Why you should go: Don’t let the name fool you; Isla Grande is an intimate, gorgeous Caribbean island just a 45-minute boat ride from Cartagena, full of exceedingly friendly locals and all the hallmarks of a tiny paradise. You’ve got your idyllic beaches, your lagoons of bioluminescent plankton that turn the water bright blue, your fresh seafood and multiple options for diving and canoeing. The chance to visit such a place is probably why you bother to earn money in the first place. - Daniel Cole, Thrillist contributor
Using a website like Hotels.com or TripAdvisor, set your minimum guest rating level high (start with four stars and above) and be open to hotels at any star rating. Once you’ve eliminated all but the highest-reviewed hotels, sort by price from low to high. As long as the hotels on the list have a reasonable number of reviews – around 100 or more – it’s a fair bet that the hotel makes the best of whatever amenities they have.
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Why: Manaus in the north of Brazil is a short flight from Miami and provides multiple economical options in one. It is a top destination for adventure travel or a sedate wildlife and photography sojourn or a serious eco-tour. Although it's a city of 1 million inhabitants, Manaus is mainly famous as the gateway to the Amazon rain forest. Comfortable, modern hotels like the Caesar Business Hotel start at $63 year round. Aside from visits upriver in the rainforest, Manaus offers sites ranging from the local Amazon tributary, the Rio Negro and the fabled Renaissance-style Manaus Opera House/Amazon Theatre. For an up-close look at wildlife, including endangered species, there is a free, small zoo at the Hotel Tropical. A biologist heads up this state-certified rescue center that has elusive deep-rainforest species, from jaguars to the lovable 120-pound capybaras. The Bosque da Ciencia (Science Center) is a popular open-air wildlife park just outside the city of Manaus. Local species roam freely in front of strolling tourists. Day-trip options include short visits to the rain forest as well as the Presidente Figueiredo Waterfalls and Gruta do Refugio do Maroaga, a cave filled with marine life and bats. Traveling in the rainy season provides an even better value, and the weather is no hindrance to boating and spotting a wide array of tropical birds, pink dolphins and a feisty piranha or two.
Cleveland: For art lovers, Cleveland is a delight. This modern, vibrant city has more than its fair share of world-class museums, galleries and theatres. Cleveland Museum of Art, located in Fine Arts Garden north of the Wade Lagoon, has more than 30,000 priceless art pieces. Cleveland Cultural Gardens, created by University of Cleveland students, features living, blooming exhibitions of world cultures and history. Cleveland’s Museum of Contemporary Art showcases modern local artists in a range of permanent and temporary exhibits. Check the program of the Cleveland Orchestra, one of the world’s most renowned institutions of its kind. There is always something going on at Playhouse Square, among the country’s biggest and best performing arts centers. There is also The Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and Museum, which is dedicated to archiving the history of music and those artists who have influenced it. If all this art becomes a bit too heavy, sit on the bench in the University Circle, a green square mile in the center of Cleveland, where everything that happens in the city intersects. It is the beating heart of Cleveland.

Coastline beaches are going to be more expensive than beaches along the Gulf. The water might look a little different, but when you’re coming from a landlocked area, a beach is a beach. Staying in a two-bedroom beach condo in Miami could cost you upwards of $100 more per night in comparison to the same accommodations in Galveston, Texas. Plus, those beaches will have less expensive hotels and cheaper food and activities.


What to do: Crystal Cruises, the first cruise company to complete the entire Northwest Passage, has several options for experiencing Alaska’s glaciers. For example, its Glacier & Gold Cruise visits the Inside Passage where it parallels the tallest coastal mountains in the world. On port days, kids can learn about the historic Gold Rush in the once-booming frontier town of Skagway or do optional excursions like dogsledding or taking a floatplane to go fishing in a remote inlet. Of course, it’s also nice to just relax on the Crystal Symphony or Crystal Serenity and use their spotting scopes to look for humpback whales, get crafty in the Fantasia children’ playrooms or hit up the all-you-can-eat Scoops Ice Cream Bars.
Charlotte’s Carowinds, a combination amusement park and waterpark, is a big hit with families. Weekdays offer shorter lines than weekends, and themed events are scheduled near year’s end. Young park-goers will discover mini-rides just for them, while teens will be thrilled with the likes of Intimidator and Fury 325. The park offers free water at multiple stations, but parents consistently recommend purchasing cups with free refills for the day. Count on $20 for parking, and budget extra for food, or consider at least one combo ticket, which includes food throughout the day.
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