Wednesday, August 3, 2011

U.S. Virgin Islands

The U.S. Virgin Islands is "America's Caribbean Paradise" -- the place to see moko jumbies dance at a Carnival parade, hear the lilting patois of a Creole dialect, or smell the spices in a saltfish pate; interrupted by the non-roaming thrum of your cell phone. You could visit either St. 
Thomas, St. John or St. Croix, but better yet, spend a little time on all three islands. That way you'll get plenty of pampering, undisturbed nature and colonial history jammed into one vacation. And bonus: you can pay for everything with U.S. dollars.
Each island offers something different. Called "Rock City" for its hilly, craggy horizon, St. Thomas is better known for its luxury -- from the mega-yachts moored in the harbor to the Gucci, Nicole Miller and Tiffany & Co. storefronts along Main Street. Located a short ferry-ride east, St. John intoxicates honeymooners and nature lovers with more than 7,000 acres of dedicated parkland plus its pristine beaches. Way down south in the Caribbean Sea, less-visited St. Croix has sugar cane plantations and rum distilleries that offer a glimpse into both the past and the present of the Virgin Islands.


Las Vegas

Vegas, Sin City, the Entertainment Capital of the World: All worthy names for this desert oasis of neon lights, casinos and luxury hotels.
Vegas has maintained its glitzy, risqué, anything-goes attitude for decades, and the party is still going strong. This is a city where inhibitions are not welcome: While you may not want to go as far as to reenact The Hangover, you certainly don't want to leave without experiencing a bit of Viva Las Vegas. Whether you're here for a bachelor party, a wedding or just one wild weekend, make sure to live it up. Just remember: What happens here, stays here.
Think of Sin City as a theme park rather than a metropolis, where most of the attractions are packed along the legendary Strip. It can awe as much as it can overwhelm, and that's part of the appeal. But more refined travelers should rest assured: There are plenty of ways to avoid Las Vegas's kitschy glamour. When the razzle-dazzle becomes too much, try some of the renowned cuisine procured by some of the world's greatest chefs, or head out of town to manmade and natural marvels like the Hoover Dam and the Grand Canyon.

San Diego

Consistently sunny weather is what draws visitors to San Diego throughout the year: that and the mouthwatering cuisine, thriving nightlife and one of the country’s favorite zoos.
And then there are the beaches: As home of the U.S. Navy’s Pacific Fleet, San Diego has many top activities that revolve around the sea. Head to Mission Beach to soak up the rays, to La Jolla to catch a wave, or to the Maritime Museum to learn a little nautical history.
In spite of constant growth, America's Finest City maintains a small-town feel, making it a popular destination for families and anyone looking for a more laid-back getaway. But that doesn't mean you can't let loose here. Pockets of vivacious nightlife can be found throughout, especially near the historical Gaslamp Quarter. So when it comes to visiting San Diego, take Channel 4 anchorman Ron Burgundy's advice: "Drink it in, it always goes down smooth."

Miami Beach

Will Smith once rapped, "Ain't no city in the world like this," and thousands continue to travel to Miami Beach to confirm his words.
Why else would MTV have relocated its tumultuous party crew, the cast of Jersey Shore, away from their northern abode? But don't let Snooki and her friends fool you: A wide variety of people -- including waifish models, amateur architecture critics, distinguished seniors, and sun-seeking families -- enjoy the renowned shores of "America's Riviera." North Miami Beach is where you'll find the kid-friendliest beaches, the most interesting Art Deco architecture, and the most affordable restaurants and hotels. Less than 10 miles away are the galleries, museums and theaters of Greater Miami.
And then there's "SoBe," or South Beach. This popular southernmost neighborhood proves that Miami Beach is more like two cities -- a family-friendly vacation when the sun is shining and a super-chic hotspot once the evening arrives. If want to keep up with the Joneses (or Snooki, for that matter), you'll have to flash your AmEx black card at the high-end stores, schmooze at the cutting-edge fusion restaurants, dance at the energetic nightclubs and relax poolside at the Art Deco hotels. For a little less pretense, window shop at the Lincoln Road Mall, chow-down at a low-key Floribbean joint and toss back a (decidedly cheaper) cocktail at a lower key watering hole.


The Bahamian islands have blossomed into a tropical Eden, alluring throngs of visitors to their white-washed shores, duty-free shops, fishing and scuba diving excursions and luxurious resort lifestyle. 
The families that flock here tend to indulge in the extensive diversions of the lavish mega resorts, but this diverse island chain also offer a range of activities away from the hotel zone: Nature enthusiasts explore the offshore reefs and wildlife preserves; golf lovers tee up on the numerous par-72 courses; even bargain hunters patrol the marketplaces for the best duty-free deals. No wonder the Bahamas islands have become popular destinations in the Caribbean.
Though the area consists of more than 700 islands and cays,  most visitors' first stop is New Providence Island's Nassau, the largest city of the Bahamas. Here, the twinkling casinos and upscale resorts make strange bedfellows with American Civil War history and pirate lore. The second most popular island is also the most northwest: Grand Bahama, home to bustling Freeport and a center of ecotourism with its underwater limestone caves and botanical gardens. When you need a break from all the crowds, head east from Nassau to the Outer Islands, where you can easily drop off the grid and enjoy a simpler way of life.

Washington, D.C.

Washington, D.C. may call to mind presidents, monuments, memorials, Republicans, Democrats and the Supreme Court, but you might be surprised to find that the city isn't the stuffy political town it once was. 
Trendier than ever, the District is becoming an exciting East Coast vacation destination -- and not just for patriots. Although government is still the sun around which this city orbits, D.C. also offers a host of renowned museums and interesting neighborhoods for shopping and just strolling. And last but not least, D.C. has a very respectable dining scene. Plus, it's easy to get by on a budget because many of the top attractions are free.
You should definitely spend a day visiting the more traditional sites like the Washington Monument or the Lincoln and Jefferson memorials. Allot another day for the National Mall's free Smithsonian museums, including the Natural History Museum and the Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden, among a host of others. In the evenings, unwind as Washingtonians do at one of the city's many trendy bars before dancing in Adams Morgan or a catching a live performance at the Kennedy Center.

Puerto Rico

Determining Puerto Rico's charm is a no-brainer. Less than a three-hour flight from Miami, this island is a U.S. territory (in case you didn't recall from high school history). 
So when you're shopping in San Juan, you can pay for your souvenirs with American bills. But don't be mistaken:  This isn't quite a home away from home. Puerto Rico has both 20-foot waves for surfers and calm, clear waters for families. It's a stroll back through time (El Morro) and an up-close look at the contemporary (Calle del Cristo). It's an exhilarating mix of landscapes, from the serpentine jungle of El Yunque to the corkscrew caves of Parque de las Cavernas del Río Camuy. And if you want to get away from civilization entirely, you can ferry over to the secluded -- not to mention jaw-droppingly gorgeous -- islands of Vieques and Culebra. Convinced?
If not, we can drive a few further points home. When other Caribbean isles put a premium on wintertime at the beach, Puerto Rico offers year-round affordable packages to relax along its blanched sands. And while other regional spots like to advertise exciting nightlife, the capital city of San Juan actually delivers. Follow a pulsating beat to the dance clubs in the Santurce neighborhood, catch some live music in a Ponce lounge, or grab a casual drink at a San Sebastián bar.


Burrowed beside long-dormant volcanoes and reigning over green moorlands, Edinburgh (or Ed-n-bruh in Scots speech) is known for more than its staggering landscape.
The Athens of the North or Auld Reekie, as Edinburgh is sometimes nicknamed, also claims a cast of near mythic characters: Rebel leader Sir William Wallace (aka Braveheart); the tragic Mary, Queen of Scots; the Enlightenment thinkers David Hume and Adam Smith; James Bond actor Sean Connery; and prolific wordsmiths Sir Arthur Conan Doyle and J.K. Rowling -- are all woven into this very old yet very relevant city.
But if your impression is confined to bagpipes, tartans, crests and kilts, you'd be wrong. The second most-visited city in the United Kingdom (after London), Edinburgh offers an abundance of things to do. History types will enjoy Edinburgh Castle, Holyroodhouse Palace and other attractions found along the Royal Mile. Those in search of an authentic live-as-the-locals experience will find it in the outer-lying neighborhood pubs, shops and parks. Shoppers will find retail bliss in New Town; art aficionados will enjoy the free National Gallery of Scotland; and theater hounds will meet their match at August's Edinburgh Festival.


Barcelona contains both the authentically historic and the wildly bizarre.
From the tree-lined Las Ramblas to the narrow alleys of Barri Gòtic; from the beachside nightclubs to the city's dozens of sacred churches and cathedrals, this city by the sea seems to attract all types: the family, the adventurer, the couple, the backpacker, the culture lover -- and more -- with an almost overwhelming variety of things to do. You could stay for a few days, but chances are you'll need a whole week to explore.
In Barcelona, even the beach is bustling, but it's really the cosmopolitan city that gets all the attention. Much of the activity revolves around Las Ramblas, a series of narrow streets and alleys packed with restaurants, nightclubs and a vibrant pedestrian market. But you should also take an Antoni Gaudí tour -- he’s the Catalan responsible for sites like the Parc Güell, Casa Batlló and Sagrada Familia. And it would also be absurd to miss out on the eclectic shopping scene and the region’s exquisite food and wine. Do you see why we suggest a week vacation?


St. Martin

If you associate the Caribbean with a laid-back atmosphere, a tranquil beach and a quiet sunset, then you haven't been to feisty St.
Martin and St. Maarten. What's the best part of visiting this dual-governed island? You can get a taste of two distinct, lively cultures all for the price of one vacation. This 37-square-mile dot is increasingly popular with travelers who like to eat well, party hard and duty-free shop in between trips to the beach. The north side, Saint Martin, is controlled by the French government. It's the home of the island's tastiest restaurants and party beaches. Whereas cosmopolitan St. Maarten shelters the most animated casinos, bars and clubs. A territory of the Netherlands Antilles, St. Maarten takes up the southern 16 square miles.
But for all the excitement, St. Martin and St. Maarten still foster a stress-free vibe -- starting out with how easily you can pass between both sides of the island. So catch a few morning rays on a quiet Dutch-side beach; later, take a leisurely afternoon stroll through a French-side mountain. You'll be more than primed to sneak back over the border for a night in the casinos.