Vacations…up for Auction

1089561_sunrise_at_a_resort_Due to the down economy, many resorts and hotels that are trying to fill rooms are putting their accommodations up to the best bidder.

The situation is a win-win for both the resort and customer.  The resort is able to fill out rooms that would otherwise go unoccupied.  The customer is able to book rooms well below retail prices.

This trend has just begun to surge online, as savvy vacation shoppers are always looking for great discounts on vacations.

Another way for savvy shoppers to find travel deals well below retail price is on a discount vacation packages site that requires vacationers to go on a short timeshare tour during their resort visit.  These timeshare tours are generally harmless, and also point out the advantages of vacation ownership.

Source:  http://www.cnn.com/2009/TRAVEL/traveltips/10/06/travel.auctions/index.html

Hotel Guide

Great piece on CNN where Oyster Hotel Reviews’ Will Begeny discusses the realities and misconceptions of travel marketing:

http://www.cnn.com/video/#/video/living/2009/09/11/dcl.benegeney.hotel.reviews.cnn

Really interesting that you often find old or misrepresentative travel content on many hotel’s websites, some stuff that is photoshopped to look better.  I guess its kind of similar to models getting photoshopped…although in that case you are purchasing the clothes/products the models are showing off.  Nowadays it is hard to tell what kind of vacation you should expect.

Top Ten Reasons to Getaway instead of go on Vacation

Most working people only see one or two opportunities per year to go on vacation, often during a designated holiday where they will take about a week off.  While these extended week long vacations are memorable and probably very relaxing, I am here to suggest a new and superior form of vacationing: the getaway.

The getaway is the shorter cousin of the vacation- a two or three day trip that usually falls on a long weekend. The getaway is often to a place within driving distance of your home, as it would not be a good use of time or money to fly somewhere for such a short period of time.

The getaway has several advantages over an extended vacation:

1. Getaways are cheaper than vacations, both because they are shorter (less nights) and because many hotels offer exclusive affordable vacation discounts for shorter occupancies.

2. You can go on several getaways a year, instead of one or two longer vacations. This helps prevent spending a large amount of money all at once, and also allows you break up your stressful year with several memorable trips.

3. Getaways expose you to fun, beautiful, and interesting destinations in your own backyard that you never knew about. Although we are often inclined to fly somewhere super exotic during our breaks, this can often be stressful and expensive. No matter where you live in the US, there is always a incredible driving-distance destination waiting for you.

4. You can spend much less time getting ready for your getaway. We all know the experience of preparing for a long trip: packing, canceling the mail and cleaning service, getting the prescriptions and medicines, finding a kennel for the dog, etc. For your getaway, just grab the necessities and escape.

5. Gas is cheap right now, flying isn’t. Airlines are still price-gouging us between the expensive, cramped, delayed flights and the checked bag fees they’ve recently imposed. Gas prices, however, are at a record low. This makes it the perfect time to hit the road on a getaway.

6. There is less pressure to relax on a getaway. Sometimes on our ‘only-vacation-of-the-year; we feel extreme amounts of pressure to relax, which isn’t very helpful for that purpose. Getaways are spur of the moment opportunities to escape and achieve some piece of mind, without the pressure.

7. Getaways are easier on kids. Sometimes leaving home for extended periods of time can be traumatic for young and adolescent children. It breaks a very set life-schedule and can often cause problems at school on return. Leaving for two or three days won’t have this same drastic effect.

8. You may end up someplace you’d go back to. Destinations that are within driving distance from your home can often be places that you will return to. Some families travel to the same destination every year or own timeshare at a getaway-spot that they really love. These regular trips can build fantastic memories of a home away from home. Your children may even bring their own kids there some day!

9. Because you are spending less money on airfare and lodging, you can concentrate on what really matters: food and entertainment. You can explore the best restaurants your destination offers or check out some exciting local shows.

10. There are some great online travel sites that specialize in booking discounted vacation getaways. One that does this really well is Vacation-Offer.com.

A Tale of Three Cities: Getaway to Experience American History

My family’s winter getaways often involve escaping to warm beach destinations.  This year inspired me to try something different. After so much history was made on American soil in 2008, I wanted to show my kids the importance of what had transpired and how much really had changed.

We embarked on a winter road trip that took my family across the Southern United States.  My goal was to expose my children to several destinations that have helped shape American History. We began in New Orleans, worked our way north to Charleston and then drove up the Crystal Coast to Atlantic Beach.

New Orleans, Louisiana

Today, New Orleans is most often thought of as the city that Katrina devastated- an event that highlighted economic division, organizational incompetence, and nationwide charity.  Long before Katrina though, New Orleans had become a melting pot of cultures with a diverse and expansive history.

The French Quarter has always stood out as one of New Orleans’ star attractions, possessing the mixture of cultural influences, architecture, history, music, and celebration that defines the city. On my recent trip to the Big Easy we had the incredible experience of getting to know the Quarter’s History.

After you get settled, I suggest you get out on your feet and explore some of the history that the French Quarter has to offer.  Jackson Square, a beautifully manicured open air park located at the heart of the French Quarter, is a great place to start.  Here you can explore 18th century history and architecture by visiting the St. Louis Cathedral, designated a minor basilica by Pope Paul VI.  Next to the Cathedral you can also check out The Cabildo Museum, which served as the city’s town hall in the 18th century.

While you are on Rue Chartres, I suggest taking a stroll to enjoy the historic architecture on the street.  Here you will find the city’s greatest concentration of preserved colonial era buildings and early 19th century town-houses.  Your peaceful walk will also take you by some local shops and cafes scattered along the street.

Where to Stay:  With affordability in mind, I booked my lodging through a nifty site called Vacation-Offer.com.  Vacation-Offer let me find a discounted New Orleans hotel through a partner resort, based on the stipulation that I go on a 90-minute timeshare tour while I was there.  The short tour was harmless and informative, and definitely worth the great price I got while staying at the beautiful Frenchmen Orleans luxury condos.  The Frenchmen was located at 519 Frenchmen St, right near the best in history, music, and dining options.

Charleston,  South Carolina

Downtown Charleston has often been considered the historic and cultural capital of the south, and deemed by many as a ‘living museum’.  The city has been magnificently preserved to allow visitors to experience it’s historic sites as they were in the 18th century- from colonial plantations to churches, cathedrals and downtown marketplaces.

During our stop in Charleston we were only able to partake in several of  thousands of historic sites during one all-too-short weekend.  Due to the sheer number of historic landmarks, it is often difficult to decide how to allocate your time.  I’ve highlighted several of our favorite landmarks to help you enjoy historic Charleston to it’s fullest.

The Charleston Museum is considered America’s first museum, established in 1773.  It houses a wide variety of cultural pieces that exhibit the heritage of Charleston and the entire south.  One exhibit which we spent much of our time at was  ‘From Slave to Sharecropper’,  an original that commemorates the bicentennial of the abolition of U.S. and British Slave Trade.  The display includes images and objects of the post civil war African-American experiences that are incredible in their diversity and detail.  The exhibit runs until February 2009.

The Aiken-Rhett House stands as the city’s ‘most intact urban villa’.  It has been conserved and virtually unchanged since 1858, and provides a beautiful portrayal of  life as it stood centuries ago.  This was a great place to visit with the kids, as they were able to compare the various household objects there to what exists in their house today.

The Patriots Point Naval Museum was a great site to visit because it allowed us to  experience the beautiful Charleston harbor.   Patriots Point is one of the largest museums of its kind in the world and houses ships such as the destroyer USS Laffey, known as ‘The Ship That Would Not Die’.   The boys really enjoyed the gunboats.

Where to Stay: We were able to book a Charleston Hotel online at a very affordable price- the Church Street Inn.  Located at the corner of Church and Market Streets where Charleston’s famed market area hums with activity, the Church Street Inn and its plush rooms were elegantly designed in a style reminiscent of a time gone by.  We were very pleased with the service and price there.

Atlantic Beach, North Carolina

During the heat of the Civil War in 1862, Union Commander Gen. Ambrose E. Burnside’s forces swept across North Carolina with little resistance.  The final bastion of confederate strength resided with Fort Macon, a brick and stone vault erected on the Bogue Banks, housing 400 soldiers who refused to surrender.  Fort Macon did not fall until union forces bombarded it with heavy siege guns for 11 hours from offshore gunboats.

Today, this history can be vividly imagined as you walk beside Fort Macon’s restored walls, still standing proudly along the Atlantic Beach Coast.  The setting has changed some, as the gunboat artillery blasts have been replaced by children laughing and families picnicking on the pristine surf.

Today, Fort Macon State Park is the most popular tourist destinations in North Carolina, bringing in near to 1.3 million visitors per year.  The area possesses a multitude of activities for families and couples, from relaxing on the beach, exploring the history, to taking in the undisturbed natural beauty of Atlantic Beach.  Fort Macon Park offers visitors both soundside and surf fishing, nature trails, ranger guided tours, a protected swim area, and a refreshment stand- all with no fees.

My family had a chance to experience Fort Macon during the last leg of our roadtrip. We stayed at the beautiful seaside town of Atlantic Beach, one of the smaller, quainter, communities located along the Crystal Coast.  We had a wonderful weekend there, as it was the final destination of our road trip, spending our first day exploring the fort and our second decompressing on the beach.  (I guess no matter how lofty my goal was for a historic winter vacation, a little relaxation towards the end was important).

Where to Stay: We stayed at the Peppertree Atlantic Beach, a beautiful surfside oasis with all the best amenities. We found this Atlantic Beach Hotel online for a discounted cost of only $99 for 2 nights.

The Five Best New Years Eve Celebrations You Never Knew About

new-orleans-new-years1Sick of that same old ball dropping or watching that same boring Dick Clark special every year? Get out of town and hit the road for something completely new.  There are several destinations across America that throw the most unique New Years Eve bashes around- and you’ve never heard of them.

I’m not talking about New York or Vegas, where you’ll spend half of your evening squeezing your body through all-too-crowded spaces. I speak of the cities and towns across America that know the real meaning of New Years:  how to bring it in with culture and style.

I’ve compiled a ‘top five list’ of these places across the country so those of you within driving distance can get away from the same old crowd and welcome 2009 the right way. (And as always, price is a consideration considering how much a glass of champagne and a rental tux costs nowadays).

1. New Orleans, LA

Head down to the Big Easy to catch a beautiful fireworks display on the Mississippi River, and then embrace the city’s celebration culture as the biggest party of 2008 spills out into the Quarter. New Orleans does everything a bit different, so don’t expect that same ole’ ball to drop this time around. This year, a grand gold and black fleur de lis will climb a 25 foot high pole above Jax Brewery as fireworks light up the Mississippi.  And don’t forget to fill up on some savory Creole cookin’ before midnight.

Where to Stay: With budget in mind, the Frenchmen Orleans is a New Orleans Hotel just minutes from the festivities of the quarter, and offers comfortable accommodations for a night or weekend in the Big Easy.

2. Austin, TX

The mix of history and celebration in Austin guarantees anyone can have a unique experience over New Year’s weekend.  The city’s official New Year’s celebration will take place all across the city, although most people will be partying on the city’s famed 6th Street.  Live music and exhibitions will take place at Auditorium Shores, Cesar Chavez, City Hall, on South Congress, and more. At midnight, a fireworks display will explode high over Lady Bird Lake.

Where to Stay: We recommend the cozy Brava House bed and breakfast, a retreat of urban serenity located in downtown Austin.  You’ll appreciate the peace and quiet after experiencing a night out partying in one of the most exubrent cities in America.

3. Charleston, SC

Charleston is the perfect romantic city for a couple to ring in 2009.  It posses the perfect combination of elegance, history and style that can make for a relaxing and celebratory New Year’s Eve.

New Year’s Charleston is a city wide, admission-free program that has something wonderful for everyone: comedy, African dancing, many forms of music including classical, gospel and jazz, children’s activities and so much more. Food vendors will be on hand to tempt your appetite and add to the celebration.

Where to stay: The Church Street Inn is a romantic 19th century Charleston Hotel, that possesses both history and luxury for an affordable price.  It is located right beside the city’s historic public market.

4. Santa Cruz, CA

Relax while welcoming 2009 in the chill California town of Santa Cruz.  Get a front row view of the Pacific at the Coconut Grove New Years Extravaganza as you sip champagne and make your New Year’s resolutions.  Be sure to finish the night off by heading down to Beach Street to do some bar hopping as you get acquainted with Santa Cruz.

Where to Stay: The Coconut Grove offers a variety of ways to make room for groups’ specific needs and requirements within the Grand Ballroom and Sun Room.

5. Jackson Hole, WY

Ski into your new year at the winter paradise of Jackson Hole.  This snow bum’s utopia offers a plethora of activities that will make your New Year’s Eve unique and memorable.  Whether your vice is skiing, snowboarding, or dog sledding, Jackson Hole can push your new year off to an exciting and adventurous start. After your adventure, relax with a champagne toast while laying back in a hot tub while the snowy wonderland sparkles in the distance.

Where to stay: The Grand Targhee Resort’s Targhee Lodge, which is located directly in the base area of this fantastic all-season mountain resort.

A great new vacation savings site

vacation-offe-rlogoMany families and households will feel pressure to stop spending on travel this coming winter. For many, dream vacations are vanishing with dwindling retirements funds. For others, a periodic getaway from the everyday grind is more distant and costly than ever.

These current economic times call for a new outlook towards consumer spending on travel, vacation, and leisure. Many hotels and resorts are attempting to keep on-par with the new consumer perspective by offering discounts and cheap vacation offers. Some of these offers can be found through online travel sites that have partnered with resorts across the country to provide extremely affordable vacation deals.

One such helpful site I recently used is Vacation-Offer.com. Vacation-Offer currently provides deeply discounted rates to several resorts across the country at popular destinations such as Myrtle Beach, Atlantic Beach, Charleston, New Orleans, and the Bahamas. What I love about this site is its easy-to-use travel booking interface, submission security, and fantastic customer service. My wife and I had a few questions before booking our vacation and called the customer service line. The guy on the other end was extremely helpful, courteous, and patient as far as answering everything we threw at him.

The biggest advantage to using this site though is that they has some of the best vacation savings out there. Here are the basics: Vacation-Offer.com is able to access these saving through partnerships with resorts that are trying to promote vacation ownership at their destinations. Essentially, you are required to go on a 90 minute sales pitch, and in return receive unbelievable deals, great gifts, and access to all of the luxurious resort amenities while on vacation. The sales pitch was harmless (we actually got a drink with the guy afterwords) and highlighted the advantages of vacation ownership (aka timeshare), where you can own a flexible vacation week at that specific resort.

I appreciated how extremely straight forward Vacation-Offer was as far as telling you what you are getting and why you are getting it at such a great price. While many vacation sites try to hide the reason why you are receiving a discount (the 90 minute sales pitch), and then spring it on you at the last second, Vacation-Offer.com lays it out in front of you in a very honest manner. I highly recommend Vacation-Offer.com for finding discount vacations, especially during times like these.

Escape to New Hampshire

lake-foliage1No matter how much you claim to love living in the city, I’m sure you’re often tempted to hit the road and disappear into the wilderness. I know I am. I sometimes question my inability to fall asleep without a subway train rumbling by.

I recently followed one of my escapist temptations and steered my VW Bug toward New Hampshire’s Lakes Region. I attempted to travel light, but after a bit of research, I found my car quite stocked:

1. Fishing Rods (there was a bass out there with my name on it).
2. 1 Tent (I actually booked a New Hampshire Hotel Room, but felt as if the trip deserved a tent)
3. Costco-sized bag of Trail Mix (aprox. 10 lbs.)
4. Extra Fluffy Down Pillows
5. A laptop with EVDO broadband card (we all gotta stay connected somehow)
6. A hammock I picked up on the way out
7. My flatmate Alan (aprox. 245 lbs)
8. A suitcase filled with clothing and a wool jacket.
9. Hiking boots
8. Alan’s stuff (mostly consisted of two thirty racks of beer)

We filled the silence of the five hour drive with Bruce Springsteen’s greatest hits. You know you’ve crossed over to the Granite State’s highways when they become lined with a surplus of gun shops and discount liquor stores. More blatant were the thousand or so bikers that cut past us on Route 93.

They growled by on packs of silver and black Harleys; I imagined them off to some grass-and-dirt battlefield to clash with a rival gang. Turns out it was Laconia Motorcycle Week, an annual June rally for the displaying of bikes and girls and the consuming of copious amounts of beer. Alan wanted to go, but I decided against it.

Just as the sun dipped below the horizon we arrived at beautiful Steele Hill Resorts, set amongst 500 acres of unspoiled fields and hardwood forests, and perched proudly on top of New Hampshire’s lakes Region. We were hungry from traveling, and were provided a fantastic meal in Steele Hill’s restaurant which offered stunning views of Lake Winnipesaukee and Lake Winnisquaum.

I lay awake that night, amazed at how quiet the world was outside of the city. A symphony of crickets had replaced the subway trains and drunk revelers. I fell asleep well-traveled and ready to catch my bass in the morning.