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DC Cherry Blossoms

Few spring scenes inspire instant happiness like the cherry blossoms in full bloom on a sunny day on the National Mall. You’ve got to see them. A stroll around the Tidal Basin (despite the number of tourists) is absolutely necessary if you’re in DC over the next few weeks. Those pinky-white blooms scream “spring is here!” like nothing else. This year is particularly special because it’s the 100th anniversary of Japan’s gift of 3,000 cherry blossom trees to the United States.

If you’re in DC this weekend, you’ll find a surprising number of free events that coincide with the start of the National Cherry Blossom Festival. The opening ceremony will be held on Sunday from 5 to 6:30 p.m. at the Walter E. Washington Convention Center and will feature Grammy-nominated singer Sara Bareilles, plus other local and Japanese performers. While the event is free, you still need to register online for a ticket. READ MORE

by Troy Petenbrink

Philadelphia has long been known as the City of Brotherly Love, but if the city’s tourism officials have their way, it may start being known as the City of Art. A new $2 million, 2-year marketing campaign was launched this month to try to position Philadelphia among the world’s great art destinations.

Philadelphia: The Next Art Destination

So can Philly hold its own against the likes of Berlin, Florence and New York City? Travel Channel takes a fun look at the numbers to help you decide:

1805: The year that the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts was founded, making it the first art school in the United States. Philadelphia is actually home to one of the nation’s largest concentrations of art schools, many of which operate galleries and hold annual art shows. This might be your chance to discover the next Picasso.

3,000-plus: The number of murals produced by the Philadelphia Murals Arts Programs over the past 25 years. Originally begun as an anti-graffiti effort, this public arts program not only produces beautiful and moving murals across the city, it helps thousands of Philadelphia’s at-risk children, youth and adults find their artistic voice. In addition to the murals, Philadelphia boasts more outdoor sculptures than any other city in the country. And the best thing — all this public art is free to visit.

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by Jimmy Im

Sure, it’s not uncommon for a Caribbean island resort to make groundbreaking announcements about its property. But in Turks and Caicos, it’s incidentally quite rare. Just consider the Turks and Caicos island of Providenciales: A handful of fine resorts perched along its sandy 12-mile stretch of beach known as Grace Bay seldom blare any headline-making news. Perhaps it’s because they’ve already exceeded expectations with their high volume of return visitors. If it’s not broke, don’t fix it, right?

Regent Palms in Turks and Caicos

Maybe not …

These days, one Turks and Caicos island resort is bucking the no-announcements trend.

Recently, Regent Palms decided it was time to give their much-loved resort a facelift to further enhance its guests’ resort experience. Repeat and new visitors will not only find touch-ups in guestrooms, and a major revamp in the spa, but soon enough a brand-new oceanfront restaurant-bar, and more.

This past weekend, Regent Palms celebrated its new look with a private event in its revamped 25,000-square-foot spa. Both ex-pat locals and visitors alike sampled the new spa menu concept (East-meets-West philosophy: Caribbean influences merge with Asian foundations — fitting given the Regent brand is based out of Taiwan). The new spa will now be a “destination spa,” one of the first in Turks and Caicos, where guests don’t ever have to leave the spa to enjoy additional perks … like food. The spa now serves healthy lunch menu items by Michelin-rated chef Eric Vernice.

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by Jimmy Im

It’s not all about free meals and a salsa class anymore.

All-inclusive hotels and resorts are hot right now. In fact, they’re so popular, Starwood opened its first all-inclusive resort, Westin Playa Conchal in Costa Rica last May and, more recently, Sheraton Bijao Beach Resort in Panama in October. According to Trip Barrett, Vice President, Brand Management Latin America: “The opening of the 2 Starwood all-inclusive properties was in large part a response to demand for more vacation packages from our customers.”

Enrique Iglesias

All-inclusive resorts are generally booked for their tremendous savings and hassle-free vacations. But with the recession and various sites offering deep-discount deals on hotels with value-added packages, travelers want their money’s worth — and, well, they’re getting it.

This Saturday, Palace Resorts in Cancun is offering guests free tickets to see Enrique Iglesias, who’s actually performing on their property (blame it on the success of Palace Resorts’ first in-house concert last year with Shakira). Guests have priority to see Enrique live; discounted tickets are offered for all guests but those staying 7 nights receive complimentary passes (average ticket costs $300). Similarly, Grand Oasis Resort, another all-inclusive property in Cancun, is having a Dance U Festival. From Feb. 28 to March 31, the hotel has been bringing together a series of acts and parties from famous artists in electronic music, hip hop and dance, with a lineup that includes Kelly Rowland (March 23) and Pitbull (March 30). This is inclusive for all guests no matter how many nights they stay.

Other great all-inclusive perks that are even better than “premium liquor?”

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Looking for a travel app after you purchase that new iPad? We’ve got something that might strike your fancy. Travel Channel launched the all-new Layover app so you can travel like Anthony Bourdain, the host of No Reservations and The Layover. Tony Bourdain has more than 10 years of travel experience; so, he’s the travel authority on traveling abroad and at home.

Travel Channel's Layover Guide with Anthony Bourdain

The new app –currently for the iPhone, iPad and iPod Touch– provides you with Tony’s favorite places to stay, eat and drink in 10 major cities around the world, including Hong Kong, Rome, LA, NYC and Montreal. Explore each destination using Anthony Bourdain’s travel tips and picks for must-see sights and must-do activities. It’s all provided on this brand-new app. But wait, there’s more! You have to see a cool video of the app in action –after the jump.

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New York City is home to some of the top hotels in the world. Travel Channel may need to add The OUT NYC to that list soon. The city’s first gay boutique hotel is open for business. It’s located in Hell’s Kitchen, on West 42nd Street between 10th and 11th Avenue. The OUT was planned and built with the gay consumer in mind, including the hotel’s design, living spaces, music and rooms where closets are replaced with shelves.

The OUT Hotel

The rooms –rates start around $200– include wireless, high-speed Internet, flat screen TVs, MP3 docking stations and mini-bars. If you’re looking for a cheaper rate, the hotel has 8 hostel-style rooms that sleep 4 for $99 per person.  These rooms have 4 full-sized beds, personal TVs, a bathroom and privacy curtains.

Looking for places in the hotel to relax and unwind? Spend some time in one of the hotel’s three courtyards; workout in the gym; or dance ‘til you sweat in the XL Nightclub, a 14,000-square-foot gay dance club. A new full-service restaurant, Kitchin, is set to open in May.  And fear not, the hotel isn’t just for gay patrons, hotel owners say the 105-room resort is straight-friendly.

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by Amanda DiGiondomenico

To celebrate that extra day we’ve been granted this leap year, many travel destinations — from Orlando to South Africa – are trying to make those extra 24 hours worth your while. Instead of wasting away your leap day, let these 5 travel ideas inspire you to make the day something to remember.

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One More Disney Day
For starters, Disney wants your leap day to be extra magical, so they are officially calling leap day, “One More Disney Day.” To commemorate the day, Magic Kingdom Park in Orlando’s Disney World and Disneyland in Anaheim, CA, will be open 24 hours straight. Once the gates open at 6 a.m. on Feb. 29, Mickey fans can have the run of the park until the rides shut down at 6 a.m. on March 1. The lines will probably be short in the wee hours of the morning, offering maximum opportunities to ride.

Leap at Martha’s Vineyard
If peace and quiet are more your speed, then head to Martha’s Vineyard for a little rest and relaxation. But don’t take yourself too seriously there; at the Vineyard Square Hotel you can score a free bottle of wine if you bring a photograph of yourself leaping over something. So let loose, find the closest leap-able object and bring someone who has a camera.

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African American Civil War Memorial and Museum

If you’re in town over the long MLK weekend, chances are you may see the major memorials and monuments on the National Mall: Vietnam, Korean, Lincoln, Washington, maybe World War II, FDR and Jefferson, too. But don’t let those be your only sightseeing destination. Beyond the National Mall, DC is home to dozens of memorials with equally stirring stories — they may get less attention than the big names, but they’re no less compelling. Here are several worth paying a visit:

African American Civil War Memorial: The Civil War saw African Americans granted the right to fight in defense of their country. The African American Civil War Memorial, at the corner of Vermont Avenue, (pictured) honors the 209,145 such men who fought for the Union.

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Marcus Sakey in disguise

Have you figured out who this is yet? Come on, guess! OK, we’ll tell you. It’s Hidden City’s host Marcus Sakey! In the Boston episode, Marcus is transformed into an older man so he can walk around Faneuil Hall to get a feel for what it is like to hide in plain sight, just like mob boss Whitey Bulger.  Whitey was living in Santa Monica, CA, for several years before the FBI finally arrested him.  Read Marcus’s take on the experience in his blog.

In addition to Whitey Bulger’s story, Marcus also dives into the Great Brinks Robbery and the case of the Boston Strangler.  When the Great Brinks Robbery was carried out in 1950, it was the largest bank heist in US history. The thieves made off with more than $2.7 million in assets.  The Boston Strangler case is one that still causes debate about whether Albert DeSalvo was really the true killer.  Marcus gets forensic psychologist Dr. David Bernstein to weigh in on the case and give him a glimpse into the mind of a psychopath. Dr. Bernstein then turns the tables on Marcus and gives him a psychopath quiz.

Catch Hidden City: Boston on Tuesday, Dec. 13 @ 10|9c.

by Matthew Karsten,
ExpertVagabond.com

 

South African Penguins

South Africa has a serious problem that’s spiraling out of control. Fluffy, lovable, tuxedo-wearing balls of feather are on the loose. Think you’re immune from the charms of an African Penguin? So did I. But after strolling along the bright turquoise-blue waters around Simon’s Town, I quickly discovered how wrong I was.

Hundreds of these funny birds line the white sand of Boulders Beach, sunbathing in style and protecting their eggs. Normally penguins would have been the last animal I expected to find in Africa. But there they were directly in front of me! Did you know African penguins like to sing too? Unfortunately their songs sound like a cross between a donkey and a kazoo. But don’t tell them that to their faces, as they are easily offended. READ MORE

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