Sunny, affordable escapes for winter


(Photo: Panama City, FL via Shutterstock)


In winter, there are two types of people: those who are cold and those who are warm. Claim your spot in the second camp without draining the vacation coffers.

These 10 sunny destinations offer warm days and cheap deals. So go ahead, ditch the mittens and hop a plane to hotter climes.

Panama City Beach, Fla.

Let Panama City Beach soothe your winter woes with its white-sand beaches, emerald water, and an annual average of 320 days of sunshine. Throughout January, Osprey on the Gulf and Driftwood Lodge (both highly rated by TripAdvisor users) have a special rate of $50 per night. Through April, one-bedroom condo units at participating Sterling Resorts start at $36 per night, with added perks like yoga classes on the beach and fishing excursions.
ReadmoreSunny, affordable escapes for winter

Snowboarding losing popularity, while skiing heats up


Interest in snowboarding seems be cooling, while skiing is gaining in popularity. (Photo: Stockbyte)

Is snowboarding no longer cool? A recent article from The New York Times explains that the sport is "sputtering in the United States."

The numbers in the article paint a stark picture for the extreme sport. This isn't just anecdotal evidence. According to Nate Fristoe, who monitors winter-sport trends, the number of days that snowboarders go to resorts has fallen from 7.6 days a year 15 years ago to around 6.1 days per year today. Skiing, on the other hand (or foot?), has remained at around 5.5 days per year for the past few years.

There isn't one reason behind snowboarding's apparent face plant. The Times writes that a large factor is the age of the participants. When the sport became all the rage in the '90s, the paper writes, many original snowboarders were in their mid-teens. An early 2000s article from ABC News reported that snowboarding was the country's fastest growing sport three out of five years, from 1996 to 2000, thanks in large to young snowboarders.

Not anymore. Now, nearly 20 years later, those guys and gals are older with more responsibilities like jobs and families and less time to spend on the slopes.

Also a problem, according to the Times: Fewer people are learning to snowboard. "In the 2003-4 season more than 42 percent of all beginners on the slopes ages 14 and younger started out on a snowboard. The percentage has steadily fallen since then, last season dropping to about 34 percent, according to the ski areas association."

Fristoe puts it like so:

Snowboarding lost some of its mojo around 2005, 2006, and we've been running on fumes since then. …It's like any kind of trend: It's full of all sorts of energy ... until it isn't.

A 2004 article from CNN echoes Fristoe's sentiments. Back then, snowboarding was on an epic upswing. Participation in the sport surged 300 percent from 1988 to 2004.

Yahoo!'s search data doesn't go to the early days of snowboarding (we're not that old), however, we can look at snowboarding search trends from the past several years. Whether coincidence or not, the searches on "snowboarding" have tumbled steadily since 2010. Meanwhile, Yahoo! searches for "skiing" have remained relatively constant over the past several winters.

According to a piece from the Los Angeles Times, skiing and snowboarding have switched places. While snowboarding is fading, skiing is gaining ground. "Sales of snowboards and snowboard equipment have slipped 21% over the last four years, while sales of skis have climbed 3% in the same period, according to SnowSports Industries America." Part of that is due to new ski designs that make skiing easier to pick up and enjoy.

Of course, snowboarding is more than just a fad. It's in no danger of going the way of the pet rock or leg warmer. But the numbers are serious enough for industry experts to take notice and fight back. The Times explains that some resorts are installing benches at the top of chairlifts so snowboarders won't have to roll around in the snow while they fasten their boots. And Burton, the world's largest snowboard manufacturer, has developed new boards especially for young kids.

Gotta get 'em while they're young, before they're gone for good.
ReadmoreSnowboarding losing popularity, while skiing heats up

World's coolest futuristic buildings

Zooming around with jet packs and living in rocket-shaped buildings seemed our destiny during the space-age-obsessed 1950s and '60s. With civilian space travel now nearly a reality, how do today's starry-eyed architects see the future?

Well, it turns out a survey of morphing city skylines reveals abstract structures inspired by nature or cultural symbols and engineered to reach higher, glow brighter, curve, and swoop.

These futuristic buildings are not only visually arresting, they offer novel solutions to the challenges that lie ahead, such as harvesting water from clouds and creating high-rise rooftop forests. They also give us a glimpse of what our future holds—for the moment, at least. If only someone could get to work on those jet packs.



(Photo: Nic Lehoux)


Tjuvholmen Icon Building, Oslo

Renzo Piano designed this arts and culture center, which debuted in 2012 along a disused harbor southwest of Oslo’s city center. Bridges link three buildings—a museum, office space, and culture center—across canals formed from reclaimed land, and a sculpture park gently slopes toward the sea.

The entire project is developed along a new promenade that starts at Aker Brygge and ends on the sea at a floating dock, providing unbroken visual contact with the water. It looks, from above, like a docked spaceship, with a curved roof that dips down to meet the parklands.


(Photo: Fernando Guerra I FG + SG)
Palazzo Lombardia, Milan 


Milan's Garibaldi-Repubblica district got an infusion of 21st-century cool when this ecofriendly curvilinear office tower was completed in 2011. Designed by Pei Cobb Freed & Partners, the 525-foot-high building connects light-filled office space with outdoor areas.

The largest of the public spaces, Piazza Città di Lombardia, is covered by a roof composed of transparent “pillows” made from ETFE film (a fluorine based plastic), while other high tech/environmentally sensitive features include green roofs, active climate walls—two layers of separated glass containing rotating vertical blades to provide shade while maximizing transparency—and a geothermal heating system.

(Photo: Mark Knight Photography)Perot Museum of Nature and Science, Dallas

Opened in December 2012, this 180,000-square-foot facility, designed by Pritzker Prize-winning architect Thom Mayne, is itself a feat of scientific ingenuity. His firm Morphosis Architects set a goal of creating an attractive urban environment that also adheres to green principles.

Hence features like a 54-foot, continuous-flow escalator contained in a glass-enclosed, tube-like structure that extends outside the building—along with landscaping (courtesy of Talley Associates) that includes a roofscape planted with drought-tolerant species, an interactive water feature, and a “Leap Frog Forest” of glowing amphibians.

(Photo: Hufton + Crow)Galaxy Soho Building, Beijing

Given China’s reputation for bold and speedy construction, it’s no surprise that 2012 marked the arrival of this cool new building in the capital city of Beijing. Designed by Iraqi-British architect Zaha Hadid—the first woman to be awarded the Pritzker Prize—this 18-story office, retail, and entertainment complex consists of four domed structures connected by bridges and platforms, crafted from aluminum, stone, glass and stainless steel. Inspired by nature, the flowing lines and organic forms create a lusciously harmonious effect.

(Photo: Courtesy of Siemens AG, Munich/Berlin) 

The Crystal, London

This dynamic, low-rise glass building—touted as one of the world’s greenest at its 2012 unveiling—hosts the largest exhibition on urban sustainability. Set in the Royal Victoria Docks, the heart of London's new Green Enterprise District, the building is inspired by crystalline forms, a reference both to “a multi-faceted urban world” and the Crystal Palace built for London's Great Exhibition in 1851, which showcased the latest technology from the Industrial Revolution. The Crystal’s present-day innovations include rainwater harvesting, black water treatment, solar heating, and charging stations for electric cars.

(Photo: David Kukin)Burj Khalifa, Dubai

The world’s tallest building opened in early 2010 and remains one of the most talked-about structures. Why? Not only is the Burj Khalifa the world’s tallest building (2,716.5 feet), it’s also the tallest free-standing structure, with the highest number of stories, the highest occupied floor, the highest outdoor observation deck, and an elevator with the longest travel distance in the world.

Then there’s the show-stopping architecture: a tower comprising three elements arranged around a central core, inspired by the spider lily and courtesy of Skidmore, Owings & Merrill with consulting designer Adrian Smith. A Y-shaped floor plan shows off views of the Persian Gulf, and when seen from above, the building echoes the onion dome motif prevalent in Islamic architecture.

(Photo: Iwan Baan)Ordos Museum, China

The copper-toned metal exterior and undulating shape of the Ordos Museum reflect the surrounding Gobi Desert of Inner Mongolia. It’s the brainchild of the Beijing-based architectural firm MAD, known for fluid designs and imaginative urban solutions. The company intended the large-scale museum as “the irregular nucleus” for Ordos, a newly developed town that, as of 2011, already has its first architectural icon.  

(Photo: Courtesy of BIG/Glessner) 
W57 Pyramid, New York City

Bjarke Ingels, head architect at the Danish firm BIG, has taken on his first North American project: W57 Pyramid, a 600-unit residential building between 10th and 11th avenues. Changing according to the vantage point, it appears as a kind of squashed pyramid from the West Side Highway side, and as a slender spire from West 58th Street. The high-rise is designed around an outdoor green space, and each apartment has natural daylight. Or as Ingels puts it: “The building is conceived as a crossbreed between the Copenhagen courtyard and the New York skyscraper—the communal intimacy of the central urban oasis meets the efficiency, density, and panoramic views of the tall tower in a new hybrid typology.”

Launch Date: 2015

(Photo: Courtesy of Ateliers Jean Nouvel & Artefactory)The National Museum of Qatar, Doha

Qataris have high hopes for their tiny nation-state’s future as a cultural destination, with the National Museum of Qatar as its crown jewel. The original museum opened in 1975 in a restored palace built by Sheikh Abdullah bin Jassim Al-Thani; French architect Jean Nouvel is giving it a makeover inspired by the surrounding desert rose (crystallized sand that forms just below the desert surface). The series of buildings will consist of intersecting discs resembling petals, all clad with glass fiber-reinforced concrete panels, an effect both starkly geometric and lyrical.

Launch Date: 2014

(Photo: Courtesy of MAURO TURIN ARCHITECTES)Wine Museum, Lavaux, Switzerland

For sheer audacity, nothing beats these plans for a monument to the Lavaux wine-making region. Swiss firm Mauro Turin Architectes envisions cantilevering the museum from the side of a mountain overlooking the historic vineyards (some of which date back to the 11th century)—a feat of engineering those ancient vintners would surely never have imagined. Visitors will walk along a glass and steel walkway jutting from a rock in the mountainside, with glass sides creating unbroken views over the vineyards and out to Lake Geneva.

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Memorable places to propose


Bungee-jumping in Queenstown, Australia, is a thrilling way to propose. (Photo: Rolf_52/Shutterstock)

When it comes to choosing the perfect place to pop The Question, aspiring grooms and ambitious brides certainly have their work cut out for them. Take a romantic stroll on the beach at sunset or fly high in a hot air balloon over the African savanna at sunrise? Canoodle at a trendy restaurant or ditch your dinner reservation to steal away to an exotic destination? Keep your life savings intact for the wedding or reserve a room at an ultra-romantic hotel to win her love?

Don't fret: We're here to help. We've compiled a list of enchanting and memorable (but not cliché) places that are sure to win over your soon-to-be spouse. Just don't forget the ring!

Queenstown, New Zealand

If your beloved is a thrill-seeker, what better way to profess your love than taking a leap of faith and bungee jumping off of Kawarau Bridge in Queenstown, New Zealand? Or if your counterpart's adventurous and looking to reach new heights, venture to the Skyline Gondola and admire breathtaking vantage points from Bob's Peak before getting your adrenaline pumping with a 2,624-foot luge ride back to ground level. Once you've caught your breath, steal away to Onsen Hot Pools to soothe your aching muscles or retreat to Chard Farm Winery to savor bold Pinots, Rieslings, and Chardonnays. You'll be able to check many an item off your (and your love's) bucket list, and you're sure to earn a nod of approval for your creative proposal location.
ReadmoreMemorable places to propose

World's most romantic islands


Bora Bora was voted the most romantic island in the world. (Photo: Thinkstock.com)


Bora-Bora seduces couples with visions of overwater bungalows above a turquoise lagoon, coralreefs, and (at the St. Regis) a romance concierge (duties have included spelling “Marry Me” in coconut husks on the beach).

The Tahitian island has certainly captured the hearts of Travel + Leisure readers, who voted Bora-Bora the No. 1 island for romance in our annual World’s Best Awards survey. Spin the globe, and you’re bound to land by one of the top romantic islands. From the Mediterranean to the Indian Ocean, they share the powerful ingredient of fantasy. There’s nothing like escaping to an island with your loved one to bring out starry eyes in the most jaded traveler.

Discover the getaway escape that’s right for you two castaways among these top islands for romance.

No. 1 Bora-Bora, French Polynesia

What could be more seductive than an overwater bungalow above a turquoise lagoon? That’s the essence of Bora Bora, a geographically blessed sliver of French Polynesia. At its heart lies the jagged peak of Mount Otemanu; on its fringes, tiny motus (islets) and a coral reef with a swirl of colorful marine life.
Room to Book: Villas 103 to 110 at the St. Regis Bora Bora Resort have private decks with whirlpools and outdoor showers. — Frances Hibbard
 
(Photo: Adam Eastland / Alamy)
No. 2 Capri, Italy

Known for its limestone cliffs and waterfront villas, this four-square-mile speck in the Tyrrhenian Sea fully embraces the concept of la dolce vita. (For proof, look to the afternoon crowds stretched out on the rocks and sipping Prosecco at the glamorous La Fontelina beach club.) A funicular railway whisks visitors from the main port to the boutique-lined streets of Capri town; privacy-seekers keep heading upward by foot or bus to the quieter village of Anacapri. There, stroll through the gardens of the 19th-century Villa San Michele (villasanmichele.eu) with only ivy-covered statues for company. —Shivani Vora

 
(Photo: Jessica Sample)
No. 3 Santorini, Greece

If there were ever a place that could get by on its looks, it would be Santorini. Whitewashed cave houses framed by bougainvillea and backed by blue-domed churches spill down the rim of an ancient volcanic crater; at sunset, the Sea of Crete is bathed in a rosy glow. Yet as compelling as the scenery may be, Santorini’s true appeal lies in its wealth of diversions—extraordinary wines, black (or red or white) beaches, and archaeological sites from the prehistoric era. —Eleni N. Gage


 
(Photo: Peter Frank Edwards)
No. 4 Kauai, Hawaii

It’s the oldest of Hawaii’s eight main islands—and arguably the most dramatic, with scenery that ranges from wind-eroded mountains and red-walled canyons to primeval rainforest and photo-ready waterfalls. Don’t miss a six-hour hike with Chuck Blay of Kauai Nature Tours (teok.com); you’ll learn the myths of every fruit and flower along the way. —Laurel Delp







 
(Photo: Mario Babiera / Alamy)
No. 5 Boracay, Philippines

Once a backpacking haven with only the most basic accommodations, this five-mile-long island now rivals better-known Asian destinations such as Phuket and Koh Samui, Thailand. A 45-minute flight from Manila brings you to either Kalibo or Caticlan, where boats connect directly to White Beach, whose powdery sand may just be the softest in the world. —Ron Gluckman





 
(Photo: Stuart Westmorland / Corbis)
No. 6 Maldives

This remote Indian Ocean archipelago greets travelers with white-sand beaches, atolls, and secluded high-end resorts that lure honeymooners and celebrities. The world’s lowest-lying nation has a close union with the sea: where else would you find a hotel with a coral nursery and an underwater nightclub? That would be Niyama Maldives, a Per Aquum Resort (peraquum.com). It has a restaurant reachable by boat only.


 
(Photo: Courtesy of Travaasa Destinations)
No. 7 Maui

Peel back the tropical-paradise façade of this Hawaiian island to reveal a rich variety of landscapes: the otherworldly summit of the volcanic crater Haleakala; the sugarcane fields and farms like O’o Farm; and the 1900s cowboy town of Makawao, with horses trotting down the back roads. For the ultimate tucked-away-ness, the eastern town of Hana at the edge of a rainforest is like falling back in time—and after a day out exploring, you two can retreat to luxe Travaasa Hana Maui, a special place that emphasizes the culture and tradition of Hawaii, from the indigenous patterns used in textiles to ukulele and hula lessons.

 
(Photo: Stephen Frink / Corbis)
No. 8 Moorea, Tahiti

The less-visited sister island of Bora-Bora offers an intoxicating blend of rugged jungle interior, blue lagoons, and scents of tiare, pamplemousse, and vanilla that swirl in the air. It’s believed that author James Michener’s Bali Hai in Tales of the South Pacific was inspired by the island. To get the lay of the land, drive up Magic Mountain, and you’ll see Opunohu and Cook’s bays sparkle below. The Tahitians are typically friendly and open—and can point you to the wild, coconut-strewn beach where Mutiny on the Bounty was filmed.


 
(Photo: Thomas R. Fletcher / Alamy)
No. 9 Vieques, Puerto Rico

The secret is definitely out about Vieques, which promises the key ingredients for romance, among them, a slew of pristine coves and beaches and a languid pace. Portions of the island are designated a National Wildlife refuge—protecting sea turtles, lagoons, and mangroves—and the island’s famous bioluminescent bay is filled with microscopic organisms that flash bright blue and illuminate the water. The eco mind-set here carries through at the intimate Hix Island House, which opened its solar-powered six-room Casa Solaris in the past year, built by Canadian-born architect John Hix.


 
(Photo: David Noton Photography / Alamy)
No. 10 Bali

Bali’s been at the apex of the romance circuit for decades, if not centuries, with couples drawn to the mist-shrouded temples, mountainous landscapes, Balinese art, and world-famous friendliness of the locals. The island got a recent boost (as if it needed it) from the success of Eat, Pray, Love, whose film crew chose the white-sand Padang-Padang beach as backdrop. Just a short drive away from here is the new Le Méridien Bali Jimbaran, with a saltwater lagoon pool.

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ReadmoreWorld's most romantic islands