Wednesday, January 27, 2010

Deal of the Week

Another good week of deals, which, once again, made it difficult for me to choose. But after much deliberation, I think I have determined the best one.

And the winner is....

SINGAPORE & BALI UPSCALE VACATION W/ AIR-- $1199


Usually this price would cover only the flights, but now thanks to Globotours, you can book a 5-night stay in Singapore and Bali. The package includes: roundtrip airfare from LA, San Fran, New York or Houston; 5-night hotel accomodations (2 nights in Singapore, 3 nights in Bali); transfers between hotel and airport; a half-day Singapore tour; a half-day Denpasar tour; and complimentary daily breakfast in Bali. For this price you get to stay at the Furama Riverfront Hotel in Singapore and the Nusa Dua Beach Hotel & Spa in Bali. What makes it better? You can travel on dates through June 5 if you book by February 15. But you have to depart on Mondays-Thursday. (Note: flights out of New York and Houston are a little more expensive, and there may be additional taxes--but nothing over $100.)


So take this opportunity to experience the diverse culture of this region, and bask in the sunlight as you lay on the beach.



This weeks runner-up is....

COSTA RICA JUNGLE & BEACH PACKAGE W/ AIR--$779


Enjoy lush rainforests, gorgeous beaches, and epic volcanoes compliments of LatinAmerica4Less. This deal gets you roundtrip airfare to San Jose from Miami--other departure cities will cost more;--hotel accomodations in San Jose (1 night), Tortuguero National Park (2 nights), Arenal Volcano (2 nights), and Manuel Antonio National Park (3 nights); daily breakfasts and two lunches and dinners; a boat tour of Tortuguero National Park; a hiking tour of Arenal Volcano; a tour of Manuel Antonio National Park; and any transfers necessary during the trip.

Departure dates vary, but they are available into next January, so you have time to prepare. However, to get this price, you have to book by February 2. All bookings have to be done over the phone.


And just like last week, there were a couple deals that almost made it, so I have to mention them.


Tuesday, January 26, 2010

On A Mission...

...to be a travel writer!

And I'm definitely on my way. So, as I mentioned last week, I am determined to have a career in the travel industry. The Office of Tourism would of course be a great place for me to be, and I know I would enjoy working there. But then it dawned on me that I might not get to write as much as I want. And so the search continued, until I stumbled across a job opportunity on DePaul's career website to be an editorial intern for a travel trade publisher called Premier Tourism Marketing. It seemed too perfect to be true, and yet there it was.

Of course I realize I still have my apprenticeship to finish, and I fully intend on doing that, but how much would I regret not applying for this job. And so I sent in an application this morning, and guess what?

I got an interview!

Now hear me out, cause I know what you're thinking. If I get the internship, it is only a part-time position starting in the spring, so probably March, and I only have to work between 8 and 15 hours a week. I can still work at my current job part-time, maybe three days a week, and then work the internship. I may seem crazy, but this is an opportunity that is too good to pass up. I would get to research and write travel articles to be published online and in print!! It's everything I want!! And so I am going to attend the interview and hope for the best.

Wish me luck!!

Monday, January 25, 2010

A Home Away From Home...Sort Of

Let me tell you a story--I promise it won't be long--about a place I used to go when I was younger. Just to provide a little background for you, my family is big into tennis. We all play, my parents, my brother, and I. When spring vacation hit--that's right "vacation", not "break" seeing as that implies drunken partying on the beach in Cabo--my family would head to the warm, crisp, salty air of Hilton Head, South Carolina. For one glorious week, we would stay at hotels located minutes from the beach and play tennis at the Van Der Meer Tennis Academy. My brother and I would participate in the junior camps, while our parents enjoyed the adult clinics. And we always made sure we visited during the Family Circle Tennis Tournament, which Van Der Meer hosted, because we were able to sit in the club box with a perfect view of the matches. (Free food and drinks were also a plus.) Needless to say, those vacations were some of the best I had as a child. And lately I have been craving a return to my childhood oasis, if even just for a weekend.

Besides the tennis, which was always enjoyable, there is so much more to experience in Hilton Head. If your an outdoorsey type, there are plenty of nature preserves to hike and bike through, as well as horseback riding and dolphin tours. The island provides an elite golf course, sailing excursions, kayaking rentals and numerous fishing areas. If you prefer a more relaxed vacation, the shopping around the island is ideal for cute boutiques and fashionable shops. With more than 200 stores, you're sure to find what you're looking for. Among the twisting streets and paths are upwards of 250 restuarants where you can sample the local cuisine--or any other cuisine for that matter. Be sure to visit the famous Salty Dog Cafe. If none of this tickles your fancy, there are always daily events going on around the island, from art shows to wine tastings, from concerts to museum tours, there is sure to be something everyone will like.



And if the attractions don't pull you in, then these shots certainly will...




At least I think it's gorgeous!









Thursday, January 21, 2010

Figuring Out the Future...I'm Getting There

As many of you know, or don't know, I started a new job at the beginning of this month. No, I am no longer filing away applications at DePaul. Now, I am writing technical user guides for website building systems. Doesn't that sound exciting? Well it's not. Trust me. I have been here three weeks, and I already know this is not what I want to do with the rest of my life. So I am going to push through the rest of this apprenticeship (one of the main reasons I took it--looks good on a resume and good experience) until I am finished around April or May, and then it's on to bigger and better things.

The goal? Working for the Chicago Department of Cultural Affairs. Why you ask? Because one of their divisions is the office of tourism. Ding, ding, ding, ding, ding, JACKPOT! If there is one place I know I can work, it's there. Travel + promoting a city I love + organizing events for tourists and citizens = dream job! Also, after looking into the website a little more, I noticed that the Cultural Affairs department also has divisions in publishing, fashion, and culinary arts. All things I love and enjoy almost as much as travel!

So the plan is to inquire about any positions as soon as possible. If there aren't any available jobs, I will just keep contacting them every couple weeks, that way they will know my name. I also plan on sending in a hard copy of a resume and cover letter to them, which should illicit even more of a response. Finally, I will ask about volunteer opportunities at the Cultural Center or Millenium Park or anything else they may have going on in the next couple months. The more involved I become, the better chance I have of snagging a job.

Cross your fingers for me!

Wednesday, January 20, 2010

Deal of the Week

Time again for the deal of the week. This was a tough decision, because there were at least four deals I thought were pretty good. But, alas, I had to narrow it down.

And the winner is.....

6 NIGHT EGYPT VACATION WITH NILE CRUISE AND FLIGHTS FOR $1299!!!

Who wouldn't want to see the Pyramids of Egypt or sail along the Nile River? This package gives you that option for a decent price. While the title says 6 nights, it's actually an 8 day package, but that includes flying over from the U.S. But for this price, I'd say it's worth it.

The deal from Gate 1 Travel includes roundtrip airfare to Cairo from New York--options for other departure cities can be inquired about through the website or over the phone,--intra-Egypt flights, 6 nights first class accomodations (2 nights at the Oasis Hotel in Cairo, 3 nights MS Queen of Hansa Nile cruise, 1 night Iberotel Cairo Hotel & Casino), all transfers, 12 meals (6 breakfasts, 3 lunches, 3 dinners--all meals on the cruise), sightseeing, and an English speaking Egyptologist tour guide throughout the trip.

The only downfall of this trip is its limited travel days, April 13, 20 & 27 and May 4 & 11, but luckily prices on surrounding dates are only a couple hundred dollars more. To book this deal, you can either call 800-682-3333 and ask for this package using the promo code TZEG150, or you can go online to their website and use the same code when prompted. But hurry! You have to book by Febuary 3!


The Runner-Up this week...

NEW ZEALAND 'SUMMER' FARES, WITH TAHITI GETAWAY $1253


Let's face it, flights to Australia and New Zealand are pretty pricey. So when a deal like this comes up, it's almost too good to pass up. Bonus? Three free nights at a Tahitian hotel! Sold!

Thanks to Air Tahiti Nui, you can visit New Zealand in the summer--their summer--and get a free stop-over in Tahiti and have a choice between the 4-star Hilton Tahiti, Sofitel Tahiti or Radisson Tahiti for accomodations. You can stop in Tahiti on either leg of your journey, heading there or going back. Travel dates are any time through May, but you have to book by February 1.

One negative--no accomodations provided in New Zealand. But who cares? You're in New Zealand!!!!




P.S. For anyone who is curious, the other two contenders in this competition were a Mediterranean Cruise and a week in St. Maarten. Check them out!

Tuesday, January 19, 2010

A Helping Hand

As most of you know, in the aftershock of a devastating earthquake, Haiti needs help more than ever. Many are probably asking "what can I do?" While most of us do not have extensive funds--like George Clooney or Madonna--to send to the country or to organizations, we still have options.

Even just a small donation--as much as you can afford to give--will help. You can donate to the Red Cross, Doctors Without Borders, UNICEF, CARE, or Yele Haiti.

To all the travelers out there, I know you're busy jetting from one place to the next. I would be out there with you if I could. If money is not something you want to give, how about some of those frequent flier miles you've been racking up, or those hotel points that might be gathering dust. If you are a United Airlines flier, you can donate miles to the Red Cross or Airline Ambassadors or Operation USA. Hilton, Marriot, Starwood, Choice Hotels, and many others are asking members to donate their points and they in turn will make cash donations to various organizations aiding in the Haiti relief effort.

If you are a frequent flier of American Airlines or Spirit Airlines, you will not only be giving, but receiving as well. If you donate a certain cash amount, these airlines will reward you miles. Giving just $5 could buy you a free flight! Of course, none of you need incentive to contribute to a good cause.

So use your travel for good. And if you have the time--and the miles--why not book a flight down to Haiti and lend a hand.

Wednesday, January 13, 2010

Deal of the Week

It's that time again...time to determine the best deal this week. After careful consideration of all Travelzoo's top 20 deals, I have narrowed it down--once again--to a winner and a runner-up.

and the winner is... (drumroll, please)


TUSCANY: LUXURY VINEYARD ESTATE VACATION--$999

Ok, so maybe I'm a bit biased because it's Italy...but just wait until you hear this deal, you would pick it, too.
Imagine staying at a vineyard redesigned by the famous Ferragamo family. That vineyard would have style, and in this case, it does. Il Borro Estate is a 1,000-year-old country estate in Tuscany. Now renovated, it has 5-star amenities and a medieval village. Usually, a stay hear would run you $500 a night, but with this deal from Sceptre Tours, you can stay 6 nights in one of their village villas with airfare and car rental included, all starting at $999. On top of all that, a complimentary bottle of wine from Il Borro's wine cellar will be awaiting your arrival at the villa. With all the money you save on flights and accomodations, you could purchase a 3-hour Tuscan cooking class for $99 or take part in a wine tasting or take a ride on horseback.

The only problem with this deal is that you have to travel in February and March, and if you decide to go in April or May, the cost will increase by $300. So maybe the smart move is to clear some time from your busy schedule the next couple months and book this deal by Jan. 22.

This week's runner-up...

7 Night Florida & Bahamas Cruise--$429

Celebrate Spring Break aboard the Norwegian Jewel. At the beginning of May, the cruise ship will take off from New York and venture down to Port Canaveral (Orlando), then Great Stirrup Cay (Norwegian Cruise Lines private island) and finally to Nassau, Bahamas. You also get $50 credit per cabin, a FREE upgrade to a better interior cabin, and 15% off shore excursions.

The $429 price is only available for May 1 and 8 departures. If you depart May 15 or 22, it's $10 more, departing on May 29, June 5 or 12 will push the price up by $20. So really you aren't trapped by departure dates, since the price stays pretty low through June. But hurry, cause these rates will only last until this Friday, January 15!!


Tuesday, January 12, 2010

Delivering a Smile (and a Treat)

"A balanced diet is a cookie in each hand."

If there is one thing in this world I love more than traveling, it's chocolate. So anyone who combines those two is a winner in my book. Obviously most hotels place that glorious piece of chocolate on your pillow when the turn-down service comes to the room, creating an ever-so-delightful surge of joy when you return after a long day. But other than that, what is there?

I'll tell you what...the sweet, delicious aroma of freshly baked chocolate chip cookies wafting through an airplace cabin at 30,000 feet. That's right, you guessed it. The famous Midwest Airlines cookies! Since the mid 80s these moist, chocolatey morsels have become a staple of the airline. They are a symbol of the service Midwest wants to deliver to its flyers. And while every other airline is charging an inflated amount of money for sweets and snacks during a flight, Midwest is sticking with the complimentary cookie. It's a way to say thank you and give flyers a mid-air boost. Also, the cookies have set Midwest apart from other airlines. They are known as the airline that gives you cookies. And if something as little as a cookie can draw customers, why not do it?
Doubletree hotels also join Midwest on the cookie bandwagon. They have been giving fresh chocolate chip cookies to hotel guests as they check in since the early 80s. They make sure that cookies are available 24 hours a day. It is unclear how the cookies really affect the happiness of the customer, but most people seem to appreciate the generous favor. Doubletree wants to emphasize that their hotels and services are warm, personal, and inviting--just like a cookie.
I have not taken a Midwest flight since I was in college, but my experience was definitely improved by those two warm chocolate chip cookies melting in my mouth. The flight was made even better when the flight attendant--clearly seeing my elation as I devoured the delectable sweets--offered me another two because someone else had not wanted theirs. How could I say no?
It's the little things, like complimentary cookies, that make the stresses and annoyances of travel fade--even if it's just for a tasty, chocolatey moment.

Thursday, January 7, 2010

Deal of the Week

Since I love Travelzoo's Top 20 Deals of the week so much, I decided to pick one of their 20 to be my favorite DEAL OF THE WEEK! It's a new weekly post to expect from me, so I hope you enjoy.

This weeks winner is...


Who wouldn't want to visit a place like this?? LatinAmerica4Less.com is offering an amazing trip that saves you up to $550 off the regular price. The six-night special includes roundtrip airfare to Lima, Peru, six hotel nights: 2 in Lima, 3 in Cuzco, and 1 in Aguas Calientes, flighs between Lima and Cuzco, a full-day guided Machu Picchu tour that includes lunch, half-day guided tour of Lima, half-day guided city tour of Cuzco, entrance fee and tour of Sacsayhuaman Archeological Park, transportation on the backpacker train to Machu Picchu, all airport-hotel and hotel-train transfers, and, finally, breakfast provided daily. (Give me a second to catch my breath.)

While the travel dates are a little limiting, there are a number to choose from, so hopefully everyone can find a time to go. Departure dates are Feb. 14 (romantic Valentines Day trip perhaps?), March 8, April 18, May 7, June 11, July 20, Aug. 13, Sept. 18, Oct. 23, Nov. 20, and Dec. 18.

The biggest problem is that flights may cost more if you're leaving from a city other than Miami and New York. You can call 800-480-0707 for additional city fees.


The Runner up...(cause I have to give this deal props)

6 Summer Nights in Western Ireland--$799

Ireland is a gorgeous country, especially in the summer. Unfortunately that's when the plane ticket prices skyrocket. This deal can save you $1300 of those regular summer rates. Sceptre Tours provides roundtrip airfare to Shannon, Ireland, a three-bedroom private villa for six nights at the 5-star Adare Manor near Limerick, full-size manual car rental, admission to the Belleek Pottery Visitor Centre, and discounted traditional afternoon tea.

Another bonus: travel dates are anytime from June 16-August 22. Also, you aren't just limited to travel in the summer. If you decide to go in the off season, prices start as low as $599.

Tuesday, January 5, 2010

Venturing to the Ice City

If you haven't noticed, it's cold outside! No, not just cold, frigid, bitter. Chicago has been hit by a cold snap, and I for one am not thrilled about it. But I solace the fact that I don't live somewhere like Harbin, China--better known as the Ice City.

The name alone tells it all--this place is cold. In fact, it can reach as low as -40 degrees Fahrenheit. I can honestly say I am happy I live in Chicago, a place where the average monthly high in January is not 9 degrees. And yet this city appears to have some interesting quarks that even the sanest person would venture to see. One being the International Ice and Snow Festival held every January since 1985. The sculptures are created using a range of technology, from modern lasers to traditional ice lanterns. Other activities other than touring the sculptures include alpine skiing and winter swimming, as well as ice lantern exhibitions.

Apart from the ice festival, there is plenty more to see in Harbin. It is a city known for its architecture--a mix of Russian and European. There is a free museum where one can view all the various styles--Zhong Yang Street. It houses one of the main business areas, as well as showcases the international focus of the city. Baroque and Byzantine buildings, Russian bakeries, French fashion houses, American eateries and Japanese restaurants line the street. Fiest your eyes.

The local cuisine is largely Russian influenced, especially their bread--lie ba. Their sausages are worth trying as they have more of a European flavor than other Chinese sausages.

Yes, the cold definitely makes this city less than desirable to visit. But given the chance--and the right outerwear--one may find Harbin a pleasant destination. Plus, their summers are fairly warm, so if the cold is really that much of a deterant, head there in early August for their music festival.

Sure, the cold is rough. But if I had architecture and ice like Harbin, I'd be outside a lot more--well, maybe only a couple extra minutes.

Monday, January 4, 2010

Happy New Year!

Hopefully everyone had a fantastic holiday season and welcomed 2010 with a bang!!

Pardon my absence from the blog scene, but I was in Denver for two long, wonderful weeks. And since it was the holidays and I was on vacation, I decided to avoid the responsibilities and demands of my crazy, everyday life and just get lost in the comfort and relaxation of home.

Anyway, I'm sure many of you were traveling these past couple weeks. I hope the delays, crowds, weather, etc. did not bring down the holiday spirit. I also hope everyone got what they asked for this year from Santa (or your parents, significant other, friends).

This will be a short post as I am currently on my lunch break from my new apprenticeship, which I just started today. It's exciting, and I will tell you all more about it at a later time. Enjoy the new year and returning to the daily grind.