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Texas: San Antonio Riverwalk Skyline (Photos: Thinkstock/Jupiterimages)

Just one story beneath the hustle and bustle of San Antonio, the Riverwalk utilizes the banks of the San Antonio River to create a lively public park. Open year-round, the stone pathways that make up the Riverwalk feature boutique shops (planners for the area have made a point to encourage local businesses over mega-chains), restaurants, hotels, and museums.

Stroll alongside the San Antonio River on two parallel sidewalks that will eventually encompass 13 miles by the time the Riverwalk is completed. You'll go under bridges and past historic Spanish Colonial missions and architecture. Tired of walking? Rent one of the city's bikes through the Hubway cycle share program, or hop on a river taxi. ...read more»

Bear in captivity. (Photo: Thinkstock/iStockphoto)

On the first day of Christmas, customs gave to me ... a partridge on a plane? From birds in boxes to drugs in dreadlocks, criminals tried and failed spectacularly at smuggling pretty much everything you can imagine through customs this year. We were inspired by the Customs and Border Protection's recent press release of the top 10 seizures of 2011 to round up our own list of the best of the worst smuggling attempts of the year. 

  • 55 Turtles in Cookie Boxes: You'd be better off trying your luck with the in-flight snack than trying to smuggle 55 live turtles in cookie boxes aboard a plane. U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) officers seized the reptiles from passengers who were traveling from Japan. Suprisingly, the turtles survived their trip wrapped in cloth and shoved into cookie boxes. 
  • A Bear: We'd imagine it would cost you more in overweight luggage fees than a bear is worth. Anti-trafficking officers in Thailand got the cutest surprise when they opened a passenger's bags to find a menagerie of smuggled animals inside, including a bear, two panthers, two leopards, and two monkeys. (The animals were all very young, and small.)
  • Cheerleaders: It sounds like the plot of a made-for-TV movie, but a 28-year old man recently plead guilty to smuggling 16 Colombians dressed as cheerleaders into South Florida. The fake cheerleading team was foiled at Miami international airport, where they were pretending to be entering the country to participate in a Florida cheerleading competition.
  • ...read more»
US Airways aircraft tail close up (Photo: US Airways)

Last week, US Airways announced several changes to Dividend Miles, all of which take effect next year.

New Upgrade Prices, Co-Pays

The most potentially troubling of the changes affects the price of mileage upgrades.

Starting February 15, 2012, non-elite Dividend Miles members will be assessed cash co-payments in addition to miles when upgrading on US Airways flights. The new co-payments range from $25 to $150 each way, depending on the flight distance and the route. (US Airways already charges a $300 co-payment in addition to 30,000 miles for upgrades on Europe and South America flights, and 40,000 miles for upgrades on Middle East flights.)...read more»

Christmas at Wells (Photo: Thinkstock/iStockphoto)

In Europe, "Christmas" lasts much longer than a day. The season stretches well over a month—not to extend the shopping season, but to fit in the many holy days and festivities.

First comes Advent, beginning four Sundays before Christmas Eve. Next up is the Feast of St. Nicholas, celebrated mostly in Catholic countries on December 6.

For many Europeans, the season's main event is Christmas Eve, celebrated with Midnight Mass and a grand meal. Others focus more on Christmas Day and gift-giving. The "Twelve Days of Christmas" stretch from December 25 until January 6, which is Epiphany, the day the Three Kings delivered their gifts. Then the season goes into hibernation until next year.

While there are many great European Christmas traditions, here are a few of my favorites from three countries—Norway, France, and England....read more»

Tanzania: Kilimanjaro Giraffe (Photo: Thinkstock/Digital Vision)

Calling it a walk or a stroll in the park would definitely be understating it, but Mount Kilimanjaro is the highest walkable mountain in the world. To reach the very top, Uhuru Peak, you'll need five or six nights, good physical condition, experienced guides, determination, and luck, but you won't need climbing ropes. Don't underestimate the climb, though—multiple people die attempting the trek up the mountain every year. And of the thousands who attempt the hike every year, only around 30 percent actually reach the summit. Those who do need to be prepared to face altitude sickness and low temperature on the body.

...read more»

Christmas presents (Photo: iStockPhoto.com)

Following is our regular summary of the best frequent traveler promotions reviewed during the past week.

If it was a good deal—or a notably bad deal—from an airline, hotel, or car rental loyalty program, you can read all about it here, and plan your travel accordingly....read more»

Pandas (Photo: Thinkstock/Hemera)

Seeing pandas behind bars at the zoo or on the Nature Channel just isn't cutting it anymore—you need to hug a live baby panda. Your dreams can come true at the Bifengxia Panda Base in China.

The base has plenty of pandas, including some familiar faces (pandas from zoos in D.C. and San Diego have been relocated there). Even more pandas were moved there in 2008, following the earthquake in Sichuan which damaged the panda facility there. You can sign up for a volunteer stay at the base, helping staffers do general maintenance tasks like cleaning or food preparation, or visit for a day, and get your picture snapped snuggling a panda. ...read more»

Photo: PhotoDisc

When you fly anywhere for the holidays, you don't want to add airport parking to the many unavoidable worries of seasonal travel. Fortunately, you can make sure you won't have to face any "parking lot filled" signs: Either reserve a place at an off-airport parking service or arrange for holiday parking at a nearby airport hotel.

If you just want to lock in your parking spot, several online sites allow you to reserve and prepay for parking at private, off-airport parking sites that you find close to most big U.S. airports. Rates at airport-area lots almost always include frequent or on-demand shuttle service to/from the airport terminal(s) for departures and arrivals. Some offer such options as valet parking, indoor parking, washing/detailing, or even mechanical servicing for your car while you're on your trip. Off-airport lots generally claim they offer lower rates than on-airport long-term lots, but that's not always the case; you have to check. Even with no price advantage, however, off-airport lots reserve space in advance, which is not available at many on-airport lots. Here's my current list of sites where you can book and pay for offsite airport parking...read more»

Beach: Overlooking the Sea (Photo: Thinkstock/iStockphoto)

From the Bahamas to Orlando, this week's sales got us itching to book a warm weather winter getaway. Here are the top five hotel or vacation package deals we uncovered this week!

1. Turn Your Sob Story into a Sweet Stay: $12 Hotel Giveaway

Bah, humbug! Twelve lucky Scrooges will win the chance to book a $100 hotel room at the Custom Hotel for just $12 per night.

2. 30% Off Hotels, 75% Off Cruises Worldwide: Expedia

Need a vacation? Expedia's Winter Warm-Up Sale is offering up to 30 percent savings on select hotels and packages, plus up to 75 percent off cruises. Hot destinations in Europe, the Caribbean, the U.S., and more are all discounted!...read more»

What Is It: Shelves to Go! Packable shelves designed to fit in your suitcase and hang at your hotel.

Price and Where to Buy: $29.95 to $39.95 at SkyMall or Amazon.

Pros: No need to worry about unpacking at your destination, just lift the shelves out and hang them up in your hotel room's closet. Your clothes will remain folded, unwrinkled, and safe from bedbugs and general hotel room grime.  

Cons: If your suitcase isn't bigger than 18" x 12" or 20" x 12", this product is not for you, as it would be impossible to fold the shelves to fit into a smaller suitcase. Especially when full of packed clothing, the shelves are going to take up the majority of room in your suitcase. This is probably not for light-packers or carry-on only travelers, for whom every inch of space is important. Finally, at around $30, this product doesn't feel that well made. Within two minutes of taking the shelves out of the package in my test scenario, the grips at the end of the Shelves to Go's hooks popped off. ...read more»

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