Recommendations for the classiest of cannabis connoisseurs
Four states and the District of Columbia have legalized marijuana for recreational use, but only Colorado and Washington have licensed dispensaries that can legally sell recreational cannabis. Since legalization and sale came to those communities, the budding pot industry in these two states has tried to shape a future of vineyard-esque tours of marijuana farms, and fatty-friendly salons reminiscent of Amsterdam’s cafes. (The phrase “Napa Valley of weed” gets tossed around a fair bit.)
In the meantime, Colorado and Washington still have a ways to go before pot tourism can flourish. Jeremy Bamford, who started the Colorado Pot Guide website in 2013, directs thousands of daily readers to 420 tours and “Bud & Breakfasts,” but official barriers remain. City and state tourism boards still shy away from promoting weed as an attraction, marijuana lounges are still against the law, and hotels tend to give a pretty firm reiteration of their no-smoking policies when you ask about, say, using a marijuana vaporizer in your room, or smoking a joint on your balcony. (Though a few have vague advertisements on Bamford’s site that provide neither their names nor their addresses.)
One of the problems when it comes to official support is the lack of hard numbers. Over the 4/20 holiday, says Bamford, Visit Denver took stock of hotel occupancy rates, and found they were no greater than on an average weekend. Which makes sense, he points out, because Denver’s weed pilgrims are booking cannabis-friendly accommodations instead. The ongoing stigma of marijuana usage among big-name hospitality brands “reflects a bit of a perception problem, because Colorado’s cannabis tourists actually tend to skew older,” says Bamford. This reefer madness mindset is causing hotels to turn away Terry Gross listeners, not Miley Cirus fans.
Still, marijuana-themed tours of Denver and Seattle continue to fill up, and the boom in recreational dispensaries in Colorado and Washington has produced a range of offerings, with highlights and must-sees for newbies and discerning connoisseurs alike.
Despite a lack of promotion from the Colorado Tourism Office, a handful of cannabis-themed tour operators have sprouted up in the Mile High City. For the most part, they don’t offer anything you couldn’t get into on your own, but the aim is to be “your Colorado friend who holds your hand and shows you this is real,” says Matt Brown, who founded My 420 Tours with business partner James Walker. What their company offers is easily the most complete of those guided experiences. In the four-hour Dispensary & Grow tour, which starts at $129, guests are loaded onto a tinted-windowed party bus (that will, throughout the day, intermittently be filled with pot smoke, the shine of green LEDs, and the soothing tones of John Denver’s “Rocky Mountain High”) and given a short marijuana user’s guide, outlining the differences between sativa and indica plants; the effects of THC and CBD; and the pros and cons of smoking methods, vaporizers, and edibles.
After being treated to a mixture of those sampling options, guests are whisked off to the Native Roots Apothecary for some discounted weed shopping. Out-of-staters can buy up to a quarter ounce of marijuana at a time, but edibles, says Bamford, “are the more popular option, because of the novelty, and because people on the street don’t have to know that’s a weed cookie you’re eating.” Which helps, because public consumption of pot is still banned in the state. Luckily, Colorado’s new regulations on labeling and potency restrictions makes it easier than ever to stay at or below the state’s (very sensible) recommended dose of 10 milligrams of activated THC per edible serving.
Next up is a tour of Medicine Man, one of the biggest commercial marijuana grow facilities in the U.S. After a somewhat forgettable but by that point pretty satisfying meal at the Icehouse Tavern, the tour ends at Illuzion Glass Gallery, a high-artistry head shop with an extensive selection of smoking paraphernalia and “functional glass art.”
For $1,000, a full weekend excursion with My 420 Tours includes airport transportation and a two-hour cannabis cooking class (pot-infused pumpkin muffins, anyone?) with chef Blaine Alexandr of Conscious Confections, which can also be booked on its own for $129. The $1,000 weekend package also comes with two nights at the Denver Crowne Plaza and a Silver Surfer vaporizer on loan. Edibles aside, vaporizing is the only way you can legally consume marijuana in a hotel room, but even that is best done on the sly, with a pocket vaporizer, as the city’s hotels remain wary of marijuana use, and include it with general smoking bans when it comes to balconies, outdoor lounges, and plazas.
If you’d like to smoke marijuana in your room, your best bet in Colorado (or anywhere else in the U.S.) is to search Airbnb or HomeAway for the words “420 friendly.” Otherwise, in downtown Denver, there’s the Adagio “Bud & Breakfast,” a 122-year-old Victorian house in the Wyman Historic District, which has a well-reviewed “420 Happy Hour” and on-site cannabis-infused massages, done with a “blend of unique oils high in THC, CBD, and CBN, utilizing a full cannabinoid spectrum and allowing for maximum healing potential.”
If Cannabis concierges and “Puff, Pass, Paint” art classes aren’t really your speed, Denver has no shortage of recreational dispensaries and head shops you can visit on your own. For a relaxing, controlled buzz, try the Cherry Slider at LoDo Wellness, or for something more euphoric, order the Ed Rosenthal Super Bud at EuFlora. Both dispensaries are a short walk from the 16th Street Mall, Denver’s pedestrian-friendly shopping district.
Other noteworthy shops from Colorado’s early dispensary boom include Helping Hands, an all-organic dispensary in Boulder; Telluride Bud Company, the only dispensary in Telluride that grows all its weed in town; and Aspen’s STASH, where strains come with print-outs detailing soil nutrients and grow conditions. Maggie’s Farm, which is touted as Colorado’s only true outdoor marijuana grow, runs a handful of dispensaries throughout the state, but its Manitou Springs location is the most popular, due to its location at the foot of Pike’s Peak. It’s not hard to find a dispensary near any one of Colorado’s many national parks, but keep in mind that possession of marijuana on federal land is punishable by up to six months in jail and a $5,000 fine.
Seattle’s leader in kush tourism is Kush Tourism, a tour operator founded by Chase Nobles and Michael Gordon. For $150, they offer a three-and-a-half hour jaunt led by employees dressed in refreshingly non-stonerish khakis and polos. The education-focused tour includes a walkthrough of Sky High Gardens, a 30,000-square-foot growing facility on Harbor Island; a visit to Analytical360, a pot-testing lab; a demonstration at the Boro School of glassblowing, which also offer beginners classes where you make your own pipe; and Uncle Ike’s, a popular local pot shop. “You can get stoned anywhere in this country,” Nobles once told the Seattle Times. “Our tour’s more about education … we take you to see something you can’t otherwise see.” The menu at Uncle Ike’s changes fast, but a few current highlights are the Bettie Page, which offers a potent but clear high that is great for daytime smoking, and Champagne Kush, which has a refreshing, bubbly-reminiscent taste.
If you’re stationed in Lower Queen Anne (Space Needle territory), Cannabis City, the first recreational marijuana store in the city, is another great place to buy weed. Short-term rental sites will be your best bet if 420-friendly accommodations are a must, but the Bacon Mansion, a Capitol Hill bed-and-breakfast, permits marijuana smoking on outside porches and patios, or the use of vaporizers indoors.
Head outside Seattle, and you can check out the Evergreen Market, which offers a pretty awesome vision for what the weed dispensary could be, with modern fixtures, a generous, open floor plan with an industrial vibe, and hardly a pot-leaf insignia in sight. In Olympia, Green Lady Marijuana is an unassuming little pot shop with a great selection of edibles and discreet vaping pens. Spokane also has a fine selection of weed shops, including Satori, which is known for its friendly, knowledgeable staff and impressive selection.
As of July of this year, recreational marijuana use is legal in Oregon, but production and retail licenses won’t be approved until January of 2016. (Alaska is in a similar situation.) Just across the Columbia River from Portland, however, you can spend a few hours touring the grow operation of farmer Tom Lauerman, the “Walt Whitman of weed,” in Bush Prairie, Washington. On the first tour, in June of 2014, Oregon Live reported that he “spoke with equal pride about his tasty sugar snap peas and his Chemdawg, a popular strain of marijuana,” and began the event “with an offer of a complimentary joint.”
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Take note of the local rules
Jennifer Pearson-Smith packs a few vital tools when she embarks on a road trip: a vintage Pendleton blanket, a soft-sided cooler, a corkscrew and a cheese plane. “We’ve dined al fresco in such destinations as Sedona, Lake Tahoe and Napa,” says the Costa Mesa-Calif.-based social media consultant. “It’s so much fun to discover local markets when selecting picnic eats.”
One of her favorite picnic cities—San Diego, where she has dined above the crashing waves at Sunset Cliffs— is also a favorite of Travel+Leisure readers. In the annual America’s Favorite Cities survey, readers ranked 38 cities on such urban qualities as luxury shopping, cocktail lounges and cool food trucks. But to calculate which cities offer the best grassy dining, we looked at the more outdoor-feast-friendly rankings: parks and gardens, gourmet markets, epic sandwiches, accommodating weather, and perhaps the lovely accompaniment of wine.
With or without a fine bottle, there is something magical about a picnic while traveling: picking up sandwiches, local tacos, or just some fresh bread and cheese (assuming you packed that cheese plane) and settling in for a fresh-air meal and people-watching in a city park. In some winning cities, the best picnic spots offer uniquely local settings, whether you’re next to a natural spring, in front of an iconic band shell, or in the shade of an 80-foot-tall shuttlecock.
Picnicking can also make you feel more like a local—though it’s also important to know the local rules. Pearson-Smith, for instance, has learned that there’s no glass permitted in San Diego’s Balboa Park. “No picnic in San Diego would be complete without sampling a brew or two from the local craft beer scene,” she says, “so I stock up on versions from local breweries like Saint Archer and Ballast Point—in cans.”
While summer temperatures in this Texas hub may have you looking for shade and a breeze, Houston still impressed readers with its picnic-friendly gourmet markets and deep wine selection (you can find both at Revival Market). The best new picnic spot is Buffalo Bayou Park, near the spot where the city was founded in 1836, which now has pedestrian bridges and canoeing trails. Houston also ranked at No. 5 for its world-class art—like the Menil Collection, which has a picnic-magnet lawn, and the promise of air-conditioned bliss afterward, as you look at the Byzantine and Surrealist art inside. Its Museum District location also means you can pick up some portable sliders from Little Bigs, a representative of the city’s No. 5 ranking for burgers.
A day of art mixes nicely with a picnic in this Missouri city, which ranked at No. 7 for museums and No. 1 for affordability. There’s Penn Valley Park, which lies next to the free-admission National WWI Museum, or the Hall Sculpture Park at the also-free Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art, where you can feast in the shadows of the iconic, 18-foot Shuttlecock. In mid-July, the Nelson-Atkins even hosts a big picnic on the lawn, where diners can participate in a living-quilt installation. To pack a meal with the nation’s top-ranked barbecue, get some brisket mac ’n’ cheese from Broadway Butcher Shop or sausages from The Local Pig— like those made with bourbon-apple, goat chorizo or local burnt ends.
This Florida city exudes a serene vibe to readers, who ranked it highly for feeling clean and peaceful, and for having nice parks—many with water views. In fact, you can even picnic on the water: local operator eBoats lets you bring your basket and captain a boat on Tampa Bay or Hillsborough River. But for many travelers, just sitting next to the water is enough: Water Works Park, on the northern tip of the Tampa Riverwalk, has a bandshell, old oak trees and possible sightings of dolphins and manatees. To complement the view, pick up a Beef Martini sandwich (rare roast beef with bacon and white-wine-marinated mushrooms) from Wright’s Gourmet Café. For a local beverage, pick up some Florida Cracker Belgian-style White Ale from hot craft beermaker Cigar City Brewing.
New Orleans always charms readers with its lovely architecture and festival atmosphere, but it secured its lock on the picnic top 10 by winning the survey for sandwiches. For an excellent po’ boy, go to Parkway Bakery and Tavern or Killer Poboys, but if you want a classic muffaletta, head to Central Grocery on Decatur Street, which is credited with making the first olive-laden indulgence. Once you’re armed with your sammie of choice, take it to moss-canopied City Park, or to Crescent Park, which sits on the Mississippi River with lovely views of downtown. The city also ranked at No. 1 for fascinating people-watching.
Perhaps because the South Carolina city ranked at No. 2 for relaxing getaways, Charleston excels in picnic-friendly settings: you can get harbor views from Waterfront Park, or see Castle Pinckney from White Point Garden, along the Battery. As a top five city for fine dining, Charleston doesn’t take any shortcuts in its lunch options, either: Caviar & Bananas has duck-confit paninis and Creole white fish sushi, while Queen Street Grocery—a corner store that’s been around since 1922—offers sweet and savory crepes (including a chicken-and-waffles crepe called the Dashing Ashley). In accordance, the locals also ranked at No. 3 for being pretty.
The Rhode Island capital ranked at No. 6 in the survey for historic charm, and one of the most popular picnic spots embraces the city’s beginnings: the 435-acre Roger Williams Park, named for the city’s founder, is listed on the National Register of Historic Places and has more than 100 acres of ponds. If you want a soundtrack for your picnic—Providence made the top 10 for live music—go to Waterplace Park, along the Woonasquatucket River, where you can hear free concerts on summer Friday nights. Otherwise, readers’ favorite activity in Providence was chowing down, ranking it in the top 10 for pizza, bakeries and brunch. For a locally authentic basket, pick up some Italian sandwiches from Venda Ravioli in Federal Hill.
Thanks to the ever-expanding BeltLine project along an old railroad corridor, the city’s picnic-ready green spaces are only getting better. The Historic Fourth Ward Park, for instance, is one of the first completed parks along the BeltLine–and it sits conveniently behind food hall Ponce City Market, which is about to get a branch of the renowned cheeseburger purveyor Holeman and Finch (Atlanta ranked in the top 10 for burgers). For dessert, stop by Alon’s in Morningside, which has won awards for its sold-by-the-pound cookies, like the chocolate chip pecan or Krakovskis: an almond cookie topped with raspberry preserves. With their flair for colorful accents, Atlantans also made the top 10 for fashion sense.
While Los Angeles boasts a long coastline of beach-picnic locales—from Redondo Beach (pick up a sub at Rinaldi’s) to Venice and Santa Monica, where you can take out from Tacos Por Favor—Los Angeles also impressed readers with its picnic-ready concerts. Maybe you’re listening to live jazz on Friday evenings while eating outside LACMA, or getting a gourmet basket from Patina before a show at the Hollywood Bowl. Readers also applauded Angelenos for their elegant (if perhaps snooty) taste: you can join them for a refined picnic at Hollywood’s Barnsdall Art Park (home of Frank Lloyd Wright’s Hollyhock House), which does Friday night wine tastings during the summer.
In the No. 1 city for weather, who would want to eat inside? Balboa Park offers a variety of pastoral settings—from the Japanese Friendship Garden to the butterfly-filled Zoro Garden—and neighbors some of the best takeout options in the city, like Big Front Door in Hillcrest (which does an avocado-topped Cali Cubano) and North Park’s Venissimo Cheese, which is located inside craft-beer shop Bottlecraft. For a blissful picnic on the sand, head north to uncrowded Torrey Pines State Natural Reserve, with its backdrop of sandy bluffs and feathery pine trees. Whether it’s the idyllic scenery or the good-looking locals, San Diego also made the top 5 for romance.
With its fresh mountain air, farmer’s-market cuisine and mellow ambience—the city ranked at No. 5 for peace and quiet—Albuquerque topped the list for blissful picnics. At Downtown Growers’ Market, for instance, you can fill your basket with fresh fruit and plenty of local flavors, like burritos from Java Joe’s or green-chile bacon quiches from New Mexico Pie Company. After that, you don’t even have to walk far: the center of the market has a park area, often featuring live music. To dine al fresco at a higher elevation (like 6,500 feet), go to the Elena Gallegos Picnic Area, which has hiking trails, pinon-juniper trees, and views of the Sandia (meaning “watermelon”) Mountains. To pick up a local vintage first—Albuquerque also ranked in the top 10 for wine—stop by centuries-old Casa Rondena Winery.
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Be prepared to stay offline, but limitless activities will keep you busy and entertained
For those who love to have their vacations well-mapped, a Disney cruise—with an itinerary that’s almost entirely pre-planned—holds a lot of appeal. It’s why, when I booked my first-ever cruise, I went with a four-day trip in the Caribbean on the Disney Dream—despite the fact that I was going with my boyfriend… and that we don’t have any children. Still, I spent many hours researching to make sure we maximized our time on board, and learned way more upon embarking. The takeaways, below:
Disney, which has made a name for itself in the service industry, makes you feel like you’re in incredible hands throughout the entire booking process. Because it’s one of the most popular cruise lines and almost always sells out, Disney rarely offers deals—as a rule of thumb, the sooner you book, the lower the price. Once you confirm your booking, Disney sends a pre-cruising booklet, with just about any information you could ask for—general itinerary, embarkation and disembarkation times, what to bring (and what’s prohibited), and more. I loved having a physical copy to refer to as I was planning my trip. And don’t toss the booklet after you’ve read through it, because it includes luggage tags to ensure your bags get delivered to the right room.
Flights and Transportation
The official embarkation time is noon, but the process actually starts much earlier. We took the earliest flight in, and ended up with precious extra hours on the ship. And while disembarkation starts at 7 am, and Disney recommends not booking a flight before 1pm, we got off the boat with time to spare. Budget in extra time for customs upon disembarkation—sadly, TSA doesn’t (yet) run as efficiently as Disney.
Disney offers transportation from the airport to the ship, but at $70 per person, I thought it was a bit steep (though it may be worth it for the peace of mind, or if you have a lot of luggage, because they’ll check your bags onto the ship for you). We ended up taking a shuttle from CorTrans, for $40 each roundtrip.
Even though we were only docking in two places, Nassau and Castaway Cay (Disney’s private island), there was an insane amount of activities to choose from, from basic equipment rentals to a full day at Atlantis’s water park to a rum tasting tour. Book these early, as the most popular ones fill up. We decided to snorkel in Nassau, which worked out perfectly because it happened to be drizzling that day. On Castaway Cay, we opted to just enjoy the pristine beach. There’s a family beach and an adults-only one, and more than enough space for everybody.
One of the most important things to keep in mind is that once you’ve handed your luggage off to crew members—which could be as early as 10 a.m., you won’t see it again until much later that afternoon. So make sure to have a separate bag with a change of clothing in case you want to hit the pool early on, any medications, and of course, your passport and required forms for boarding.
On the Cruise
The only semblance of calm you’ll see on a Disney Cruise is if you get on board as early as possible on day one—the water slide line will be shorter, the buffet lines more approachable. Use this time to sign up for last-minute port excursions, get tickets to meet Disney princesses and characters, or just to enjoy the room. Every night, a Personal Navigator is delivered to your room with the next day’s activities, movies, events, and more. Even better, download the Disney Cruise app, with a map of the ship and the full calendar, before you board—this saved us time when we forgot where certain activities were held or if we wanted to know what was going on elsewhere on the ship. And don’t miss the amazing water slide, which is great during the day but even better at night when it’s lit up with lights. Yes, the line can get long, but if you go while the ship is in port, it’s much more manageable. And the movies on the big outdoor screen above the pool are a welcome distraction while you’re waiting.
I’ll admit I didn’t have the highest expectations for the food, save for the specialty restaurants, Remy and Palo, which cost additional. I’m happy to report that the food far exceeded my expectations. There were a few favorites at the buffet I returned to over and over again—stone crab claws, peel-and-eat shrimp, chicken fingers, chocolate chip cookies—and the evening meals were varied and delicious. But the highlight, without a doubt, was our meal at Palo, the Italian restaurant on board. For $30 each, we had an incredible meal that rivaled any fine dining experience in New York. (Remy, the newer French restaurant, costs an extra $80 per person.)
The first thing we discovered, to my utter delight, was that the in-room TV has every single Disney movie available on-demand, for free. I’ll admit I could have gladly watched movies for 72 hours straight, but stopped myself. Every night, there’s a different musical show that incorporates Disney songs and characters, both classic and new. And first-run movies are shown in the two big theaters—on our cruise, these included Avengers: Age of Ultron, Tomorrowland, and Big Hero 6. There’s popcorn and soda sold outside the theaters, or you can save a few bucks by heading to the buffet before the show for soda, soft serve, and yes, more chocolate chip cookies.
Cash is not accepted on the ship or at the island, so all you have to do is carry your room key, which is connected to a credit card. Cell service is non-existent on the ship and at Castaway Cay, and Wi-Fi is quite expensive on board, so be prepared to stay offline the entire cruise. I was worried about being so disconnected, but the seemingly limitless activities kept me more than busy, and the lack of email meant I truly felt like I was on vacation. In fact, as we returned to Port Canaveral, I felt pangs of sadness as the AT&T bars popped back up—it meant it was time to leave the incredible cocoon of a world that Disney has created at sea.
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Airfares could hit a 4-year low.
If you’ve been putting off purchasing holiday travel tickets, you could be in luck. Hopper, an airfare prediction app, forecasts that domestic airfare prices will drop beginning in August—and stay at an average of $248 until November.
Pre-holiday, your best months to purchase are August and October, when the prices are forecast at $245. And if you’re planning to travel over spring break, buy your tickets in December, when prices are expected to be at an average of $241—a full 12.5% drop from July. Though fall prices are usually, on average, lower than those in the summertime, this year’s expected autumn rates would be the lowest the market has seen in four years. According to Hopper, the app has consistently predicted airfare trends within a single percentage point since beginning to release price indices in April.
Patrick Surry, chief data scientist at Hopper, says the decreases are driven by lower fuel prices, which account for a third of expenses for a typical airline; the entrance of low cost carriers like Frontier, Southwest, and JetBlue into different markets; and the unbundling of services, which might mean you’re paying more in add-ons than you were for the all-inclusive flight three years ago.
If you’re planning on traveling with the whole family in tow, Surry recommends purchasing tickets more than a month in advance for the best prices and availability. And make sure you do your homework: It might seem great to fly from Boston to Orlando for $249, but you could be missing out on the best deal if you have to pay for two additional checked suitcases filled with all the gifts from the grandparents.
Though Hopper only calculates price indices for domestic fights, Surry says August is a good time to travel internationally, as well. With the exchange rate in favor of the U.S. dollar, you can finally take that European vacation you’ve been dreaming of—at a dream price.
This article originally appeared in Real Simple.
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These cities will welcome you with open arms
As a Nashville native, Meagan Nordmann thought she knew all about friendly locals—until she flew to Albuquerque.
“Before my plane had even landed in The Land of Enchantment, I had probably 20 tweets from locals offering to take me out for coffee,” says the digital marketer, who recently relocated to the New Mexico city. “I dare say, Albuquerque is even friendlier than Nashville. I suppose this is one of the reasons locals here jokingly call it ‘The Land of Entrapment.’ ”
That group-hug mentality is indeed one reason why the Southwestern city—as well as the affable folks in Tennessee—made Travel+Leisure’s top 10 for friendly cities. In the most recent America’s Favorite Cities survey, readers ranked 38 metro areas for such inviting features as wine bars, pizza and luxury shopping—along with the conviviality of the locals who might be serving drinks, ringing up your order or just offering directions outside your hotel.
Geographically, the top 15 winners represent a distinct advantage among heartland cities—though one could argue that the size of city, not the location, may be a better indicator of heart. The winning cities also ranked well in the survey for some concrete features that make it easy for locals to show off their sunny demeanors: pedestrian-friendly streets, cool boutiques, coffee houses, and even communal, picnic-table-equipped food truck pods.
The friendliest cities have certain intangible qualities, too. Charleston’s high ranking may come in part from its slower-paced lifestyle, says Isabelle Furth, a p.r. exec who lives in Washington D.C. (a city that, ahem, did not make the top 15 this year). “I remember walking into an upscale boutique in Charleston and being offered sweet tea and a cookie,” says Furth. “The soft Southern accents don’t hurt, either.”
With a song in their hearts—and probably one on their lips, too—these Tennesseans won the survey for making visitors feel welcome. Not surprisingly, they also won the survey for their music scene: you can mingle with the locals at the singer-songwriter-loving Listening Room Café; the rehabbed, music-plus-eats Acme Feed & Seed; or at lovable dives like Santa’s Pub, the double-wide-trailer-housed bar managed by a suspiciously jovial bearded fellow. Nashville also ranked at No. 11 for its cheery food trucks, like Biscuit Love and Smokin Thighs. All that smiling is apparently good for the skin: Nashvillians also made the top 10 for their good looks.
These outdoorsy locals apparently treat visitors like family. In that spirit, the city also ranked near the top for being both kid-friendly and having a sense of adventure; outside of ski season, you can combine the two at Snowbird—by hiking, mountain biking or riding its twisting Alpine Slide and Mountain Coaster. If you come to ski in December, though, you can see why the city also ranked at No. 3 for Christmas lights. Year-round, readers’ favorite food in SLC was the burger, in part because the city has its own regional quirk: pastrami-topped wonders, like the originals found at Crown Burgers.
If they’re weren’t so darn nice, you might have to loathe these Minnesotans, who also ranked at the top of the survey for being smart and super-fit. Plus, they know how to entice visitors, earning the silver-medal spot for free attractions like the Minneapolis Institute of Arts (currently showing an exhibition of pieces from the royal Habsburgs) and the Minneapolis Sculpture Garden (home to Claes Oldenburg’s Spoonbridge and Cherry). To bond with the locals over one of their well-ranked craft brews—they took the bronze medal for beer in this year’s survey—go to Dangerous Man Brewing Co., where, just to be nice, patrons are invited to join in community volunteer projects. Speaking of perceived danger, the Twin Cities also ranked near the top for feeling nicely non-threatening.
These helpful Missourians clearly made readers feel at ease: the city ranked at the top for being both affordable and having good drivers. The locals also warmed the hearts of readers with their barbecue, which won the survey this year. While you can’t go wrong with the classic burnt ends at either Arthur Bryant’s or Gates Bar-B-Q (with its “Hi, May I Help You?” sign), carnivorous foodies also love The Local Pig, near the East Bottoms stockyards district, which boasts of using only humanely raised meats and gets creative with lamb, rabbit, and duck, along with dishes like burnt-end bratwursts and Thai peanut sausage.
The folks in Oklahoma’s state capitol struck readers as having few pretensions: they ranked as the least rude and the least snobby in the nation (but, alas, also as the least stylish). But perhaps they just have a misunderstood fashion sense: some of the best shops in the artsy Plaza District have a serious streak of kitsch, like the retro boutique Dig It and the in-your-face vintage of Bad Granny’s Bazaar. To channel a little more of the city’s grandmotherly karma—and see why the city was perhaps underrated for its wild side—order a slice of Bird Dog Buttermilk (peaches, raspberries and brown sugar oat crumble) at the neighborhood’s Pie Junkie.
Not only do these South Carolinians rank as some of the best-mannered people in the nation, they’re also some of the best coiffed, ranking at No. 3 for being pretty. Charleston also scored No. 1 for its pretty (and hospitable) architecture: You can stay in the John Rutledge House Inn, the only home of a Constitution signer that is now a B&B. Since the city also ranked near the top for home décor and antique shopping, you can take some of the hospitable vibe home: check out the Matouk and Sferra linens at The Boutique, off Washington Square, which, despite all the crystal and china, also welcomes dogs (assuming they are well-mannered, too).
These Pennsylvanians got high marks for being exuberant—they ranked at No. 1 for sports-team passion—but they know how to make nice in the off-season. If you want to break bread with them, go to one of their famed (and No. 6-ranked) sandwich places—like Primanti Bros., where the sliced-bread sandwiches are topped with coleslaw and French fries, or Peppi’s, where you can butter up the Steelers fans by ordering a Roethlisburger (named for quarterback Ben, and topped with ground beef, sausage, eggs and cheese). Pittsburgh also made the top 20 for its mass transit: the buses and light rail are accommodatingly free within the city’s Golden Triangle zone.
In the city that triumphed at No. 1 for quirky locals, wall-to-wall festivals, and wild weekends, readers clearly felt they could be themselves here. Since the city ranked in the top five for nearly every nightlife category, locals might seem even friendlier after dark: you can come as you are to the no-cover-charge, Saturday night dance party at The Hi-Ho Lounge (with DJ-spun funk, jazz and “underground disco” until 3 a.m.), or pull up a stool to the tabby-cat bartender at beloved dive bar Snake & Jake’s Christmas Club Lounge (known to attract fun-loving celebs like Quentin Tarantino and George Clooney). No coincidence, the city also ranked at the top of the survey for vivid people-watching.
The New Mexico city made the friendly top 10 for its affable citywide demeanor: it ranked well for its lack of noise, great weather, and overall relaxing vibe. The locals also seem to have a healthy sense of humor: You can spend the night in a rehabbed psychiatric hospital (the sleek Hotel Parq Central), or pick up sweets related to the city’s connection to Breaking Bad, like the faux crystal-meth candy from The Candy Lady or even the “Blue Sky” donuts at Rebel Donut. Just don’t spoil your appetite: Albuquerque also ranked well for its street food, and has a large presence on the state’s so-dubbed Breakfast Burrito Byway: two classic spots are Frontier and Burrito Lady.
The Texas capital is a highly social town. You can find chatty locals jogging around Lady Bird Lake (they ranked at No. 5 for being fit), taking a dip in the bracing waters of Barton Springs, or just waiting in line for the legendary brisket and trimmings at East Austin’s Franklin Barbecue. The city also ranked well for brainy locals and bookstores—and you can find both at BookPeople, the city’s nerve center for readings and book signings. Granted, these locals might want to be more than friends: Austin also ranked in the top 5 for its singles scene.
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Earning and using airline miles used to be simple. Fly 25,000 miles and earn a free flight. It is not so simple anymore.
The process of redeeming miles is changing in a way that makes it more difficult for all but elite flyers to earn rewards.
One key change: Delta Air Lines’ announcement in mid-July that its SkyMiles rewards will be based on what you spend, rather than on the distance you travel, and the cost will be based on demand rather than a fixed amount.
Experts like Brian Kelly, known as The Points Guy, expect more major airlines to follow suit.
To help sort out the changes to the miles game, Reuters asked Kelly for his advice for travelers to best take advantage of widely varying airline loyalty programs.
Q: Are airlines suddenly being less loyal to their loyal customers?
A: The real answer is that loyalty is being redefined.
In the past it used to be that whoever flew the most was the most loyal, but airlines are now saying it’s whoever spends the most.
Basically, the wealth gap is increasing between economy and first class, which I guess makes senses as the industry keeps changing.
Q: It seems like all the airlines are treating miles like currency, and devaluing them.
A: Pretty much. Every month there are billions of points and miles pumped into the system. But there are just not that many flights, or hotels for that matter, so they are looking for ways to have you redeem more miles and points for less value, and I don’t see that changing.
Q: What airlines are the most generous to their frequent flyers right now?
A: It really depends on where you live and how much you fly, but I still think American Airlines has the best top-tier elite status. American is also the most generous, in my opinion, with international upgrades giving eight system-wide upgrades, versus six on United.
Q: What should travelers look for when they are deciding which airline loyalty program to focus on?
A: Travelers should not have blind loyalty. The biggest thing is don’t put all your miles in one basket. You should get a credit card that allows you to transfer to multiple programs.
You can be loyal to one airline, but don’t over-expose yourself because that program will probably change or that airline won’t fly where you want, so it’s good to have points in all different programs just like your stock portfolio.
Q: Is it even worth it to try to accumulate points with credit cards?
A: Always do the math. If you’re not getting at least 1-2 cents per mile in value you should really just think about getting a cash-back card. The Citi Double Cash and Fidelity Amex both give about 2% back. Why earn one airline mile that’s worth one cent when you could get 2 cents back in cash, which you could use toward anything?
Also, don’t always think that airline mileage cards – especially ones where you’re only earning one mile per dollar spent – are the best value. Sometimes cash is king and the ability to use that cash to purchase whatever you want is a great option.
Q: What strategy should consumers employ for travel this summer or fall?
A: I would recommend that people redeem miles in the near term, don’t hang on long-term in the next several years because these programs are evolving and they are evolving quickly.
If you are spending a lot of money on short flights you should take a look at Delta and United and the programs that reward based on money.
If you’re an economy traveler, especially international, you’re going to lose big time, so do the math and choose a program that rewards you the most.
And, frankly, don’t be loyal to an airline if they’re not loyal to you. If you’re earning less miles and paying more and not getting the perks, it’s time to rethink your strategy.
These cities are sure to captivate your heart and soul
To find the heart of New York City, you need the right shoes.
“I always seek out a city’s charms on foot,” says Rachel Rudman, co-creator of the travel series How 2 Travelers. In the Big Apple, she says, walking gives her the thrill of “moving through a sea of people who are drastically different from one another, yet all working to make a life in the city,” while in Charleston, “every main street, alleyway and market feels as though it holds centuries of stories.”
Travel+Leisure readers would agree, placing both New York City and Charleston in the top 10 of uniquely charming cities. In this year’s America’s Favorite Cities survey, readers voted on dozens of features that make 38 cities special, from museums to bakeries and flea markets. To highlight the most bewitching cities, we combined the rankings for interesting architecture, pedestrian-friendly streets, quaint bookstores, a sense of history and a friendly atmosphere—and nice wine bars didn’t hurt, either.
Several winners had one thing in common: old neighborhoods that have found new life, with cobblestone streets as well as cool shops and little cafes. Otherwise, in some winning cities, charm means easy access to public art, or food truck pods where locals gather around the fire pit with guitars. One cozy city even has a self-proclaimed “snuggery.”
With most the winners, too, those walkable streets are key—assuming you stray off the tourist grid. Barri Bronston, author of Walking New Orleans, advises Crescent City visitors to do Bourbon Street once—then move on. “Take the Bywater neighborhood,” she says, “with its houses painted in vibrant purples, oranges, and blues. Until I walked its streets, I had no idea how cool it really was. I’m a life-long resident of New Orleans, but I always feel like I’m discovering something new.”
The town that dubbed itself Charm City—granted, as a long-ago marketing strategy—clearly has planted its flag in the charming top 20. (That flag may be a freak flag, though: the locals also made the top 10 for being offbeat.) Baltimore also scored in the top 10 for historic appeal—like Fell’s Point, the waterfront community that that was once the nation’s second-largest immigration point, after Ellis Island. To experience the neighborhood to the fullest, stay at boutique hotel Admiral Fell Inn (once the home of the Seamen’s YMCA) and enjoy one the city’s highly ranked dive bars, The Horse You Came In On—which was likely a dive even when it first opened in 1775.
Pittsburgh’s most charming area does not ignore the Rust Belt’s industrial roots—instead, it embraces it. Just north of downtown, the Strip District was once the home of Andrew Carnegie’s first mills as well as the nerve center of the city’s produce markets. Today, it’s the home of the Pittsburgh Public Market, Pittsburgh Opera and the modern-dance Attack Theatre. The city also ranked at No. 6 for its pizza, like the classic Neapolitan at Il Pizzaiolo in Market Square and downtown’s Proper Brick Oven and Tap Room. Charming or not, the locals won the survey for being the most enthusiastic sports fans.
Even if it’s a first stop for many tourists, nothing exudes the charm of Seattle—and can make you feel like a flowers-and-fruit-buying local—quite like wandering the 9-acre Pike Place Market. But a block or so away from the market’s salmon-tossing workers, the charm factor compounds on Post Alley; the brick-paved detour features spots like The Pink Door, which serves candlelit Italian cuisine and quirky live shows like Eastern European jazz and trapeze acts. Seattle also came in at No. 2 for its coffee: one of the most relaxing places to enjoy it is at the café in the Elliott Bay Book Store, where you can also see why the charmingly rainy city ranked at No. 3 for its bookstores.
Forget the old jokes about this industrial town, which has elegantly cultivated its old-school charms. The nerve center of its appeal is in the Victorian-era Tremont neighborhood, once settled by immigrants and now home to Prosperity Social Club, a lounge set in a former ballroom, which has craft beer, Polka music and pierogies. To embrace the city’s civic pride, pick up a t-shirt that reads “Buck Yes” or “I Liked Cleveland Before It Was Cool” at downtown’s CLE Clothing.
Readers love Atlanta for deftly walking the line between historic charm and buzz-worthy cool. You’ll find both at the Swan House in Buckhead’s Atlanta History Center: you can chat with costumed character guides at the 1920s mansion’s Open House tours—or, you can take its Capitol Tour, and see how the house was used in the film The Hunger Games. The Georgia hub also worked its way into readers’ hearts by way of their stomachs, ranking at No. 2 for Southern-comfort diners: At Buckhead’s old-style Highland Bakery, for instance, you can tuck into both sweet-potato pancakes and sweet-potato biscuits. Another heartwarming touch: at downtown’s Mary Mac’s Tea Room, the hostess still offers free back rubs at your table.
Quaint streets all over the U.S. don’t have much on Elfreth’s Alley, the tiny cobblestone road in Philly that boasts of being the oldest continuously lived-on street in the nation (you can tour the old homes once a year, on June’s Fete Day). Beyond that one street, though, the cradle of democracy gets high marks from readers for being both historic and pleasantly accessible—like the Society Hill and the Rittenhouse areas, offering gracefully restored lodgings like Rittenhouse 1715. Even some newer places can’t resist a little old-style appeal—like Random Tea Room in the Northern Liberties area, which features a Curiosity Shop of antiques alongside a 21st-century massage room.
The New Mexico city made the top 10 for festivals, thanks to lovely parties like October’s International Balloon Fiesta. But this farm-friendly town also wooed readers with its literal cornucopia of edible delights: Casa Rondeña Winery, for instance, has wine-growing roots that go back to the 1600s. For down-to-earth lodging, stay at the 25-acre Los Poblanos Historic Inn & Organic Farm, whose crops include lavender, casaba melons and endangered Chimaya chilies. The city also ranked near the top for being affably kooky, like Albuquerque Alpacas’ charming sweaters, socks and dyed yarns (as well as plenty of live, fleece-producing alpacas).
Music City’s magnetism comes in part from its people: it ranked at the top of the survey for friendly locals. But its revamped older neighborhoods let this city of music-industry high rollers keeps its homey vibe. In the 12 South neighborhood, for instance, you can wander the bungalow-lined streets, browse in boutiques likeWhite’s Mercantile (offering such down-home delights as locally sourced grits and biscuit mix) or sit at coffeehouse-and-wine-barFrothy Monkey, where you can sip your Merlot from a quaint jelly jar. 12 South is also home to some of the city’s highly ranked barbecue: Edley’s Bar-B-Que, which smokes its brisket and ribs using local White Oak wood.
The quaint factor in this giant business hub may not be immediately obvious, but voters still applauded the city on a variety of civilized features, from its top-ranked gourmet groceries, like Revival Market, to museums like the soothing Rothko Chapel. To get a sense of the city from earlier (and smaller) times, go to the Historic Heights neighborhood, which is filled with homes from the 1800s, some lovely inns (like the restored, Queen Anne-style Sara’s Inn on the Boulevard) and cheeky establishments like Mighty Sweet Mini Pies and Alice’s Tall Texan (where a 20-ounce Lone Star beer, served in a frosty goblet, goes for just $2.50). Indeed, the Texas city also ranked in the top 10 for both bakeries and brews.
The City by the Bay can be one giant photo op, with such iconic charmers as the Golden Gate Bridge, the cable cars, and Alamo Square’s Painted Ladies. But if you want to spend a charming afternoon alongside the gourmand locals, browse the stalls at the Ferry Building Marketplace and its Saturday farmers market, or, sit at Caffe Trieste with a classic cappuccino and see why, even before the thoughtfully-made pour-overs of Blue Bottle and Ritual Roasters, the city has always been a winner for its coffee culture. Despite its chilly summers, San Francisco also made the top 20 for weather—proof that rolling fog offers plenty of atmospheric charm.
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A beloved attraction is coming back
It’s back: Disney’s Captain EO ride.
The attraction, which graced Epcot originally from 1986 to 1994, stars the King of Pop himself in full 3-D glory. The ride was brought back in 2010 after the pop star’s death, and Disney is reinstating it again. Captain EO is a pure 1980s throwback full of nostalgia for Millennials (and their parents) that grew up visiting the Orlando theme park.
The ride features 17 minutes of Jackson and a mangy team of freedom fighters battling to “bring freedom to countless worlds of despair.” It includes songs such as “We Are Here to change the World” and “Another Part of Me,” and it was executive produced by George Lucas and directed by Francis Ford Coppola. When it was made, it was the most expensive film per minute, costing an estimated $30 million.
Captain EO was taken down in April this year to make room for a preview of “Tomorrowland” and later the animated feature “Inside Out.”
From adventure trips to cruises
Solo travel is on the rise.
And for good reason — it allows you much more freedom and a greater opportunity to connect with locals.
According to the 2015 Visa Global Travel Intentions study, which surveyed over 13,000 travelers from 25 different countries, 24% of travelers traveled alone on their most recent leisure trip. That’s almost 10% more than in 2013.
But for some, venturing out into the world completely solo can be intimidating.
The good news is there are a number of travel companies that cater to solo travelers and can help you book a guided trip with other travelers who are on their own.
Take a look at our list below and start planning your next trip.
Solos, Britain’s number one “singles holiday company,” has been around since 1982, and they’ve been catering specifically to solo travelers from the start. The company offers all kinds of vacations — from walks and treks to cities, ski or beach vacations. They also just recently launched an American branch, Solos Vacations, which only offers trips to the UK and Italy as of right now.
Classic Journeys provides a solution to an issue that solo travelers have long had to deal with: supplements. Most travel companies raise prices up to 50% for those traveling alone. Classic Journeys, on the other hand, keeps its mark up to around 15%, because they only charge customers the extra fee that hotels charge for single travelers.
This isn’t a “singles vacation” company; Classic Journeys specializes in walking tours with knowledgeable local guides. They’re happy to book you a double room just for yourself, and they’ve received top ratings from both National Geographic and Travel + Leisure. About a third of their guests book solo trips.
Contiki is geared towards younger travelers, specifically those aged 18-35. The company uses forums and social media to connect vacationers with each other before they embark on their journey. Since most of their pricing is for doubles, Contiki’s goal is to match travelers up with someone of the same sex and then book a double room for them. So if you’re looking to make friends on your trip, this is the company for you.
Abercrombie and Kent
Best known as a luxury travel company, Abercrombie and Kent accepts solo travelers on all of its trips — to all seven continents. They also offer Solo Savings escorted group tours, where single travelers enjoy their own private accommodations during every stop of the trip, but don’t have to pay the usual single supplements. A&K either completely waives the supplement, or reduces it by up to 75%.
Exodus is unique in that it designates one or two departure dates per tour as Solo Departures, which the company suggests solo travelers use. Therefore, most of the people who leave on those dates and end up on those trips are people vacationing alone.
Exodus’ tour guides are local and have gone through leader training. Guests can choose trips like cycling Croatia’s Dalmatian Coast or exploring Machu Picchu and the Galapagos Islands in South America.
Overseas Adventure Travel
Ideal for budget travelers, Overseas Adventure Travel (OAT) takes single travelers to exotic destinations such as Botswana and Patagonia. They have both land adventures, which are tours on land with groups of 10-16 other travelers, or small ship adventures, which are boat tours with anywhere from 16 to 25 other travelers.
OAT does not charge supplements, even if you extend your trip 4-9 nights, and they offer the “Solo Traveler Challenge:” a guarantee that if you find another travel company offering a better price on a comparable trip, OAT will meet that price, plus lower it by $500.
If you’re looking for an authentic experience, G Adventures is your answer. You can sleep in tents in a desert camp in Morocco or sleep under the stars in Antarctica. Active travelers will also like G Adventures; they have multiple trekking and hiking tours, such as a 10-day journey up Mont Blanc in Switzerland.
There are no single supplements, but G Adventures does book shared hotel rooms, so your accommodations won’t be private. However, if you choose to extend your trip by using the company’s independent extensions option, you will be charged a singles supplement.
Singita has luxury safari lodges in South Africa, Zimbabwe, and Tanzania. One is located in the well known Kruger National Park, and the others are in lesser known parks. They’ve completely abandoned the single supplement, and they offer reduced pricing if you’re looking to travel in the off season.
Billed as Africa’s “foremost ecotourism operator,” Wilderness Safaris takes guests to some of the continent’s most remote locations while also helping to maintain its biodiversity. The company’s 50 luxury camps are located in eight African countries: Botswana, Kenya, Namibia, Seychelles, South Africa, Zambia, and Zimbabwe.
If you travel through southern Africa during November to April 15th, Wilderness Safaris will waive not only your flight but also your accommodation charges. It’s a great deal, considering you still have a good chance of seeing just as much wildlife — but for a fraction of the price.
Norwegian Cruise Line
On three of its ships — the Epic, Breakaway, and Pride of America — Norwegian Cruise Line has cabins made exclusively for solo travelers that cost about 30% less than a double stateroom. They offers cruises all over including Alaska, Florida and the Bahamas, Bermuda, Canada and New England, Hawaii, Mexico, Europe, and Panama just to name a few.
Like Norwegian, Lindblad Expeditions is another cruise company that offers solo cabins for a third less than the price of regular rooms. These single rooms can be found on their National Geographic Explorer, Endeavour, and Orion ships. Their destinations include the Amazon, Peru, Vietnam, Indonesia, and the Caribbean.
Grand Circle Cruise Line
Grand Circle Cruise Line is one of the few cruise companies that does not offer a single supplement on their small ship cruises. Its small ship cruises go to the British Isles, Greece, France, Turkey, Bosnia, Spain, Burma, Iberia, and many others.
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