Where to Celebrate the New Year in the United States

newyears-destinations_coverAs a diverse population of over 300 million people, Americans embrace a variety of traditions and beliefs during the holiday season, from Christmas, Hanukkah, and Kwanzaa to Festivus, ChrisFSMas, and more.  One holiday that the vast majority of us recognize, if only because the calendar forces us to do so, is New Year’s Day — and its lead-in, New Year’s Eve.  Of course, the proper way to mark the transition from one year to the next can be as personal a decision as the December holidays are.  If you’re still trying to determine where to celebrate the New Year, here are a few locations you might want to consider, depending on what your interests and desires may be.

New York Citynewyears-destinations_nyc

One of the things “the city that never sleeps” is known for is its televised Times Square ball-drop, which rings in the New Year in millions of homes throughout the Eastern time zone.  Spending New Year’s Eve in Times Square is a popular bucket-list item, though, so if loud, boisterous crowds are on your agenda, try to get there early; revelers start staking out the best spots on the morning of December 31.  (Fortunately, there are dozens of other entertainment options in the area if you’d prefer a roof over your head that night.)

Pasadena, California

Looking for a warmer clime (and a longer tradition) than Times Square offers?  Try the Pasadena Tournament of Roses® Parade, which celebrates its 126th year with an “Inspiring Stories” theme.  You’ll have to buy a ticket if you want to sit in the grandstand, but you can save money simply by watching the festivities from the sidewalk.  After the parade, football fans will want to head to the Rose Bowl for the first-ever FBS College Football Playoff game, which kicks off at 2:10 pm PT.  This semifinal match-up features #2 Oregon and #3 Florida State.

Key West, Floridanewyears-destinations_keys

If you’re not looking for tradition, large crowds, or hoopla, head to the southern-most spot in the continental United States.  Whether you’re looking for a romantic getaway, an eccentric gathering, or just some time alone, Key West offers a variety of events, sites, and sights to help you contemplate (or forget) the last 365 days and get ready for the coming year.

Estes Park, Colorado

If you’d rather embrace the cold than escape from it, try Estes Park, where you’ll find plenty of New Year’s activities, as well as all sorts of winter fun.  Its location in Rocky Mountain National Park provides an abundance of outdoor adventures to help you kick off 2015 in style — skiing, sledding, tubing, snowmobiling, and more.

Travel Plus

Earn 5% cash back on your New Year’s airline, hotel, and rental-car reservations by making them through Travel Plus.  You’ll also enjoy cash-back rebates on a variety of flight, hotel, and rental-car perks that will help your 2015 budget.  With Travel Plus, you can save on all your travel needs.

How to Stay Safe on Ocean Cruises

cruise_coverSummer is a popular season for family cruise vacations, although peak times for specific destinations vary according to their attractions.  (The busiest season for Canada and New England cruises, for instance, is in September and October, when fall foliage flourishes.)  More than 20 million people take cruise vacations every year, and the vast majority return with blissful memories and happy stories.  Cruises often travel outside the legal borders of individual countries, though (and, more specifically, outside the scope of U.S. laws), so wherever your voyage may lead, you’re responsible for your own safety.  To help you and your travel companions enjoy a safe, secure trip, we’ve put together a few tips on how to stay safe on ocean cruises.

Research Potential Ocean Liners

The Vessel Sanitation Program, run by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), tracks gastrointestinal illnesses aboard cruise ships.  CruiseJunkie.com compiles anecdotal information about Events at Sea (“All the Things that Can Go Wrong On A Cruise”) from media reports, passenger accounts, and messages sent to the website.  Review as much data as possible about potential ships before booking your cruise.

cruise_firstaidTake All Necessary Medical Precautions

Any reputable cruise ship offers qualified medical care, generally on par with ambulatory care centers.  Research your chosen ship — and its various ports of call — beforehand to ensure that it can provide the medical services and resources to handle any pre-existing condition(s) among the people in your party.  Also, stock up on all essential medications before boarding the ship; you should have enough on hand to last well beyond the scheduled cruise length, in case your return is delayed for some reason.

Use “Street Savvy”

Ocean liners are basically floating towns.  The largest ship in the world, Allure of the Seas, contains 16 passenger decks, 24 passenger elevators, and accommodations for up to 6,318 guests and 2,384 crew members.  It may be comforting to think that everyone is there to have (or contribute to) good clean fun, but most large groups include at least a few troublemakers.  Follow certain safety measures:

  • Know the ship’s emergency procedures
  • Travel in groups (or at least pairs)
  • Drink responsibly
  • Avoid (and report) shady behavior
  • Supervise children at all times
  • Leave valuables at home

cruise_oceanUse Common Sense

Beyond the usual risks that life offers anywhere, the hazards on a cruise ship include going overboard.  It’s been estimated that more than 200 people have fallen overboard since 1995, and rescue efforts in open water can be incredibly difficult.  Recognize and respect the potential perils of ocean travel, and make sure you don’t place yourself (or anyone else on the ship) in harm’s way.

Try Travel Plus

Through Travel Plus, you can earn 5% cash back on flight, hotel, and rental-car reservations to and from your cruise ship embarking and debarking destinations — and get rebates on all those perks that make vacation travel that much more enjoyable.  Be sure to leave us a comment to share your favorite cruise ship memories.

Popular U.S. Travel Destinations in April 2014

With the extreme weather events of winter 2013-14 slowly fading into the past, April (with any luck) will mark a return to spring’s eternal promises of hope and renewal.  As people across the United States begin to shed their overcoats and break out the 2014 spring fashions, many of us will try to erase memories of the harsh winter via warm-weather activities, including rejuvenating vacation trips.  If you’re looking to put an extra hop in your spring, you might want to consider one of these popular U.S. travel destinations this April.

Opening Month of Major League Baseball Season - Image of a BaseballOpening Month of the Major League Baseball Season

Fans of every major league team can still dream of post-season glory when the 2014 Major League Baseball season moves into full swing this April.  (Technically, it starts on March 22, in Sydney, Australia, with an “Opening Series” between the Los Angeles Dodgers and the Arizona Diamondbacks; details, details.)  While the season essentially opens on March 31, baseball fans can still enjoy opening-day festivities in 15 ballparks this April.  Can Boston remain strong enough to repeat?  Will the purchase power of the Yankees and Dodgers translate into on-field success?  Can the St. Louis Cardinals perform up to their expectations?  The answers to these and other riveting questions start unfolding in April.

Coachella, Indio, California, April 11-13 and 18-20

Coachella, Indio, California, April 11-13 and 18-20

The Coachella Valley Music and Arts Festival is already sold out, but admission passes can still be had on secondary ticketing sites.  It’s no surprise that tickets went so quickly; the 2014 Coachella line-up boasts serious star power, including Arcade Fire, Beck, Fatboy Slim, Nas, Outkast, and Pharrell Williams, among dozens of performers.  While many festival attendees will camp out (on-site and off-site), Palm Springs is within a half-hour drive, for those who prefer hotel accommodations.

New Orleans Jazz FestivalNew Orleans Jazz & Heritage Festival, New Orleans, Louisiana, April 25-May 4

The Jazz Fest was launched in 1970 with little fanfare, selling only 350 tickets even though it featured such luminaries as Duke Ellington, Fats Domino, and Mahalia Jackson.  Since that inauspicious start, the Jazz Fest has blossomed into a bucket-list destination for musicians and fans alike.  Consider just a few of the hundreds of artists in the 2014 Jazz Fest line-up:

  • Aaron Neville
  • Al Jarreau
  • Arcade Fire
  • Bruce Springsteen and the E Street Band
  • Christina Aguilera
  • Eric Clapton
  • John Fogerty
  • Keb’ Mo’
  • Lyle Lovett
  • Phish
  • Public Enemy
  • Preservation Hall Jazz Band
  • Robin Thicke
  • Santana
  • Vampire Weekend

You can purchase tickets for single weekend days, the Big Chief VIP Experience, the Grand Marshal VIP Pass, and the Krewe of Jazz Fest VIP Pass.  Make your reservations soon, though; admission is limited, and VIP Passes in particular sell out quickly.

Try Travel Plus

To save on travel, not just in April but year-round, join Travel Plus, where you can earn 5% cash back when you make your flight, hotel, and rental-car reservations through the program — and enjoy rebates on a wide variety of travel perks.  If you could vacation anywhere this spring, where would you go?

Great U.S. Destinations for Solo Travelers This Winter

solo_vacaWanderlust tugs at everyone, and as appealing as it often is to travel with your family or close friends, sometimes the urge to hit the road by yourself — to truly get away from it all — is too strong to resist.  The benefits of an independent adventure can be boiled down into a simple statement:  You’re in charge — of everything.  You choose the itinerary, the food, the resting points, the places to stay, the things to do, and the people to see (or avoid).  Far be it from us to intrude on such a personal decision, but if you’re looking for some ideas, we’re happy to offer you a few great places for solo travel across the U.S. this winter.

Tricia Daniel / Shutterstock.com

Tricia Daniel / Shutterstock.com

Austin, Texas.  The capital of the Lone Star State, Austin also bills itself as the “Live Music Capital of the World,” with a vibrant music scene that includes over 250 live venues.  One annual highlight is the SXSW (South by Southwest) conference and festival.  Taking place this year from March 7-16, SXSW features top stars and the hottest up-and-comers in the music, film, and interactive industries.  You’ll want to check out the movie premieres and concerts, but be sure to catch the various keynote speakers.

ArizonaArizona.  With average highs of 70 to 76 degrees in February and March, Arizona can provide a much-needed break from cold, inclement weather.  The Grand Canyon is the favored spot for most travelers, but the Cactus League (15 Major League Baseball teams that head to Arizona in late February for “spring” training) is a popular destination for fans who like to get a jump on the coming season.  Preseason ticket prices remain less expensive than regular-season tickets, and the ballparks are cozy enough to offer up-close views of all the players.

Stuart Monk / Shutterstock.com

Stuart Monk / Shutterstock.com

New York City.  “The city that never sleeps” has a slew of attractions and activities that appeal to tens of millions of travelers year-round.  From Broadway shows and museums to sporting events, 4,200+ restaurants, 1,700+ parks (including Central Park, of course), and a sprawling transportation system that can ferry you around town while protecting you from winter’s elements, you’ll likely find more ways to spend your time than you’ll find time to spend in New York City.

Kirkwood, California.  Adventurous solo ski buffs can test their skills with a trip to Kirkwood Mountain Resort, which has averaged well over 400 inches of annual snowfall since 2008.  Just 47 minutes south of Lake Tahoe, and within reach of 14 other resorts in the area, Kirkwood is nevertheless uniquely isolated from the outside world, offering “Rare Earth” views and challenging trails that will leave you breathless.

Whether you just want to escape or are trying to find yourself, getting away on your own is a worthy pursuit.  Whatever your reason for solo travel in the United States this winter, Travel Plus can help you save on your journey, with 5% cash back on plane, hotel, and rental-car reservations, rebates on travel perks, and much more.

Travel Tips: How Much Should You Tip While Traveling?

tip_coffeeTipping is one of the trickier issues in the travel industry.  Most people believe in rewarding hospitality workers who provide quality services in hotels, restaurants, and certain types of transportation, but the circumstances and amount often vary wildly from traveler to traveler.  There are no hard-and-fast tipping laws, but the following guidelines on how much you should tip while traveling represent a consensus of opinions from several respected sources, including USA Today, Emily Post, AARP, and Consumer Reports:

Hotels

Position/Service Tip Amount
Car Valet $0-3 for parking your car; $2-5 when picking it up
Doorman A simple “thanks” for opening the door; $1-2 for hailing a cab (an extra $1 if it’s raining); $1-4 for carrying luggage; $1-4 for special services
Concierge Nothing for simple services; up to $25 for extra tasks (e.g., finding hard-to-get concert tickets)
Bellhop $2 for your first bag, $1 for additional bags
Maid $2-3 per guest per night, left each morning in an envelope marked “Housekeeping — Thank You”
Room Service (food) 10% for a regular order; 15-20% for a difficult order; $1-2 if your bill already includes a “service charge”
Room Service (room needs) $1-3 per item; $5-10 for particularly quick service
Room Service (laundry) $1-3 per item; $5-10 for quick turnarounds

hotel_staff

Restaurants

FYI:  “Automatic gratuity” charges are standard at many restaurants, but that may change in January 2014.  If you don’t see such a charge on your bill, please tip your waitstaff appropriately.

Position/Service Tip Amount
Bartender $1-2 per drink; $5 for a round of drinks; 10-20% if paying a tab at the end of the night
Coat/Hat Check $1 per item
Home/Hotel Delivery 10-15% of the bill; $2-5 for pizza delivery
Host or Maitre d’ Nothing for simple services; $10-20 for special treatment (e.g., finding you a table quickly on a busy night)
Take-out No charge for pick-up; 10% for extra service or special orders
Valet $2-5 when you pick up the car
Waitstaff 15-20% pre-tax for sitdown service; 10-20% pre-tax for buffet

tip_on_table

Transportation

Position Tip Amount
Baggage Handler/Skycap $1-2 per bag, depending on size
Cab/Limo Driver 10-20% of the fare
Flight Attendant Nothing, although there’s no law against it
Shuttle Driver $1-2 per person
Valet Parking $1-2
Wheelchair Attendant $5-10 for a ride to the gate; $10-20 if extra services are provided

limo_driver

While tipping isn’t always mandatory, tips often account for the majority of compensation for many hospitality-industry workers, who shouldn’t have to go above and beyond their duties to merit some appreciation.  If you’re not sure whether to tip, try imagining a family member in the service provider’s position.  If your loved one performed the exact same service for someone else, should he or she fairly expect to receive a tip?  If your answer is “yes,” consider tipping for that service yourself.

To help ensure that you can afford to tip hospitality workers appropriately, check out Travel Plus, which offers members 5% cash back on travel reservations and rebates on travel-service charges.  And let us know in “Comments” what your tipping policy is.

Vacation Spots for Solo Travelers This Fall

Traveling solo has never been more popular, according to a March 2013 Travel Guard study.  For a variety of reasons — life changes, a wider embrace of independent living, an increasing desire to pursue personal interests — there’s been a marked uptick in the number of unaccompanied vacationers.  Of course, single people have a built-in edge over group travelers when choosing vacation destinations:  They only have to please one person — themselves.  If you’re planning to spend some time vacationing by yourself, consider the following vacation spots for solo travelers this fall:

These are just a few of the many vacation spots for solo travelers this fall.  And when you make reservations through Travel Plus (and pay for them in U.S. dollars), you’ll earn 5% cash back for your travels.  Leave us a reply with your recommendations for solo-travel destinations!