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Inn at Palmetto Bluff is No. 1 on Travel + Leisure best hotels list

The No. 1 hotel in the U.S., according to Travel + Leisure magazine's list of the 500 best hotels in the world, is the Inn at Palmetto Bluff in Bluffton.

The Inn at Palmetto Bluff has 50 refined cottage suites with vaulted ceilings; wrap-around verandas in the moss-draped low country along the May River.

The Grand Del Mar in San Diego, The Setai in Miami Beach, Harraseeket Inn in Freeport, Maine, and The Palazzo in Las Vegas, also are among the new properties that made the magazine's list.

The list also includes 66 properties that offer rooms for $250 a night or less, including the Inn on the Alameda, Santa Fe, N.M.; Hotel Lucia, Portland, Ore.; and Rockhouse Hotel, Jamaica.

Other top domestic hotels included the Ritz-Carlton Bachelor Gulch, in Beaver Creek, Colo.; the Ritz-Carlton in Naples, Fla.; the Halekulani in Oahu, Hawaii; and The Carlyle in New York.

The list is based on the magazine's 2009 World's Best Awards readers' survey results. As part of the survey, Travel + Leisure readers rated hotels on several characteristics including rooms/facilities, location, service, restaurants/food, and value.

The complete survey methodology is available on www.travelandleisure.com/worldsbest.

All 500 properties are featured in the January issue of Travel + Leisure and on www.travelandleisure.com/tl500.

Santa Fe celebrates 400th anniversary

SANTA FE, N.M. - Santa Fe is celebrating its 400th anniversary in 2010.

The commemoration continues through all of the new year with arts, entertainment, festivals and food and wine events.

Santa Fe is the oldest capital city in North America. Spanish colonialists claimed New Mexico in the 1500s, and the capital of the territory was moved to Santa Fe in 1610. Santa Fe's Palace of the Governors was made from adobe in the early 17th century and served as Spain's government headquarters for the region.

Santa Fe describes the Palace of the Governors as the oldest public building in the U.S.; today it houses a library and history exhibits. A market for Native American vendors has been held facing the building's plaza for centuries.

Other noteworthy sites in Santa Fe, both historic and modern, include the Cathedral Basilica of St. Francis of Assisi, which was dedicated in 1887; Loretto Chapel, built in the 1870s; the New Mexico Museum of Art; the Georgia O'Keeffe Museum; and Museum Hill, where you'll find four museums on a plaza, the Museum of Spanish Colonial Art, the Museum of Indian Arts and Culture, the Museum of International Folk Art, and the Wheelwright Museum of the American Indian.

The Railyard, an old part of Santa Fe, has recently been revitalized with a park, a farmers market, art galleries, restaurants and shops.

For more information about Santa Fe and the 400th anniversary, visit www.santafe400th.com.

Blue Ridge Parkway's 75th anniversary

RICHMOND, Va. - The 2010 Virginia is For Lovers Travel Guide showcases the Blue Ridge Parkway's 75th anniversary.

The guide includes information on sites along the parkway and the best places to visit.

Other highlights include Civil War sites and museums, wineries, and special events and festivals.

The free guide is available at www.Virginia.org or by calling 800-847-4882.

Those interested in learning more about the Blue Ridge Parkway anniversary can also check out www.blueridgeparkway75.org. Events are planned throughout the year, from conferences to concerts.

The parkway was constructed as part of President Franklin Roosevelt's New Deal during the Great Depression, and is considered to have been the first national rural parkway to be developed specifically for leisure road trips, with campgrounds, picnic areas, overlooks and other amenities along the way. The 469-mile road connects Shenandoah National Park with the Great Smoky Mountains National Park in North Carolina.

Trends for 2010 from the travel gurus

The travel gurus are reading their crystal balls for the new year, and here are some of their predictions.

From Travelocity.com's Genevieve Shaw Brown:

- Airfares are going up, but hotel rates are going down.

- Resorts in popular destinations dependent on air travelers - Caribbean, Hawaii - will be particularly good values.

- All-inclusive resorts will gain popularity with budget-conscious travelers.

- Booking early is the best way to get the lowest airfare. Capacity cuts means airlines have more pricing power than 2009.

- Vacation packages will be the best overall value. Hotels are not keen to lower their standalone rates, but will do so as part of a package. Travelers who bundle flight and hotel will save the most.

From Hotwire.com's Clem Bason:

- Travel sales will remain flat; travel deals will continue to improve.

- Hotel prices will continue to drop. Deal-hunters should watch markets such as Las Vegas, Miami, Los Angeles and San Francisco, where Hotwire expects unsold inventory could be sold at up to 55 percent off.

- Air prices will stay flat, as capacity cuts offset the slow recovery in business travel, leading to price stability.

- Car rental prices will be high, with few deals and some sold-out locations. Use less-expensive brands such as Payless or Advantage and rent from off-airport locations to save money.

- Get savings from vacation packages, with discounted deals online.

- Price differences between five- and four-star hotels will get smaller.

From JWT (J. Walter Thompson):

- Look for more airlines offering annual subscriptions for checked luggage, like United's $249 yearly fee.

- Travel marketers may target folks who've lost their jobs but have some money tucked away, by pitching adventures that will help them re-evaluate their lives.

- You've heard of staycations; what do you think of haycations? These are interactive farm stays where city-dwellers gather their own eggs, make cheese and even learn to butcher an animal.

- Airlines will move closer to using plant-based bio-fuels in commercial jets.

- Business travelers will start bundling several short trips into one longer trip with several stops, to save time and money.

Conde Nast Traveler's tips for port calls

The price you pay to book a cruise is only part of the cost of your trip if you plan on taking any shore excursions.

In the January issue of Conde Nast Traveler magazine, consumer news editor Wendy Perrin offers tips for getting the most out of your port calls and land tours.

First, if you are set on visiting one particular sight or city, book your cruise to begin, end or overnight in that port. Otherwise you risk missing out, as cruises can cancel port calls for all kinds of reasons, from weather to workers' strikes in the host country.

Second, plan ahead for how you'll spend your time in port. The ship concierge will try to sell you the cruise line's tours, and those are going to be expensive, so research your excursion options before you get on the boat. Check out tourism Web sites for any local events the day you'll be there, and visit Web sites specializing in day-trips, like ShoreTrips.com and Viator.com. Check museum Web sites for exhibitions and hours.

Finally, don't forget to figure in travel time from the ship to your land destinations, and the costs of local transportation. Is it a 10-minute taxi ride or a two-hour bus ride? The cruise line should be able to tell you.

Weigh public transit options too - they may be faster and cheaper than alternatives, though renting a car or hiring a cab for a half-day can be a good option too. If everybody on the ship is likely to be headed to the same famous landmark, look into hiring a private car and driver in advance, and compare the cost to what it would be if you took the ship's bus tour.

Details at http://www.concierge.com/cntraveler/articles/502233.

News for Vermont snowboarders

MONTPELIER, Vt. - The Vermont Ski Areas Association has launched a new blog dedicated to the Vermont snowboarding scene, RideVermont.com.

It's a sister site to SkiVermont.com, and it will report on the Vermont's snowboarding community, including events, news, weather, resort reviews, riding tips, terrain park photos and videos, powder reports and interviews.

The Web site also has a Twitter feed at www.twitter.com/ridevermont and a fan page on Facebook at www.facebook.com/ridevermont.

Jim Henson's world of puppetry exhibit

JACKSON, Miss. - The kooky, fanged creatures drawn on the wall of the new exhibit in Mississippi let visitors know they're about to enter a world of magic created by master puppeteer Jim Henson.

The characters are part of the exhibition, "Jim Henson's Fantastic World," which has begun its run at the Mississippi Museum of Art. The exhibit brings many of the late creator's popular characters - like Kermit the Frog and Bert and Ernie from "Sesame Street" - back to the place where he was born.

Henson died at age 53 in 1990 after pioneering puppetry for television and film. His childhood was spent in the Mississippi Delta town of Leland, where he would chase frogs along Deer Creek as he developed a lifelong love of nature.

The galleries are full of hand-drawn pencil sketches of fantasy creatures. One shows an early rendering of Big Bird with far fewer feathers on his head than appear in current "Sesame Street" episodes. Next to it, Henson sketched a man inside the bird costume with an arm extended to control the beak.

The exhibition includes an interactive theater that gives kids a chance to show off their puppetry skills.

The show costs $12 for adults and $6 for children aged 6 and up.

After Jackson, the exhibit moves on to the National Heritage Museum in Lexington, Mass. in April; Fresno Metropolitan Museum in Fresno, Calif., in July and the Museum of Science and Industry in Chicago. It's already been to eight other locations.

Much of Henson's collection will have a permanent home at the Center for Puppetry Arts in Atlanta. The center announced in 2007 that it will become the definitive Henson museum with between 500 and 700 Henson pieces in a wing named for the beloved puppeteer as part of a new building set to open in 2012.

- Compiled by The Associated Press

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