Category Archives: Seasonal Travel

World’s longest water coaster unveiled in time for summer

Courtesy Holiday World

Thrill seekers who don’t mind getting wet are in luck. On Friday, Holiday World in Santa Claus, Ind., unveiled Mammoth, the world’s longest water coaster.

When it comes to attracting customers, the attractions business is often likened to an arms race in which competing parks do battle over who has the biggest, fastest and wildest rides.

These days, you could say it’s being fought with water cannons as parks invest in new water rides that promise faster speeds, steeper drops and more intense thrills.

Case in point: the new Mammoth “water coaster” opened Friday at Holiday World in Santa Claus, Ind. Located in the park’s Splashin’ Safari area, the ride features seven hills, multiple twists and turns and a length of 1,763 feet, making it the longest water coaster in the world.

“It’s bigger than big,” said spokesperson Paula Werne of the 69-foot-high, $9-million ride. “We thought Wildebeest [the park’s existing water coaster] was huge but Mammoth takes it up a whole other notch.”

Other parks are also unveiling new water rides this summer, a trend that observers say speaks to both the competitive nature of the business and consumers’ expectations.

“If you’re not keeping up with the latest and greatest, you’re going to have trouble getting the kind of attendance you need to be successful,” said David Sangree, president of Hotel Leisure Advisors LLC. “And with prices as high as $30 to $50 a day, you have some pretty high expectations.”

“The perception of water parks and water rides is making a shift,” said Brad Goodbody, marketing manager for ProSlide Technology Inc., the company that created Mammoth. “Previously, they were seen as theme parks’ poor cousins but now you have rides that will get people to come back month after month.”

If that sounds appealing, here are three new rides that’ll be making a splash this summer:

Courtesy Holiday World

Riders of Mammoth, the world’s longest water coaster at Holiday World in Santa Claus, Ind., could experience feelings of weightlessness during the ride.

Like Wildebeest and a handful of other water coasters, Mammoth uses the same linear induction motor (LIM) technology — basically a series of magnets — that newer roller coasters use to propel passengers uphill. Seated in six-person circular rafts, riders may find themselves facing forward, sideways or backwards and may even experience the weightless feeling known as “air time” as they crest each hill.

“There’s nothing like seeing your friends and family members getting soaked, getting scared and screaming and laughing,” said Werne.

Mile High Flyer
Visitors to Water World in Denver will also be able to notch a water coaster experience this summer, albeit on a slightly smaller scale than at Splashin’ Safari. Set to open in mid-June, the LIM-powered Mile High Flyer will feature five hills, four-person rafts and speeds of 15 to 20 mph. In a novel twist, the park is incorporating sound effects, including the familiar click-click-click of a traditional coaster lift hill.

King Cobra
Take your typical tube slide, outfit it in red, white and black scales, and have it end in the gaping maw of one of the scariest species of snake on the planet and you have King Cobra, the newest addition to Six Flags Hurricane Harbor in Jackson, N.J.

Once in the belly of the beast, riders race down side-by-side tubes, hitting speeds of up to 32 mph, before plunging down a 25-foot, 50-degree slope that resembles a cobra’s extended hood and fanged jaws.

“It’s not a new technology,” said spokesperson Kristin Siebeneicher. “It’s a way to evolve the classic thrill of a waterslide.”

Alas, you’ll have to wait a little longer to experience it. The ride is expected to open in early July.

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Rob Lovitt is a longtime travel writer who still believes the journey is as important as the destination. Follow him at Twitter.



10 cozy hotels on Florida’s Gulf Coast

Courtesy of Frenchy’s Oasis Motel

Frenchy’s Oasis Motel in Clearwater, Fla., sports a retro paint job. Most of the 15 units have kitchens and dinettes, and 12 come with balconies or patio areas.

Quiet, sand dune-sheltered shorelines, busy spring break towns, offbeat fishing villages, and sunsets like you won’t see anywhere else in the state: Florida’s Gulf Coast has them all. It also has plenty of soulless, high-rise, time-share condos and bland chain hotels. So we hit the road to dig up better options — homey, intimate hotels and BBs that reflect the particular character of their towns (and their owners). The result? This greatest-hits list of 10 unforgettable Florida-coast stays — all with rooms for $155 or less, even in high season.

Slideshow: See the hotels

Cape San Blas Inn
Set on a remote spit of land between St. Joseph Bay and the Gulf of Mexico, the seven-room Cape San Blas Inn feels like a true getaway. Maybe more away than some people would like; with 15 miles between the hotel and the nearest town, Port St. Joe, there’s very little shopping or dining nearby, nor much entertainment beyond nature’s offerings. But those are grand: Bobcats, bears, bald eagles and manatees can all be spotted in the area — perhaps even from the inn’s hot tub, perched at the end of the private dock that juts into the bay.

A broad, white-sand beach is all of 500 feet in the opposite direction, and an even more spectacular one is just three miles up the road in St. Joseph Peninsula State Park, a 2,516-acre preserve whose large dunes (up to 40 feet) and crystal-clear water make it a fixture on nationwide top-10 beach lists. Guests are well equipped for exploring the area, with free access to three canoes, a kayak, beach chairs and bicycles—perfect for cruising along the cape’s smooth bike paths and working off the inn’s hearty breakfasts (homemade apple fritters, stuffed French toast, eggs benedict, and fresh-squeezed orange juice are all menu regulars).

Most of the guest rooms have private porches or patios, and all have mini-fridges and Sleep Number beds — best enjoyed in one of the upstairs rooms, which are notably quieter than the ground floor options. 4950 Cape San Blas Rd, Port St. Joe,, free Wi-Fi, from $150, breakfast included.

Coombs House Inn
There’s a postcard-perfect quality to the Coombs House Inn, which is spread across three pristinely restored Victorian buildings in the heart of Apalachicola. It’s appeal isn’t all that surprising when you consider that its owner, interior designer Lynn Wilson, has worked on big-name hotels all over the world (Ritz-Carlton, Park Hyatt, Taj), counting both Donald Trump and the King of Morocco among her clients.

With its sunny yellow paint, dark-green shutters, and crisp white trim, the inn has come a long way from the tumbledown relic Wilson first spotted on a visit to Apalachicola with her husband in the late 1970s. “When I saw it, I said, ‘I’m going to fix it up; I’m going to show people that this little town is wonderful and spectacular and just needs some TLC,'” Wilson recalls. Fortunately, all the TLC that Wilson poured into renovating the historic property (it was built by an area lumber baron in 1905) and furnishing it with four-poster beds and antique oil paintings is more than matched by the efforts paid to pampering guests.

There’s a daily tea-and-cookies service from 3pm-5pm, wine tastings on Fridays and Saturdays in the parlor, and each of the 23 rooms is stocked with robes, complimentary bottled water, and Starbucks coffee — and about a third of them even have whirlpool tubs. As for the town itself? It’s finally having its moment in the sun, after years of being known only for its excellent local oysters: This year, Sports Illustrated magazine featured Apalachicola and the nearby St. George Island in its swimsuit issue, and the models and crew made their temporary home — where else? — at Coombs House Inn. 80 Sixth St., Apalachicola,, free Wi-Fi, from $129 in high season, breakfast included.

Frenchy’s Oasis Motel
Where the Jetsons might vacation, only without the robots. This Clearwater Beach motel opened in late 2010, but it feels straight out of the ’60s with its wash of citrus colors and Mad Men-inspired design. The Mad Man behind it? Owner Michael “Frenchy” Preston, a native of Quebec and a longtime Clearwater restaurateur who, for years, owned property next door to the formerly run-down motel.

Attracted by the period design — it’s a classic motor lodge with a courtyard pool — he decided to fix it up and make his first foray into lodging. Now, the façade glows in shades of lemon and orange, while the 15 guest rooms sport sunburst clocks, wave-shaped mirrors and old-school tourist postcards enlarged into canvas prints. Most of the units have kitchens and dinettes, and 12 come with private balconies or patio areas. All guests have access to the poolside barbecue grill, the DVD lending library in the lounge, and the no-coins-required on-site laundry room, plus one more priceless perk: discounts at any of Frenchy’s four local restaurants. 423 East Shore Dr., Clearwater Beach,, free Wi-Fi, from $129 in high season, breakfast not included.

Low-Key Hideaway Motel and RV
The sign posted above the pathway to Pat and Cindy Bonish’s Hideaway Tiki Bar (part of their Low-Key Hideaway Motel and RV resort) says it all: “Welcome to the Institute of Low-Key Living.” It’s no joke — after nearly four years spent crisscrossing the U.S. in their RV, collecting ideas about how they’d run a place if they ever stopped traveling, the Bonishes have the art of unwinding down to a science.

The first element? Make it an adults-only escape. Number two: Keep it casual. When the couple took over operations of the property — one of their old haunts — a little over two years ago, they raised the comfort level (600-thread-count sheets) without going haute. The five shabby-chic rooms are decorated with hunks of driftwood and furniture from thrift shops and antique stores, and some beds have headboards fashioned from old doors; each room also has a kitchenette and private bath. The couple also kept the four RV spots (with full hookups) on-site — a nod to their own epic road trips.

Rule number three: Make the most of what you have. There’s no beach on the property, but a half-mile kayak ride will get you to a private island; restaurants are a short ride away on the motel’s free bikes; and the sunsets at the waterfront tiki bar are spectacular. So what if they don’t serve food? You can order delivery from the local pizza joint right to your barstool. Low-key? Yes, but also delightfully unpretentious and decidedly Old-Florida. 12050 SR 24, Cedar Key,, free Wi-Fi, from $65, breakfast not included.

Mango Street Inn
With years of experience running restaurants in both Virginia and Belize, Tree and Dan Andre were more than qualified to handle the “breakfast” part of the BB they dreamed of opening one day in an old-fashioned Florida-coast town like Fort Myers Beach. They were less prepared to deal with the state of the property they bought on that town’s tropical-sounding Mango Street in 2008.

“We didn’t realize it was a crack house,” Tree says. She can laugh about it now; after months of gutting and renovation, the couple’s welcoming inn is the type of place where guests gather around a fire pit in the courtyard and drink wine at night or sit together under the pergola for Dan’s Cajun-inflected breakfasts (say, shrimp jambalaya cakes with fried egg and chipotle tomato sauce on top; less-spicy options are also available).

The six suites — four one-bedrooms, two with two bedrooms — all have private bathrooms, full kitchens, and homey furniture the couple has amassed (or made) over the years: patchwork quilts, ceramic-tile-topped coffee tables, wooden animal carvings. Well-behaved pets are allowed, and may find friends in Cookie the dog and Thomas and Hector the cats. Said guest Jim Palmer of Minnesota: “Where else can you show up for breakfast barefoot, with your dog, and be served a gourmet meal?” The beach is a mere 199 steps away, and the inn provides a wagon for guests to haul beach chairs, umbrellas and coolers. 126 Mango St., Fort Myers Beach,, free Wi-Fi, from $145 in high season, breakfast included.

Naples Courtyard Inn
Staying on Naples’ busy Tamiami Trail has its advantages: easy access to restaurants, shops (the chi-chi waterfront Village on Venetian Bay shopping center), art galleries and even the Naples Zoo. The trade-off? Mostly cookie-cutter chain lodging that might as well be anywhere. Except, that is, for the Naples Courtyard Inn, a 76-room family-run spot with a distinct sense of community.

Nora LaPorta’s in-laws bought the place six years ago and revamped just about everything, giving the rooms a crisp new look and adding botanical-themed artwork, granite vanities, mini-fridges, and microwaves. LaPorta acts as hotel manager and de facto social coordinator; don’t be surprised if she swings by to let you know about an impromptu mixer in the thatched-roof chickee hut by the pool. Or just show up there in the afternoons, when guests gather for fresh iced tea and conversation after a day at the city’s 10 miles of sandy beaches, just a 5-minute drive away. 2630 Tamiami Trail North, Naples,, free Wi-Fi, from $99 in high season, breakfast included.

The Peninsula Inn Spa
Leave it to a (former) professional jazz musician to cobble together a distinctive inn with just the right balance of polish and improvisation. Its refined, romantic features — the on-site spa, two restaurants and spacious veranda — make The Peninsula a favorite site for small weddings and family reunions. But there’s also a funkier side to this landmark building, which Alexandra Kingzett and her husband Jim bought in 1999 when it was a boarded-up shell.

To start, it has a colorful history, having served as a hospital, a nursing home and another hotel at different points in the past. (The original extra-large elevator was designed to fit gurneys.) Some say there’s even a resident ghost, Isabelle, a former inhabitant after whom one of the inn’s restaurants is named.

The five suites and six guest rooms are themed around British colonial outposts —Bombay, Katmandu, Casablanca — and decorated with furniture hand-carved in Indonesia. And, of course, there’s music: A blues bands plays in the courtyard Tuesday nights, Wednesdays bring a jazz-piano ensemble, and Alexandra herself has been known to put on occasional performances at the piano in the bar. You can even get in on the action yourself, at the open mic night held every other Thursday. 2937 Beach Blvd., Gulfport,, free Wi-Fi, weekend rates from $119 in high season, breakfast included.

The Sun and Moon Inn
Time was, the most colorful thing you saw on a visit to Matlacha (pronounced matt-la-SHAY), a tiny island fishing community in the Pine Island Sound, was a particularly vibrant redfish. But over the last two decades, the island has quietly been remaking itself as a tucked-away arts enclave, with a string of galleries set in converted fishermen’s cottages and a dozen or so brightly-painted waterfront restaurants — many of which accommodate arrival by kayak. (Tip for the sweet-toothed: Try a scoop of homemade coconut at Great Licks Ice Cream.)

Fishing is still Matlacha’s primary draw, though, and there’s no better home base than the Sun and Moon Inn, a five-room lodge on the Matlacha Pass Aquatic Preserve, where kayakers, boaters and jumping mullet keep up a steady flow of traffic. Curt Peer, who owns the inn with his sister, is happy to dole out fishing tips or lead guests on moonlit kayak trips, and rents out kayaks for $50 per day. Three of the rooms have balconies with views of the pool and hot tub (both open 24 hours), and all have private baths, mini-fridges and generous floor plans. In Peer’s typical laid-back style, the continental breakfast is available throughout the day, and there’s an Italian restaurant right next door and a barbecue grill for guests to cook up their catch. 3962 NW Pine Island Rd., Matlacha,, free Wi-fi, rates from $125 in high season, breakfast included.

Watergarden Inn at the Bay
With a slew of just-opened arts attractions — the glass-sheathed Dali Museum, the Morean Arts Center’s Chihuly Collection — and a snazzy new pier on the way (projected completion date: 2015), The Sunshine City of St. Petersburg is experiencing something of a renaissance.

Appropriately enough, the century-old building that houses Watergarden Inn at the Bay emerged from a rebirth of its own this month (March 2012), thanks to the efforts of new owner Bill Witt, an architect from Seattle with a penchant for collecting interesting pieces and an eye for clean, welcoming spaces. The 14-room inn near the city’s downtown waterfront mixes old-fashioned charm, modern design and a real Florida feel: An antique radio anchors the lobby, while the sunny sitting room pairs wicker armchairs and a cozy leather sofa with brightly colored end tables and a house guitar for the musically inclined. Witt also installed a brand new swimming pool on the half-acre property, to go with the existing deck, garden, and second-floor patio, and renovated the house next door to contain two 2-room suites and the owners’ quarters.

All guest rooms have private baths, flat-screen TVs, and in-room Keurig coffee makers; many also have king-size featherbeds and double-size whirlpool baths. 126 4th Avenue Northeast, St. Petersburg,, free Wi-Fi, rates from $155 in high season, breakfast included.

Wisteria Inn
Miles away (in spirit) from the Margaritaville madness of Panama City Beach — but still close enough to drop in for dinner if you’d like — Wisteria Inn offers a mellow, grown-up alternative to the spring break atmosphere you’ll find farther down the beach. (Kids under 12 aren’t allowed; pets are.) Owner Bronwen DuKate took over the motel in 2001, giving each of the 14 rooms its own color palette or theme: The South Beach room is all lime green and turquoise, with paintings of tropical fish, while the Serenghetti room incorporates animal-print bedding and carved wooden masks.

The rooms aren’t huge — especially the cheapest ones in the back — but all have private baths, coffee makers, mini-fridges and tile floors. And there’s more to see outside, anyway. Within the inn’s walled tropical garden, you’ll find a decked-out pool area, a palm-shaded koi pond and a hot tub; a quiet, clean stretch of beach is just across the street. Breakfast isn’t part of the deal here, but complimentary mimosas (at noon) and wine (in the early evening) are. And since DuKate doubles as captain of a 45-foot yacht, C’est Si Bon, it couldn’t be easier to arrange an excursion on the water; she routinely takes groups of guests (minimum of 4) out on the boat for $65 a person. 20404 Front Beach Rd., Panama City Beach,, free Wi-Fi, rates from $109 in high season, breakfast not included.

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Where to celebrate Presidents Day

Travel + Leisure’s Nilou Motamed shows off six fabulous destinations that will help you relax and regroup if you’re looking to hit the road President’s Day weekend.

For some Americans, Presidents Day is a low-key holiday spent shopping the sales and catching up on sleep. For others, it’s a great opportunity to spend the long weekend visiting historic sites, museums, restaurants and hotels with presidential pasts.

But where to go? You might head for one of the official presidential libraries and museums operated by the National Archives or choose a spot from this list of presidential sites around the country put together by Lonely Planet.

There are also these special Presidents Day events to consider:

Washington, D.C. 
In Washington, D.C., Ford’s Theater, the site of the April 14, 1865, assassination of President Abraham Lincoln, is hosting a Presidents Day open house on Feb. 20. Among the free activities scheduled are storytelling, Civil War-themed ranger talks and a presentation by costumed actors that includes a reconstruction of Lincoln’s assassination.

Every Four Years: Presidential Campaigns and the Press, a new exhibit opening at the Newseum Feb. 17, traces the way the media has covered presidential campaigns from “William McKinley’s 1896 front porch campaign to Barack Obama’s 2008 Internet campaign.” In addition to notable TV campaign ads, the exhibit includes campaign artifacts such as handwritten notes taken by John F. Kennedy during a 1960 presidential debate and the “Florida, Florida, Florida” white board used by NBC’s Tim Russert on election night 2000.

Bonus: The Newseum’s exhibit, First Dogs: American Presidents and Their Pets, runs through 2012.

George Washington Birthday Celebration Committee, Alexandria, Va.

An actor portrays General Washington during a previous George Washington Birthday Parade in Alexandria, Va.

As the birthplace of eight U.S. presidents, Virginia proudly calls itself the “The Mother of Presidents” and has dozens of historic sites paying special Presidents Weekend tribute to George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, James Madison, James Monroe, William Henry Harrison, John Tyler, Zachary Taylor and Woodrow Wilson.

There will be free admission on Feb. 20 at George Washington’s estate at Mount Vernon, where a costumed General Washington will be on hand for activities to include the traditional wreath-laying ceremony at Washington’s Tomb, music and military performances and a (shh!) surprise birthday party.

During Presidents Weekend, actors portraying founding fathers George Washington, Thomas Jefferson and James Madison will be visiting Colonial Williamsburg.

Alexandria will be marking the 280th anniversary of George Washington’s birth with a celebration that includes a Birthnight Banquet Ball (Feb. 18), a Revolutionary War Reenactment (Feb. 19) and the George Washington Birthday Parade (Feb. 20). Historic sites around Alexandria, such as Gatsby’s Tavern Museum, where early patrons included George Washington, John Adams, Thomas Jefferson, James Madison and James Monroe, will offer free admission on Presidents Day as well.

Bonus: A free, self-guided walking tour of 21 of the 140 sites in Alexandria associated with George Washington is available for free (PDF).

In Boston, the John F. Kennedy Presidential Library and Museum is celebrating Presidents Day with discounted admission from Feb. 18-26. An activity-filled Family Festival Day on Feb. 21 includes the opportunity to meet actors playing presidents and first ladies such as Thomas Jefferson and Dolley Madison.

Sleep like a president
Presidents Day weekend activities can include sleeping where a past president got some shut-eye.

“Every president from Eisenhower to George W has stayed at the Greenbrier in West Virginia, a historic hotel that still brings in weekend splurgers,” says Robert Reid, U.S. travel editor for Lonely Planet. 

Another option: the Presidential Suite at the Waldorf Astoria New York. Every American President since Herbert Hoover has stayed in the suite, which is decorated with the personal desk of General Douglas MacArthur, one of John F. Kennedy’s rocking chairs and other presidential artifacts.

Presidential treatment doesn’t come cheap. A weekend night in a two-bedroom executive suite at the Greenbrier is about $900, while nightly rates for the Waldorf Astoria’s Presidential Suite begin at $10,000 – and include a background check.

Find more by Harriet Baskas on Stuck at The and follow her on Twitter.

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Last-minute Presidents Day weekend travel deals


If you wanted to get away for Presidents Day weekend, but never finalized plans, we’ve got a few last-minute deals to share.

Nilou Motamed, features director for Travel + Leisure magazine, appeared on TODAY this morning to share her favorite bargains.

Among them are:

  • Las Vegas’ Bellagio and the Palazzo are both offering $199 per night room rates this weekend. The Palazzo, which Motamed described as “over-the-top luxury,” is also offering an additional $100 in amenities.
  • To get in a patriotic mood, consider the Sofitel in Washington, D.C., which has a weekend rate of $180; rooms during the week normally go for $360. The hotel is within walking distance of famous landmarks like the White House and the Washington Monument.
  • Though it’s high tourist season along Florida’s coast, deals can still be found. At the Postcard Inn at Holiday Isle, rooms are $229 per night. That also includes a lollipop and lemonade welcome.

Whether you’re traveling near or far, a long weekend should never go to waste. Let us know what your plans are in the comments below.

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Hotel perks for winter warriors

A woman drinks hot chocolate at the Affinia Chicago hotel.

When the temperatures drop, it’s tempting to stay home tucked under a Snuggie or Slanket. But these unusual winter weather hotel perks are designed to lure you out of your den.

Through March 2012, the Affinia Chicago’s Winter Warrior Challenge rewards extra amenities and an entry in a contest for a summertime weekend stay to guests who complete chilly tasks such as riding the Ferris Wheel at Navy Pier, dipping their toes in Lake Michigan or making a snowman or a snow angel.  

Kimpton’s Palomar Chicago is using its Winter Perk-ometer to determine which winter treats to bestow on guests. Through March 2012, the colder it gets, the hotter the perks: For every five degrees the thermometer drops below freezing or for every five inches of snowfall, guests receive bonuses ranging from complimentary cocktails, cocoa and hot chocolate to late checkout and bottles of wine.

In Boston, the Colonnade Hotel’s “Frosty Fridays” is a tradition now in its 15th year. The rate for the first night of the two-night package is set by the temperature at 5 p.m. on Friday as measured by the National Weather Service.

If it’s 20 degrees outside, guests pay $20 for their Friday night stay. Saturday’s rate is $295 (vs. the standard $209), but the package includes parking, hot chocolate and tickets for a trolley tour or skate rentals at the Boston Common Frog Pond skating rink. Value: about $130.

“While it’s been a fairly mild winter so far, over the years guests have been able to pay rates in the teens,” said Christopher Lynn, the hotel’s director of sales and marketing.

Tip: Check the Farmers’ Almanac when choosing your weekend getaway.

At the Loews Hotel Vogue in Montreal, guests unprepared for the Canadian cold may borrow coats, hats, gloves, scarves and booties to cover their shoes from a lending library of accessories. And at Loews Hotel Le Concorde, Quebec, the valet parking attendants provide complimentary washer fluid for cars.  

Even hotels in Florida and Kenya are prepared to help guests deal with bouts of cold weather.   

Continuing a tradition that dates back to the Prohibition era, whenever the weather drops below 32 degrees, guests of the Sandpearl Resort in Clearwater Beach, Fla., receive complimentary miniature bottles of bourbon.

And at The Ark hotel, built to resemble Noah’s Ark and overlooking a watering hole and a saltlick in Kenya’s Aberdare National Park, when nighttime temperatures dip, hot water bottles are placed in guests’ beds to ward off the chill.

Did you encounter an unusual perk last time you checked into a hotel? Tell us on Facebook.

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Find more by Harriet Baskas on and follow her on Twitter.