It may feel like summer out east and winter out west, but according to the calendar, this really is spring we're having. And spring, of course, means flowers. Which means it's once again time of year for a whole series of festivals, designed to highlight – and celebrate – both flowers and spring in general. Feeling festive? Here are ten great garden parties coming up on the calendar – along with the lowest available airfares to get you there.
APRIL 1-29 Cherry Blossom Festival Brooklyn, NY
It's not the most famous of the East Coast's cherry blossom festivals – hell, the Brooklyn Botanic Garden, which hosts this annual Japanese-themed do, isn't even New York's most famous botanic garden. But size and fame aren't everything – just ask the scores of delighted New Yorkers who show up to this lively party year after year to celebrate not only the pink blossoms, but also the most fascinating aspects of Japanese culture, from ancient martial arts and bonsai, all the way up to cosplay and manga (bbg.org).
Current airfares to New York airports: JFK, LGA, EWR
Skagit Tulip Festival Skagit, WA
This giant open house celebrating the Skagit Valley's most colorful crop draws hundreds of thousands of visitors to this agricultural region located sixty miles north of Seattle. Wandering through acres of brightly colored blooms on the valley's various farms is a highlight; events such as the Tulip Run on April 7 – easy to do and open to all – add to the fun (tulipfestival.org). Current airfares to Seattle
North Carolina Azalea Festival Wilmington, NC
One of the East's most appealing coastal cities brags one of its biggest spring festivals, honoring one of the region's most beautiful species of flora. So much more than just wandering around gardens, the Azalea Festival is more like a giant county fair, with everything from a circus to competitions to a gigantic parade, which alone draws more than half a million observers (ncazaleafestival.org). Current airfares to Raleigh
Dogwood Arts Festival Knoxville, TN
Lacking the branding of a city like Memphis (blues and barbecue) or the buzz of a city like Nashville (music industry, hipsters), Knoxville has always had to try harder. And it makes one heck of a play for the country's attention with this broad event that is as much of a celebration of art and music as it is of the beautiful dogwood. A full slate of concerts celebrates East Tennessee's rich musical history – from jazz to bluegrass, rock to country; there are also art exhibits, art fairs, art studio tours. A parade. A family-friendly foot race. And don’t forget those trees, highlighted along sixty miles of "trail," both in and around town. Learn more at dogwoodarts.com. Current airfares to Knoxville
Historic Garden Week Virginia
From Alexandria to Ashland, Roanoke to the Rappahannock, the Old Dominion throws open the garden gate each spring in what's billed as "America's Largest Open House." It certainly is large, featuring hundreds of gardens, many of them of no small historic significance, many more privately owned and closed to the public for the remainder of the year. Tours are ticketed, and organized at the local level. Learn more atvagardenweek.org. Current airfares to Richmond
Daffodil Festival Weekend Nantucket Island, MA
It's not like Nantucket has to throw a festival to get anyone's attention – this is, after all, one of the most beautiful spots on the New England coast. But how do you not celebrate when you've got more than three million blooms – of all varieties – turning your island bright yellow each spring? Everyone gets into the spirit, with an antique car parade, a pageant to showcase an array of daffodil hats, plus a gigantic tailgate picnic. Learn more at nantucketchamber.org.
Back in 1945, Princess Juliana of the Netherlands gifted Canada's capital with 100,000 of her country's most famous product – tulip bulbs. For sixty years now, Ottawa has chosen to commemorate the gift with this giant, city-wide event that features a ton of blooming tulips along the city's iconic Rideau Canal, plus a busy schedule of cultural events, kid-friendly happenings, the black-tie Tulip Ball and more reasons to make the trek to this agreeable town just a short drive north of the border. Learn more at tulipfestival.ca. Current airfares to Ottowa
Magnolia Blossom Festival Magnolia, AR
How do you get a guy to go to a blossom festival? You run your event alongside something else more guy-friendly. Such as, for instance, the World Championship Steak Cook-Off, that just so happens to coincide with the annual magnolia festival in the eponymously-named town, tucked away inside the pine forests of southern Arkansas. More than 5,000 16 oz. ribeye steaks hit more than 50 grills on the town square for the annual contest; first place winners score the Governor's Trophy and $4,000 in prize money. Learn more at blossomfestival.org. Current airfares to Little Rock
Fields of Lupine Festival Franconia, NH
The White Mountains turn magnificently purple in late spring, and the acres of these unique flowers that crowd into gorgeous Franconia Notch bring the sort of eager crowds that are more typically associated – around here, anyway – with leaf-peeping season. A full slate of cultural events and other special activities round out the experience. Learn more at franconianotch.org.
Mackinac Island Lilac Festival Mackinac Island, MI
Before things spin entirely out of control in this most popular of Great Lakes summer destinations, the historic (and car-free) resort island celebrates the purple majesty of the lilac. From a 10K race to a much-anticipated dog parade (this year's theme is the War of 1812, just in case you're thinking to enter your pooch) to the crowning of the year's Lilac Queen, there's plenty to keep all kinds entertained. Learn more at mackinacislandlilacfestival.org.
A. We get paid minimum wage. But, we do not work for the airline; we work for a third party company. We do not get flight benefits; that’s a question we get asked a lot. We depend on tips. Q. But, the volume of travelers in an airport lounge bar is bound to be more than a traditional bar. Don’t you make a lot of money?
A. It depends, but most of the time, yes we do very well. There are often lines for bar service, and we can walk away with as much as $40 an hour. Remember, we have to split that with our bar colleagues, but it’s nice. Q. Is this the arrangement in all airline lounges?
A. No. It varies based on the contract between the airline and the vendor. Most, however, are based on a minimum wage salary with the ability to collect tips. If you notice that the bartender is dressed in an airline uniform (often the case in smaller airline clubs), then they are airline employees making standard wages and also enjoying flight benefits. You can tip, but that is just the icing on the cake for them. Q. Is there something that you do to earn those tips beyond the call of duty?
A. Well, like any smart business person, it’s all about making the customer feel special. We try to remember what repeat customers like. Believe me, we see a lot of the same faces week after week, and they are always shocked and pleased when we remember their drink order. And like other bartenders, we always make small talk to stir up conversation. It’s not always about the tips, though. For us, it helps us to survive the monotony. But, it also helps that when people pass through the same airport time after time that they get recognized. The airline’s own employees who work in the lounge do not always recognize people for their repeat visits the way we do. We know that for a fact…because the travelers tell us that the bartenders are more appreciative than the airline’s own employees. That’s sad, but since the airline staff do not depend on tips they can afford to be indifferent and complacent. Q. Is there a drink that people request the most?
A. Not really. We love beer and wine orders since it is an easy pour and we typically get a buck for it. Mixed drinks are annoying since it is more work, but we are happy to do them. People are much more likely to tip on a complicated drink like that versus a glass of wine. Since the airline does not have any self-service facilities, we are stuck having to serve people juice, soda, and water. Generally we get no tips on that, but we do not expect it either. Q. Do you really get a dollar for each drink you pour?
A. No, not really. People rarely tip on nonalcoholic drinks, which is understandable. And, there are lots of folks who do not tip on each drink. Or they will tip on every other drink. We understand since they pay a membership fee to be in the club in the first place, but when you act like a high roller in front of your fellow travelers, please try and tip like one. And please don’t stand their chatting on your cell phone while you blurt through the conversation to bark your order at me. What happened to common courtesy? Q. Do you like it when people sit at the bar and claim their spot?
A. Yes, we love it. We are happy to keep them topped up. We know that when they sit there they are looking for continuous service and ready to tip for it. Plus, it’s more fun for us because they are often chatty and keep us entertained. Q. Have you ever cut someone off before?
A. Are you kidding? We have seen so many drunk travelers, it’s crazy. I am shocked that people would drink themselves into oblivion when they are on the road like that. Perhaps, it is just the convenience of it all since it is free. It’s easy to have one or two on your flight; then have another in the airline lounge; then have another on your connecting flight. After awhile, they add up, but it happens too quickly. Since you have limited time in the lounge between your flights, you may end up drinking faster than you normally would. As bartenders, we can spot boozers from a mile away!
Brightening up winter around these parts since the 1800s, a gigantic Victorian-style conservatory features a variety of fixed and temporary exhibits; visitors can get a crash course in the rich botany of India via the conservatory's upcoming "Tropical Forest India" visit, premiering March 17 (phipps.conservatory.org).
Want to see the lowest available fares to Pittsburgh right now? Click here! 2. Eden Project Cornwall, England
It may be a trek to get there, but the world's largest controlled jungle, beautiful Mediterranean landscapes, all under massive geodesic domes in a former quarry, is well worth a journey. Until the King Abdullah International Gardens in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia are completed – they're under construction now – the Eden Project brags the world's largest indoor gardens (edenproject.com).
Want to see the lowest available fares to London Heathrow right now? Click here!
3. Gardens by the Bay Singapore
Inside a 250-acre bayfront open space – part of the gigantic Marina Bay development just steps away from the mighty towers of Singapore's banking district – you'll find two of the world's grandest conservatories, showcasing the exotic-for-these-parts flora of mountainous and semi-arid regions. Rather, they will soon -- the gardens open in June. Should you be in the neighborhood before that, this is Singapore, and there's of course greenery everywhere you look. Including inside the impressively-zen Changi Airport, with its popular orchid, cactus and butterfly gardens (gardensbythebay.org.sg).
Want to see the lowest available fares to Singapore right now? Click here!
4. Montreal Botanical Garden Quebec
From desert to rainforest to an acclaimed Insectarium, it's all indoors in this northern city that's short on greenery for nearly half the year (tourisme-montreal.org).
Want to see the lowest available fares to Montreal right now? Click here!
5. Longwood Gardens Pennsylvania
A whopping 4.5 acres of glass-topped greenery make this 1,000-plus acre jewel near Philadelphia a year-round destination. It's hard to imagine once you're here – it's so, so big –but this was once a private estate, just another piece of the DuPont family empire, HQ'd just to the south in Wilmington, Delaware (longwoodgardens.org).
Want to see the lowest available fares to Philly right now? Click here!
6. Botanischer Garten Berlin
The acres (upon acres) of outdoor garden at this important green space may be in slumber for another few weeks or so, but inside the 1.5 acres of conservatory – don't miss the bamboo forest in the giant Great Pavilion, or the impressive cactus collection – it's green as can be (bgbm.org).
Want to see the lowest available fares to Berlin Tegel right now? Click here!
7. Garfield Park Conservatory Chicago
This 100-plus year-old oasis in a tough (but improving) corner of the Windy City's west side is one of the best things most visitors to Chicago will never see; that's good and bad; good because at times, you'll have acres of tropical garden all to yourself (now there's a little thrill, particularly during a Midwest winter), bad because more people need to see – and support – this place, which needs help more than ever, after a brutal 2011 hailstorm that caused tremendous damage ( garfield-conservatory.org).
Want to see the lowest available fares to Chicago O'Hare right now? Click here!
8. The New York Botanical Garden New York City
Imagine Central Park, but with fewer people. And fancier landscaping. That pretty much sums up this green lung that beats at the heart of The Bronx, just a short ride on the Metro-North Railroad from Grand Central Terminal. While trails through true treasures such as the city's lone old-growth forest are beautiful at any time of year, come winter, the real action's indoors at the 110 year-old Haupt Conservatory, an ornate crystal palace that – if you can believe it – was almost torn down in the 1970s due to decay (nybg.org).
Want to see the lowest available fares to New York JFK right now? Click here!
9. Yumenoshima Tropical Greenhouse Dome Tokyo
From carnivorous plants to the unique flora of Japan's Bonin Islands – sometimes referred to as the Galapagos of the Orient – it's all about the unusual at this multi-domed attraction on Tokyo Bay. In all, expect approximately 1,000 species of plant, including a beautiful rainforest section, with waterfall and everything (yumenoshima.jp – in Japanese).
Want to see the lowest available fares to Tokyo Narita right now? Click here!
10. United States Botanic Garden Washington, DC
A beautiful conservatory built in the 1930s – designed by the same architect responsible for the nearby Capitol – is a winter highlight of this national garden, brightening up its corner of the National Mall and offering the fastest possible escape from a wet, cold DC winter (and into the tropics) you're going to find (usbg.gov).
Want to see the lowest available fares to Washington National right now? Click here!
To learn more about George Hobica, visit his profile on Google+
Between the time you book a trip and the time you take it, there's a good chance that the hotel, rental car company or airline lowered the price. These websites (one of them just launched) watch your purchase and rebook you at a lower rate automatically, or alert you that you're entitled to an airline price drop voucher. Hotels:Tingo.com
Surprisingly, once you book a hotel room there's a good chance that the same room and dates will go down in price between reservation and arrival, as I discovered quite by accident last year when booking a hotel stay in London. Needing to book an additional night's stay, I rechecked my reservation (made on Expedia.com) a week before my arrival and discovered that the daily rate had decreased by $75, saving me $750 on a 10-night booking.
Just launched, there's now a website that will do the price-check-and-refund work for you automatically, rebooking you at the lower rate, and checking for further drops up until the day of your arrival or until the rate becomes non-refundable (usually a day or two before arrival). There's no work on your part. Each time the rate goes down, Tingo.com sends you an email with a new booking number at the lower price. Key here is that another consumer doesn't have to book the same room category and dates at a lower rate for the refund to kick in, unlike Orbitz' "Price Assurance" program, which also refunds hotel price drops but requires another Orbitz customer to book the same room type, check in/out dates, number of guests, and restrictions in order to trigger a refund. (It's worth disclosing here that I'm the president of Airfarewatchdog.com, which is a subsidiary of Smarter Travel Media, which also operates Tingo.com.)
I recently booked a one-night stay in Washington using Tingo during beta and exactly a day later received an email that the price had gone down $22. Although the site is new, beta testing has shown that rate drops occur about 33 percent of the time with average savings of $36 on a two-night stay, although savings of over $500 per stay aren't unheard of. Unlike rental car site Autoslash car rental and airfare refund site Yapta, below, which work only with certain vendors, Tingo works with virtually every hotel group and thousands of independent properties, unless the consumer is booking a non-refundable rate (which, admittedly, are sometimes lower but can leave you stuck with a room you can't use when the meeting or wedding is canceled). There's no limit to the amount of the refund using Tingo, there are no claim forms to submit and the refund is made directly to your credit card. Airlines:Yapta.com
Since its founding in 2006, Yapta.com has allowed consumers to enter their flight details on several airlines and receive an alert that the fare has gone down, making them eligible for a partial or full price drop refund voucher. The site only works with Alaska, American, AirTran (until it's fully merged with Southwest, which doesn't participate), Delta, Hawaiian, JetBlue, United, US Airways and Virgin America. (No foreign-based carriers participate.) And, of course, only Alaska and JetBlue (and for a few more months, Airtran) will give you back the entire amount of a fare drop refund, in the form of a voucher good for future travel up to a year from the original booking, with no fee.
The other airlines, if they refund at all, usually deduct $150 from the value of any voucher issued for a domestic fare, and up to $250 on an international fare, which often wipes out any savings. Even so, Yapta has helped saved consumers millions of dollars since its founding, although whether or not these flyers ever ended up applying their voucher savings on a future flight is anyone's guess, and it's always possible that revenue-hungry airlines will increase the "refund fee" at a future date, or eliminate price drop refunds entirely (after all, Saks Fifth Avenue doesn't refund the difference if you buy a suit in May and it goes on sale in June).
Orbitz' Price Assurance program issues cash refunds, not vouchers, if an airfare you booked goes down after you buy it, but again, another Orbitz customer needs to have booked the exact same flight numbers, flight times and dates for the refund (up to a maximum of $250) to kick in (read the full terms here). Rental cars:Autoslash.com
Rental car rates fluctuate, too, and Autoslash.com will track your booking and rebook you automatically if the price goes down before you pick up the car. Not only that, but the site will apply any discount coupon codes you might be eligible for, further lowering the cost. There's no need to issue a refund since you usually haven't paid for the rental in the first place (although some companies now offer discounts for prepaid rentals).
Caveat: the site only works with Hertz, Thrifty, SIXT, Dollar, Advantage, Europcar, Payless, E-Z and Fox, so it's possible that one of these non-participants would have a lower rate even with a price drop on a car booked with the companies that play ball; so far, other companies (Avis, Enterprise, Budget, National, Alamo) have refused to participate. The company claims it has an 85 percent success rate in reducing the cost of its customers' rentals.
To learn more about George Hobica, visit his profile on Google+
In the travel world, few topics incite more contention and indignation than seatback etiquette—as we learned last week when we published Six Shocking Stories of Travelers Gone Wild, which stirred up a wild debate among readers.
In the piece, an editor from Family Vacation Critic and I both shared stories about other passengers reacting churlishly when we inched our seats backward. "When flying out of Portugal," I wrote, "I reclined my seat and fell asleep. I woke up when the man sitting directly behind me grabbed my arm and shook me, yelling something in Portuguese (of which I know nothing). The flight attendant heard the ruckus and came over. The man was upset because my seat was reclined during mealtime, which he apparently thought was some kind of crime. I, on the other hand, felt that another person putting his hands on me was the more shocking offense."
It's rude to grab and shake a stranger on a plane, right? Depends whom you ask. Some readers argued that I was the traveler-gone-wild in this scenario. And since I couldn't hide in the kitchen eating cookies and ignoring my emails forever, I heard them out.
The following is just one of many emails and comments we received on the matter:
"After reading the article ... it is my opinion that the most Inconsiderate, selfish, and rude people who travel in economy class/coach class or any other class for that matter are those who recline their seats into the person's space behind them The first to cry foul are usually the worst offenders. Airline seats should be designed so that they can not be reclined into the passenger space behind them. I have never reclined my seat into another passenger's space, However, I have let others know when they have done so to me." —D.C.
There appear to be three schools of thought: recline, don't recline ever or I will scream at you, and recline within reason. (You can probably guess to which theory the abovementioned emailer subscribes.)
If we're going to get all egalitarian about personal space on planes, shouldn't we point the finger at first class? If airlines eliminated premium classes but kept the same number of seats on planes, we would all enjoy a more comfortable flying experience. Yes, the economics behind elite seating get flights off the ground. But we could swap spatial perks for other incentives. Give first-class flyers free massages, an exclusive bathroom, higher-quality cushions, whatever it takes. Just give us coach flyers somewhere to put our legs.
I know. It's pie in the sky. So here's a more realistic solution: The airlines should stop seat reclining altogether. Some planes are outfitted with seats that don't go back, but the industry as a whole does not appear to be going in that direction. So if you really want to beat the system, bring your very own Knee Defender. This product, which sells for $19.95 on Gadget Duck, hooks into your tray table and actually stops the seat in front of you from reclining. It's gotten the OK from the FAA, according to the product's website. (The Knee Defender's inventor? A 6' 3" guy who travels a lot.)
Just one caveat: Don't use the Knee Defender on me. Despite condemnation from, ahem, select members of the travel community, I will continue to make use of those extra inches from reclining my seat. As long as there is a button that takes me from really uncomfortable to just-as-uncomfortable-but-now-I can-pick-my-chin-up-off-my-chest, I will push it. Please direct angry emails to your local state representatives.
Readers, what's your opinion? Is there a solution to the seatback dilemma? What should the etiquette be for reclining seats? As always, we ask that you keep your comments polite and constructive.