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Moe's BBQ, Alabma

If setting the clocks forward for Spring doesn’t get you looking forward to long summer days and warm summer evenings, then you probably already live in a tropical climate. For the rest of us, warmer weather and more sunlight spells the beginning of grilling and chilling season. This week, we started to get the first whiffs of what’s cooking for 2011.

Hilton Head visitors will be excited to hear about the annual Hilton Head Wine and Food Festival, which was held from March 8-12. The festival kicked off the season, showcasing great chefs of the South and fine wines from around the world.

Don’t worry about going hungry if you missed the Hilton Head Festival. . . Just head south. Alabama has a whole series of BBQ cook-offs, tastings, and festivals that’s just getting underway. This weekend is the BBQ and Blues festival in Foley, and you can find a culinary and cultural gathering almost every weekend through the summer. To plan your feast, check out the schedule here.

Travelers and homeowners with an interest in London vacation rentals will want to check out the London Vacation Rental Market Report, released last week by New York Habitat. The report shows that “renewed growth in the worldwide travel market brought more customers to London in 2010.”

An article in Colorado’s Summit Daily reported that Western ski towns are “moving forward with plans to hunt down illegal vacation rental owners.” Wherever your vacation rental is located, all rental owners should pay attention to local regulations and be sure to pay any taxes on your properties.

Happy Travel Tuesday! Have a great week and enjoy the daylight!

If your winter involved early mornings brushing snow off the car, running on a treadmill in the gym, finding the quickest route from the subway to the office, and lots of time in the house, then you know that a staycation is not an option this spring. You want to get out and go someplace different and you’re not alone: this week a TripAdvisor survey revealed that 83% of American respondents plan to travel with family this year. Good thing spring break is right around the corner!

people on a beach

The TripAdvisor survey also revealed this list of the Traveler’s Choice Family Award-winning U.S. destinations to discover:

  1. Williamsburg, Virginia
  2. Virginia Beach, Virginia
  3. Lake George, New York
  4. Pigeon Forge, Tennessee
  5. Branson, Missouri
  6. Gatlinburg, Tennessee
  7. Corpus Christi, Texas
  8. Port Aransas, Texas
  9. Daytona Beach, Florida
  10. Destin, Florida

To view more complete results of the survey, click here.

Frequent Flyers may not have spent the winter cooped up at home, but the world of waiting in airport terminals, packing in carry-ons, and earning miles/awards/perks has its own challenges. For those jet-setters looking to register their opinions, voting is now open for the Frequent Traveler Education Foundation’s Frequent Traveler Awards. You can vote online here through March 31.

Carolina Beach in Wilmington, North Carolina is announcing a spring lineup of April events for spring break vacationers. Carolina beach is the perfect spot for a getaway from Raleigh, Charlotte, and Fayetteville.

Finally, if you’ve been looking for your spring break accommodations or adding reviews on FlipKey, then you may have noticed the addition of Facebook ‘like’ buttons on property pages. Click on these buttons to show that you are a fan of a great rental. Also, don’t forget to ‘like’ FlipKey’s Facebook page to get news and updates on great vacation rentals and travel ideas.

When I was growing up, Presidents Day was part of ski week. My parents would pack three kids and two dogs into an overstuffed Ford Explorer and head up to New Hampshire’s White Mountains. If we took two cars, then my folks would argue over who had to drive with my sister because she would sing along to every song on the radio (even when she didn’t know the words).

My Presidents Day vacations have gotten shorter as I’ve gotten older, but I’ve held onto the tradition of piling into a full car and heading for the hills. Looking over FlipKey guest reviews, it appears I’m not alone: the most-reviewed Presidents Day weekends are not grand overseas tours, but road trips to local hideaways. Here are some last minute ideas from locals who know where to go to get away…

If you live in the Northwest… Head for the North Cascades

Becky L, from Bothell, WA took the whole family to Cle Elum last year and had a great time:

The cabin was exactly what we were looking for ! …..witht he exception of no snow (which we know you have no control over 🙂 It was great for the kids, dog & adults. It was well stocked, very clean & well stocked with basics. We instantly felt right at home!

Cle Elum is only an hour and a half from Seattle, right in the middle of the Snoqualmie National Forest.

If you live in California… Head for the Sierras

Hebro M, from Castro, CA can’t stay away from Sierra village:

The one reason why we keep on coming back to this place is because of the private sledding area. There is simply nothing that could come close to it, since it is long, smooth, safe, free, and not very crowded. The house is nice as well. Pretty spacious, kids friendly, and has everything we need.

Sierra village is about 2 hours from Sacramento, 3 hours from San Fransisco, and 6 hours from Los Angeles.

If you live in the Mid Atlantic… Head to Snowshoe, WV

J Stephens, from OH, went to Snowshoe last Presidents day and had a blast:

Our group stayed at Loggers Run 1 over Presidents day weekend. The condo is very comfortable and nicely furnished. It is situated close to the high speed Soaring Eagle lift… It was a wonderful trip with great snow and skiing.

Snowshoe is 4-5 hours from Washington D.C. and Baltimore, 4 hours from Pittsburgh, and about 6 hours from Cincinnati.

President’s Day weekend is just around the corner – February 19-21. It’s the perfect weekend for a winter retreat, and there’s still time to make last minute travel plans! From the Berkshires in Western MA to Taos, NM, there’s a local hideaway waiting for you to find it.

Where are you headed next weekend?

I was skiing in New Hampshire last weekend, and as the weather got colder, my friends and I began reminiscing about our most recent trips to Hawaii. The turquoise water and warm sand of Waikiki started to sound like a great alternative to arctic winds and rumors of yet another snowstorm. The great part of winter weather in the Northeast is that after a day outside, you can’t beat a warm fire and hearty home-cooked chili in your ski cabin. Still, I went to sleep dreaming of luaus, big waves, and blue skies. Maybe the weather on the mainland has something to do with the fact that Hawaii has been all over the vacation rental news this week…

As long as we’re on the subject of pro athletes and winter weather, check out the Boston Globe’s Shaq-o-meter, which shows this season’s snowfall compared to this season’s newest addition to the Boston Celtics.

Whether you’re vacationing in July or December, shopping never goes out of season! Over the next few months join me as we journey around the world to discover unique and unexpected shopping destinations that you and your entire family are sure to enjoy. So fasten your seat belts, get your wallets ready, and make sure to leave extra room in your suitcases for new purchases! First stop: the Western United States…

From Hawaii to California, the West Coast is full of unique shopping experiences for any traveler. So gather up your belongings and head out to enjoy some fun in the sun shopping at one of these seven unexpected and unbelievable shopping destinations in the Western U.S.

1. Big Island, Hawaii

Big Island Shopping

While relaxing on this beautiful island in Hawaii, visit Ali’i Drive for some of the best shopping around. Whether you need sandals and a big straw hat or jewelry and a sarong, this drive will let you bring the island flavor back home with you. The Kona Inn Shopping Village, originally a wealthy hotel from the 20’s, has now been transformed into a gorgeous low-rise mall with dozens of clothing boutiques, art galleries, gift shops, and island-style eateries. For an even more authentic shopping experience, visit the Ali’i Gardens Marketplace to stroll, shop, and enjoy the Hawaiian aura in a beautiful garden setting. Not only will you enjoy a friendly atmosphere and be able to take advantage of great deals offered by merchants and farmers, but you will also be able to enjoy daily events ranging from Na Kapuna Hula dancing and ukulele lessons to lei making and ukulele jam sessions.

2. Carmel, California

Carmel Shopping

Carmel shopping is a unique metropolitan style, all-day experience and then some! The most discriminating shopper is sure to find something of great appeal in one of the town’s stone-paved alleyways or curlicue-roofed shops. Visit The Crossroads Shopping Village for an even more quaint and fashionable shopping experience. Along a flower-filled boulevard, friendly shopkeepers present the finest in anything and everything – fashion, jewelry, gifts, specialty food and more. And if you’re tired and hungry from all the shopping, The Crossroads also offers the best one-stop selection of award winning dining on the Californian Monterey Peninsula, so take a break and re-energize for more!  From outdoor malls to family-owned boutiques, Carmel offers a shopping environment of infinite exploration.

3. Laguna Beach, California

Laguna Beach Shopping

Laguna Beach is a walkable quaint village located in the heart of Southern California, making shopping in this fun and funky town an experience like none other. Take home part of Laguna Beach’s unique style with a beautiful piece of art you won’t find anywhere else. Over 100 art galleries and artists’ studios showcase all types of mediums, from paintings and sculptures to glass blowing and modern art. From the galleries in North Gallery Row to the showcases of the downtown village of South Laguna, you’ll find it easy to spend the day gallery-hopping as you explore all the incredible talents of these world-renowned artists. You’ll also discover an elaborate and unique collection of home furnishings to make your home a space to notice. And for those hard-to-find items, Laguna Beach boasts plenty of specialty stores that are sure to make your shopping experience a success.

4. Oahu, Hawaii

Oahu Shopping

The tropical setting of open air markets, luxury resort shops and an abundance of Hawaiian retail stores makes shopping a popular activity on a Hawaii vacation. For the casual shopper or the sophisticated consumer, Oahu is a virtual shopping paradise. Find a delightful variety of independent, locally owned markets and stores, national retail chains, and upscale boutiques that sell everything from handcrafted, Hawaiian products to imported items from around the world. If you’re looking to please both the beach bum and shopaholic, visit the infamous Waikiki Beach – the shopping capital on the beautiful island of Oahu! The Waikiki Beach Walk has all one needs, from art to jewelry to handcrafted trinkets. Just stroll along the amazing white sand beaches to discover the best shopping the island has to offer… and when you get tired of shopping (if that’s even possible), just head straight to the beach!

5. Scottsdale, Arizona
Scottsdale Shopping

Although Scottsdale has primarily been known for its lavish resorts and manicured golf courses, Scottsdale is now becoming a hot shopping locale. Scottsdale has become the place for veteran shoppers, attracting more and more high-end boutiques everyday. At places like the Scottsdale Waterfront, the Borgata, and Kierland Commons, you will find original designers and showcases of the latest Hollywood trends in everything from clothing and accessories to chic alternative clothing and sophisticated nighttime wear. With more than 5,500 retail stores, malls, boutiques, and outlets, Scottsdale is home to serious shoppers who need some of the country’s finest retail therapy. What better way to spend your summer vacation than with a little retail therapy in the heart of Arizona?

6. South Lake Tahoe, California
South Lake Tahoe Shopping

The clear, blue lake and heavenly mountains are not the only reasons to visit Lake Tahoe. Along with the beauty of the natural wilderness, South Lake Tahoe is also home of unrestrained, multi-venue shopping. Visitors find numerous boutique shops, galleries, and restaurants with an open invitation to enter, browse, buy, and consume. While enjoying the view, head over to Tahoe Factory Store outlets for discount prices or over to Heavenly Village for some heavenly shopping. This beautiful village is a European-styled commercial shopping center surrounding the bottom of the Heavenly Gondola. With cobblestone walkways and slopped alpine roofs, the village shops sell everything from clothing and books to summer and winter sporting equipment and wine.

7. Taos, New Mexico

Taos, NM   Shopping

Taos is in a state of constant evolution, but the culture and core authenticity keeps Taos timeless. Don Fernando de Taos Plaza was settled by the Spanish colonists more than 300 years ago and still retains its original shape through plazas, paintings, artifacts, and more. Head over to the heart of Taos to find one-of-a-kind gifts and conversation pieces at local boutiques, museum shops, craft fairs, and artisan’s workshops. From the Alpacacs store with luxurious alpaca yarn, clothing, accessories, and toys, to the El Rincon Trading Post with pawn and contemporary jewelry, pottery, books, and Indian artifacts, Taos is home to unique items that are perfect for authentic gifts and conversation pieces back home.

With cold temperatures and a dearth of sunlight, January and February are the hardest months of the year for those of us who live in northern climes. Working hours and daylight hours tend to coincide, and Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD) becomes highly contagious. The best cure for the winter doldrums: a change of scene. A weekend getaway can breathe life into the dark side of the year, keep up morale, and leave you with enough sunshine and happiness to ward off SAD for another week.

No matter where you go to escape, searching for last minute availability in vacation rental homes can be a great way to put together an affordable spur of the moment mini-vacation when you know that you just have to get away and relax. With that in mind, Here are some ideas for wicked winter weekends…

1. Ski the East

Within driving or train distance of New York and most states north of the mid-Atlantic, New Hampshire’s White Mountains and Vermont’s Green Mountains are home to the best skiing East of the Rockies. Piles of snow, small town charm, and New England tradition round out the experience and will keep you re-living your mountain retreat for the rest of the week. (Full Disclosure: this getaway makes the top of the list because this blogger skis New Hampshire almost every weekend and still can’t get enough).

2. Get the sled out

January is “Learn a Snowsport” month, and what cooler sport to learn than dogsledding? Imagine speeding across frozen terrain under the power of a team of huskies. You may not be ready to train for the Iditarod quite yet, but many dogsledding outfits, such as Winterdance in Canada and Husky Power Dogsledding in Maryland, offer everything from half-day tours and moonlight rides to multi-day adventures. For a weekend you can head to northern New England, Michigan, Canada, and many other snowy areas to join mushers and their dogs for the thrill of a lifetime.

If you’re still not sure what to do at midnight on January 1, you might think that you dropped the ball on your New Years plans. Fortunately, you’re not the only one looking to have some first night fun. All across America, New Years revelers will be kicking off 2010 by carrying on the tradition of dropping objects from high places during the final seconds of 2009.

Ball drops get the most attention of New Years drops, thanks to the Times Square festivities in New York City. The New York Times has dropped the ball almost every year since 1907, and the celebration regularly draws nearly 1 million live spectators, not to mention the millions who watch the spectacle on TV. For those who prefer to avoid the crush of the Big Apple, balls are dropped in more relaxing settings nationwide. For example, Gatlinburg, TN will drop a ball, launch fireworks, and host live performances. Buffalo, NY has traditionally hosted one of the largest ball drops in the country, but the celebration is at risk of being skipped this year due to budget cuts.

With the holiday season in full swing and 2009 quickly retiring, it’s time to start planning your New Year’s celebrations.  We’ve highlighted cities around the world that greet 2010 with a bang. So get your party hat, grab your kissing partner and book your vacation rental and get ready to head to one of these most sizzling celebrations!
Sydney, Australia– Australians bring in the New Year like no one else. The fireworks display over Syndey Harbor is the most watched fireworks spectacle in the world with 1.5 million people gathering to see the fierce pyrotechnics that dance across the dark skies. This year’s theme is “Awaken the Spirit” with the Syndey Harbour Bridge adorned with a large S (for Sydney) and crowds showing up wearing blue to represent Sydney.

Miami, Florida– This saucy city certainly knows how to celebrate.  With clubs along Miami Beach offering fiestas that go till the early morning, the night time sizzles, especially on New Year’s Eve.  Places like Mansion Nightclub and SOBE Live offer open bars and tunes to dance your heart out to.  Or if you’re looking for a more relaxed evening, head to Ocean Drive, dig your feet in the sand and watch the fireworks show over the ocean.

New York City, New York– The city that never sleeps shows you how it’s done.  With over a million people gathering in Times Square to watch the glittering ball drop, mark the end of one year and the beginning of another.  As the ball drops, take in the tunes of big name artists like Taylor Swift and Lionel Ritchie. With festivities like these, there’s no doubt that the next year will start off right.

Edinburgh, Scotland Hogmanay (New Years) in Edinburgh dates back to pagan times when people celebrated mid-winter with fire and light festivals.  Today the festivities are spread across several days with a torchlight procession on the 29th that weaves through the streets of the city planting seeds of excitement and ending in the burning of aViking Long boat. On the 31st people gather in the streets with the Edinburgh Castle standing guard over the city as fireworks blaze in the background.  Stages are set up throughout the city with music and dancing and at midnight after the kisses and hugs have quieted, people join hands and sing Auld Lang Syne, a song which has been sung for centuries.

Las Vegas, Nevada Las Vegas is dazzling 364 days out of the year, but on New Year’s Eve it is a full blown spectacle. With people dancing in the streets under the flashing lights and sparkling fireworks glimmering in the sky, there is no shortage of energy. If you’re well connected with the Hollywood type, get your tickets to one of the several parties hosted by the likes of 50 Cent, Eva Longoria, Nicole Ritchie and the Black Eyed Peas.

Traveling is one of the best ways to experience new traditions, to get lost in another culture and encounter new things.  But experiencing a new culture doesn’t mean you have to hop a plane and fly across the ocean. Many times our neighbors in nearby states have their own quirks and distinct cultures that make a visit well worth the trip.  Traveling to festivals provides the perfect opportunity to not only kick back and have fun, but to also experience, first hand, the spirit of a different community, right here in your own country.

Here are some winter festivals to help heat up the upcoming long, chilly, winter months ahead:

Festival Name: New Year’s Eve in Times Square

Where: New York City

When: December 31st, 3 p.m.

While New Year’s Eve is  celebrated throughout the world, New York City hosts one of the largest parties to ring in the new calendar loud and proud. Roughly one million visitors gather for New Years Eve in Times Square every year, where they listen to live music, watch the ball drop at midnight and give kisses to loved ones while a ton (literally) of confetti flutters about.

New Year’s Eve in Times Square began in 1904 when the New York Times moved to Times Square and wanted to celebrate the completion of the Times Tower.  With fireworks blazing and excitement buzzing, the first New Year’s Eve was a wild success.  In 1907 the fireworks were banned, thus the birth of the brightly lit ball that drops from 1 Times Square at 11:59 every December 31st. Recently the ball was replaced with a Waterford Crystal ball that is twice the size and creates 16 different colors, turning the building into a colorful, glowing kaleidoscope.

With stations like MTV and ABC airing the festivities, people from around the world tune into to celebrate the ball drop.  Dick Clark’s New Year’s Eve show has been a staple in this American celebration.  Since 1972 he has hosted live coverage of the party in Times Square, with various musicians helping him rock in the New Year.  In recent years Miley Cyrus, Taylor Swift, Fergie and Lenny Kravitz have been featured on Clark’s show, performing their music and giving commentary.  Even past presidents turn out to celebrate New Year’s Eve in Times Square, with Bill and Hilary Clinton hitting the button to drop the ball at the 2009 celebration. The festivities are so elaborate that it’s hard not to get excited about the things to come and say goodbye to things past.

What: Sundance Film Festival

Where: Park City, Utah

When: January 21-31

The Sundance Film Festival has become one of the most prestigious film events in the world.  With major celebrities attending the festival ranging from Spike Lee to Uma Thurman and Paris Hilton to Russel Simmons, it’s possible you’ll rub shoulders with the best and the brightest of Hollywood.

In fact, it is the largest independent cinema festival in the U.S., allowing smaller yet talented filmmakers the opportunity to showcase their work. The Sundance Film Festival was born in 1978 when Robert Redford, a Utah resident, decided to shed a national light on the importance of independent American films while allowing filmmakers to compete. The festival has been a wild success ever since with many films and directors ricocheting into mass appeal due to the festival.  Movies such as Garden State, Motorcycle Diaries, sex, lies, and videtape, Donnie Darko, and Clerks have all gained cult following while directors such as Wes Anderson, Quentin Tarantino, Paul Thomas Anderson and Jim Jarmusch have gone on to direct major box office hits.

Tickets to this season’s Sundance Film Festival are hot, but starting today you can have a chance to score one of the remaining tickets by heading here where you can purchase a festival pass or individual movie tickets.  No doubt the after parties will be hopping too, but you’ll have to cozy up to Uma to get the invite.