just published: mayan journey

AsiaSpa - Mayan JoureyIf last December’s prevailing wisdom had held true you wouldn’t be reading this. The storied Mayan calendar was famously closing in on the winter solstice and the end of its 144,000-day cycle. Interpreters of the calendar – and a host of New Age conspiracy theorists – predicted the date would coincide with a global cataclysm. Good thing nobody held their breath, because the Maya believed in the cyclical nature of things. The end of the calendar didn’t presage the end of the world; it marked a new beginning.  Call it a transition or period of renewal, but the Maya believed in the necessity of an epochal timeout before moving forward.  Spanish conquistadors might have brought about that break sooner than expected – subjugating the people by the end of the 17th century – yet descendants of the Maya continue to form sizable populations throughout Mexico’s Yucutan peninsula. Plus, many of their cities and ceremonial sites still remain. The wisdom of these ancient Americans hasn’t been lost. It’s laying patiently in wait for a Mayan journey of rediscovery. READ MORE.

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heritage, history, & hotels, too

May is National Preservation Month, in case you hadn’t heard. Launched by the National Trust for Historic Preservation in 1973 to showcase America’s historic places, Preservation Month celebration events include architectural and historic tours, river cruises and museum visits across the country. It’s also the perfect excuse to overnight at one of the Historic Hotels of America, a collection of quality hotels that have faithfully maintained their historic integrity and architecture. From the legendary Palace Hotel in the heart of San Francisco, to the iconic Lenox hotel in Boston’s Back Bay, to the luxurious Royal Hawaiian, more than 50 member hotels across the country are offering packages designed to lure you into taking advantage of the social and economic benefits of historic preservation and heritage tourism.  Here are just a few.

Jekyll Island Club Hotel, Jekyll Island, Georgia. (pictured above) Heritage Tour Package includes: traditional accommodations for two nights, hotel history tour, tour of the historic district by tram, afternoon tea one day in the Riverview Lounge, and breakfast buffet each morning in the Grand Dining Room. Rates start at $639 for two nights and are available through September 4.

The Lenox, Boston, Massachusetts. One if by Land, Two if by Sea Package includes a custom town-car tour. Guided by a historian, travel through time and visit Boston’s most famous sites – Paul Revere’s home, USS Constitution, Old North Church, Bunker Hill Monument, and others. The Lenox and Boston History Experience:  Sit down with Bellman Jimmy Fisher and hear stories – from quirky encounters to brushes with fame – acquired over more than sixty years on the job. Since 1949, Mr. Fisher has stood curbside greeting guests to The Lenox and watching Boston history pass through the hotel’s doors.  Rates starting at $700 for two nights are available through December 30.

Bienville House Hotel, New Orleans, Louisiana. Discover Quintessential New Orleans Package includes: deluxe accommodations, admission to the World War II Museum, admission to a cruise on the steamboat S.S. Natchez, admission to The Historic New Orleans Collections, welcome cocktail in the Iris Bar or at Hotel Monteleone’s famous Carousel Bar, daily Continental breakfast. Rates from $465 for two nights.

The Wort Hotel, Jackson Hole, Wyoming. Last and Best of the West Package includes: two nights in a deluxe guestroom, dinner in the famous Silver Dollar Grill, a walking tour of historic downtown Jackson Hole, tickets to the National Museum of Wildlife Art, and a special Wort Hotel gift – the history book Meet Me at The Wort. Rates starting at $500 for two nights are available through September 30.

Omni Bretton Arms Inn, Bretton Woods, New Hampshire. Preservation Month Package includes: afternoon tea in the Princess Room, guided hotel tour, 20% off retail purchases and spa services of $50 or more, 20% off dining, 20% off the Bretton Woods Canopy Tour. Members of the National Trust for Historic Preservation also receive 10% off their guestroom rate, plus a copy of A Century of Grandeur, the hotel’s coffee table history book. Rates starting at $119 per night are available May 1, 2011, through July 31. Not valid May 27–29, 2011, and July 1–3, 2011. Two-night minimum stay. Subject to tax, and nightly amenity fee.

The Royal Hawaiian, Honolulu, Hawaii. From the moment it opened its doors on a pristine expanse of Waikiki Beach in 1927, The Royal Hawaiian, a Luxury Collection Resort, has ushered in a new standard of exotic resort travel. A magnet for Hollywood’s elite and distinguished guests from around the globe, its enveloping pink glow reflects both the radiant beauty of Hawaii’s spirit and the essence of indulgent escape. 1927 Package includes a fifth night at just $19.27 when you stay four nights at the normal rate. Rates from $315 per night. Valid through June 30.

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summer of pride

Kimpton Hotels is honoring the LGBT community’s continued support with a “Summer of Pride” celebration from Memorial Day to Labor Day.  Long an insider favorite for its collection of stylish boutique hotels and chef-driven restaurants, Kimpton has cemented its distinctive reputation by making travelers feel welcomed and comfortable while indulging in a bit of playful cheekiness. All summer long travelers gay and straight can plan a weekend retreat and take advantage of this value-driven promotion with perks like 15 percent off the best available overnight rate, a nightly $25 dining credit for the on-site Kimpton Restaurant, and a Pride-themed welcome gift at check-in. Of particular note is one of my favorites: Philadelphia’s LEED-certified Hotel Palomar adjacent to Rittenhouse Square. It features Guillermo Tellez’ standout restaurant, Square 1682, where eco-conscious design meets organic ingredients in a New American menu bolstered by world flavors. Plus, it’s only a stone’s throw to great shopping and all the historical sights. Rates from $194.65 per night. Reservations can be made at online by entering PRIDE in the rate code box.

Even more impressive: Kimpton recently garnered the 2010 Human Rights Campaign Workplace Equality Award and 2011 Equality Forum International Business Leadership Award for its pioneering LGBT employee benefits programs. Kimpton was the first hospitality company to score a 100 percent on the Human Rights Campaign’s Corporate Equality Index in 2004, and has maintained that perfect score every year since.

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royally absentminded

That’s right, it seems I forgot about the stiff upper lip nuptials taking place in Westminster Abbey today.  (I blame the chorizo) Since I’ve dropped the royal wedding ball, so to speak, why don’t we make it a Windsor Weekend? In honor of Wills and Kate and all the tacky tat being hawked across the UK right now (don’t forget my tea towel, Róisín!), I’m going to share with you a few of my favorite London bits. Namely that thing Brits do quite unlike anyone else: hotels. Let the honeymoon begin.

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a mansion restored, a palace born

More than a century ago in 1882, Henry Villard, one of the nation’s most prominent financiers, commissioned McKim, Mead & White, the architectural firm spearheaded by Stanford White, to create a residence of singular style. The firm designed a mansion:  grand in scale, it appeared from the outside to be a cluster of brownstone townhouses in the neo-Italian Renaissance tradition, when in fact the interiors contained separate sections for several families.  Conceived after the Palazzo della Cancellaria in Rome, the stately structure on Madison Avenue between 50th and 51st Streets, is the only townhouse complex built for the railroad barons of the last century to have survived into the present day.   The Villard Houses are an historic city landmark as well as the grand entryway into The New York Palace, the hotel I’ve posted about over the past two days. Yet for many years it was all a well kept secret, closed to the public.

In the mid-Seventies, however, the Archdiocese of New York, who owned the land, cleared the way for a hotel to be de­veloped and enabled the famous residence to be accessible once again. To bridge the architectural gap between the landmarked buildings and the new ho­tel that would  join it, Emery Roth & Sons designed a monolithic tower of dark bronze, reflective glass and anodized aluminum that recedes from, rather than overpowers, the rosy-hued Villard Houses and integrates with its environment as it mirrors the surrounding cityscape.

By 1980, when the hotel opened as The Helmsley Palace, the stunningly restored interiors stood as a living tribute to the Gilded Age.  Recognized by architectural historians as one of the most beautiful rooms to be preserved from the period, the Stanford White-designed Madison Room is notable for its light green marble walls, pillars and huge fireplaces at both ends of the room, and the romantic murals by P.V. Galland. The dramatic, two-story Renaissance-style Gold Room is almost entirely done up in gold, with gilt ceilings, walls and wainscoting – it’s also the bar for the  hotel’s Michelin-starred restaurant:  Gilt, natch. Wall panels are richly adorned with images of musical instruments and garlands of foliage in low relief.  High above the north and south arches are two John La Farge lunette paintings, entitled “Art” and “Music,” that serve as dramatic focal points in the elaborate space.

The elegant, old-world ambiance of The Drawing Room is reflected in carved-walnut, coffered ceilings and walls, accented with gold ormolu.  Nineteenth-century oil portraits hang on the walls and Italian marble fireplaces flank both sides of the entrance.  The original gilt chandeliers still add a sparkling accent to the room’s decor.

McKim, Mead & White created the cozy Library from two smaller rooms during extensive remodeling in 1910-11.  The focal point of the book-lined, carved paneled room is a barrel-vaulted ceiling decorated with rosettes and shields bearing the colophons of famous publishers of the day.

The courtyard, the original Madison Avenue carriage entrance of the Villard Mansion, was redesigned during the restoration to incorporate motifs from the flooring of several 15th-century Italian cathedrals.  The Renaissance designs were carried out in pink, rose and black marble set into green and rose granite. Today, pedestrians enter the courtyard through an imposing set of iron gates and find one of the more civilized spaces in midtown to enjoy an al freco drink.

Beyond the graceful arches of the cloister facade is a two-story marble lobby, which visually unites the Villard Mansion with the hotel’s tower in a manner so harmonious that it is impossible to detect the point of fusion.  And how appropriate that the focal point of the upper lobby is a magnificently restored red Verona marble fireplace that was designed by Augustus Saint-Gaudens.  One of his best-known works, it’s adorned with the carved figures of Joy, Hospitality and hold your breath: Moderation.

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like (minded) peas in a pod

The Pod Hotel is a contradiction & quite possible a harbinger of what the future holds for hotels: a budget, boutique property located smack in the heart of midtown Manhattan; and designed for the new breed of stylish – if insolvent – travelers.

Inspired by the sleek, streamlined approach of old railway sleepers, what the intimate and bijoux accommodation on East 51st Street lacks in negative space it makes up for in mod-designed chic and 21st Century must-haves, like iPod docking stations, free WiFi and LCD flat screen TVs.

Not too shabby for $89 a night.

You read that right: a hotel room in NYC for under $100.

But there’s a service that’s actually more exciting than the fact that the price is right. It’s called the Pod Community Blog. A customized message board designed for people with active reservations at the hotel, it allows guests to interact with one another as well as ask questions or make requests before and during their stay. For example, the Ride With Me feature encourages guests to synch up travel plans and spilt the cost of a cab ride to and from the airport.

Taking the concierge’s role to a new level, the blog also acts as a resource and guide to the city. Users can log on to learn more about the city and the hotel as well as get the most up-to-date information about the latest “happenings” around NYC. Questions posted on the site are monitored and answered directly by the concierge on a daily basis.

“As the online social networking trend continues to grow,” said General Manager David Bernstein, “we designed this unique feature to create a sense of community among our tech-savvy Pod guests and allow them to connect with the hotel in a new way.”

Guests can also access the Survival Guide on the site – “one of the biggest perks of staying at The Pod Hotel,” according to concierge Bryan Raughton. Updated daily, it’s a comprehensive listing of all of the affordable and fun things to do in NYC, such as free events, “cheap eats”, BYOB restaurants, happy hours and sample sales. It also provides honest reviews and suggestions, including tips for shopping, information about restaurants, galleries, museums, clubs, concerts, gyms and internet cafes. The Survival Guide also provides guests with step-by-step directions from the hotel to their desired destination.

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recycle redux

How could I have forgotten to include an image of the Liberty Hotel yesterday?  The central lobby is one of the coolest places in Boston.  I’m particularly fond of the cleverly named Clink – a seasonal, sustainable Modern American restaurant, where original jail cells create cozy dining nooks – and Alibi – a cocktail bar set in the old drunk tank.  Click the image for greater detail.

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reduce, reuse, recycle….room service?

Inspiring stories of adaptive reuse shapes a unique group of converted hotels which offer experiences rich with history and intrigue – while being conscious of the mantra inherent in the 3 R’s.  Boston’s Liberty Hotel, once the storied Charles Street Jail, underwent a $150 million renovation to reopen as a 300-room luxury boutique hotel.  In Lancaster, PA, the unearthing of a 19th century tobacco warehouse gave way to the Lancaster Arts Hotel, which displays the original red brick and stone walls. The cleverly named Jumbo Hotel is a 25-room hostel hotel at the Stockholm-Arlanda airport and is actually a converted Boeing 747.  At Das Park Hotel in Austria, the “rooms” are massive concrete sewage pipes with a double bed, side table, light, and sleeping bag tucked inside and guests pay whatever amount they feel is reasonable.

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live blog: spaced out

Space – as any urban dweller can tell you – is always an issue.

So it’s downright delightful to get lost in a hotel room that could easily house ten people.  My biggest concern on arriving was whether I would be here long enough to avail myself of both the second and third bathrooms.  Talk about an embarrassment of riches.

Quick technical clarification:  Seven Stars is not at a hotel, it’s an all-suite resort.  But whatever…even the smallest cheapo-cheapo suites here are 620 square-feet and fully kitted out with over-sized bathrooms,  languorous balconies, and expansive kitchens. (last night I actually dreamt I found a way to smuggle the kitchen cabinets home in my carry-on luggage)

Suites start at $390 a night, which is about 40% off regular high-season rates for the Caribbean, but if you take advantage of a $450 Couples Escape they’ll upgrade you to an ocean view and throw in breakfast, a couples massage, and a romantic dinner in the fine dining restaurant, too.

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from the archives: hell-bent on helsinki

Now that the weather in NYC has turned Baltic, I thought it might be fun to take another look at a city known for its cold-weather bonhomie:  Helsinki.  However, to keep things ironically interesting, this piece comes from my one and only visit to the Finnish capital during warm weather.

kiasma2My previous visits to Helsinki went by in an alcohol-induced blur.  Arriving in the coldest dregs of winter, I think I can be forgiven as the temperature rarely cracked freezing and the sun shrank beyond the horizon by noon.  Swaddled in fur, with an underlay of wool, my time was spent rushing from one overheated indoor space to another while trying to avoid hypothermia.  I enjoyed the shopping, the museums, the incredible architecture and most of all, the core-warming sauna; yet my view of the city was  largely garnered through the steamy window of a taxi.  Outdoor activities were rightly left to the foolhardy and the drunk.

Helsinki in summer is another story altogether.

For three short months a year the cozy seaside capital gets a little crazy.  With average summer temperatures hovering comfortably in the seventies and a balmy breeze off the harbor, sun-starved Finns peel off the Gore-Tex and pour into the streets with abandon.  If you need to go indoors, you’ll get curious looks from museum attendants and shop clerks who’ll – amazing sales aside – wonder why you are inside.  Who can blame them?  This is the land of the midnight sun, after all, and a perfect time to experience the city from that rarest of vantage points:  outdoors.

kauppatori3-isoStart with the biggest and best known of the city’s outdoor markets – Market Square.  Right on the water, by the mammoth ferries to Stockholm, there’s everything from fresh fish, flowers, fruits, to reindeer skins, hunting knives and fur.  Grab the traditional snack of fresh peas or a case of the sweetest strawberries you’ll ever taste and spend the day in neighboring Esplanade park, watching the city promenade in the sunshine.  Next to the market, and meticulously restored, is the old enclosed Market Hall, selling everything edible under one roof.  It’s the place to stock up on your bear pate and wood grouse soup.

helsinki_158Connecting Market Square and the imperial majesty of Senate Square is Sofiankatu, a narrow street where it’s possible to zoom through centuries of Finnish history on foot. Transformed into an outdoor museum that recreates the streetscape from the 1880’s to the 1930’s, this lively area recalls an era when merchants, whores and horse-drawn cabs mingled under gas lit lamps.

It takes only half an hour to get from Helsinki to Nuuksio National Park, which provides a taste of the Finnish landscape of lakes and forests.  Like a true Finn, you can enjoy solitude and the sounds of nature near a crystal lake.  An expert guide is on hand to explain the features of Finnish nature and why even the most urban of Finns seem so preternaturally connected to their countryside.  Touring the park, you can also check out an authentic Finnish smoke sauna or simply walk along the soothing forest paths.  Tours depart Tuesday and Sunday from the Esplanade Park all summer.

SuomenlinnaSuomenlinna Sea Fortress is one of the largest sea fortresses in the world and has been placed on UNESCO’s World Heritage List.  There is a regular water-bus making the 15-minute journey from Market Square along with guided tours in English.  You can visit any (or all) of the eight museums, massive stone walls and fortifications, cannons and tunnels.  The Visitors Center is showcasing one of the most valuable underwater relics ever found in Finland, the St. Mikael, shipwrecked in 1747 on its way to St. Petersburg, laden with gold and porcelain treasures meant for the czarist aristocracy.

Royal Line’s vessels take visitors on a traditional Helsinki by Sea tour or take in Helsinki Under the Bridges.  You get a look at the city’s oldest districts and historical buildings, churches and monuments (and icebreakers).  Perfect for the weary of foot, it is an excellent way to take in many of the city’s most impressive sights.  Though tours run all day, it makes for an especially spectacular dinner cruise as the sun slowly starts its long descent and the skies turn a vibrant, deep blue.

korkeasaari_island_lookout_tower_031One of the rare island zoos in the world, and perhaps the oldest at 100+ years is Korkeasaari Zoo.  The animals dwell in the midst of a beautiful seaside tableau, just east of the city center.  While mainly inhabited by northern species of animals, the zoo also has a mini rain forest and a feline house with creatures from warmer climes.  In September visitors can come and admire the big cats at night in their own element.  A water bus connects to the island every half hour from the Market Square

A fifteen minute tram ride from the city center lies Seurasaari, a small wooded island set in a sheltered bay.  Boasting three museums, you’ll only want to hit one – the Open Air Museum, a collection of vernacular buildings assembled from all over Finland, connected by pathways that extend all over the island, showing how country folk lived until surprisingly recently.  Aside from the museums and scenery, people also come to Seurasaari to strip off.  Sex segregated nudist beaches line part of the western edge of the island –a popular offshore stop for the city’s weekend boaters, armed with binoculars.

Ultimately, there is really only one good excuse for being indoors:  the sauna.  The newly reopened Kotiharju sauna is a landmark where folks can enjoy a good steam in the only wood-heated public sauna in town.  Whether this is your first visit or your tenth, a real sauna is a must.  Sauna culture is distinctively Finnish and to know sauna is to know a central element of Finnish culture.  In the old days, children were birthed in the sauna, and there are still Finns who swear by it over showers and baths for hygiene.  Sauna is a place to get clean and participate in society at the same time.  Throw in some cold beer for after you emerge from the steam and its an experience unlike any other.

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holiday ho-ho-hotel deals

Since I just had two pretty fantastic – and unexpected – hotel experiences in both Rome and Costa Rica, I thought I would share some details on a few money-saving deals they have going on.  Just in case anyone’s got a spare bit of  dosh over the holidays and needs a splurge!

Rome Cavalieri Planetarium suite terrace

Waldorf Astoria Hotels & Resorts has a winter escape offer valid now through March 31st which includes daily breakfast, and a $50 activity credit per consecutive two-night stay. For example, stay for two nights and get a $50 credit, stay four nights and receive a $100 credit, and so on. The credit can be used towards resort activities, spa treatments, and select dining venues within the hotel. Rates at Rome’s Cavalieri begin at 350 Euro, per room, per night, based on availability.  Or pony up for one of the Imperial floor rooms which start at 420 a night – it comes with access to the Imperial lounge, which has free computer access, a dedicated concierge, and a copious all-day spread of complimentary food and beverage that can more than make up for the  price increase. Plus, you can use that $50 credit towards any of the one-off experiences the hotel can arrange, like tooling around the city in your own Ferrari, a private visit to the Sistine Chapel, or even gladiator training. To book at the Rome Cavalieri, visit http://www.hiltonluxury.com/worldwide.

conchal-white-sand

Starting January 3rd and valid through April 30th, 2010, Paradisus Playa Conchal is offering a 4 night/5 day Spa Getaway Package which includes an in-room welcome gift, a 30-minute facial treatment per person, a private yoga class for two, and an 80-minute signature Shell Massage for each, plus free use of the wet areas and 15% any additional therapies at Ahuia Spa. I can’t recommend the Shell Massage enough:  Tiger Clams are filled with local beach sand, then warmed and used in the same way as hot stones.  The texture of the clamshell is slick however, so there’s no drag against your skin – making the massage that much more relaxing.  Prices per person, per night include all food and beverage as well as most activities, starting at $318 for a Junior Suite.  Opt for a Royal Service Suite – from $398 – and you get a butler, concierge, private pool, and a lounge with computer access and drinks & nibbles throughout the day.  Royal Service also gets you preferential seatings at the hotel’s restaurants, which always comes in handy.  Book the Getaway by calling the hotel directly at (506) 2654 4123 or by emailing [email protected]

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bucket list: 2009 edition – June

JUNE

wimbledon

LONDON:  Wimbledon or Glastonbury?  That was my version of Sophie’s Choice come June.  What turned the tide was a) a friend able to score me tickets for the tennis b) my favorite hotel ever, London’s Athenaeum, had installed a “living wall” by French sculptural botanist Patrick Blanc across its Piccadilly facade and c) it had been a year since I was in London and I was craving a good dose of theater.  Glasto’s 40th anniversary comes around in 2010, so I guess I’ll have to make a point of getting back to London before next June.

festival_international_de_jazz_de_montreal

MONTREAL:  This city was such a study in contrasts.  How I loved the international jazz festival.  (And the egalitarian free-for-all it embodies is well represented by this photo taken from my hotel room)  But as a city?  Meh.  What a disappointment.

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a top ten for big ben

VB-00006375-001The rally of the dollar this year against the British pound has lovers of London licking their lips.  Simply put, value for money hasn’t been this good in over a decade:  Americans snag a savings of 20% off the bat due to the weaker currency.   Combine that with the current crop of deals and discounts and it means you won’t have to splurge too many benjamins to hear the chimes of Big Ben.  Whether you’re tackling London on the cheap or looking for the royal treatment, your buck will go a lot further. Here are ten ways of making London well worth the trip.

VB-00017406-001#1: Free Museums and Galleries

From must-see free museums and galleries to historical walking tours, London is nothing short of free activities for tourists.  Britain is unique in its Government’s support for the arts – so much so that entry to the world’s most famous museums and galleries is entirely free. Enjoy the collections at London’s Tate Modern, see the Elgin Marbles and the Rosetta Stone at the British Museum or take in the masterpieces at the National Gallery – all free of charge.

#2: The Oyster Card

The “pay as you go” Oyster travel card caps your daily costs at the cheapest price available – a huge savings over buying individual tickets for journeys using the extensive bus or Underground networks. For example, a single tube journey in central London will cost £4 with cash but only £1.50 with the Visitor Oyster Card. Plus, kids under 11-years-old ride for free when traveling with an adult. Purchase a pre-loaded card before you travel at www.visitbritain.com/onlineshop or pick one up at any London tube station.

#3: West End Bargains

Just like its Manhattan brother, TKTS sells half-price, same-day tickets to theater lovers in London’s Leicester Square.  Unlike Broadway – thankfully – there is rarely a lengthy line, plus a varied performance schedule means you can take advantage of shows that play Thursday and Friday matiness.  If you’re headed to the West End expecting to see a sold out hit, check with a reputable ticket agency like Keith Prowse and you can nab seats to top shows like Wicked for $72 (regular price $107) or Chicago for $57 (regular price $101).

living-wall-athenaeum-hotel-london#4: Hotel Deals

The swanky Athenaeum – my favorite hotel in town – is guaranteeing rates in US Dollars throughout 2009 as well as guaranteeing oohs and ahhs with the installation of a dramatic “living wall:” a 10-story vertical garden designed by French botanist Patrick Blanc that fuses the hotel with its Royal Parks surroundings.  Book the “London in Style” rate, from $450 per night for two, and take advantage of a bevy of dollar-stretching freebies that come with it: daily English breakfast or Afternoon Tea, fresh fruit and water on arrival, in-room espresso, soft drinks and snacks from the mini bar, WiFi, suit and shirt pressing – plus, kids eat free. Radisson Edwardian Hotels – which has 11 hotels in London – features an Advance Purchase promotion offering 10% off their Best Available Rate through December. Room rates start at £85 (approximately $136) per room, depending on season and bookings must be paid in full at least 10 days in advance of stay.  The Bermondsey Square Hotel – colloquially called b² – is a bespoke and stylish hotel with a sense of humor and a cheeky charm reminiscent of the East End in the sixties. Rooms have Apple TV, free WiFi, and start at £109 (approximately $175) per night.

#5: Book Before You Go

VisitBritain’s Online shop has a money-saving “Essential London Kit” which includes a three-day London Travel Card and tickets for the London Eye, Tower of London, and Original London Sightseeing bus tours – which itself includes a Thames river cruise and two walking tours – for just $103. Get a four-day “Great British Heritage Pass” for $46 and take your pick of 580 heritage attractions. The pass is valid for some of Britain’s top attractions that include Blenheim Palace near Oxford, Hampton Court Palace and Hever Castle and Gardens, the childhood home of Anne Boleyn.

Afternoon_Tea#6: Classic Traditions for Cheap

Helping the Beefeaters lock the Tower of London up at night in the Ceremony of the Keys is free of charge.  Get the details on requesting tickets at www.hrp.org.uk. For a dose of ceremonial pomp, the mounted Queen’s Life Guard changes on Horse Guards Parade Whitehall at 11am weekdays and The Queen’s Guard – the famous “changing of the guard” – changes at Buckingham Palace at 11:30am daily. Make time for tea in the dazzling Palm Court at the refurbished Langham Hotel, where afternoon tea as we know it was born. The endless tiers of finger sandwiches, warm scones with clotted cream, pastries and miniature cakes can easily make this traditionally late afternoon “snack” an economical stand in for dinner.

#7: Airline Packages

Oil prices have fallen, so many airlines are reducing their fuel surcharges and airfares are dropping. Virgin Atlantic has one-way tickets from New York to London from as low as $251, based on a round-trip purchase.  Continental Airlines features 7-day vacation packages, including flights and nights at a 4-star hotel from $1,046. Save up to $485 with United Vacations and get flights, four-nights hotel, a top 10 for biand daily breakfast from $955 per person.

VB-00008405-001#8: Restaurant Deals

Toptable.com highlights deals and discounts from hundreds of restaurants in London, offering up to 50% off on meals at some of the city’s top tables including Michelin-starred L’Atelier de Joel Robuchon, where you can get two courses for $27.  Another good tip is to look for Bib Gourmands.  These eateries are not official Michelin stars, but recognized for good food at moderate prices, like Gordon Ramsay’s Foxtrot Oscar where a 3-course menu will set you back just £30.  Bluebird Café on the King’s Road in fashionable Chelsea does a proper English breakfast for only a tenner.

#9  ‘Ead East

Eclectic, eccentric and artistic, Brick Lane is at the bargain heart of East London’s emerging artistic community. Dubbed Banglatown for its Bangladeshi influence, it’s also the curry capital of London. Haggle over fashion, art and antiques at vibrant Spitalfields Market, then walk the streets stalked by Jack the Ripper. By night the area hosts some of the coolest evenings around with throbbing clubs cozying up to traditional East End pubs. And if a fiery late-night curry doesn’t tempt you, you can always pay a visit to the famous 24-hour Brick Lane Beigel Bake.

#10: Tour Packages

Tour operators are dishing out fantastic deals across the pond. Go beyond Buckingham Palace and visit Edinburgh, York, Chester and Cambridge on an 8-day tour with Insight Vacations.  A land-only package is $865 with the option to add on airfare for just $99 each way.  Brendan Vacations offers Britain-bound tourists a self-guided 8-day package for $1,029, including round-trip airfare, bed & breakfast and car rental.

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