101 Ways to Blow $100

Don't fight the urge to splurge

By The Staff, Tuesday, May 24, 2005, 10:26 AM

Give yourself $100 to spend any which way you like

Everyone needs to waste a little money sometimes, preferably in a self-indulgent manner. The trick is to control it.

General splurges

The next pages are filled almost entirely with site-specific splurges--tours, train rides, decadent meals. But there are splurges you can do just about anywhere (even at home).

 

  • Hotel room Flowers can turn a motel into a hotel. Don't pay for an arrangement: Buy cut flowers and use the ice bucket as a vase.
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  • Breakfast You have to order a room-service breakfast at least once during your stay--Eat it in bed, or if you're somewhere warm, have it delivered out by the pool. When you rent a room, you're also paying for the grounds--so make the most of the whole place.
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  • Nightlife Even better, make the most of a better hotel. Find the hot hotel in town, and sip a glass of champagne in its lobby bar. Marvel at the people wasting $400 a night.
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  • Car rental Go for the convertible! Reserve a regular model and when they try to upsell you at the counter, negotiate hard.
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  • Luggage Ship your bags ahead. No lugging them through the airport, and no waiting at the carousel.
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  • In-flight Airline blankets are scratchy, gross, and endangered. A pashmina is light and warm, and it can do fashion duty as a shawl.
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  • Recovery The best cure for the economy-class kinks is a professional massage, even if it's only a half-hour long.
  • Here's a trend your dentist will hate

    Is dark chocolate your favorite food group? Are Ben & Jerry your closest friends? Well, there's finally a type of restaurant that allows you to skip right to the best part of any meal. "My wife, Chika, and I made a hobby of eating and drinking around the world," says Don Tillman. "To have a dessert that's taken seriously, we had to dine at a fancy restaurant and spend at least $150. So we decided to open a restaurant dedicated to special desserts." The result is the 400-square-foot ChikaLicious in New York City. (Chika is the chef; Don runs the front of the house.) Other dessert-only restaurants are sprouting up everywhere. They're full-fledged sit-down affairs, many of which offer tasting menus, thoughtful wine pairings, and enough variety to satisfy any sugar fix.

     

  • Atlantic City At Brûlée: The Dessert Experience, the Banana-Nana is flambéed tableside ($18). Three-course dessert menus run $13 to $21. Quarter of the Tropicana, 3rd level, 609/344-4900.
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  • Barcelona The three-course dessert menu ($35) at Espai Sucre might feature yogurt cheesecake with rhubarb and lime marmalade and rhubarb ice cream, accompanied by a glass of cava ($4). The five-dessert tasting menu is $42. Calle Princesa 53, 011-34/93-268-16-30, closed Sunday and Monday.
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  • Boston The $18 prix fixe menu at Finale includes a small savory "prelude" and one dessert entrée--such as the baked-to-order molten chocolate cake with coffee ice cream and milk-chocolate-covered almonds. If you want dessert after that, you're truly depraved. 1 Columbus Ave., 617/423-3184.
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  • Chicago Everything on the dessert menu at Hot Chocolate is around $10. The signature dish is a flight of four hot chocolates and/or milk shakes ($9). 1747 N. Damen Ave., 773/489-1747, closed Mondays. Meanwhile, at Sugar: A Dessert Bar desserts cost $4 to $16. What the high end looks like: Tarzan of the Crepes, crepes with caramelized banana, maple ice cream, and hot fudge ($15). 108 W. Kinzie St., 312/822-9999.
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  • New York City The $12 three-course menu at ChikaLicious buys you an amuse bouche, main dessert, and petits fours; an additional dessert wine pairing is $7. One favorite is fresh cherries under a cinnamon macaroon with crème fraîche ice cream ($19). 203 E. 10th St., 212/995-9511, closed Monday and Tuesday. And one of New York's most lauded restaurants, Daniel, has opened Daniel's "Dessert Lounge." Look for the upside-down hot chocolate soufflé ($15). 60 E. 65th St., 212/288-0033, closed Sunday.
  • Urban white water

    Most white-water rapids are created by Mother Nature. But in a growing number of cities, developers are engineering rapids from scratch by constricting water flow, dropping sculpted humps of concrete into riverbeds, and submerging boulders. In Minneapolis, the goal is to break ground on a new riverside park by the summer of 2007. No river? No problem. Dig a circular channel and pump water into it, as they're doing in Charlotte, N.C. The world's largest man-made white-water park will open there next spring, with guided trips for paddlers starting at $15. In the meantime, here are four white-water courses where you can get your feet wet right now.

     

  • Denver A 400-foot section of white water built five years ago in the Denver metro area, Clear Creek White Water Park got to be so crowded that it had to be doubled in length two years later, extending it to seven city blocks with 13 Class II--IV rapids. It's one of the few rivers in the country where you can also rent a riverboard, essentially a thick Boogie Board with handles. Ripboard does half-day rentals for $45, with a quick one-on-one tutorial to get you oriented. 866/311-2627, ripboard.com.
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  • Fort Worth At Trinity River Whitewater Park, a series of three limestone barriers installed in 2002 create half-mile "chutes" of Class I--III rapids inside Fort Worth's Trinity Park. Guides from Kayak Instruction will meet you at the river with the necessary gear for a full-day lesson. $90, 214/629-4794, kayakinstruct.com.
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  • Reno Two white-water routes, separated by an island, can be found in a half-mile stretch of the Truckee River, containing close to a dozen Class II--III rapids. Tackle the river in a raft, a kayak, or even a tube--all within two blocks of the casino district. Wild Sierra Adventures rents inflatable kayaks for $15 an hour; Plexiglas ones cost $4 an hour more. 866/323-8928, wildsierra.com.
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  • Richmond And then there are the only natural urban rapids in the U.S. The James River runs through downtown Richmond, Va., and has Class I--V rapids. Kayak for free from public access points in the city's park system or take a guided four-hour raft trip with Richmond Raft Company. 800/222-7238, richmondraft.com, from $54.
  • Cruise Cachet: Intimate dining experiences

    Specialty restaurants are a welcome option for cruise passengers ready for a break from cavernous dining rooms and assigned seating. Pay a small surcharge and you get a private table, white-glove service, and dishes that aren't available in the main dining room. Reservations are required and should be made upon boarding (because these restaurants fill up quickly). The best of the bunch...

     

  • Carnival Cruise Lines: Nouveau Supper Club On all Spirit- and Conquest-class ships, $25.
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  • Celebrity Cruises: Normandie On the Summit. The Millennium, Infinity, and Constellation have similar dining rooms, named for other ocean liners. $30.
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  • Disney Cruise Line: Palo On Magic and Wonder, $10, adults only.
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  • Holland America Line: Pinnacle Grill All ships, $20 ($10 on first night at sea).
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  • Norwegian Cruise Line: Le Bistro On all ships except the Pride of America and Pride of Aloha, $15.
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  • Princess Cruises: Sabatini's Trattoria On all Grand-class ships and the Coral Princess, Island Princess, Pacific Princess, and Tahitian Princess, $20.
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  • Royal Caribbean: Chops Grille On all Radiance-class ships, Mariner of the Seas, and Navigator of the Seas, from $20, adults only.
  • Books you'll never read!

    But so what? Something has to stop your coffee table from floating away.

     

  • A Beautiful Catastrophe Bruce Gilden has been wandering the streets of New York City since 1981, capturing the weird and wonderful characters you see on every corner. $40, PowerHouse Books.
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  • Bordeaux Chateaux A History of the Grands Crus Classés 1855--2005 A peek inside the top winemaking estates in the Bordeaux region of France. $60, Flammarion.
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  • Earthsong Unbelievable aerial photographs by Bernhard Edmaier. We've recommended it before, but you still didn't buy it. Don't make us say it again. $60, Phaidon.
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  • Hollywood Life The fabulous homes and questionable taste of Old Hollywood--Cecil B. DeMille, Edith Head, and Steve McQueen, among others--as documented by Life photographer Eliot Elisofon in 1969. (It bears noting that the cover is velour.) $65, Greybull Press.
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  • The Most Beautiful Gardens in the World: Who are we to argue? Just take a look at the luscious Japanese Garden at Huntington Botanical Gardens, in San Marino, Calif. $60, Abrams.
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  • New York: The Photo Atlas Aerial images of every inch of New York City--it's the one view you can't get on your own, and it's fascinating. $60, HarperResource.
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  • One Hundred and One Beautiful Small Towns in Italy Check 'em off, one by one. Then start all over again. $45, Rizzoli.
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  • 1000 Signs Amusing and confusing signage from around the world, compiled by the folks at Colors magazine. $30, Taschen.
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  • The Snow Show Commemorating last year's chilly art-and-architecture exhibit in Finland. $32, Thames & Hudson.
  • Did somebody say, "Calgon, take me away"?

    The big news in spas is something ancient--thhouse culture, imported from Russia or the Far East. What that tends to mean: You pay an entry fee, and you get access to an entire community of watery goodness, usually a steam room, a dry sauna, a hot tub, a cold plunge pool, and some chaises to rest. (Sweating is hard work!) Contemporary bathhouses have separate areas or times for men and women, communal nudity being an essential part of the experience, though some do offer coed hours. Treatments always cost extra, and kids are discouraged, if allowed at all.

     

  • Las Vegas Inside Mandalay Bay, there's a new boutique hotel called THEhotel; within that you'll find the Bathhouse. It's chic, minimal, and gorgeous--the executive washroom of your dreams. Plus: free snacks. $35 for non-hotel guests, which includes entry to the gym (fee waived with purchase of a spa service; 25-minute massage $70). 877/632-9636, mandalaybay.com.
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  • New York Juvenex Spa is located in Koreatown, but the overall effect is more otherworldly, especially the signature Jade Igloo Sauna. Only women are allowed before 9 p.m.; open to male-female couples thereafter. $65 for 90 minutes, $35 with purchase of a service; 30-minute Express Massage $65. 25 W. 32nd St., 646/733-1330, juvenexspa.com.
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  • San Francisco A California take on the Japanese communal bath, Kabuki Springs & Spa also offers complimentary vanity products and sea salts. $16 to $20; 50-minute massage $75 ($85 for access to communal baths, too). 1750 Geary Blvd., 415/922-6000, kabukisprings.com.
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  • Seattle Banya 5 is a slick new bathhouse with a parilka, or brick oven, as the centerpiece of its sauna: Temps inside can get as high as 220 degrees. $25; 60-minute massage $65. 217 9th Ave. North, 206/262-1234, banya5.com; inquire for family hours.
  • Family sleepovers

    Aquariums, zoos, and child-friendly museums around the country now offer occasional family sleepovers that come with behind-the-scenes tours, special lectures and games, and the unique chance to explore your kids' favorite spots without the crowds of daytime. Dinner, breakfast, and a souvenir are often thrown in (but you have to pack your own PJs). Some overnights, such as the Halloween one at Chicago's Shedd Aquarium (from $60, 312/692-3351, sheddaquarium.org), sell out well in advance. Others don't require as much advance planning. At the National Aquarium in Baltimore, you spend the night at an underwater viewing area for stingrays, zebra sharks, and other creepy creatures ($59 to $65; 410/576-3833, aqua.org). Expect to hear the sounds of lions roaring and monkeys howling--but don't expect all that restful a night--the San Diego Zoo ($81 to $110; 619/557-3969, sandiegozoo.org), the Honolulu Zoo Society ($39; 808/926-3191, honoluluzoo.org), and the Lincoln Park Zoo in Chicago ($65 to $75; 312/742-2053, lpzoo.com). Bunk with the fishes as part of the Family Sleepovers program at SeaWorld Orlando. Reserve an overnight stay in the underwater viewing areas and exhibition spaces, and wake up next to manatees, sharks, and polar bears ($75 per person, including pizza and continental breakfast, for children 6 to 12 accompanied by a parent, 800/432-1178, swbg-adventurecamps.com). Campers play Top Gun in a flight simulator in an overnight "encampment" aboard the battleship New Jersey, on the Delaware River across from Philadelphia ($50; 866/877-6262, ext. 203, battleshipnewjersey.org); or sleep in bunks on the U.S.S. Cobia, a WWII sub in Manitowoc, Wisc. ($30; 866/724-2356, wisconsinmaritime.org). If your family is already booked for summer, sleepovers that somehow make science seem cool are held during the school year at Philadelphia's Franklin Institute Science Museum ($41, 215/448-1114, fi.edu) and at the Dallas Museum of Natural History ($30, 214/421-3466, ext. 308, dallasdino.org).

    Audio tours: For your listening pleasure

    It's not the cost of an audio tour ($5 or so) that discourages us from renting one of those headsets's that the tours tend to be unwieldy and dull. Now, however, museums and attractions are making the extra effort to create exciting audio guides, and the technology has improved, so you can hear the information in whichever order you choose. Seven we think are worth the money and effort...

     

  • Chicago The Art Institute of Chicago $12, gallery audio tour $4.
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  • Dallas The Sixth Floor Museum at Dealey Plaza $10, audio tour $3.
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  • London British Museum Free, family audio tour, $6.50. St. Paul's Cathedral $15, audio tour $6.50.
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  • Louisville The Speed Art Museum Recommended donation $4, audio tour $3.
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  • New York City The Museum of Modern Art $20, audio tour $5.
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  • San Francisco Alcatraz $11.50, audio tour $4.50.
  • How would you spend $100 of our money?

    We asked six readers that question--and then put our money where their mouths are. (Wish we'd included you? Then sign up for our e-mail newsletter! Details are at BudgetTravelOnline.com/newsletters.)

     

  • New Orleans "Riding a Segway through New Orleans was a blast! The tour started on Decatur Street, where my group of three got a quick lesson. After a few tries it felt like I'd been riding my whole life. Our tour guide was great as we set out along the Mississippi River, then over on the ferry to Algiers Point. It was hard to get anywhere, however, without someone stopping us to talk about our fancy two-wheelers. I got so much attention it was like being queen for a day--and well worth the price." --Carmen Shirkey, Fairfax, Va. City Segway Tours, New Orleans, 877/734-8687, citysegwaytours.com, four-hour tour $65.
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  • Dominica "We went on a Caribbean sunset sail. It was 85 degrees, the sea was calm, and the sunset was fantastic. My wife Debbi and I saw sperm whales and baleen whales breaching right next to the boat--both adults and juveniles. Then suddenly the sun dropped from a cloud formation, there was a green flash, and the sun plunged into the ocean." --Larry Lunsk, Philadelphia, Pa. Ken's Hinterland Adventure Tours, 011-767/448-1660, whale and dolphin tour $50 per person.
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  • Waco "When we learned that our son would be playing in a baseball tournament in Waco, Tex., we jumped at the chance to turn it into a mini family vacation. We enjoyed viewing 19th-century homes, seeing the Suspension Bridge, and of course, cheering for our son's team. Plus our special dinner at Lake Brazos Steakhouse was delicious. We had fresh-baked rolls, juicy marbled rib eyes, charbroiled shrimp, the works! Despite going 0-for-4 in the baseball tournament, our family declared this vacation a winner!" --Laura Mrachek, San Antonio, Tex. Lake Brazos Steakhouse, 1620 Lake Brazos Dr., Waco, 254/755-7797.
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  • New York "My wife and I felt pampered from the moment we arrived at Aureole. Our four-course $35 tasting menu was superb: yellowtail sashimi, ricotta cavatelli with braised short ribs, Hudson Valley duck, and a chocolate and hazelnut pyramid that looked like a work of art. The dining room was elegant, with some of the loveliest flowers I've seen. And the service was outstanding. It was a wonderful experience, and certainly worth splurging." --Bill Wang, San Francisco, Calif. Aureole, 34 E. 61st St., New York, 212/319-1660.
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  • Moorea "After a fabulous two weeks in French Polynesia, my husband and I had a fantastic splurge at Te Honu Iti in Moorea. We got a table with great views of the bay, plus a closer look at the stingrays, parrot fish, and eels that swam next to the terrace. Chef Roger's gourmet specialties, paired with the setting, made for an unbeatable combination. While it was sad to think about leaving, we were happy to have our special last-night dinner." --Nancy Cooper, Seattle, Wash. Te Honu Iti, Cook's Bay, Moorea, 011-689/56-19-84.
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  • Italy "On vacation in Northern Italy, my husband and I looked forward to driving the Strada delle Dolomiti. The route winds through the Dolomites and we had planned a lovely picnic. The weather, however, didn't cooperate, and we were greeted with snow and heavy rain. We decided that an intimate lunch at the charmingly rustic Antico Pozzo Restaurant and Winery in Bellagio would substitute quite well. After our delicious salads, risotto, and calzone, we were fortified and ready to get on the road. Our splurge may not have gone as planned, but our lunch was still magical and romantic." --Diane Fiero, Castaic, Calif. Antico Pozzo, Salita Mella 26, Bellagio, 011-39/031-952-185.
  • Leaders of the pack

     

  • London A group called London Walks runs a repertory of over 300 walking tours 365 days a year. Themes include Beachcombing Along the Thames, Darkest Victorian London, the Blitz--erything but Hangouts of Posh and Becks. The tours cost all of $10.50, $8.50 for students and "Super Adults" (people over 65). 011-44/20-7624-3978, walks.com.
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  • New York City Richard Ruben, who wrote The Farmer's Market Cookbook, leads a tour of the Union Square Greenmarket that continues at the kitchens of the Institute of Culinary Education, where he shows you how to make lunch with the ingredients purchased that morning. You might learn to make (and get to eat) spicy pheasant sausage smothered in an eggplant, mushroom, and red onion ragout. $95, 212/847-0770, iceculinary.com/recreational/walking_tours.shtml.
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  • Oregon For a mix of the spooky and the spiritual, go moonlight canoeing on Hosmer Lake with the folks from Wanderlust Tours. The excursions depart from Bend and Sunriver, take four hours, and only occur on the five nights around each full moon, from June through September. (If you really want to have fun, put on a hockey mask, à la Jason from Friday the 13th.) Includes dessert and hot cider. $60 to $65; 800/962-2862, wanderlusttours.com; no kids 8 and under.
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  • Palm Springs Jurassic Expeditions leads four-hour motor coach tours of the San Andreas Fault, with theatrical interludes and a re-creation of a 6.5-magnitude earthquake. The goal: to better understand the land and what it means. "We've had people cry," says founder Tim Moreland. "It's powerful stuff." $68, 888/528-8133, jurassicexpeditions.com, January to March.
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  • Paris The tours led by Paris Walks cost $13 (kids $6.50) and tend to cover neighborhoods such as the Marais, the Latin Quarter, and Montmartre. Reflecting the book's popularity, the tour based on The Da Vinci Code is $2.60 more and reservations are required. 011-33/1-48-09-21-40, paris-walks.com.
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  • Singapore The City That Never Spits has a straitlaced reputation, but a diverse population. One ethnic group, Peranakans, are a blend of Chinese and Malay cultures. Tour East's 31D2-hour guided tours explore relevant sites in Peranakan neighborhoods. $24, kids $11.50, 011-65/6738-2622, toureast.net.
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  • Sydney Sydney is one of the most laid-back of cities--which is no reason not to tear it up on the back of a Hog. Easyrider Motorbike Tours runs 60-minute Harley-Davidson rides around town, including a photo op on Bondi Beach. $85, 011-61/2-9247-2477,easyrider.com.au.
  • How to guarantee a stellar lunch

    It's no surprise the Michelin Man has a spare tire around his middle. The French tire manufacturer's red Michelin Guide has steered diners to Europe's best restaurants for over a century, and its star ratings are the most coveted award in the business. Initially, three stars meant an establishment merited a special trip, two stars that it deserved a detour, one star that you should stop if it was on your way. They're almost uniformly expensive, but the good news is that many also serve lunch, and for a fraction of what a dinner costs. Menus are typically three courses--limited selection of appetizers, main courses, and desserts--a fixed price. (If you'd like a glass of 1961 Château Lafite Rothschild Grand Cru Classe with your lunch, expect to pay extra.) Here are three notable Michelin-starred restaurants. Reservations are essential.

     

  • Belgium Chefs Pierre Wynants and son-in-law Lionel Rigolet are the masters behind Comme chez Soi, a three-star Brussels establishment for 25 years. The $84 prix fixe lunch can include ham mousse from the Ardennes; sliced cod with tomato coulis, black salsify, and marjoram, plus a selection from the cheese or dessert menus, perhaps hot soufflé with Roquefort. 23 Place Rouppe; 011-32/2-512-29-21, commechezsoi.be; closed Sunday and Monday, and Wednesday lunch.
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  • England A 50-minute train ride from London's Paddington Station, The Fat Duck has earned accolades for chef Heston Blumenthal's brilliant but humble approach to modern French cuisine. (It earned a third star in 2004, which it retained this year.) The $70 lunch features velouté of fennel with lemon balm and oyster, braised pork belly with Savoy cabbage and lardo from Colonnata, and carrot toffee with butternut ice cream and pumpkin seed oil. High Street, Bray, Berkshire; 011-44/1628-580-333, fatduck.co.uk; closed Monday.
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  • France Under the direction of twin chefs Jacques and Laurent Pourcel, Le Jardin des Sens wins raves for its Mediterranean flavors and its enchanting garden. On the $64 seasonal menu (available Thursdays and Fridays): an appetizer plate of miniature shrimp brochettes, crusted skate brandade, and seared tuna rolled in herbs; and entrées such as rabbit fillet stuffed with wild mushrooms, hot foie gras jelly, and grated apple. After seven years as a three-star, the Languedoc favorite lost a star in 2005. Only Michelin judges know why. 11 avenue Saint-Lazare, Montpellier; 011-33/4-99-58-38-48, jardindessens.com.
  • When the world really is a stage

    The natural mix of hills and rock can provide the perfect acoustics and seating arrangement--and there's little for humans to do but set up a stage and start charging for tickets. At these arenas, it honestly doesn't matter who's performing.

     

  • Australia See ballet, jazz, theater, dance--you name it--in what was originally a limestone quarry (hence the name, Quarry Amphitheatre). The seating is on grass tiers, and you can bring your own picnic. The lights of Perth are visible in the distance. 011-62/8-9355-7144, quarryamphitheatre.com.au; open year-round, performances from November to March. Most tickets available through bocsticketing.com.au.
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  • Colorado Just outside Denver, Red Rocks is an amphitheater flanked by jagged 300-foot-high sandstone monoliths. From Easter services to rock and roll. 303/295-4444, redrocksonline.com.
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  • Sicily The Teatro Greco-Romano is a 2,300-year-old amphitheater dug into the hillsides of Taormina, with a view of Mount Etna and the sea. Greek drama, dance, and classical and pop music concerts at the annual Taormina Arte festival, from June through August (taormina-arte.com, from $19.50). The weeklong BNL FilmFest also takes place there every June (taorminafilmfest.it/2005, screening tickets about $9). 011-39/0942-21142.
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  • Washington State Attracting popular music acts and festivals, The Gorge Amphitheatre holds 20,000 people on a grass-covered terrace among basalt cliffs overlooking the Columbia River in central Washington. hob.com/venues; tickets through Ticketmaster, 509/735-0500, ticketmaster.com.
  • New York shopping

    Everyone loves browsing at upscale shops; paying is a whole different matter. Even the highest-end boutiques, however, usually have something that's not too splurgy (and as a bonus, you get a chichi shopping bag).

     

  • Tiffany & Co. America's most famous jewelry store. What we bought: sterling-silver key ring engraved with a registration number in case it goes missing ($90). 727 Fifth Ave., 212/755-8000.
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  • Takashimaya A luxurious Japanese emporium of fashion, cosmetics, housewares, and more, with a little tea salon in the basement. What we bought: green butterfly tea in a silver canister ($25), mini copper teapot with brass handle ($65), bamboo mini strainer ($5). 693 Fifth Ave., 212/350-0100.
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  • Jeffrey His and hers fashion excess in the Meatpacking District. What we bought: Stella McCartney's Greek-inspired flip-flops, in turquoise ($90). 449 W. 14th St., 212/206-1272.
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  • Moss A museum-quality gallery of design. What we bought: the 12-sided World Time desk clock. It adapts to one of 24 global time zones, depending on which side you stand it on ($75). 146 Greene St., 212/204-7100.
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  • Pucci The Italian label known for its signature retro patterns. What we bought: silk bandanna ($100). 701 Fifth Ave., 212/230-1135.
  • Sometimes you need extra amusement

    If your trip to the amusement park just isn't special enough, there are ways to liven it up.

     

  • Los Angeles Buy used clothing fresh off a Hollywood set at Universal Studios' Wardrobe Dept. store. You might find a Seven for All Mankind jean skirt from Will & Grace ($25) or a Prada T-shirt from Passions ($50). Nothing is more than $150. 800/864-8377, universalstudioshollywood.com.
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  • Orlando Ten guests a day are able to rent Segways for a two-hour tour of Epcot Center's World Showcase Lagoon--better yet, it happens before the area opens to the public at 11 a.m. ($80 per person). 407/939-8687, disneyworld.com.
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  • San Diego Get a bird's-eye view of the lions and giraffes at San Diego Zoo's Wild Animal Park: A 15-minute ride on a helium balloon that rises 400 feet--but remains tethered to the ground--is just $15. 760/747-8702, sandiegozoo.org/wap.
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  • Tampa Bay Busch Gardens in Florida offers a two-hour off-road safari for $100 per person--where you can get even closer to big game animals like hippos, black rhinos, and elephants. An onboard professional photographer captures the whole thing (photographs cost extra). 813/984-4043, buschgardens.com.
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  • Washington, D.C. For a place to rest (and cool your heels in between dunks), rent one of the new four-person cabanas inside the Hurricane Harbor water park at Six Flags America, outside the nation's capital. $55 weekdays, $75 holidays and weekends; additional people $5 each per day. 301/249-1500, sixflags.com/america.
  • Snowboarding is totally 20th century

    There's more than one way to get down a mountain, and we don't mean rolling--though that's always a risk.

     

  • California Like a skateboard without wheels, Snowskates have no bindings, and they're normally relegated to terrain parks where you have more freedom. The park at Big Bear in southern California has half-pipes, rails, and jumps (rentals from $5 an hour).
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  • Colorado Snow Blades are essentially skis that are barely longer than your boot; perfect for tricks. They're permitted on most mountains, but liability issues stop many resorts from actually renting them. One that does is Keystone, in Colorado ($33 per day). Elsewhere, check the ski shops in town.
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  • New Hampshire The Snowscoot is a cross between a freestyle bike and a snowboard that you ride standing up; it's popular with the BMX set. Hold on to the handlebars, stand on the board, and let gravity do the work. A handful of U.S. resorts do rentals, including Loon Mountain ($23 for three hours) and Cranmore ($12 for two hours), both in New Hampshire.
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  • Oregon An inflatable bodyboard with side handles, the Airboard was designed for the backcountry and sledding hills. Hoodoo in Oregon allows full mountain access, including terrain parks ($28 for 30-minute lesson and daily rental). At Schweitzer in Idaho and Sugar Bowl in California, you can rent them at night on a lift-served run.
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  • Vermont A traditional bike frame with skis in place of wheels, the Ski Bike is popular in Europe; a growing number of North American resorts are opening their slopes to riders. Control the speed by making turns or sticking your heels in the snow. Try them at Sugarbush in Vermont ($40 per day), as well as at Keystone in Colorado and Whistler in British Columbia. To find other resorts that have Ski Bikes, check out ski-bike.org.
  • Amazing trains

    Nothing captures the waning romance of travel quite like a train, and many lines offer worthwhile trips that allow you to sit back and soak up extraordinary scenery for a few hours. A century ago, trains were the quickest way to get somewhere--and now the best reason to take them is to slow down. These busy days, time is the biggest splurge of all.

     

  • Alaska On the Coastal Classic, a four-hour-plus voyage from Anchorage and Seward, you'll definitely see glaciers and mountains, and you'll possibly see bears, moose, sheep, and beluga whales. Alaska Railroad hires high-school kids--who've undergone a special 10-week training--as guides. It's a summer job that sure beats flipping burgers. $98 round trip, kids 2 to 11 $49; 800/544-0552, akrr.com.
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  • California Built in 1885, Northern California's Skunk Train is now running year-round. There are many different ways to ride it, either from Fort Bragg along Highway 1 or from Willits along Highway 101. The 31D2-hour round trip costs $35 (plus $10 if it's a steam train), $20 kids. Also new this year: A Saturday-night Rail, Ale & Wine trip (two hours, $29). For a real splurgy splurge, kids can ride in the engineer's cab ($100). No matter which trip you take, you'll see mountains, tunnels, the Noyo River Canyon, bridges, and those extraordinary redwoods. 866/457-5865, skunktrain.com.
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  • Colorado One of the world's most beautiful train routes, the Durango & Silverton Narrow Gauge Railroad runs between the Colorado towns of Durango and Silverton, along the Animas River. The tracks were laid in 1882, and the locomotives date from the 1920s (and are still coal-fired). The train was historically accurate enough to star in Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid. The round-trip Silverton Summer Excursion is available May 7 to October 29, and takes 31D2 hours to go 45 miles. $62, kids $31; 888/872-4607, durangotrain.com.
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  • Massachusetts The Elegant Dinner Train, offered by the Cape Cod Central Railroad, is a three-hour scenic excursion from Hyannis to the Cape Cod Canal and back, during which a five-course dinner is served. Proper dress is required. The best time to go: Friday evenings, when the train crosses the canal on the vertical-lift railroad bridge at Buzzards Bay. $60, cocktails and gratuity not included; 888/797-7245, capetrain.com.
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  • Mexico On the Tequila Express, which is run by the Mexican government, mariachis provide a festive soundtrack for the 90-minute ride from Guadalajara through the blue-agave-studded landscape of Jalisco, Mexico's largest tequila-producing state, to the Herradura distillery. Contrary to what the name suggests, it's not a cheesy booze cruise--though there is an open tequila bar for sampling the local specialty. You get a firsthand look at the tequila-making process past and present, from wheel presses once pulled by mule to the steam ovens where the agave is cooked today. Tours are followed by an authentic buffet, and you're back in town by 8 p.m. $69, kids 6 to 12 $36; 011-52/33-3880-9099, tequilaexpress.com.mx.
  • Hot tickets, cool shows

     

  • Boston Catch the Red Sox from the newest seats in Fenway Park--atop the 37-foot-tall Green Monster in left field. Tickets go on sale via preseason online lottery. Standing room from $25, seats from $80, 617/226-6000, redsox.com.
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  • Cancún Celebrate Mexican culture at Xcaret Spectacular Nights--a folklore show at the Xcaret Eco Park in Playa Del Carmen. Kids will love the lacrosse-like game, which is based on a Mayan ritual and played with a flaming ball. Included with $49 park admission, kids $25, 011-52/998-883-3144, xcaret.com.
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  • Chicago With alumni named Belushi and Murray, The Second City changed the face of comedy. It all began 45 years ago on its Chicago Mainstage--now one of five companies in the U.S. and Canada. From $18, 312/337-3992, secondcity.com.
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  • Las Vegas Kà, at the MGM Grand, is Cirque du Soleil's most ambitious show (and each seat has speakers). Two shows nightly, Friday through Tuesday. From $99, 877/880-0880, cirquedusoleil.com.
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  • New York City The cabaret at Feinstein's at the Regency is world-class, with such past performers as Patti LuPone and Chita Rivera. $100, 212/339-4095, feinsteinsattheregency.com, mid-September to mid-June. Did someone say send in the clowns? None of the seats at the Big Apple Circus is more than 50 feet from the action. After its signature engagement every winter in Manhattan, the show tours the East Coast. From $15, 800/899-2775, bigapplecircus.org.
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  • San Francisco Steve Silver's Beach Blanket Babylon has wowed crowds for more than 30 years. Recent spoofs include Arnold Schwarzenegger in leather gear. From $25, 415/421-4222, beachblanketbabylon.com; 21 and over for evening performances.