How one editor’s obsession with Krispy Kreme led her to fantasize about nuptials at the North Carolina chain.
“If you had to get married in a chain restaurant, which one would it be?”
My former college roommate posed this question on a road trip that had entered into hour three. We’d long passed Delaware and small talk, and were now wading into “what if” scenarios. My friends laughed.
“That’s crazy!” one replied
“I need to think about it,” said another.
But I had my answer ready: “At Krispy Kreme, saying my vows under the hot doughnuts sign.”
A year earlier, I’d married my favorite person on earth in an elegant, rustic setting. The ceremony was held outside, with tidy rows of white chairs marking out an alfresco chapel. The reception was inside a farmhouse. Peonies topped every surface. Little pewter table numbers organized guests. Champagne bubbled in every fluted glass. It was possibly the most sophisticated moment of my life.
But afterward, I questioned everything but the groom. Why oh why didn’t Krispy Kreme occur to me earlier?
My first Krispy was in Virginia along Route 1. It still sits in a dip in the road between two hills, the midway point of a roller coaster ride. What I remember most isn’t the retro stool seating or the polka-dotted branding, it’s the illuminated “hot doughnuts” sign, lit at night like a vacancy sign at a cheap honeymoon motel. When that signal was on, it was impossible not to swerve my beat-up Volvo into the turning lane. Those doughnuts were part of my report card celebrations and my post-breakup sulks.
I was an easy target: a hormonal, hungry teen who had the appetite to demolish a tub of ice cream. From my first bite of Krispy Kreme’s chocolate iced glaze, I was a believer. Fresh from the oven, shellacked in sugar, and topped in a cap of chocolate, they made me want to write romantic sonnets. Years later, I was still swooning.
As far as I know, there’s only one couple that actually had their wedding at a Krispy Kreme: Sarah Daniel and Kiran Skariah of New South Wales, Australia. Sarah was a student working in the local Krispy who got flirty with Kiran over his usual order, white hot chocolate. They celebrated every subsequent dating anniversary at the venue, so when they got married, they decided to hold the reception there in 2016.
The wedding was covered by The Sun under the headline “I Dough!” I read about it with the sort of stabbing, hyper-focused jealousy typically associated with stalking an ex on Facebook. The bride was a vision of matrimonial loveliness in white lace standing under an awning that read “Doughnuts & Coffee.” The photo—the caption called them the “sweet-toothed pair”—showed them in a booth, smugly snuggling up in their wedding finery, a glazed doughnut between them. Despite all this, though, they seemed entirely undeserving. I mean, white hot chocolate? That was what brought them together? Not a chocolate iced or even a cruller?
But there’s another nuptial I like to picture: the wedding of Vernon Rudolph, founder of Krispy Kreme, and Ruth Ayers. Their wedding took place in 1939, two years after the company was founded. I imagine Ruth in a Meghan Markle-esque dress, a long-sleeved silk gown edged in ivory buttons, topped with a lace veil streaming to the floor like an embroidered waterfall. Did Vernon carry her over the Krispy threshold? Did they feed each other glazed doughnuts? Did they hold the ceremony under the “hot” light?
The last question I know to be pure fantasy. Although this light seems to be part of the company’s lore since its inception, the first beacon didn’t go up until the ’90s. But the hot light drives customers into a mania and the company embraces it. The company’s app is fully built around tracking illuminated signs as they flash up, essentially acting as a Tinder for hot doughnut hookups.
And the fact is, its cold doughnuts are delicious but mundane. Yet warm, they’re ambrosia on a conveyor belt. Quite simply, hot doughnuts are hard to get. And as anyone who’s been put through the wringer of love will tell you, when someone plays hard to get, it breeds deep obsessiveness.
Six years after that road trip, I wanted to confess to my husband at last how much I was pining for a do-over wedding at Krispy Kreme, even long after our ceremony. Our conversation wasn’t what I expected.
I turned to him and asked, “Do you ever look back on our wedding and wish we got married in—”
“Legoland?” he said.
Apparently, my husband had his own adolescent dream that our traditional wedding hadn’t met. And that’s when we began plotting our future anniversaries at Krispy Kreme. And Legoland. After all, marriage is about compromise.
You don’t need to be a nature expert to appreciate the seas of colorful flowers that mark the end of winter each year, or to get lost in photos of them. Some of the world’s biggest and best spring flower blooms turn travel-worthy spots like national parks and famous cities into a sea of color.
The World’s Most Whimsical Spring Flower Blooms
Here’s where to look for a breathtaking dose of color in spring, and which ones offer livestreams.
Editor’s note: Due to COVID-19 concerns, the U.S. State Department is encouraging potential visitors to reconsider all travel. Read more here for updates on the situation and information on when it might be safe to travel again to destinations like the ones below.
Mount Fuji, Japan
Every April and May, pink-hued flowers blanket the meadows at the base of Mount Fuji. The Shibazakura Festival marks the occasion, drawing crowds who stroll through the electric-pink fields and snack at the many local food stalls that set up to offer Japanese buns, ramen, soups, and more. During the peak spring flower bloom this is one of the most photogenic places in the world. You can livestream the blooms here.
Death Valley, Southern California
Southern California’s parks are home to many different types of spring flower blooms, and they come to life earlier than most thanks to the region’s warm climate. Death Valley National Park and Anza-Borrego Desert State Park are popular for yellow and purple desert flowers that peek through the cracked desert floor as early as March. The Antelope Valley’s California Poppy Reserve becomes a sea of yellow, orange, and red poppies around April—and can look like a scene straight out of the Wizard of Oz. The small orange variation of poppy happens to be the state flower of California.
If rainbow palettes of tulips don’t come to mind when you think of the Netherlands, it’s time to venture beyond Amsterdam. Spring is a great time to head into the countryside to discover windmill-dotted fields of bright tulips, which often bloom as late as May. The Flower Bulb Region is home to vast tulip farms as well as public gardens like Keukenhof—one of the largest botanical gardens in the world, and home to seven million flowers. You can virtually tour the gardens here.
Western Australia (September)
Take your pick of Western Australia’s incredible array of wildflower trails in September—the southern hemisphere’s spring. Guided or self-driven spring flower bloom tours are available in wildflower-blanketed Perth, along the Coral Coast, and as far north as Pilbara. Options include the Esperance Wildflower Trail, wild orchids south of Perth, and rainbow desert blooms in Broome to the north.
Valley of Flowers National Park, India
India’s Valley of Flowers is both a National Park and a UNESCO World Heritage site thanks to its six miles of alpine flowers and rare, protected wildlife. Nestled between the Himalayas and the sacred Ganges River in Uttarakhand, the valley has 1,000 different species of flowers, including daisies, poppies, rhododendrons, lavender, and more. Hike along its waterways and through pastures blanketed in spring flower blooms—just keep an eye out for Himalayan black bears.
Monet’s House and Gardens, France
Claude Monet’s mesmerizing flowers don’t only exist in paintings. See the lavender and lily pad-filled settings that inspired his works in Giverny, France, where you can visit the Impressionist artist’s house and gardens. The grounds are separated into two main gardens: one around the house that includes an orchard and bulb flowers like daffodils, and an enchanting Japanese water garden across the street.
Texas Hill Country, U.S.
Combine wildflowers with wineries in Texas Hill Country, west of bustling Houston. Spring flower blooms come early to the Lone Star State, so you can get a jump start on summer by heading to Fredericksburg or Brenham to see the region’s famed bluebonnets—which the nearby Bluebonnet Wine Trail is named for. Stop at wineries and spot classic Texan ranches along the way.
Kew Gardens, London, England
Spring flower blooms don’t have to require a trek from the city, especially if you’re in London. The U.K. capital has an abundance of gardens that come to life every spring, and Kew Royal Botanic Gardens is London’s largest UNESCO World Heritage Site. Its 300 acres house 27,000 colorful plants, and are thick with tulips, poppies, peonies, and cherry blossoms each spring. The gardens even offer online educational horticulture courses so you can learn to identify species of plants.
Tidal Basin, Washington, D.C.
Washington, D.C.’s Tidal Basin is famously popular in spring for the thousands of cherry trees gifted to the park by the mayor of Tokyo, Japan, over a century ago. The pink and white buds explode into peak bloom all at once in a matter of just a few days, typically in March or April. The National Mall’s live webcam is here.
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The United States is home to more than a dozen cities and towns named Florida, but none can compare with the real Florida’s natural fun-in-the-sun appeal.
The Best Places to Go in Florida
From the coolest cities in Florida, like Miami and Ft. Lauderdale, to top theme parks like Busch Gardens and Disney World, these must-see attractions top our list of the best places to go in Florida.
Walt Disney World Resort, Orlando, Florida
It’s no exaggeration to suggest that Walt Disney should have named his Orlando theme park Disney Universe—or even Disney Galaxy. The Walt Disney World Resort is so large, in fact, that it’s difficult to narrow down which of the four main theme parks and two water parks to make time for, let alone whether to stay at a hotel within the resort confines or conserve costs with a nearby off-resort stay. Even selecting your preferred theme-park entry ticket can be daunting.
Here is some helpful Walt Disney World Resort information to get you started at this must-see Florida attraction:
Disney World ticketing options include single-day, single-park passes for Epcot, Disney’s Animal Kingdom, Disney’s Hollywood Studios, and the Magic Kingdom. You can extend your Disney World family vacation with multi-day passes, which reduce the per-day rate significantly. For example, you can purchase two-day passes, three-day passes, seven-day passes, and 10-day passes. All tickets must be used within 14 days of your initial visit.
Budget-minded travelers will easily find an array of accommodations options, with thousands of hotel rooms from “budget” to “luxury” within driving distance of Disney World. Consider a stay at a Disney Resort such as the Walt Disney World Swan and Dolphin if you want to take advantage of early-morning and late-night access to select theme parks. Guests of Hilton Orlando Lake Buena Vista also have an added hour of play before the general public is allowed in and three hours after the parks close for the evening.
With so many parades and shows, peruse the Disney calendar to find scheduled events, plan your itinerary, and work around park closings. No matter what, you’ll find there’s plenty to do in Orlando—one of the coolest cities in Florida.
South Beach, Miami, Florida
Lovingly dubbed SoBe, South Beach’s reputation as a gregarious scene for the fun-loving is well deserved among young and old visitors alike. From laid-back lounges to racy dance clubs, South Beach is world-renowned for its hot nightlife (many clubs operate until dawn). And while the robust club and dining scene is too caliente to sleep through every night, SoBe also knows how to play “grown-up” during the day.
On South Beach, both locals and tourists know how to share the sun, sand, and the occasional pickup volleyball game. Expedite a speedy hangover recovery with yoga lessons from 3rd Street Beach Yoga. Generous instructors facilitate donation-based “yoga from the heart” near the beach’s lifeguard hut.
Always a popular tourist destination, South Beach experiences its biggest influx of visitors in March (spring break), April (Pride festivities), and over Memorial Day Weekend (Urban Beach Week).
Everglades National Park, Florida
A visit to Everglades National Park isn’t just a must-see Florida attraction or one of the top things to do in Florida—it’s an adventure traveler’s dream. The Everglades offers canoe and hiking trails, airboat and tram tours, bird-watching expeditions, and camping.
Also a mecca for those seeking out wildlife sightings, the Florida Everglades’ ecosystem is one of the top attractions in Florida because it’s like no other in the world. Alligators, crocodiles, falcons, turtles, and even panthers are but a few of the many animals you can spot in the Everglades.
Not to be missed, Ten Thousand Islands National Wildlife Refuge lies on the western edge of the Everglades. This 35,000-acre national refuge comprised of mangroves and islands provides refuge to endangered wildlife, among them West Indian manatees, bald eagles, and Kemp’s ridley sea turtles. There’s some debate about how many islands are actually in the Ten Thousand Islands area. Conservative estimates have it in the hundreds, while more robust assessments estimate at least 17,000 islands during low tide. The Everglades National Park as a whole spans about 1.5 million acres.
Ft. Lauderdale is known by many nicknames, among them the “Venice of America” (for its vast system of canals) and the “Yachting Capital of the World” (because locals collectively own 50,000 private yachts). Regardless of what you call it, there’s no disputing that this Florida must-see is a dream destination for boaters. For more than 50 years, Ft. Lauderdale has hosted the Ft. Lauderdale International Boat Show—the largest such event in the world.
But boaters aren’t the only ones docking in this local scene. Countless spring breakers flock to the city for hedonistic fun each March, beach bums bask on Ft. Lauderdale’s 23 miles of beaches, and snorkelers and divers seek out underwater adventures among the 75-plus artificial reefs.
Key West, Florida Keys, Florida
The final stop on the Eastern Seaboard’s 2,369-mile Route 1, Key West really is the be-all and end-all. Geographically, Key West sits at the southernmost point within the continental U.S. and is closer to Havana than it is to Miami. In spite of its tropical climate (Key West boasts an annual average temperature of 77 degrees) and its low-lying land, Key West is hit by hurricanes less than other coastal regions.
While Key West is enthralling in and of itself, be sure to make it out to sea when in the area. Just a few miles off the coast is the third-largest coral-reef system in the world, the Great Florida Reef. Snorkeling, diving, and deep-sea fishing are popular area adventures. Man-made reefs offer wreck diving just a few miles offshore, too.
Key West was once home to Ernest Hemingway and Tennessee Williams, among other celebrities of yesteryear. These days, its most famous residents come in a more natural variety: iguanas, feral chickens and roosters, and a clutter of cats, the latter of the excessive-toe variety, nestled in Hemingway’s former home.
Universal Studios, Orlando, Florida
Just like Walt Disney World Resort on the other side of town, Orlando’s Universal Studios can hang with the big boys. And planning a visit in advance yields major savings.
Multiday tickets purchased online offer as much as $20 off gate rates. For single-park, single-day passes, you can choose between Universal’s Islands of Adventure or Universal Studios Florida. Single-park, multiday tickets are available two days, three days, and four days. Multipark, single-day passes are also available. Multipark, multiday options are available for two days, three days, and four days.
You can skip the lines while at the Universal Studios parks with the Universal Express Pass. A multipark, single-day Universal Express Pass option is also available; as are multiday and even annual pass options (with select blackout dates). Season passes are available that offer “red-carpet treatment.”
With so many theme parks, resorts, and other top attractions to choose from all in one place, it’s easy to see why Orlando is one of the coolest cities in Florida—not to mention one of the best places to go in the entire Sunshine State.
Sanibel Island, Florida
The beaches of Sanibel Island are revered around the world as one of the best places to go in Florida by conchologists (shell collectors). The practice of shell collecting is so popular on Sanibel Island’s shores that locals have nicknamed the act of bending down for a shell “the Sanibel Stoop.”
Sanibel Islanders celebrate the seashell with an annual three-day exhibit and festival that typically runs in March. Shell enthusiasts can also learn about shells and mollusks by visiting The Bailey-Matthews Shell Museum. The biggest prize on the beach is the junonia shell, which can land you in the local newspaper.
While shelling is serious business on the island, so is conservation. More than half of Sanibel Island is part of a designated wildlife refuge.
St. Augustine, Florida
St. Augustine isn’t nicknamed “Ancient City” for nothing. Juan Ponce de Leon first explored the area in 1513 and claimed it for Spain. It was later turned over to Britain, then back to Spain, and finally ceded (with the rest of the Florida Territory) to the United States in 1819. Today it’s one of the coolest cities in Florida.
You can see much of its rich history infused into St. Augustine’s architecture in places like Ft. Matanzas National Monument, Castillo de San Marcos National Monument, the oldest wooden schoolhouse in the country, the Hotel Ponce de Leon (once a regal hotel, now part of Flagler College and also a designated National Historic Landmark), and, of course, the Fountain of Youth Archaeological Park. (Folklore says that Ponce de Leon was searching for the elixir of life when he stumbled upon St. Augustine.)
St. Augustine is also home to the St. Augustine Alligator Farm Zoological Park. The park opened its doors in 1893 and now houses more than 20 species of crocodile as well as other reptiles, a bird collection, and many mammals.
Busch Gardens, Tampa, Florida
For those seeking an up-close look at safari wildlife without the high price of an airfare ticket to Africa, Busch Gardens is one of the best places to go in Florida. Among the 2,700 animals that call the 335-acre zoological-themed park home are elephants, cheetahs, hyenas, hippos, kangaroos, meerkats, and lemurs.
Busch Gardens Tampa also features an adjoining water park, Adventure Island. Seek out some water-filled fun on the twisting Aruba Tuba, the 55-foot-drop Riptide, and the 700-foot-long Key West Rapids. Adventure Island closes from November through February and reopens in March; see the current calendar for more information.
All theme-park tickets provide complimentary round-trip shuttle transportation from several Orlando pickup/drop-off points.
Amelia Island, Florida
Among the southernmost of the Sea Islands, Amelia Island is an easy drive from Jacksonville and only about five hours from Atlanta. Two bridges connect the island to the mainland.
Amelia Island’s seashore provides plenty of adventures for all. Scallop digging, snorkeling, and horseback riding are all quintessential Amelia Island activities. Watch for the shoreline’s playful dolphins and (if you’re lucky) perhaps even a right-whale sighting.
Amelia Island offers upscale resorts, spas, championship golf courses, a variety of festivals, and of course beaches. Amelia is routinely recognized among the top 10 U.S. islands in Conde Nast Readers’ Choice Awards.
Known as “Australia’s Cabo,” Bali is a hugely popular Southeast Asian destination known for its breathtaking beauty and fabulous resorts and beaches. To experience the “Island of Peace” the right way, consider these three lesser-known spots instead of tourist favorites like Kuta and Seminyak.
You may feel like you’re at Bondi Beach in Australia, but this city, located on the Southern tip of Bali has some of the world’s best surfing—not to mention stunning views. Not a pro-Aussie surfer? Test out your skills on the calmer waters in Padang Padang Beach before heading out to Blue Fin with the pros.
Where to Eat: Surf’s up at Single Fin. Head here for a Sunday night drinking and dancing session to cap off your weekend, or enjoy a refreshing acai bowl between surfs.
What to Do: To beat the crowds, check out Pura Luhur Uluwatu before you hit the beach. Beware of dozens of tour buses later in the day, as the cliff-side temple boasts an amazing sunset view.
Where to Stay: Alila Villas Uluwatu brings you right to the water’s edge with an incredible infinity pool, perfect for sunbathing.
Known as Bali’s cultural center, Ubud has a UNESCO World Heritage site, amazing restaurants, and a stunning temple. Be sure your first stop is the Tegalalang Rice Terrace, and leave yourself plenty of time to explore the tiered windy rice paddies.
Where to Eat: CP Lounge offers an eclectic indoor/outdoor atmosphere with live music and delicious tapas.
What to Do: Arrange a sunrise hiking tour to Mt. Batur, which has panoramic views of the island from its peak. If you’re not feeling up to a strenuous hike—or an early wake-up—take a trail through the rice paddies to Bukit Cinta (Love Hill) instead. After a restorative nap, check out the Sacred Monkey Forest Sanctuary (yes, they bite) and Pura Tirta Empul (Water Temple).
Where to Stay: Bidadari Private Villas—Retreat offers the ideal romantic getaway, with private villas, massages, and daily breakfast and tea—much needed after a long day of touring.
While these tropical paradises are off the coast of a different island, Lombok, you can still get to them from Bali. Here you’ll find Gili Trawangan, Gili Air, and Gili Meno—known as the Party, Romantic, and Honeymoon Island, respectively. No matter which one you pick, you’ll be living the island life.
Where to Eat: Most of the restaurants you’ll find in Gili T’s town are little beach shacks serving local dishes and plenty of seafood—these are great places to eat your meal with your feet in the sand. Just make sure you don’t accidentally order a mushroom shake! If you’re looking for some sophistication and fine dining, try MAHAMAYA on Gili Meno—although your feet will still be in the sand as you experience true island living.
What to Do: Snorkel, rent a bike, scuba dive, fish, and relax on any of the three islands. Make sure you take a day trip to the other islands —or book a night on all three. Transportation between islands is quick and easy—just hop on any of the longboats along the shore and ask to island-hop!
Surprise your favorite jetsetter with one of these Valentine’s gifts for travelers—they’ll delight anyone who’s got a heart full of wanderlust.
Valentine’s Gifts for Travelers
Whether you’re looking for a fun gift for a friend or a romantic present for your significant other, you’ll find great inspiration on this list.
And be sure to check out our idea list on Amazon, featuring 50-plus items curated by our editors.
Valentine’s Day Gifts for Her
Herbivore Botanicals Hydration Trio
This trio of travel-sized beauty products will keep her skin moisturized and healthy while traveling in the winter months. Kit includes Herbivore Botanicals’ famous body polish as well as a face mist and lip conditioner.
If you’re looking to give a thoughtful and custom gift this year, check out Etsy’s hundreds of handmade gift options for Valentine’s Day. With travel-related items like a custom memory box, a personalized map keepsake box, and a star map print, you’ll easily find something she’ll treasure. All you need is a specific date or place you want to remember.
With spring on the horizon, a pair of Allbirds are the perfect gift for giving as a head start to the new season. From her favorite workout to a trot through the city, these lightweight, breathable sneaks will get her anywhere she needs to go.
Offering one of the most unique gifting experiences for men on the market, Man Crates has a variety of different box options. From this incredibly Personalized Barware Crate to a literal Zombie Annihilation Crate, there’s truly something for any kind of guy.
If short, weekday business trips are the norm, then Travelon’s new underseat carry-on spinner can be a useful gift. Made to fit under most airplane seats, it’s roomy and practical with a laptop compartment, easy-access front pocket, and anti-theft features.
For your partner who is like the wine to your cheese, get this Plush Picnic Set (bonus points for pre-packing the bag with a good bottle and a map to a picnic spot). The tote is insulated to keep things cold and comes with everything you need for a romantic afternoon: a wooden cheese board, cheese knife, corkscrew, bottle stopper, napkins, and shatterproof wine glasses.
Impress your S.O. (or friend) with a custom photo album of a memorable trip together. Shutterfly makes the process easy with travel templates to choose among; or, you can have Shutterfly design it for you.
The online platform Eatwith offers unique dining experiences in cities around the world and sells gift cards for booking. It’s the perfect travel gift for someone if you’ve already booked a trip … or are trying to hint at planning a new one.
Some review products are sent to us free of charge and with no incentive to offer a favorable review. We offer our unbiased opinions, positive and negative, and will never accept compensation to review a product.
Editor’s note: This story was originally published in 2017. It has been updated to reflect the most current information. Tyler Schoeber contributed to this story.
The tiny Dutch Caribbean island of Aruba sees more than a million visitors per year—and not just for the beachfront resorts and romantic Aruba hotels. Travelers from the U.S. and beyond know Aruba for its bright blue waters and white sand, but there’s also rugged outdoor adventure and colorful Caribbean culture to break up your beach lounging.
Did you know almost 20 percent of Aruba is a protected national park? Arikok National Park stretches from the island’s arid center to its eastern and northern coasts, where it meets tropical blue shores and steep ocean cliffs.
Inside Arikok you’ll see centuries-old cacti and rock-face paintings. Cooling off means heading to its breezy coastal inlets, like Boca Prins (pictured) for far-flung ocean views.
Opt for a hike of the trails to see bright quartz peeking through the desert soil and succulents like aloe flourishing; then head toward the wind turbines in the distance (which create a significant portion of the island’s electricity) to experience the nearby sea cliffs and swimming spots.
At the edge of Arikok National Park are shady caverns rife with ancient paintings, stalactites, skylights, and (only a few) bats that are sure to make you feel like a true explorer. Unlike Aruba’s beaches, these caverns rarely fill up with tourists—giving you a unique up-close experience with the island’s natural formations. Guadirikiri Cave is a favorite for its two large main caves connected by a “Tunnel of Love,” lit by skylights and dotted with thousand-year-old Arawak Indian cave paintings and hand prints.
Discover San Nicolas
Most Aruba visitors stay in the resort-saturated Palm Beach area on the north coast, but the opposite side of the island has some of the best local beaches and cultural things to do in Aruba.
The San Nicolas area is home to colorful street murals, local art galleries and artisan shops, and Baby Beach—which earned its name for its calm, clear bay that’s fit for babies to splash in. You’ll get equal parts nature and culture in San Nicolas.
The clear, calm waters of Aruba make snorkeling a can’t-miss activity, and there are plenty of animals to see outside the water as well. Head to Arashi Beach or Boca Catalina for pristine waters full of tropical fish, or pick one of the many hotels on the island that have their own snorkeling and wildlife areas.
The Renaissance Aruba Resort in Oranjestad (Aruba’s capital) has its own private island complete with snorkeling, plus iguanas and vibrant flamingos that lounge on the beach with you.
Visitors can feed the flamingos the provided treats, although food isn’t necessary for the pink residents to walk right up to you on the soft sands. Colorful iguanas and blue lizards lounge on the beach next door as well, and a regular boat shuttle takes you back and forth from the hotel.
Caribbean destinations like Aruba celebrate traditional Carnival annually, taking to the streets in ornate costumes and masks. The colorful events go on for weeks in Aruba between early January and late February. Locals and visitors alike honor the tradition with music, food, dancing, and parades—just in time for spring-break season. It’s one of the best things to do in Aruba if you want to experience the island alongside locals.
Most Arubans speak the local language of Papiamento, plus Spanish, Dutch, and English. It’s a treat to hear all the languages co-exist on this one happy island, and the friendly Arubans are welcoming of visitors.
Taste Aruban Flavors
The Dutch-Caribbean food scene is a unique one that includes both rich European flavors from Holland as well as spicy Caribbean flavors like seasoned seafood and fried plantains. For the latter, Zeerovers’ seaside picnic tables and fried fish baskets are island-famous and perfect after a long day at the beach. Local coffee, beer, and quick bites are a favorite at Craft Aruba.
For romantic dinners, Wilhelmina in Oranjestad offers Dutch-influenced dishes, local seafood options, and international fare. Papiamento Restaurant also stays true to local and Dutch flavors, and is located at a historic local house with intimate tables both inside the home and on its open-air patio.
Don’t leave the island without trying fresh local fish like red snapper, mahi mahi, and Caribbean rock lobster.
Learn About Aruban History
Aruba might be tiny, but it has a long history that dates back beyond the Arawak Indians, who drew Arikok National Park’s cave paintings about 1,000 years ago. You can learn about the original Arubans and see 4,000-year-old pre-ceramic artifacts at the National Archaeological Museum Aruba, or hear about the Dutch settlers and pirates that landed here in the 1700s at the Fort Zoutman Historical Museum.
Take to the Caribbean Sea with a sailing expedition that will give you the full view of the island and an opportunity to experience various swimming spots all in the same day. Try Tranquilo Tours for a locally led daytime cruise around the island, with onboard lunch and off-boat swimming included.
Locals and visitors alike take to Druif Beach for relaxation closer to downtown, while the calm waters of Baby Beach or watersports at Palm Beach might also be worth the trip for some water lovers.
Buy Local Goods
A haul of all your favorite Caribbean and Dutch goodies makes for great Aruban souvenirs, from European cheeses and chocolate to local spices and tropical jams—best found at local grocery stores. While retail shopping can be pricey on Aruba, especially near resorts, just strolling colorful Oranjested’s shopping district is worth the view.
Local crafts and goods made in the Netherlands or the greater Caribbean are worth getting since they’ll be cheaper than they are in the States. Look out for authentic items like Caribbean-made papaya hot sauces and Dutch sweets. Just be sure to declare cheeses and similar food items at customs if you do indulge.
When deciding what to pack for a cruise, you’re really packing for three distinct sub-trips: your cruise ship, which is the equivalent of a large destination resort with a controlled environment; the ports of call, where you will get out and roam around the local area; and your flights to and from your departure port. Sometimes you can solve all three problems with a single wardrobe and accessory set, but sometimes you will need completely different sets. Scroll down to the cruise packing list below to learn how to pack for a cruise as well as what to consider during all aspects of your cruise vacation.
According to SmarterTravel’s sister site Cruise Critic: “As you may not have access to your cabin for a few hours after boarding and your luggage can show up anytime throughout the afternoon and evening … the items in your carry-on might be the only possessions you have on your first day onboard.”
Cruise Critic also advises considering the age-old problem of lost baggage: “Pack a change of clothes and important meds or toiletries in the carry-on bags you will take on the plane and personally transport onboard. This is important for two reasons: First, if your luggage gets lost by the airline on the way to your cruise, at least you’ll have some essentials with you. It can take a while for your luggage to be found and then shipped to the next port of call” Erica Silverstein writes. “Second, in case your suitcases are delayed in being delivered to your cabin, you’ll have a bathing suit or dinner attire on hand and can enjoy all the onboard activities right away, rather than waiting for your bags to show up.”
Once upon a time, almost all cruise ships were pretty dressy, including some events calling for full formal wear. Now only a few upmarket ships still require a bit of fussing, but most of the mass-market ships, like those in the Royal Caribbean and Princess stables, are about as casual as you like. In any event, as long as you’re not out on deck, you’ll be in a comfortably air-conditioned space virtually all the time.
The first job of your cruise packing list is to determine just where on the formal-casual scale you want or have to be in, or if you want to prepare for both ends of the scale. Luckily, business casual attire (pantsuits, maxi dresses, khaki pants, and button-up shirts tend to fair just fine these days). And for those cruise lines that do have more formal nights, there are typically still buffet options for meals if you want to avoid fancier dress.
Then, decide how you want to play your wardrobe. I pack the minimum I’ll need to comply with the lowest degree of dressiness required. On the other hand, other couples I know are fully engaged with dress: The wife doesn’t want to be seen in the same outfit at dinner on any two different days, and the husband even packs his tux for the “Captain’s Dinner” event. But that’s not how everyone travels. Ultimately, it’s your call what’s most comfortable for you to wear on vacation, and therefore to pack.
Do you need to pack for the full cruise, or can you have your clothes washed or dry cleaned during your sailing? Although most big ships provide some kind of service, the specific answer to that question varies wildly among different ships: Some charge for laundry the way hotels do, some set a fixed price for a laundry bag full, some sell laundry packages prior to sailing, and a few offer self-service washers and dryers.
But no matter how you do it, you’ll definitely pay more for doing laundry while cruising than you pay at home. In general, large ships offer more options than small ones, and 200-passenger river cruises may provide only limited services. Again, check what your cruise ship offers before you decide how much you need to pack. Beyond the basic daily wear, pack whatever special recreational wear and accessories you’ll need. Even if you never leave the ship, you will probably want swimwear, and possibly some other specialized clothing and equipment as well.
What to Pack for a Cruise: In Port
The situation here is obvious: You need to pack for the climate in your cruise destination—and, for most people, being active in each port. You’ll be walking around during shore excursions, and many call for specialized equipment. That means you need to pack comfortable walking shoes and clothing on your cruise, even if you won’t need them on the ship itself. Make sure you pack appropriately for any off-shore excursions.
As to how heavy/light to travel, the Caribbean is hot and steamy pretty much all the time, and the Mediterranean in summer can come close. But weather in other popular areas such as Alaska, New England, and inland European rivers is a bit more variable. Your best bet is to check the weather forecasts just before you pack for your cruise, and always be prepared for rain. For Europe and Bermuda, you should more resort-causal clothing (fair warning: Golf courses in Bermuda have strict dress codes). Some other cruise itineraries that are more casual than the norm include Hawaii, the Mexican Riviera, the Caribbean, and French Polynesia.
What to Pack for a Cruise: Everything Else
Travelers sometimes forget that they don’t need to pack a full closet full of personal-care products and accessories in their travel toiletry kit. You can buy toothpaste, batteries, and tissues in most places around the world—and also on the cruise ship, albeit at stiff prices. Ships vary in what toiletries they offer onboard.
The latest packing challenge is with gadgets. I, for one, would have withdrawal symptoms if I couldn’t get online every day, so I would select a cruise ship with the latest internet connectivity and pack my laptop. On the other hand, if you want to get away from it all, a cruise ship is the ideal place—and you don’t have to pack any devices, converters, and such. Don’t forget your camera, and a travel extension cord can also come in handy.
Alcohol policies vary by ship (so do your research with your cruise line directly), but you may find it useful to pack a champagne corker or bottle opener.
When packing for your pre- and post-cruise flights, figure out what goes in your carry-on and what gets checked. For ideas, see 11 Must-Haves for Your Carry-on Bag. If you’re big on collecting souvenirs and buying local handicrafts, leave room in your suitcase for what you bring home. You don’t want to get hit with paying for another checked bag or hauling both your regular carry-on and a shopping bag of loot on your flight home.
Editor’s note: This story was originally published in 2016 by SmarterTravel’s Ed Perkins. It has been updated to reflect the most current information.
Consumer advocate Ed Perkins has been writing about travel for more than three decades. The founding editor of the Consumer Reports Travel Letter, he continues to inform travelers and fight consumer abuses every day at SmarterTravel.
Few travelers think to contact the hotel concierge for much more than directions or restaurant recommendations—but if you don’t, you’re missing out on a wealth of local expertise. A good hotel concierge has impressive powers and can assist with almost any travel problem you might face, so you shouldn’t be afraid to take advantage.[st_content_ad]
That said, a concierge is not a magician. Below are 14 things your hotel concierge can do for you, six more they can’t, and four tips for maximizing your moments at the hotel lobby.
What a Hotel Concierge Can Do for You
Save You Money
The concierge can tell you how to get to the airport for less, where to find nearby happy hours, what the best free sights and activities are, and how much is a fair price for a taxi.
Recommend Fitness Facilities
If your hotel doesn’t have a gym or lacks the equipment you want, the concierge can usually point you to an affiliated hotel with better facilities, recommend a good running trail, or give you a list of nearby fitness centers that offer daily or weekly passes.
Get You a Ride When There Seems to Be None Available
If it is rush hour, raining, or really late, finding a taxi or Uber ride can be tough. The concierge can make this happen with a phone call in many cases. This can even work if you’re not staying at the hotel in question. I once saw a friend walk into the lobby of a New York hotel and offer the concierge a tip; within seconds, we had a ride.
Get Tickets for You
Many concierges are careful to say they can’t get tickets for sold-out shows, but the truth is they sometimes can. They may have relationships with brokers, or know season ticket holders who may not be using their seats, or even have tickets themselves; Michael Fazio, author of Concierge Confidential, started to purchase tickets to certain shows that he would then sell to guests, usually at a markup that matched the secondary market.
Keep You Safe
A concierge can offer advice on whether a neighborhood, park, or activity is safe to visit, and what you can do instead if your idea is iffy.
Are you proposing to your partner or celebrating a landmark birthday? Your hotel concierge can help with anything from filling your hotel room with flowers and balloons to organizing a rooftop proposal, complete with a photographer to document the occasion.
Help You Do Your Job
A concierge can assist with all kinds of work-related tasks, such as getting materials to a printer, setting up a courier service, mailing packages, and setting up a meeting space.
Help You Look Good
A concierge can get you an appointment with a barber or hairdresser, get clothes pressed, and more.
Fix Sticky Travel Problems
A concierge can help you find an expeditor or make an embassy appointment if your passport is stolen, or facilitate repairs if your smartphone goes on the fritz. They can also accept overnight mail or late-arriving luggage.
Get You a Table
Restaurants will often find a way to fit in customers who are recommended by their preferred concierge contacts. If the restaurant is truly full, the concierge can often get you to the front of a waiting list.
Recommend Local Service Folks
Need a babysitter, an auto repair shop, or a dog walker? Your concierge can help.
Create a Custom Itinerary
If you have a bunch of stuff you definitely want to do but are uncertain how to make it all fit together, the concierge can take your list of attractions and put together a coherent and achievable plan. He or she can also help you avoid pitfalls such as road construction or closed subway stations.
Help with Special Needs
If you are disabled, aren’t feeling well, or have other special needs, a hotel concierge can offer considerable assistance—like calling wheelchair-accessible taxis, finding English-speaking doctors, and recommending restaurants that can accommodate certain food allergies.
Provide Assistance Before You Arrive
The concierge can be a resource not just once you’re at the hotel but beforehand as well. For instance, he or she could help you plan out your first day, including a restaurant reservation for dinner.
Discretion is an integral part of a concierge’s job, so they tend not to talk about other guests, including which celebrities might be staying in the hotel.
Illegal or Immoral Activities
You shouldn’t expose a concierge to risk by asking him or her to help with illegal—or dubiously legal—activities such as obtaining drugs, forging signatures, finding “companions,” or the like.
A concierge can help you find someone else to look after your child, but he or she can’t actually do the babysitting while on duty.
Float You a Loan
They’ll help you with money concerns, but concierges are not banks; don’t ask them to dig into their pockets for you.
Sell Stuff for You
Concierges are also not your personal eBay or Craigslist; they can’t sell tickets you no longer need or items you don’t want to take home. However, he or she may be able to recommend a place where you can do the sale yourself.
Book Tickets to Sold-Out Shows
Truly sold-out shows tend to be just that; however, you can ask if the concierge has any ideas or contacts to help get you tickets, and he or she might have a strategy for you. If there is truly no way to get certain tickets, the concierge will tell you so.
You might feel as though the concierge is only there for the folks in the penthouse suite, but this isn’t the case; he or she is there to help all guests, so feel free to ask.
Give Them Some Time
Concierges can often pull off difficult tasks, but to do so on very short notice is tricky, and it distracts them from helping other guests. Give the concierge some notice if you need something beyond simple advice.
Present the Concierge’s Card
When a concierge sends you to a restaurant or other establishment, it is often his or her name, not yours, that is the attraction for the proprietor. So if a concierge asks you to show his or her card, do it; these relationships are what makes concierges able to help you now and in the future.
Not All Concierges Are the Same
Concierges at the very best (and most expensive) hotels are notorious for pulling off near-miracles; those at less prestigious establishments typically don’t have the same pull.
Valentine’s Day is not exactly the most normal holiday if you think about it. A baby named Cupid wearing a diaper and shooting arrows at people is supposed to put us in the mood for romance, all because of a long-forgotten tie-in to a martyred saint? If you think that’s odd, wait until you read about these weird romantic traditions from around the world.
St. Dwynwen’s Day, Wales
Your girlfriend trembles with excitement as she carefully unwraps a small box. “Oh. You got me a … spoon?” Good luck trying to import this Welsh tradition to the United States—even if the spoon is intricately carved. (Hint: Steer clear of kitchen utensils as romantic gifts for women.) If you’ve got a Welsh partner, however, you’re in luck, as love spoons—utensils carefully carved with symbols holding great meaning—are a traditional gift for St. Dwynwen’s Day, celebrated January 25.
Obligation Chocolates, Japan
Give candy to people to let them know that you don’t love them. It’s really quite kind, if you think about it—they’ll get the message and be able to eat their feelings. Japan has it figured out, with a blatantly commercial version of Valentine’s Day, proudly started by a (genius) chocolate company. Women must give the men in their lives (including bosses, coworkers, friends, family members, etc.) chocolates. The chocolates come in two categories: “obligation chocolates” (for the men the women aren’t particularly interested in) and “prospective-winner chocolates.”
White Day, Japan
Feeling sorry for the women who did all the chocolate-themed giving in Japan on Valentine’s Day? Don’t worry. They reap a return on investment exactly one month later, on White Day (March 14). On this holiday, men give reciprocal gifts worth two to three times the value of the Valentine’s Day chocolates they received. Brilliantly, this campaign was started by the National Confectionery Industry Association when it was looking to offload marshmallows and white chocolate. (Although non-edible gifts such as jewelry and lingerie are now popular White Day presents as well.)
Dia dos Namorados, Brazil
Valentine’s Day is ignored in Brazil because it usually happens during the epic party season of Carnival. Instead, love is celebrated on June 12, during the Dia dos Namorados. Instead of St. Valentine, St. Anthony (the patron saint of marriage) is honored. Single women undertake a variety of rituals designed to land them a match, such as writing down the names of prospective suitors on paper the night before Dia dos Namorados and then drawing one out of the pile at random on the holiday to decide which one to go for.
Une Loterie d’Amour, France
Honestly, we’re shocked that no one has revived this now-forbidden holiday as a reality show—it would make fantastic television. Officially banned by the French government for being too out of control, Une Loterie d’Amour used to be a “lottery for love.” Single men and women would enter houses that faced opposite each other and call the names of their chosen partners out of the windows until they paired off. If a man changed his mind about his match, he would abandon the house and leave the woman there to be matched with someone else. The poor women who got rejected or didn’t get a match at all would host a big bonfire at the end of the day, where they would toss in photos of scorned loves and curse men.
Diary Day, South Korea
“Here honey, I got you this diary as a present. It’s got our anniversary, my birthday, and all our special dates are conveniently written in it so you don’t forget again.” On January 14, a holiday known as Diary Day in South Korea, couples exchange planners in which they mark down their important dates for the year. Ah, passive-aggressive romance.
Jack Valentine, Norfolk, England
The British sense of humor is world-famous for being a little … dark. Not even Valentine’s Day is safe—at least, not in Norfolk, where Valentine’s Day is a much bigger deal than in the rest of the country. It’s traditionally celebrated by a mysterious figure (Old Father Valentine or Old Mother Valentine) who knocks at the door and scampers away, leaving behind gifts. Unfortunately, the holiday became an opportunity for pranksters. Cruel jokers would leave a giant wrapped present outside of the house of a single person … who would excitedly unwrap the gift only to find a mean note. Ouch.
Black Day, South Korea
We’ll end this list on a day for singles’ appreciation. On April 14, after watching happy couples exchange gifts on both Valentine’s Day and White Day, the unattached people of South Korea get together in solidarity. They dress in all black and eat jjajang myeon. This dish consists of noodles covered in black bean paste; it’s comfort food that often leaves teeth tinted a dark color.
Rome? Been there. Venice? Done that. Florence? Bought the statue-of-David postcard. While this triumvirate of tourist destinations is a must-do for any first-time visitor to Italy, many of the country’s greatest charms can only be experienced in small Italian villages—places where you can slip away from the crowds, wander down deserted cobblestone lanes, and get a first-hand look at how the locals live.
Secret Italian Villages
These Italian villages are scattered all over the country, from the mountains of the north to the sun-soaked islands in the south.
1. Tellaro, Liguria
The famed Italian villages of Cinque Terre have become so congested in recent years that local authorities have considered limiting visitor access. Luckily, there’s an equally charming—but much less crowded—alternative just a few miles down the Ligurian coast.
You won’t find any major sights in the fishing village of Tellaro, but its pastel-colored buildings, narrow cobblestone streets, and sweeping sea views offer their own simple pleasures.
Where to stay: I Tette Sul Mare occupies a refurbished villa set in olive orchards overlooking the sea.
2. Pitigliano, Tuscany
Nicknamed Little Jerusalem, the medieval hill town of Pitigliano was once home to a large Jewish community that settled there in the 16th century. While Pitigliano’s Jews were nearly all gone by the mid-20th century—due mostly to migration for economic reasons but also because of persecution by the Nazis—you can still tour the old Jewish ghetto, which includes a restored synagogue, traditional bread ovens, and a small museum.
Also worth seeing are Palazzo Orsini, a 14th-century fortress that houses a collection of historical artifacts; and Vie Cave, a walking path to a series of Etruscan caves.
Where to stay: The Hotel Relais Valle Orientina is set in the countryside near Pitigliano, and offers comfortable rooms, a wellness center and underground thermae, and plenty of nearby hiking.
Encompassing just 1.6 square miles, Procida is the smallest island in the Bay of Naples, and visitors often bypass it in their rush to see nearby Capri and Ischia. But if you prefer your villages in Italy sans crowds, consider hopping on the Procida ferry from Naples.
With its vibrantly colored buildings overlooking a picture-perfect harbor, the island is a photographer’s dream. Climb to the Terra Murata, the highest and oldest point on the island, where you’ll find crumbling ruins and magnificent views.
Where to stay: The 11-room Albergo La Vigna has a wine bar serving varietals from its own vineyards. One room even features art by a local Procida artist.
4. Chioggia, Veneto
What would Venice look like if it were still a traditional fishing port, without the massive cruise ships and teeming tourist crowds? It might look a little something like Chioggia. Accessible by ferry and bus from Venice, Chioggia is built around canals the way Venice is, but it offers a humbler and slower way of life.
Get there early to visit its traditional fish market, then wander through its water-lined streets and stop for lunch at one of its many excellent seafood restaurants.
Where to stay: Hotel Grande Italia has been hosting travelers in the heart of Chioggia for more than 100 years. Rooms are comfortable and modern, with air-conditioning and free Wi-Fi.
As you walk through Locorotondo, you’ll constantly be reaching for your phone to snap pictures of pink and red geraniums spilling out of window boxes against whitewashed walls.
One of several white hill towns in this part of Puglia, Locorotondo’s skyline is dominated by the Chiesa Madre San Giorgio, a cathedral whose dome and tower you can see as you approach the town from the valley below. Don’t forget to sample the area’s famous white wine.
Where to stay: You can stay in your own little trullo (a cone-roofed house typical of the region) at Leonardo Trulli Resort. Inside are exposed stone walls; outside is a lawn with loungers where you can relax.
6. Viterbo, Lazio
Located about two hours from Rome by train, Viterbo has a walled medieval core that’s perfect for strolling. The town was once the papal seat back in the 13th century, and you can still visit the impressive Palazzo dei Papi in the historic center.
But be sure to make time for one of Viterbo’s most relaxing attractions: its thermal baths, which have been enjoyed for centuries by locals and visitors alike.
Where to stay: Past guests of B&B Medieval House rave about the property’s central location and friendly host. The carefully restored historic building features exposed stone walls and wooden beams in the guest rooms.
7. Noto, Sicily
Noto’s elegant baroque churches and palaces were built in the aftermath of an earthquake that leveled the original town in 1693.
An ideal day in Noto includes plenty of time to spend strolling the streets, admiring the cream-colored architecture, and treating yourself to a sweet treat from one of the historic center’s many ice cream parlors. Got some extra time? Relax on the region’s golden sand beaches.
Where to stay: The stylish Gagliardi Boutique Hotel is located in a restored palazzo in Noto’s old town. On sunny days you can relax on the rooftop bar and terrace.
Located near Turin, this is one of the rare Italian towns that see relatively few tourists—but those who do visit get to enjoy Saluzzo’s handsome historic center and views over the nearby Alps.
Don’t miss the Casa Cavassa, with its colorful frescoes and antique furniture, or the tranquil botanical garden at Villa Bricherasio.
Where to stay: San Giovanni Hotel Resort offers 13 rooms in a restored monastery dating back to the 15th century. Don’t miss a stroll through the gardens in the former cloister.
9. Spello, Umbria
Escape the crowds in Assisi with a visit to one of the region’s less-traveled Italian villages. Spello is just a 15-minute drive from Assisi but feels a world away as you explore its well-preserved Roman walls and quiet churches.
Spello is also known for a unique cultural event called Le Infiorate, a late-spring festival in which murals made of flower petals are laid out throughout the town’s streets and piazzas.
Where to stay: Once a medieval fort, then a hunting lodge, Agriturismo Il Bastione is now an elegant place to stay just outside of Spello. The grounds have inviting places to unwind, including nature trails and a pool.
10. Bosa, Sardinia
This riverfront town in western Sardinia is distinguished by a jumble of hillside houses painted every color of the rainbow, with a 12th-century castle looming above.
Visitors can enjoy seafood or drinks on an outdoor terrace, snap photos of boats along the waterfront, and ramble down narrow alleys where laundry hangs out to dry overhead.
Where to stay: Located within walking distance of the center of Bosa, Palazzo Sa Pischedda offers Art Nouveau-style rooms, some with original fresco paintings.
Located in the mountainous region north of Venice, near the Austrian border, Chiusa (also known as Klausen) offers stunning views in all directions. Charming shops, winding cobblestone lanes, and friendly locals await visitors to this uncrowded medieval town.
Take time for the uphill climb to the Sabiona Monastery, one of the region’s most important historical sites.
Where to stay: You can enjoy mountain views, hiking trails, tennis courts, a sauna, and three swimming pools at Hotel Gnollhof.
There’s no better place to rediscover the simple pleasures of vacation than in a laid-back village in Italy. Move at the pace of the locals, indulge in local foods, and explore the surrounding areas, and you just may find a new home-away-from-home.
Monteverdi Tuscany isn’t just a hotel, it’s the revitalized heart of a village. And in many ways, it is the village. Created over two decades, Monteverdi Tuscany has arisen out of the proverbial ashes of a once-thriving but long-abandoned Tuscan hilltop town. Walking along the charming and well-preserved main street, you see a wine bar, a cafe, a restaurant. All are part of the hotel. Rooms and villas are scattered around the village, tucked into beautifully restored houses. The village piazza, which offers inspiring views out over the famed Val D’Orcia, is maintained by the hotel, and the former church has found new life as a concert space. Nearly all the people in the sleepy village are either guests or work for the hotel. The entire Monteverdi experience is charming and otherworldly; it feels outside of time, and simultaneously not quite real and utterly authentic.
Monteverdi Tuscany occupies a prime location in Tuscany’s Val D’Orcia. It’s just a few minutes’ drive from the famed garden of La Foce, and is driving distance to many of Tuscany’s most beautiful cities. From Monteverdi Tuscany, it’s 10 miles to Montepulciano, 56 miles to Siena, and 74 miles to Florence.
There are two ways to reach the town of Catiglioncello del Trinoro: the main route and the back way. If you want to avoid rutted dirt roads and a wild ride up the side of the steep hill, follow the very clear and helpful direction provided by Monteverdi Tuscany. This is one of those times when it’s better to not use Google Maps—if you do, you risk being sent on overgrown dirt roads.
Monteverdi Tuscany’s rooms and villas are spread out in the town, offering a taste of village life with every stroll. Five luxury rooms and 13 suites (seven Village Suites and six Luxury View Suites) share amenities such as hand-dyed linens, rainfall showers, air conditioning, complimentary Wi-Fi, and flat-screen TVs. But each space is unique in a way that speaks both to the individual houses and buildings that have been lovingly converted into the Monteverdi Tuscany and to the design aesthetic that informs every inch of layout, every bit of the rooms’ individual color palettes, and each carefully selected piece of furniture.
In addition to the 18 rooms and suites, Monteverdi Tuscany offers three villas around the village. Villa San Pietro is a two-bedroom villa with a modern kitchen. Villa Amiata is a three-bedroom villa with a private garden. And Villa Muri Antichi is a six-bedroom villa with a library, large fireplaces, and outdoor terraces.
Monteverdi Tuscany totally reinvents hotel dining. There’s no dismal hotel dining room here; rather, the hotel’s dining options are the village’s restaurant, bars, and cafes. Oreade, the fine dining restaurant, offers breakfast and dinner. Enoteca is the wine bar in the piazza. The Library Bar, just across the street from Oreade, offers a cozy space with great views and plenty of books. And occupying a gorgeous vaulted room and grand terrace that looks out over the valley is the Lobby Lounge and Terrace Bar. For serious cooks (and the people who love them), there’s also the Culinary Academy at Monteverdi, a teaching kitchen and dining area in the village’s former school.
The Spa at Monteverdi feels like a sanctuary and offers a range of unique experiences that sets it apart. The underground heated pool is carved out of the bedrock of the village, but still manages to offer an inspiring view out the large window that sits at one end of the pool. Hammam treatments take place on marble slabs in a heated room. Other treatments include wine therapy, Tuscan olive oil massage, and candlewax massage. There’s also a private terrace with two travertine tubs with views of the Val d’Orcia valley.
Monteverdi Tuscany hosts musicians and visual artists in residence as part of its Monteverdi Music and Arts Program. Concerts are held in the 14th-century church in the piazza, and exhibitions are on display at the Monteverdi Gallery, just off the piazza.
The Culinary Academy hosts cooking classes during which guests can learn classic Tuscan dishes like pici pasta, and then savor their new knowledge over lunch. There’s also a twice-weekly Chef’s Table, during which guests watch Chef Giancarla as she prepares a multi-course menu and pairs each dish with regional wines for the small group.
You’re scraping ice off your car’s windshield on yet another frigid winter morning or gritting your teeth through a stressful day at work, and you think: “I wish I were somewhere else.” How does Hawaii sound? Transport yourself to paradise with this list of dreamy Hawaii hotels where you can stroll along the beach, relax in a spa, and wake up to tropical birdsong.
Prince Waikiki, Oahu
Every room and suite at the popular Prince Waikiki has an ocean view, plus windows that open to let in the tropical breezes. You can walk to the beach, the shops of Ala Moana Center, and a variety of restaurants—or take the complimentary hotel shuttle to Waikiki Beach. Catch a sunset from the infinity pool or treat yourself to a massage at the Naio Bliss spa.
Perfect for honeymooners or anyone else seeking an adults-only getaway, Hotel Wailea offers 72 exclusive one-bedroom suites. Here you can focus on wellness with spa treatments or complimentary yoga classes, or head outdoors for kiteboarding, kayaking, snorkeling, or stand-up paddleboarding. The hotel can arrange several unique experiences, including a scenic drive in a 1957 Porsche and a tropical mixology class. The beach is a complimentary shuttle ride away.
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Kalaekilohana, Big Island
The owners of boutique inn Kalaekilohana have thought of every detail, from fresh flowers in the rooms to locally sourced fruit and coffee at breakfast. Past guests rave about the chance to learn about Hawaiian culture, with classes available on traditional weaving and feather arts. All rooms have private balconies and walk-in rain showers overlooking the surrounding treetops. Although the inn doesn’t have an oceanfront location, there are multiple beaches within hiking or driving distance, including Papakolea with its unique green sand.
Ko’a Kea is a boutique resort on Kauai’s sunny southern shore. Its 121 rooms feature private balconies or patios and are located just a short walk from the beach. Relax at the pool overlooking the ocean, take a dip in the lava rock hot tub, savor a treatment at the spa, try your luck at surfing or paddling an outrigger canoe, or have dinner at the on-site Red Salt restaurant.
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Lotus Honolulu at Diamond Head, Oahu
Lotus Honolulu at Diamond Head is close enough to downtown Waikiki that you can walk but far enough away that you won’t be swamped by noise and crowds. Guests can borrow bicycles to cruise around the area, then come back and enjoy complimentary wine each evening. Private balconies in each room look out over the ocean, Kapiolani Park, and/or Honolulu’s most famous landmark, Diamond Head.
Spread out in the condo-style accommodations at Montage Kapalua Bay, where you can choose among residences with one to four bedrooms—each with a full kitchen, separate living area, and private outdoor space. The spa includes a steam room, sauna, and infinity pool, as well as a fitness center offering a variety of classes. You can also play a round at one of two championship golf courses nearby.
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Volcano Rainforest Retreat, Big Island
The four guest cottages at Volcano Rainforest Retreat are shaded by giant tree ferns in a lush, misty rainforest, just three miles from Volcanoes National Park. Start your day with a private breakfast in your cottage before heading out for a day of hiking, cycling, scenic driving, or bird watching. When you return, relax in your private hot tub or enjoy a good book in front of the fireplace in your cottage.
On the quiet, sparsely developed island of Lanai, you’ll find the exclusive Four Seasons Resort, one of the best luxury hotels in Hawaii. Spacious rooms include private balconies overlooking either the ocean or the resort’s lush botanical gardens. On-site amenities include multiple pools, a Jack Nicklaus-designed golf course, a spa, a yoga studio, tennis courts, and a children’s program. Dining options include the sushi bar at Nobu Lanai and a poolside restaurant serving up organic items from the resort’s farm.
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The Laylow, Oahu
The Laylow offers a classic Hawaiian experience in the heart of Waikiki, with funky 1960s decor accompanied by modern amenities such as free high-speed Wi-Fi and mini-fridges in every room. Fun perks include free shaved ice in the afternoons and ukulele lessons in the lobby. The beach is a short walk away, as are countless restaurants and shops.
Located on one of the Big Island’s most stunning stretches of sand, Mauna Kea Beach Hotel is a resort where you can do as much—or as little—as you’d like. Play a round at the championship golf course, swim in the outdoor pool, enjoy a game of tennis or volleyball, learn to make a lei, go stand-up paddleboarding, have a spa treatment … or simply lie on the beach and watch the waves roll in.
If big resorts aren’t your thing, consider a stay at the Old Wailuku Inn at Ulupono. Housed in a restored 1920s building, the B&B has 10 individually decorated rooms that capture the spirit of old Hawaii. Its location in the center of Maui makes it easy to drive to various island attractions, including Haleakala National Park and Kula Botanical Gardens.
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Waipouli Beach Resort, Kauai
The one- and two-bedroom condo units at Waipouli Beach Resort feature plenty of space to spread out, and the ocean-facing ones also offer the chance to wake up to gorgeous sunrises every morning. The resort’s location in Kapaa puts you within easy driving distance of most Kauai attractions, including plenty of hiking trails and beaches. The poolside Oasis on the Beach restaurant serves up breakfast, lunch, and dinner with a side of ocean views.
What to Pack
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With the holiday season upon us, many travelers will be heading home to celebrate with family. But, some Christmas destinations are magnificent enough to make us wonder if there really is no place like home for the holidays.
Whether you’re looking for a tropical spot or a winter wonderland, there are endless possibilities for holiday travel. However, these three destinations are a step above the rest. Here’s why you should have Puerto Rico, London, and Munich at the top of your Christmas getaway list.
This one seems like a no-brainer—London is a world-famous Christmas destination, and for good reason. From ice-skating and festive lights to Christmas markets, musicals, and caroling, Britain’s capital has something for every holiday-season traveler.
There are dozens of Christmas markets in London alone (see also Manchester, Birmingham, and Liverpool) that boast shopping, food, crafts, and games. Hyde Park’s massive Winter Wonderland features acrobats, carnival rides, and a full ice rink. These markets typically have free admission and are open until a few days before Christmas.
But, the celebrations don’t end there.
December 26 is Boxing Day in the UK, which extends the festivities. This national holiday is another historic day of giving, on which English servants used to get gift boxes from their employers. Nowadays most people don’t have to work (or, in this year’s case, get the following Monday off), and will spend the day with family, outdoors, at sporting events, and take advantage of holiday savings at the start of an annual sales season.
If the holiday season flies by too fast for you every year, try heading somewhere warmer. The American Caribbean territory of Puerto Rico boasts the longest Christmas season in the world, and for good reason. While London’s celebrations are supplemented by Boxing Day and go until New Years, Puerto Ricans stay full of holiday cheer until the Festival of Saint Sebastian in mid-January. There’s also Three Kings Day—a staple in most Hispanic countries—which is celebrated January 6, and New Years, which is just as fun as Christmas. All of these days come with a long list of traditions.
Christmas is the island’s busiest time of year. Tourists and locals alike eat seasonal treats like arroz con dulce (rice pudding) and coquito (coconut-based eggnog with rum), while carolers mill about and an endless array of festivals take over San Juan.
Each December 31st, Puerto Ricans ring in the New Year with parties around the island. Revelers take part in the popular yet odd tradition of eating a grape for each chime of the clock in the seconds before midnight. Three Kings Day means parades a plenty, and the following week you can dance and shop your heart out at the Festival of San Sebastian. Local artisans will set up shop and Puerto Ricans will parade around Old San Juan in honor of the patron saint of soldiers and athletes.
Germany has some of the oldest and most heralded Christmas markets in the world and is about to see an influx of tourism in 2016 thanks to the German Beer Purity Law’s 500-year anniversary. Each Christmas, the massive Christkindlmarkt in grandiose Marienplatz Square emerges to mark the beginning of holiday celebrations in the heart of Bavaria.
Winter festivals, toy villages, and craft markets take over early, with most opening in mid or late November. Germans don’t have a Thanksgiving to delay their affinity for strings of lights and decorated trees. Even Munich’s five-star airport is home to a seasonal Christmas Market, which stays open until December 27, so visitors returning home can be immersed in the festivities until they’re boarding their departing flight.
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You Tell Us: Which winter wonderland suits you best? Comment below.
The Best All-Inclusive Resorts in the United States
From tropical resorts with all-inclusive rates to rustic ranches, Victorian hotels, and mountain lodges, the all-inclusive resorts in the United States are as diverse as the landscape of the country itself. Below is a list of 12 U.S. resorts that either are fully inclusive or offer special packages and promotions that include many of the features associated with all-inclusive resorts.
Bungalows Key Largo in Key Largo, Florida
This adults-only all-inclusive resort in the Florida Keys is the ultimate romantic getaway. Each spacious bungalow includes a private verandah with a soaking tub, as well as a flat-screen smart TV and a comfy bed with a pillowtop mattress. Dine at one of six on-site restaurants, take a yoga class on the beach, or float out on the bay in a private tiki boat.
Amenities: Bicycles for guest use, daily group yoga classes, multiple pools and Jacuzzis, and on-site spa (cost for treatments is additional).
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Grand Hotel on Mackinac Island, Michigan
Perched atop a bluff on historic Mackinac Island, where there are no cars permitted and the main form of transportation is horse-drawn carriage, the Grand Hotel is a true American gem. Steeped in history and home to the world’s longest porch, it’s truly an idyllic all-inclusive resort getaway.
Amenities: Individually decorated rooms, an outdoor swimming pool, nightly dancing, lawn games, and daily afternoon tea.
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Vista Verde Guest Ranch in Clark, Colorado
At the Vista Verde Guest Ranch, guests can immerse themselves in a rustic life without giving up wonderful and indulgent luxuries. Providing people with an opportunity to unplug, this authentic ranch does not have phones, TVs, or internet in the guest rooms.
Amenities: Swimming pool, common lounge area with panoramic views, fitness center, indoor riding arena, and kids’ area with ropes course.
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Woodloch Pines Resort in Hawley, Pennsylvania
This family-owned resort provides visitors with a warm and welcoming greeting as well as ample opportunities to have good, old-fashioned fun together. This resort is famous for its extensive activities program, which has a little something for everyone. Woodloch Pine Resort also boasts a championship golf course and a world-class spa.
Amenities: Indoor and outdoor swimming pools, rock climbing wall, kayaking, snowshoeing, and nightly entertainment.
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Lodge on Little St. Simons Island on Little St. Simons Island, Georgia
Those seeking peace, privacy, and natural beauty will feel right at home at the all-inclusive Lodge on Little Saint Simons Island resort. It offers more than 11,000 acres of space and more than seven miles of private beaches, yet only 32 people can stay at any given time. Personalized service in a charming setting makes this the perfect place for those looking to enjoy a slower pace.
Amenities: Meals prepared by on-site chef, boat transfers to and from the island, and naturalist-led excursions offered twice each day.
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Club Med Sandpiper Bay in Port St. Lucie, Florida
Best described as one of the premier all-inclusive resorts in the United States for families who love to stay active, this resort has a little bit of everything. Similar to many of the Caribbean all-inclusive resorts, Club Med Sandpiper Bay lets guests enjoy days by the pool, water activities and plenty of food as well as drinks.
Amenities: Sports facilities with professional instructors, kids clubs, and outdoor pools.
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White Stallion Ranch in Tucson, Arizona
For a vacation that offers an authentic taste of western American culture, the White Stallion Ranch is the best place to stay. Offering all-inclusive packages for its guests, this hotel is often described as a blend between a dude ranch and a luxury resort.
Amenities: Heated pool and hot tub, recreation room, movie theater, petting zoo, nightly entertainment, and a schedule of children’s activities.
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Skytop Lodge in Skytop, Pennsylvania
Nestled in the heart of the Poconos Mountains, the Skytop Lodge transports guests to an era gone by. Built in 1928, this historic lodge offers guests an atmospheric, luxury destination where they have access to the rugged outdoor terrain. On this 5,500-acre property, there’s no shortage of things to do.
Amenities: Spa facilities, outdoor adventure activities, and culinary dining experiences.
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Travaasa Hana in Maui, Hawaii
Voted Best Boutique Hotel and Number 1 Experiential Retreat in Maui by Hawai’i Magazine readers and a winner of the Certificate in Excellence Award in 2018 from TripAdvisor, SmarterTravel’s parent site, the Travaasa Hana resort offers travelers all-inclusive and a la carte booking options. Opt for a package and select from what Travaasa Hana is hailed for: authentic Hawaiian experiences in adventure, food, fitness, culture, or spa and wellness. Each all-inclusive package immerses the guest in their preferred experiential option during their stay, from seaside horseback riding to bamboo spear fishing to spa pampering.
Amenities: Seaside luxury accommodations on Maui’s famed Road to Hana, signature experiential all-inclusive packages, and authentic Hawaiian culture.
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Blackberry Farm in Walland, Tennessee
This pastoral family-owned farm estate invites guests from around the world to enjoy its intimate, luxurious accommodations set against a magnificent backdrop in the Great Smoky Mountains. While not a true all-inclusive (alcohol, in-room dining, retail purchases, and some activities are not included in the nightly rate), we couldn’t leave the 4,200-square-foot Blackberry Farm resort off the list. Consider it nearly all-inclusive.
Striking a balance between dramatic mountain views and restorative desert air, the Miraval Arizona Resort & Spa is the premier destination for a wellness vacation. Offering all-inclusive rates as well as a variety of rejuvenating spa services, this resort is ideal for adults who need to take some time for themselves.
Amenities: Award-winning spa with expert services, such as body renewal rituals, hair care, skin care, and energy healing options.
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Kachemak Bay Wilderness Lodge, Alaska
The Alaskan setting is rustic but the luxury accommodations, gourmet dining, and personalized adventure packages are anything but at the all-inclusive Kachemak Bay Wilderness Lodge.
Amenities: Gourmet dining, luxe accommodations in a pristine setting, and individualized attention with 10 guides and naturalists to every 12 guests.
Looking for a honeymoon or treat-yourself getaway at a luxurious hotel, but for a nightly rate that won’t max out your credit card? It’s possible if you’re adventurous enough to head somewhere with an advantageous exchange rate, or even just if you opt to stay in a slightly offbeat locale home to some luxe hotels.
Affordable Luxury Hotels Across the Globe
Beachfront infinity pools and palace-like digs don’t need to cost a fortune. Here’s where to go for a surprisingly affordable hotel experience that you’re unlikely to ever forget.
Dhara Dhevi Chiang Mai, Thailand
Ready to stay in an ornate Thai palace? Or so it feels—Dhara Dhevi Chiang Mai‘s colonial-style suites make this luxe hotel look like a temple complex with its sprawling pools and patio gardens.
The price of an average four-star New York hotel ($300 per night) will get you a jaw-dropping affordable luxury hotel in Chiang Mai thanks to Thailand’s favorable exchange rate for Americans. The Dhara Dhevi is a standout luxury resort known for its 60 acres of lush tropical scenery, a stark contrast from busy Bangkok and tourist-overrun Phuket.
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Grand Palladium Lady Hamilton Resort, Jamaica
It’s no secret Jamaica offers up affordable beachfront resorts, but you might be surprised by just how much value there is to gain by upgrading to a luxe hotel. The Grand Palladium Lady Hamilton Resort & Spa is a timeless yet massive option with open-air atriums, infinity pools, beachfront activities, a spa, and a slew of stylish dining options including seven restaurants and 16 bars. This five-star hotel takes up its own massive beachfront section of Lucea on the north coast, and rooms start around $260 per night. Plus, you won’t have to convert your U.S. dollars.
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Sofitel Budapest Chain Bridge and Kempinksi Hotel Corvinus Budapest, Hungary
The value of Eastern Europe’s Austro-Hungarian getaways includes some surprisingly luxe hotels, like usually pricey rooms with a view for under $200 per night at Kempinksi and Sofitel options in Budapest—both of which are five-star hotels. Sofitel’s Budapest Chain Bridge Hotel has sweeping views of the Danube and its historic bridge, while Kempinski Hotel Corvinus Budapest overlooks the Budapest Eye and and is home to Europe’s first Nobu restaurant, the world-famous sushi fusion eatery from Japanese celebrity chef Nobu Matsuhisa.
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NU Hotel Brooklyn, New York City
You can hardly say Brooklyn is off the beaten path anymore, but it’s one of the few remaining spots in New York City where you can get a deal while staying close to Manhattan. NU Hotel Brooklyn is a favorite boutique option for its in-room murals and hammocks, art studio connections, bike rentals, and spacious bar, all in the heart of downtown Brooklyn.
Rates around $200 for all that are hard to find elsewhere in this city—making it perfect for a weekend of splurging on restaurants and admission to all the best landmarks, like VIP access to Top of the Rock or the main deck of the Empire State Building.
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Pera Palace Hotel Istanbul, Turkey
Turkey is another bucket-list spot worth crossing off while the exchange rate for Americans makes luxe hotels a steal. Opt for a historic hotel fit for a king at the five-star Pera Palace Hotel in Istanbul, where colonial Ottoman decor and views of the Sultan Ahmed Mosque can cost you well under $200 per night. Famous figures that have stayed in this historic yet affordable luxury hotel include Greta Garbo, Agatha Christie, Ernest Hemingway, and Turkey’s first president, Mustafa Ataturk.
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The Conrad Algarve, Portugal
Lagos, Portugal is home to some of Europe’s best white-sand beaches, endless sunset views, but staying slightly inland from the beach can get you some luxe hotels that won’t cost an arm and a leg. The Conrad Algarve comes in at $300 per night and has one of the sleekest spas in Europe, including an infinity pool, steam room, and rooms with large balconies. The golf course and kids club make it ideal for families to be comfortable away from the coastal Lagos party scene. The Conrad Algarve is just a ten-minute drive from stunning cliff-lined beaches like Vale do Lobo and Praia do Ancao.
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Pullman Hotel Berlin Schweizerhof, Germany
Trendy Berlin is a surprisingly inexpensive European city in every way, but especially when it comes to its affordable luxury hotels. It’s easy to find a luxe five-star hotel in Berlin for under $200 per night, like the Pullman Hotel Berlin Schweizerhof. This hotel stays true to the city’s stark modern vibe, overlooks bustling Budapest Strasse and the historic Berlin Zoo, and has its own pool, sauna, and steam room to escape the busy city when you need it.
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Gran Hotel Ciudad de Mexico, Mexico
Mexico City’s history and colonial culture come alive at the stately Gran Hotel Ciudad de Mexico near central Zocalo Square, steps from the National Palace’s Diego Rivera art and some remaining Aztec ruins of Tenochtitlan. Marble floors, a terrace restaurant, and stained-glass Tiffany windows will throw you back in time. Grand doesn’t describe the nightly rates, however, which are often under $150—so you don’t have to think twice about staying in the beating heart of Mexico City.
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What to Wear Traveling this Season
For info on these editor-selected items, click to visit the seller’s site. Things you buy may earn us a commission.