MSNBC.com Travel | The beads are ready to be tossed, the costumed crowds are in the mood to party and tourism officials are smiling.
It can only mean one thing: It’s Mardi Gras time in New Orleans.
“It is the event of the year. It’s our largest, in terms of economic benefit. It is probably the most iconic celebration for the city,” said Jennifer Day-Sully, a spokeswoman for the New Orleans Convention and Visitors Bureau.
About a million people are expected to take part in the festivities over the 12 days leading up to Fat Tuesday, which falls on Feb. 21 this year, Day-Sully said. The city doesn’t break that number down into out-of-town visitors and local attendees.
“It’s like our version of fruitcake,” said my Roman friend Enrico during my first Christmas in the Eternal City in 2002 as he sliced a piece of panettone onto a plate. As soon as he uttered the words “fruit” and “cake” in dangerous succession of each other, I lost my appetite, thinking of the “delicacy” Americans have relegated to a holiday culinary punch line.
I like to think of myself as open minded, especially when on the road. I’ve lived in Prague, Paris, and Rome, and have gluttonously celebrated holidays in each place. And while I didn’t end up eating the spongy, candied-fruit-studded dessert that night, I eventually learned that one person’s panettone is not just another person’s fruitcake. Enrico’s sweet of choice is what Pistachio baklava is to a Greek or amaranth-laced dulce de alegria (which means “sweets of joy”) is to a Mexican or a cardamom-scented cannoli-like krumkake is to a Norwegian. Holiday desserts—whether at home or abroad—are more than just the last course of a big meal.
We admit it—we’re free Wi-Fi junkies. And there’s nothing more galling than having to pony up additional scratch for Internet access at airports and hotels—especially after paying so much just to get into those places. So we’re always happy to see announcements like the one that came to us this morning—that Skype will be offering a free hour of Wi-Fi at participating airports from December 21–27.
Media mogul, philanthropist and former Miss South Africa shares her holiday season must-dos in Cape Town.
Climb Aboard a Sunset Cruise Bassie loves the sea, so when she’s in Cape Town, a boat ride at dusk is her idea of a great way to celebrate. “A sunset cruise around the V&A Harbour through MK Exotic Tours is a must if you are here with a group of friends,” she says. $428 for up to 12 guests (includes drinks and snacks); 27-21-552-0247
Attend a Tree Lighting “For a truly special treat, where you get to make a difference and have some fun, go to the Tree of Lights Ceremony at St. Luke’s Hospice in Kenilworth,” Kumalo says. On Dec. 4, a local dignitary will switch on the LED decorations adorning a massive Norfolk Pine. You can sponsor a light with an $8 donation, which goes towards the care of terminally ill patients. The evening is also filled with pipe bands, carols and food stalls selling. Tip: Take cues from Capetonians and arrive early (starting at 4pm) with your own snacks to enjoy on the lawn. 27-21-797-5335
You've heard the air-travel advice before: Don't wrap your holiday gifts before you leave for the airport because the TSA may very well require you to unwrap them during a security check. But there may be a way to arrive at your destination with wrapped presents anyway. This holiday season Virgin Atlantic is adding a few Christmas elves to the employee roster who will wrap presents for departing passengers on the air side of the Terminal 4 security checkpoint at New York's JFK International. The service costs $2 per package (100 percent of which goes to the Virgin Unite charity) and is available December 21-23, 2011.
Know any other airlines or airports that are offering a similar service? Tell us!
Smart Traveler Mark Orwoll is the International Editor of Travel + Leisure. Follow him on Twitter.
Sleigh bells ring and snow glistens this Christmas in the red-brick New England seaport of Portsmouth, New Hampshire. The 7th Annual Vintage Christmas celebration decks the halls with garlands of fresh greens and balsam wreaths, as the town aspires to be the Christmas Capital of America. If only we could tell Faith Hill as she croons "Where Are You Christmas" that it is here, wrapped up in a bow with fiddles, harpsichords, Victorian Christmas trees, and a free trolley through the downtown area.
Vintage Christmas events continue on December weekends this year, with historic homes dressed in their finest throughout the month. The cherished Candlelight Stroll at the Strawbery Banke Museum winds through homes twinkling in white lights, with costumed performers and hundreds of luminarias. New this year, the Market Square Carolers, a chorus of middle school students, belt out tunes as they walk around town. You just may glimpse a jolly, happy soul with a corncob pipe, a button nose, and two eyes made out of coal.
New York City sparkles during the holidays but this year it dazzles as never before! Just around the corner from the Rockefeller Center Christmas tree, on display at Christie’s auction house are the jewels, fashion, paintings, and memorabilia that were owned by film star Elizabeth Taylor. And what an assemblage of bling and color. Here, among almost 300 remarkable pieces of jewelry are 80 iconic diamonds, gemstones, legacy jewels, including the 33.19-carat Elizabeth Taylor Diamond (once known as the Krupp diamond), the legendary pearl La Pérégrina (that belonged to the Spanish royal family), and a spectacular group of emeralds and diamonds—ring, necklace, bracelet, earrings—acquired by Richard Burton and Taylor from Bulgari in Rome around the time they made the movie Cleopatra (1963). Serious jewels.
We’ve rounded up a passel of deals that individual hotels and hotel chains are offering for winter travel. While many have to be booked next Monday, November 28, most apply to hotel stays through the rest of the winter. Below are the barebone details for 19 deals; please follow the links to get more information or to book.
Lake Placid Lodge (above), New York Up to 50% off with rates from $250/night (regularly $500 - $1,500). Available for booking Monday, November 28, through 12pm Friday, December 2, for travel through March. Some blackout dates. For more information or to book, please visit Lake Placid Lodge.
If you, like me, are one of the crazy people hitting the road the day before Thanksgiving, and at least have the good fortune of not having to be behind the wheel—let’s hear it for bus travel!—there are a few ways my good friend ‘technology’ can help you pass the time while you’re (inevitably) sitting in traffic, without completely losing your mind.
Don't forget! Today we're hosting our first-ever Twitter chat, from 3 p.m. to 4 p.m. EST. The chat, which will be hosted by T+L's Mark Orwoll, will help try to calm the nerves of those of you gearing up for travel around Thanksgiving, when all methods of transportation can prove to be rather congested.
Also joining us will be this fab panel of travel experts: