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st kitts Every 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: Sail to the Southern Caribbean for just $389 per person, and spend seven nights trying your luck in the onboard casino or indulging in 24-hour pizza as you cruise to tropical ports on Carnival Victory. We crunched a few numbers on our fancy calculator and deduced that the going nightly rate for this cruise is about $56 — an affordable fare that will keep your budget in good health. Want to stare at the sea while you get dressed for your big karaoke debut? Oceanview cabins start at $479 per person, and balcony cabins are priced from $639.

This cruise offers a port-intensive itinerary, sailing roundtrip from Puerto Rico to St. Thomas, Barbados, St. Lucia, St. Kitts and St. Maarten. There’s just one day at sea, which means you’ll have plenty of chances to hone your sand castle-building skills at a variety of Caribbean beaches.

The Catch: This deal is for a sailing in October — which just so happens to be hurricane season. While it’s statistically unlikely that your particular sailing will be affected by a hurricane, we recommend purchasing travel insurance just in case. The truth is: Getting used to the idea of a hurricane-season sailing is one of the best ways to snag bargain-basement cruise deals.

The Competition: We’ve spotted several fall (hurricane season ahoy!) Caribbean cruise deals floating around, none of them quite as cheap as the Carnival Victory deal. But some of the offers are still noteworthy. We found a seven-night November sailing on MSC Poesia that starts at $549, and a four-night Royal Caribbean Bahamas cruise in September or October from just $229.

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

– written by Caroline Costello

shellmont innWe have a winner! The correct answer to last week’s How Much Is This Hotel contest is $260. Cornelia’s answer was spot-on — and she won a free IndependentTraveler.com T-shirt!

The room pictured in Friday’s post is the Veranda Suite at the Shellmont Inn, a historic B&B located in Atlanta’s Midtown neighborhood. The surprisingly affordable digs cost between $225 and $260 per night, and feature two queen beds, a flat-screen TV, an oak writing desk, and a bathroom with a jetted tub and a separate glass shower. Rates include a hot breakfast with Belgian waffles, sausage or bacon and fresh fruit. Not bad for $260 per night! Read more about the Shellmont Inn in Atlanta Essentials.

Check back on Friday for another shot at winning a prize!

– written by Caroline Costello

We know you love Photo Friday, but today we’re introducing a new game — and we’re raising the stakes with a fabulous prize.

Guess the maximum standard nightly rate of the hotel room pictured below. Enter your guess in the comments, and be sure to include a valid e-mail address (so we can contact you in case you win). With a nod to “The Price Is Right,” we’re adding this condition: whoever guesses closest to the price of the room — without going over — wins a free IndependentTraveler.com T-shirt. Here’s the room:



You want a hint? Okay, okay. Here are three juicy little leads to help you win that T-shirt:

1. This hotel is located in the city where the novel “Gone With the Wind” was penned.

2. This room has a jetted granite tub in addition to a glass shower enclosure.

3. This historic hotel was built in the late 19th century.

Remember, we’re looking for the most expensive standard nightly rate listed on the hotel’s Web site; it’s likely the price of the room on a weekend during high season (no package rates, coupon codes or special holiday prices count). Enter your answer by Monday night, May 30 at 11:59 p.m. Eastern Time to win. We’ll contact the winner and reveal the answer on Tuesday.

– written by Caroline Costello

eating alone I hate eating alone while traveling. If I have to do it, I seek out dark corner tables and I make sure I’m armed with a book or a laptop in which to bury my face.

It wasn’t always this way. In fact, I used to like dining alone, beaming confidently at the empty chair across from me while enjoying my food in peaceful silence. But a bad incident at Senor Frog’s in Myrtle Beach changed everything.

I know. Senor Frog’s, the hard-partying place that serves JELL-O shots and fish tacos to tank top-clad tourists in beachy destinations, isn’t exactly Shangri-La for the solo diner. Nevertheless, I was at Broadway at the Beach at the time (a vast Myrtle Beach shopping and entertainment complex), and my options included a Hard Rock Cafe shaped like an enormous Egyptian pyramid and various steakhouses and seafood spots. I’m a vegetarian. And it looked like the 70-foot-tall Hard Rock pyramid might swallow up a lonely unaccompanied traveler. So I took my chances with the frog.

In the same way that T.G.I. Friday’s displays vintage memorabilia and relics of Americana, Senor Frog’s posts smart-mouthed signs declaring “Save water. Drink tequila!” or “We don’t speak English, but we promise not to laugh at your Spanish!”

Sometimes, I noticed, Senor Frog’s staff placed signs next to patrons. As I waited for my nachos to make an appearance, I watched a waiter set up a sign next to a gaggle of giggling teens. It read “Supermodels at play!” with an arrow directing diners’ eyes to the girls.

“How sweet,” I thought. “But you better not put one of those things near me. You. Better. Not.” I sank my face into my novel and tried to blend in with the booth.

A server soon arrived and, with his left hand, slid a plate of cheesy nachos under my chin. In his right hand, he gripped a tall wooden sign, which he positioned next to my booth. “Needs a date,” it read. A fat arrow pointed mockingly to my head.

This is exactly the kind of thing I’ve always secretly feared when dining alone. Sharing a meal with a ghost in a restaurant stuffed with chatty quads and pairs, I’ve envisioned people whispering about me, wondering what happened to my date or whether I was some kind of socially marred loner. In reality, few people care about or even notice solo diners. Of course, there’s usually not a brazen sign broadcasting one’s lack of date.

“Take it away!” I hissed to the waiter. “No sign! Take it away!” The thing went down like a slap, but the damage was done. Thoroughly embarrassed, I choked down one or two triangle chips, signed the check and exited quickly.

Should I have laughed at the sign and taken myself a bit less seriously? Perhaps. But I was pretty embarrassed, and ever since that meal at Senor Frog’s, I’ve dreaded the table for one. How do you feel about dining alone?

– written by Caroline Costello

high gas prices sign arm leg expensiveEvery 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.

With U.S. gas prices hovering around a budget-busting $4 a gallon, that summer road trip you’ve been anticipating may be looking pricier than you’d originally planned. While we can’t promise that gas prices will plunge just in time for you to hit the road, we can offer a few hints for cutting costs when traveling by car. For example, IndependentTraveler.com Ed Hewitt gives the following advice about where to stop and refuel:

“Choose an exit with several gas stations. You can usually tell these from the amenity signs on the highway leading up to the exit. If the sign lists two or more stations, you will often benefit from the simple fact that there is competition for your business. Upon exiting … choose the station that is farthest from the exit ramp. Typically [it] will have the lowest prices, simply due to the inability to gouge outsiders looking for a quick off-and-on fill-up (the locals often use this station).”

Hewitt goes on to point out that even if you have to pay a few cents more to drive to the farther station, your savings per gallon will easily help you make that back — especially if your tank was nearly empty before you stopped.

Got a smartphone? There are heaps of apps out there that will help you check for the best local gas prices: GasBag, Cheap Gas! and Local Gas Prices are just a few.

See more ways to save gas and money.

– written by Sarah Schlichter

At the Airport By most accounts, the skies are expected to be a lot more crowded this summer. While domestic travel has yet to reach pre-recession levels, a recent story in the Los Angeles Times indicates that U.S. airlines will be carrying a record number of passengers overseas in the coming months. For this reason, I offer a cautionary tale.

This is the stupidest thing I’ve ever done on a trip overseas:

After firming up plans to fly to Venice last month on a business trip, I discovered that my wife Janet could accompany me at the last minute. (Woo hoo! No lonely dinners during which I pretend to read in dim light!) Problem was, if she was to accompany me on my Lufthansa flights, the fare would be a whopping $3,000 round trip. We’d save $2,000 if she flew US Airways to Frankfurt, where we’d meet and fly together to Venice.

So far, so good. I departed Philadelphia and stopped for a four-hour layover in Germany, where I chilled and I waited for her to meet me. With 15 minutes to go before the flight to Venice, she was nowhere to be found. The Lufthansa gate agent told me that her Philly flight had been delayed and that the passengers bound for Venice had already been rebooked on a later flight. “You can meet her at your hotel,” the agent informed me.

Here comes the stupid part: I had Janet’s itinerary in my carry-on. I’d forgotten to give it to her in the rush at the airport, and she had no idea where we were staying in Venice. I arrived in Venice in full panic mode, wondering whether I should wait six hours for her to show up or head to the hotel and try to reach out via e-mail (her phone didn’t work overseas). Jet lag won out: I headed to the hotel, a $50 cab ride away.

Turns out Janet was panicking a couple of time zones away and had borrowed a phone. I never thought to turn mine on. I sent her a half-dozen e-mails (when, really, one would have done the trick), but she never thought to log on to the Internet at the Frankfurt airport. Frazzled and exhausted, I grabbed a cab three hours before her expected arrival and headed back to the airport. I’d rather be waiting for her than the other way around.

But hold on … having hopped on an earlier flight, Janet was hunched over the luggage carousel when I arrived. She looked frazzled and exhausted as well. We grabbed each other’s hands and jumped into the same cab I’d caught at the hotel.

The lessons here: Don’t be careless when you’re traveling overseas on different flights. Share all the relevant information about accommodations and transfers before you part ways with your travel companion. Have two phones that can dial internationally, or set up a plan of action in case you get separated (i.e., check the Internet). Don’t rely on a gate agent who has only a passing interest in whatever predicament you’re in. And learn from someone else’s stupid mistake.

– written by John Deiner

On the Beach with a Kindle Every 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:
Hotels.com’s “Summer Giftaway” sale features steep discounts on hotel stays in addition to a few enticing bonus gifts for travelers — including complimentary e-readers. Save up to 45 percent on accommodations around the world, plus receive extras like a $25 gas card or a free Kindle with select bookings. Kindle e-readers normally cost $139 (that’s the going rate on Amazon.com).

The Catch: To get the Kindle, you must book a stay of at least three consecutive nights at a participating property, and spend a minimum of $450 (a price that won’t be difficult to reach, really, with a three-night stay). For the gas card, you’ll have to book a minimum two-night stay at select hotels.

Don’t expect the front-desk receptionist to pull out a Kindle and hand it to you when you arrive at your hotel. Yes, that would be ideal. Especially since you could use the thing on your trip. But, as is the case with most free-gift offers from travel providers, you’ll receive your bonus in the mail weeks after your completed stay. Look for the $25 gas card or Kindle to show up in your mailbox within 14 days of your return date.

The Competition: We haven’t found any other travel deals featuring complimentary e-readers (please, correct us if we’re wrong). But you can grab a free gift card from InterContinental Hotels Group, which is offering $75 prepaid MasterCards with summer stays of at least two weekend nights at participating properties around the world. Additionally, Wyndham Resorts is giving away $100 American Express cards for guests who stay five nights or longer.

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

Editor’s Note: IndependentTraveler.com is a member of the TripAdvisor Media Network, an operating company of Expedia, Inc. Expedia, Inc. also owns Hotels.com.

– written by Caroline Costello

overweight woman stretch stretching water bridge deckShould obese people have to pay for extra seats on a plane? In recent weeks, there’s been a revival of one of the travel industry’s perennial controversies; this time the debate was sparked by Southwest’s attempt to bar two overweight women from a flight, even though they’d flown without incident on previous legs of the same trip. (They were eventually allowed to board.)

It’s an issue we’ve covered several times over the years — see Airline Obesity Policies and Is Kevin Smith Too Fat to Fly? — but as a reader recently reminded us, there are other concerns facing obese travelers that don’t get anywhere near as much press.

“I’m a big girl. I’m 5’9″ and 265 pounds. Sometimes I worry about booking things because they won’t accommodate my size,” wrote member acurves on our message boards. “I’m going to be in Hawaii for two weeks this June, and there are so many things I want to do! Parasailing, dolphin encounters, catamaran sailing, snorkeling, etc. I’m just afraid that I’m too big to do those things.

“Trust me — I want to do these things. I may not move much at home, but I’m an active girl on vacation. I love hikes, walks around the city, being active. I’m definitely not lazy when I’m on vacation. I just want to know if any other bigger people have done the things I listed above. It would be embarrassing to go and have them say I’m too big!”

It’s true that some activities do have weight restrictions, usually for safety reasons. For example, UFO Parasailing, a company that runs excursions on Lahaina, Maui and the Big Island of Hawaii, lists a weight limit of 450 pounds for two or three people flying together. (The svelte travelers among us aren’t necessarily off the hook: to fly alone, you have to weigh at least 130 pounds.) The Sky Trek Canopy Tour in Costa Rica, a zip line operator, does not permit guests weighing more than 217 pounds; in addition, your waist may be no larger than 58 inches, and your thighs no bigger around than 30 inches. (This is to make sure you can fit into the safety harness.)

Other activities, such as snorkeling or dolphin excursions, are much less likely to have weight restrictions. But keep in mind that a certain amount of agility may be required; paddling through the sea with your snorkel and flippers may be easy enough at any weight, but clambering up a narrow ladder onto a dive boat could be difficult for larger travelers who are less active.

Your best bet for any type of activity is to contact the operator directly before you book. Ask not only about weight limitations but also about the level of fitness required to participate safely in the activity. Many tour operators will do their best to accommodate people of all sizes and physical abilities.

Has your weight ever restricted you from doing things you wanted to do in your travels?

– 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 week’s Photo Friday guessing game is Burano, Italy! Located in the Venetian Lagoon, Burano and its vibrant, oh-so-photogenic buildings are just a 40-minute vaporetto trip from Venice. Just as neighboring Murano is known for its glass, Burano is celebrated for its handmade lace (though, unfortunately, it’s a bit of a dying art). Learn more about Burano in Venice Essentials.

– 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 colorful island is known for its handmade lace.

Leave a comment below to guess the destination!

– written by Sarah Schlichter