Phone: (805) 965-3586
Planning a holiday is a difficult task. A lot of things like money, flights, hotels and itinerary have to be kept in mind to make sure that you have a good and enjoyable trip. Booking a package tour is the best for people who want to have a memorable holiday with little stress. Such tours include a variety of services put together for a single trip. These packages can be booked for both long and short duration. Once you have found the right deal from a reputed tour operator, you can be sure that your trip will be well organized right from the beginning till the end.
Package tour offers a lot of advantages to the customer as well as the tour operator. Some of the benefits for customers include:
– Pocket Friendly– The biggest advantage that package tour offers is that it saves money.Travel agencies buy their package deals in bulk which costs them less. They then offer these deals to consumers at a lower and more competitive rate than individual bookings. These packages usually come with meals, transportation, sight-seeing and other facilities, which reduce a lot of uncertainties about the additional costs during the trip. For instance, if you have pre-booked and paid cabs, you need not worry about any extra cost.
– Saves time– Booking a package tour not only saves money but also time. You don’t have to sit for hours to find flights and hotels and call them individually to enquire and make bookings. The tour operator or the travel agency deals with everything and in your budget.
– Peace of Mind– When you book a package tour, you buy peace of mind. There is no headache to find about places to visit, book a cab and think about where to eat. You only have to pay the money and everything will be arranged for by the tour operator. There is also a lack of responsibility on your part. For instance, if a flight is delayed or you miss a connecting flight, the responsibility lies on the tour operator to alternate flight. In case anything goes wrong with the bookings, you can sit back and relax till things are fixed.
– Quality Services– By booking an all-inclusive package tour you enjoy best facilities throughout the trip. Travel agencies and tour operators spend a lot of time in assessing all the aspects of a package tour to deliver high standard services to its customers. They choose best hotels and cover most frequented areas of a particular place for customers to visit.
A package tour ensures safe travelling for its users. They plan your complete holiday so that you can enjoy with a free mind
Article Source: http://EzineArticles.com/expert/Richa_Khandel/1264321
Article Source: http://EzineArticles.com/9028312
Trading pins at Walt Disney World, which began as part of the Millennium Celebration in 1999, has created a subculture all its own. The process is simple, fun, and interactive: you simply buy a Disney pin in the park (they range anywhere for $6 to $50) and then trade with other guests, or even with cast members who carry lanyards full of pins. The twist, of course, is that some pins are more valuable than others, depending on the year of issue and the quantity produced. Some are so rare that they’re instant collector’s items. For a list of the five most sought-after Disney pins, have a look below.
Dream Jeweled Mickey Mouse
This is probably the rarest and most valuable of all of the Disney World pins – ever! It was released exclusively at the Disney pins event, Expedition: PINS! in 2008. The pin features a waving Mickey Mouse decked out in over 130 jewels. The retail value of the pin is estimated at $1,295.00, but you won’t find this one for sale in any Disney shops, which makes its actual price much higher. There were only a grand total of 3 pins produced, so if you simply must have one, check eBay often.
The Mad Hatter’s Hat
It’s just a small rendition of the Mad Hatter’s famous green top hat with the mysterious 10/6 tag, but this is actually one of the rarest Walt Disney World pins in circulation. There isn’t an accurate edition number available because this little gem was sold exclusively to cast members in 2003. Now it’s a collector’s item… that is, if you can get your hands on it. We hear there may be one or two still floating around Disney World somewhere. Good luck in your search.
Figment Collection Framed Set
Disney World only produced 75 of these pins, which are part of a 4-pin set commemorating the 2009 Museum of Pin-tiquities event at Epcot. Figment himself appears on this pin against a black background in a circular frame. This was a completer pin awarded to those who completed the Figment Collection framed set, making this little number an exclusive and extremely rare item. It’s not for sale in the park or in Disney World’s online pin ship, so your best bet for snagging this one is an online auction.
Donald Duck Wet Paint
Only 1000 of these limited edition pins were produced and sold in the Magic Kingdom in 2001. The pin features Donald against a yellow backdrop shouting as one of his nephews, who happens to be tracking wet paint everywhere. The small number of manufactured pins combined with the humorous design have made this one of the most sought-after Disney World pins. Though it originally debuted at $6.95 in the Magic Kingdom, it now fetches over $150 at online auctions.
The original Flubber pin was a surprise hit among collectors. Trading for this pin was wild in the park, and it still remains one of the most coveted pins around.No one is really sure why the Flubber pin is so popular, especially when the ticket sales for the film were unremarkable. That, of course, matters little to a collector. You can still find the Flubber pin floating around Walt Disney World (there were 500 produced, after all) but you have to look carefully. It may end up being quite the search. If you’re unable to find one after scouring Disney World, you can find replicas for sale in the online Disney pin shop. Just keep in mind that the replicas’ design is different than the original: the newer version’s design commemorates 10 years of pin trading.
If Disney pin trading has taught us anything, it’s that the value of a once sub-$10 can skyrocket. The surest way find a valuable pin is to purchase those of a lower edition number (check the back of the pins for the precise number created). Then, trade carefully and wisely while at the park. Finally, always be courteous and friendly to cast members with whom you want to trade: they may have the goods you want, but they’re busy people with a lot to do. A friendly demeanor goes a long way, and it could even land you a high value pin.
Article Source: http://EzineArticles.com/7541220
With a fascinating landscape iconic for its striking contrasts, Paraguay is a top destination in South America. Steeped in history and beautiful vistas, Paraguay should be top on the list for anyone heading to the continent.
There are a number of iconic landmarks that make the country a major draw. If you are planning a visit, make sure you check some of these top historic attractions during your stay.
Found in a UNESCO World Heritage Site, Iguazu Falls are an absolutely magnificent natural feature bordering on Paraguay, Brazil and Argentina. The falls are surrounded by lush green forest – the falls beauty is well recognised, making it a popular backdrop for many photographers and directors.
Panteon Nacional De Los Heroes
The Panteon Nacional De Los Heroes in Asuncion is a national monument that offers tourists a look back at the lifeline of Paraguay. The Pantheon’s plaza fills with vendors each day, all selling traditional Paraguayan items. Find pottery, bows and arrows, artworks and many other cultural items available for purchase. It’s a great place to spend the day if you’re looking to bring something back with you from your trip, or if you just want to immerse yourself in a thriving hub of the country’s culture.
Casa da la Independencia
Casa da la Independencia is a historical monument that celebrates Paraguay’s 1774 independence. Translated as “The House of Independence”, the building is renowned for its historical significance as well as its architectural supremacy. Paraguayans began their revolt against the Spaniards from this very place almost two hundred and fifty years ago.
Visitors can enjoy the museum inside the building which remains open and free until 6:30pm Monday through Saturday and from 8:00am until noon on Sundays.
La Santísima Trinidad de Paraná
The La Santísima Trinidad de Paraná in Itapúa is the ruins of a Paraguayan Jesuit mission. Built in 1706, the mission featured a beautiful church and other buildings featuring numerous, complex decorations. La Santísima Trinidad de Paraná is just one example of the many Jesuit Reductions – small colonies established by missionaries – throughout South America.
Spend your time in South America exploring Paraguay and the many historical, religious and natural landmarks that the country features. Get a taste for country and immerse yourself in its history – a trip to Paraguay should be a notable part of your itinerary. It’s an exciting and vibrant part of South America with plenty to offer travellers seeking out adventure.
Article Source: http://EzineArticles.com/7574243
My time’s limited… how do I choose?”
Car rental is a hot topic for vacationers headed to Costa Rica. Recent research conducted by the Costa Rican Institute of Tourism (ICT) indicates that, after accommodations, renting a car is the largest expense, averaging $702 for an eleven-day vacation.
The Internet is buzzing with negative reviews discussing overcharging, poor customer service and mechanical breakdowns. You might have even written one yourself!
A typical midsize (3 – 4 adults) 4X4 rental runs between $58 and $65 daily with third party insurance and rates can vary as much as 20 percent among car rental companies, so reading a quick review will be time well spent once you calculate the savings.
So the question is; which rental company offers the best balance of fair price, capable customer service and reliable vehicles? I’ve researched it all for you, so keep reading!
Disclosure: This research was conducted in May – July 2013. The following companies were selected because they are the most widely used in Costa Rica. Some are local companies; others are international franchises of recognized brand names. Comparisons include: customer service, pricing and the reservation process. The companies are listed alphabetically and not based on personal or online preferences.
Consider this information before renting:
One of the biggest causes for complaints is from the stack of unforeseen charges presented to the renter once standing at the rental company’s counter. Vacationers are typically tired after a long flight and then are confronted by costs that were not anticipated, explained or budgeted.
Topping the list of grievances is the non-disclosure of fees associated with the mandatory third-party insurance at the time the reservation is made.
According to Costa Rican law, every driver is required to carry liability coverage to insure against injuries to third parties. Car rental companies generally refrain from disclosing the cost of this policy in the quoted rental rate to appear more competitive. Mandatory third-party insurance can sometimes be as much as double the vehicle’s rental cost. The only guarantee against insurance confusion is to inquire if your estimate includes the third party insurance and insist on a written quotation.
Cost of Mandatory Insurance (also called Third Party or SLI)
Expect to pay between $12 and $15 daily for this insurance, depending on the make and model of the rented vehicle and the rental car agency. This is a legal condition of your rental agreement and is generally not covered by credit cards and cannot be waived. It’s a fact of renting a car in Costa Rica.
Collision Damage Waiver (CDW)
As the name suggests, this isn’t insurance, but a waiver, which relieves the renter from any liability for damage to the rental car after the deductible is paid (usually from $750 to $1,500). Some agencies require renters to purchase their CDW policy; thereby negating any credit card program. For an additional fee, many agencies do offer a zero liability option where the renter will be freed from paying for any damage to the car. Some companies may put pressure upon renters to purchase the zero liability coverage; however, it is entirely optional, unless it is in the fine print of their rental agreement.
Credit card insurance programs may cover the CDW for a rental vehicle. Check with your chosen rental car company to find which proof of insurance is needed and then request that from your credit card company prior to arriving. If you use your credit card’s CDW policy, expect to pay a higher deposit on the vehicle; around $1,500 to $2000 is common. The higher deposit ensures that the credit card holder has enough financial reserves to cover damages if needed. It is important to consider that if using CDW coverage provided by a credit card (in lieu of the rent a car operator), all damages will be billed to the renter’s credit card. The credit card company will then reimburse the card holder for damages.
Tires and windshields are rarely included in insurance policies, although additional policies may be taken out for covering these frequently damaged items. Neither the interior nor the underneath of the vehicle may be covered. Always read the fine print.
Your credit card will be charged, or a ‘hold’ placed, for the rental vehicle during the time of the rental agreement; i.e. from picking up the rental until you return it. Debit cards are generally not acceptable.
Most companies have surcharges for additional drivers, car seats/boosters, cell phones, coolers, GPS and/or roof racks. The costs vary from company to company, but since these extras are billed at a daily rate, it is worth checking the total cost — additional options can add up very quickly! A GPS is around $8 to $10 per day; however, some operators may offer discounted units. Expect to pay around $5 daily for a child seat and a few dollars a day for all the other ‘niceties’. Vamos is notable for offering most of these options and, during some promotions, even the GPS rental complimentarily. Alamo, Budget, Hertz and National charge the most for such additional options; whereas the other companies listed, charge more reasonable prices.
Most companies add small incremental costs, such as license plate and environmental fees, into the total tally. Be wary of operators who insert these additional charges into the small print of the rental contract. Vehicles rented direct at the airport incur airport taxes, which are a whopping 12% of your rental cost!
The rental vehicle should be returned with the same amount of fuel, unless otherwise indicated. If not, companies may charge above gas station rates for missing fuel.
There is a debate over the vehicles supplied by rental companies: Older cars allow the driver to blend in more than a shiny, new car. Having an older model may have the indirect benefit of being less scrutinized by car rental agencies for recent nicks and scratches, unlike a newer vehicle. However, a newer vehicle may be more roadworthy. This debate carries on into the different vehicle makes and models. Generally, Costa Rican firms are able to rent their vehicles for a lower rate because their cars are typically three to five years old (versus two to three). Online reviews would suggest that the local firms have no more complaints concerning vehicle quality than transnational franchises; research on forums, such as TripAdvisor.com, seems to indicate that customers frequently appreciate driving a less-than-new vehicle through the wilds of Costa Rica. The reasons are plenty, from road conditions to the notion of less-then-new vehicles blending in better — a newer vehicle may draw more unwanted attention.
The choices of rental cars in Costa Rica are mostly limited to makes and models that maintain a competitive resale value, are a common brand in the country, and are inexpensive to maintain. As such a rent-a-car operator’s fleet tend not to be as diverse as the United States. Toyota, Nissan, Mitsubishi and Hyundai constitute the mainstay brands of most rental fleets.
Sometimes, drivers are charged for supposed ‘damages’ to the vehicle upon return. Once receiving the vehicle, renters should meticulously check for pre-existing flaws and compare it with the vehicle inspection document used by the rental car representative. Some renters suggest photographing or videoing the vehicle from all angles, to avoid any disagreement between pre-existing and recently damaged items.
Car rentals in Costa Rica are pricier compared to other countries. Duties on vehicles are high (as much as 50% of their value!), parts are costlier and unforgiving road conditions contribute to higher wear and tear, generating higher maintenance costs.
The rule is you get what you pay for — there are other options than those rental companies listed here, but they are not listed for a good reason. They simply fail to offer basic customer service and/or a suitable vehicle condition required for a (nearly) trouble-free vacation.
When comparing rental car charges, it is best to go directly to the Costa Rican website of the rental car company, rather than trying to use their international format or an intermediary (Expedia, Travelocity, Orbitz, Kayak, et al.). For the same vehicles and reservation dates, the rates offered by the respective international vs. Costa Rican websites for Alamo, Budget, Hertz and Thrifty differed substantially.
To avoid confusion, print out all correspondence with the car rental company with whom you have reserved a vehicle and bring this to the rental office with the quote given at the time of reservation.
The following top ten chart ranks the companies from highest priced to lowest and it includes the mandatory insurance charge. In the cases of Alamo and Hertz, the figure contains their CDW fee as it is one of their rental requirements. This price comparison is based on a week’s rental of a Daihatsu Bego, where available (Dollar offers the Suzuki Vitara) from September 14th – 21st, then again in December to view both Green and High Season rates. The list quickly demonstrates that the price variation depends greatly on the company — for basically the same service. These prices were obtained in June/July 2013.
Rental Car Companies Ranked According to Price
10. Alamo $650.96
9. Hertz $514.27
8. Adobe $449
7. Budget $455
6. National $428.01
5. Thrifty $421.05
4. Service $374.43
3. Vamos $370.30
2. Dollar $364
1. Wild Rider $350
10. Alamo $650.96
9. National $597.51
8. Hertz $566.52
7. Budget $555
6. Dollar $532
5. Thrifty $506.58
4. Service $494.43
3. Vamos $461.30
2. Adobe $459
1. Wild Rider $395
Alamo ranks number ten for both seasons, making it the most expensive company. Budget, Hertz and National also rate low on the scale for economical rental options.
Website is clear and easy to use, but pricing and even the vehicles listed are not the same as those given by an office representative over the phone. Mandatory insurance costs are not shown with the list of vehicles and rental charges, but they are clearly displayed on the following page as a customer moves towards booking a reservation. Mixed customer reviews online. Email response is less than 24 hours, but may not provide all requested information.
Toll-free U.S.A and Canada phone number. No Live Chat.
10 offices nationwide
Mandatory insurance: $19 daily
Additional charges: GPS $9/day, child seat $5/day
Website is clear and easy to use, but prices differ against quotes received over the phone. Mandatory insurance costs are not given with the list of vehicles and rental charges, but they are clearly displayed on the following page as the customer moves towards making a reservation. Mixed customer reviews online. Email response is less than 24 hours.
No toll-free U.S.A and Canada phone number or Live chat
14 offices nationwide
Mandatory insurance: $11.95 daily, but must also take their CDW at $12.95 daily
Additional charges: GPS $12/day, child seat $6/day
Website is basic, but easy to use. Prices online differ to the quotations given by a representative over the phone and depending on whether the international or Costa Rican website is used. Mandatory insurance costs are given along with the list of vehicles; however, the other charges are not listed. Mixed customer reviews online. Email response is more than 24 hours.
No toll-free U.S.A and Canada phone number. No Live Chat on Costa Rican website.
10 offices nationwide
Mandatory insurance: included in the listed price
Additional charges: GPS $10.95/day, child seat $12/day (the most expensive of the top ten)
Website is clear and easy to use. Prices quoted differ if calling from the U.S. or in Costa Rica. Mandatory insurance costs are not given with the list of vehicles and rental charges, but they are clearly displayed on the following page as a customer moves towards a making a reservation. Mixed reviews online, but generally receives positive feedback. Email inquiries answered within 24 hours.
Toll-free U.S.A and Canada phone number. No Live Chat.
3 offices nationwide
Mandatory insurance: $16 daily
Additional charges: GPS $9/day, child seat $5/day
Website is clear and easy to use. Mandatory insurance costs are not given besides the list of vehicles and rental charges, but they are clearly displayed on the following page as the customer moves towards a booking a reservation. Mixed customer reviews online. Email response less than 24 hours.
Toll-free U.S.A and Canada phone number and Live Chat (although it seems to be permanently offline)
7 offices nationwide
Mandatory insurance: $17.43 daily, but their CDW is also a requirement
Additional charges: GPS $12/day, child seat $2/day
Website is clear and easy to use. Mandatory insurance costs are not given along with the list of vehicles and rental charges, but they are clearly displayed on the following page as a customer moves towards making a reservation. Mixed customer reviews online, but more positive than negative. Email response less than 24 hours.
Toll-free U.S.A and Canada phone number. Live Chat.
22 offices nationwide
Mandatory insurance: $25 daily (the most expensive of the top ten)
Additional charges: GPS $12/day, child seat $6/day
Website is clear and user friendly with just a slight confusion in that an online quote is obtained by clicking on ‘Reserve Now’ and not the ‘Get a Quote’ option. The response to a phone inquiry was to use the website. Mandatory insurance costs are given along with the list of vehicles and rental charges for the low season charges and on the second page of the other quotation page. Remember is a highly recommended sales representative who is mentioned in many online reviews for the high level of his customer service. Generally online reviews are positive for Service. Email response is less than 24 hours, although all information requested may not be received.
U.S.A phone number, but not toll-free. No Live Chat.
5 offices nationwide
Mandatory insurance: $15 daily
Additional charges: GPS $5.99/day, child seat $2.99/day
Costa Rican version of the website is impossible to use and you are asked to register for a user name and password. Mandatory insurance costs are not given along with the list of vehicles and rental charges. A customer has to click on “Protection Options” on the U.S. website and select the mandatory insurance by clicking on it — implying that it is optional and not a required cost. Thrifty tend to receive mixed reviews online. Email response is more than 24 hours.
Toll-free U.S.A and Canada phone number. No Live Chat.
4 offices nationwide
Mandatory insurance: $19.99 daily
Additional charges: GPS $10/day, child seat $5/day
Website is clear and easy to use. Mandatory insurance costs are not given along side the list of vehicles and rental charges, but are clearly displayed on the following page as the customer moves towards booking a reservation. Anibal, a representative, is frequently mentioned in online reviews for his high level of customer service skills. General Manager, George Schwarzenbach is known on Trip Advisor for his upfront and honest responses to customers’ posts.
In recent years, Vamos has received very positive reviews online. Email response is less than 24 hours. Live Chat has instant response time to inquiries.
Toll-free U.S.A and Canada phone number. Live Chat.
3 offices nationwide
Mandatory insurance: $11.95 daily
Additional charges: GPS $8/day, child seat free
Website is clear and easy to use. Mandatory insurance costs are given next to the list of vehicles. Wild Rider is the only car rental firm in Costa Rica with no visible bad reviews online. Owner, Thorsten, is often praised for his efficiency and customer service, despite the very limited resources the company has at hand. Emails receive very prompt and detailed responses in less than 12 hours.
No toll-free phone number or Live Chat
1 office — no Liberia airport office
Mandatory insurance: included
Additional charges: GPS $8/day, child seat $5/day
Vamos and Wild Rider respond quickly and efficiently to email or live chat inquiries. Adobe, Alamo, Dollar, Hertz, National, and Service respond to email inquiries in less than 24 hours, but Adobe and Service did not provide all the information requested (possibly a language barrier). Budget offers a free phone service, but it appears to be always busy. Hertz’s live chat appears to be constantly offline. During the past year, customers who posted to online review sites expressed a particular satisfaction with the customer service offered by Service, Vamos and Wild Rider.
Adobe, Alamo and Budget have different rental prices posted on their websites than those quoted over the phone. Telephone prices were lower than that quoted on the website in the cases of Adobe and Alamo, but yet higher in the case of Budget. Adobe also offers different vehicle models over the phone as compared to their website. International car rental firms with both a Costa Rican and international website appear to have pricing differences between the two sites.
Budget and Wild Rider include the mandatory insurance in their rental prices, but Budget states that ‘other charges’ which will be presented at the counter in the small print on their website. Rental prices for car seating had to be verified on the phone as they are not listed on the Budget website.
All other companies with the exception of Thrifty (a U.S. website), clearly show the mandatory insurance cost with the quotation given. Thrifty’s Costa Rican website is simply unusable.
Service, Vamos and Wild Rider consistently offer the best rates for both Green and High seasons, although Dollar has one of the lowest Green season rates available, while Adobe has a cheaper High season rate. Vamos offer the best “all inclusive” rates, given that most options are offered for free.
Adobe, Dollar, Service, Thrifty and Wild Rider remain competitive with their pricing of items such as child seats. Alamo, Hertz and National are the most expensive companies to rent from and their additional option costs are also more expensive.
“So, what’s your rental recommendation?”
Overall, the Costa Rican companies seem to trump the multi-nationals with better pricing, service and clarity.
Service offers a generally high-level of customer service and fairly competitive pricing at both international airports.
Vamos can offer efficient booking and continued high-level of customer service with competitive pricing, as well as free additional options at both SJO and LIR airports.
Wild Rider is very highly rated for a rental with clear and economical pricing and excellent customer service, but they are only in San Jose.
“Now you’re ready to book your rental car after seeing how the competition compares. Good luck and happy travels!”
Costa Rica provides the traveler with outstanding natural beauty, miles of beaches and a safe environment to relax in, but car rental is a minefield with mandatory insurance, franchising and downright skulduggery in pricing and non-disclosure of costs. Read, research and find the information that will ensure your vacation car rental is a breeze!
Article Source: http://EzineArticles.com/7923536
Cheshire Cat Inn Getaway On St. Patrick’s Day
If you’re a guest staying at Cheshire Cat Inn on St. Patrick’s Day, we’ve put together a handy list of things to do in Santa Barbara.
St. Patrick’s Day is a fun time to stroll around Santa Barbara and reminds us that a lush, green spring is just around the corner. The weather has been fabulous lately; feels like summer arrived early!
The Cheshire Cat Bed and Breakfast Inn offers tempting breakfasts and cozy accommodations in The Main House, The Eberle House, The Coach House or Bramhall, Mobberly, Prestbury and Woodford Cottages, each with its own unique charms and revitalizing atmosphere. We have relied on our 30 years of hospitality to create a relaxed and inviting atmosphere so you can simply relax and revel in the small town warmth and charm of Old Santa Barbara. If you’re looking for a little more fun, Cheshire Cat Inn is also located close to Santa Barbara wine country, downtown and within minutes of fine dining, shopping, and beaches, with plenty of Santa Barbara activities close at hand.
We look forward to welcoming you on your next visit. Best of all we’ve got some greatCheshire Cat Inn Specials that include options for in-room luxurious massages or fine dining at some of Santa Barbara’s tastiest restaurants.
(CNN) — Remember when Dorothy dozes off among scarlet poppies in The Wizard of Oz? Well, those vivid flowers weren’t just a figment of Hollywood magic. Similar poppies set California’s Antelope Valley ablaze in spring, luring road-trippers from L.A. and beyond.
The arrival of spring inspires us to break out from winter’s hibernation and embrace the fresh outdoors. A road trip naturally satisfies that spontaneous travel urge, and we’ve mapped America’s best spring drives — routes that bring you up-close to nature’s finest floral displays, from a California poppy tour to Texas Hill Country’s bluebonnets.
Of course, flowers in bloom aren’t the only draw for these American road trips, many of which meander by woodlands, lakes, small quaint towns, even historic mansions and museums. No matter what route you travel and no matter how many detours you take, spring into action this season by road-tripping through America’s most awe-inspiring floral landscapes.
Texas Hill Country Bluebonnet Tour
The route: 87 miles
Lady Bird Johnson led a campaign to beautify American cities, and in her native Texas, vast gardens of bluebonnets were planted across Texas Hill Country. While there are countless nature trails, first-timers should start in Austin and take U.S. 290 west to Johnson City’s lovely Wildflower Loop. Then hightail it along U.S. 281 N to the town of Burnet, the official bluebonnet capital of Texas.
Where to stop: Tour the colorful grounds at Austin’s Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center. A toll-free Texas wildflower hotline (800-452-9292) provides blooming reports, and tune in to KLBJ News Radio 590, which airs the “Wildflower Hour” featuring expert gardening tips from Mr. Smarty Plants at 8 a.m. on Saturdays.
Acadia All American Road, Maine
The route: 40 miles
Pack your binoculars for this coastal drive that skirts the woodlands of Acadia National Park, a prime spot for spying bald eagles and nesting peregrine. The 27-mile Park Loop Road segment follows the high ridges of Bar Harbor down to Sand Beach and Otter Cliff and loops inland along Jordan Pond. It’s the centerpiece of the drive, which starts in Trenton, takes Route 3 south, turns on the Loop Road, then rejoins Route 3.
Where to stop: Local small towns begin buzzing in late spring. For homemade ice cream and popovers, pull over at the historic Jordan Pond House (open for the season as of May). Then put that energy to work hiking Acadia’s Cadillac Mountain, whose 1,532-foot peak overlooks the Atlantic.
George Washington Memorial Parkway, Maryland and Virginia
The route: 25 miles
This green parkway reveals one floral show after another — 591 wildflower species, from large-flowered valerians to Virginia bluebells — as you drive from the Great Falls of the Potomac through D.C. and south to Mount Vernon. The most famous are the cherry trees that bloom around the Tidal Basin in D.C.
Where to stop: Hike the many trails that crisscross the 700-acre Turkey Run Park (just seven miles north of D.C.), which is carpeted in bluebells come late April.
Antelope Valley, California
The route: 70 miles
From Los Angeles, drive north to the town of Lancaster via Route 14, better known as the Antelope Valley Freeway. Golden poppies bloom throughout the Mojave Desert region in March, but the 17,600-acre Antelope Valley Poppy Reserve claims the finest concentration of California’s state flower — not to mention glorious showings of fiddlenecks, creamcups, goldfields and tidytips starting in late March.
Where to stop: Drive the seven-mile Antelope Loop Trail within the Poppy Reserve and continue on to Antelope Butte Vista Point, a high lookout (the valley reaches an elevation of nearly 3,000 feet) that offers the most sweeping desert panoramas.
Cherokee Foothills Scenic Highway, South Carolina
The route: 120 miles
This National Scenic Byway sticks to an early Native American trail (the Cherokees called these foothills the Great Blue Hills of God) that weaves through the low Piedmont Hills past waterfalls, covered bridges and brooks. To catch peach orchards and trees in full bloom, time your drive to late spring or early summer.
Where to stop: Hundreds of roadside stands that begin filling with fruit in early June. The famous Peachoid water tower, painted to look like a colossal peach, is in the town of Gaffney, where mountain laurels begin to blossom in late May.
Historic Columbia River Highway, Oregon
The route: 70 miles
The Columbia River area has long been Oregon’s premier scenic attraction. Explore by driving from Portland through the Columbia River Gorge and on to volcanic Mount Hood, Oregon’s highest peak at over 11,000 feet. Multnomah Falls, one of the tallest yearlong waterfalls in the U.S., is another showstopper. Beginning in late March, look for wildflowers like purple Columbia kittentails on the shaded banks of waterfalls.
Where to stop: 3 Rivers Grill (541-386-8883), in a Victorian house overlooking Hood River, for lunch. Detour over to the Washington side for the Maryhill Museum of Art and enjoy unparalleled views of the gorge.
Louisiana Great River Road
The route: 70 miles
Let the Mississippi River be your guide on this winding route from Baton Rouge through Creole Country to New Orleans. Look out for former sugar plantations and majestic antebellum plantation houses — until the Civil War this area was one of the richest in America. Giant moss-draped oak trees nearly obscure the Creole cottages, surrounded by patches of budding wildflowers.
Where to stop: Oak Alley Plantation in Vacherie. This Greek Revival mansion was built in 1839 and stands at the end of a long avenue lined with oak trees. In New Orleans, check into the buzzy Saint Hotel, in the former Audubon Building in the French Quarter.
Hana Highway, Hawaii
The route: 52 miles
Tropical flowers bloom each spring along the Road to Hana, which paves its way through bamboo fields, rainforests and waterfalls like 80-foot Wailua Falls, which appeared in the credits of TV show “Fantasy Island.” Start in Kahului, and head down Maui’s northeastern coast. Just don’t be fooled by the 52-mile count — this is an intense drive that can take up to four hours as you navigate over 600 hairpin turns and more than 50 one-lane bridges. The payoff comes from the spectacular views and bragging rights.
Where to stop: Fuel up with pancakes soaked in coconut syrup at Anthony’s Coffee Co. in the funky small town of Paia. Just beyond mile marker 32 awaits Waianapanapa State Park, with black-sand beaches and trails leading to sea caves and lava cliffs.
San Juan Skyway, Colorado
The route: 232 miles
The skyway’s biggest thrills come along the stretch between the Victorian-era towns of Ouray and Silverton that’s known as the Million Dollar Highway. While that name could easily describe the views, it actually refers to the massive amounts of silver and gold once carted through these passes. Four-wheelers can also attempt to traverse the rugged 65-mile Alpine Loop Back Country Byway past the 19th-century ghost towns of Howardsville, Eureka and Animas Forks.
Where to stop: Mesa Verde National Park, famous for Anasazi Indian cliff dwellings that were abandoned 200 years before Columbus arrived in America. And at Dunton Hot Springs Resort, in a restored ghost town, soak in waters ranging from 85°F to 106°F and rich in calcium bicarbonate, iron and manganese.
Santa Fe/Taos Loop, New Mexico
The route: 191 miles
Follow the (literal) High Road from Santa Fe north on Route 285 through high-elevation deserts and orchards. It leads to the cottonwood-dotted valley of Ojo Caliente and its pueblo communities; the Taos Pueblo compound, a UNESCO World Heritage site, was built before 1400 and is one of the oldest continuously inhabited communities in America. Loop back from Taos on the Low Road, State Route 68, which runs along the Rio Grande past wineries.
Where to stop: More than 10 galleries display Native American jewelry, textiles and pottery at the Millicent Rogers Museum, named after Taos’ famed art-enthusiast and socialite.
Singapore has dethroned the Japanese capital to become the world’s most expensive city in 2014, according to the Economist Intelligence Unit’s latest Worldwide Cost of Living survey.
The bi-annual report, which ranks 131 global cities, credits currency appreciation, solid price inflation and high costs of living for Singapore’s dubious new distinction.
“Car costs have very high related certificate of entitlement fees attached to them, which makes Singapore significantly more expensive than any other location when it comes to running a car,” says the report.
“As a result, transport costs in Singapore are almost three times higher than in New York. In addition, as a city-state with very few natural resources to speak of, Singapore is reliant on other countries for energy and water supplies, making it the third most expensive destination for utility costs.”
Singapore is also the priciest place in the world to buy clothes.
Last year’s title holder Tokyo, dropped from the top spot to sixth — tied with Melbourne, Geneva and Caracas.
Tokyo’s decline is due to the weaker yen, says the EIU.
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World’s 10 most expensive cities to live in 2014
3. Oslo, Norway
4. Zurich, Switzerland
6. Caracas, Venezuela
6. Geneva, Switzerland
7. Copenhagen, Denmark
Asia also has the world’s cheapest city on the list.
Down at the other end of the 131-city survey, the EIU lists Mumbai as the world’s least expensive city to live in. The Indian capital, New Delhi, is third cheapest.
“Although India has been tipped for future growth, much of this is driven by its large population and the untapped potential within the economy,” says the EIU.
“Income inequality means that low wages proliferate, driving down household spending and creating many tiers of pricing that keep per capita spending low.
“This, combined with a cheap and plentiful supply of goods into cities, as well as government subsidies on some products, has kept prices down, especially by Western standards.”
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World’s 10 least expensive cities to live in 2014
122. Riyadh, Saudi Arabia
123. Jeddah, Saudi Arabia
124. Panama City, Panama
124. Bucharest, Romania
126. Algiers, Algeria
127. Damascus, Syria
127. Kathmandu, Nepal
129. New Delhi
130. Karachi, Pakistan
131. Mumbai, India
The Worldwide Cost of Living survey is released twice a year by the EIU.
It compares more than 400 individual prices across 160 products and services in 131 cities, including food, drink, clothing, household supplies and personal care items, home rents, transport, utility bills, private schools, domestic help and recreational costs.
In total, more than 50,000 individual prices are collected in each survey.
“The cost-of-living index uses an identical set of weights that is internationally based and not geared toward the spending pattern of any specific nationality,” says the EIU. “Items are individually weighted across a range of categories and a comparative index is produced using the relative difference by weighted item.”