Tag Archives: travel smart

The Larder at Tavern restaurant in LAX

Best Ways to Spend Your Connection in 10 U.S. Airports

As the storm season approaches and we brace ourselves for the flight delays and cancellations due to occur, we have a choice: We can either grumble about the time we waste stuck in airports, or we can turn them into new destinations to explore. You’d be surprised how many boring U.S. hubs have spas, museums, pools, legendary local restaurants, even golf. So the next time you’re connecting in an airport you hate to connect in, make the most of it with these suggestions:


Atlanta airport ATL Mini Suite

Minute Suites at ATL offer five private, noise-neutralized rooms where you can nap for $34/hour.  Photo Courtesy Minute Suites

Atlanta Hartsfield-Jackson (ATL)

See: A 31-foot-long Yangchuanosaurus dinosaur skeleton stands in the central atrium, a few steps from the security station. It’s on loan from the Fernbank Museum of Natural History.

Eat: One Flew South serves much-buzzed-about “Southernational” cuisine, from shrimp and grits to pulled duck sandwiches to kamikaze rolls (Concourse E). If you’re craving fast comfort food, though, try The Varsity, an outpost of the famed local institution dating from 1928 and serving chili cheese dogs and Frosted Oranges (Terminal F).

Shower: The Club at ATL provides showers, TVs, Wi-Fi, work stations, food, and drinks for $35 for a day pass (Terminal F).

Sleep: Minute Suites offer five private, noise-neutralized rooms where you can nap for $34/hour (Concourse B, near Gate B16).



Chicago airport's O'Hare Hilton Hotel

Chicago’s O’Hare Hilton sells day passes to its health club for $20.  Photo Courtesy O’Hare Hilton

Chicago O’Hare (ORD)

Exercise: The O’Hare Hilton sells day passes to its health club (with an indoor pool reopening August 15) for $20 (Terminal 1).

Relax: Three Terminal Getaway Spa locations offer a menu of massages, from 10 to 90 minutes long (Terminal 3, near Gate H1; Terminal 1, near Gate B12; H/K Corridor, near the American Airlines Admirals Club).

Eat: There are three outposts of local celebrity chef Rick Bayless’s Tortas Frontera, where you can order up hand-crafted tortas and fresh guacamole made from top-quality ingredients from nearby farms (Terminal 1, near Gate B11; Terminal 3, near Gate K4; Terminal 5, near Gate M12).

Play: Kids on the Fly is a huge children’s-museum-slash-playground where parents can accomplish their pre-flight mission: exhausting their offspring (Terminal 2).



DFW Airport's Junior Flyers Club

DFW has three Junior Flyers Clubs, where toddlers can burn off energy climbing on mini cars and planes.  Photo Courtesy DFW International Airport

Dallas-Fort Worth (DFW)

Drink: Grab a Fig Fizz or an Isaac’s Apple in Grand Hyatt DFW’s Grand Met Lounge cocktail bar, home also to the airport’s only sushi bar.

See: Founders’ Plaza has telescopes and an Observation Area where you can watch aircraft take off and land.

Play: Run your toddlers in one of three Junior Flyers Club playgrounds (the largest is in Terminal B at Gate 12).

Relax: The Centurion Lounge offers showers, food, drinks, Wi-Fi, and a family room to American Express cardholders for $50/day and to AmEx Platinum cardholders for free (Concourse D opposite Gate D17).

Golf (yes, golf): The Bear Creek Golf Club is adjacent to the airport, just a five-minute cab ride away. Tee times are open to the public; you can even book online.



Denver International Airport pedestrian bridge

At Denver International Airport, you can stand on a pedestrian bridge and watch planes pass right underneath.  Photo Courtesy Denver International Airport

Denver International (DEN)

Eat: Denver chef Justin Cucci’s popular field-to-fork restaurant Root Down has an outpost at DIA (C Gates). Don’t have that kind of time? Grab handmade potato chips at Randy Petersen’s favorite DIA hangout, Lefty’s (B Gates, Near Gate B48).

Marvel: The pedestrian bridge that connects the terminal with the concourse passes right over the tops of planes as they taxi. Look down and be awed by the giant flying machines.

Detoxify: Choose from a range of massages and treatments, starting at just 15 minutes long, at XpresSpa (Concourse C, Center Core).


Centurion Lounge in Las Vegas McCarran Airport

American Express cardholders can grab food, Wi-Fi, or even a shower at the Centurion Lounge at LAS.  Photo Courtesy Centurion Lounge

Las Vegas McCarran (LAS)

See: The Howard W. Cannon Aviation Museum depicts a slice of aviation history (Level 2, above baggage claim).

Relax: The Centurion Lounge offers showers, food, drink, Wi-Fi, and a family room to American Express cardholders for $50/day and to AmEx Platinum cardholders for free (Concourse D, opposite Gate D1). No AmEx card? Buy a day pass to The Club at LAS for $35 (Terminal 1, D Gates; Terminal 3, across from Gate E2).

Relax some more: There are two XpresSpas here, offering manicures, pedicures, waxing, foot, neck, and back massages—the works (Terminal 1, near Gate D32, and Terminal 3).



The Larder at Tavern at LAX

The Larder at Tavern at LAX

Los Angeles International (LAX)

Gorge: Tom Bradley International Terminal now includes outposts of Top Chef winner Michael Voltaggio’s ink.sack; James Beard Award-winning chef Suzanne Goin’s Larder at Tavern; a Petrossian in case you’re craving caviar, blinis, or any of 20 types of vodka; and an Umami Burger that’s even open for breakfast.

Learn: Traveling with kids or model-aircraft nuts? The Flight Path Learning Center is a museum devoted to the history of aviation in SoCal (LAX Imperial Terminal; open Tues-Sat from 10-3; admission free).

Chill: There’s an XpresSpa in Terminal 5 as well as in the Tom Bradley International Terminal (between gates 154-156).



Miami Airport Training Dog Casey

Soothe pre-flight jitters by spending time with Casey, Miami airport’s therapy dog.  Photo Courtesy Miami International Airport

Miami International (MIA)

Drink: Grab a mojito with a panoramic view at Top of the Port, the rooftop bar and restaurant at the Miami International Airport Hotel (Terminal E).

Eat: Versailles, the Little Havana landmark that calls itself “The World’s Most Famous Cuban Restaurant,” has outposts in Terminal D.

Shop: It’s worth a stroll to the colorful Romero Britto concept store in Terminal D.

Snuggle: Casey, the therapy dog, is a trained golden retriever who wanders the airport delivering stress relief and smiles.

Golf: A 10-minute cab ride away, the Trump National Doral Miami’s golf course has tee times open to the public.



Metropolitan Museum of Art Store at Newark Airport

Find elegant last-minute gifts at the Metropolitan Museum of Art Store in Newark Airport.  Photo Courtesy Metropolitan Museum of Art.

Newark Liberty (EWR)

Ride: When my kids were smaller I could entertain them for hours simply riding the AirTrain from terminal to terminal. At sunset on clear nights the ride yields colorful views of the tarmac and the Manhattan skyline; keep your camera ready.

Dine: The outposts of two legendary Manhattan eateries, Gallagher’s steak house and the Grand Central Oyster Bar, may lack the ambience of their flagships but serve great grub nonetheless (Terminal C).

Shop: The Metropolitan Museum of Art Store is the go-to boutique for elegant yet affordable gifts (Terminal C).



Yoga Room at San Francisco International Airport

SFO’s Yoga Room, the first ever in an airport, lets you get in a good stretch before you board your flight.  Photo Courtesy San Francisco International Airport

San Francisco International (SFO):

See: There are serious art exhibitions throughout, as well as an Aviation Museum in the International Terminal dedicated to preserving the history of commercial flight.

Meditate: Make the world’s first Yoga Room in an airport your zen zone (Terminal 2).

Play: There’s a scavenger-hunt-style self-guided tour for children of all ages. It takes only half an hour, and you even get a prize at the end (Terminal 2). For younger ones, there are three Kids’ Spots for unleashing pent-up energy (Terminal 3, Boarding Area E near Gates 60 and 62; Terminal 3, Boarding Area F near Gate 87A).

Eat: My own kids can’t pass through SFO without steering me toward their favorite airport eatery, Fung Lum, for noodles, dim sum, and won ton soup (Terminals 1 and 3 food courts and International Terminal food court).



Max & Erma restaurant's Garbage Burger

You won’t go hungry during your flight if you fill up on Max & Erma’s Garbage Burger, topped with smoked bacon, cheddar, Swiss, American, mozzarella, caramelized onions, sautéed mushrooms, guacamole, and marinara.  Photo Courtesy Max & Erma’s

Washington Dulles (IAD):

 Shop: The Smithsonian Store is like a mini-trip to the various collections that comprise the Smithsonian, including the National Zoo (Terminal B, Gate B37).

Eat: Max & Erma’s serves up an outrageous selection of gourmet burgers, including the “garbage burger that started it all.” There’s even an All-You-Can-Eat Sundae Bar (B Concourse).

Marvel: Just south of the airport sits a massive and thrilling branch of the Smithsonian National Air and Space Museum, the Steven F. Udvar-Hazy Center, where you can easily spend a day ogling everything from vintage aircraft to the Enola Gay to the space shuttle. You can reach the museum in about ten minutes either by cab or by the new direct bus service from the airport which starts July 26 (bus fare $1.75 each way). Forget that ice cream sundae and just go!


What’s your favorite U.S. airport find? Share it with us!


Be a smarter traveler: Follow Wendy Perrin on Facebook and Twitter @wendyperrin, and sign up for her weekly newsletter to stay in the know. 

Paris is one of the world's most expensive cities this summer, but there are easy ways to make your dollar go farther.

Smart Travel Strategies for Summer

As TripAdvisor’s Travel Advocate, I’ve been sharing a lot of summer travel advice over on the TripAdvisor blog. In case you’ve missed my posts, here are links to the tips I think you’ll find most useful:

* Traveling Overseas? Make Your Dollar Go Farther.  Here’s a list of the world’s most expensive cities this summer (including Paris)—and six actions to take that will not only save you money but also reward you with more local color.

* How to Plan a Family Beach Vacation That Won’t Break the Bank.  Are you finding that every four- or five-star beach resort you’ve contacted has hiked its rates sky-high this summer?  Here are the tricks I’ve used for my own family’s summer getaways.

* Easy Ways to Avoid Airline Baggage Fees.  Of all the fees airlines hit us with, the one that most travelers find most annoying is the fee for checking luggage. For those of you who don’t have elite status with an airline, here are three ways to avoid getting stung.

Improve Your Trip With an Overnight Layover (No Kidding!)  Do you dread overnight layovers?  It’s time to change your attitude and use them to give your trip a fun kick-off or a grand finale.

* When to Save Money with a Vacation Rental.  You get more space and privacy than in a hotel, and you get to live like a local, but renting a home without staff or hotel infrastructure can mean spending your vacation doing household chores. If you’re looking for that perfect villa in Tuscany or farmhouse in Provence where it’s an easy walk into town for dinner and you needn’t worry about wrestling with unfamiliar appliances or taking out the garbage, feel free to shoot me an email (click on “Contact,” above) and I can connect you with the right trusted villa expert for your destination.

Happy summer travels, everyone!

Luxembourg Gardens boat pond, Paris

One of many inexpensive activities in Paris is to sail boats in the Luxembourg Gardens, as my younger son is doing here.

Royal Mile in Edinburgh Scotland

Where to Eat and Drink in Edinburgh


I’m leaving for Scotland in a couple of weeks. Any recommendations for great restaurants and bars (for the over-30 crowd, please!) in Edinburgh? Thanks!

—Faby S.


Faby, you’re in luck because Edinburgh has gone through a culinary boom lately.  It’s now got five Michelin-starred restaurants—which is pretty impressive for a city of only 500,000 people. On top of that, 2014 is Scotland’s Year of Homecoming, so you’ll find several food and drink festivals on tap.

To get an answer for you from someone who knows Edinburgh well, I reached out to Jonathan Epstein of Celebrated Experiences.  As a first-rate travel planner for Scotland, he’s there frequently, road-testing  not only the restaurants and pubs but also the hotels, car services, expert guides, etc. The secret to Edinburgh’s culinary success, he says, is the combination of innovative Scottish chefs and fresh local ingredients, from farm-to-table vegetables and fruit to excellent seafood, lamb, and Angus beef.  Many restaurants are so in-demand that it can be very  tough to get a table, but that’s where Jonathan wields his local connections on his travelers’ behalf, not only getting them reservations but getting them VIP’d.  “Food tastes better when people are being extra nice to you,” he points out.

Here are the spots he recommends: 


The Kitchin:  “Tom Kitchin is an amazing chef, and dinner there is not only delicious but educational. They hand out maps of Scotland to guests to show exactly where the food is sourced from. And, when we call ahead on behalf of travelers, Tom comes out and walks them through the menu, teaching about foraging and his local producers.”

Castle Terrace:  “A few years ago, Tom Kitchin opened a second fine-dining restaurant, and it quickly also earned a Michelin star.”

Restaurant Martin Wishart: “He was the first Michelin-starred chef in Edinburgh.  His restaurant opened in 1999 and received a star in 2001. He also has a contemporary brasserie called The Honours that our travelers love!”

Paul Kitching 21212: “A very fun and innovative restaurant by Chef Paul Kitching. Don’t come here if you need lots of options.  Do come here if you want a meal made to perfection with incredibly fresh ingredients.  The menu changes daily, and the name of the restaurant is based on the number of choices you have for each course.  You get a choice of two starters, two mains, and two desserts.  The midcourses…no choice!  Lunch is very accessible, at just $37 per person right now.”

The Pompadour:  “Two years ago, after a grand refurbishment, The Caledonian was rebranded as a Waldorf Astoria hotel.  The fantastic Galvin brothers, behind so much dining success in London, opened a brilliant restaurant there called Pompadour.”


Wildfire: “Delicious, non-pretentious presentation of great steaks and seafood.”

Scotch Malt Whisky Society: “It’s a private club, but we can arrange entry into it. We also arrange special whisky tastings and even dinner with whisky pairings.”

Wedgewood: “It serves great Scottish cuisine, and you are never rushed because tables are not turned: You’ll be the only one enjoying that table the night you are there.”

The Indian Cavalry Club: “It’s the Best Indian food in Edinburgh, and remember, eating Indian is a must when in Britain.”

Fishers in the City: “Great buzz and atmosphere.  Popular with locals, and open late!”

Angels with Bagpipes: “For less formal nights out, this has been a favorite of ours for quite some time. It’s under new management, and we still hear great reviews from travelers.”

Cucina: “Should you get a craving for Italian food, this restaurant at G&V Royal Mile Hotel is the one to choose.”


The Scran & Scallie: “Tom Kitchin’s gastro pub. Terrific local beers.”

The Devil’s Advocate: “Located in an old Victorian pump house in Old Town.”

Sandy Bell’s: “Our favorite for traditional local music.”

Deacon Brodies Tavern: “Best pub on The Royal Mile.”

Guildford Arms: “Beautiful, traditional pub.”

The Abbotsford: “Another beauty. We love the traditional Scottish ales, the curved bar, and the Victorian ceiling.”

The Black Cat: “A very atmospheric bar specializing in whisky.”

Café Royal Oyster Bar: “Gorgeous bar, with a nice selection of Scottish beers.  Tasty fresh mussels and oysters (and much more).”


Faby, if you can’t get to every one of these, you can always live vicariously by following Jonathan’s Instagram page.



Omaha Beach Normandy France

The Best Way to Tour Europe’s World War II Sites


Hi Wendy,

My husband and I are seasoned travelers and would like to take a trip to see some of Europe’s important World War II sights, including Normandy, the Ardennes, Amsterdam, Munich, and Nuremberg—and we’re open to other suggestions. We want very knowledgable guides in each place and want to stay in the nicest accommodations.  Who should we contact to help us plan such a trip?


—Randy B.


With the 70th Anniversary of D-Day coming up this Friday, there’s a lot of interest right now in European itineraries that encompass the Normandy landing beaches and other WWII sites. Randy, this means you need a Western Europe travel specialist with knowledge of, and access to, the best guides for these sites.

My suggestion is that you reach out to Rudi Steele of Rudi Steele Travel. He’s a particularly well-connected travel agent who was born in Germany (where his older brothers were actually drafted into the Hitler Youth) and raised in Switzerland. World War II is a passion for him. Over the years, he has made private guided WWII itineraries a subspecialty, and he also has close relationships with the general managers of Europe’s finest hotels, and that translates into preferred treatment and extra benefits for you.

Rudi is imaginative with itineraries, so fasten your seatbelt. He may suggest that you start off in London at the Imperial War Museum. It’s currently closed for renovation, but just last week he got some travelers inside it privately with a historian. Rudi can even fly you by helicopter from London to one of the Landing Beaches in Normandy!  As you move through France toward Germany, he might recommend you make time for some of the underground fortresses along the Maginot Line.  As for Germany, the court room in Nuremberg is a must, of course, but Rudi says a highlight for World War II buffs is a visit to Colditz Castle, near Leipzig. The Germans used the Castle as a high-security prison for Allied officers who were considered particularly dangerous and had escaped from other prisoner-of-war camps; many managed to break out of the Castle anyway, and you can tour the escape tunnels.

Randy, over the next few days the beaches of Normandy (like the one pictured above) will be bustling with 70th anniversary activity. By the time of your trip, though, all should be back to normal and peaceful. Have a great trip!

Lobby of The Affinia Manhattan hotel
Nobody expects to see a space like this at 7th Ave. and 31st St. It's the lobby of The Affinia Manhattan.

7 New York City Hotels That are Convenient and Affordable


Hi Wendy,

A friend and his wife are going to New York City for their 25th anniversary. They want to see all the attractions, which will take them from the Statue of Liberty to the new Freedom Tower, and up to Central Park. What conveniently located Manhattan hotels do you recommend for someone with a budget of about $300 per night?


—Jack C.


Jack, as someone who grew up in midtown Manhattan and still spends most days of the week there, zipping uptown and down on the subway, I do have a few picks for hotels that are well-located for sightseeing, convenient to public transportation, and budget-friendly (for NYC, that is).  Given the tourist crowds that are expected to hit Manhattan over the next few months—New York City is, after all, the #3 U.S. destination for TripAdvisor travelers this summer—these options should come in handy.


In the Theater District: citizenM Times Square

This new 230-room hotel is the first stateside outpost of the Amsterdam-based hotel chain, whose motto is “affordable luxury.”  The lobby, referred to as “the living room,” features oversized art and is filled with books and magazines. Efficiency is the theme, with self-service check-in and check-out, a 24-hour canteen, and rooms that make the most of their limited space with oversized beds and smart storage (218 West 50th Street, between 7th and 8th Avenues).


Near Fifth Avenue shopping: Viceroy New York

The 240-room Viceroy aims to bring a downtown vibe to its chic uptown location just a three-minute walk from Fifth Avenue’s most elegant shops and restaurants and the prettiest corner of Central Park.  The lobby has an Art Deco vibe; the restaurant and bar, Kingside, is a destination unto itself; the rooms are done in brown leathers, wood paneling, and brass accents. Doubles start at $305 if you prepay (120 West 57th St).


Near the Flatiron: Ace Hotel New York

This trendy 260-room hotel a few blocks from Madison Square Park is a magnet for locals, thanks to its Stumptown-Coffee-serving lobby bar and Michelin-starred gastro pub, The John Dory Oyster Bar. In a building dating from 1904, the hotel has an eclectic aesthetic that combines the historic mosaic tile floor and stained glass ceilings with oddities such as a graffiti sticker mural wall in the lobby. Room sizes vary drastically, from Bunk Bed to Loft Suite  (20 W. 29th St., near Broadway).


Near Columbus Circle: Hudson New York

Just five blocks from Lincoln Center, this Philippe Starck-designed hotel is still reasonably hip, even 14 years after it opened. Rooms are small; the focus is on the public spaces, such as the Sky Terrace rooftop bar, which is very popular in summer, and the Hudson Common, a beer hall and burger joint with nightly live music (365 W. 58th St., between 8th and 9th Avenues).


Near Pennsylvania Station: The Affinia Manhattan

This hotel is not in a pretty neighborhood, but it’s close to the transit hubs at Penn Station and Herald Square, yet still a few blocks removed from the noise and chaos of Times Square (and just a short walk to Macy’s and the Empire State Building). The hotel has an Old New York ambiance—with velvet couches and gold-plated elevators—and 618 modern, comfortable rooms (371 Seventh Ave. at 31st St).


At Grand Central Terminal: Grand Hyatt New York

It’s hardly a charmer, what with 1,306 rooms and a busy lobby, but it’s attached to Grand Central Terminal, making it one of the most convenient places to sleep in Manhattan. It’s got all the comforts of a large hotel: a 24-hour market downstairs, a fitness center, and just about any service you could need within easy reach (109 East 42nd St).


Near Soho shopping and galleries: The Nolitan

NoLita is a fun downtown neighborhood whose abbreviation stands for “North of Little Italy.” This hotel’s cozy lobby has a library, and its modern-industrial rooms have unfinished ceilings and wood-plank floors. Some even have floor-to-ceiling windows or balconies (30 Kenmare St.).



united boarding pass showing early morning flight

Pros and Cons of Early Morning and Late Night Flights

The high airfares that families face during school breaks—when every other family is trying to flee town at the same time—can feel positively punitive.  Often the only solution is to opt for the least convenient flights—typically in the late evening and early morning—which means sacrificing the kids’ sleep schedule and your sanity. Are the costs really worth the savings?

That’s the question I’m asking myself today. My family of four just flew back from Georgia, where we visited relatives over the Easter school break. I paid $1,200 for our four tickets from Newark to Atlanta. While I’m glad to have saved about $300 by booking the last flight of the day to Atlanta and the first flight of the day back to Newark, the decision took its toll on us. I thought I’d detail the pros and cons of our experience, in case you ever need to make a similar decision.

The pros:

  1. We saved $300.
  2. There were few lines. Upon landing at our destination late at night, we did not hit any lines picking up our rental car, nor did we hit any traffic driving to our hotel. When flying back at dawn, there was no line at check-in or security.
  3. Our early morning flight left on time—which, of course, is a big advantage to early morning flights. They are the least likely to be delayed.
  4. Upon landing, we had a full and productive day ahead at our destination (since it was only 8:18 a.m.).

The cons:

  1. We lost way too much sleep.
  2. Our nighttime flight was delayed—as is often the case, thanks to the cascading effect of delays throughout the day. Our 7:14 p.m. flight to Atlanta translated to a midnight arrival at our hotel.
  3. Airport transit services were limited in the wee hours.  We had to set our alarm clocks for 3:00 a.m. to catch our 6:01 a.m. flight home because we had to ensure we could return the rental car, catch the Skytrain from the airport rental car center to the terminal, get through security, catch the Plane Train to our concourse, and find the kids some breakfast before the 5:36 a.m. boarding time.  It’s a good thing we left time for the unexpected because, upon breezing past security at 4:45 a.m., we found that the Plane Train that operates between concourses was out of service. We had to walk from check-in all the way to Concourse D (five concourses away)—which, as anyone who has spent too much time at ATL can tell you, is a major hike.
  4. Airport concessions were closed.  ATL is the world’s busiest airport by passenger traffic, yet there were no snacks to be found at 4:45 a.m. Fortunately, a coffee shop in Concourse D opened at 5:00 a.m. (The United Club there doesn’t open till 6:00 a.m.)


I’d love to hear: What have you put yourself through to avoid a high airfare?  And how do you decide whether the inconvenience and sleep deprivation are worth the savings?