How to get the most bang for your vacation buck in San Francisco

Traveling in San Francisco can be expensive…exceptionally expensive. In fact, WorldAtlas.com recently ranked the city No. 1 for most expensive places in the US to take a vacation. But you don’t have to let San Francisco’s high price reputation ruin your travel plans. There are plenty of smart ways to save when you’re aching for a little Northern California getaway.

Don’t Drive: Car rentals are pricy, gas is expensive and paying for parking will make a serious dent in your vacation budget. Simply opting out of driving can save you hundreds in a week’s vacation, plus you will avoid frustrating traffic jams and endless hunts for open parking spaces. Lucky for us, most of San Francisco is very walker friendly, and public transit is extremely reasonable. The BART will connect you to a few points in the city, but it’s best for transportation to and from the airports and in and out of the suburbs. Get acquainted with the Muni for hopping from point to point in the city. The SF CityPass gives visitors extremely valuable access to a 7-day Muni and Cable Car Passport.

Shop the markets: Like most cities, the highest priced restaurants are usually concentrated in the areas with the highest tourist traffic. While there are a number of cheap eats, like the cash-only Vietnamese hole in the wall Saigon Sandwich, the city also has a myriad of fresh farmers markets to choose from. Compile your own menu of fresh fruits, veggies, breads, cheeses and snacks for a fraction of what you could pay one of San Francisco’s finest chefs to put together for you. One blogger has compiled a very helpful list of all the markets in the city here.

Take a free walking tour: San Francisco City Guides offers free walking tours of nearly every neighborhood in San Francisco. Whether you’re looking to be educated on architecture, history, art or ghost stories, San Francisco City Guides has you covered. The tours are free, but donations are always appreciated. Group tours can be scheduled ahead of time for a small fee, and the Go San Francisco card can help with that too.

Visit museums on free days: Use your Go Card or San Francisco CityPass to walk through some of the city’s most prestigious museums. Stroll through the four-story rainforest or wander around the Steinhart Aquarium at the California Academy of Sciences. Or stretch your art appreciation muscles at the de Young Museum. After you’ve used up your museum discounts, check out this calendar of free museum admission days. Hint: most of these freebies are offered up at the beginning of each month.

Stay away from hotels: Hotels in the Bay Area can easily run in the $250-$350 range with high-end hotels blowing those numbers out of the water. Prices can also spike around peak times of year or near special events. If you take advantage of San Francisco’s hospitality, you can stay for much less. Rent a great room or apartment on Airbnb for well under $100 a night- many of them have loads of great reviews. There is also a very active couch surfing community in San Francisco that will offer up a bed or room for free. If you’re not into staying on someone else’s couch, at least check out their groups that meet up for social events around the city. It’s a great way to get insider tips from locals. Finally, European style hostels are spread out around the city, offering up prime location for between $20 and $50 per night.

Enjoy the outdoors: San Francisco is chock full of parks, scenic vistas, and rocky beaches. Explore the Japanese Tea Garden or play disc golf at Golden Gate Park. Climb to the top of Twin Peaks for one of the best views in the city. Search for sea lions on the beach or poke around an old Victorian bathhouse. People living here have figured out that life is better when you go outside, you should too.

Find a free festival: People look for excuses to gather in San Francisco. There is almost always a reason to clear a street for a parade or start a dance party. Costumes are often involved, people sometimes get weird, but it’s always a good time. Find a festival that celebrates something you love, Earth Day perhaps, or street art. Or pick a festival based on what it offers, like live Bluegrass music or hundreds of food trucks. Once you’ve arrived there will be plenty to spend your dollars on, but people watching is always free!

Invest in a San Francisco City Pass or Go San Francisco Card:

Hands down, the best way to experience major savings on your trip to San Francisco is to invest upfront in a San Francisco City Pass or Go San Francisco Card. These cards give you discounted access to some of the city’s biggest attractions. The City Pass highlights seven of the city’s most popular sites, while the Go Pass adds attractions out in wine country, plus restaurant and shopping savings. Compare the two cards here to see which one is better tailored to your vacation itinerary.

Why 2016 is the year you should get to the San Diego Zoo

Some sharks can live to be 400 years old. The world’s oldest tortoise got to see its 250th birthday. Many African elephants achieve a ripe old age of 70. This year, a different member of the animal kingdom is celebrating a major milestone: the San Diego Zoo is turning 100.

In 1916, San Diego physician Dr. Harry Wegeforth gathered a couple colleagues together to care for a handful of animals that had been left behind from a temporary animal exhibit. Many people in the city thought he had gone crazy, but he had a vision. Pretty soon, the San Diego Zoo was born.

In the 100 years that have followed, the zoo has seen significant transformation. Today, 3,700 “rare and endangered animals” call the 100-acre park home, while more than 3,000 animals roam the Safari Park that opened as an extension to the zoo in 1972. The park touts a long legacy of preserving and protecting animal and plant species from all over the world. Now, it’s teaching a generation of young people to care about wildlife and inspiring them to devout their lives and careers to continuing the Zoo’s mission.

Despite its worldwide fame as a champion for wildlife and highly sought after tourist destination, there are still a lot of things about the San Diego Zoo that many people never realize. Here are a few zoo-facts about this southern California staple that just may sway you to plan your next vacation to sunny San Diego.

San Diego Zoo Panda

  • Big game animals roam freely in the Safari Park
    About 30 miles away from the original San Diego Zoo lies a wide open safari park where big game animals from Africa and Asia roam in a much more expansive environment. Visitors can choose their own safari adventure from a list of one-of-a-kind animal experiences. Take a caravan ride to see where giraffes, rhinoceroses and a variety of African antelope co-exist together. Witness a cheetah run 70 miles per hour. Or get a behind the scenes tour of where the tigers live. You can even go on safari in a hot air balloon, or from high above the grounds through a ropes course challenge!
  • You can get up close and personal with furry friends
    In addition to close-up encounters at the Safari Park, the zoo makes it very easy for visitors to get up close and personal with all kinds of animals. You can help a zoo keeper wake the pandas up in the morning, watch an elephant paint a picture, or see how koalas are cared for behind the scenes. Check out the “Special Experiences” and “Activities” sections on the zoo’s website to see which bonus adventures cost extra and how you can book tickets ahead of time.
  • There’s a new baby rhinoceros to ogle at
    In another step toward preserving an endangered species, one of the Zoo’s White Rhinos gave birth at the beginning of April. Rhino mom Holly is doing a great job caring for her calf, according to zoo staff. Also fairly new to the park are six cheetah cubs born in November last year, a baby pygmy hippo, and another rhino calf just a few months old. Not to mention the brand new adult African penguins that now call the zoo their home!
  • Entire species have been saved because of the zoo
    Conservation teams at the San Diego Zoo have aided in bringing back some of the planet’s most endangered species. California condors were down to 22 birds left. Now 200 fly in the wild and another 200 are thriving in breeding facilities thanks to the zoo’s efforts. The zoo has had similar successes with lemurs from Madagascar, douc langers from Vietnam and cheetahs from sub-Saharan Africa. One of the zoo’s top conservation projects right now is the Rhino Rescue. Without the San Diego Zoo and its partners, these animals might soon be extinct. But the zoo’s efforts don’t stop there. Its mission is to end extinction entirely!
  • Online sneak peeks reveal what you’re missing
    If you’re still not convinced that the Zoo is worth the trip to San Diego, get a sneak peek of what you’re missing on its immersive website. Informative videos show off the inner workings of the zoo and the daily lives of its most interesting animals. Live feeds let visitors see what’s happening any time of day with the polar bears, elephants, tigers, pandas and more!
  • 2016 is full of celebration surprises
    This is a big year for the zoo. As it celebrates its centennial, the zoo is inviting all of San Diego and every animal lover in the world to join along in the party. Throughout the year, new exhibits, special events and limited time programs will launch to mark this special occasion. The main event will take place on May 14 at 6 p.m. For a complete list of this year’s special events, visit the zoo’s calendar here.
  • Save money on admission to the Zoo and Safari Park. Try a San Diego Tourist Pass to get discounted. They are great if you are visiting more than one tourist attraction. The most popular at the three for one pass and the Go San Diego Card.

San Diego Zoo Birds

Things are changing in Las Vegas, and it’s a great thing

The Las Vegas of five years ago looks a lot different than the Las Vegas of today, and that’s a great thing. The changes are putting Sin City back on the map for travelers looking for more in a destination than casinos and night clubs.

Las Vegas was hit hard by the 2008 recession, but instead of giving up and allowing the iconic American city to fall to ruin, Las Vegas is working to redefine itself. Now, it’s appealing to many different demographics in a new age of travel. Sure, there are still plenty of slot machines and buffets to choose from, but Las Vegas has seen plenty of positive changes over the last few years and there are still a lot to come.

Here’s a quick peek at how Las Vegas has been evolving and is becoming a great destination option even for those who are terrible at Black Jack.

The food scene is getting a makeover

Las Vegas’ food scene has a tendency to conjure up images of not so fresh seafood sitting under the warming lights of an all you can eat buffet, or celebrity chef-owned fine dining restaurants with prices out of reach for your typical traveler. The good news is, Las Vegas is generally on the cutting edge of new food trends, and in 2016 a lot of those trends are lending themselves to fantastic food coupled with unforgettable experiences. You can check out the Harry Potter themed coffee shop, or a “food incubator” shack helping rising chefs try out new food concepts. For more splurge-worthy experiences, order table-side cut veal parmesan at the new Carbone restaurant at Aria, tour the snack carts at Harvest in the Bellagio, or dine with champagne at the recently opened Mr. Chow in Caesars Palace. The extra-brave can fork over $150 for a three-hour dining experience that includes “live food” at Kame. No matter where you eat while you’re in Vegas, head chef Anthony Amoroso of Aria told Travel Pulse that fresh food is one of the biggest trends sweeping the city this year (that, and chicken sandwiches).

Adventure is heating up

Situated in the middle of the desert, Las Vegas has long been a hub for helicopter tours to the Grand Canyon and sight-seeing excursions to Hoover Dam. Speed demons have been racing high-end cars at Exotics Racing Las Vegas since 2009, SpeedVegas is opening up the city’s longest exotic car track this March, and the bravest daredevils can see what it’s like to be a fighter pilot with Sky Combat Ace. A few other attractions have been added to the Strip recently that won’t put such a dent in your vacation budget. The High Roller observation wheel, SlotZilla zip line over Fremont Street and Voodoo Zip Line between the Rio towers all opened in Vegas in 2014, calling adventure enthusiasts seeking a view of Las Vegas from high above. 

Vegas High Roller

Vegas High Roller

New construction is underway

After several construction projects came to a quick halt at the first signs of recession around 2008, Las Vegas is starting to see construction pick up again. The Killers are on the schedule to christen the brand new T-Mobile Arena on April 6, and two more resorts are underway on the Strip. Both resorts are Asian-themed, with PENTA Building Group’s Lucky Dragon on pace to open August this year, while Resorts World Las Vegas will hopefully be completed by 2018.

Not everything is about gambling

As you can see, Las Vegas is about a lot more than just gambling and fist pumping these days. It’s about experiencing innovative food and drinks. It’s about seeing the Strip from high in the sky, and venturing out to the surrounding scenic areas. It’s a place where people are testing out new business concepts and starting up companies. Las Vegas is still an entertainment Mecca, chock full of theaters and music venues. It’s still a destination for trying your hand at Texas Hold’em or hedging your bets on slots. But the Vegas that is out there in Nevada’s desert today has undergone a major facelift since the Vegas of five years ago, and tourists ought not miss the changes.

10 reasons Chicago should be on your summer vacation radar

Enduring long, bone chilling winters may be a fact of life for the people of Chicago. But also a fact of life is fully embracing the warm weather when it arrives. Spring and summer in Chicago means a city buzzing with outdoor festivals, boats dotting the lake and people swarming to the beaches. Restaurants throw their patio doors open and city parks transform into stunning green spaces.

When the cold goes away, Chicago knows how to come out and play.

Here are 10 reasons Chicago should be on your summer vacation radar this year.

Navy Pier comes to life

Chicago Navy Pier Swings at Dusk

Chicago Navy Pier Swings at Dusk

Navy Pier is a hotspot for activity all year long, but there’s something about summer that fills it with life. In 2016, the lakeside attraction will turn 100-years-old, giving Chicago something extra special to celebrate. The city is set to open a brand new 196-foot Ferris wheel, replacing the 147-foot ride that has been a Pier staple since 1995. Lake cruises that set sail from the Pier pick up this time of year and people flock to take part in all the outdoor seasonal activities that take over the area. If there were no other reasons to visit Chicago during the summer months, Navy Pier would be reason enough!

Bicycles become a viable (and enjoyable) form of transportation

Forget crowding onto public transit or fighting downtown traffic, spring and summer provide the perfect opportunity to explore Chicago by bicycle (or Segway!) Make a reservation on www.bikechicago.com and build your own adventure, or sign up for one of their group tours. This company is great at accommodating groups of all sizes and they’re kid friendly.

Zoo animals come out of hibernation

Chicago’s beautiful Brookfield and Lincoln Park Zoos keep their doors open year round, but many animals are just more apt to come out and play when the sun is shining! Each zoo has a ton to offer this spring and summer, including Lincoln Park’s Spring Break Camps and the launch of Brookfield’s Hamill Family Wild Encounters. Where else do you get the opportunity to interact up-close with red pandas and wallabies?

You can get schooled on architecture from a double decker boat

Dubbed the “Birthplace of the skyscraper,” Chicago has plenty of impressive architecture to ogle over. Instead of craning your neck from the sidewalks between buildings and wondering about the history behind each tower, Shoreline offers guided architecture tours via double decker riverboat. Catch the cruise at the right time and your tour just may end with watching fireworks over Navy Pier.

Parks are in bloom on the Gray Line tour

Gray Line gives visitors the opportunity to dig deeper into particular Chicago landmarks and neighborhoods, with about a half dozen tours to choose from. There’s even one tour that includes a personal pizza. Gray Line is happy to show tourists around the city all year long, but several of the points of interest just happen to be outdoor parks. To avoid missing out on all of the blooms and blossoms, take advantage of this opportunity during the warm weather months!

Theater goes outside

Professional stage productions head outdoors starting in the spring. Oak Park Festival Theatre and First Folio’s outdoor stage entertain audiences with acts from Shakespeare to modern productions. Breathe in fresh air while you take in a top-notch play from some of Chicago’s most renowned theatre companies. However, if you’re dying to catch a glimpse behind the scenes of the city’s “movie palace” built in 1921, then sign up for the Chicago Theatre Marquee Tour. This attraction may be indoors, but it’s worth seeing even if the weather is to die for.

Views from the 1,353-foot glass box get clearer

Step out into a glass box suspended 1,353 feet above Chicago. Located in the tallest building in the Western Hemisphere, the Skydeck at Willis Tower touts views that can extend into four different states on a clear day. For competing views, head up to the 94th floor of the John Hancock Center and stand in the “TILT” windows that fold out in a 30-degree angle for another unique view from above Chicago’s skyline. Either way, chances of a crystal clear view are much better this time of year than under the frequent cloud cover that seems to constantly hover over the city throughout the winter.

Kids can go to Dino-Camp

The Field Museum of Natural History has been a place of scientific discovery for people of all ages for more than a century. Among a slew of other events and exhibitions that the museum hosts during the summer, one of the highlights is Dino Camp, a day camp that lets young kids put on their paleontologist caps and dig for dinosaur fossils. Older kids can try out the Summer Explore Studio, which this year fuses dinosaur survival tactics with video game development in a mash-up kids are sure to love.

Baseball is in full swing

Wrigley Field GameEnjoying a day out at the diamond in Chicago is one of the best ways to get a taste of real Chicago culture. Chicagoans have been rooting for their beloved Cubs since 1870, and Wrigley Field stands as the second oldest ballpark in Major League Baseball. The White Sox have been swinging bats since 1901, and have also established a loyal fan base. Whether you choose to enjoy your hotdog from the stands at Wrigley or U.S. Cellular Field, indulging in America’s pastime in one of the country’s most die-hard baseball cities is truly an all-star experience.

You can try your hand at pirate life

“Chicago’s Official Tall Ship” sets sail out of Navy Pier starting in May every year. Marked by giant, billowing sails, the four-mast schooner offers educational tours, relaxing cruises, and even haunted trips out to sea. Learn a little bit about pirate life, maritime history and more from one of the “Windy’s” official guides, and actively participate in adjusting the sails or setting off one of the ship’s cannons.

Options abound for summer-time fun in and around Chicago. The city has a way of welcoming people of all ages, interests and backgrounds and delivering a one of a kind experience worth traveling for.

 

 

 

 

 

Boston’s Freedom Trail: Tips, tricks and hidden secrets

An old city in the new world, Boston is a place chock full of historical landmarks and layered with centuries of well-kept secrets and hidden gems. From 17th century graves to a 20th century covert steakhouse, mystery is around every corner, waiting to be discovered by tourists and locals alike.

The good news is, Boston’s biggest historical attractions like Bunker Hill, Paul Revere’s House and Quincy Market are strung together along a red brick and painted path dubbed the Freedom Trail. Many tour companies are available with knowledgeable guides ready to walk visitors from site to site, explaining the who’s and what’s behind the Patriots’ road to revolution.

Whether following a guide or traveling the Trail alone, here are a few tips and tricks to add to your adventure.

Rest your feet on the Charlestown Ferry

While the Freedom Trail is completely walkable, it can make for a long day. To cut down on steps AND get a great view of the city, catch the Charlestown Ferry at Long Wharf after you hit all of the stops from Boston Common to Old North Church in the North End. The ferry leaves every 15 minutes and costs less than $2 to ride each way. Passengers can sit inside or out, but either way, they get a stunning view of the Boston skyline from the water! The ferry stops off at the Charlestown Navy Yard and from there it’s a short walk to Bunker Hill and the rest of the stops on this side of the bay.

View of Boston from a Ferry

Search for Mother Goose

Lay a penny on Paul Revere’s headstone, pay respect to John Hancock and look up at the towering Franklin Monument at the Old Granary Burying Ground, but don’t forget to visit Mother Goose. Walk up the center trail of the burying ground to the short dead end path located between the Franklin Monument and the back of the cemetery. Here lies the first wife of Isaac Goose, Mary, and his second wife, Elizabeth in an unmarked grave nearby. Mary gave birth to 10 children before passing away. Elizabeth raised all 10 kids and added 10 of her own to the clan. Elizabeth may have never penned a nursery rhyme, but she’s certainly earned the title “Mother Goose.“

Find your Saint in an alleyway

Stop by to see if Peter Baldassari has the wooden gate to All Saints Way alley open at Hanover and Battery Street in Boston’s oldest neighborhood, the North End. Baldassari is sometimes on hand to talk all about his passion project, collecting saints and building out his sanctuary to them. He will even help visitors find their Saint based on their birthday. It’s a beautiful place that mashes up art, history and religion in a homemade alleyway museum. If the gate is closed, take a peek through the slats to check out Baldassari’s collection. 

See where Benjamin Franklin was born

This unassuming landmark is just steps off the Freedom Trail between the Old Corner Bookstore and the Old South Meeting House, but many people miss it! The birthplace of Founding Father Benjamin Franklin at 1 Milk Street is marked by a small white bust of Franklin himself. The original building where Franklin was born burned down in 1810.

Dine in a secret steakhouse

Just 2.5 blocks from the Park Street Church stop on the Freedom Trail is a hidden 20-seat steakhouse where patrons can order hand crafted cocktails, caviar, foie gras and a 28-ounce bone-in Porterhouse. Walk through the casual JM Curley burger joint and look for the “Adults Only” sign. Turn off your cell phone and enter Bogie’s Place, a private dining experience of a lifetime. Main course prices range from $23 to $75 with add-on sides for $7 to $14. Make sure to call ahead and make reservations.

Take note of the 10-foot wide house

Directly across the Hull Street entrance to Copp’s Hill Burying Ground in the North End stands 4-story house touted as the narrowest house in Boston, measuring only 10 feet wide. Urban legend holds the house was built by a bitter brother to block the sunlight to his sibling’s larger home on land the two inherited from their father. The Civil War era house is still occupied today.

Step carefully over the dead

Four cemeteries are located on Boston’s Freedom Trail, including the city’s three oldest. Visitors may notice that the faded headstones that in some cases date back to the 1660’s, are all organized in fairly neat rows. That was not always the case. In fact, it’s likely that not many of the headstones still mark the resting place of those who were buried there, and the remains of bodies probably extend underneath surrounding streets and structures.

Boston Cemetary

Grab a bite at Paul Revere’s old haunt

Hob nob where Paul Revere used to hang out, at the Green Dragon Tavern not far off the Freedom Trail at 11 Marshall Street, just behind Union Oyster House. The history of the pub is disputed, but it’s said that Paul Revere launched his famous midnight ride from here to warn the patriots of the British march toward Lexington and Concord. The current standing restaurant is proud of its history that extends at least back to the 1770’s, if not back to 1654 like the pub claims. Regardless, it’s a great place to take a load off and grab a bite to eat at a historic landmark!

 

24-Hour Guide to Manhattan

Historic landmarks, world-renowned museums, the flashing lights of Broadway- New York has a few things to offer its 50-plus million tourists each year. But it could take a lifetime to uncover all the sights sounds, smells and tastes of America’s biggest city. Just ask one of its 8.5 million residents, New York is a tough nut to crack.

Some travelers just do not have that kind of time. They need to experience the highlights of New York in a quick, jam-packed trip of a lifetime.

For those who have an extra-long layover or find themselves just driving through, here’s a 24-hour guide to conquering (or at least beginning to experience) New York’s glitziest borough: Manhattan.

Grand Central Terminal Audio Tour
Travelers taking the train in from one of the region’s nearby cities should take it all the way to Grand Central Station, New York’s transit mecca and the largest train station in the world. Unbeknownst to many New Yorkers who pass through every day, the terminal is over a century old and packed with juicy secrets. Grab a headset from a GCT Tour window located on the main concourse for an audio-guided trek through the station. Those who are short on time can opt for the 30-minute express version.

Bagel Time
It’s breakfast time, which in New York means it’s bagel time. Head west on 42nd Street from Grand Central and south on Fifth Avenue to walk through part of New York’s famed high-end shopping district. Turn west again on 35th and walk 2.5 city blocks to Best Bagel & Coffee. Fuel up here or grab some lox to go and get to Penn Station at 34th Street and 7th Avenue. Hop on the IRT Broadway-Seventh Avenue Line 1 Train going north. Next stop: Columbus Circle.

Central Park Bicycle rentals
Welcome to Central Park. Several bicycle rental companies are waiting near Columbus Circle at the corner of 59th Street and Central Park West. Snag an hourly rental and head deep into the trees or follow the trails to the zoo on the east side of the park near 65th Street. Take in a Zen moment at the Strawberry Fields memorial honoring Beatles legend John Lennon at the Columbus Circle corner of the park when it’s time to return the bikes.

Empire State Building
Get back on the same subway line, this time headed south to 34th Street Herald Square. Look up and find the Empire State Building. Now book it! It’s almost 11:30 a.m. and that’s when the lines start to get really long here! Take the elevator up 1,250 feet for the highest view of New York City (the radio antenna sits at a city-high 1,467-feet).

Empire State Building

Grub Time
That bagel and coffee are wearing off and it’s time to eat again. A 12-minute walk or 7-minute subway ride on the M1 or M2 south will bring visitors to the heart of the Flatiron District with several lunch options. For pastrami and sour pickle fans out to see where Harry Met Sally, head back to the subway at Herald Square and take a 15-minute ride on the F line to 2nd Avenue. Five blocks east on Houston Street, enter Katz’s Delicatessen. Take a ticket and DON’T LOSE IT until lunch is OVER. For foodies who are looking to spend their 24-hours eating and drinking through Manhattan, check out the Food on Foot tours instead.

9/11 Tribute Center
If there is any place during this 24-hour, non-stop day of sight-seeing to really slow down and take everything in, it’s here. Visit the Gallery or take the 1-hour 15-minute guided tour of the 9/11 Memorial, led by survivors, first responders, and family members of loved ones lost on that tragic day in American history. Gallery visits are $15 per adult and $5 for children ages 8-12 and guided tours are $25 for adults, $10 for children. Tours are often booked out days or weeks in advance, so book ahead of time.

Staten Island Ferry
From the 9/11 Tribute Center, take the 1 Train south to the tip of Manhattan, South Ferry Station. For those with time and energy to walk, there is a photo opportunity with the Charging Bull on Wall Street between the two stops. Ferries depart from the Whitehall Terminal in Manhattan every half hour. No tickets are necessary, but there may be lines to board. Ferry-goers will get great views of the Statue of Liberty and of the Manhattan skyline. Passengers must get off the ferry on Staten Island but are generally allowed right back on the same boat headed back.

Grab a Slice
It’s time for dinner and this 24-hour guide has yet to stop anywhere near a slice of New York style pizza. A short walk from South Ferry Station toward Hanover Square is Adrienne’s Pizza Shop at 54 Stone Street. Since there’s nowhere to go but north, there are a string of places to grab a slice on the way up to New York’s iconic Times Square.

Times Square, Broadway
After a full day of stuffy subway cars and walking long city blocks, it’s time to take a load off. First, snap a few photos in Times Square to properly mark this 24-hour trip that has flown by. Then head over to one of the city’s top Broadway shows. Whether it’s a long-time favorite like the Lion King or Fiddler on the Roof, or one of the popular, newer additions to the theater scene like Book of Mormon or Finding Neverland, finishing the day at the theatre will be the perfect ending to 24-hours of non-stop, Big Apple fun.

 

New York may be the city that never sleeps, but after this quick trip, you will be happy you still do.

Why buy a Go Oahu Card instead of a iVenture Honolulu Card?

The Go Oahu Card and the iVenture Honolulu Card are two of the biggest multi-attraction passes in the Oahu tourism market. They both offer admission to the area’s best attractions at a discount, but they have important differences that you should consider when making your decision about which one to buy. Thinking about factors like included attractions, geographic breadth, and maximum savings, it’s clear that the Go Oahu Card comes out on top.

Included Attractions

GO_CARD_HIO-largeGo Oahu Card

Because the product offers admission to more than 30 attractions throughout all of Oahu, we can’t list them all here. Here are a few of their top attractions:

iVenture Honolulu Card

The iVenture Honolulu Card offers 16 attractions, all of which are located on the South Shore or in the immediate Honolulu vicinity.

  • Battleship Missouri
  • Iolani Palace
  • USS Bowfin Submarine
  • Hawaiian Style Rentals
  • Wet n’ Wild Hawaii
  • Bishop Museum
  • Honolulu Museum of Art
  • Hanauma Bay Snorkeling
  • Kualoa Ranch
  • Island Tours
  • Movie Sites Tour
  • Volcano Crater Tour
  • Honolulu City Tour
  • Catamaran Sail
  • Waikiki Trolley
  • Sea Life Park Hawaii

As is evident by these lists, there’s a lot of similarities in the attractions they offer, whether it’s the same museum or the essentially the same tour offered by a different company.

One thing that’s important to note about this comparison, however, is that the Go Oahu Card has a lot more to offer both in terms of available attractions in Honolulu (they have all the stuff the iVenture Honolulu Card does), but they also offer popular attractions elsewhere in Oahu. How many people realistically go to Oahu and stay only on the South Shore?

The Go Oahu Card also includes admission to one of the most popular attractions on the whole island that the iVenture Honolu Card simply leaves out – the Polynesian Cultural Center.

How You Save

The Go Oahu Card advertises that it can save you up to 55% on combined admission prices. Their website offers examples of real customer itineraries and how much they saved, with one family saving over $1,500 on admission with 5 day cards!

One of the best things about this product is the flexibility in planning your visit. You can explore Honolulu one day, head to the North Shore for some snorkeling and sunbathing the next, and then mix it up with a little trip to the center of the island.

There are also multiple combinations of attraction visits that can maximize your savings. With over 30 choices, you’re not restricted to a few of the most expensive attractions in order to get your money’s worth out of the pass.

The iVenture Honolulu Card advertises a savings of 50% (so not too different there), but they provide only sample itineraries that demonstrate potential savings. Their suggested itineraries with 5-day cards save only around $120 per adult based on their own calculations.

The real downside to this product is the limited selection of attractions. While they do offer a nice variety of options, you are a bit limited geographically with the one exception of Kualoa Ranch.

You also don’t have the option to visit attractions more than once (unlike the Go Oahu Card). If the kids really fell in love with Sea Life Park, for example, you simply can’t revisit favorite attractions.

How Do I Use Them?

Both products are smart cards (the size and shape of a credit card with an embedded computer chip) that serve as your admission ticket to the chosen attractions.

The iVenture Honolulu Card is purchased online and can be shipped or picked up in Honolulu with a voucher system (note: they don’t seem to ship everywhere in the US, so that may be a limiting factor for some of you). They offer one sales location in Honolulu.

The Go Oahu Card has a wider variety of options in how to get the pass. They do ship everywhere in the US and to many countries worldwide. You can buy the pass online, over the phone, or in Hawaii itself (also in places like Costco!).

Or you can choose instant delivery of the card – it’s the same exact product with the added convenience of being able to use it on your smartphone. Prefer a hard copy but like the instant part? Just print it out. It’s perfect for last-minute planners and many customers pick this option.

What’s the Real Difference?

The most important differences between these two products have to do with what style of travel you’re most interested in. If you want the flexibility and freedom to see what you want to see, the number of times you want to see it, then the Go Oahu Card is a great option.

If you’re only planning on staying in Honolulu and like the included attractions, then the iVenture Honolulu Card might be a good choice. However, in addition to the “no repeat attraction visits” limit, you’re also restricted to visiting attractions on consecutive days, meaning that there’s no flexibility to accommodate bad weather or the desire for a beach day.

Extra Details

The Go Oahu Card includes multiple North Shore attractions, providing you with a more comprehensive look at Oahu culture – in fact, some of the best beaches (with fewer tourists!) are found on the North Shore.

Both products come with guidebooks that contain area maps and essential details like directions and contact information.

The Go Oahu Card also includes admission to your choice of a premium bonus attraction, which includes exciting and authentic Hawaiian experiences like a real luau and a dolphin encounter at Sea Life Park.

Both products offer additional benefits like “skip-the-line” privileges at certain attractions.

The Go Oahu Card is purchased for a number of card days, but those days can be used over a 2-week period, so you’ve got plenty of wiggle room when it comes to weather or the need to take a break.

Last Thoughts

Trying to decide between a Go Oahu Card and the iVenture Honolulu Card? When taking into consideration product attributes like flexibility in attraction choice, the freedom to see what you want, when you want, and the ease of maximizing your savings, the Go Oahu Card is your best bet.

 

Why Buy a Go Boston Card Instead of a Boston CityPass?

Smart Destinations’ Go Boston Card and the Boston CityPass are the two biggest all-inclusive products in the Boston market. They both have their pros and cons, and both are popular with visitors. Yet despite often being part of the same conversation, these products offer very different benefits. In fact, when you consider attributes like included attractions, ease of use, maximum potential savings, and flexibility, the Go Boston Card is a clear winner.

Let’s start with a few comparative points, then get into specifics about savings.

Included Attractions

Go Boston Card

There are simply too many to list them all here, but here’s a brief selection of the top tourist attractions available through the Go Boston Card program:

Boston CityPass

  • New England Aquarium
  • Museum of Science
  • Museum of Fine Arts
  • Skywalk Observatory OR Harvard Museum of Natural History

As you can see, the Go Boston Card includes all of the same attractions as the Boston CityPass, without the need for any exclusionary choices. You can see as much as you can fit into your schedule!

How You Save

The Go Boston Card advertises that it can save you up to 55% on combined admission prices, and their website offers several examples of real customer itineraries and how they saved on their vacations. If you want to maximize your savings, there are tons of attraction combinations that will really add up the savings.

In fact, one of the best things about this pass is the flexibility – you create so many personalized itineraries and still get your money’s worth out of this pass. You can save over $300 per couple!

Boston CityPass advertises that it can save you up to 47% on combined admission prices. Because there are only five options, they don’t offer any real customer experience on their site. In order to maximize your savings, you have to visit all of the included attractions and be sure to choose the more expensive one for your either/or choice.

The real downside here is how limited you are in personal attraction choices. You only have two possible itinerary combinations, and that’s with only one variable. The most you can possibly save is $85.90 per couple.

How Do I Use Them?

Both products work in similar ways, in that they serve as your admission ticket to the included attractions. The Boston CityPassis a booklet of paper tickets that can be shipped or picked up in person in Boston. Attractions tear off the paper ticket when you visit, and you hold onto the booklet for future admission to the other attractions.

The Go Boston Card comes with a variety of options. You can choose a physical card (the size and shape of a credit card) that can either be shipped or picked up in person in Boston, or you can choose to receive instant delivery of their digital pass. It’s the same pass with all the same benefits, but you can use it on your smartphone for admission to all of the included attractions. If you like the instant part but not the digital part, just print out the pass and present the paper copy to attractions. Many customers prefer the digital option because of its speed and convenience.

What’s the Real Difference?

The big difference here is going to be in your style of travel. If you prefer a kind of “do it all, see it all” attitude, then the Go Boston Card is best for you. You’ll get more value the more you do, and the longer increments you buy the card for, the more you can save on combined admission prices. You also get one free bonus attraction for 3-, 5-, and 7-Day cards, featuring premium activities like a Whale Watch, Red Sox tickets, and the Boston Duck Tours. The most popular card is the 3-Day Go Boston Card.

If you only want to see a very specific, limited set of attractions, then the Boston CityPass might be a good choice. However, you have a lot fewer options, which don’t even include some of the most significant historical sites in the city. You’re also out of luck if you want to see both the Harvard Museum of Natural History and the Skywalk Observatory. There are no bonus attractions with CityPass. At the end of the day, this product just doesn’t offer the same flexibility, variety, and convenience that the Go Boston Card does.

Extra Details

The Go Boston Card also includes attractions in Cape Cod, Lexington, Concord, Salem, and more, so you’ll really get a feel for the whole Boston metro area and its rich historical heritage.

Both products come with additional coupons for savings on dining, shopping, and/or other attractions.  However CityPass only has discounts at a few of the museum shops as well as Macy’s. Go Boston Card gives you discounts at about 20 restaurants, shows and shops (including Macy’s).

Both products also come with basic details like directions and contact information. The Go Boston Card includes a free, full-color guidebook with your purchase. This includes information on the local mass transit system (the MBTA), details about local neighborhoods, and some facts about free points of interest and historical sites.

As mentioned above, the Go Boston Card offers your choice of 4 premium bonus attractions, including a Whale Watch, Red Sox Tickets, Gray Line Boston Tours, and the Boston Duck Tours.

Last Thoughts

Trying to decide between a Go Boston Card and Boston CityPass? Think about what you want out of a vacation, what your style of travel is, and what your budget is. Both products also have crucial differences in available attractions, the way the passes work, how much you save, and what’s included in your total experience. Ultimately, the Go Boston Card just seems like better value for your money.

Top 10 reasons to go to New York City

Art museums
Some of the world’s most famous art can be found within the numerous art museums in New York City. Some of the most famous New York museums include The Metropolitan Museum of Art (The Met), The Museum of Modern Art (MOMA) and The Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum. Two lesser-known but intriguing places to visit are The Museum of Comic and Cartoon Art (MoCCa) and The New York Tattoo Museum.

US history
One visit to New York City can teach you a great deal about the United States. Visit Ellis Island, the gateway to America for millions of 19th-century immigrants who arrived to its port seeking freedom and opportunity, and enjoy the same first view of the Statue of Liberty that the immigrants beheld when first arriving on America’s shores. You won’t want to visit NYC without viewing its impressive skyline from the astounding heights of the Empire State Building, once the tallest skyscraper in the world.

Unique shopping opportunities
Famous for opulent department stores like Macy’s and Bloomingdale’s, New York City is a shopper’s dream: from couture fashions costing thousands of dollars to small vintage and thrift shops where you can find designer jeans for the price of a sandwich, New York is not only a fun place to shop, it is the place to shop…for just about everything!

Cultural diversity
A city of immigrants, New York retains its unique cultural flavor as much today as it did centuries ago. This unique blend of ethnicities and cultures has influenced every aspect of city life: you can find art, cuisine, clothing and literature in just about any language. Check out Little India, Chinatown and Borough Park (also called Boro Park), home to one of the largest Orthodox Jewish communities in the world.

Parks and Public Spaces
Central Park is a great first choice to take the family- you could spend hours, if not days enjoying the 873 acres of the park. Children will enjoy The Central Park Zoo, and there are no less than 21 children’s parks within the park! Athletic families will appreciate Central Park’s walking and bike tours, and everyone will enjoy concerts in the park. You could even take a cue from the locals and pack a picnic for a leisurely family lunch in the park. Other parks to visit include Bryant Park and Madison Square Park.

Festivals and concerts
Musicians have long flocked to New York City to become famous, or at least make a living playing music. Consequently, NYC is one of the best places for music lovers of all genres. Music is in the air in New York City. At any given time, you can find exuberant street musicians playing in parks, cafes and even in the subway station. There are always multiple concerts taking place in venues such as Radio City Music Hall and Madison Square Garden.

Top-notch theatre performances
Broadway is the place to catch a live, world-class show. This thespian hotspot runs throughout Manhattan into Westchester Country, and it is considered the cultural axis of the American theatre industry.

Diverse dining opportunities
There are literally thousands of restaurants in New York City. You can sample foreign fare from around the globe. While some of New York’s most extravagant restaurants can cost over $200 per person, you can also enjoy the relatively inexpensive, famous New York take-out, as well as street vendor favorites like kosher hot dogs and tacos.

Great urban bicycling routes
There are five major urban bike route options in New York City, ranging from five to fifteen miles in distance. Try the scenic North Country and South County Trailways, located just outside city limits in Westchester County.

New York Nightlife
The late-night social scene starts well after 10:00pm in New York City. Famous clubs include the 40/40 Club, The Bowery Ballroom and Table 50. Most nightclubs charge a cover, and many have a dress code. It seems as though a new club is opening every other day in New York, so if you like to dance you can find everything from dubstep to salsa music on any given night of the week.

USS Iowa Now Open at the Port of Los Angeles

USS Iowa leaving San Francisco for LA

Dubbed the “World’s Greatest Naval Ship” when it was commissioned in 1940, the former battleship the USS Iowa has now been converted to a state-of-the-art naval museum and found a permanent home at Berth 87 in San Pedro, CA at the Port of Los Angeles. The ship/museum officially opened to the public on July 7, 2012 to a week of fanfare. Now and in the future, it will open daily from 9am to 5pm each day of the year except Christmas and Thanksgiving. There are also plans to light up the ship each evening so that is stands as a beacon for the Port of Los Angeles.

The History of the USS Iowa

The USS Iowa was built in 1940. At the time, it was called the “World’s Greatest Naval Ship” in part because of its large guns, fast speeds, heavy armor, modernization, and longevity. It served the United States Navy as a warship for the next 50 years, continuing to keep pace with newer ships for all of that time. This included serving tours in World War II and Korea, as well as conducting Cold War missions. The ship was officially and finally decommissioned on 26 October 1990.

Over its illustrious history, the Iowa served ten different presidents including transporting President Franklyn Delano Roosevelt on an overseas journey to a secret meeting with Winston Churchill, Joseph Stalin and Chiang Kai-shek at the Tehran Conference. In fact, a special bathtub, unheard of on a naval ship, was built for President Roosevelt for his journey across the Atlantic. In addition, Ronald Regan and his wife Nancy spent the weekend on the ship in 1986. Its relationship to these presidents and particularly its role in transporting FDR as earned the Iowa the additional nickname, “The Battleship of Presidents.”

Visiting the Museum

Tourists to the Los Angeles area this summer will be among the first to view the new battleship/museum which displays all the specifics of a Navy warship along with offering a series of virtual battle experiences. In addition, the Iowa will also sponsor a youth program which will include camps, overnight opportunities, and specialized programs for at-risk youth.

Entrance into the museum at the USS Iowa is reasonably priced at $18 for adults aged 18-61, $10 for youth ages 6-17, and $15 for seniors aged 62+ and active duty or retired military members with valid ID. Children under age 6 are admitted free of charge. Memberships are also available for purchase which will entitle holders to additional benefits such as guest passes, newsletters, and gift shop discounts.

Visiting the Los Angeles Area

One of the greatest benefits to visiting the Los Angeles area any time of the year is its weather. Travelling to L.A. in December is as pleasant as travelling in July. When there, numerous Los Angeles and San Diego area tourist passes can help travelers save money while visiting all of southern California’s best attractions. Though the Iowa is not currently on any tourist passes (it is too new) a trip to San Pedro can be combined with several other popular L.A. tourist opportunities.