Surviving Spring Break Madness In Washington, DC

crowded hotelWhile American college kids bake in the sun, pound tequila shooters and do things they hope won’t end up on YouTube in Cancun, South Padre Island and other venues for Spring Break debauchery, their younger siblings all seem to be on class or family trips to Washington, D.C. I’ve visited D.C. many times over the years and lived there on three separate occasions. But until this week, I’ve mostly managed to avoid the hordes of tourists that descend on the place during the Cherry Blossom/School Spring Break season.

I’ve always been an off-season or shoulder-season traveler but now that my kids are in school, I don’t always have the flexibility to travel when the prices are low and the crowds are sparse. When my kids have a break from school, our choice is to: A) hire a babysitter so we can continue to get work done (expensive and hard to do for just one week), B) stay at home and go stir crazy, or C) bite the bullet and travel despite the higher prices and crowds that are inevitable during school breaks.My wife needed to visit D.C. on business, so I had two and a half days in D.C. with my little boys, ages 3 and 5, this week, when hundreds, perhaps thousands of grammar and high schools around the country are on their spring holiday. The city was absolutely crawling with school groups and families on vacation.

I thought that we lucked out when I bid for a 3.5-star hotel on Priceline and got a luxury chain hotel downtown that had rave reviews from customers on Trip Advisor (4.5-star average from more than 800 reviews) for $105 per night. But even the best hotels fall apart when they are jam-packed and this place was a circus. If you didn’t shower by 7 a.m., there was no hot water. Wi-Fi, which cost $9.99 per day, was ridiculously slow, no doubt due to the volume of traffic. And the breakfast lines were unlike anything I’ve experienced at any hotel in my decades of traveling the world.

museum of african artThe place was so overrun and dysfunctional that I actually felt bad for the employees who had to absorb all of the customer complaints. They were clearly sick and tired of the guests’ complaints and were getting creative in their responses. A woman from Georgia whom I commiserated with in the breakfast line told me that a front desk agent suggested she use the pool, when she complained about the lack of hot water in the room.

I wasn’t brave enough to bring my kids into the Air & Space Museum, the National Zoo, the Cherry Blossom Festival, or the Museum of Natural History (they’ve been to these places before) but I saw how crowded they were and was thankful my kids are too young to insist. Instead, we focused on some of D.C.’s less visited museums, like the Freer and Sackler Galleries, The National Museum of the American Indian and the National Museum of African Art (all are manageable and are highly recommended). We also went to a couple higher profile museums, like the National Gallery of Art, but made a point of getting there at 10 a.m., right when they opened to beat the crowds.

If you’re visiting the free Smithsonian museums on the weekend or during school holiday periods, plan out your strategy carefully. Visit the most popular museums right when they open (usually 10 a.m.) or after 4 p.m. and use the peak hours, around 11:30-3:30 to visit the more off-the-beaten-track attractions. If you aren’t sure what the most popular museums are, have a look at Trip Advisor and take note of how many reviews the place has. The museums with 1,000 reviews are more are the ones you have to be worried about.

cupcakesThe other minefield is trying to have lunch near the museums during peak hours. Packing a lunch is a great idea but if you can’t be bothered, try to eat by 11:30, or after 2 p.m. The cafeteria at the Smithsonian Museum of American History has excellent food, including good BBQ, sandwiches, craft beers and a lot more, along with high prices, but you do not want to try to eat there or at any other popular lunch spot near noon or 1 p.m.

D.C. in the spring is a peculiar brew. You see armies of guys in dark business suits, badges swinging from their necks, marching around dodging strollers and school kids. But despite the crowds, D.C. is still better in the spring, when the weather is mild, than in the summer, when the humidity is brutal. Just get up nice and early, you’ll be sure to have hot water and you’ll be hungry for lunch before the crowds are.

[Photo credits: Dave Seminara]

5 Spring Break Trips That Don’t Require Boozing In Mexico

Neon colored fruity cocktails consumed poolside with college students and bad house music in the background not really your thing? Spring break can be a lot of things, and it doesn’t have to fit the classic stereotype of sunburned jocks taking tequila shots in Cabo.

Spring is that perfect time of year when it’s not quite summer but the weather’s nicer so you can take full advantage of the great outdoors while still avoiding the larger crowds of tourists. If you’re willing to invest a little time in adventure planning, you can get some serious payoff. This is the time of camping and road trips after all.

So start packing your tent and down sleeping bag and get ready to explore. And although you might not be boozing at Senor Frogs, feel free to bring a flask of high-quality whiskey. It’s perfect around a campfire.

Explore Red Rock Country, Southwestern Utah

Some of my best spring break trips have been spent in southwestern Utah. This is the hotspot of mountain biking, canyoneering and just good old-fashioned exploring. If your mountain biking legs are itching to get out, you can’t do any better than the White Rim Trail. Arches National Park is always busy no matter what time of year, so either be sure to reserve your campsite in advance or opt for the less frequented Canyonlands; Squaw Flat Campground in the Needles District is easy to access from Moab, but is far enough out that you’ll definitely feel off the grid. You’ll freeze at night, but during the day you’ll get dessert spring heat and low crowds. Be sure to bring ample down and wool for when the sun sets.

Hike in Yosemite National Park, California

One of the most iconic and most visited National Parks in the US, you should do whatever you can to avoid Yosemite National Park in the peak of summer. Springtime, however? Have at it. Because you are at elevation, you will need to pack layers, and you’ll need to be ok with the potential of waking up to snow on the ground, but you’ll have a beautiful park with a touch more peace and quiet than most people see it in. Take a day hike to explore a small part of the John Muir Trail.

Highway 101 Road Trip, Oregon and California

It might not be warm enough to do the Pacific Coast Highway in a convertible, but a drive down the coast of Oregon and California in springtime is a beautiful thing. There are plenty of state parks along the way, which are much less crowded this time of year, and you’ll pass through enough cities that you can log in some urban adventures.

Bike in Yellowstone National Park, Montana

In the summer you can barely see a buffalo without a tourist and a camera right next to it, and cycling within the National Park would be near suicide, but in the early spring when the roads are plowed and the crowds have yet to arrive en masse, cycling is an excellent way to explore Yellowstone. It’s still a time of year when you are subject to the desires of the weather gods, so you will want to check with the local park service which roads are open.

A Hut-to-Hut Trip at Mount Rainier, Washington

Cross country skiing and snowshoe in the Mount Tahoma Trails Association‘s hut and yurt system. The trail system lies just outside of Mount Rainier National Park, and includes two cabins and a yurt for overnights. You’ll want to be sure to check availability online, and weather can quickly change your winter adventure into more of a muddy hike, but the views of Mount Rainier from High Hut are stunning and certainly worth it.

[Photo Credits: Anna Brones]

Cochon 555 Pork Competition Turns Five, Kicks Off February 17 In Atlanta

baconMuch ado about pork products is made on Gadling, with good reason. Even if you’re sick to death of pork-centric eateries, and lardo this and sausage that, it’s hard to deny the allure of the other white meat (I can’t tell you how many vegetarians and vegans I know who still have a jones for bacon).

For those of you wanting to attend the ultimate porkapalooza, get your tickets for Cochon 555, a traveling, “National Culinary Competition & Tasting Event Dedicated to Heritage Pigs, Family Wineries & Sustainable Farming.”

The 10-city tour kicks off February 17 in Atlanta, and will include stops in New York; Boston; Chicago; Washington, DC; Miami; Vail; Seattle; San Francisco; and Los Angeles, before culminating in the dramatic Grand Cochon at the FOOD & WINE Classic in Aspen on June 16. Notice that Colorado gets two Cochon visits? The South isn’t the only place that appreciates pork.

Cochon was created by Taste Network’s Brady Lowe to raise awareness about, and encourage the sustainable farming of heritage-breed pigs. At each destination, five celebrated local chefs must prepare a nose-to-tail menu using one, 200-pound, family-raised heritage breed of pig. Twenty judges and 400 guests help decide the winning chef. The 10 finalists will then compete at the Grand Cochon for the ultimate title of “King or Queen of Porc.”

Depending upon venue, attendees can also expect tasty treats like Heritage BBQ; butchery demonstrations; mezcal, bourbon, whiskey and rye tastings; specialty cheese sampling, cocktail competitions; a Perfect Manhattan Bar, raffles, and killer after-parties.

For additional details and tickets, click here. Partial proceeds benefit charities and family farms nationwide.

[Photo credit: Flickr user out of ideas]

Events Worth Planning A Trip Around In 2013

Have you ever landed in a place to find out you arrived just after the town’s can’t-miss event of the year? Well, hopefully that won’t happen again this year. Gadling bloggers racked their brains to make sure our readers don’t overlook the best parties to be had throughout the world in 2013. Below are more than 60 music festivals, cultural events, pilgrimages and celebrations you should consider adding to your travel calendar this year – trust us, we’ve been there.

Above image: Throughout Asia, Lunar New Year is celebrated with lantern festivals, the most spectacular of which is possibly Pingxi. [Photo credit: Creative Commons]

Kumbh Mela, a 55-day festival in India, is expected to draw more than 100 million people in 2013. [Photo credit: Creative Commons]

January
January 7–27: Sundance Film Festival (Park City, Utah)
January 10–February 26: Kumbh Mela (Allahabad, India)
January 21: Presidential Inauguration (Washington, DC)
January 26–February 12: Carnival of Venice (Venice, Italy)
January 26–February 13: Battle of the Oranges (Ivrea, Italy)
During Busójárás in Hungary, visitors can expect folk music, masquerading, parades and dancing. [Photo credit: Creative Commons]
February
February 3: Super Bowl XLVII (New Orleans, Louisiana)
February 5–11: Sapporo Snow Festival (Sapporo, Japan)
February 7–12: Busójárás (Mohács, Hungary)
February 10: Chinese New Year/Tet (Worldwide)
February 9–12: Rio Carnival (Rio de Janeiro, Brazil)
February 12: Mardi Gras (Worldwide)
February 14: Pingxi Lantern Festival (Taipei, Taiwan)
February 24: Lunar New Year (Worldwide)


Several cities in India and Nepal increase tourist volume during Holi, when people enjoy spring’s vibrant colors. [Photo credit: Creative Commons]
March
March 1-14: Omizutori (Nara, Japan)
March 8–17: South by Southwest (Austin, Texas)
March 20–April 14: Cherry Blossom Festival (Washington, DC)
March 27: Holi (Worldwide, especially India & Nepal)


Many Dutch people wear orange – the national color – and sell their secondhand items in a “free market” during Koninginnendag, a national holiday in the Netherlands. [Photo credit: Creative Commons]
April
April 12–14 & April 19–21: Coachella (Indio, California)
April 11-14: Masters Golf Tournament (Augusta, Georgia)
April 13–15: Songkran Water Festival (Thailand)
April 17–28: TriBeCa Film Festival (New York, New York)
April 25–28: 5Point Film Festival (Carbondale, Colorado)
April 30: Koninginnendag or Queen’s Day (Netherlands)


Up to 50 men work together to carry their church’s patron saint around the main square in Cusco, Peru during Corpus Christi. [Photo credit: Blogger Libby Zay]
May
May 4: Kentucky Derby (Louisville, Kentucky)
May 15–16: Festival de Cannes (Cannes, France)
May 20: Corpus Christi (Worldwide)
May 23–26: Art Basel (Hong Kong)
May 24–27: Mountainfilm Film Festival (Telluride, Colorado)
May 25-28: Sasquatch Festival (Quincy, Washington)
May 26: Indianapolis 500 (Speedway, Indiana)

2013 marks the 100th anniversary for the Tour de France. [Photo credit: Creative Commons]

June
June 13–16: Bonnaroo (Manchester, Tennessee)
June 13–16: Art Basel (Basel, Switzerland)
June 14–16: Food & Wine Classic (Aspen, Colorado)
June 21: St. John’s Night (Poznan, Poland)
June 24: Inti Raymi (Cusco, Peru)
June 28–30: Comfest (Columbus, Ohio)
June 29–July 21: Tour de France (France)

The annual observance of Ramadan is regarded as one of the Five Pillars of Islam. Visit Istanbul, Turkey, at this time and see a festival-like atmosphere when pious Muslims break their fasts with lively iftar feasts at night. [Photo credit: Creative Commons]
July
July 6–14: San Fermin Festival (Pamplona, Spain)
July 9–August 2: Ramadan (Worldwide)
July 12–14: Pitchfork (Chicago, Illinois)
July 17: Gion Festival Parade (Kyoto, Japan)
July 18–21: International Comic Con (San Diego, California)
July 19–22: Artscape (Baltimore, Maryland)
July 24–28: Fete de Bayonne (Bayonne, France)

Festival-goers get their picture taken at a photo booth during Foo Fest, an arts and culture festival held annually in Providence, Rhode Island. [Photo credit: Flickr user AS220]
August
August 2–4: Lollapalooza (Chicago, Illinois)
August 10: Foo Fest (Providence, Rhode Island)
August 26–September 2: Burning Man (Black Rock Desert, Nevada)
August 31–September 2: Bumbershoot (Seattle, Washington)


More than six million people head to Munich, Germany, for beer-related festivities during the 16-day Oktoberfest. [Photo credit: Creative Commons]
September
September 5–15: Toronto International Film Festival (Toronto, Canada)
September 13–15: Telluride Blues & Brews Festival (Telluride, Colorado)
September 21–October 6: Oktoberfest (Munich, Germany)

Around 750 hot air balloons are launched during the nine-day Albuquerque International Balloon Fiesta. [Photo credit: Flickr user Randy Pertiet]

October
October 4–6 & 11–13: Austin City Limits (Austin, Texas)
October 5–13: Albuquerque International Balloon Fiesta (Albuquerque, New Mexico)
October 10–14: United States Sailboat Show (Annapolis, Maryland)


During Dia de los Muertos (Day of the Dead), family and friends get together to remember loved ones they have lost. Although practiced throughout Mexico, many festivals take place in the United States, such as this festival at La Villita in San Antonio, Texas. [Photo credit: Blogger Libby Zay]
November
November 1–2: Dia de los Muertos (Worldwide, especially Mexico)
November 3: Diwali (Worldwide)
November 8–10: Fun Fun Fun Fest (Austin, Texas)
November 11: Cologne Carnival (Cologne, Germany)
November 28: Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade (New York, New York)
TBA: Punkin Chunkin (Long Neck, Delaware)

The colorful holiday of Junkanoo is the most elaborate festivals of the Bahamian islands. [Photo credit: Flickr user MissChatter]
December
December 2–3: Chichibu Yomatsuri (Chichibu City, Japan)
December 5–8: Art Basel (Miami, Florida)
December 26–January 1: Junkanoo (Bahamas)

So, what did we miss? Let us know what travel-worthy events you’re thinking about journeying to in the coming year in the comments below.

Move Over, Starbucks: Marriott Offers Workspace On Demand

renaissance dupont circle flexible workspaceAttempting to pierce the burgeoning flexible work and meeting space market, Marriott has launched a new program called Workspace on Demand, currently at more than 30 hotels, primarily in Washington, D.C., and San Francisco but also at select locations in Atlanta, Houston and St. Louis.

Here, workers can reserve meeting spaces, lobby seating areas and communal tables to enjoy an afternoon of meetings or a quick catch-up between colleagues.

This may be an untapped opportunity for the hotel market – Marriott is the first we’ve seen to both publicly advertise lobby space to non-guests and to charge for its use. According to research firm IDC, the number of mobile workers – those without a fixed office space – will increase to nearly 1.2 billion globally this year.

“Younger workers are changing the work dynamic. They are mobile and global, living lives untethered to the traditional work environment, and we are evolving with them,” said Paul Cahill, senior vice president, Brand Management, Marriott Hotels & Resorts in a release.

Workers can book these spaces through an app/website collaboration with LiquidSpace, which already offers flexible work spaces on a limited term basis.

We tried to book a meeting space for Washington, D.C., and found the system simple to use, if the work spaces themselves a bit sparse in selection. We could reserve a communal table for eight at the Renaissance in Dupont Circle for $38.50 per hour or $150 for a half-day. The venue was closed for today, but available for Monday, Jan. 14.

It seems like it’s worth a shot if you need a set amount of space for an important meeting, but we might just consider a flexible office space’s conference room where we’re guaranteed peace and quiet, or the option of taking our chances in the hotel lobby.

What do you think? Will you try out the service?

[Image Credit: Renaissance Dupont Circle]