which run from April 29 through May 1, will feature annual events such as the antique car parade (the vehicles are, of course, bedecked with daffodil blooms), the daffy hat pageant (how many flowers can you fit onto your baseball cap?) and the daffy dog parade (a daffodil-decorated Fido might lack a little dignity, but he’ll sure look pretty).

nantucket daffodil festival daffy hat

Vidalia Onion Festival: Vidalia, GA
Did you know that the Vidalia sweet onion is Georgia’s official state vegetable? Help celebrate all things onion at the 34th annual Vidalia Onion Festival, which runs from April 28 through May 1. The town goes all out for the festivities, which include an air show, a concert (with “American Idol” alum Kellie Pickler as the headliner), a Miss Vidalia Onion pageant, a rodeo, a motorcycle rally and, of course, plenty of opportunities to sample those yummy onions! Try the sweet onion rings, available downtown all day during the festival, or attend the Vidalia Onion Culinary Extravaganza with a local chef and cookbook author. Those with iron stomachs can join the onion eating contest.

vidalia onion festival air show

For more ideas, see our Top 10 Stunning Spring Destinations.

— written by Sarah Schlichter

old crown london London is full of free things to do. A bunch of world-class museums, such as the British Museum, the National Gallery, the Tate Modern, and the Victoria and Albert Museum, offer free admission. There’s no charge to watch cheeky orators embarrass themselves and others in front of large crowds at Speakers’ Corner in Hyde Park. And it’s free to see the changing of the guard at Buckingham Palace.

Travelers to London can also enjoy complimentary comedy shows in the heart of the city, which I accidentally discovered on a trip earlier this week.

Searching the Web for something budget-friendly and fun to do on a weekday night, I came across an online listing for “The Ideas Factory,” a free comedy show at a bar in London’s Covent Garden neighborhood. On a whim, I showed up at the bar (Old Crown on 33 New Oxford Street), and was directed to a small room upstairs. It was a tiny, dimly lit space with two beat-up couches and some folding chairs. There were just three or four people standing about drinking beer. The place looked like a sad and poorly attended party hosted by college students in a studio apartment — no stage, no audience and no microphone; this didn’t seem promising.

Despite my unease, I stayed, expecting a mediocre show at best, and an embarrassing flop ending in violence at worst. Yet the show was brilliant. The comedians, who hammed it up just inches from a tiny group of roughly 10 people, were polished, professional and delightfully clever. Performers included Matthew Highton, Paul Duncan McGarrity and Jay Cowle, established British comedians who also do standup at the “real” comedy clubs — you know, the ones that charge admission.

During a break in the show, I asked one of the performers why he bothered to appear at a free show in such a dark and diminutive room above a bar. He explained that this kind of intimate performance is common in London, where comedians arrange small events for the purpose of testing new material in front of an audience.

Spending the evening as a comic guinea pig in London was an unforgettable experience. To find free comedy shows in London, check out Time Out London (www.TimeOut.com/London).

— written by Caroline Costello

tip restaurant coins eurosEvery Wednesday, we’ll feature one practical travel tip here, on our blog. Get our clever weekly tips and other travel resources in your inbox by subscribing to our blog (top right) or signing up for our newsletter.

Last week, we asked our readers to share their best tipping advice for a chance to win a Ritz-Carlton spa pack. It was a tough decision, but I’m pleased to announce that our winner is Susan, who offered the following words of wisdom:

“I found a great tipping app for iPhones called ‘Tipping Tips,’ which gives advice on tipping in over 100 countries. It’s got general guidelines and specific information on everyday situations like taxis and hotels, plus info on less common stuff like safari guides in Africa. There’s a calculator that knows what country you’re in and automatically calculates the correct percentage — very helpful since I hate doing math in restaurants!”

I love this advice because it deals with one of the biggest challenges for any traveler: the wide variation in tipping customs around the world. And like Susan, I’m allergic to math, so anything that will do calculations for me is guaranteed to make my trip go more smoothly. It’s definitely worth the $0.99 it’ll cost you for the app.

Congratulations, Susan! And thanks to everyone else who offered their own tipping suggestions; you can read them all in the comments of the original post. Need more guidance? Check out Tipping Etiquette, our Q&A with the great-great-granddaughter of manners maven Emily Post.

— written by Sarah Schlichter