October 4, 2010 at 2:44 pm , by Jennifer Castoro
Fall is a fabulous time to take a cruise: The end of hurricane season (in November), fall-only foliage itineraries and shoulder-season prices in hot spots like the Caribbean, Mexico and the Mediterranean make the next few months a prime time to hit the seas. And two of the more recent ships on the water, Royal Caribbean’s Oasis of the Seas (soon to be joined by sister ship Allure of the Seas, which sets sail in December) and Norwegian’s Epic, are, in a word, insane. Really, they’re monstrous – and awesome. Disney will be launching the Disney Dream, it’s first new ship in 10 years, in January 2011. And despite what you might think, the feedback is that you probably won’t notice the thousands of travelers on board when these colossal ships are full: They’re designed to give you the best big-ship experience with the ease and fun of smaller options.
If it’s been a while (or never!) since the last time you cruised, consider the new features on these super-cool ships. Move over, Love Boat!
You’ve probably heard about the much-hyped Oasis of the Seas, which launched in November 2009. This December, Royal Caribbean will launch the identical Allure of the Seas, which will travel in the Caribbean. These floating cities are broken into distinct “neighborhoods,” including a boardwalk with a carousel and classic carnival games and a pool and sports zone (shown at left), and each has an AquaTheater at the rear of the ship where brave (bonkers?) divers take flight off of 10-meter high-dive platforms into the deepest saltwater pool at sea. One of the ship’s most interesting innovations is the variety of balcony cabins available: Besides the view of the ocean, you can book a room overlooking the boardwalk area, Central Park or the AquaTheater. The ship can hold 5,400 guests at capacity and has about a zillion dining options (and by zillion, I mean 24), most without additional charges.
Read about the Epic and the Dream, and find out how to win a Celebrity cruise, by clicking here. Read more
Categories: Ladies' Lounge | Tags: Allure of the Seas, cruise, cruising, Disney Cruise Line, Disney Dream, Epic, fall travel, family travel, family vacations, Norwegian Cruise LIne, Oasis of the Seas, Royal Caribbean, travel, vacations | 13 Comments
July 22, 2010 at 5:38 pm , by Jennifer Castoro
Just hearing the words “summer vacation” is enough to make you smile, right? Unless of course you’re thinking about all the time you’ve spent packing and unpacking, hunting through your bag for your wallet (where’d you put that thing?) and taking horribly aligned, too-close self-photos while trying to fit in the scenery/people/interesting things behind you. That’s where these pretty nifty travel doodads from Dynomighty come in.
The Bottle Cap Tripod is a pocket-size attachment that screws on to the top of a water bottle for an instant hands-free camera stand. No more balancing your digital on the side of fountains, atop precarious rocks or on rusty railings that are just as likely to obliterate your camera as they are to be useful props. $10 at dynomighty.com
Pickpockets begone! Super-slim Mighty Wallets are cleverly designed to look like random items (like an airmail-envelope inspired option and the one that could pass for a page of newspaper, at right) that thieves would be much less interested in investigating than anything resembling a wallet. They’re also ecofriendly, water-resistant and perfectly pocket-size. There’s more than 45 different designs, too, including some cheeky ones with beach scenes and gorillas. $15 each at dynomighty.com
The colorful Mighty Tote is a seriously lightweight 1.6 ounces, so you can feel free to stuff it full of whatever junk you carry around with you while sightseeing or beaching that you always regret bringing later, after your shoulders hurt. $15 at dynomighty.com
June 22, 2010 at 1:37 pm , by Jennifer Castoro
Hi! My name is Jake Varjian, and I am one. Well, 16 months, if you want to get technical. My favorite pastimes are throwing bits of food off of my highchair tray and saying “uh oh,” running behind my toy push truck so Mom chases me, and charming the pants off of anyone who meets me with my giant cheeks and adorable dimples. One of my other favorite things? Sesame Street! I was so excited to get to go to the Sesame Place theme park a few weeks ago with my mom and my girlfriend, Isabelle. (She’s a cutie, right?) Sesame Place, in Langhorne, Pennsylvania, is celebrating its 30th birthday this year, so the park has all sorts of fun parades and shows and parties planned for the big year. Can you believe it’s been around that long? It’s as old as my mom! (Almost.) If you have little ones in your family, you might want to think about taking a trip to see Ernie and Bert and all my favorites. There are some cool water rides and areas for little kids like me, plus crawly nets and a rollercoaster for big kids, too. (I’m too small for that one.) Check out some pictures of me and my new friends on the next page. Read more
May 25, 2010 at 12:20 pm , by Amanda Wolfe
If you’ve ever tried to travel with your cat or dog, you know that it can be tricky to find hotels along your route (or at your destination) that accept your furry travel buddies. Whether it’s a vacation or a road trip to visit family, it’s important to do a little research before you leave to make sure your pet is welcome. First step: watch our adorable pet-friendly hotel review video with Sophie, assistant food editor Khalil Hymore’s super-cute pup. Ok it’s not really a necessary step, but it is a cute video so you should watch! Then use these tips to plan your trip.
* Most national chains have pet-friendly programs. We visited the Muse (part of the Kimpton group of hotels) and the Hilton New York. Both of these companies have pet-friendly hotels across the country. The key is to call the hotel at your specific destination to make sure they’ve opted in to the pet-friendly program (some don’t).
* Ask if there’s a fee for Fido to stay. Some hotels charge a flat rate and some fees are nightly. Prices vary, so definitely check before you book because you could save a bundle (or get stuck with some hefty “hidden costs”).
* Ask about what kind of amenities are provided for your pet. Some hotels hand out pet beds, bowls, treats and even super-cute toys. Some just accept pets but don’t provide any extras. The extras can, of course, be fun and convenient—but if you’re charged more for them they’re not always worth it.
* Find out what the policies and rules are. Lots of hotels with restaurants or bars attached don’t allow pets in those areas, and some hotels prefer that you keep pets in their carriers or on their leashes when you’re in public areas.
* Search online. There are several sites that help you pinpoint the right hotel for you and your pet. Petswelcome.com has a great database with amenity and fee info, plus websites and phone numbers. Pet-Friendly-Hotels.net also has a good search.
* Last but not least, if you can’t find a traditional hotel at your destination, check out B&Bs and vacation home rentals. Policies are set by the individual owners but we’ve found that “mom and pop” places often welcome pets.
May 5, 2010 at 5:26 pm , by Amanda Wolfe
Editor’s Note: Our tech guru Sara Haines of NBC’s Today show is back to share her favorite sites for researching and booking travel. Whether you’re going on a weekend getaway or a longer vacation, these sites make it easier (and cheaper) to plan a great trip.
Too busy to scour the internet for deals? Kayak.com and Sidestep.com are great one-stop shops. These sites search hundreds of airlines and travel sites (such as Orbitz, Travelocity, and many others) to ensure you get the best prices. You can also check for hotels, car rentals and more. No need to book your trip from lots of different sites, because you can find it all here.
If you’re going on a longer trip or really want to do your homework while you’re planning, Lonelyplanet.com and Frommers.com are good options. Although these sites may not always offer the best deals, these are great places to go when you want to read up on a destination and learn how to get around, where to stay, what to eat, and what attractions you can’t miss. They also offer user reviews, so you can get the inside scoop from people who have been there and done that.
Want to go a little farther off the beaten path? Iexplore.com is geared toward adventure travel. Just plug in a region, country, activities you’re looking to do, the length of your trip, and a budget and then it generates trip ideas. It may not be the answer for someone who just wants the beach and a book, but if you are up for an adventure, hit the “find trips” button and let the fun begin.
April 28, 2010 at 11:53 am , by Jennifer Castoro
Okay, muggles. You may say you want to bring your kids to check out the new Harry Potter theme park, opening at Universal Orlando this June, but we all know the truth. You’re more excited than they are, aren’t you? You can’t wait to step through the doors of Hogwarts and drink butterbeer and pretend to zoom through a game of Quidditch, right? You can admit it. And really, we can’t blame you. This place looks super cool!
Universal released the first images this week of some of the completed areas of the park. (That’s the entrance to Hogsmeade at right.) There’s some seriously high-tech wizardry at work: the Forbidden Journey ride uses live-action scenes from the movie that follow riders throughout the various scenes, like Dumbledore’s office and the Defense Against the Dark Arts classroom. The shops are authentic to the book, too: There’s Ollivander’s wand shop, where the wand chooses you, and Filch’s Emporium of Confiscated Goods. And the Hog’s Head restaurant will serve British pub food, plus butterbeer and pumpkin juice (though I’m not sure how appetizing those sound).
I’ve never read a word of a Harry Potter book, and even I’d want to check this place out! Seems like Mickey Mouse may have to up his game.
Click on Read More for more pictures.
February 19, 2010 at 12:49 pm , by Jennifer Castoro
I just got back from a trip to Las Vegas, and boy, are my arms tired! (Sorry, I had to say it. It’ll never happen again.) It was my first time to the city, which lived up to every expectation I had (some PG, some not), and I came back to New York with hilarious memories, great pictures and a lovely fridge magnet.
In the course of trip planning, I probably looked at 85 different websites, just so I felt I wasn’t being ripped off/shortchanged/cheated in any way. But I could have saved myself some time (and headache) if I’d checked out one of these super helpful new sites:
Fly.com: Part of the Travelzoo brand, Fly.com’s only business is searching through the mountains of flight information online and presenting it to you, price, time and airline included. You can’t book your trip on the website, but you can see virtually every option, including international airlines, domestic ones and travel sites like Expedia and Orbitz, so you clearly know your choices. It also presents the cost of the flight in real time, so you know what you see is what you’ll get once you decide to book.
Oyster.com: Oyster Hotel Reviews is a pretty, easy-to-read site, with tons of photos of the hotels they cover (the part I like the best!). It’s similar to other sites that offer details on rooms, location, cleanliness and other helpful nuggets, but the reviewers are professionals who work for the site, not just lay travelers. So you get an accessible, honest expert voice without any bias towards particular hotels (the writers pay to stay at each place, just like a guest).
EVRentals.com: This site is similar to a time-share setup, without the hour-long sales pitch. The properties on Endless Vacation Rentals include villas, homes and cottages, in the U.S. and abroad, so it’s meant for travelers looking to stay in a home instead of a hotel. It’s run by the Wyndham hotel chain, so you’ve got some customer-service help, too.
Perfectfamilyvacation.com: It bills itself as “pre-selected family vacation lodging,” which means your search will bring up options for larger groups that include kitchens and multiple bedrooms and bathrooms.
Photo courtesy of NNowack.