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cedar point 1With summer rapidly approaching, it’s time to start thinking about weekend getaways – those holiday weekends, after all, tend to creep up sooner than you think. While hiking a beautiful national park is always an option, adrenaline seekers might be craving something a littler more, shall we say, stomach-turning? Each year, a collective 290 million people visit America’s 400+ amusement parks, a clear testament to Americans’ love of fast rides; planning the right time to go, however, can be tricky. Below, we help you strategize how best to time your visit.  Read more

Not long ago, New York’s Central Park Zoo said a sad farewell to one of its own: Gus the polar bear. He was a fixture at the zoo for more than 25 years and had some…well, problems. Sure, he was neurotic (like a true Manhattanite), but he was beloved by many. (It’s reported that nearly 20 million people visited him during his time at the zoo.) On a happier note, we can’t help but think about the new baby animals that draw visitors to zoos across the country each year. And let’s face it, no matter how young or old we are, it’s hard not to ‘ooh and ahh’ over a cute baby cheetah (or elephant, or snow leopard). If you’re looking for a pick-me-up, here are some new furry friends that have recently arrived at America’s zoos…

1. Snow leopards in Memphis and Chicago
Baby Zoo Animals to See Right Now

It doesn’t get much cuter than these adorable kittens. At the Memphis Zoo, a male leopard was born in July, and while he doesn’t have a name yet, the public will have a hand in picking it from seven choices. Chicago’s Brookfield Zoo also welcomed a male cub in June, and he’s set to make his public debut this month when he turns three months old. Poaching and other factors have lead the species to be listed as endangered and only about 3,500 to 7,000 exist in the wild.

When to go: While you can’t see the Memphis cub just yet (the zoo is reconfiguring the cage so there are no spaces in the caging where he could slip out), stay tuned for updates on their Facebook page. In Chicago, you’ll be able to see the newborn by the end of next week. Read more

Amtrak Train Rate SaleTake a last-minute trip the old-fashioned way this summer. Round-trip Amtrak fares are as little as $41, saving you 25 percent on current rates. Visit Chicago in full bloom, hit the Big Apple, explore the Big Easy, and more with this great sale. Travel is valid Mondays through Thursdays, and Saturdays, for one to two weeks after purchase. Read more

Best Summer BeersSummer is the perfect time to pop the top on an ice cold beer. But, not just any beer will do. Warm weather lends itself to lighter, crisper brews, and these nine offerings fit the bill as some of the best summer beers. Enjoy at home, or better yet, include a brewery tour on your summer vacation itinerary. Read more

Winter has its grasp on mainland America (we know, Hawaii — you’re managing just fine), but there are a few places left to fly to should you find yourself longing for milder temperatures. A favorite when it comes to wintery conventions is Tampa, Florida, which is the latest city on our list of places to enjoy while visiting for business. In an effort to get you outside of the boardroom and into the wilds of The Big Guava, we’re offering up two restaurants, two attractions, and one bar that you can hit with just a few extra hours between meetings.

The Tampa Convention Center may be on the water, but it’s not terribly close to much else. That said, there’s a spot called L’Eden that’s just a few blocks away, and it’s worth heading to for a couple of reasons. For one, you’ll stroll through downtown Tampa’s River Arts District, which is a lively, beautiful section of town. After staring at grey walls and long concourses all day, such a thing is a sight for sore eyes. Moreover, the eatery itself is excellent, boasting an array of French options as well as more traditional American fare. It’s only been around since 2007, but it’s well on its way to becoming a staple in the Convention area.

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Key West SunsetAs temperatures drop and skies darken earlier each night, it’s easy to fantasize of warm nights on a secluded beach with a Technicolor sunset on the horizon, a fruity drink beading condensation close by. But an aspect that doesn’t typically make it into the reverie is the joy of flying to your destination in one shot, without layovers or transfers. For fliers of Southwest Airlines, the trip from fantasy to reality has become a bit more streamlined.

The airline has begun offering nonstop flights to Key West, Fla., the southernmost stop on the continental U.S. route. The news is welcome for passengers who prefer spending the entirety of their expedition in one seat. Fliers to the Keys typically touch down in South Florida to switch to a smaller plane for the journey’s final push. These “puddle jumper” flights are provided by most major airlines, with only a handful giving direct flights.

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Chicago bike shareLast spring, we picked the Top 10 Cities for Cycling, those U.S. locales where bike lanes, cycler safety, and easy access to two-wheeled transportation all rank high for residents and visitors alike. Four of those cities – Chicago, New York City, San Francisco, and St. Petersburg, Florida – were set to launch ambitious bike share programs this summer. Unfortunately, the start dates have passed for each of those places, and we’re still waiting on those cycle rentals. So what happened, and when can you expect to see bike shares in your city?

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Treat yourself to a luxurious getaway without breaking the bank this summer. With rates as low as $134 a night, the 4-Diamond Renaissance Vinoy Resort & Golf Club in St. Petersburg, Florida, invites travelers to experience the resort’s luxurious facilities at a 25 percent discount on current rates. Arrive on the following dates and stay for three nights or more, including weekends:

  • July 15, 22- 26, 29-31
  • August 1, 5-8, 14-16, 19-22

Other dates through September 30 are available from as little as $15 more a night.

The luxurious Renaissance Vinoy Resort & Golf Club is located close to Clearwater, an area known for its warm weather and pleasant breezes. The elegant resort boasts a private 72-slip marina, an 18-hole private golf course, a 12-court tennis complex, a 5,000 square-foot fitness center, and more. In addition, five restaurants, and a salon and day spa create the perfect getaway destination. Listed on the National Register of Historic Places, the property is situated on the water in downtown St. Petersburg overlooking the Tampa Bay. All 347 guestrooms were recently updated and offer luxurious amenities such as premium bedding and flat screen TVs.

St. Petersburg attracts visitors with its beautiful beaches as well as the Salvador Dali Museum, Fort De Soto Park, and the St. Petersburg Pier. Or, rent a bike and discover more of the city, which was voted one of the Top 10 Cities for Cycling by ShermansTravel.

To book this offer, call 800-228-9290 or use rate code ZZ1 when making reservations online at www.vinoyrenaissanceresort.com.

Use our Travel Search price comparison tool to find the lowest rates on flights.

Hotel Metropole bunkerSome hotels are merely a place to rest your head at night, but others hold fascinating tales of wartime refuges, remarkable wildlife, valuable art, and ghostly spirits that refuse to let go. Sign up to be amazed and maybe learn a thing or two on these exceptional hotel tours.

Until recently, most people had forgotten there was an air raid shelter underneath the Hotel Metropole in Hanoi, Vietnam. When staff discovered it during some routine work on the pool area, however, the hotel decided to excavate the bunker and restore it to its original state. Now, hotel guests can participate in nightly tours that highlight the shelter’s famous past residents – including Joan Baez, who recorded “Where Are You Now My Son” there in 1972 – and Hotel Metropole’s role during the Vietnam War.

An in-house historian leads groups through the Renaissance Vinoy Resort & Golf Club in St. Petersburg, Florida, each Wednesday through Saturday to reveal such nuggets as the unlikely origins of the hotel and President Calvin Coolidge’s preference to dine with the hotel staff during his visits. The tour costs $5 for guests, $10 for non-guests; alternatively, book the tour and a three-course lunch at Marchand’s Bar & Grill for $25.

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Hotel gas cardWe’ve all read the doom and gloom surveys: Americans are less likely to travel this summer because of the high price of gas, the state of the economy, or maybe because Venus is in retrograde (can’t be too careful with your horoscope). It seems hotels have read these surveys, too, and have devised ways to entice you to stay by footing part of your gas bill or even doling out cold hard cash.

Perhaps the most generous offer comes from InterContinental Hotel Group (IHG), which will give you a $75 prepaid MasterCard for every stay of two consecutive weekend nights (Friday-Sunday) through September 3. You will have to wait 6-8 weeks to receive the gift card, but the deal applies to all IHG brands, from InterContinental to Holiday Inn.

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TradeWinds Island Resorts JetLevIf having a hotel bartender craft the perfect medium-dry vodka martini doesn’t completely satisfy your James Bond fantasy, be advised that something very 007-ish is debuting this month at the TradeWinds Island Grand resort on St. Pete Beach: Water-propelled jet pack rides, by way of a contraption called a JetLev.

After being schooled for ten minutes at the TradeWinds JetLev Flight Center and signing – you guessed it – a release form acknowledging that operating the jet pack is a hazardous activity, you’ll head behind the resort, strap on a life jacket, and get harnessed into the pack.

How does a water-propelled jet pack work? According to TradeWinds, the JetLev “is powered by a custom-designed 225 horsepower engine,” which creates “600-800 gallons per minute of thrust,” propelling the pilot (you) to a height of up to 30 feet at speeds up to 30 mph. You’ll be trained to control the JetLev, but a flight instructor will stand by to work the pack’s throttle remotely, if need be. And a flight assistant, riding a wave runner alongside, will act as your wingman.

As I have not yet piloted a JetLev, I can’t describe the sensation. But the people in this video seem pretty excited about it. Read more

Jet Blue AirwaysJetBlue is doubling its flights to Florida from New York’s LaGuardia Airport this summer, adding destinations to the airport most convenient to Manhattan.

Even better – until March 12, the flights to their three new destinations are on sale. One-way tickets begin at $99 to Tampa, $109 to Sarasota, and $119 to Fort Myers for travel between June 11 and July 31, 2012 (with blackout dates around the Fourth of July holiday, June 29-July 9).

The new LaGuardia to Tampa routes will be twice daily; Fort Myers and Sarasota are daily flights. JetBlue is also adding two more daily flights to Orlando and one daily flight each to Fort Lauderdale/Hollywood and West Palm Beach. That’s 16 round-trip flights to Florida from LaGuardia this summer. Read more

Fly throughout the country this December with low holiday rates from Jet Blue. Fares start at just $34 for one-way flights!

See the holiday windows in New York City, the National Christmas Tree in Washington, D.C., shop on Newbury Street in Boston, or ski down snow-capped mountains in Denver.   Looking to escape the cold instead?  Soak up the sun on beaches in Fort Lauderdale, Tampa or Long Beach, or enjoy family fun at the Disney World parks in Orlando.

Sample One-Way Fares this December:

• Las Vegas–Long Beach: $34
• Boston–New York City: $41
• Boston–Washington, D.C.: $46
• San Francisco–Long Beach: $59
• New York City–Washington, D.C.: $64
• Washington, D.C.–Orlando: $72
• Washington, D.C.–Fort Lauderdale: $75
• New York City–Orlando: $92
• Portland–Long Beach: $99
• New York City–Fort Lauderdale: $99
• Boston–Denver: $104
• Orlando–Austin: $112
• Boston–Orlando: $114
• Tampa–New York City: $114
• Austin–Boston: $134

* Travel is valid on select dates in December. All prices listed above were valid at the time of publication. Restrictions, taxes and fees apply.

THE VALUE: Pay as little as $34 on this holiday season airfare from Jet Blue!

THE CATCH: These rates apply to one-way travel only, before taxes and other fees.

THE DETAILS: Visit www.jetblue.com to book these flights.

WE’VE GOT MORE: Use our Travel Guides for holiday trip-planning ideas to these destinations, including New York City, Orlando, and Denver.

In 2008, a critically injured dolphin was taken into the care of the Clearwater Marine Aquarium and fitted with the very first prosthetic dolphin tail. Named Winter, she thrives as a permanent resident of this marine rehabilitation center on Florida’s central west coast.

Now, Winter’s story is being told on the big screen, and the aquarium is preparing for the limelight with the September 23rd release of the Warner Brothers 3-D movie Dolphin Tale. The movie, starring Morgan Freeman, Kris Kristoffersen, Harry Connick, Jr., and Ashley Judd, stays true to the tale of the rescued dolphin, with the addition of dramatic Hollywood twists that tug at the heartstrings.

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Realistically, Earth Day can be celebrated any day when dining out. It’s easy to find eco-friendly eateries around the country that serve sustainable food and embrace environmental business practices – online directories like the Green Restaurant Association (www.dinegreen.com) even provide state-by-state listings.

But many of these restaurants and cafés step it up a notch on Earth Day itself by offering special menu items and discounts, and producing special events and entertainment. On April 22, dine out and do good at these eight locations nationwide.

Red Stag Supper Club: Start the day with breakfast at Minneapolis’ Red Stag Supperclub (www.redstagsupperclub.com), where all money raised from 8am to 12pm benefits the Land Stewardship Project (www.landstewardshipproject.org). Minnesota’s first LEED-certified restaurant will serve up locally-produced and organic ingredients, while the LSP will give brief presentations.

Eco-Cafe: Write your pledge to go green on the chalkboard in front of New Orleans’ Eco-Café (www.ecocafeno.com) and you’ll get a free cup of organic coffee. That Friday, featured menu items – like the soup and salad combo – will be made exclusively with ingredients from Holly Grove Farm, just three miles away.

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