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havana cubaAt the beginning of this year, IndependentTraveler.com named Cuba one of its 9 Destinations to Visit in 2012, thanks to the relaxation of travel restrictions for Americans wanting to visit the long-forbidden nation. Under the loosened rules, many tour operators and cultural institutions began offering educational trips to Cuba that any traveler could book (prior access had largely been restricted to Americans visiting family in Cuba or traveling for religious purposes).

But these trips appear to be in peril once again. According to a report in the Detroit Free Press, the Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC), part of the U.S. Treasury, has been extremely slow to renew licenses for travel organizations who want to offer educational Cuba tours — putting future trips in jeopardy.

InsightCuba.com, for example, has “pending OFAC license renewal” at the top of its list of tour offerings; the Free Press notes that the company has had to cancel its last two months of trips because its license expired in June. Other companies affected include National Geographic, the Metropolitan Museum of Art and more.

Cuba Trip Reviews by Real Travelers

It’s not clear if license renewals are not being promptly issued for political, bureaucratic or other reasons. In a statement provided to the Free Press, the U.S. Treasury had only this to say: “We have issued approximately 140 people-to-people licenses. We are doing our best to process both first-time applications and requests to renew existing licenses. We receive numerous such requests which are being handled in turn. It is our goal to respond in a timely matter.”

For now, if you see a company advertising Cuba tours, avoid disappointment by calling to ask when its OFAC license expires and whether the trip is guaranteed to run.

– written by Sarah Schlichter

Today, during my usual lunchtime sanity break, I peeled myself from my desk and ventured outside in search of food. The wall of hot air that greeted me was stifling. To the chagrin of several women in the knitting store across the way, I immediately stripped down to my underwear. Okay, not really — but I did seriously consider it as I watched a small child attempting to fry an egg in the parking lot.

The latest heat wave here in the Northeastern U.S. has brought temperatures in the 90′s for the past several weeks, and it’s constantly got me wishing I were anywhere but here — anywhere that’s cooler than here, that is.

Take a peek below for four places and activities that I’ve been dreaming about almost daily of late. If you’re anything like me, you’ll feel cooler just looking at them.

Visiting Glacier Bay National Park, Alaska

glacier bay national park



Swimming at Dunn’s River Falls, Ocho Rios, Jamaica

dunns river falls jamaica



Skiing in Queenstown, New Zealand

queenstown skiing



Touring the (air-conditioned!) Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York City

metropolitan museum of art new york



Where would you like to cool off right about now?

– written by Ashley Kosciolek

Harbour IslandEvery 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 or signing up for our weekly deals newsletter.

The Deal: Major winter storms have hit the Midwest, and the darkest day of the year just happens to be Thursday. These tidings are reason enough to drop everything — even that fancy ribbon bow you’re struggling with, which is just going to get ripped off the present anyway — and run as fast as you can to the Caribbean.

Here’s more vindication for a vacation in the sun: the Islands of the Bahamas Tourism Board is offering up to $400 cash back for winter trips to said destination. Save $400 on stays of six nights or longer or save $250 on stays of five nights at select properties in the Bahamas (there’s a long list of eligible hotels on the tourism board’s Web site). To get this deal, you must book an air-inclusive package through the Bahamas Tourism Board.

The Catch: Sorry, spring breakers and summer vacationers. This offer is valid for travel from January 1 through March 14 and April 15 through June 20 — so choice spring break and summer vacation travel dates are not covered in this sale.

The Competition: The Bahama Out Islands Promotion Board is offering discounts for travelers heading to what it calls “the real Bahamas,” the less-traveled Bahamian atolls outside of New Providence and Grand Bahama Island. Receive up to two free plane tickets with purchase of an air-inclusive package to participating local resorts on islands like Andros, Cat Island and Eleuthera. Keep in mind that the Bahamas Tourism Board deal detailed above is also valid for stays at some hotels in Out Islands, so check out both deals before booking your Bahamas trip.

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

– written by Caroline Costello

caribbean map glassesEvery traveler knows that the Caribbean is home to dozens of island nations, thousands of white sand beaches and a seemingly endless supply of fruity cocktails. But how much do you really know about this popular, sun-drenched destination?

Which Caribbean Island Is Right for You?

Test your Caribbean smarts with our trivia quiz! Answer the eight questions below and then post your score in the comments.


How did you do? Share your results in the comments! For more quiz fun, check out How Well Do You Know Europe? and our World Capitals Challenge.

– written by Sarah Schlichter

cozumel cabana seaEvery 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 or signing up for our weekly deals newsletter.

The Deal: Not ready to stow those summer flip-flops for another year? Grab your sandals and book a fall or winter trip to someplace sunny and warm — and save up to $550 in the process. Funjet Vacations is currently offering a special 72-hour sale on air/hotel or hotel-only trips to Mexico, the Caribbean and Hawaii.

The more you spend on your vacation, the more you save. For example, if your total trip cost is between $1,500 and $2,000, you’ll get a discount of $115. Raise the total to between $2,001 and $3,000, and you’ll save $200. You get the picture. For the maximum discount of $550, you’ll have to spend at least $6,001.

The Catch: This isn’t the type of sale you can mull over for a week or two before booking. Come this Thursday at 6 p.m. CT, it’ll be gone — so make your decision and act quickly.

The Competition: Hyatt is offering up to $500 in resort credit at participating properties in Aruba, Cancun, Maui, Key West and other sunny destinations. Unlike the Funjet discount, which reduces the total cost of your trip, this credit is like free extra cash that you can spend on spa treatments, meals and activities at your resort.

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

– written by Sarah Schlichter

orange hill beach innWe have a winner! The correct answer to last week’s How Much Is This Hotel? contest is $175. Jacquelynn F. was the first person to submit the right answer. She has won an IndependentTraveler.com T-shirt.

The rooms pictured in Friday’s post are the private cottages at Orange Hill Beach Inn in Nassau. Rates for these cozy little beachfront cabanas range from $155 to $175 per night, depending on the season. The Inn is located just steps from the ocean and features a pool, a bar and a restaurant. Orange Hill Beach Inn is a popular choice for divers, as it offers an assortment of diving and snorkeling packages. Read more about the Orange Hill Beach Inn in Nassau Essentials.

Check back on Friday for another chance to win.

– written by Caroline Costello

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

Wyndham Rio Mar Beach 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: Book a stay of five or more nights at a participating Wyndham Resort and get your fifth night’s stay for free. Plus, receive a complimentary $100 American Express Reward Card, which can be used wherever American Express is accepted.

This offer is valid at select resorts in the U.S., the Caribbean and Mexico for travel through the end of the year. You’ll get the biggest bang for your buck by booking this deal at one of Wyndham’s all-inclusive properties, where nightly rates range from about $250 to $500 and cover meals, drinks (even alcoholic ones) and activities. We checked rates for a five-night summer stay at the Viva Wyndham Fortuna Beach in the Bahamas and spotted savings of as much as $524 (the cost of one night’s stay in a deluxe room) in addition to the on-the-house $100 American Express card.

The Catch: Don’t bank on using your American Express card on a glass bottom boat tour or scuba diving lessons while on vacation. Your card will be shipped to your home address six to eight weeks after your completed stay. And keep in mind that when you book, you won’t see immediate savings, as your free night’s stay will be deducted when you check out.

The Competition: We’ve unearthed juicy discounts at several other brand-name hotel chains. Hilton Worldwide Resorts is offering a 30 percent mark-down at select international and domestic properties for stays booked three months in advance. Additionally, Starwood Hotels is running a “Better Tomorrows” promotion that features 40 percent off every second night’s stay at select resorts in North and South America. (Stay two nights and receive 40 percent off one night’s stay, stay four nights and get 40 percent off two nights, etc.)

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

–written by Caroline Costello

cancun mexico 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: The clock is ticking! This JetBlue spring fare sale includes dirt-cheap tickets to destinations in the U.S., the Caribbean and Mexico, but seats must be booked by 5 p.m. E.T. today. Flights to popular places like Las Vegas, New York, Nassau, San Francisco, Fort Lauderdale, Montego Bay, Cancun and Washington D.C. start at $29 each way plus taxes and fees.

This sale features a wide spring travel window: fly from March through May. And don’t forget that each JetBlue passenger may check up to one bag for free.

The Catch: This sale’s limited run is its most glaring restriction. If you don’t have any travel planned for the next few months, booking a ticket on a whim today can be a bit of a Hail Mary pass. JetBlue’s deal includes some deliciously low-priced spring flights. But prices aren’t so low that you should snap up tickets before you’ve thought your travel plans through carefully. Put down the paper bag — you’ve still got a few hours left to sort things out (as of this posting).

There’s a second catch, unfortunately. Travel is only valid, at these prices, on Tuesdays and Wednesdays. Fares for travel on other days of the week won’t be as economical.

The Competition: AirTrain Airways, which scored top travel deal last week, has just announced a systemwide fare sale with tickets starting at $49 each way. Prices don’t beat JetBlue’s cut-rate fares, but AirTran offers a wider range of spring travel dates (fliers aren’t restricted to Tuesdays and Wednesdays), plus a larger selection of destination and departure cities.

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

–Written by Caroline Costello

boston public garden spring flowers tulips swan boatsEvery 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: AirTran has just rolled out an excellent three-day sale, offering low fares across its network of U.S. and Caribbean destinations. You’ll pay as little as $49 each way plus tax to fly to places like Boston, Atlanta, Fort Lauderdale, Aruba and Bermuda. Travel is valid through May 24.

When searching for fares, keep in mind which days of the week you’re likely to find the lowest prices. If you’re flying within the U.S., you’ll save by traveling Monday through Thursday. But if you’re headed to the Caribbean, Bermuda or Mexico, off-peak fares are available Sunday through Wednesday. The travel days with the lowest prices are noted on the AirTran site.

The Catch: Be sure to check the blackout dates — they vary by itinerary and in some cases are extensive. (Restricted dates for Florida flights, for example, include March 10 – April 4, April 21 – 25 and April 30 – May 1, 2011.)

The Competition: JetBlue is currently offering flights to a number of U.S. and Caribbean destinations, including New York, Florida, California and the Dominican Republic, starting at a comparable $52 each way.

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

– written by Sarah Schlichter