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What’s the new ‘Play to Play’ featured city? The answer is “puzzling”

May 14th, 2010

Chicago, Miami, San Diego… what city will be next? Here is your chance to find out and secure some extra big savings on your next vacation. If you’re not familiar with the Play to Play program, no problem. Just check out the original blog post for more information.

We have several hints for this week’s Play to Play, but you should only need to solve one to figure out the identity of this popular city (of course, you’re more than welcome to solve them all just for fun!). Below we’ve listed five of this city’s top landmarks and attractions – in anagram form.

1. Freckle Center Lore – 2 words
2. Beatify Turtle So – 3 words
3. Carp Rant Elk – 2 words
4. Putting Is Remediable – 3 words
5. Seal Lids Nil – 2 words

Figure them out? When you do, just head over to our Travel Guides, click on this week’s city, and pack your bags! If you’re a local, you may want to check out this week’s discounts too.

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Free things to do in Paris

May 12th, 2010

Basilique du Sacre-Couer on Montmartre
The view from the highest point in the city is free (and a great place to kiss apparently).

So far in 2010, Paris has been experiencing a return to prominence as the top European destination for travelers. I found the city so beautiful with art, food, and wonderful people on nearly every corner. Plus it’s so easy to get around on the excellent Metro system.

To really enjoy Paris you don’t have to spend a lot of money either. Book one of our value hotels and then enjoy these ten things you can do for free while in Paris:

1. Notre Dame – You can enter Notre Dame and walk the grounds for free. Certain areas are only accessible by tour, however.
2. Basilique du Sacre Coeur – See that big white thing on the hill known as Montmartre, you can tour it for free. It’s the highest point in the city, so enjoy the view, and it’s directly above some of the city’s best markets for exploring (don’t miss the spice market).
3. Take a ‘podcast’ tour - Download a free walking tour podcast and set out on your own. Rick Steves has a great Paris walk-tour and it’s a free download.
4. Enjoy a free walking tour – There are a number of free tours in Paris. At St. Michel in the Latin Quarter and in Montmartre you can join a free walking tour of Paris. Plus there are some tour guides who regularly offer ‘free’ tours. Just be sure to tip your tour guide.

Chopin's grave at Pere Lachaise
Tributes surround Chopin’s grave at Pere Lachaise

5. Celebrity Spotting the easy way – There’s one place where you can always find famous people, the cemetery. The Cimetiere du Pere Lachaise is the famous resting place of Jim Morrison and Oscar Wilde. Alexandre Dumas and Edgar Degas can be found at The Cimetiere de Montmartre. Also many churches have some amazing burial tombs.
6. Have a Picnic in the Garden - Stop by the Tuileries, a 16th century palace with lots of public art to explore. The Jardin du Luxembourg – is best known for its puppet shows and toy sail boats, but it is also filled with sculptures, gardens, and excellent people watching opportunities. Grab a baguette, some cheese and wine and enjoy a wonderful afternoon.
7. Book Stores - Paris has some of the most unconventional book stores around. Les bouquinistes on the banks of the Seine are a must see and nearby is the world famous ‘Shakespeare and Co.’ store.
8. Performance Art - The Centre Pompidou usually has a free outdoor concert or other public art performance. You may also enjoy walking the streets near Picasso’s home (now a museum) and photographing the graffiti art that is very popular there.
9. Look Around — The height limit set for buildings has meant that the density of architectural beauty is very high in Paris. There’s the Eiffel Tower, Arc De Triomphe, Notre Dame, and the exterior of the Louvre just to name a few. Repeat this tour at night for a completely different experience. The Centre Pompidou and La Defense are examples of more modern approach that has come to Paris lately.
10. Go Shopping for flair – The Champes Elysees is world famous for a reason. But for me the magic of Paris is found in the small shops frequented by the locals. The Galeries Lafayette is known for its breathtaking setting. The unique Belle Epoque architecture of the store is worth a trip. Be sure to see the dramatic colored glass dome and the ornate Art Nouveau staircase while there.

This is just a short list. Keep an eye open for free days at museums, art galleries, and other events in the parks or streets of the city.

Photo Credits: Basilique du Sacre-Couer and Pere Lachaise. Both under a CC license.

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Celebrity Cruises adds new Drink Deals

May 4th, 2010

Celebrity Cruises offers some of our most popular vacations at Last Minute Travel. What keeps people coming back to the line is Celebrity’s desire to always be improving the experience. With that in mind, Celebrity has just announced another way for guests to quench their thirst with new “beverage package” values.

Two of the packages are for non-alcoholic drinks (starting at 14.95 per person per day, including a 15% gratuity) and two include adult beverages. The premium package, costs $56.35 per person per day. It includes most onboard beverages, including beer, spirits, cocktails and certain wines.

“We took our guests’ favorite beverages and bundled them into packages that are simple to order from home,” said Jacques Van Staden, Vice President, Culinary Operations. “By the time guests board the ship, they can relax knowing that their favorite drinks are arranged for; they can then focus on enjoying themselves in the spa, exploring destinations through shore excursions, or simply lounging by the pool.”

So cruise enthusiasts, would you buy these beverage bundles?

The full press release is below the jump:

Read more…

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Have you developed new travel habits?

April 27th, 2010

Many, many studies have shown that a recession can cause travelers to modify their travel plans. But it’s generally expected that after the economy recovers, that business and leisure travel will return to previous levels.

The trouble caused by the volcanic ash cloud appears to have more long term affects on travel habits. Articles, like this column in the UK Times suggests, that people will think twice before jetting away for a weekend and may opt for destinations that can be reached by ground transportation. Particularly if another eruption appears likely.

What do you think? Have your travel habits changed over the last few years? Will the threat of another ash cloud in the air keeping you grounded cause you to vacation closer to home? Or is the unknown unavoidable and therefore not worth changing your plans for?

On a lighter note, did you know that ash clouds could twitter? Well it appears as if they can. Follow @TheAshCloud.

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The Ritz-Carlton Chicago unveils $25 Million Renovation

April 20th, 2010

The Ritz-Carlton Chicago steps into the limelight with the largest restyling in the hotel’s history since its 1977 opening. During the first week in May 2010, the $25 million project unveils a dramatic new lobby, restaurant and bar, promenade, ballroom and Presidential Suite. (The re-design of the hotel’s guestrooms and suites was completed in 2009.) The Ritz-Carlton Chicago renovation was designed by Brayton Hughes Design Studios. The Ritz-Carlton Chicago (a Four Seasons Hotel) offers a setting of unmistakable grandeur, ideal for business or leisure, centered in the prestigious shopping and cultural mecca of North Michigan Avenue. (See all of LastMinuteTravel.com’s 5 Star Hotels along the North River.)

“We are very fortunate to benefit from Ownership’s long-term commitment, which has allowed The Ritz-Carlton Chicago the luxury to move forward in the current economic climate as it is,” says The Ritz-Carlton Chicago’s Regional Vice-President and General Manager, Patrick Ghielmetti. “This renovation marks a new and exciting era for The Ritz-Carlton Chicago.”

Lobby
The vision for the Lobby was inspired by a highly-styled era with its deep woods and rich earth tones. A blend of contemporary and traditional is created with graceful upholstered wall coverings; large graphic-patterned carpeting in hues of gold, champagne, caramels and chocolate browns; and Breccia Oniciata marble flooring. Stepping off the 12th floor elevator, the Lobby’s captivating views of the city’s skyline come to life. A sky-lit fountain centrally anchors the room, surrounded by natural scenes of Art Nouveau plaster relief; stylish sofas; glass-topped, antique bronze hammered coffee tables; glass floor lamps; pedestal rosewood tables with marble insets and Paris influenced lounge chairs.

“This living room environment allows guests to feel the comfort of home, while also being able to congregate and socialize, and drink and dine in an easy setting,” explains Ghielmetti.

More gorgeous photos below the jump:

Read more…

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Last Minute Travel’s “Play To Play” Promotion is a Great Way to Travel for Even Less

April 19th, 2010

Chances are that by now you know all about Last Minute Travel’s fantastic travel deals and “last-minute prices in advance” credo. Hopefully you also know that this blog is a great place to get some fun ideas for things to do in all those destinations you’re visiting. In our opinion, it’s about time we also show you our appreciation for your continued readership. (Clearly, you’re worth it.) As a result, we’re launching a special program as a way of saying thanks. Great deals – even better than our usual deals – are coming your way! Of course, we’ll also have a little bit of fun along the way, so read on to see what’s up.

The program is called “Play To Play,” and it will help you find some hidden discounts on Last Minute Travel that are even better than our usual low prices (and create a little bit of fun along the way). Here’s how it works. Each week, we’ll highlight one of our top destinations – places like New York, Orlando, and Las Vegas – and offer extra discounts on hotels and activities in that city. The trick is that you have to figure out which city is the Play To Play city of the week. To do that, keep an eye out for hints, which will be posted each week on our Facebook fan page and Twitter profile. The hints will tell you how to uncover the name of each week’s Pay To Play city, and the final answer will be hidden in a post right here on this blog.

For example, you might be directed to look at the first letter of each sentence in one of our blog posts. You’d then come read the post to figure out the hint. To give you an idea of what we mean, check out the first letter of each sentence in the first paragraph of this particular blog post; you get none other than CHICAGO. Does that mean we’re offering special deals in Chicago this week? Indeed it does – and now all you have to do is go to our Chicago page to see exactly what they are. Now, we won’t make it quite this easy every week, but don’t worry, if you follow our Facebook page and Twitter profile and read this blog, you won’t have trouble tracking down all the great weekly deals.

That’s it! We hope you take the opportunity to “Play To Play” and find yourself some extra-special deals. The first real puzzle will be online next week. In the meantime, there really are some specials on our Chicago destination page, so go take a look now. We’ll see you next week!

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Orlando Discounts for Travelers Stranded by Volcanic Ash Cloud

April 19th, 2010

It sounds like flights to some parts of Europe have resumed today, but others continue to be delayed. If you’re stranded in Orlando, then you should know about some of the local attractions reaching out to provide you some hospitality.

SeaWorld Parks & Entertainment is offering free one-day admission to any United Kingdom, Irish or Continental European tourists stranded in Florida due to the interruption in international air travel caused by Icelandic volcanic ash.

The offer is valid starting Saturday, April 17, 2010 at SeaWorld Orlando, Aquatica in Orlando and Busch Gardens Tampa Bay.

Stranded tourists must present to the parks’ front gate Guest Services window a valid return airline ticket from Wednesday, April 14, 2010 through Wednesday, April 21, 2010 or until normal flight schedules resume.

One ticket will be offered at each park for each return flight ticket presented. Children under age 3 are free. Further information is available by calling 1-888-800-5447.

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Cancun - Where to hit the beaches?

April 8th, 2010

Naturally, the beaches are the biggest draw in Cancun with their soft, white sand and brilliant turquoise-blue water. Cancun’s Hotel Zone is really just one long beach separated from the mainland by a system of lagoons. The dazzling white sand of Cancun’s beaches is light in weight and cool underfoot even in the blazing sun. That’s because it is composed not of silica but rather of microscopic plankton fossils called disco-aster (a tiny star-shaped creature). The coolness of the sand has not been lost on Cancun’s ingenious promoters, who have dubbed it “air-conditioned.”

All of these delightful beaches are open to you because all Mexican beaches are public property. Several of Cancun’s beaches are set aside for easy public access, but you should know that you have the right to walk and swim on any beach at all. In practice it may be difficult to approach certain stretches of beach without going through a hotel’s property, but few hotels will notice you walking through to the beach in any case.

Cancun’s hotel zone is shaped like the number seven, as you can see from the small map below.

Last Minute Travel to Cancun Beaches - Map

At the top of the “7″ is the Bahia de Mujeres – the northern end of the hotel zone. Beaches here are beautiful turquoise-blue with white sand, shallow for some distance out, and have little or no surf, making them great for swimming, snorkeling and other water sports.

To the right of the “7″ is the Caribbean sea. The beaches here also have beautiful turquoise waters and white sand, and also have surf. Be especially careful on these beaches fronting the open Caribbean, where the undertow can be quite dangerous at times. In general, the best Caribbean-side beaches are found from the Sheraton and south.

To the left of the “7″ is the Nichupte Lagoon. It is a salt-water lagoon, and is generally not good for swimming. During the day, the Nichupté becomes a water sports haven, and many marinas offer jet skiing, sailing, kayaking, parasailing, windsurfing, water-skiing, and jungle tours.

Yes, there are even crocodiles in parts of the lagoon! However, Cancun’s crocodiles are non-aggressive species that feed on fish and other small wildlife. It is estimated that no more than twenty-five adult crocodiles live in the 5,000-hectare-lagoon system, most of them in areas distant from tourist activities except where they are fed by restaurants as a tourist attraction.

Public Beach Access

While all beaches in Cancun are technically public (owned by the government), you may not be able to access the beach by walking through a hotel, which is private property. Visitors staying in hotels that are not on the beach can access the beaches at any of the 10 public-access entries to the beach.

Playa Ballenas – Public entrance is a sidewalk along the Meridien Hotel wall fence. Incredible views, and peaceful sunbathing. Keep an eye on the warning flags, however, as the currents can be quite dangerous any time of the year. At kilometer 14 in the Hotel Zone, in between Punta Cancun and Punta Nizuc.

Playa Caracol/Playa Las Palmas - Entrance is hard to locate. Go through the small wood gate next to Fiesta Americana Coral Beach. Also accessible through Xcaret bus terminal. Near Punta Cancun, ideal for children or beginner swimmers. One of the nicer beaches because of its flat shallow sand bed. Located at 8.5 km in the Hotel Zone.

Playa Chac Mool – Public entrance is across the street from Señor Frog’s. Public beach with changing area, handy restaurants. Be advised however that the currents are strong and it’s tempting to wade too far out into the shallow water. Good water sports area – sail-boarding, water skiing and parasailing. Located kilometer 10 in the Hotel Zone, near Punta Cancun.

Last Minute Travel to Cancun Beaches - Playa Los Delfines
Playa Delfines

Playa Delfines – Peaceful sunbathing and breathtaking views. However it also offers dangerous swimming conditions in the strong surf and sometimes treacherous currents. There are some stone benches for sitting and contemplating the sea, but no other facilities. At kilometer 18 in the Hotel Zone, near Punta Nizuc.

Playa Juventud – Here is a nice place for swimming and a good place for water sports. Located off of Kukulcán Boulevard at km. 3 in the Hotel Zone.

Playa Langosta – Excellent swimming. Situated in the middle of the north end of the Hotel Zone and facing Bahia de Mujeres, you can find some of the best swimming that Cancun has to offer at Playa Langosta. Lots of beach restaurants and bars. Located at km. 5 of the Hotel Zone. A dock with shuttles to Isla Mujeres and other tours located here too

Last Minute Travel to Cancun Beaches - Playa Tortugas
Playa Tortugas

Playa Tortugas - Public entrance is next to Fat Tuesday’s. Good swimming here, and perfect for water sports. A number of restaurants and refreshment bars located here too. Located at kilometer 6.5 in the Hotel Zone. Dock offering shuttles to Isla Mujeres and other tours

Playa Las Perlas – Another nice place for swimming and a good place for water sports. There are restaurants and bars on the beach. It is located at kilometer 2.5 in the Hotel Zone.

Playa Linda – Excellent swimming. Close to downtown and facing Bahia de Mujeres. Some of the best swimming in all of Cancun. Restaurants, changing rooms. Playa Linda’s dock is the departure point for submarine and dive tours. Located at kilometer 4 in the Hotel Zone.

Playa Marlin – Public entrance behind Kukulcán Plaza. Sunbather’s delight. Well known for its incredible, expansive views and peaceful sunbathing. Keep an eye on the warning flags however, as the currents can be dangerous. Located at kilometer 13 in the Hotel Zone, in between Punta Cancun and Punta Nizuc.

Photo Credits:
Playa Delfines - Playa Tortugas

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Celebrate Food and Wine at Disneyland - April 16 thru May 31st

April 2nd, 2010

This spring in Anaheim, CA Disney’s California Food & Wine Festival Celebrates the ‘Art of Flavor’ April 16-May 31. The full menu features events like cooking demonstrations, celebrity chef lessons, and signature ticketed experiences. It’s basically a mecca for the west coast foodie.

Look for chefs Guy Fieri and Cat Cora of Food Network, along with Disney culinary masters and special guests as they present their gastronomic talents in a full menu of complimentary demonstrations and signature paid events. The signature events include winemaker dinners, Sweet Sundays, Napa Rose Cooking School and Taste Food-Wine-Life, a night that celebrates the essence of the festival with a mosaic of food, wine and live entertainment.

Disney’s California Food & Wine Festival includes experiences for anyone who appreciates the art of food, wine and beer.

  • The Hollywood Pictures Backlot comes to life as the new hub of energy and excitement, complete with artists, musicians and an international beer menu at the Brewers Collection. At the new Festival Showplace located in Stage 12, guests will sample from the delicious tapas menu at the Taste of California Marketplace and relax at the new Hollywood & Wine Lounge.
  • Among the most popular events at the festival are live culinary demonstrations and autograph sessions with popular celebrity chefs. Along with Guy Fieri and Cat Cora, those scheduled to present include Robert Irvine, Jeffrey Saad and Kerry Simon.
  • Hundreds of complimentary experiences and cooking demonstrations will entertain guests during the 46-day festival, many featuring the talents of Disneyland Resort chefs. Guest will also enjoy seminars that feature outstanding wine, spirits and beer.
  • At the spectacular ticketed events, food and wine aficionados will collect cooking tips from chefs, mingle with noted winemakers and celebrate the palette of flavors presented by culinary masters.
  • Also new this year is a Brewmaster Dinner on May 7.  The ingredients for this memorable evening include savory seasonal fare artfully paired with handcrafted Karl Strauss beers.

Events returning for 2010 include the gala Taste Food-Wine-Life” and other popular experiences:

  • Taste Food-Wine-Life: This fun, high-energy evening combines the best elements of the Food & Wine Festival into one grand celebration, May 29.  The immersive party has live entertainment, an outstanding selection of wines and colorful décor. Guests will stroll from station to station sampling delectable food dishes created by the chefs of Disneyland Resort.
  • Sweet Sundays: The sweetest of all events features a light buffet breakfast and sparkling toast at the new Festival Showplace in Disney’s California Adventure. Guests will see demonstrations and taste signature desserts created by acclaimed pastry chefs, including Richard Ruskell of Montage Beverly Hills.
  • Winemaker Dinners: Disneyland Resort chefs partner with premier California winemakers to prepare outstanding culinary delights at exclusive Winemaker Dinners on selected Friday nights.  Each festival meal is paired with award-winning vintages and served at Steakhouse 55, inside the Disneyland Hotel.
  • Napa Rose Cooking School: Disney Executive Chef Andrew Sutton will once again lead this hands-on course that sells out quickly.  Each class will create and enjoy a four-course meal, expertly paired with wines, and each class member will go home with a white chef’s coat embroidered with the festival logo. This rare opportunity takes place in the show kitchen of the renowned Napa Rose restaurant at Disney’s Grand Californian Hotel & Spa. Guests must be at least 18 years old.
  • Introduction to Wine Tasting: In this entertaining class, Advanced Sommelier Joy Cushing introduces guests to the joys of wine tasting. Guests will learn about wine regions, varietals, growing and harvesting techniques and then test their skills with a blind tasting.

Festival events held in Disney’s California Adventure may require park admission, which is not included in the event price. Some events, including culinary demonstrations, are included with admission to Disney’s California Adventure park. Signature events are separately ticketed and require reservations. For details and pricing information, visit www.disneyland.com/foodandwine.

If this his has wet your appetite, like it has mine, you’ll be happy to know that rooms are still available in one of our ‘Best Value’ 4-Star hotels is available for less than $80 a night with a popular 3-Star ‘Best Value’ available for as low as $60 a night.

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Las Vegas Airport Expansion Proceeds

March 26th, 2010

Terminal 3 at McCarran International Airport in Las Vegas will add 14 gates to the popular facility. Five of which will be able to accommodate the new super sized airplanes used in international flights. The decision to go ahead and complete the project, even in the soft economy, has just been made.

“The conversation went something like this,” Walker said. “You have one of two risks. One risk is you could build the facility and we open up in 2012 and we don’t need it. The second risk is that you do not build the facility and in 2012, (convention authority President) Rossi (Ralenkotter) has been able to encourage all these additional people to come to the community and they can’t get here.

Las Vegas is a city built on risks, so of course they’re going ahead.

This is good news for travelers to Las Vegas as the city will be pulling out all the stops to entice you to come back in 2012. Don’t want to wait for 2012 for your next Las Vegas experience? LastMinuteTravel.com is running a whole grip of discounts on popular hotels all over town.

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