Five last-minute Labor Day hotel deals

If you’re like me, you haven’t booked a Labor Day weekend getaway just yet because to do so is to admit that summer is coming to a close. Luckily for us procrastinators and autumn deniers, there are a number of hotels that count on luring in last-minute stragglers with deep discounts on room rates and packages. Let’s take a spin around sites like Google Hotel Finder, Expedia, Travelzoo, and others to see what sweet hotel deals are on offer for Labor Day weekend 2011.Mission Inn
Riverside, CA

This historic inn-turned-resort and spa an hour east of Los Angeles has hosted presidents and celebrities and been the setting for books and films during its 125 years of operation. The Labor Day weekend deal at the Mission Inn starts at $169 per night (minimum two-night stay) and includes complimentary valet parking, dinner for two (with margaritas!), and a $25.00 resort gift card, which you can put towards a spa treatment at Kelly’s Spa or more margaritas.

Stoweflake Mountain Resort and Spa
Stowe, VT

It is neither peak New England foliage viewing time nor ski season, which makes finding a deal at a ski lodge in Vermont pretty easy. The Stoweflake, which has an on-site nine-hole golf course, walking trails, and a spa, caught our eye on Google’s Hotel Finder because its room rates for Labor Day weekend are listing at 35% less than the typical rates. Rates for rooms start at $160 or you can rent one of the resort’s town houses starting at $239 for a studio townhouse and $399 for a two-bedroom townhouse. As for margaritas, I’m sure they can shake up a few. But its Stoweflake’s 3,000-bottle wine cellar that’s worth checking out here.

Wigwam Resort
Litchfield Park, AZ

A vision in the Sonoran Desert just west of Phoenix, the 80-year-old Wigwam does the Southwest to ridiculous excess with golf, tennis, and pools with water slides. Labor Day weekend room rates at the Wigwam Resort start at approximately $79 per night. The hotel is also offering a “pick your perk” program, which includes half-price tennis clinics, $25 greens fees, and a few other deals. To get the perk, you must use the code “ENDOFSUM” when booking on the resort’s website. Did I mention that the Wigwam has tequila tastings? Having a wide variety of tequilas with which to make margaritas is essential to holiday weekend imbibing.

Biltmore Hotel
Miami, FL

You know where you can get a kick-ass margarita? Miami*. And where better to stay in Miami than the beautiful Biltmore Hotel? Through September via Travelzoo, you can get a junior suite at the Biltmore for $149 per night, a 60% discount from the typical price of $369.
*Okay, sticklers. I know the hotel is technically in Coral Gables. But have you checked out the pool, once the largest swimming pool in the world? More importantly, have you seen the outrageous caviar spread for Sunday champagne brunch? It’s $75 a head, but think of all the cash you’re saving on your hotel room!

Tropicana Las Vegas
Las Vegas, NV

For less than the price of Biltmore brunch, you can stay at the famed Tropicana Las Vegas, a touch of South Beach on the strip that received an extensive renovation in 2010. Labor Day weekend rates at the Tropicana Las Vegas start at $65 per night, which means you’ll have more money in your pocket for slots and roulette. And, don’t you worry about those margaritas. As long as you’re gaming at the Tropicana’s Las Vegas Casino, the margaritas are free. What’s that, croupier? I lost again?!

Maybe we should just stay home.

Labor Day island getaways from Wanderfly

Labor Day is fast approaching along with the official end of summer. If you haven’t had enough sun yet, maybe it’s time for one more weekend of lying on the beach, fruity cocktail and fun book in hand? We asked our friends at, a web travel tool that helps you choose a vacation spot, for some Labor Day island getaways offering deals for the long weekend.

Domestic: Hilton Head Island, South Carolina
Hilton Head is a 45-minute drive from Savannah, Georgia (one of our favorite romantic destinations), with miles of public Atlantic beaches, dolphin cruises, and renowned golf courses. Not bringing your private yacht? ResortQuest will pay for your gas ($150 credit card) on Labor Day stays of 3 nights or more, plus free tennis and discounted golf.

Caribbean: St. Thomas, U.S. Virgin Islands
Feeling decisive? If you can book by tomorrow, you can save 35% on stays at Bolongo Bay Beach Resort in St. Thomas. They’ll also throw in a free sunset sail and cocktails at their beach bar. Summer is the low season for most Caribbean islands, but a tropical weekend knows no season. Check out more of Wanderfly’s picks for St. Thomas here.

Europe: Iceland
So Iceland might not be known for sandy beaches or fruity cocktails, but relaxing in the geothermal waters of the Blue Lagoon works pretty well too. Iceland Air is offering a free stopover in Iceland on flights booked to European cities such as Stockholm and Amsterdam. Just have time for one destination? Reykjavik is only about 5 hours from the East Coast with direct flights from New York, Boston, Washington D.C., and Orlando, as well as Minneapolis and Seattle.

If you’ve had enough sun, Wanderfly has plenty of other travel ideas. Visit their site and tell them what you’re looking for (with interests from art to extreme adventure) and how much you want to spend and they’ll give you personalized recommendations. Stay tuned for more Labor Day travel ideas on Gadling.

Hilton Head Island photo courtesy Flickr user Lee Coursey.

In Praise of Staying Home on Labor Day Weekend

Labor Day weekend. It’s the last hurrah of summer. Soon, it’s back to school or back to work, and in the northern hemisphere the planet tilts away from the sun as we move into fall. It’s tempting to book one more plane ticket, squeeze in one more overnight hike, one more weekend road trip. After Labor Day weekend, it’s closed toe shoes and alarm clocks and carpools and behaving like a grown up again.

Don’t give into the hype. Labor Day isn’t the last weekend ever, there’s no need to act like it. And there are a number of good reasons to stick close to home. Let’s break it down.

Campgrounds are packed. Oh, you wanted to get away from it all, but now, you’re in a parking lot of RVs and listless teenagers and that guy who won’t turn down the Bryan Adams. Sure, you might be able to snap up a last minute campsite, but if you’re going camping with everyone else, you might as well stay in town.

Traffic is a disaster. According to the National Safety Council, Labor Day weekend ranks fifth for the most dangerous driving day in the US. In addition to the dangers of sharing the road with sunburned, hungover, dehydrated lunatics, you’ll share the road with thousands of perfectly sober and sun-screened drivers, all trying to make it home for a good night’s sleep before school or work the next day. You don’t really want to spend 12 out of your 72 free hours in gridlock, do you?

Labor Day hotel rates are inflated. A random search revealed a difference of 50-75 dollars less for rooms in San Francisco on the weekend after Labor Day. Manhattan rates? About 100 dollars less a night for the weekend after Labor Day. Don’t take my word for it, try it yourself.

There are top notch festivals in your back yard. Seattle has Bumbershoot, four days of headline music acts, art, literature… Brooklyn has the West Indian American Day Parade & Carnival with incredible food and costumes. Sure, it’s about West Indies pride, but everyone is welcome. Check your local events site or paper; there’s something fantastic happening near you. Don’t dismiss those small town events, often, they’re an opportunity to fall in love with your home town all over again.

Your local friends and family want to see you. When did you last have everyone over for dinner? When did you go for a picnic in the park by your house? Spring was crappy, and then, you were away and they were away… It’s time you got your tribe together for grilling and shandy and making up stories about what’s next. You’re all off work; take advantage of it.

It’s a great time to take a break. Travel is fantastic, but it would be a lie to say it’s always easy and relaxing. Why not take the long weekend to just wind down? The end of summer is the perfect time to swing in the hammock and mentally write that “What I did on my summer vacation” report. Stock the cooler, park the car, and give yourself three days to just chill.

The weather is great and beer is on sale. ’nuff said.

Photo via Flickr user Myki Roventine.

Top ten Labor Day destinations compiled by Hotwire

Travelers looking to make Labor Day reservations are fast approaching a crossroads – should they book now and hope for cheaper fares (particularly with advance reservation discounts and lower air prices outside of the 14-day window) or wait and see if a last-minute deal arises?

If you’re considering a variety of cities for your last hurrah of summer, Hotwire has compiled some interesting data on the top ten cities (based on room rates) booked by customers for the September 1 – 6 window.

Thankfully, all of the most-booked destinations have affordable hotel options, with the average prices in most cases well under the $200 mark.

These destinations are:
1. New York, NY, $195
2. Boston, MA, $129
3. Chicago, IL, $90
4. Las Vegas, NV, $95
5. San Francisco, CA, $135
6. Toronto, ON, Canada, $93
7. Vancouver, BC, Canada, $116
8. San Diego, CA, $94
9. Dallas-Fort Worth, TX, $59
10. Washington, D.C., $89

Where will you be traveling this Labor Day? Or are you sticking close to home?

[Flickr via Leo Newball]

Weekending: Sofia

Since moving to Istanbul, I’ve gotten the chance to travel to a lot of interesting destinations, from Beirut to Bosnia, that are much easier and cheaper to access from Turkey than America. For my first long (more than a weekend) trip, I went to Bulgaria for a week over US Labor Day and Turkish bayram (end of Ramadan holidays). Over the week, I traveled from the capital city Sofia to medieval hill town Veliko Tarnovo to Black Sea coastal Varna, and will explore the different flavors of each region in future posts.

The place: Sofia, Bulgaria
Travel writer (and Bulgaria fan) Robert Reid notes in his Lonely Planet Bulgaria guide that visitors to Sofia should not expect the “new Prague.” While Sofia may never compare to the Czech Republic capital in terms of the sheer number of historic buildings and monuments, you may discover a taste of Old Europe with the modern nightlife and budget prices that made Prague so popular in the past two decades. After the fall of Communism 21 years ago, Bulgaria developed steadily enough to join the European Union in 2007 (albeit as its poorest country), and hopes to join the Schengen visa zone next year. It’s now being touted as a destination for adventure and budget travelers with a small but growing amount of foreign visitors discovering its many pleasures.


  • One of the major pluses for Sofia (and even more so in more rural parts of Bulgaria) is the price tag. Dinner for two can be had with a nice bottle of local wine for less than $20. High-end hotels that would cost hundreds of dollars in other European cities rarely top 100 Euros and many comfortable options can be found around 50 to 60 Euros (a Rick Steves tour group was staying at my hotel, the lovely but reasonable Arena di Serdica). Many of Sofia’s best sights are free, including the landmark Aleksander Nevski church (check out this link for photos of the beautiful interior, as cameras aren’t allowed inside and the postcard selection is lacking) and the daily markets are great to browse – try Aleksander Nevski Plaza for antiques of questionable province, Zhenski Pazar for Chernobyl-sized produce, and Slaveykov Square for books in various languages. Bulgarian beers and wine are generally 2-4 leva (under $3) and a generously-poured cocktail is only a few leva more.
  • Along with cheap drinks comes a fun, creative nightlife scene. While sipping wine in the candlelit converted barn bar Hambara, I wondered why New York doesn’t have cool spaces like that (answer: probably breaking a lot of building codes). Apartment (just down the road from Hambera on Neofit Rilski) is another well-known spot for travelers, expats, and locals, set in an old house with different rooms for different vibes. If you’re looking for something a bit more glam, Planet Bar de Luxe is delightfully over-the-top with purple tutu-clad waitresses and a gift-shop in the bathroom (and I thought Sarajevo had the best bar bathroom). Soviet-era dormitories have been converted into a hotbed of nightclubs and bars. Creativity isn’t just limited to the nighttime – great collections of art are housed in the National Gallery and the well-curated Sofia City Gallery, along with interesting graffiti and small galleries around town.


  • Sofia’s vices and nightlife may not be for everyone. After five months in a country where alcohol is heavily taxed, low-priced and tasty wine is a big thrill for me, but not everyone has “cheap alcohol” on their vacation must-have list. Vegetarians may soon grow bored with pizzas (practically one of Bulgaria’s national foods, eaten with ketchup and mayo by locals – try at your own risk) and salads in Bulgaria include meat and cheese almost as a rule. Like in much of Eastern Europe, smoking is legal in most public places and quite widespread; a recent ban was overturned and replaced with a law barring underage from bars.
  • While the city center is easy to explore with plenty to do, it is small and once you leave the center, the abundance of Communist-era architecture may be less than charming. You can choose to embrace it and marvel at the seemed-like-a-good-idea-at-a-time Soviet monuments like the poorly-covered up Monument to the Bulgarian State or the huge National Palace of Culture (NDK) eyesore. If you’ve had enough urban adventure, Mount Vitosha towers over the city with outdoor activities year round.

Getting there

Small but serviceable Sofia Airport is served by flights all over Europe, including low-cost carriers Wizz Air and easyJet. Bulgaria also has excellent bus connections throughout the Balkans and Eastern Europe, with a clean and convenient bus station not far from the city center. Read on below for other destination ideas in Bulgaria.

Make it a week

There are multiple day and side trip opportunities near Sofia including Rila Monastery, one of Bulgaria’s best and most famous monasteries; the tiny wine town Melnik; and ancient Plovdiv. You can also hop a bus to venture into the Central Balkans or out to the Black Sea for beach time, as I did. Stay tuned for more on Bulgaria travel.

Read my previous Weekending trips from Istanbul here.