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Vacation club sales being pushed by postcard, e-mail, and telephone

This is a pitch that can come to you in a variety of ways, either by phone call, e-mail, or even postcard. In each case, you are told you've won a prize, usually a vacation like a cruise, an air flight, or perhaps a resort stay. Sometimes you may be told you've won $5,000 or a car or some other expensive prize.

You're also told you have to call in to "claim" your "prize." That's when the person on the other end of the line requires you to make an appointment to hear a sales pitch for a vacation club or travel club before you get your "prize."

Once you hear the pitch, they'll typically try to get $5,000 or $6,000 from you, stringing you along all the while with the promise of free travel, cruises, and more.

But let me stop and ask you something: If you're told you won something, you should just say "thank you" and that's it, right? You should not have to pay upfront for anything.

Anytime you're told you will have to go in to hear a presentation, you should know that it's suspect. The high pressure will start and they'll try to get you into a high-priced contract for a timeshare or the like.

The attorney general of Massachusetts is now suing a discount travel company and its affiliate for allegedly scamming more than 2 dozen people out of thousands of dollars this way. 

The Boston Globe takes this story a step further. They're reporting a new twist I've never heard before, where one of these vacation club outfits is sending people colorful postcards that show a Carnival cruise ship on the card. You're told you've won a free cruise, but in the mice type it says "sample itinerary."

So there is no Carnival cruise and you're not getting that free trip. Who knows what prize you'll ultimately get? I can tell you it probably won't be much. But it will cost a lot in heartache, lost time, and lost funds.

Source - Clark Howard is a consumer expert whose goal is to help you keep more of the money you make. His national radio show and website show you ways to put more money in your pocket, with advice you can trust.

Travel Buzz Club is a FREE Membership Travel Club supported by businesses and promotes local businesses.

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Visiting national parks could cost more

Want to visit Yosemite, Grand Canyon or Yellowstone next year?

Pack your camping supplies and knock those parks off your bucket list now, because it may cost you a little bit more to explore the national parks by summer 2015.

For the first time in eight years, the National Park Service sites that charge entrance and amenity fees can increase their rates by set amounts. They have to engage their communities, note what the increases will cover and get approval by park service headquarters. Fee increase proposals are due by March 15.

Though just 133 of the 401 National Park Service sites across the United States charge an entrance fee, they're some of the parks that travelers often think of first.

Yosemite National Park, which released its fee proposal on Tuesday, wants to increase its weekly entrance pass from $20 to $30. Camping fees would rise from the current range of $5 to $20 per night for family sites ($40 per night for group sites) to a range of $6 to $24 per night for family sites ($48 per night for group sites).

The cost of national park passes will remain at $80 for the regular annual pass, $10 for the lifetime senior pass and free for the annual military passes and access passes (for those with permanent disabilities).

These are five national park sites we think you must see, either now or after any fee increases take effect. They're still a bargain!

Yosemite National Park, California

President Abraham Lincoln first protected Yosemite with his signing of the Yosemite Land Grant on June 30, 1864, 150 years ago. Yosemite will celebrate 125 years as a national park in 2015.

Grand Canyon National Park, Arizona

The Colorado River cuts through the bottom of the magnificentGrand Canyon for 277 miles, and it's a full vertical mile from the South Rim to the canyon floor. The canyon's width varies, but it measures 18 miles in several spots. The South Rim is open year-round, but the North Rim -- generally the coolest place in the park -- is open during the spring and summer.

Current vehicle entrance fee: $25

Yellowstone National Park, Wyoming, Montana and Idaho

Old Faithful calls this place home.

Established as the United States' first national park in 1872, Yellowstone is also one of the first 12 sites on UNESCO's World Heritage List, which recognizes the world's most important natural and cultural wonders. Yellowstone is one of the few remaining intact ecosystems of significant size in the northern temperate zone on Earth, including a volcano, more than 300 geysers and more than 10,000 thermal features.

Current vehicle entrance fee: $25

Arches National Park, Utah

Arches National Park is one of the most unique spots on Earth, home to the world's highest collection of natural sandstone arches. They include the largest, Landscape Arch, and the tallest, Double Arch South.

Current vehicle entrance fee: $10

Great Smoky Mountains National Park, North Carolina and Tennessee

It's free! Despite its reign as the most-visited national park in the country last year, with 9.4 million visitors, Great Smoky Mountains National Park is our bargain park, with no entrance fees. (There are camping and other amenity fees.)

That's because the park's Newfound Gap Road was once owned by the state of Tennessee. When the state transferred it to the federal government, the state required that no fee "ever be imposed" to travel the road.

By Katia Hetter, CNN

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GoPro: 4K Quadcopter + Cruise Ship = Drew Thomas Magic

What do you get when you combine 4 GoPro's, a quadcopter, and a cruise ship, Drew Thomas Magic! Shot with the GoPro Black 4 in 4K, Drew Thomas does what's never been done before, he'll attempt to teleport himself from the helipad of Royal Caribbean's Freedom of the Seas to the other end. Watch closely as 4 cameras run continuously capturing the magic like never before.

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Three-Letter Airport Identifiers

We recently addressed the secrets behind airport names. But the airport codes you see on your tickets and baggage tags remain mysteries for many travelers. Just how did Orlando become MCO, anyway?

Many of these airport identifiers date back to when the National Weather Service codified such matters in the 1930s. But it’s an industry trade organization, the International Air Transport Association (IATA), that assigns the three-letter airport codes and the two-character airline codes listed on every flight itinerary (hence the term “code sharing” for flights operated by two or more airlines). If you’re ever unsure of these letters, IATA’s handy online guide provides a tool to search by names or codes for both airlines and airports.

The International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO), which is chartered by the United Nations, has developed a much more intuitive four-letter system. For example, rather than BRU for Brussels, the ICAO code EBBR stands for Europe Belgium Brussels Airport. But it’s the IATA three-letter codes that are more commonly used worldwide.

The arrival and departures board might be easier to read after you learn what the codes really mean. (Jimmy Emerson, DVM/Flickr)

Once you dig into the history, many confusing airport codes make sense. Here are explanations for some common types of head-scratching mysteries:

Former names

In the case of Orlando, MCO wasn’t randomly assigned; like many airfields, it’s a former military facility, McCoy Air Force Base. Similarly, Spokane/GEG was Geiger Air Force Base; Chicago/ORD was Orchard Field; and Nashville/BNA was Berry Field Nashville.

Former locations

Sometimes deciphering is no easy task, like figuring out how Louis Armstrong International Airport in New Orleans somehow translates into MSY? Answer: The airport is on the grounds of the former Moisant Stock Yards. And the RSW assigned to Fort Myers refers to the Regional Southwest facility.

Located elsewhere

Occasionally, the mystery behind a puzzling code is all about location. Take Cincinnati’s CVG moniker; the city’s airport is actually across the state line near Covington, Ky.

Serving regions

Some odd acronyms reflect airports serving multiple destinations, such as RDU for Raleigh-Durham; DTW for Detroit-Wayne County; and GSP for Greenville-Spartanburg. And ABE for Lehigh Valley in Pennsylvania? Short for Allentown, Bethlehem, and Easton.

Eliminating confusion

When Washington, D.C.’s second airport opened, there was concern over potential mix-ups with the similarity between National’s DCA code (District of Columbia Airport) and Dulles’s DIA code (Dulles International Airport), so DIA was flipped to IAD.

Unavailable letters

Some letters remain unavailable as the first digits in airport codes. The U.S. Navy owns N (hence, it’s EWR for Newark and ORF for Norfolk), and Z, W, and K also are inaccessible (That’s why Key West is EYW.). Similarly, Y codes are assigned to Canadian facilities. (Fun fact: The song YYZ by the band Rush references the band’s hometown airport in Toronto.)

And we can’t forget about the awkward acronyms. For years, airline employees have told crude jokes about Fresno — formerly Fresno Air Terminal — being FAT. But HOT works for Hot Springs, Ark., and Sioux City has even embraced SUX by hawking FLY SUX T-shirts and coffee mugs. Internationally, however, some identifiers can be jarring. For example, Busan, South Korea, is PUS, and Fukuoka, Japan, is FUK.

Of course, transposing a letter or two can have big consequences. Back in my airline days, I recall when a container of 30 suitcases was wrongly tagged, not for CIA (Rome) but for CAI (Cairo). Now that most of us are our own travel agents, the good news is the leading travel sites usually offer pop-up windows to confirm an airport’s name if you insert by code instead (See illustration.). And if you’re guilty of a typo, a Travelocity spokesman explains that there’s a 24-hour window for a full refund when a customer makes an “erroneous reservation.”

So why aren’t some of the more confusing codes changed or updated? That’s a rare and cumbersome and expensive process employed only in extraordinary circumstances, as when New York International Airport was recoded JFK for President Kennedy in 1963; the former code — IDL for Idlewild — is now used in Indianola, Miss.

The bottom line: Even when it seems an airport code makes no sense, chances are there’s a reason those three letters were chosen.

One more tip. If you’re traveling by Amtrak, don’t freak out if your baggage is tagged PHG for Phoenix or BAN for Bangor. The rail line employs its own coding system, and it isn’t always simpatico with airport codes.

William J. McGee - Yahoo Travel


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Leave it to a mathematician to figure out how to hack the highways.

Data genius Randy Olson is known for developing an algorithm for the ultimate search path to find Waldo, the globetrotting star of the series “Where’s Waldo?” And last week, Discovery News’ Tracy Staedter encouraged Olson to take that same algorithm and apply it to the roads — and he did.

First, Olson decided he would use his math magic to determine the fastest route that would stop at a national historic site, park, monument, or natural landmark in all of the lower 48 states. Then, to even it out at 50 states, he added a stop in Washington D.C. and California. The result? This route:

Life is a Speedway: The Fastest Way to Hit The Best Landmarks on a Road Trip

If you are a robot who doesn’t require any sort of human sustenance, you can speed through this route in just under 10 days. (Photo: The Washington Post) 

According to Olson, if you don’t sleep, stop, or hit traffic, you could technically do this trip in 9.33 days. But of course, since you are human and need to do such things as, oh, you know, go to the bathroom and eat food, the trip will likely take around two months. The route stops at the Grand Canyon, the White HouseGraceland, the Statue of Liberty, and the Alamo, to name a few landmarks. The best part? You can start in any state you want, and then follow the path from there.

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The End of an Era: Paris City Officials Remove Love Locks from Pont des Arts Bridge

The End of an Era: Paris City Officials Remove Love Locks from Pont des Arts Bridge

These locks will soon be history. (Photo: Klara Fröhlich/dpa/Corbis)

It’s no secret that people go to Paris for love. That truth got even more extreme in 2008, when tourists began latching padlocks with love messages onto the Pont des Arts — a famous bridge in Paris and one of its most historical landmarks — as a symbol of their undying unity. But that tradition is soon to be a thing of the past: Today, the city of Paris is officially removing the padlocks from the bridge,CNN reported.  

This decision is the result of a city vs. tourists controversy that’s been growing for the past couple years. While tourists love to display their affection on the Parisian landmark, locals and city officials believe the tradition is doing more harm than good.

At the heart of the matter is safety: At its peak, the bridge was filled with about 700,000 locks — the equivalent of about 20 elephants, according to CNN — which weighed it down so much that it was in danger of collapsing. The fencing around the locks also began crumbling, and city officials feared for pedestrians’ safety. 

The tradition also had a cultural impact, and not necessarily a good one. Because so many tourists were flocking to the bridge to leave their love locks, many pickpockets, graffiti artists, and cheap vendors began showing up, which quickly turned locals away from the previously well-renowned famous spot.


The bridge will be closed for the week as city officials take down the locks. (Photo: John Van Hasselt/Corbis)

The bridge will be closed for a week as city officials take down all of the locks. After that, there will be an “artistic intervention” until the fall, in which officials install permanent, protective glass panels on the bridge to keep people from breaking the rules. 

This is not the first time that city officials and locals have taken action, either. Back in August, officials attempted to encourage locals and visitors alike to take selfies on the bridge rather than declare their love. And around Valentine’s Day, they put wooden panels around the locks to prevent people from adding more. 

What’s more, a local group called “No Love Locks” has been campaigning to keep the bridge’s historic status by getting rid of the locks that, in their eyes, promote vandalism of Paris landmarks. And locals are tweeting that they are more than happy to get rid of the tourist trap on their beloved bridge.

Still, those actions were all just the city’s attempts to fix the problem, the Facebook equivalent of changing their relationship status with love locks to “it’s complicated.” But now, their relationship is officially over. Let’s hope that the people who declared their love on the bridge are still going strong. 

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Luxury Travel Spots


Italy took three categories in this year’s Luxe Report: international destination, family destination and honeymoon

Where are the luxury travel hot spots for the coming year?

Virtuoso has the answers with the latest report. Published each year, the report polls its expert travel advisors around the world on where their clients plan to roam in the year to come.

Some of the travel hot spots that ranked highly this year are traditional favorites. And some are newly emerging preferences. Discover the 15 destinations that everybody’s buzzing about for next year:


An eternal favorite, it topped three Luxe Report lists. It’s the most popular destination for international travel, honeymoons and family trips.


This year’s top pick for emerging destination was a dominant choice, likely the result of warming relations between the U.S. and the island nation.

South Africa

The most popular adventure travel destination was also #3 on the international destinations list. It’s also coming on strong as a family travel destination.


The appeal of the island is so magical that it finished strongly in two categories. Maui is #2 for U.S. destinations and honeymoons. Overall, Hawaii finished in the top 5 for family travel destinations.

travel hot spots: ancient pyramid in Mexico


Mexico rated strongly as a international and family destination as well as a honeymoon location


Another strong destination each year in several Luxe Report categories. This year Mexico was #3 for family travel, and finished in the top 5 for both international destinations and honeymoons.


Always a top choice, it finished second for international destinations. France is also popular for honeymooners and traveling families.

Costa Rica

Adventure is a hot trend among luxury travelers, and this Central America country is their #2 pick for an active destination. Costa Rica also scores highly as an international and family destination.


Luxury travelers love the allure of remote places, so the continent cracked the top 5 emerging destinations list. It’s also popular for adventure travel and a cruise itinerary.


Another chilly, remote destination scores as the #2 emerging destination. It’s also popular for adventure travel.

Galapagos Islands

Its diverse flora and fauna make the islands the #3 destination for adventure travel. The broad allure of the Galapagos placed it highly as well on lists of emerging destinations, family destinations and cruise itineraries.

travel hot spot: alaska glacier and water


Alaska is popular with cruisers and adventure seekers, as well as being a top U.S. destination


Always a top cruise destination, the state finishes third on that list. It’s also strong in the U.S. destination and adventure travel rankings.


In the top 5 adventure destinations, the country is also seen as an emerging destination and popular among international travelers.


The continent Down Under takes a spot in the top five international destinations list. It’s also popular with adventure-seekers.

New Zealand

This year’s #4 adventure destination, the country also scores highly for international travel.


In the top 5 for family travel, it’s also a timeless favorite for international trips.

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US Airways retires its last Boeing 737-400

US Airways has retired the last 737 from its pre-merger fleet.

The "Classic" 737-400 model made its final revenue flights for the carrier on Tuesday, FlightGlobal.comreports. The aircraft – tail number N435US – flew from Charlotte to Dallas/Fort Worth to Philadelphia before returning to Charlotte on its final passenger flight for the carrier. The flights operated as US Airways Flight 737.

Piedmont Airlines, which ultimately merged with US Air to become US Airways, was the launch customer for the 737-400, putting the jet into commercial passenger service in the fall of 1988.

American, which now includes US Airways as the airlines progress with their merger, confirmed the retirement of the 737 from US Airways' fleet.

"We're proud to have been the launch customer of the B737-400, which formed an integral part of the US Airways fleet over the years," American says in a statement to Today in the Sky. "American is focused on updating our fleet with hundreds of new planes and refreshing our existing aircraft to bring our customers a more modern, comfortable and connected experience."

PHOTOS: The new look of American Airlines

American says it has added 53 new mainline aircraft and 18 new regional jets to its fleet so far in 2014.

The 737, of course, will continue to fly in the fleet of the "new" American. AA already had the popular Boeing aircraft in its fleet prior to the merger. And the carrier has more than 150 additional 737s on order.

As for the 737-400 retired by US Airways, its Tuesday flights also marked a milestone for US Airways Captain Jeff Tarr, who retired from the airline after flying the 737-400 on its final flight to Charlotte.

The only U.S. passenger airlines still flying the vintage "-400" model of the 737 on regularly schedule passenger service are Alaska Airlines and PEOPLExpress,FlightGlobal says, citing the Ascend Fleets database. Vision Airlines owns and operates the 737-400s that fly under the PEOPLExpress brand.

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Quirky Hotels

Standard hotels are no longer the name of the game with so many boutique guesthouses springing up across the country that are full of personality as well as unique charm. We take a look at ten hotels from coast to coast loaded with character you won't find anywhere else.

Chattanooga Choo Choo Hotel: Chattanooga, Tenn.

How often do you get the opportunity to sleep in historic train cars that have been beautifully renovated into a plush hotel? At the Chattanooga Choo Choo Hotel, you can choose from 48 luxuriously refurbished Victorian train car hotel rooms, or opt for a standard room or suite. The terminal has been remodeled to accommodate several dining options beneath the grand domed ceiling. So super size your model trains and spend the night aboard this locomotive.

Hangar Hotel: Fredericksburg, Texas

Let your vacation take flight with a stay to remember at the Hanger Hotel. Built to emulate a WWII aircraft hanger, the interior of the Hanger Hotel aims to catapult you into the 1940s era. Furniture is covered in bomber jacket leather, walls are adorned with airplane memorabilia and model planes abound. After spending the day exploring Fredericksburg, unwind at the hotel's Officer's Lounge, equipped with a fireplace, pool table, full bar, grand piano and inviting leather chairs.

The Aurora-Express: Fairbanks, Alaska

Do you dream of traveling the Alaskan rails from Seward to Fairbanks in the 1950s? Or, of finding your fortune during Alaska's Gold Rush? Perhaps indulging in Fairbanks's former risqué bordello atmosphere? Unpack that duffle bag/rolling suitcase in one of the Aurora-Express's lavishly designed, historically themed rail cars and allow your imagination to roam free. Owners Mike and Susan Wilson have strategically positioned the hotel cars/rooms upon 700 feet of track that overlook the Tanana Valley and Fairbanks. Become in entrenched in Alaska's cultural legacy with a stay at this piece of Alaskan frontier history.

Curtis Hotel: Denver, Colo.

A play on pop culture, each of the 13 guest floors of The Curtis Hotel incorporates a different light-hearted theme. Just this year, the hotel launched different "hyper themed" rooms dedicated to Star Trek, Jimmy Buffet and the Ghostbusters. The Curtis Hotel prides itself on helping guests to "Stay Happy," whether that means receiving waking up calls from Elvis, Yoda or Austin Powers (yah, baby) or challenging a comrade to a game of Battle Ship. Don't forget to grab some Bazooka Joe bubblegum from the hotel's Five & Dime store before you leave.

Moonrise Hotel: St. Louis, Mo.

The Moonrise Hotel is a boutique hotel bursting with bright colors and evocative art. Judging by the décor, one could make the assumption that the owner has an affinity for the Final Frontier. The luxury digs are accented with lunar toys, spaceships and unusual space memorabilia. If you've always regretted missing space camp as a child, then beam yourself up to the Moonrise. The rooftop terrace bar and eco-friendly practices like the solar panel roof are just a few of the added bonuses – not to mention the hotel's prime location on Delmar Loop near The Pageant andBlueberry Hill.

Playland Motel: Rockaway Beach, N.Y.

Don't let the name "Playland" mislead you. There are no slides or swings on these premises, and no one under the age of 21 is allowed at this adult motel. This haven is for over-worked and over-stressed adults who need to lose themselves in the white sands and rolling waves of Rockaway Beach, NY. The masterminds behind Playland Motel make this mission easy with dance parties lasting late into the night at the Playland Tavern, located on the hotel's first floor. To recover from sampling one too many of the tavern's creative cocktails, stroll down to the beach for an afternoon catnap.

Jules' Undersea Lodge: Key Largo, Fla.

After a successful day of scuba diving, stay underwater and hang with your favorite finned friends at Jules' Undersea Lodge – the only undersea accommodations available in the world. Leave your car on the shores of Key Largo, don your scuba gear and dive 21 feet to the lodge's entrance. Cuddle up in bed beneath warm blankets and watch schools of fish swish past the 42-inch windows. And yes, there are luxuries like hot showers, TV and movies to enjoy while devouring a Papa John's pizza. The pizza chain makes an underwater delivery of a fresh, hot pizza. The only caveat is that you must be scuba certified to be an underwater guest.

Baldpate Inn: Estes Park, Colo.

Modeled after the inn from the mystery novel Seven Keys to Baldpate, this nearly 100-year-old hotel boasts the largest collection of keys (20,000) in the world. Until WWI began, the inn gave away a key to every guest in the spirit of the novel. But the shortage of metal during the war terminated this practice. When devoted patrons caught wind of this, they began leaving a key at the inn with each visit – 20,000 times apparently. In addition to this marvelous backstory, the hotel features a welcoming B&B atmosphere and is ideally located within seven miles of Estes Park – practically at the doorsteps of Rocky Mountain National Park. Even if you're in a rush to explore the towering peaks, don't miss the homemade three-course breakfast.

Hotel Oregon: McMinnville, Ore.

One of several McMenamins hotels scattered throughout the Pacific Northwest, the Hotel Oregon combines a century of history with quirky accommodations in the heart of wine country. Hand-painted artwork dons the hallways and fills the walls of each room, in addition to historic photographs and décor, which tell the story of the hotel's original occupants. The hotel also features a rooftop bar with views of the Willamette wine valley, libations and live music in the Cellar Bar and a full-service pub which serves McMenamins' famous Cajun tots and craft beers. Book early for a room during the hotel's annual UFO Festival.

Hotel Vertigo: San Franciso, Calif.

Alfred Hitchcock devotees visiting San Francisco should flock to Hotel Vertigo, located in the hip Nob Hill neighborhood. This is the hotel formerly named Empire that was featured in the thriller "Vertigo." Bright colors (oranges and creams used throughout the rooms) and subtle swirl patterns are a nod to its film heritage while simultaneously generating a playful, yet elegant atmosphere (the film loops continuously on a lobby TV). Go forth and uncover this hilly city, but do stay away from the rooftops!

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Eat these 7 things before summer ends

It's not long now. The end of summer. That's not bad news for everyone. Fall fashion fans. Parents who have spent enough quality time with their kids. Halloween enthusiasts.

But it is the last chance to savor some amazing foods that will be gone when summer is over, or not long afterward. Here are some things to try before it's too late.

Snow Cones: Minnesota State Fair (@mnstatefair)

 Fair food without the fair

Every year the Minnesota State Fair (which runs from August 21 through September 1), proudly previews foods that most people only dream about, like deep--fried, pretzel--crusted cheese curds. This year, there's a brilliant new snow cone variation. Called SnoRibbons, the shaved ice dessert has a cotton candy--like texture and comes in inspired flavors like strawberry pretzel cream cheese, coffee and doughnuts, and grasshopper pie.

Food & Wine: Healthy Grilling Recipes

Farmers Market Ice Cream: Salt & Straw -- Portland, Oregon (@saltandstraw)

For the month of August, these mad geniuses of ice cream are serving farmers' market--inspired flavors such as green fennel and maple; carrot-watermelon sorbet, and the F&W staff favorite, tomato water--olive oil sherbet (tomatoes are supplied by the nonprofit, urban Zenger Farm).

Lobster Roll: Lobster Shack -- Cape Elizabeth, Maine

This New England spot, which first opened its doors in the 1920s, will close—just for the season!—after the third week in October. In addition to lobster everything (lobster dinner, lobster roll, lobster stew, lobster salad...), they also serve crab, clams, scallops and shrimp, as well as Grape-Nut--raisin bread pudding and homemade whoopie pies. The exception to the closed rule: You can order lobster online for delivery to your door year-round.

Food & Wine: Refreshing Summer Drinks

Fish Boil: Pelletier's Restaurant & Fish Boil -- Fish Creek, Wisconsin

From Mother's Day weekend until October 20, Pelletier's serves a classic traditional Wisconsin Door County fish boil, from 5 p.m. to closing every night, rain or shine. They stick to classic methods: fresh local whitefish, red potatoes and Texas sweet onions, boiled in stainless steel kettles over a wood fire, seasoned only with salt, and served with melted butter, coleslaw, Bavarian dark rye and honey white bread. Every half hour the kitchen brings the meal to a boil for each seating of guests. All dinners come with a slice of Door County cherry pie.

Food & Wine: Amazing Summer Pie Recipes

Peach Lambic Ice Cream: Turner Field -- Atlanta, Georgia (@FrozenPints @Rathbunkevin)

Turner Field's days are numbered: In 2017, the Braves will move to a brand-new $670 million home. But while they keep playing (into October if they can make it past the regular season, fingers crossed), there's the chance to have Frozen Pints: Craft beer--infused ice cream in cool flavors like malted milk--chocolate stout, vanilla bock, brown ale chip and peach lambic. Added bonus: A few sections away, you can get Kevin Rathbun's sliced sirloin sandwich with horseradish cream.

Greenmarket Vegetarian Menu: Gotham Bar & Grill -- New York City (@gothambar_grill)

His epic restaurant Gotham is just blocks away from the Union Square farmers' market, and chef Alfred Portale takes full advantage of that, serving his all-vegetarian Greenmarket dinner tasting menu just through Labor Day. On the menu: Greenmarket ceviche (with baby beets, watermelon radish, mango and chile vinaigrette), strawberry salad, sweet pea ravioli, and Bing cherries with buckwheat streusel.

Fried Clams: Sea Swirl -- Mystic, Connecticut

Most people know the southeastern Connecticut town of Mystic from the '80s classic Mystic Pizza. It's also the home of the great roadside fried clam and soft-serve shack Sea Swirl, at the junction of routes 1 and 27. Locals seriously mark their calendars for the spring opening (this year it was Friday, April 4—my colleague, Mystic native Chelsea Morse, marked it!). After September 1, they're open only on weekends and closed entirely for the winter season after October 13. What Sea Swirl is especially famous for: whole belly clams and 24 flavors of soft-serve.  

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U.S. Beachfront Hotels Under $200

SeaCrest OceanFront Hotel, Pismo Beach, CA

When the SeaCrest Motel first opened in the early 1960s, it was the only beachfront hotel in this dune-buggy-loving town. After various additions and ownership changes over the years, the 158-room SeaCrest reemerged in 2007 with a bright, retro-mod décor as well as a free breakfast, pool, fire pits, patio couches, and a staircase down to a quiet stretch of sand. Located on the Pacific 101, it also makes an easy launching pad for exploring the wine country or visiting Hearst Castle, 50 miles away. Even in the high-season summer, rates start as low as $219.Doubles from $119;

Hotel Milo, Santa Barbara, CA

You don’t really find hotels right on the sand in Santa Barbara, but this bougainvillea-covered boutique property is about as close as it gets: the beach is right across the street. Spread over six small buildings, the Spanish-style Hotel Milo (formerly named the Hotel Oceana) has a shabby-chic vibe with rooms decorated in garden-like pinks, oranges, and greens and easy-open windows that let in the steady breeze. There are also lush courtyards, two outdoor pools, and complimentary beach-cruiser bicycles, and it’s an easy walk or ride to the heart of downtown and the train station. Even though the lobby has a free breakfast, dinner fans may be tempted by the original (and last remaining) Sambo’s—an old coffee-shop chain from the 1960s—right next door. Season does matter here: at the height of summer, rates start at $289. Doubles from $139;

La Casa del Camino, Laguna Beach, CA

In a neighborhood with resorts that have starting rates of $600-plus a night, this little hotel is unique in more ways than one. The 36-room, Mediterranean-style propertyopened in 1929 as a Hollywood star magnet and today has sumptuous, Spanish-style rooms as well as a collection of 10 eye-popping, surf-inspired suites, such as the Billabong and the Roxy. Low-season rates for the Surf Suites inch a little over $200, and you can still get standard rooms at right around $200 even during peak summer months. Doubles from $139.

The Palms Hotel & Spa, Miami

Low season in South Beach means easier access to this sleek, 251-room hotel with a sand-and-surf-inspired décor: a dark brown, cream, and orange palette, along with mosaic tiles and, in the bathrooms, rain-shower heads. The chic ambience extends to the cabanas by the pool and beach service that includes lounge chairs, umbrellas, towels, and fabulous cocktails (from raspberry mojitos to the popular Pain Killer, a mix of rum, pineapple juice, OJ, cream of coconut, and nutmeg). During peak season, starting rates run as low as $198.Doubles from $153.

Azul del Mar, Key Largo, FL

This six-suite, Art Deco villa exudes enough timeless elegance for Bogie-and-Bacall types, but it also has an earthy splendor. Lawns are covered with key lime bushes and frangipani, rooms come with their own granite-counter-topped kitchenettes, and you’re just a few steps from the John Pennekamp Coral Reef State Park. Look to the innkeepers to hook you up with scuba, fishing, and kayaking trips; if you happen to catch a nice mahimahi, they’ll let you cook it up on the house grill. During high season, rates still start at a reasonable $229.Doubles from $139.

B Ocean, Fort Lauderdale, FL

Ocean views are par for the course at this spare but pretty 240-room hotel—proving that hotels with hip one-letter names need not cost multiple dollar signs. Rooms have crisp, white-on-white furnishings with aqua-hued accents, and the hotel has an on-site gym, sushi bar, and free Wi-Fi. It also offers a fun twist on wine tasting: the B’stro on the Beach has an Enomatic wine machine, where a prepaid card (typically ranging from $5 to $20) entitles you to up to three self-serve pours, ranging from tastes to full glasses. Snowbirds, beware of seasonal sticker shock: winter-spring rates start at $299 a night. Doubles from $149;

Postcard Inn, St. Pete Beach, FL

This motel from the 1950s sits on a six-mile island off the Gulf Coast about a half hour southwest of Tampa International Airport. When the 196-room property was renovated into a boutique hotel in 2009, it took on a distinct hipster sensibility: rooms are decorated with vintage longboards, locally snapped surf photos, and groovy lamps. You can book packages that include kite-flying or stand-up paddleboarding; the hotel also has a pool, shuffleboard, and the PCI Bar and Grill, a gourmet comfort-food restaurant. Order the signature Sticky Ribs or the bacon flavor of the day, such as garlic herb or cherry whiskey. In spring, rates start at $229. Doubles from $129.

The Georgianne Inn, Tybee Island, GA

This barrier island, a half hour from Savannah, has plenty of old-school activities, from bicycling along the sand dunes or the causeway, with osprey or herons overhead, to watching for dolphins from a sailboat or kayak. The charming seven-room inn dates back to 1910 as a home—a father built the beach house for his daughter—and started life as an inn in 1921. It’s just three houses away from the beach, and stays include beach chairs, boogie boards, and bikes for guests’ use. Five of the rooms are actually suites with full kitchens—perfect for extended-stay folks who like B&B charm but want breakfast-table autonomy. Even in the high season, rates start at a reasonable $125 a night. Doubles from $75;

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