Link Roundup: Consolidation of websites, airfare deals, best travel rewards cards

Lots of interesting stories out there pertaining to travel trends today. Here are some of the best ones:

Budget-Minded Travelers Have to Look Harder for Deals: The heyday of travel deal websites might be coming to an end with the recent merger of Orbitz and Expedia and other consolidations. What does this mean for consumers?

7 Travel Rewards Cards to Deliver You From this Frozen Hellscape: The moral of the story, according to the article’s author? Travel cards are best for frequent fliers AND those near hubs.

6 New Travel Startups Receiving Funding: New weekly feature outlining travel startups that have received funding for expansion. List included B2B and consumer-centric apps and websites.

Weekly Southwest deals: About $200 RT from Indy to Dallas, less than $175 Indy to DC (nonstop), $146 from Indy to ATL. Deals from to/from other cities also on website.

Travelzoo Weekly Top 20 Travel & Entertainment Deals: From airfare, to hotels and attractions, this list changes each Wednesday and has loads of deals throughout the U.S. and world.

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In the Mood for Love

Garfield Park was in the mood for love this past weekend.

Garfield Park was in the mood for love this past weekend.

Caitlyn and I aren’t ones much for going out on Valentine’s Day to celebrate—we can be plenty romantic without paying for a high-priced meal at a crowded restaurant with stressed-out Cassanovas.

But we did find one event on the Interwebs recently that sounded pretty cool: Indy parks’ Garfield Park Conservatory, which is about a mile or two south of us, was hosting “Sweets for Your Sweetie,” where, for a cool $15/couple, you could walk around the conservatory at night and sample foods and drinks made from plants like the ones right before you. Educational AND tasty? Count us in!

Ginger snaps for the discriminating palette.

Ginger snaps and chai spiced tea for the discriminating palette.

At first, we were nervous: It was crazy crowded but, as people actually got into the conservatory, the crowd thinned out, going in different directions and restoring some of the intimacy to the night. Dried mango, chocolate (from cacao pods, of course) in varying percentages of darkness, ginger snaps and coconut cashews were just some of the many treats on hand in front of their namesake plants. Visitors could even score some free locally made bubblegum in Chicklet-sized form.

Vanna White ... er ... Caitlyn showing off the bounty.

Vanna White … er … Caitlyn showing off the bounty.

With twinkle lights strewn about the plants and romantic music on the speakers (there was a hiccup where Martina McBride’s “Valentine” played on loop for the first 10 or so minutes, but things got better after that), Indy Parks clearly put some thought into this event.

Stopping for a pic by the grotto.

Stopping for a pic by the grotto.

What’s better is that it hopefully got people into a building they might not have normally stepped foot in; it worked for us! We’re looking forward to going back to check out the plants and small collection of lizards and spiders in the daytime (admission is only a buck). If the weather’s decent, we also recommend taking a stroll in the beautiful sunken gardens, one of Indy’s great landscaping gems.

Learn more about Garfield Park on its website.

D.C. on a Dime

I really just want to sit in one of those orb chairs at our hotel.

I really just want to sit in one of those orb chairs at our hotel. (Photo: kimptonhotels.com)

We had big plans for a vacation this year: It was possibly going to be the last big vacation we went on before “Operation Baby” commenced. A cruise? Possibly. Crazy West Coast adventure? Maybe. Trip to Australia? If we became rich overnight, sure.

But then the furnace broke. And the pipes started leaking. And we still wanted to build a backyard garden and chicken coop. The Frankfort House needs a new roof (which we new was coming). We want to invest in Caitlyn’s Up North jewelry business. With our luck, the car will probably break down next.

You know, all those “adult things.”

So it was time for a 180—where could we go that would still be fun, be longer than an overnight trip and not break the bank? After much searching, it came down to Las Vegas or Washington, D.C. Caitlyn’s never been to Vegas, but we both have friends in the D.C. area that we haven’t seen in ages, so the hotbed of politics won this round.

Her’s how you can visit D.C. without dropping so many Benjamins, especially when all you’ve got are Washingtons:

Airfare

Non-stop, round-trip from Indianapolis International Airport (IND) to Ronald Reagan International Airport (DCA) is as cheap as $168 per person through Southwest. We had to shell out a wee bit more ($178/person), but it sure beats Vegas airfare, which is neither nonstop nor cheap.

"Karma, karma, karma, karma, karma kimpton re-warrrrds."

“Karma, karma, karma, karma, karma kimpton re-warrrrds.”

Lodging

Faithful readers of this blog will know I’m a big proponent of the HotwirePriceline “mystery hotel” method of lodging. So long as you book a 3.5-star or above, you’ll never be disappointed. Well, I broke that rule this time.

Caitlyn and I recently stayed at a Kimpton hotel in Chicago and loved the decor, ambiance and location. It also seems like every time I research a vacation for us, I wind up back at a Kimpton hotel: They’re stylish, modern and most have free wine hours during the evenings (if you’re into the sort of thing).

We wanted a hotel with a good location and a pool, and Kimpton has a couple boutique hotels that meet that criteria in DC. Plus, if you sign up for Kimpton Karma, the hotelier’s loyalty program, you get a 20% off coupon good for your first trip.

With the coupon, we were able to snag a king-sized bed for $176/night, plus tax. For four nights, it came to about $800. Just a couple of blocks from Dupont Circle, the hotel looks swanky and we’re excited to check it out. Another perk of the loyalty program? You get a free $10 voucher to spend at the bar or on the minibar in your room.

Stuff to do

It’s Washington, D.C.! That means all those museums are (for the most part) free! We did splurge and bought a couple of tickets to see the Scottish Ballet’s rendition of A Streetcar Named Desire at the Kennedy Center. It’s been a long time since I’ve read the play, so methinks the misses and I will need to rent the movie in advance to make sure we know what’s going on once all the prancing about stage begins.

In all, we’re anticipating the entire trip—airfare, parking at the airport, lodging, stuff to do, food, dog/cat-sitting, spending money, etc.—will come to somewhere around $2,100-$2,300. If I can snag some Groupons to some tasty veg-friendly restaurants, then maybe cheaper.

Stay tuned for updates this summer about how the trip goes!

What do you like to do in DC that is affordable and fun?

REVIEW: The Giver at the IRT

The IRT is one of our favorite theatres in Indy.

The IRT is one of our favorite theatres in Indy.

After reading the book as a child and seeing the movie just last year, I was excited to see Lois Lowry’s Newberry Medal-winning YA novel The Giver was coming to the Indiana Repertory Theatre.

The story is about a future society where daily medications essentially render citizens without any capacity to recognize or make decisions, even simple ones like recognizing colors. However, there is one man, “The Giver,” who has been entrusted with all the memories and abilities of humans in this pre-dystopian society, and is responsible for training his successor by transferring these experiences to young Jonas. The idea is that The Giver serves as counsel to the Elders and that all these memories are contained in one person so society never has to feel, decide or truly ever see again.

That’s a pretty complicated task to translate to the stage, and I’m afraid that unless you’ve read the book or seen the movie, you might find the IRT’s rendition a bit difficult to follow. The somewhat sparse set and props reminded me of my ninth grade play, Thorton Wilder’s Our Town, which required the audience to have great imagination and the theater department have no budget, as the actors mimed most everything.

Our first trip to the "Upperstage."

Our first trip to the “Upperstage.”

It’s worth noting the IRT production is on the Upperstage, which is not the larger, street-level venue probably more familiar with theatergoers. While cozy and intimate, the stage is simple and, upon first glance, impressive with its files of knowledge protruding from the back wall.

But to keep up with what’s going on, you better be paying attention. That reddish-orange light? That’s Jonas experiencing a sunset for the first time. That blue light? It’s the cold. Granted, the production crew sprinkles in audio cues (like a sled “wooshing” down a hill or tranquil ocean waves), but it seems like the book just doesn’t translate well to the stage. Again, part of that is the stage. With no set changes, the audience has to use its imagination in some scenes, and while I’m not an opponent of using ones imagination, I fear this show might not be for everybody. It probably didn’t help that we saw the phenomenal Good People at the IRT just a couple of weeks ago.

At 90 minutes, the play is certainly on the shorter side and the actors themselves and costumes are commendable, but they’re working with material that is probably best left for the book or movie. The show continues through March 1.

Review – American Spirits: The Rise and Fall of Prohibition

Nothing says "Welcome to the state museum!" like spelling out the state you're in in giant letters.

Nothing says “Welcome to the state museum!” like spelling out the state you’re in in giant letters.

Neither Caitlyn nor I have ever been drinkers. Sure, I might have the occasional vodka and Coke, but I’m pretty sure there are more new moons in the year than alcoholic drinks in my body.

That said, the concept of Prohibition has always fascinated me. It’s not just the shoot ‘em up gangsters of the era that are so captivating, but the movement’s origins (religion and exponentially increasing drinking rates—even among children) and downfall (lack of enforcement, the need for a large tax base) that made Prohibition such as a great social experiment.

The coolest part of the exhibit is this carnival-like machine.

The coolest part of the exhibit is this carnival-like machine.

We’re lucky in that the Indiana State Museum has its “American Spirits: The Rise and Fall of Prohibition” exhibit on display through Feb. 15. The exhibit, made possible by the National Constitution Center in Philadelphia, does an excellent job of introducing visitors to the key players—and illegal trafficking—behind the movement through a mix of multimedia displays.

Chief among those displays is “Wayne Wheeler’s Amazing Amendment Machine.” This “machine”—which follows the attorney-turned-ardent prohibitionist’s playbook—shows you how to create the 18th Amendment through a device that looks better suited in an old-timey carnival. Between the lights and moving parts, it’s a bit of sensory overload, but interesting nonetheless.

Take note, ladies.

Take note, ladies.

Visiting with a little (or big, I suppose) gangster? They can get their picture taken among a lineup of cutouts of famous criminals, including “Scarface” himself. And don’t forget to check out some of the lesser-known artifacts, like Kool-Aide (it had the “e” back then), which was created as a sweet alternative to alcohol during Prohibition; and Budweiser’s “malt syrup,” which, once one added water and yeast to it, could have home brew in no time. The best part? Malt syrup was perfectly legal to buy during Prohibition … as were water and yeast.

The 18th—and, perhaps, least popular— Amendment.

The 18th—and, perhaps, least popular—modern Amendment.

Admission to the museum is $13 for adults and $8.50 for kids and includes tickets to the American Spirits exhibit. The museum, located along Washington Street, just south of the IUPUI campus, is also home to an IMAX theater and a two-story gift shop full of all sorts of Hoosier-themed memorabilia and treats.

The 21st—and, perhaps—most popular modern amendment.

The 21st—and, perhaps, most popular—modern Amendment.

Dining Review: Mimi Blue Meatballs

After sitting through a surprisingly invigorating class about raising backyard chickens, Caitlyn and I took advantage of the Colts-obsessed town and headed over to the new Mimi Blue Meatballs on Mass Ave.

Sure, the Colts-Patriots playoff game was on the TV in the bar, but there weren’t many people in this upscale meatball restaurant (guessing meatballs and Colts don’t go together quite as well as chicken wings and brats). Feeling under-dressed and like I just came from a class on raising chickens, the two of us sat down in the mostly empty restaurant.

You’re probably asking why two vegetarians went to a restaurant that sells meatballs. Well, they happen to have a veggie meatball and our standby, Yats, was closed across the street. With hunger overwhelming the both of us, Mimi’s it was.

The way it works is you pick a type of meatball (veggie, traditional beef & sausage, turkey, etc.) and then some sauce (marina, garlic cream, spicy cilantro, and so on) and you get a hunk of bread to go with your three balls. For a few extra bucks, you can add a side: Caitlyn opted for the fresh veggies, while I stuck to polenta. You could also order up some mac & queso, mashed potatoes or brussel sprouts (among others).

We were both floored by not only the flavor, but the texture of the veggie meatballs. Crispy on the outside, with the perfect level of moistness on the inside, the three balls—along with the garlic cream—were filling enough. The veggies had a light lemony taste and the polenta was rich and creamy.

Our waitress was nice enough to let us try a side cup of the spicy cilantro, just to see if we could stomach it. We both determined we could stomach it, but not for three veggie meatballs – it’d be a bit much. Then again, I’m also a lightweight when it comes to spicy stuff.

Before you say anything: I know—this is probably the first post on this blog without pictures (especially of a dining review). But understand that it’s because the veggie balls were so good, we didn’t even have time to snap a pic or two!

Who knew “meatballs” could be so classy and tasty?

IND gets more nonstop flights

Hooray for Hollywood (and Southwest)!

Hooray for Hollywood (and Southwest)!

I’ve long had a love-hate relationship with Indianapolis International Airport. I love that I almost never have to wait to get through security because the TSA agents seem so efficient. I hate that I can’t take a nonstop fight to almost anywhere I want to go (or, if I can, it’s difficult to find a nonstop flight at a good time).

Thankfully, IND is stepping up its game lately, with Southwest offering nonstop service to Boston and Los Angeles starting this summer and budget-friendly Allegiant Air adding nonstop to Fort Lauderdale starting this April. Allegiant is also adding flights to Vegas, New Orleans and Florida’s St. Petersburg, Orlando and Punta Gorda starting next month.

I’m a little excited about the Vegas flights and less so about the Florida flights, but it’s great to see more airlines finally adding routes — and nonstops! — out of Indy.

Now only if we could get some more international flights …

Travel News Round-up, Travel Hack Edition

Dundas Square, Toronto's answer to NYC's Times Square. Toronto is one of the "hot" destinations in 2015.

Dundas Square, Toronto’s answer to NYC’s Times Square. Toronto is one of the “hot” destinations in 2015.

2015 is all but a week old, but there are already some great pieces out there on how to maximize your traveling experience. Below is a link round-up of some stories that piqued my interest.

Our Top 6 Moments from 2014

No doubt about it, 2014 was a busy year of travel for Team Stypa-Karol. With eight trips over the past 12 months (nine if you include having to shack up with the pets at a hotel up the street after we lost power for days during the Snowpocalypse), we were usually on the movie.

Here are our six top travel moments from 2014 (in order):

 6. Visiting Detroit when it was warm

I see you ...

I see you …

For the first time in who knows how long, we actually visited the Motor City (and our families) when it was warm-ish, heading up I-69 in July (opting not to go up in the dead of winter). Caitlyn got up close-and-personal with the prairie dogs at the Detroit Zoo, we both loaded up on awesome outlet shopping at Great Lakes Crossing and even got to swing by our alma mater, Michigan State University, when the campus is at its prettiest.

 5. Gorging ourselves in Columbus, Ohio

Buckeye cupcake from Expressly in North Market. Lunch not required.

Buckeye cupcake from Expressly in North Market. Lunch not required.

Columbus has long been a favorite for ours, simply for its variety in vegetarian fare. Even though one of our favorite spots, Betty’s Fine Spirits, is gone, between The Northstar Café, North Market and Jeni’s Splendid Ice Creams, you can’t go wrong in C-Bus. I might have also written “Go MSU” on a board inside a store on High Street. I’m such a troublemaker …

4. Family trip to Mackinac Island

Love each other, dammit!

Love each other, dammit!

In August, we tried cramming our families together in one hotel in the hopes that they would actually be social with one another and act like a big family. That was met with mixed success and we’ve determined the only way that will happen is if we lock everyone in a room and force them to play Chinese checkers or Parchessi with one another. Hmm, 2016 family trip idea?

3. Chelsea Handler in Chicago

The Windy City.

The Windy City.

I’m not really into Chelsea Handler, but Caitlyn is, so we went to see the comedienne take the stage with her “Uganda Be Kidding Me?” tour at the Harris Theatre over the summer. It was HILARIOUS. Handler was in top form and even got a curmudgeon like me to LOLs all night long. The show we went to is actually up on Netflix now if you want to see what I’m talking about. It was also much more enjoyable than when we went to Chicago in November and Caitlyn got wicked food poisoning.

2. Deep in the heart of Texas

Aw, I love you, too! Caitlyn poses in front of an iconic piece of street art on South Congress.

Aw, I love you, too! Caitlyn poses in front of an iconic piece of street art on South Congress in Austin.

There’s not much about Texas that intrigues me, but the one thing that does is Austin. That’s probably because it’s the least Texas of any Texas city and there’s loads to do: Local music, great veg cuisine and even some nice performing arts locations (how can you not like a play about the history of the vibrator?). Another plus: This was just a few weeks after we lost power and were dealing with -40 temps in Indy, so it was nice to go somewhere that was in the mid-to-upper 60s.

1. Buying The Frankfort House

It looks much nicer without the snow! Too bad it rained 90% of the time.

The Frankfort House.

Sure, the purchase will cripple our travel plans for the foreseeable future and mean less blog posts than normal, but we stand by our decision, dammit! Our cozy little cottage, just a short walk from Lake Michigan, will be well worth it when we have a kid someday. You can get a first-hand experience of what I’m talking about; it’s available for summer 2015 rentals!

Happy trails, 2014 – it’s been real. Let’s make 2015 even better.

6 Frugal Travel Tips for 2015

Save money or play the slots -- either way, traveling costs money.

Save money or play the slots — either way, traveling costs money.

Talk about fortuitous timing: The New York Post has a short, but very sweet list of six tips for living the frugal traveler’s life in 2015. It’s good timing because Caitlyn and I were just having a talk about finances and we’ll need to save every penny we can if we’re going to travel anywhere in 2015! These tips are a good start. Among them are insights as to the best time to fly in 2015, using Southwest to fly internationally (yes, you read that right) and other tips that will come in handy for the spendthrift traveler.

Happy travels!