When it comes to savings, we always have our eye on a bargain. Here are the most value-packed places to travel in 2017.
It’s time to think beyond those expensive Orlando theme park tickets. While three-figure passes at Disney World and Universal Resort are the norm, much of what surrounds them is designed for comfort and affordability. Family-focused hotels like Orlando World Center Marriott, Omni Orlando Resort at ChampionsGate, and Hilton Orlando are mainstays. They’re close to the parks, but have enough happening on-site — think sprawling swimming pools, fireworks, and laser light shows — to sway you away from daily park visits, and rates start at $99 per night. In February, the Grove Resort and Spa will open just 10 minutes from Walt Disney World with a focus on both design and affordability. One-bedroom suites start at $199. Farther removed from the parks, sophisticated hotels like the soon-to-debut boutique Delaney Hotel and the Grand Bohemian Hotel Orlando put you at the heart of local life. The city’s dining scene makes for happy wallets, too: in 2016, financial site WalletHub named Orlando the country’s top food city thanks to factors like the accessibility, affordability, and diversity of local cuisine. Greater Orlando has options ranging from Vietnamese and barbeque to restaurants by James Beard-nominated chefs and farm-to-table cuisine. Getting here is easy and affordable, too; we love that round-trip flights from major U.S. gateways can be nabbed for as little as $100. Plus, Orlando’s location in Central Florida makes it ideal as a home base for day trips to neighboring areas like Daytona Beach or St. Pete Beach.
Cruising might be the ultimate form of budget travel. So much is included — meals, activities, destination-hopping — that you can sometimes get away with just a few big purchases (the cruise itself, your flights) for the entire vacation. Our favorite destination for cruising value is the Mediterranean. On a seven-night sailing, you might visit cities across three or more countries, and those cities can include such glamorous seaside spots as Santorini, Cannes, and Villefranche. Cruise lines of every budget level sail in this part of the world, from value lines like Europe-based MSC and Costa, which can offer seven-night cruises for less than $500 in shoulder and low season (usually autumn and early winter), to luxury lines like Silversea and Seabourn, which often include even more amenities than their lower-cost counterparts.
With Brexit looming and a weaker British pound, many Americans are making their way across the pond this year. But while most are heading straight to London and staying there, we have our eyes set on Manchester — one of the U.K.’s first and largest industrial cities. In March, 2017, Virgin Atlantic will launch three new nonstop routes to Manchester from San Francisco and Boston, and in May, the airline will also take over the existing Delta route between Manchester and New York’s JFK airport. Plus, six new hotels will open in 2017, including the Roomzzz at Corn Exchange, where groups can find two-bedroom apartments from $188 per night (less than $94 per couple). Another ultra-affordable option will be the new easyHotel, from the company behind the European budget air carrier easyJet. Rooms will start at $69 per night when it opens in March. Visitors will also be able to book a houseboat, Castlerose Boat Stay, which sleeps six, for $245 per night. In town, new theaters, restaurants, and other activities are in the works, including Junkyard Golf in an old office building, the new street-food-style restaurant Beat Street, and street art tours. All of Manchester’s museums and galleries are free, and free citywide WiFi allows visitors to navigate and communicate without roaming charges. Free buses are available to visitors to get around, and WAXI is a new, cheap water taxi service that connects Manchester United and Trafford Centre.
Havana is having a moment. Between Fidel Castro’s recent passing and the first commercial flights to operate regularly between the U.S. to Cuba in more than 50 years, the island seems to be entering a new era. And we will be flocking there to catch a glimpse of a preserved culture before it changes. Until a few months ago, visa requirements were such that Americans looking for a taste of Cuban culture had to book pricey group tours, and flights cost $700 to $800. That all changed this fall, when JetBlue launched $99 flights from JFK to Havana; others followed suit, making travel to Havana officially affordable. The ticket price includes medical insurance (required by the Cuban government) and arrangements for your tourist card upon check-in for an additional $50. Once you’re in Havana, food and transportation are cheap: a shared taxi costs as little as $0.50 and street food maxes out around $5 (just make sure you read up on Cuba’s dual currencies, and the necessity of carrying cash). Due to a short supply and high demand, hotel rooms are still hovering around $300 at properties like the Iberostar. But we hope the July opening of the Four Points — the first American hotel to open on the island — will pave the way for other U.S. hotels, eventually raising standards and lowering costs across the board. In the meantime, Cuba’s Casas Particulares (locally owned bed and breakfasts) and private houses (available through Airbnb and other sites) offer an immersive cultural experience at a low cost. For instance, you can stay a few blocks from the Malecón — Havana’s scenic esplanade — in a private apartment for just $25 per night. Aside from the low price, staying with a Cuban family gets you local insight into for where to dance the Rueda de Casino (the Cuban variation of salsa) and the best street vendor for plantains — plus, it counts toward your government-mandated people-to-people exchange.
Recent conflict in parts of Ukraine has led the U.S. Department of State to issue a travel warning for the Crimean peninsula, causing the country’s currency to plunge and deterring visitors. But the capital Kiev — which is far removed the areas of conflict — feels not only as safe as cities like Paris or Barcelona, but also as interesting — think: splashy street art, trendy cafés, and ornate monuments. And as Europe’s cheapest capital city, you can experience all of it for a fraction of what you’d pay in more mainstream European cities. For instance, a room at the Premier Palace Hotel — perhaps the city’s top luxury property — costs just $234 per night — the price of standard room at a midrange property in London. Kiev’s clean streets and compact city center make it easy to navigate on foot, and it’s also well connected by metro, which costs less than a dollar to ride. Take it to sights like the Mother Monument, where — if you can survive the (guided) 335-foot climb — you can stick your head out at the top for views of the city. Kiev is also known for its massive subterranean markets, which sell everything from clothes and books to food on the cheap. There is a booming nightlife scene, as well, where you can get vodka shots for $1, and stay out well into the next morning. It is also one of the cheapest places to buy a beer. If you travel to Kiev, or anywhere where there are warnings, exercise caution and stay informed. But consider the upside: fewer tourists on the streets means space for a more authentic experience than you’ll find in most European cities.
Grand Rapids, Michigan
Michigan’s second largest city is a far cry from the state’s larger, more famous city, Detroit. Situated 35 miles east of Lake Michigan, Grand Rapids’ vibrant downtown is home of an ever-growing beer and culinary scene, cultural institutions like the Frederik Meijer Gardens & Sculpture Park, and one of the region’s largest art competitions. And best of all, there is plenty to see on the cheap — or even for free. A pint of local craft beer at one of “Beer City USA’s” 40-plus microbreweries will set you back as little as $3.50. At the new Downtown Market, local vendors offer artisan cheeses, street-food-style tacos, spicy Thai noodle dishes, and many more lunch options for $7-$20. Plan a fall visit coinciding with Art Prize, an international art competition during which downtown businesses display hundreds of works of art and welcome the public for free. In order to easily explore the city by foot, or by public transportation ($1.75 per ride), stay by the Grand River at the JW Marriott, the historic Amway Grand Plaza, the Courtyard Grand Rapids, or other city-center properties
This Caribbean outpost isn’t as well known as other islands, which keeps it affordable. Saba, the Netherlands’ smallest municipality at five square miles, lies just off St. Maarten and can be accessed via a speedy twelve-minute plane ride or an even more budget-friendly ferry. You won’t find beaches in Saba, as the island is mostly made up of volcanic rock and rainforest. You also won’t come across chain restaurants or mega resorts; small budget-friendly hotels (each with fewer than 15 rooms), quirky bars (where a glass of wine runs about $3), and charming, budget-friendly restaurants cluster around the island’s winding road. This island, dubbed the “Unspoiled Queen of the Caribbean,” is safe enough that most locals and tourist simply stick out a thumb when they need a ride anywhere. Hotels like the Queen’s Gardens Resort & Spa offers all-suite rooms, some with private whirlpool baths, overlooking the Caribbean Sea, all for about $225 per night. Alternatively, there’s Juliana’s Hotel on the popular windward side of the island, where rates start at $140 per night. Saba is renowned for diving; it’s what draws most tourists to the island. But the hiking is outstanding too. There are more than 20 trails to suit every level of experience and energy. The ambitious often climb to the summit of Mt. Scenery, the highest point in the Dutch Kingdom at 2,877 feet. If you’ve had enough of lazing by the pool, take the ferry back to St. Maarten, like the locals do, and spend an afternoon on the public beaches or an evening at the casinos.
Cambodia’s bustling capital was once just a stopover destination on the way to the ancient city of Angkor Wat. But today, there are plenty of reasons to spend a few nights in the city — affordability being just one. A metropolis that marries ancient temples with sleek cocktail bars, you can soak up history by day and enjoy some of Southeast Asia’s most contemporary restaurants and bars at night. Even the most sophisticated dining can be done cheaply here; for under $10 USD, you can enjoy perfectly prepared seafood or a steaming bowl of noodles. And street eats like pork and rice can be had for just a buck. And of course, there are the famous markets, the Central, Russian and Night being favorites, where bargains await. Flanked by the Mekong River, a sunset cruise with cocktails ($28) is an affordable way to take a break from temple-touring. And of course, you’ll find a city that’s flush with affordable hotels. Small hotels, referred to as guesthouses, rent rooms for as little as $15 per night, but our favorite is The Pavilion Hotel, where a room with an oversized private pool costs just $130.
Pittsburgh has officially arrived as a travel destination. Affordable flights stream in daily via Jetblue, Southwest, and Frontier, and the city’s hotel scene is officially… well… a scene. A new Ace Hotel cements that status, and gives guests the brand’s signature combination of modern and throwback style. (The property is set into a historic YMCA building; its gym is an event space.) A new Kimpton hotel — a Hotel Monacao, which opened in 2015 — led the way in this regard, and is home to a seasonal, rooftop beer garden. The best part? You can stay at either of these hotels for less than $150 per night in low season, and less than $200 in high season. Alongside them, you’ll find an evolving roster of restaurants, bars, breweries, and bakeries, including Morcella and Cure, both of which were James Beard Award finalists in 2016. If you visit this year, you won’t be the only one who’s on to Pittsburgh’s newfound cache: Uber used it as a pilot city for its new self-driving cars.
If there ever was a time to gather a bunch of friends and visit an up-and-coming corner of Mexico, this is it. The destination is Isla Holbox, and the vibe is strictly local — for the moment, anyway. This tiny island off the coast from Cancun saw an influx of new visitors after a bridge to the mainland was built a few years back, and it’s now very much on the beaten path. But there’s still plenty to enjoy — and plenty of value — in this enclave. When booking your room, go with the small-town vibe. Seek out rental homes and small hotels. We found entire homes for $100 per night through the spring, and the value gets better when you bring more people along. It’s not uncommon to find pool villas for $300 per night that sleep six. The ferry over to the island costs about $4.