Photos: Miami: Sunshine statement

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  1. Tower to the people

    Lifeguard towers on Miami Beach are colorful and easy to distinguish. Lifeguards care over swimmers who play nearby, and the towers make a great meeting place when surrounded by an endless area of sand, surf and beach umbrellas. (Richard Cummins / Corbis) Back to slideshow navigation
  2. Hot spot

    Thousands of people descended on Miami Beach for Super Bowl XLIV between the New Orleans Saints and Indianapolis Colts. The city hosted a number of private and public events ahead of the big game. (Roberto Schmidt / AFP - Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  3. Wet and wild

    Jet skis cruise along Biscayne Bay near Miami Beach Marina. Tourists visiting the Bay can enjoy a number of recreational activities, including snorkeling, sailing, kayaking and more. (Richard I'anson / Lonely Planet Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  4. Life's a beach

    South Beach, also nicknamed "The American Riviera," is well-known for celebrities, chic lifestyles and, of course, beaches. The man-made beach runs along the Atlantic Ocean for miles. (Richard I'anson / Lonely Planet Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  5. Savoring history

    The Art Deco district of South Beach is a hot spot for celebrities and is home to eccentric residents. The district has more than 800 buildings, built in the '30s and '40s, that are architecturally protected, helping its image as a chic, popular destination. (Randy Faris / Corbis) Back to slideshow navigation
  6. Ear to the ground

    Caribbean Flamingos -- this one eats from a pond at the Metro Zoo in Miami -- gets their color from the carotene in its diet. (Robert Sullivan / AFP - Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  7. Dolphins walk, whales fly

    The Miami Seaquarium is a popular attraction that features eight marine animal shows. General admission tickets cost $37.95, and kids between the ages of three and nine get in for $27.95 (plus 7 percent sales tax). (Jon Davison / Lonely Planet Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  8. Luxe lodgings

    The Biltmore Hotel of Coral Gables "has been a favorite of world leaders, celebrities and sports stars since its opening in the 1920s," its Web site boasts. The resort features 275 rooms, including 130 suites, a spa and fitness center. (The Biltmore) Back to slideshow navigation
  9. Pretty in pink

    Classic buildings aren't the only thing visitors to Miami Beach will find. Vintage cars are often spotted in the Art Deco district. The annual Art Deco Weekend hosts a classic car fest where proud owners can show off their treasures. (Corbis) Back to slideshow navigation
  10. Colorful celebration

    A dancer wears a costume as she participates in the Miami Carnival. The carnival has been an annual event since 1984. It has grown from a small neighborhood festival to an international event bringing live bands and calypsonians from the islands. (Joe Raedle / Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  11. Collins mix

    The renovated Delano Hotel (left), National Hotel (center) and the Sagamore Hotel line up Collins Avenue in Miami Beach. The city has a concentration of over 800 Art Deco buildings all within one square mile. (Roberto Schmidt / AFP - Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  12. Double-tall MOCA

    Miami's Museum of Contemporary Art "is internationally recognized as a force in defining new trends and directions in contemporary art," its Web site says. Admission is $5 per person, $3 for students and seniors. MOCA Members and kids under 12 can enter for free. (MOCA Miami) Back to slideshow navigation
  13. Bass appeal

    The Bass Museum of Art was established 47 years ago ater Miami Beach accepted the art collection of John and Johanna Bass, and agreed it would maintain the works and make it available to the public. (Greater Miami Convention & Visitors Bureau) Back to slideshow navigation
  14. Different strokes

    A visitor looks at "Thinking" during Art Basel Miami Beach back in 2008. "Art Basel Miami Beach is the most important art show in the United States, a cultural and social highlight for the Americas," the event's Web site boasts. This year's event takes place Dec. 2-5. (Juan Castro / AFP - Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  15. Reflective moment

    Artist Jude Papaloko is reflected in a mirror on a painted wall in his gallery, the Jakmel Gallery, in Miami. (Lynne Sladky / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  16. Feeling the groove

    Club patrons enjoy themselves on the dance floor at Mansion nightclub in Miami Beach, Fla. Once thought of as a place to visit Grandma in January, Miami's reputation as a party city has grown since the days of "Miami Vice," through the birth of the Art Deco fashion district in the early 1990s and the more recent explosion of the South Beach club scene. (David Adame / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  17. Port of call

    Frequent cruisers can be forgiven for seeing Biscayne Bay and Miami simply as a departure point. However, the area offers a wealth of activities and events that can satisfy tourists with a variety of different interests. (Jeff Greenberg / Lonely Planet Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  18. Can I get a refill?

    The Venetian Pool in Coral Gables, Miami, started out as a quarry pit and was transformed in 1924 into the Venetian Casino. Now, more than 100,000 people visit Venetian Pool each year. During summer months, the pool is drained nightly and replentished from a subterranean aquifer. (Richard Cummins / Lonely Planet Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  19. Year of the crab

    Plates full of cracked stone crab claws are ready to be served at Joe's Stone Crab in Miami Beach. Joe Weiss opened a lunch counter in 1913, and the eatery has been serving the public for 97 consecutive seasons. (Wilfredo Lee / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  20. Feeling the beat

    A crowd dances to the rythmic sound of congas at a local latin club in Calle Ocho (8th street), the main street of the Little Havana district of Miami. (Roberto Schmidt / AFP - Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  21. Home field

    Miami's Sun Life Stadium hosted Super Bowl XLIV on Feb. 7, 2010. The New Orleans Saints defeated the Indianapolis Colts by a final score of 31-17. (Dave Cross / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
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updated 2/22/2008 2:07:42 PM ET 2008-02-22T19:07:42

A family elder who grew up as a sharecropper in North Dakota has this to say of February: "The days lengthen, and winter strengthens." For travelers, the longer days mean spring is just ahead, with better weather and heaps of travel opportunities.

Whether you are avoiding or joining the spring break hordes, interested in exploring new destinations, or looking for some of the great deals spring can bring, we have useful tips for you in our spring travel strategies for 2008.

Spring break: Just say go
If you are a member of the MySpace generation, raising one of them, or simply adventurous enough to join the throngs of spring break revelers, I'll leave your choice of venue to you — but the following tips might help you navigate the long lines and bad judgment that come with spring break.

Research and book your hotel first. If every acceptable hotel within a reasonable distance of your favorite venues is full — and in the most popular spring break destinations, this is not entirely uncommon — you're going to want to know about it before you drop a ton of money on a flight. The quality and especially location of a hotel can make or break a trip, so you'll be well served to scour the market for acceptable accommodations early on in your planning.

The upside of researching and booking a hotel early is that, unlike most travel purchases, cancellation and change fees only occasionally apply. Most hotels require only 24 hours' notice to change or cancel a hotel reservation without penalty. (Note that this may not be the case when purchasing through certain booking sites, particularly budget sites such as Priceline, where you do pay in advance and change penalties often apply, so you'll want to read the fine print before booking online.)

As a result, you can nail down the perfect hotel room early, and then check out your flight options without risking a lot of money. Also, if you have specific room requirements (such as an ocean view, upper floors, specific number or type of beds, etc.), I recommend calling the hotel to make your reservation. Hotel operators are more likely to honor promises they make themselves than those obtained by clicking on a computer reservations checkbox.

Similarly, if you will need a rental car, book early. As cars start to disappear off lots, you can get into real trouble on both availability and pricing. For flights, I recommend that you fly early in the day — first thing in the morning if possible. These flights are more likely to be priced lower, depart on time, and be unaffected by systemic delays that can ripple through the air transit system and really mess with your vacation.

Spring break: Just say no
If you are planning to travel during the spring break high period, but wish to avoid the spring break crowds and chaos, consider the following tips and destinations.

The easiest way to avoid spring break crowds at airports, hotels and popular vacation destinations is to stay home during the traditional spring break stretch. This year, most university spring break weeks occur between March 8 and March 22, the second and fourth Saturdays in March; a few occur a little earlier, a few more a little later.

If you are traveling during this period, try to fly midweek, as most spring break revelers fly out and back on the first and last possible weekend days. If you fly midweek, most of your competition for seats are not headed anywhere new (except possibly for MySpace fame).

The Sunshine State: If you must go to Florida, the west coast tends to operate at a slower pace and lower intensity than the hard-charging east coast. If you are considering the major theme parks, think about visiting some of the less obvious options; the Magic Kingdom will be overwhelmed with families with school kids, while some of the outlying parks may be less crowded.

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Beyond sun and sand: Many students and sun seekers avoid the great cities of the country during the early spring — and that's all the more reason to visit them. Big cities like New York, Seattle and San Francisco are fabulous year round, while the weather in Southern and Southwestern cities like Dallas, Austin and Savannah is temperate and pleasant. Spring is also a good time to check out popular sites like Gettysburg and the Grand Canyon before the summer crowds arrive — and don't forget about Washington D.C., which has its yearly Cherry Blossom Festival from March 29 through April 13 this year.

Back to school: When a well-known university town like Cambridge, Mass.; Princeton, N.J.; Madison, Wis.; Athens, Ga.; or Berkeley, Calif., empties out for spring break, you can enjoy all the charms of these often picturesque and culturally rich towns without the swarm of students. See our College Towns 101for tips and lots of info.

Saving money in spring
Opportunities to save money abound during the spring travel season. The so-called "spring shoulder season" in Europe extends from April into early June, and offers a great mix of in-season amenities and off-season rates. This is the time to take your dream European vacation — whether that means the hills of Tuscany, the streets of Rome, the plains of Spain, the fjords of Finland (yes, even that far north) or the slopes of Switzerland, where there is still plenty of snow without quite the same snow-blinding prices.

You'll find Europe in the midst of being itself, rather than a high-season touristy version of itself. Cultural offerings also peak during spring — music, art and theater seasons are operating at full bore, historical sites are open and inviting, and you have far less competition for practical concerns like public transit, hotel availability, restaurant reservations, event tickets and the like.

For skiers, late-season ski resort deals abound as spring advances, and many resorts are open and making snow even into April at higher elevations. Come mid to late March, the lifts and lodges are starting to empty out, as are flights in and out of the best ski destinations. The extended ski season is a favorite of hardcore skiers, and you can join them at greatly reduced costs as compared to, say, right now. Check ski reports for resorts with a deep base and good snow-making abilities, and you could end up skiing superb conditions in the warm spring sun in a long-sleeved shirt.

For boat lovers, April into (and especially) May is the season of deep discounts. Check out "repositioning cruises," where cruise lines offer the lowest rates of the year on cruises that move ships from the most popular winter destinations in the Caribbean and other southern environs to the summertime ports in Alaska, Europe and other points north.

Finally, many of the "classic" vacation spots are in prime form at sub-premium prices — Hawaii is a perfect example. Who could argue with a week in Maui in May at some of the best prices of the year?

As spring fades and summer approaches
If you are considering a late-spring trip, think about destinations that many consider classic winter destinations — including many of those same previously overrun spring break destinations. Florida, Mexico, the Caribbean, New Orleans and other points south see dramatic price drops once spring takes hold up north. Meanwhile, the height of summer still remains some way off; late spring can offer just the right amount of warm sunshine without the crushing heat.

The Independent Traveler is an interactive traveler's exchange and comprehensive online travel guide for a community of travelers who enjoy the fun of planning their own trips and the adventure of independent travel. You can access our wealth of travel resources and great bargains here at www.independenttraveler.com, or at www.bargainbox.com.

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