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9 Whimsical Spring Flower Blooms We're Dreaming About

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

Spring flower blooms

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

spring flower blooms

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.

The California Parks Department offers a poppy live-stream here.

Keukenhof, Netherlands

spring flower blooms

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)

spring flower blooms

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

spring flower blooms

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

spring flower blooms

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.

spring flower blooms

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

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 monument with cherry blossoms tidal basin.

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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Editor’s note: This story was originally published in 2017. It has been updated to reflect the most current information.

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Healthcare Abroad: How to Find an English-Speaking Doctor or Clinic

Sweaty, squinting, and red-eyed, I exited the cool waiting room’s automatic sliding glass doors. I got in the DiDi rideshare car outside the international clinic, preemptively thanked the driver, and opened my heavy paper bag of new medications: antibiotic eye drops to use every five hours, saline solution to use every six, antibiotic tablets and painkillers to take every 12, and cough medicine for whenever I felt like I couldn’t breathe. A receipt listed the out-of-pocket prices of my bloodwork appointment plus the medicines: $3,000—which I luckily didn’t have to pay thanks to the travel insurance that covered my unexpected need for healthcare abroad.

Pulling away from the small storefront of the Nanjing international clinic, we idled in traffic about a block away. I stared up at a behemoth building, a black glass skyscraper marked by red neon Chinese symbols that flashed and changed on its glass every several seconds. The parking lot was jam-packed with both cars and people.

“What’s this building?” I asked my local guide, who was accompanying me in the back seat. “A movie theater?”

She looked at me and smiled slightly: “That’s the hospital.” I felt my swollen eyes widen, and redirected them to my bag of medicinal loot.

I don’t recommend getting sick in China (as I did in mid-2019). But if you’re going to come down with bronchitis and a bacterial infection on vacation, somewhere with ample tea and warm hospitality is not a bad place for you to be. I unequivocally do recommend, however, having travel medical insurance—preferably from a company with a user-friendly app you can pre-download on your phone. It’ll afford you the luxury of entering and exiting a clinic to see an English-speaking doctor abroad in a fraction of the time that a 3,000-bed hospital would ever be able to see you.

How to Find the Right Healthcare Abroad

Because I have a medication allergy, I felt it was crucial I saw an English-speaking doctor so I could be confident in the prescription I received. While navigating the many international clinics in the college city of Nanjing, I learned a lot about how to responsibly find covered healthcare abroad. Here’s how to purchase and navigate medical travel insurance, find a good doctor or clinic, and ensure you won’t be stuck with the bill.

[st_related]17 Things Your Travel Insurance Policy Won’t Cover[/st_related]

Plan Ahead

Researching your insurance options and purchasing medical travel insurance coverage for your specific needs is the first step to being able to find healthcare abroad, and there are a number of things to consider. If you’re going to be participating in adventure activities like kayaking, scuba diving, or hiking, make sure you purchase a policy that doesn’t exclude “dangerous activities.” Travel insurance policies with good medical coverage will also include worst-case scenario expenses up to and including emergency medical flights home and repatriation of a body, which would otherwise cost tens or even hundreds of thousands of dollars out of pocket.

You’ll also want to know the general state of medical services in your destination so you can make an informed decision in an emergency. For example, I knew public hospitals in China often have hours-long wait times, so instead I pounced on an available appointment at a private international clinic that my insurance covered.

If you aren’t familiar with the country you’re visiting, the U.S. State Department’s Consular Information Sheets are a good place to start to see what type of medical services will be available to you once you’re there. Select your country and look for the “Health” section. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) also has destination-specific health information, and the International Association for Medical Assistance to Travelers (IAMAT) provides free destination-specific health information as well.

Know Your Medications

Knowing the generic/medical names of common medications can be helpful when you’re talking to a doctor about your prescriptions or hunting for over-the-counter remedies in a foreign country. Many doctors abroad speak English, but they might not know what the brand-name medication you take contains since it’s not available to their patients. Keep in mind the following generic medication names in case you need to purchase them from a pharmacy:

  • Advil/Motrin= ibuprofen
  • Aleve= naproxen
  • Tylenol/Excedrin= acetaminophen
  • Bayer, others= aspirin
  • Benadryl= diphenhydramine
  • Dramamine= dimenhydrinate
  • Bonine= meclizine
  • Pepto-Bismol= bismuth subsalicylate
  • Robitussin= dextromethorphan
  • Antacids= calcium carbonate, aluminum hydroxide, or magnesium hydroxide
  • Imodium= loperamide

Choose a High-Tech (and 24-Hour) Medical Insurance Provider

Keep your standards high when it comes to purchasing travel medical insurance—you are paying for it, after all. Straightforward insurance that gets you healthcare abroad doesn’t need to be pricey to come with a high-tech app and 24/7 support: It’s easy to weigh options and seek out one that has both thanks to search-and-compare options like SquareMouth and InsureMyTrip.com. (Also note that, like most private insurance companies in the U.S., Medicare and Medicaid don’t cover healthcare abroad.)

The specific insurance provider you choose will probably depend on your preferences and possibly your home location, but there should be options available that have high-tech features like an app no matter where you are. My coverage for healthcare abroad was with GeoBlue, which offers an app with covered doctor listings by country and fast 24/7 phone support. If you have a credit card that offers travel insurance, read the fine print to make sure it offers the medical support you could need; if it doesn’t, buy your own separately.

[st_related]How to Buy International Medical Insurance, the Other Travel Insurance[/st_related]

Locating the Right Doctor Abroad

The CDC lists some resources that can help you locate a doctor abroad, and states that the nearest embassy or consulate in your destination should also have doctor recommendations. But the only way to see a list of providers in your destination that are covered by your insurance is typically via the medical insurance company’s app or customer service line—which should offer 24/7 contact, in case you’re visiting somewhere with a tricky time difference. International travel clinics are usually named as such, and when in doubt you can call the office to confirm; those with bilingual doctors typically have an automated recording that will prompt you to select a language.

Payment Approval and Proof of Insurance

Approval of funds from your insurance company can be referred to as “direct payment approval” or “direct deposit approval,” and you might need this authorization sent before you even set foot in a doctor’s office. It guarantees that the insurance company will pay the provider directly so you don’t have to. Whether or not you’ll need one varies depending on the destination and type of doctor/clinic you’re visiting, but it was necessary for me in China—so I was happy to have an insurance provider that was readily available to confirm coverage to the clinic I was visiting, especially because it was 2:00 a.m. at home at the time of my appointment.

You’ll probably also need proof of insurance. Keep your insurance card, or at least a digital copy of it, handy in case you need to provide a policy number or contact info to the office you’re visiting. Many clinics require both proof of insurance and an accompanying payment approval before letting you see a doctor. And if direct payment isn’t required or doesn’t occur via your insurance provider for the healthcare you received abroad, you’ll likely need to file a claim with your insurance company as soon as you can—don’t wait too long to file one and risk finding out you’ll be billed.

Know It’s Worth It

Travel insurance can feel like a waste of money if you don’t end up using it, but that doesn’t mean you won’t need it in the future. The slight chance that you might need emergency or even routine healthcare abroad makes travel medical insurance a necessity for every international trip. No one can anticipate if and when they’ll have a medical emergency, and not having coverage when you need it can be the difference between going on vacation and letting a doctor’s visit put you into debt.

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Editor Shannon McMahon writes about all things travel. Follow her on Twitter and Instagram.

Editor’s note: This story was originally published in July 2019. It has been updated to reflect the most current information.

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Traveling with Medications: What You Need to Know

If you’re heading out on a long trip—or moving abroad—and you rely on prescriptions, it’s vital to your health to know the rules about traveling with medication. “Millions of Americans are dependent on medicines and with the globalization of travel, access to prescription medicine is even more crucial,” explains Dr. Robert Quigley, senior vice president and regional medical director at International SOS.

From how to get more than a 30-day supply of pills to what you’ll need from your stateside doctor to get a prescription abroad, here’s advice from international healthcare experts about traveling with medication.

Bring a Note from Your Doctor

doctor rx note

Dr. Christopher C. Hollingsworth, MD, a general and endovascular surgeon who has practiced in Europe and the United States, says it’s unlikely you’ll get stopped at customs or border control because you’re carrying more than a month’s supply of medicine. However, having an official prescription on hand is never a bad idea.

“In general, countries honor the rights of travelers to transport their prescribed medications with them,” Dr. Hollingsworth explains. As long as you have supporting documentation about your medical condition (ID cards or a letter from a physician), you are unlikely to have a problem.

Dr. Brendan Anzalone, a doctor of osteopathic medicine and the president and chief medical officer at AeroMD Air Ambulance, suggests going digital with these forms, as they can get lost or creased throughout your travels. This will ensure you won’t have to go digging if you’re questioned.

Keep Medicines in Their Original Bottles

Again, while it’s unlikely you will face any sort of issue when you’re flying with medication, Dr. Anzalone still recommends keeping your pills in the original bottle—complete with the sticker on the front with your name and doctor’s name—as an extra safety precaution. “Carrying your medication in [its] original prescription bottle with a label on it from the pharmacy is helpful if there are any questions in the security line,” he explains.

If you don’t have room in your luggage for the full-size bottles and must downsize, you can pack a small day-of-the-week pill organizer rather than several bulky bottles. Ensure you have documentation from your physician to avoid any potential issues. Paul Tanenbaum, R.Ph., a retired pharmacist, offers this tip if your original prescription bottle is too large: “Make friends with your pharmacist and see if he or she could make you a smaller travel-size bottle for you to fill up.”

Learn the Laws Around Traveling Internationally with Medications

The recommendations for domestic trips also apply to traveling with medication overseas. The U.S. Department of State recommends storing medications in their original labeled containers and bringing a copy of a doctor’s letter to show customs officers and other officials if necessary. The prescription should note the brand and generic name of the drug.

If you’re taking an unusual drug or one that contains narcotics such as sedatives, carry a note from your doctor explaining what the medication is and why you need it.

Note that some over-the-counter drugs legal in the U.S. may be illegal elsewhere. For example, painkillers containing codeine are prohibited in the United Arab Emirates. Always double-check before you fly.

Exercise Caution with Herbal Medicines

herbal supplement vitamins

Flying with herbal medicines or supplements to international destinations can be tricky since each country has its own laws about what’s allowed in. To find out what may be restricted in the countries you’ll be visiting or transiting through, refer to the embassy website or contact local consulates.

Make sure herbal remedies and Ayurvedic medicines are in clearly labeled, well-sealed containers, preferably in original bottles. Although the TSA doesn’t require it, it may be helpful to bring a doctor’s note explaining your remedies’ intended use. Keep up to date with any changes in TSA rules by downloading its free MyTSA app (iOS | Android).

Always Pack Medicine in Your Carry-On

Now that you have the prescriptions you need and the note from your doc to prove your case, it’s time to pack. Depending on how much medicine you need each day, you may be tempted to shove your pill pack into your checked bag, but Dr. Anzalone warns against it: “It is best to keep medications in your carry-on baggage. If your checked baggage gets lost, you will still have your prescription medications with you. Remember some aircraft cargo holds are not temperature controlled, which may affect temperature-sensitive medications.”

If you’re worried about bringing medication that must be refrigerated (like insulin, for example) on a plane, Dr. Hollingsworth offers the TSA regulations on cool packs that are allowed through the gates. “Domestically, gel-cooling packs are allowed if frozen at time of presentation to security,” he notes.

Liquid medications (prescription or over-the-counter, like saline solution or eye drops) aren’t subject to the TSA’s three-ounce limits. However, you are required to declare anything over that amount to security officers and present it for inspection.

You may also travel with accompanying items, such as IV bags, pumps, and syringes, as long as they’re declared before you begin the screening process. All of these items will be X-rayed unless you request a manual inspection.

Bring Extra Medication

Dr. Hollingsworth’s rule of thumb is to bring twice the amount of medicine you need and to separate the bottles between your carry-on and your personal item. Why? Two words: flight troubles. “Changes or delays can have a butterfly effect that can have repercussions for the rest of your trip. Plan for the unexpected and pack extra medication you might need for an unplanned longer stay,” he says.

Exercise Caution When Flying with Narcotics

oxycontin pills bottle

If you’re traveling with any type of prescribed narcotic used to relieve pain, such as Vicodin, Oxycontin, Percocet, or codeine, you might want to bring your prescription documentation, as well as a doctor’s note. Though this is not required by the TSA, it may prove helpful when getting through security. Since these types of drugs are widely abused, security screeners may be suspicious if they are unaccompanied by the proper paperwork. Having the original prescription will prove the pills’ necessity, and avoid any further delays or additional questioning.

The trouble of traveling with only a doctor’s note is that unless it was written in the previous month, it may lose validity. Prescriptions are clearly dated and include the signature of your doctor. Simply make a photocopy of each prescription before you have it filled. The photocopied version will be null and void, but this does not alter it as a valid document.

To take extra precaution, you may also want to travel with phone numbers for your pharmacy and prescribing doctor. This may seem like an unnecessary hassle, but it could prevent delays and problems at the airport.

Be Strategic About Your Meds

If your carry-on is just too heavy to meet those puddle-jumper restrictions, Dr. Hollingsworth challenges you to be strategic. While you might want to take your mini-sized bottle of Advil, those sorts of medications are available everywhere.

“Give priority to any medications that are vital to your functioning or survival. Asthma inhalers, diabetic medications, anti-seizure medications, and blood pressure medications come to mind. Make sure to bring medications that have rebound or withdrawal symptoms if you run out,” he says. “A trip is not a good time to see how you function without your arthritis or anti-anxiety medications.”

Consider Travel Insurance

Many factors influence whether you should purchase travel insurance. How long will you be traveling? Where are you going? Will you be lounging by a beach for a week or undertaking adventure activities in a rainforest? Do you have ongoing medical conditions that might need care?

If you’ll need health insurance for your trip, Dr. Quigley recommends exploring your options before heading overseas to determine what policy and plan are best for you. You can also work with assistance companies—like International SOS—to help you if you’re struggling with a health situation overseas.

Make a Date with Your Doctors

doctor patient exam discussing results

If you’re leaving the U.S. for an extended time, in addition to getting foreign currency and shedding tears at your farewell party, you should schedule pre-departure appointments with your doctors. During these visits, get a full physical and begin a discussion about your wellness needs while traveling. Work with your physician to plan for the medications you’ll need. Medical professionals can help you secure more than a 30-day supply of any medicines along with the necessary paperwork. They can also offer advice about what you need to bring to keep your health top-notch.

Find the Loopholes for Refilling Prescriptions Overseas

Dr. Quigley explains that prescriptions cannot be filled abroad, nor can your primary care doctor call in a prescription for you. But there is a way around it: Know the generic forms and other names of the same medicine. Depending on the country, you may be able to get the medicine without a prescription.

As an example, Dr. Hollingsworth was able to walk into a pharmacy in Paris and receive antibiotics for a pal with a serious ear infection—no note required. Even so, packing a few “just in case” prescriptions before you leave will help ease your worries. Your primary care doctor or a travel clinic can help you navigate the options.

Tanenbaum recommends caution: “If you must obtain your meds from somewhere other than your U.S. pharmacy, beware that there is a major problem of counterfeit drugs out there.” He also notes that brand and generic drug names may differ from one country to another: “The same name may be for a totally different medication; if you have to get some while overseas, it may not be what you usually take so that it does not treat your medical condition, and may actually be dangerous for you to take.” Make sure you’re visiting a reputable pharmacist (ask for a recommendation from your hotel or the local tourist board) and that you double-check whether the drug you’re requesting actually treats your condition.

Most Importantly, Plan Ahead

Plan ahead, especially if you are switching time zones and have to take medicine at a certain time of day. “Have a medical itinerary run parallel to your day-to-day travel itinerary. Plan out the nearest towns [to] where you’re going to be and identify the best providers for you based on your specific medical needs. Don’t let it be a fire drill when you get there,” recommends Dr. Hollingsworth. “If you know in 30 days [that] you need to have a prescription refilled, and you know where you will be within that time frame, then research which medical professional will be best for you. Do your homework.” It just may save your trip—or even your life.

Need Help With Packing?

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From a compact dopp kit for neatly stowing your pills to a classic med collection good to go on any trip, don’t leave these basic essentials at home.

Tips to Stay Healthy While Traveling

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Lindsay Tigar is a travel and lifestyle writer with a constant thirst for adventure and exploring new lands. You can find Lindsay globetrotting when the mood strikes, making sure to find time to explore both the wine and fitness scene in countries across the globe. Her work has appeared across dozens of outlets; learn more at LindsayTigar.com.

 Editor’s note: This story was originally published in 2017. It has been updated to reflect the most current information. Molly Feltner, Jessica Labrencis, Patricia Magaña, and Michele Sponagle contributed to this story. A previous version of this story had an incorrect spelling of Paul Tanenbaum’s name. It has been corrected.

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10 Best Places to Go in Florida

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

Disney Magic Kingdom

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.

With multiday passes, you don’t have to limit yourself to just one Disney theme park. Tack on the Park Hopper option (with access to all four parks) to increase your ticket’s flexibility: Admission to Magic KingdomEpcotDisney’s Animal Kingdom, and Disney’s Hollywood Studios is included.

For some Florida visitors, it’s not a vacation without wild water play or tee time. Disney knows how to round out the visit with two water parks (Disney’s Typhoon Lagoon and Disney’s Blizzard Beach), a nine-hole golf course, two mini-golf courses, the ESPN Wide World of Sports Complex, and DisneyQuest Indoor Interactive Theme Park. Access to these extras is included in the Water Park Fun & More pass. You can also combine both the Park Hopper and Water Park Fun & More options for an additional fee.

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

lincoln road miami beach.

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.

Actually the southernmost tip of Miami Beach, South Beach is one of the best places to go in Miami Beach and home to many enriching cultural offerings, including Miami City BalletNew World SymphonyHolocaust Memorial of the Greater Miami Jewish Federation, and Miami Beach Botanical Garden. And you’d be remiss to pass up a stroll along South Beach’s world-famous Art Deco District. This historical part of South Beach is easy to meander along—not only because of its vintage beauty, which is alive with more than 800 candy-colored art deco-style structures, but also because of its concentrated size: a single square mile. Learn about South Beach’s celebrated history by going on a guided art deco walking tour led by the Miami Design Preservation League.

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

everglades national park

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.

Fort Lauderdale

canals with large boats in florida

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

Key West Florida street.

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

Universal Studios, Orlando, Florida
(Photo: Universal Orlando Resort)

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

Sanibel Island

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, 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 MonumentCastillo 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

Busch Gardens, Tampa, Florida
(Photo: Busch Gardens, Tampa, Florida via Shutterstock)

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

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.

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Editor’s note: This story was originally published on March 1, 2013. It has been updated to reflect the most current information about the top attractions and best places to go in Florida. 

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10 Best Things to Do in Aruba

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.

The Best Things to Do in Aruba

Below are 10 of the best things to do in Aruba, including some lesser-known gems. And before you pack your bags, also consider these things you should know before traveling to Aruba.

Visit Arikok National Park

boca prins aruba.

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.

Explore Caves

guadirikiri cave aruba.

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

baby beach aruba.

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.

Go Snorkeling

sea turtle and snorkeler in aruba.

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.

Celebrate Carnival

carnival performers in aruba.

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

mahi mahi meal in aruba.

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

fort zouman aruba.

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.

Go Sailing

tranquilo tours sailboat aruba.

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.

Hit the Beach

divi divi tree on eagle beach aruba.

Aruba has over a dozen idyllic public beaches worth exploring, from Eagle Beach‘s white sand and Palm Beach‘s cabanas to Boca Prins‘ sea spray.

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

shopping in oranjestad aruba.

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.

More from SmarterTravel:

Associate Editor Shannon McMahon visited Aruba as a guest of Aruba Tourism Authority and JetBlue. Follow her on Twitter and Instagram. Search Aruba activities and where to stay on Aruba.com.

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9 Best Things to Do in Miami Beach (That Aren’t the Beach)

While most people head to Miami Beach for, well, the beach, there are plenty of activities off the sand as well. In Miami Beach you’ll discover fascinating history from the Al Capone era told through architecture, plus some of the best dining experiences in Florida. Here are nine of the best things to do in Miami Beach that don’t have anything to do with the actual beach.

Explore Art Deco Architecture

art deco buildings in miami beach.

One of the best things to do in Miami Beach is to discover its art deco architecture and history. The Miami Design Preservation League sponsors a 1.5-hour daily walking tour through Miami Beach’s historic district. Explore the history of Miami Beach through its architecture and style while visiting hotels, restaurants, and other buildings relevant to the art deco, Mediterranean revival, and Miami modern eras.

Hang Out by the Pool

pool at national hotel miami beach.

You don’t have to be rich and famous to enjoy some of Miami’s hottest hotels; many five-star and luxury properties offer a day pass for their pools, so you can lounge in style at a fraction of the nightly room rate. Hotels on Miami Beach offering day passes include The National Hotel Miami, Delano South Beach, Mondrian South Beach, and SLS South Beach.

Attend an Event

art basel miami beach.

One of the best things to do in Miami Beach is to go for an event. Because of its year-round warm weather, locals and tourists alike flock to the area’s famous annual festivals.

Standouts include Art Deco Weekend in January, the Miami International Boat Show in February, Ultra Music Festival and Music Week in March, Gay Pride in April, and Art Basel in December.

Visit a Museum

jewish museum of florida.

Miami Beach—which doesn’t even include the popular Wynwood neighborhood, downtown Miami, or the design district—has plenty of museums worth exploring. In the South Beach area you’ll find The Bass (contemporary art), the Art Deco Museum, Wolfsonian-FIU (art and design), the Jewish Museum of Florida-FIU, and the ArtCenter South Florida.

Sample the Culinary Scene

chicken watermelon and waffles at yardbird miami beach.

Miami Beach has a varied culinary scene that ranges from well-known steak houses to incredible Cuban cuisine. Notable dishes include the Giant Chocolate Chunk Cookie from Big Pink, the Chicken ‘n’ Watermelon ‘n’ Waffles from Yardbird, and the famous Key lime pie from Icebox Cafe. And if you’re a seafood lover, one of the best things to do in Miami Beach is try the stone crab claws from Joe’s Stone Crab.

Play Golf

aerial view of miami beach golf club.

The Miami Beach Golf Club is a public golf course right in Miami Beach. Formerly an under-utilized course, Bayshore, it’s now regarded as one of the premier golf clubs in South Florida, and is one of the best things to do in Miami Beach outside of the beach.

Go Shopping

lincoln road miami beach.

Strolling along Lincoln Road is a must-do for anyone in the mood to shop. This pedestrian-friendly promenade is packed with trendy shops, restaurants, and entertainment. You’ll also find boutiques such as The Webster as well as high-end designer stores at the Bal Harbour Shops. With a style all its own and plenty of retail options, you’ll have a hard time leaving Miami Beach without buying something.

Enjoy the Nightlife

dj equipment.

One of the main attractions of Miami Beach is its nightlife, and South Beach and Ocean Drive don’t disappoint. From 24/7 venues to hotel nightclubs, you’ll find endless entertainment spots that stay packed into the wee hours of the night. Notable nightclubs include STORY, Basement (at the Edition Hotel), and LIV (at the Fontainebleau).

Or if you want a different type of nightlife, check out the events schedule for the historic Colony Theatre or The Fillmore Miami Beach—both host comedy, music, dance, opera, and films.

Hit the Boardwalk

miami beach boardwalk.

While some might consider this the beach, the Miami Beach Boardwalk is still one of the best things to do in Miami Beach—and it’s free. The 40-block path is great for running or walking, and part of the path is bike-friendly as well. A decent portion of the path is covered by palm trees, so you have some relief from the sun. Hop on and off the boardwalk and enjoy the shops, bars, and restaurants along Ocean Drive.

More from SmarterTravel:

Editor’s note: This story was originally published in 2017. It has been updated to reflect the most current information.

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The Ultimate Cruise Packing List: What to Pack for a Cruise

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.

What to Pack for a Cruise

Click on the below image to edit and download the SmarterTravel cruise packing list:

cruise packing list

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.”

What to Pack for a Cruise: At Sea

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.

A Final Consideration for Your Cruise Packing List

My most essential recommendation for what to bring on a cruise: Don’t get obsessive about it. Do your best and plan to cope with whatever problems you encounter along the way.

For info on these editor-selected items, click to visit the seller’s site. Things you buy may earn us a commission.

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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.

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The Best Travel Brands for Senior Discounts

Historically, travel suppliers have often courted senior travelers with special discounts. But the current status across travel types is uneven: Some supplier groups offer senior discounts almost entirely; others, like airlines hardly offer them at all anymore. Often, you need to know where to look to find them and how to secure one—but sometimes all it takes is asking for a senior travel discount to be applied.

The Best Senior Discounts in Travel:

Some suppliers offer percent or dollars-off discounts to senior travelers, typically starting at age 60 or 65. Here’s my take on the best brands for senior discounts, plus some great overall senior-focused brands, for every type of travel—from airlines to tours, cruises, rail, and more.

Airline: British Airways via AARP

Once common, senior discounts on airline tickets have virtually disappeared from the marketplace. Southwest, the last holdout among U.S. lines, discontinued its special senior fares in 2019.

One of the last remaining airline senior discounts is the AARP discount on British Airways, which is available to just about any senior as $65 off any economy or premium economy ticket, and as $200 off any business class ticket. Discounts apply to any ticket purchase, including flash sales. Seniors need to buy directly from British Airways through its AARP portal to get the discount.

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While $65 may not be a game changer, you don’t sacrifice anything to get it. And $200 off a business class ticket is especially good when you start with a flash-sale fare. However, the main caveat is that British Airways’ business class on most planes isn’t typically anything special. Your best bet might instead be to use the discount for a true business class ticket on a code-shared flight: British Airways flights operates by American Airlines or Iberia have a more competitive business class right now.

(Note: Throughout 2020 British Airways is rolling out new business class suites on some international routes.)

Hotel: No Clear Winner

Most major international hotel chains offer modest senior discounts, typically of five to 10 percent, to seniors at various ages (usually 50 through 65). In some cases, discounts are available through AARP; in others, no membership is required. And the AARP deals are seldom any better than those offered to members of AAA and many other organizations. Senior discounts at hotels are most prevalent in the U.S. and Canada. Typically, local chain and independent hotels in Asia and Europe do not offer senior discounts.

Over the years, my conclusion about AARP or other senior discounts has been that they’re good for at least a small price cut when you can’t find a better deal through some other source available to travelers of any age. Among the ones to check first are: Opaque rates through Hotwire or Priceline (which reveal the specific property after purchase), flash-sale rates, and air/hotel packages for your destination.

Rental Car: Avis and Budget via AARP

Just about anyone can qualify for a typical rental car discount. But the AARP deal with Avis and Budget is different because, in addition to a 30-percent discounted rate, the base rate includes better liability coverage than almost all other rates.

Seniors with car preferences should also consider National. With its Emerald Aisle program, National pioneered the approach of allowing each renter to choose a preferred car from those available. For those seniors who are fussy about which model they drive, National’s system works especially well.

Rail: Amtrak, VIA Rail Canada, and Eurail Pass

The best rail brand depends on your destination. Amtrak currently offers 10 percent discount on coach class travel for travelers age 65 and over—or age 60 and over on cross-border travel with VIA Rail. That’s on most trains, but not the high-speed Acela, the Auto Train, Saver Fares, or on business class or sleeper-accommodation trains. Although Amtrak has been doing senior discounts for many years, it has in the recent past listed senior discounts as “ending soon,” with neither a specific cutoff date nor any suggestion of what might come. Amtrak also offers time-limited special senior discounts. Current offerings include a 50 percent discount on Downeaster trains and a 15 percent discount for seniors age 62 or over on Capitol Corridor, Pacific Surfliner, and San Joaquins lines.

Canada’s VIA Rail goes a bit further than Amtrak. It offers discounts around 10 percent on all trains, including sleeper accommodations as well as coach. But the very best deals are the weekly discount promotions, where cuts are far deeper on selected routes. Note: At this writing, the VIA Rail website says: “Discount Sleeper Deals will return in early January 2020.”

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In Europe, you have a bunch of choices: No one line is “best” for everyone; but here’s how you can choose the one that’s best for your trip:

The Eurail Pass now offers senior passes for travelers age 60-plus at 10 percent off. The discount is available for both first- and coach-class travel throughout Eurail’s 31 countries. But there’s a big catch: high co-payments for travel on almost all of the top international high-speed trains—the ones most tourist visitors want to use. Several single-country passes also offer senior versions, typically at about 10 percent less than any-age passes. Eurail passes work best if you concentrate long-haul travel on a few days during your stay in Europe.

If, instead, you plan a lot of short trips, you might prefer a senior card that offers discounts to seniors age 60 or over on all applicable train tickets for a full year: The most popular are the U.K Senior Railcard for 33 percent off most fares, the French Advantage Senior Card for 30 percent off most fares, and the Italian Silver Card for 15-25 percent off most fares (free for travelers age 70 and over).

Outside of Europe, it’s hard to find other senior discounts. The most popular railpass outside of Europe is Japan Rail Pass, which doesn’t offer any senior deals.

Tour and Cruise Provider: Collette via AARP

The AARP deal with Collette Travel features discounts of $50 to $100 per person on most tours and river cruises, and discounts up to $450 person on some sale deals. Colleette provides good value overall for its many destinations, so the discount makes it even better.

Public Transit: Philadelphia and Pittsburgh

Seniors age 65 and over travel free in Philadelphia and Pittsburgh—a deal that’s really hard to beat. Most large public transit systems throughout the U.S. offer senior fares, typically about half off. Senior discounts typically apply to multi-ride and all-day pass tickets as well as single ride. Some systems require that you show a Medicare card or increasingly, a special senior ID. Some allow you to purchase online; others require that you show up at a local office. (Very few cities outside the U.S. offer similar senior deals.)

Best Travel Brands for Seniors Overall:

Not all the best senior deals are discounts: Some outfits tailor their products and services to the needs of senior travelers without actually discounting any prices.

 Road Scholar and Grand Circle, for Packaged Tours

Formerly known as Elderhostel, Road Scholar excels at offering seniors an unbeatable combination of outstanding travel experiences with continuing education, and at a good value. It focuses on travelers age 55 and over, offering thousands of tour options designed for senior travelers in more than 90 countries. Tours of varying physical requirements are offered, from mild to rugged. Road Scholar does best with tours in the U.S. Its overseas tours and cruises, although excellent, typically do not offer quite as good values as its domestic offerings. Even so, Road Scholar is hard to beat for any senior who wants to broaden his or her horizons through travel.

If you’re looking for a more conventional tour, consider Grand Circle Travel, a tour company that focuses on travelers age 50 or over. Tours are paced for seniors; they’re offered worldwide, from the U.S. to Antarctica to Wales. Grand Circle also features no-cost or low-cost single supplements to serve the ever-increasing demand from seniors who travel solo.

Viking for River and Ocean Cruises

I agree with SmarterTravel sister site Cruise Critic’s judgement that the best cruise line for seniors is Viking Cruises. Viking targets “well-traveled adults 50 years of age and older.” River cruises are generally more interesting experience to seniors than the mass-market Caribbean, Mexican, or Mediterranean cruises.

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Set on an ocean cruise? Cruise Critic also favors several ocean cruise lines, the best of which include such luxury-level outfits as Oceana, Regent Seven Seas, and Silverseas. They’re clearly great for seniors—but expensive. Cruise Critic does not include any of the three giant mass-market lines—Carnival, Norwegian, and Royal Caribbean—in its “best for seniors” compilation, but it does include two notch-above cruise lines, Celebrity and Holland-America.

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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 abuse every day at SmarterTravel.

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10 Fun Family Vacations for Multigenerational Travelers

Guess who’s coming on your family vacation? Grandma, Grandpa … and your new nephew, too. The family trip has evolved—multigenerational travel includes a whole cast of extended family members.

Fun Family Vacations for Multigenerational Travel

But with needs and interests that include every life stage, multigen travelers looking for the perfect family vacation face a particular challenge. Multigenerational travel groups tend to need larger and connected rooms, more opportunities to be together in large groups, and activities and entertainment that keeps everyone happy. And quite simply, not every vacation is up to the challenge.

But some are designed around these very concepts, and deliver memorable fun that keeps everyone engaged and happy all vacation long. Here are 10 inspiring ideas for your next multigenerational travel adventure.

Cruising

multigenerational travel

For: Round-the-clock activity seekers who aren’t afraid to split up until mealtime.

What to expect:  The all-in-one-place entertainment factor coupled with the opportunity to explore port cities makes cruising a great multigenerational travel choice. Budgets are respected (everyone can choose the room and meal plan that works best for them) and larger ships offer options that range from champagne bars to late-night kids’ clubs. Everyone sets their own pace, making it a great option for balancing personalities and energy levels.

One to Try: Disney Cruise Lines, like the parks, promises fun for all ages. Families will find options they can enjoy together onboard, including first-run movies and interactive restaurants.

Dude Ranches

multigenerational travel

For: Wild West lovers who want horse encounters, outdoor fun, and campfire singalongs.

What to expect. Everyone bonds when you’re wearing cowboy hats. This is the trip for families that like structure and plenty of activities. Ranch styles range from early-rise/help the cowboy options to more leisurely camp-like stays. Know your intensity tolerance before you book.

Where to try it: At Western Pleasure Guest Ranch, just outside Sandpoint, Idaho, kids can spend a week with their horse in a kids’ horse camp, then meet back up with parents or grandparents for meals and quieter activities. At the Red Horse Mountain Ranch near Coeur de Alene, Idaho, days include beautiful mountain trail rides as well as mountain biking, yoga, archery and more.

[st_related]What’s the Difference Between a Dude Ranch and a Guest Ranch?[/st_related]

Family Adventure Tours

multigenerational travel

For:  Multigenerational adventure seekers keen on thrilling and culturally engaging activities around the world.

What to expect:  Adventure is the middle name (literally at times- think G Adventures or Thomson Family Adventures) of the companies who run these tours—and they live up to their names. Trips are full of opportunities to run, jump, question, and learn. However, if you’re traveling with folks who have limited mobility or hate the idea of a schedule, this one won’t be a fit. Days are packed with new exploits, and evenings leave time for laid-back fun.

Where to try it: Consider building the family bond on a Row Adventures Family Magic Rafting trip. Trips include a Travel Jester (like a camp counselor) to keep kids entertained in between excursions. Or try Intrepid Travel’s Family tours, which include opportunities to explore Asia, Africa, Europe, and more

All-Inclusive

multigenerational travel

For: Beach lovers whose perfect vacation includes food, frolic, and fun … without necessarily straying far from the room.

What to expect: Relaxed days and easy living. All-Inclusive resorts were among the first to embrace multigenerational travelers. Pick your destination and pay attention to your included options to make sure every member of your clan has something to look forward to.

Where to try it: Club Med. Connecting rooms are standard and can be reserved at the time of booking; some locations (especially in the Caribbean) offer suites for additional living space. Everyone is catered to: Its “baby club” takes infants as young as four months, and older kids will find age-appropriate sports and creative activities. Adult lessons like tennis, archery, and trapeze run on parallel tracks to kids’, so once activities are over, you can all get back together to enjoy quality time together.

[st_related]10 Things to Know Before Booking a Club Med Vacation[/st_related]

National Parks

multigenerational travel

For: The family who dreams of hike-filled days and star-filled nights.

What to expect: Head to a national park with the extended family for stunning vistas, starlit nights, and days filled with hiking and biking. The parks offer plenty of activities (ranger-led and independent; at a cost and free) which means options abound for family time, both together and apart. Send grandma off to learn about the local wildlife with her mini-me, while granddad teaches your daughter how to skip stones. Memories are easy to make here. Older bones may be less keen on the tent camping experience. Consider pop up trailers, RVs, or cabin rentals to keep everyone in your multigenerational group comfortable.

Where to try it: Any of the National Parks will be worth exploring, but if you’ve got the time, plan an epic road trip to Utah’s Mighty Five. Also, consider buying an annual pass for the National Park System. An $80 annual fee covers access to all parks that charge ‘per vehicle’, which greatly reduces the cost of entrance fees throughout the year if you visit multiple parks in the year.

[st_related]A Year of National Parks: Your Month-by-Month Guide to America’s Best Idea[/st_related]

History Alive

multigenerational travel

For: Plant the seed of common interest between the generations by taking the learning out of the books and into the world.

What to expect: Historical getaways don’t have to be ho-hum. If you’ve got family members with an interest, or school kids who are studying American history, why not tie that into a trip they’ll all remember?

Where to try it:  Introduce the kids to the Civil War in Gettysburg, Pennsylvania. Museums and Battlefield tours (by bicycle, Segway, air balloon, or horseback) are perfect for inquisitive travelers of all ages. You can easily spend a few days exploring the local area, and you’re only a short drive from Washington, D.C., for more history and museums. 

Wintry Escapes

multigenerational travel

For: Families who see winter as a challenge just waiting to be conquered.

What to expect:  An active vacation with some quality time built in. Snow destination vacations offer opportunities for a variety of skill levels on the slopes, window shopping in the village, and the comfort of a cozy chalet in between.

Where to try it: In Whistler, British Columbia, you’ll find slopes that work for both beginners and advanced skiers and snowboarders, plus spa options and wildlife tours. The Family Adventure Zone offers fun for all ages, and a wide choice of comfortable accommodations can fit the whole clan.

Heritage Travel

multigenerational travel

For:  Multigenerational travelers looking to connect on a trip that traces the family tree to its ancestral roots.

What to expect: Stories and outings that bond the generations. Taking a trip to the places that helped to shape your parents (and theirs) will give the whole family a connection to personal history.

Where to try It:  Everywhere. Start with your family’s photos and scrapbooks, or an online site like ancestry.com, and build from there. Will it be a reunion with the extended family in Scotland or a three-generation Vietnam family tour? Work with a travel agent to find the perfect guide to lead your family home and include the personal stops that will matter most.

[st_related]Genealogy Travel: How to Find Your Family Tree[/st_related]

Giving Back

multigenerational travel

For: Families who want to help make a lasting positive change in the world.

What to expect: Plenty of destinations offer volunteer options, but it can be hard to be sure your good intentions are doing what you hope. Research is key. Chat with your family ahead of time so that you choose an activity that means something to everyone involved.

Where to try it: Elevate Destinations offers luxurious eco-friendly trips to destinations that also allow you to give back in a variety of ways. The intensity of the volunteer work ranges from work with local non-profits to assisting creative artisans. The great thing is that the trips aren’t all work and no play. Fun is still a part of the equation. Plus, the “Buy a Trip Give a Trip” program means that for every trip sold, a local child is given a trip so they can see more of their home country.

[st_related] Volunteer Vacations: What You Need to Know[/st_related]

The Villa Stay

multigenerational travel

For: Families intent on finding an island paradise where togetherness is the order of the day … and no one is futzing in the kitchen or worried about the laundry.

What to expect: The royal treatment with a side order of peace and quiet. Pick your island and then leave the details to your villa team. They’ll handle your meals, the cleaning, and booking any activities. Your main job? Relaxing with family. While prices can induce sticker shock (Expect $5,000 to $20,000 per week in some spots) it may still be less expensive than individual hotel rooms—not to mention the advantages of having a chef, butler, maid, ground transfers and private pools on site.

Where to try it: Jamaica. The island has a range of offerings that differ in size, vibe, and amenities. The premium luxury villas at Round Hill Villas in Montego Bay have two pools, outdoor showers, on-site staff, and access to the Round Hill Resort children’s programs.

What to Pack for a Family Vacation

More from SmarterTravel:

Editor’s note: This story was originally published in 2017. It has been updated to reflect the most current information.

Heather Greenwood Davis is a lifestyle journalist and a National Geographic Travel columnist. Follow her on Twitter @greenwooddavis or keep up with her family’s adventures on GlobeTrottingMama.com.

Categories
Active Travel Adventure Travel Airport Beach Entertainment Experiential Travel Group Travel Outdoors Peer-to-Peer Travel Senior Travel Solo Travel Travel Trends

8 Best Mancations for Every Type of Guy


No offense guys, but many of you are tough to please when it comes to travel. While plenty of you are avid travelers, for the most part, women dominate travel decisions and planning. Whether you’re looking for a guy’s trip, bachelor party, solo getaway, or a father-son vacation, here are eight destinations where you can truly have a stress-free vacation.

San Diego, California

three men surfing in san diego california

Relax and unwind in California while avoiding the hassle of Los Angeles. San Diego makes for a great solo trip or bachelor party destination—with activities suiting both types of trips. La Jolla is a great surfing destination, while downtown San Diego is home to great nightlife. Go to a Padres game, play a round at world-famous Torrey Pines, take a craft brewery tour, enjoy rooftop bars in the Gaslamp Quarter—the activities are endless with year-round mild weather and fewer crowds than other popular California destinations.

Where to Stay: If you want to golf, stay at Hilton La Jolla Torrey Pines for a guaranteed tee time at the legendary course every day. Or opt to stay closer to downtown at Hotel Indigo San Diego Gaslamp Quarter for a more urban experience.

[st_related]10 Fun Things to Do in San Diego[/st_related]

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Rome, Italy

Outdoor view of the colosseum or coliseum, also known as flavian amphitheatre

For an incomparable European experience, look no further than Rome. From the ruins of the Forum, Palatine Hill, and the Circus Maximus to the lively nightlife, Rome is the perfect guys trip. You can also golf at the championship course, Parco di Roma Golf Club, with the St. Peter’s dome as your backdrop.

Where to Stay: The Rome Cavalieri offers pools, access to Parco di Roma Golf Club, gladiator training in the hotel’s private park, a central location, an Italian Super Car “experience day”, a private visit to the Vatican Gardens and Sistine Chapel, and its own art collection for the ultimate Roman experience.

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Phoenix, Arizona

Man holds a bike in the air phoenix arizona

Enjoy the desert heat in Phoenix poolside or on the golf course at any of the area’s 185 courses. Depending on the time of year, you can also catch a football game at the University of Phoenix Stadium or a baseball game at Chase Field. Take an ATV tour in the desert, river raft and fish outside of Scottsdale, or rent a boat on Tempe Town Lake (all within driving distance of Phoenix).

Where to Stay: The Arizona Biltmore boasts eight pools, private cabanas, bike rentals, desert jeep tours, Grand Canyon tours, and a championship golf course. You’ll have it all at this resort.

[st_related]8 Awesome Things to Do in Arizona (That Aren’t the Grand Canyon)[/st_related]

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Bali, Indonesia

tourists walk through the gate of a hindu temple in bali

If you’re willing to make the journey, Bali is the best Southeast Asian destination for a guys trip. You can surf at some of the world’s best beaches, relax at countless infinity pools, visit Hindu temples, and enjoy the beautiful landscape of the rice paddies and volcanoes. Once you’re there, everything is pretty inexpensive and the food, nightlife, and culture are well worth the flight.

Where to Stay: Conrad Bali is located on the coast of Nusa Dua at Tanjung Benoa and offers activity planning, golf, a beach coastline, a wellness studio, three restaurants, and multiple pools.

Maine

man hiking in the woods of main

If you’re looking to go off-the-grid, the Maine Huts & Trails is the perfect adventure trip. The hut-and-trail system is located in western Maine along trails marked by mountains, lakes, rivers, and waterfalls. There are four hut stops—Stratton Brook, Flagstaff, Grand Falls, and Poplar—connected by paths accessible via foot or bike. From hiking and biking to fishing, canoeing, paddleboarding, and swimming, the options are endless. And if you’re looking for a winter trip, you can ski and snowshoe.

Where to Stay: Book your trip through Maine Huts & Trails, with rates at $90 per night, including three daily meals.

[st_related]9 Epic Hut-to-Hut Hiking Trips[/st_related]

Louisville, Kentucky

a bourbon flight in louisville kentucky

Take on the bourbon trail with your group of guy friends (and SmarterTravel’s handy five-day guide). From the bourbon to the food, Louisville makes for a great weekend or long-weekend destination. Check out the Louisville Slugger Museum and Muhammad Ali Center for some non-bourbon activities.

 Where to Stay: 21c Museum Hotel Louisville also doubles as a contemporary art museum, fulfilling your childhood dream of sleeping in a museum. They offer free tours, and a great view of downtown Louisville, all within a few blocks of 4th Street’s nightlife.

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Killarney, Ireland

view of canoes on lake in killarney ireland

You can have any type of vacation in Killarney. It’s a stop on the Ring of Kerry circuit, the start and endpoint for the Kerry Way walking trail, and home to the castles, lakes, and mountains found in Killarney National Park. It also offers access to renowned golf courses and a great culinary and pub scene.

Where to Stay: The Ross is located in the heart of the town center, close to the national park. They also offer an “Off the Beaten Track” guide and cater to whatever activity you decide to do: if you’re golfing, they will store your golf equipment and offer early breakfast, or if you’re hiking, they will reserve guides, pack a lunch, and give route recommendations.

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Lake Louise, Canada

man paddles on lake louise in canada

Located in Banff National Park, Lake Louise offers a variety of activities for your guys-only trip in Canada’s “Diamond in the Wilderness.” Come summertime, the area offers hiking, ATV excursions, canoeing, fishing, golfing, horseback riding, rock climbing, and white water rafting. And in the winter, the lake is home to some of the best downhill skiing areas anywhere. Year-round, you can opt for a helicopter tour, glacier walk, wildlife safari, skydiving, paragliding, cave tours, or grizzly bear tour. Make sure to also check out the town of Banff, about a 40-minute drive away for even more activities, bars, and fine dining.

Where to Stay: The Fairmont Chateau Lake Louise will plan your entire trip through their concierge service so you can enjoy your vacation stress-free. Choose from their seasonal guides and make sure to take one of their GoPros with you to capture your adventures.

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More From SmarterTravel:

Editor’s note: This story was originally published in 2016. It has been updated to reflect the most current information.

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Categories
Airport Booking Strategy Family Travel Passenger Rights Senior Travel Solo Travel Travel Etiquette Travel Technology Travel Trends

These Are the Airlines That Actually Care About Customer Service


There will probably never be one carrier that everybody agrees has the best airline customer service, but there are plenty that travelers despise for their lack thereof. Sometimes it feels like certain airlines outright dislike travelers, and it’s hard to get a bad customer experience out of your head.

But it’s not just the niceties: Different travelers value different airline customer service features—some like the “hard product” factors like service inclusions, some prefer a high on-time service performance, others note and judge upon the general attitude of airline personnel and their responsiveness to passenger needs.

Nevertheless, when you look at the various surveys and compilations that rate all of these factors, the same few airlines seem to rise to the top of just about every scoring, while the same few reliably sink to the bottom.

[st_related]Why You Should Never Flight at Night on These 30 Airlines[/st_related]

How to Measure Airlines for Customer Service

I looked at five different scoring reports to create my own definitive ranking of the best airlines for customer service. That’s because they typically measure different things: Some concentrate solely on U.S. airlines while others include worldwide lines, and most evaluate different scoring factors. (Although some scores include the regional lines such as those that are part of larger airlines, I have left them out.)

The American Customer Satisfaction Index (ACSI) uses among the most rigorous methodologies to develop customer satisfaction ratings across dozens of industries in the U.S., including airlines. ACSI rates Alaska, Southwest, and JetBlue as the top three airlines (in a virtual tie, at scores of 79 to 80). Among the giant legacies, Delta outscores American by a bit and United by a lot. Spirit and Frontier took the bottom positions.

The Department of Transportation (DOT) publishes monthly Air Travel Consumer Reports that focus mainly on operational performance rather than satisfaction. But those reports do include tabulations of the number of passenger complaints (and the number per 100,000 travelers) that presumably reflect customer satisfaction failures of one sort or another. For the period of January to September 2019, Southwest recorded by far the fewest complaints, at 0.35 per 100,000, followed by Alaska and Delta, both at 0.51, Hawaiian at 0.83, and JetBlue at 0.99. All others recorded 1.00 to 2.00, with Frontier (2.61) and Spirit (2.97) well below all others.

J.D. Power, like ACSI, routinely publishes composite customer satisfaction ratings for a broad range of industries including airlines. Top scoring North American lines in the latest 2019 report are JetBlue and Southwest, tied at 817, followed by Alaska at 801. Delta outscored American, WestJet, Air Canada, and United, with Spirit and Frontier at the bottom. Power also scores foreign-based lines flying to and from North America, with top ratings to Turkish, Virgin Atlantic, British Airways, followed by Delta, KLM, and ANA, with American, Air Canada, China Eastern, and United at the bottom.

Skytrax continues to generate a lot of ink and pixels with its annual worldwide airline ratings, including a much-disputed “world’s best” airline list. Although many in the industry criticize Skytrax’s methodology, few deny its impact. In North America, Skytrax rates the big lines, from the top down: Air Canada, JetBlue, Delta, Southwest, Alaska, WestJet, Air Transat, United, American, and Porter. Internationally, nine of the top 10 Skytrax lines are from the Pacific and Gulf regions, with Lufthansa the lone outrider. This has been the case as long as I can remember; this year, the top lines are Qatar, Singapore, ANA, Cathay Pacific, Emirates, EVA, Hainan, Qantas, Lufthansa, and Thai.

TripAdvisor (SmarterTravel’s parent company) compiles composite airline scores and also publishes component scores specific to customer service. Currently, for customer service, TripAdvisor contributors collectively rate Alaska and Southwest at 4.5 (out of five) Delta, Hawaiian, JetBlue, Porter, and WestJet at four; Air Canada, Air Transat, Allegiant, American, and United at 3.5; Frontier and Spirit at three. Among international lines, TripAdvisor lines up with most other sources: For overall excellence, Air New Zealand, Qatar, and Singapore score 4.5; Air New Zealand, ANA, Azul, Emirates, and Jet2 score four balls, and Air France and Air Transat come in at 3.5.

The Overall Best Airlines for Customer Service

Overall, the following airlines (in no particular order) tend to do a better job than other North American lines at satisfying customers:

  • Alaska
  • JetBlue
  • Southwest

Alaska takes care to treat its customers well, JetBlue combines good treatment with a top hard product, and travelers love Southwest’s free-baggage and no-fee cancellation policies as well as its outstanding staff. It’s hard to beat these three airlines.

But Delta comes close on many scorings. The airline is the clear leader among the three giant legacy lines. Delta’s reputation in the industry supports this conclusion: Just about everyone in the business believes Delta runs a better operation than its giant competitors. American and especially United have a lot of catching-up to do, and generally some pretty bad reviews when it comes to airline customer service.

The Overall Worst Airlines for Customer Service

Among the very-low-fare lines, these two are just about everybody’s nomination for worst airlines:

  • Frontier
  • Spirit

Allegiant, which used to be in the same boat, seems to be getting its act together a bit with its fleet renewal. In Canada, WestJet seems to out-perform Air Canada and Air Transat in most comparisons.

The International Airline Customer Service Paradox

Among the international lines, my take is that there’s a huge bias toward the Gulf and Pacific lines in almost all survey-based ratings. And there’s a paradox for international flights anyways: On any line, passenger service is better on long-haul flights than on short hauls.

Travelers are most likely to have flown the Gulf and Pacific lines on long haul flights and the domestic lines on short-haul flights. But the good news is that no matter which line you choose, you’re likely to have a better experience on a long flight than on a short one.

More from SmarterTravel:

Editor’s note: SmarterTravel’s Shannon McMahon contributed to this story.

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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.

Categories
Family Travel Holiday Travel Senior Travel

Christmas Celebrations Around the World


Pack up the sleigh and wrap yourself in your coziest scarf. Here’s a photo tour of 10 Christmas celebrations around the world, from citywide parties to cheery holiday markets.

Seoul, South Korea

Seoul christmas festival 2018 in cheonggyecheon stream at seoul, south korea

A tree twinkles with lights in South Korea, where Christmas is one of the most widely celebrated holidays.

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London, England

 leadenhall market in london with christmas decoration. victorian arcade of the market, built 19th century london

A Christmas tree sits in London’s Leadenhall Market, one of the oldest markets in the city.

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Rovaniemi, Finland

Racing on reindeer sleigh in finland lapland winter

Reindeer pull sleighs in Rovaniemi, Finland’s capital of Lapland.

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Strasbourg, France

Streets and facades of houses, traditionally decorated with toys teddy bears for christmas

Streets and facades of houses are traditionally decorated with toys and teddy bears for Christmas in medieval city of Strasbourg.

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Orlando, Florida

Toy soldiers parade down main street, u.s.a., at magic kingdom during “mickey’s once upon a christmastime parade.”

Each year, Disney World decks out its castle and Main Street in Christmas finery. Special parades, live stage shows, and more mark the Christmas season.

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New York City

hundreds of costumed revelers filled times square to muster for the 17th annual santacon pub crawl

During New York’s SantaCon, you’ll see Kris Kringle everywhere you look.

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Rio de Janeiro, Brazil

Fireworks during the inauguration of christmas tree rodrigo de freitas lagoon

Fireworks erupt during the inauguration of the Christmas tree of Rodrigo de Freitas Lagoon in the city of Rio de Janeiro, Brazil.

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Ban Tha Rae, Thailand

Star parade,christmas festival,star parade to celebrate christmas ,caravan star lamp,is a celebration of christians in sakon nakhon and ban tha rae,thai.

Tha Rae in northeastern Thailand hosts a yearly multi-day Christmas Parade Festival, featuring performances and parades.

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Paris, France

The christmas tree at galeries lafayette

In the City of Light, les cadeaux are suspended above Galeries Lafayette.

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More from SmarterTravel:

Editor’s note: This story was originally published in 2013. It has been updated to reflect the most current information.

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Categories
Booking Strategy Health & Wellness Senior Travel

The 10 Best Wheelchair-Accessible Hotels and Resorts Around the World


Many handicap-accessible hotels and resorts around the world offer accommodations for travelers with disabilities, but that doesn’t ensure that all of your room’s features or the property’s amenities and venues will be fully accessible.[st_content_ad]

In the U.S., the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) requires by law that people with disabilities have access to public buildings, hotels, transportation, and other facilities. In the European Union, the European Accessibility Act is in place, but it’s not as wide-reaching as the ADA, and other countries have no official programs requiring accessibility at all. However, that should not discourage a traveler with a disability from visiting those destinations.

No matter where you’re traveling, global brands like Marriott, Hilton, and IHG tend to have the best options when booking hotels for the disabled. Still, it’s always best to call ahead to your chosen hotel to get specifics about the width of the doorway, shower and tub set-up, grab rails, bed height, and other details so there are no surprises when you arrive. If you need rental equipment at your destination, such as a wheelchair or scooter, companies like Special Needs at Sea will deliver equipment to hotels in 68 countries around the world.

This list of handicap-accessible hotels and resorts highlights many of the best amenities for disabled travelers in North America and abroad.

Noelle: Nashville, Tennessee

Noelle: nashville, tennessee.

This 224-room experiential boutique hotel is located in the heart of downtown Nashville adjacent to Printer’s Alley. The historic luxury property features 10 fully accessible modern guest rooms with 32-inch doorways, roll-in showers, bathroom and bathtub grab bars, remote-control-operated lights and blinds, doorbells, and other useful amenities. It also offers hearing-accessible rooms and/or kits, and the property is pet-friendly. The fitness center, art gallery, boutique, and all restaurants and lounges, including the Hidden Bar beneath Noelle, are accessible during a stay at one of Music City’s most unique handicap-accessible hotels.

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[st_related]The 10 Best Things to Do in Nashville[/st_related]

Resort at Squaw Creek: Olympic Valley, California

Resort at squaw creek: olympic valley, california.

This resort property is one of the most impressive handicap-accessible hotels, thanks to its Disabled Access Ambassador, who assists disabled guests with navigating the property and planning their time in the North Lake Tahoe region. The hotel features 14 ADA-compliant rooms with features such as accessible peepholes and lower climate controls and closet poles. The sink and vanity are wheelchair accessible, and the bathrooms have roll-in showers. The rooms also offer audio-visual smoke detectors, close-captioned television decoders, telecommunications devices for the deaf (TDD), and a telephone and front door alerting device. This wheelchair-accessible hotel offers ramps and elevator access to restaurants and other resort amenities.

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Scandic Berlin Potsdamer Platz: Berlin, Germany

Scandic berlin potsdamer platz: berlin, germany.

This centrally located property is one of the best hotels for the disabled in Berlin. Its 60 handicap-accessible hotel rooms feature adjustable-height beds and plenty of space for maneuverability. The bathrooms are also spacious with accessible amenities and roll-in showers; wheelchairs can also fit under the sinks. The corridors of the hotel are extra wide, and the restaurant is barrier-free, so wheelchair users can serve themselves at the breakfast buffet. A unique feature is the property’s barrier-free representative, who provides training to the staff so they can better assist their guests with special needs.

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Halekulani: Honolulu, Hawaii

Halekulani: honolulu, hawaii.

Located on Waikiki Beach, this luxury resort affords stunning views of the Pacific Ocean and nearby Diamond Head. The handicap-accessible hotel offers 14 ADA-compliant rooms specifically designed for travelers with wheelchairs. These accommodations feature modified bathrooms, lower closet rods, and accessible door peepholes and air conditioner control panels. There are wheelchair ramps throughout the property, and all of the restaurants and facilities are accessible. The hotel also has a pool lift for guests and ADA-compliant parking stalls. Hearing-impaired kits are available upon request.

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[st_related]The 10 Best Spots for Cheap Eats in Honolulu[/st_related]

Grand Velas Riviera Maya: Playa Del Carmen, Mexico

Grand velas riviera maya: playa del carmen, mexico.

This luxurious, handicap-accessible all-inclusive resort is located on the Caribbean coast, adjacent to the Yucatan Jungle in Playa Del Carmen. There are three distinct experiences offered at Grand Velas Riviera Maya: the romantic oceanfront Grand Class resort, family-friendly accommodations at The Ambassador, and the secluded Zen Grand surrounded by the Mayan Jungle. Each experience offers two ground-floor suites that are accessible, with wide door entrances and roll-in showers. The restaurants and bars have ramps, and there is a ramp with access to the beach. The resort also has wheelchairs on site. Zen Grand and Grand Class offer electric wheelchairs to guests at no additional charge.

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Mirror Lake Inn Resort & Spa: Lake Placid, New York

Mirror lake inn resort & spa: placid, new york.

This beautiful resort property is picturesquely situated on Mirror Lake overlooking the Adirondack High Peaks. The handicap-accessible hotel offers five ADA-compliant guest accommodations in two different room categories, with six accessible parking spaces. Two dining venues are wheelchair accessible, including AAA Four Diamond-rated The View Restaurant and the property’s casual option, Taste Bar & Bistro. All of the property’s meeting rooms, as well as its main lobby, library, living room, spa, and fitness room, are accessible. The indoor pool also has an individual pool lift, and there is a transfer wall for whirlpool access.

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InterContinental David: Tel Aviv, Israel

InterContinental david: tel aviv, israel.

Guests of this centrally located hotel in Tel Aviv will appreciate the property’s impressive views of the Mediterranean Sea and accommodations at one of the city’s best hotels for the disabled. The InterContinental David boasts 10 fully accessible rooms featuring bedside and bathroom grab bars, roll-in showers, wheelchair-accessible closets, panic buttons, and other amenities. Hearing-impaired devices and ionizers for respiratory conditions are available on request. The hotel also has wheelchair-accessible parking and easy access to restaurants and other on-site facilities. Service dogs are permitted.

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Omni Orlando Resort at ChampionsGate: Orlando, Florida

Omni orlando resort at championsgate: orlando, florida.

This 15-acre handicap-accessible resort stands out for its proximity to Orlando’s theme parks and attractions but offers a great escape at the end of the day. The property’s 42 ADA-compliant rooms feature many amenities, including lower light switches, peepholes, deadbolts, and closet rods. They also have roll-in showers and accessible toilets, sinks, and grab bars. Visual alarm notifications are available for the hotel alarm, door, and phone. The entire property is wheelchair accessible, including the pool area with a lift and hot tub area with a transfer station.

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Sandals Barbados: St. Lawrence Gap, Barbados

Sandals barbados: st. lawrence gap, barbados.

This new adults-only, handicap-accessible all-inclusive resort features a long list of included amenities, plus three luxurious accessible rooms. Two are in Sandals‘ LX category with a private balcony and soaking tub, and one is an SLX suite. This swim-up suite features a large private patio and soaking tub with zero-entry access to the resort’s Crystal Lagoon pool. All three accommodations boast accessible showers with grab bars, a lowered magnifying mirror, a 34-inch vanity, and a grab bar in the toilet area. Eleven of the resort’s restaurants are wheelchair friendly, and the beach is accessible. The property also has one beach wheelchair and two standard wheelchairs for guest use.

[js_hotel_rates_cta hotel=”taid:4187495″ /]

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Novotel Melbourne on Collins: Melbourne, Australia

Novotel melbourne on collins: melbourne, australia.

Melbourne is a wheelchair-friendly city that offers visitors an accessible metro and various activities for people with disabilities, including surfing. (Yes, surfing.) Novotel Melbourne on Collins is one of Australia’s best handicap-accessible hotels, boasting seven accessible rooms that are some of the largest in the city. The property is centrally located on Collins Street, directly above the upscale St. Collins Lane shops. Its spacious standard queen and deluxe king rooms are bright with large windows, and have extra living space and wider doorways. The bathrooms are also generous in size with roll-in showers that have fold-down seats and handrails. All hotel venues are wheelchair accessible. The hotel’s pool is currently under renovation and will become handicap accessible, including a pool lift, by mid-December 2019.

[js_hotel_rates_cta hotel=”taid:256930″ /]

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Gwen Pratesi is a James Beard Award Finalist in journalism and an award-winning travel and lifestyle writer. Her work has appeared in U.S. News & World Report, USA TODAY, Cruise Critic, Reader’s Digest, Forbes Travel Guide, TripAdvisor, and Atlanta Homes & Lifestyles. Follow her on PratesiLiving.com and on Twitter and Instagram.

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9 Tips for Surviving the Middle Seat


On a typical commercial flight within the United States, about 50 unfortunate souls will be relegated to the dreaded middle seat. What can you do if one of those tortured passengers is you? Here are nine tips to make it to your destination with your sanity—and your comfort—fully intact.

Take a Tray-Table Nap

airplane-tray-table

Aside from occasionally holding a drink or a meal, the tray table doesn’t have much to do during a typical flight. Make use of it by taking an in-flight nap. No need to invest in an embarrassing Ostrich Pillow, however. Roll your jacket into a makeshift pillow, fold forward at the waistline, and snooze away. Whatever you do, though, don’t place your face directly on that petri dish of bacteria (a.k.a. the tray table), or at least disinfect it first.

Sleep Upright

sleeping-airport-travel-pillow

If a tray-table nap isn’t your speed, sleeping upright is also a possibility—even in the middle seat. It starts by picking the perfect travel pillow for your body, whether that’s a standard neck pillow, a shoulder-wrapping Travelrest Pillow, or even a candy cane travel pillow. Though they may not be as cuddly as their foam-filled counterparts, consider blow-up travel pillows for their space-saving qualities.

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Invest In Noise-Canceling Headphones

For just a few hours, a pair of good headphones can be a middle-seat passenger’s best friend. The right set tuned to a good movie or music can take your mind off the otherwise muscle-contorting rigors of the middle seat.

Claim Your Territory

front of plane

Even if you’re sandwiched between fellow passengers, your personal space needn’t be too limited. Board quickly at your first opportunity so as to make it to your seat before your seatmates, and then mark the armrests as your own. Don’t feel too guilty: It’s widely accepted that the middle passenger gets both armrests. But it’s important to claim them early, lest you find yourself next to a passenger who doesn’t buy into common courtesy.

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Make the Most of Your Knee Space

man sitting on airplane headphones and phone

Speaking of claiming space, do so for your knees as well. In such close quarters, every little inch counts. Consider politely asking your neighbor to refrain from leaning back if it really causes you discomfort. You’ll be surprised how considerate people can be when asked politely.

Keep Busy

Ever notice how time seems to fly by when you’re busy? Watch a movie, read, or play a game. Whatever your time-kill, just keep yourself entertained and before you know it the “fasten seatbelt” sign will go off and the pilot will announce your arrival.

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Bring an In-Flight ‘Survival Kit’

woman using traveling pillow and sleeping mask in plane

Regardless of which seat you occupy—but especially if it’s the middle seat—keep the following items handy for in-flight sanity (or make up your own in-flight packing list): an eye mask, electronics (a tablet, laptop, or handheld game console), headphones, non-electronic reading material or a puzzle book, a sweater or jacket, and snacks.

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Ask to Be Reseated

Just because you were assigned a middle seat doesn’t necessarily mean you have to be stuck with it. Inquire with the gate staff about any remaining, available window or aisle seats. They may seat you in a more preferable location if one is open.

If you missed your opportunity at the gate, you have yet another shot at a better seat location by asking the flight attendant. Once everyone’s boarded and the plane’s cruising at a high altitude (but before the drink trolley comes out), politely ask the flight attendant if a window or aisle seat is open. Chances are, the empty seat will move you to the rear of the plane, but at least you won’t be the meat section in a seat sandwich.

Do Better Next Time

suitcases with plane in background

The best way to survive the middle seat, of course, is to avoid it altogether. Book early and, if you can, select your seat during the booking process. For airlines that don’t allow advanced seat selection (like Southwest), check in for your flight as soon as you can (in Southwest’s case, as early as 24 hours in advance). Because Southwest assigns boarding groups based on when you check in for the flight, the earlier you check in, the more likely you are to score your favorite seat.

What to Wear While Traveling this Season

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Senior Editor Patricia Magaña Figueroa writes about travel. Follow her @PatiTravels.

This story was originally published in 2013. It has been updated to reflect the most current information.

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Why This Viking Ocean Cruise Is the Best Way to See Northern Europe


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Cruisers love Viking for its river cruises, but the company is making a splash with its ocean cruise offerings as well. The Viking Jupiter is the sixth (and newest) ship in the fleet—with a seventh ship, Viking Venus, coming soon. The cruise line is adults-only, so passengers are all 18 or older. With a slightly higher price tag (though still great value) and longer itinerary than many cruises, the majority of passengers are around retirement age. Onboard highlights include the gorgeous Wintergarden space, outdoor infinity pool, fine-dining options, and nearly all-inclusive experience. Cabins are clean, modern, and reasonably sized, with ample closet space and a large bathroom. The ship almost always feels uncrowded, with plenty of places to tuck away, including the upper level of the Explorer’s Lounge and the atrium area.

As the newest ship in the fleet, the Viking Jupiter both set and met high expectations on the Homelands itinerary I joined in 2019. The Viking Jupiter mostly embarks on European (Baltic and the Mediterranean Sea) itineraries, but it’s also making a southern Atlantic crossing this year and heading to South America.

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Viking Jupiter Pros

  • A smaller ship with less than 1,000 passengers (double-occupancy); never felt crowded
  • High crew-to-passenger ratio
  • Quiet cabins
  • Adults-only
  • Cozy spaces like the library and Wintergarden
  • New ship (2019) with refined and modern decor
  • Attentive and friendly crew
  • Outdoor infinity pool and hot tub
  • Indoor/outdoor pool with large deck area
  • A large cafe/buffet space, three main dining spaces, a pool grill, and two quick-service food areas
  • Restaurant with a five-course menu (menu rotates every two to three days)
  • Two onboard sommeliers
  • Tea time every day from 4 to 5 p.m.
  • 24-hour room service
  • Musical theater performances, live band every night, instrumental and acoustic performances multiple time per day
  • Jazz club, four open area bars, and plenty of lounging areas
  • Explorer’s Dome with nightly light shows
  • Sports deck with mini-golf, ping pong, bocce, and more
  • LivNordic Spa with a snow grotto, steam room, sauna, cold plunge pool, heated pool, hot tub, and treatment rooms
  • Nightly presentations on the next day’s port
  • Shore excursion (usually a walking tour) included at every port
  • Easy disembarkation process (ground transfers included when booking with Viking Air)
  • Easy-to-use app and website for itinerary planning
  • Heated floors in cabin bathrooms
  • USB ports and North American outlets in cabins
  • Wi-Fi at no extra charge
  • Free use of laundry machines
  • Free drinking water

Viking Jupiter Cons

  • Reservations required at two of the three dinner restaurants (although generally easy to get in last-minute)
  • Expensive shore excursions
  • Included shore excursions went at a slower pace
  • Windows in the lounge viewing area were tinted dark

What’s Included (And What’s Not) on Viking Homelands

view from deck on cruise ship in norway.

Almost everything is included on the ship and the Homelands tour, making for a stress-free experience.

Cruise rates include all food and meals at all of the ship’s dining areas, bars, and pool deck, and 24-hour room service. Non-alcoholic drinks are also included as well as house beer and wine with lunch and dinner service. There are two dinner restaurants that require reservations: Manfredi’s (Italian) and The Chef’s Table (Fine Dining), but I had no problem getting last-minute reservations when needed.

All entertainment, books and games, and use of the fitness center and spa are included. In each port, there is a free shore excursion included, which is typically a walking tour of the area. There are also free movie screenings and lectures onboard as well as dozens of complimentary movies on demand. Wi-Fi is included in the cruise rate as well. I found the Wi-Fi to be above average, especially for being out to sea. There are also computers onboard for use if needed. There are laundry rooms throughout that are free for guests. Free drinking water is replenished daily in the cabins and bottled water is provided when you disembark in port.

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Alcohol, spa treatments, and most shore excursions come at extra charge. The Silver Spirits Beverage package is around $20 per guest per night, which is reasonable in comparison to other lines. This includes all beer, wine, and drinks up to $15 as well as an upgraded wine pairing at The Chef’s Table dinner. If you think you’ll be having a few drinks while on your vacation each day, it’s worth upgrading to this package. Otherwise, drink prices start at $5 per drink. You may also bring your own drinks with you; there is no corkage fee.

For gratuities, Viking automatically adds a discretionary hotel and dining charge of $15 per guest per day to your shipboard account, which appears on your final invoice at the end of your cruise. A 15 percent gratuity is automatically added to bar, beverage, wine, and deck service tabs. If you want to make changes to the amounts or pay in cash, you can do so onboard. You can also pre-purchase the standard recommended gratuity ahead of time, which is shared among the onboard staff.

Review: Onboard the Viking Jupiter – Amenities, Activities, Entertainment, & ‘The Scene’

interior view of viking jupiter cruise ship.

  • Rating: 4.0

Live music, cozy corners, and a glimpse at Viking culture make for a well-rounded onboard experience.

The Viking Jupiter is an upscale casual ship focused on providing a cultural experience onboard and at every port of call. You’ll find plenty of relaxing spaces onboard in the atrium levels, as well as a library, games for use, and interactive maps. There are also two small exhibit areas featuring Viking clothing and artifacts. Viking hosts a daily series, “Munch Moments,” which showcases several Edvard Munch pieces each afternoon in The Living Room/Atrium area. You can also download a specific app that walks you through the art and design onboard. Don’t miss out on guest lecturers, port talks, streamed TED Talks, destination performances, film screenings, and more onboard. There is also an onboard cooking school, The Kitchen Table, where on sea days, you can learn to cook dishes highlighting an upcoming destination.

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Music is an integral part of the Viking experience. The Viking Jupiter has a resident pianist, guitarist, violinist, and cellist that play throughout the day. There is also a band that plays in cast performances as well as nightly at the Torshavn lounge. There’s an onboard cast that puts on shows ranging from Broadway-style musical performances like “Decades” to cabaret.

The ship is on the quieter side, with music ending at midnight each night. Most guests are in their cabin before then. Port arrivals range from 7 to 10 a.m., and on port days, we were required to be back on board between 1 and 9:30 p.m., depending on the day’s itinerary.

The layout of the ship is easy to figure out, and by the second day, you’re likely to have a good feel for it. All of Viking ships are similar, so if you’ve been on one before, you’ll be right at home. Deck 1 is home to the specialty restaurants and spa, Deck 2 is where the main dining and entertainment options are, and Deck 7 is where you’ll find the main pool, pool grill, the infinity pool, World Cafe, Explorer’s Lounge, and Wintergarden.

Overall, the dress is semi-casual, with the only rule being no jeans in the main dining restaurants for dinner. The staff is very accommodating, though, and any sort of enforcement of dining room dress seems to be rare.

Review: The Cabins on Viking Jupiter

Viking jupiter deluxe veranda.

  • Rating: 4.5

Spacious bathrooms, ample closet space and storage, and comfortable beds are all you can ask for in a cruise cabin.

On Viking Jupiter, you’ll find modern, clean, and brand-new cabins. All rooms have flat-screen TVs, ample closet space with built-in shelves, bathrobes, safes, a small seating area, and a desk with a pop-up vanity. Rooms are serviced twice per day, and a room steward is on duty. I stayed in the Deluxe Veranda Stateroom, which totaled 270 square feet, including the private veranda. On my cruise, I did not experience any noise from the hallways or surrounding cabins.

The bathrooms are thoughtfully designed. There are multiple glass shelves for holding toiletries as well as a drying clothesline, towel racks, and drawers. Additional amenities include a spacious glass-enclosed shower, heated floors, toiletries, robes, slippers, and a hairdryer.

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Veranda staterooms (there are three tiers: standard, deluxe, and penthouse) come with a King-size bed with an optional twin-bed configuration. Square footage ranges from 270 to 338 square feet and only the standard does not come with a stocked minibar. The penthouse stateroom gets you a welcome bottle of champagne, complimentary pressing and shoe shining, and a larger space.

In the suites category, Viking offers several types of suites, including the Penthouse Junior Suite (at 405 square feet), the Explorer Suite (757 to 1,163 square feet), and the Owner’s Suite, which includes a private library, and wine and music collections curated by Viking’s Chairman Torstein Hagen.

Review: The Food and Drink on Viking Jupiter

norwegian waffels

  • Rating: 4.0

Plenty of free food options that surprise and delight.

Onboard the Viking Jupiter, you’ll find plenty of all-inclusive dining options. On Deck 1 are the specialty dining restaurants, Manfredi’s (serving Italian favorites like lasagna and gnocchi) and The Chef’s Table. The latter offers a five-course themed menu that comes with wine pairings; the menu rotates every two to three days. On the night I went, the theme was West Indies, and I was pleasantly surprised by the flavors and execution of each dish. Reservations—which can be made in advance of the sailing or once aboard—are required for both specialty dining restaurants. On Deck 2 you’ll also find the main dining restaurant, The Restaurant, which serves breakfast and dinner. Also on Deck 2 is Torshavn, an intimate lounge with a jazz-club feel that’s a favorite late-night hangout for live music. Dinner attire is elegant-casual, but there was never an overly stuffy feel—or judgment for being underdressed.

On Deck 7, you’ll find the World Cafe, which is Viking’s version of a buffet, for breakfast, lunch, and dinner. There are many stations serving different foods, but favorites include the sushi bar and gelato bar. I appreciated that the food was refreshed constantly and that there were plenty of options for all types of diets. The Pool Grill (also on Deck 7) offered a smaller version of the World Cafe buffet (and a killer burger), but also occasionally had specialty dinner offerings like “Surf and Turf.” The Pool Grill is open for lunch and dinner daily.

For eating and drinking outside traditional meal hours, you can head to The Viking Living Room and Viking Bar on Deck 1. On Deck 7, there’s also the Pool Grill and Bar, Aquavit Bar, Explorer’s Lounge, and Mamsen’s, a Nordic-inspired snack bar of sorts that serves late-morning waffles, mid-afternoon smorrebrods (open-faced sandwiches), and late-night charcuterie. The Wintergarden, also on Deck 7, hosts a lovely tea with finger sandwiches from 4 to 5 p.m. every day.

The onboard liquor is priced fairly, with most beer, wine, and well liquor selling for $5 per drink. Onboard, there are two sommeliers, so the wine selection is always well-considered. (Upgrading to the drinks package offers an even finer selection for lunch and dinner.) In both the Explorer’s Lounge bar and Torshavn lounge, there’s a large selection of liquor ranging from well to premium.

Room service is available for more basic food items and is included 24/7. I only ordered breakfast once, and it was on time and warm when it arrived.

Review: The Spa & Fitness Center on Viking Jupiter

interior view of cruise ship spa.

  • Rating: 4.5

A Nordic spa and gorgeous fitness center make working out and self-care easy onboard.

The LivNordic spa is an ideal spot to visit during sea days or after a chilly shore excursion in the fjords. Each locker room has a cold plunge pool and sauna, while the joint spa area includes a snow grotto (a cold room with piles of ice that you rub on your body to open up your pores), large hydrotherapy pool, a cold bucket dump shower, a hot tub, and a multi-jetted experience shower that refreshes you with water at various temperatures. The spa itself is free to use for all guests.

Treatment prices at the spa are in line with what you’d find at a high-end spa or luxury hotel, though discounts were available on certain days. There’s also a salon onboard offering blowouts, manicures, and pedicures.

Also included in your cruise rate is the use of the fitness center, which offers excellent views and plenty of brand-new machines and weights. For an additional cost ($10), you can sign up for group classes like Pilates.

Review: Shore Excursions/Itinerary on Viking Homelands

white historic houses in norway.

  • Rating: 4.0

Plenty to do in each port, but you will need to dish out some extra cash for experiences.

The Viking Homelands trip is a 15-day itinerary that makes port stops in Stockholm (embarkation port), Helsinki, St. Petersburg, Tallinn, Gdansk, Berlin, Copenhagen, Alborg, Stavanger, Eidfjord, and Bergen (disembarkation port). It highlights true Viking culture at each port, with enriching shore excursions like home visits and walking tours with locals. This is an ideal itinerary for seasoned travelers looking to blend new destinations and revisit favorites. It was my second time visiting Berlin and Copenhagen and it was nice to have a relaxing day to enjoy the city and return to some of my favorite spots. Cruising is also the best way to experience Norway’s fjords—many passengers I spoke with named this part of the journey as their favorite. While generally, you need a visa to spend time in Russia, as a cruise passenger, you won’t need a visa if you are booked on one of the cruise’s excursions—a convenient and simple way to visit St. Petersburg. Overall, I thought the itinerary was well-planned, with an interesting mix of cities and the perfect amount of time in each port. There is only one at sea day (on day seven); and the boat stays overnight in Stockholm, St. Petersburg, and Bergen.

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I booked two shore excursions with Viking: a RIB boat tour in Stavanger, where we got a closer look at the landscape via a speedboat; and a kayaking excursion in Eidfjord. Both were active and exciting excursions that I probably wouldn’t have booked on my own. I also liked that the excursions were only a few hours long, which left me extra time in port to explore. Viking’s walking tours are also a great option for travelers looking for an introduction to the city; they are followed by enough free time to walk around at your leisure. Viking did a fantastic job explaining the optional activities at each port—you could even book excursions via your stateroom TV if there was still availability, though passengers are encouraged to book in advance. There’s an activity level listed with each excursion. In talking to other passengers, many enjoyed the Flam railway (Eidfjord) and flightseeing excursion offered in Eidfjord and Bergen.

Overall, I was pleasantly surprised by this ocean cruising experience and revisiting a few of my favorite cities in Europe in a completely new way. And, there really is no better way to take in the natural beauty of the fjords than by sailing on them. Plus, the region is the cruise line’s home, so this itinerary is especially thought out and exclusive for travelers.

Interested in finding out more about this ship or this cruise itinerary? Send me an email at editor@smartertravel.com.

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Ashley Rossi was hosted by Viking Cruises. Follow her on Twitter and Instagram for travel tips, destination ideas, and off the beaten path spots.