Kalin’s Chronicles: Vacation Rentals – A Home Away from Home

Though there are countless hotel and B&B options for travelers, many are choosing to rent vacation homes.  I’ve had wonderful experiences renting vacation homes as part of girlfriend getaways on Martha’s Vineyard, Massachusetts and on St. Simons Island, Georgia.  According to TripAdvisor, the Southeastern and Northeastern United States are the top two destinations for vacation rentals.  And 88 percent of travelers say they would choose a vacation rental over a hotel if it was a better value.

Some of the advantages of renting a vacation home include:  more bedrooms and bathrooms, a full kitchen, more economical for parties of 3 or more, more privacy than a hotel, and most have all the comforts of home — and then some.

I recently celebrated my birthday with girlfriends at a St. Simons Island vacation rental and had a great time.  The four-bedroom, 4 ½ -bath home  was yards from the beach; had its own pool; provided four bicycles and an electric car; had a large and well-stocked kitchen with digital appliances, where we had a wonderful time bonding while preparing meals;  had a screened-in back porch and a wraparound front porch with rocking chairs.  The owner even welcomed us with two bottles of wine.  It was fabulous!  I plan to rent that house again, and am now open to renting homes more often.

Here are a few sites that specialize in vacation rentals:

So as you plan your travels for 2012, consider booking a vacation rental.  You might find it’s the perfect option for a girlfriend getaway, a romantic weekend, or even a family reunion.  It’s also a great way to celebrate turning 40!  And remember:  “Travel is fatal to prejudice, bigotry and narrow-mindedness.” – Mark Twain (Photo: Washington DC Vacation Home Rental)

Kalin Thomas is Women at Forty’s Travel & Leisure Editor. She is also Senior Writer/Photographer for SoulOfAmerica. Before starting her own multimedia company, Kalin spent 17 years at CNN where she won several awards for her work as producer/correspondent for CNN’s weekly travel program, CNN TravelNow. She is currently writing a book about her travels. For more information on Kalin, visit www.seetheworldproductions.com.

Kalin’s Chronicles: New Year’s Eve — In Every Time Zone!

One of the things on my bucket list is to celebrate at least one New Year’s Eve at New York’s Times Square – preferably from a balcony.  The closest I’ll get to that this year will be catching the new movie “New Year’s Eve“.  In the meantime, here’s a sampling of hotel deals to help you plan your New Year’s Celebrations — no matter what U.S. time zone you’re in.

New York (Eastern Time)

Celebrate at Ground Zero in New York’s Times Square for a $600 package that includes hotel accommodations, free admission to the Empire State Building Observation Deck , water taxi around the Statue of Liberty,  and shopping discounts at Macy’s and Bloomy’s.

New Orleans (Central Time)

This home of Mardis Gras knows how to party.  So for one of the best locations for French Quarter partying and a rooftop view of the fireworks, stay at the Omni Royal Orleans hotel.  Currently room rates are $299 per night for a New Year’s weekend stay.  For more information on New Orleans New Year’s fun, click here.

Phoenix (Mountain Time)

At the Hyatt Regency, $189 per night let’s you enjoy a New Year’s Eve party with free champagne, and a breakfast buffet the next morning.  And if you’re just getting back to your room at 5am, no worries – you get a 2pm late checkout.

Las Vegas (Pacific Time)

What happens in Vegas, stays in Vegas.  So get your party on at the MGM Grand, where you can celebrate New Years on The Strip.  Various packages include a $1400 New Years Wedding Package, Cirque du Soliel at Ka Theatre for $69 to $180, and a dance party at Studio 54 for $150.

And if you wake up with a hangover the next morning, you may wonder  how in the world this outrageous celebration got started.  Check out this site for the history of the holiday, and all things Times Square.  I’d love to hear about your favorite New Year’s Eve destination.  And remember:  “Travel is fatal to prejudice, bigotry and narrow-mindedness.” – Mark Twain

Kalin Thomas is Women at Forty’s Travel & Leisure Editor. She is also Senior Writer/Photographer for SoulOfAmerica. Before starting her own multimedia company, Kalin spent 17 years at CNN where she won several awards for her work as producer/correspondent for CNN’s weekly travel program, CNN TravelNow. She is currently writing a book about her travels. For more information on Kalin, visit www.seetheworldproductions.com.

Kalin’s Chronicles: 5 Shopping Destinations You Won’t Want To Miss

With Black Friday starting even before you finish your second helping of turkey and stuffing, I figure this is the perfect time to talk about shopping.  Personally, I don’t do Black Friday – too much commotion, not to mention the idea of getting up before the crack of dawn to stand in long lines.  Not my idea of fun.  However, I do love shopping and believe a vacation isn’t complete without it.   According to the U.S. Department of Commerce, shopping is the number one tourist activity in the United States.  So here are my Top Five Favorite U.S. Shopping Destinations…

  • New York – Bergdorf’s, Barney’s, Tiffany’s, and my favorite for “orgasmic” deals, Century 21.  Let’s face it:  New York is the CAPITAL of shopping.   You have to make a pilgrimage at least once!
  • Chicago – Michigan Avenue. Sadly historic Marshall Fields – which had a wonderful shopper’s tour — is gone, but there’s still plenty of shopping to be had on Chicago’s “Magnificent Mile”.
  • Minneapolis – The 520-store Mall of America.  This place blew me away! It’s like Disney for shoppers!  You can even get married at the mall!
  • Los Angeles – Rodeo Drive in Beverly Hills.   Where the stars shop!  But one of my best shopping finds is It’s a Wrap in Burbank,  a thrift shop that exclusively sells clothes worn by TV and film stars.  The tags even have the name of the celebrity who wore the couture, or the TV show/film where the wardrobe was worn!
  • Sunrise, Florida – When I visit Fort Lauderdale I make a stop by the  country’s largest outlet, value retail and entertainment center, Sawgrass Mills.  It’s one of several shopping destinations that plan to open 10pm today and stay open for 24 hours.

If you’re looking for a fun way to get your holiday shopping done, check out Shopping America Tours http://www.shopamericatours.com/ for shopping, dining and cultural tours in 40 U.S. cities.  It makes for a great girlfriend getaway or 40th birthday trip.  To find out what’s new in shopping tourism, travel to the One Travel Conference in Orlando, January 15-17.

Finally for those of you who plan to go straight from dinner to discounts – check out this site for the latest Black Friday deals. What you save on prices,  I’ll be saving in sleep time! Shop ‘til you drop and tell me about your favorite shopping destinations!

And remember:  “Travel is fatal to prejudice, bigotry and narrow-mindedness.” – Mark Twain

Kalin Thomas is Women at Forty’s Travel & Leisure Editor. She is also Senior Writer/Photographer for SoulOfAmerica. Before starting her own multimedia company, Kalin spent 17 years at CNN where she won several awards for her work as producer/correspondent for CNN’s weekly travel program, CNN TravelNow. She is currently writing a book about her travels. For more information on Kalin, visit www.seetheworldproductions.com.

Kalin’s Chronicles: Travel for the Physically Challenged

A former CNN colleague is wheelchair-bound, but doesn’t let that stop her from traveling.  In fact, she even went tandem sky diving – something I am still trying to get the nerve to do.  So as we celebrate National Disabilities Awareness month, let’s look at how the travel industry has been changing to accommodate the physically challenged since the 1990 passing of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA).

One of the most accessible destinations in the United States is the capital — Washington, D.C.  The pedestrian-friendly city has very well-established and well-maintained curb cuts for wheelchairs throughout the tourist areas, a very accessible subway system, and the Smithsonian Museum complex has sign interpreters for the hearing impaired.

Even theme parks like Walt Disney World are becoming more and more accessible to travelers with disabilities.  Last year, the first theme park designed specifically for travelers with disabilities opened in San Antonio, Texas.  Morgan’s Wonderland caters to mental and physically challenged tourists, but has rides and attractions for people of all ability levels.  It even has swings that accommodate wheelchairs. Continue reading Kalin’s Chronicles: Travel for the Physically Challenged

Kalin’s Chronicles: Florida Beyond Theme Parks

I love visiting Orlando, Florida.  It’s the capital of theme parks in the United States with Walt Disney World, Universal Studios, Seaworld, Gatorland, and more.  But there’s a lot more to see in the Orlando area than theme parks.  About 30 minutes north , along I-4, is Sanford, Seminole County; where tourists can enjoy outdoor adventures by land, air, and sea…

Start out at the Historic Sanford Welcome Center for a one-hour Historic Downtown Walking Tour, to learn about the history of the city.  For a more extensive workout, take a walk along the 14-mile Seminole Wekiva Trail which will take you through parks, recreation, and retail areas.

To get a bird’s eye view of Sanford’s wildlife, head over to the Central Florida Zoo and Botanical Gardens and zip through the trees on Zoom Air, with 100 tree-top challenges and zip lines for the whole family.

All of that action will work up a healthy appetite for lunch; and Shula’s 347 Grill has just the ticket.   Named for the coach with the most wins in NFL history, the restaurant is known for its steaks, seafood and desserts.  Don’t leave without ordering the Key Lime pie. Continue reading Kalin’s Chronicles: Florida Beyond Theme Parks