7 Destinations With Apps as Smart as Your Phone

By Miriam B. Weiner, Staff WriterJuly 16, 2014
By Miriam B. Weiner, Staff WriterJuly 16, 2014, at 8:31 a.m.
U.S. News & World Report

7 Destinations With Apps as Smart as Your Phone

According to the Choice Hotels 2014 Summer Travel Survey released on June 24, travelers — particularly millennials and parents with children ages 12 and younger — would rather lose their luggage than their phones. Gone are the days when we went on vacation to disconnect from our daily lives; now, traveling involves sending work emails from the beach and posting photos of our umbrella-topped drinks to various social networks. Basically when it comes to choosing a vacation destination, if we can't get a signal there, we're not interested.

As a result, tourism boards have to engage visitors in a whole new way: through their smartphones and tablets. Below are seven vacation spots that have embraced the challenge, rolling out apps that provide a unique experience for tech-loving travelers.  

Wine aficionados will appreciate exploring this destination in just a few taps on their touchscreen — the Napa Valley tourism board's free mobile app (which launched in February 2014), acts as a portable tour guide. By pinpointing your exact location, the app can direct you toward attractions and activities within your immediate area, saving you the trouble of commuting back and forth across the 35-mile-long region. Using the Visit Napa Valley mobile app (available on iTunes and Google Play) you can make restaurant reservations, book hotel rooms and see upcoming special events. But most importantly, the app can direct you to nearby wine tastings. When using the Visit Napa Valley app, keep your eyes peeled for deals and discounts: You can often save a good chunk of money on wine tastings and other activities using coupons available through the app.

Nothing can turn a child's dream vacation to Walt Disney World into a nightmare faster than long lines. But because of the park's popularity, lines are difficult to avoid completely. Parents who download the free My Disney Experience app on iTunes or Google Play will be able to view the estimated wait times at attractions throughout the park, allowing them to better budget their time. Should the line at the next ride on your kid's agenda be too long to bear, you can use the My Disney Experience app to track down characters for meet and greets, view showtimes for upcoming parades and performances or decide where you'd like to go for lunch.

Sure, you may go to Nashville to tour the historic mansions, but chances are you're also in town for the tunes. For Nashville newbies who may not know where to turn to hear the Country Music Capital's signature twang, the city's tourism board developed the Nashville Live Music Guide app. This tool (which is free to download on iTunes and Google Play) provides information on the 120-plus music clubs found throughout the Nashville area, as well as a calendar of ongoing and upcoming events. But the coolest aspect of this app may be its Look Around feature: After pulling up your phone's camera, the app will populate your screen with any nearby live music events.

Cool, quirky Portland lures travelers from all across the country looking to experience the city's relaxed ambiance and independent shops and restaurants. Now, visitors can really get a feel for what the city has to offer with the Travel Portland app. Available for free on both iTunes and Google Play, the Travel Portland app can help you navigate the city with GPS-enabled maps and plan your day with special events listings. But to really acquaint yourself with this Oregon city, you'll want to explore the app's Be PDX feature: Here, you'll find information on food trucks, breweries, book shops and local stores only found in Portland.

Getting your kids interested in American history can be difficult when they've got their eyes glued to their phones. Colonial Williamsburg accepted the challenge, using it as a means to prove that the historic town isn't stuck in the past. Thus, the idea for RevQuest was born. It's not an app, per se: RevQuest, a spy-themed scavenger hunt program (included in the admission to Colonial Williamsburg), sends clues via text message to participants' cell phones directing them to on-site interpreters for more information. You can start your RevQuest before arriving at Colonial Williamsburg: Complete the online portion of your mission to receive a special reward once you get to the Revolutionary City. The missions are regularly updated with new story lines, all of which could "change the course of history."

Before you settle down with your mint julep in hand, the Louisville tourism board would really like you to get better acquainted with the spirit of Kentucky — bourbon, that is. Download the free Urban Bourbon Trail app on iTunes or Google Play to access your Urban Bourbon Passport. The goal is to get your passport "stamped" by visiting at least six of the 27 bourbon bars and distilleries found throughout downtown Louisville. To get your passport stamped, you must make a purchase and obtain a code that you enter into the app; fill out your passport and you'll get a free T-shirt. The Urban Bourbon Trail app can also help you find nearby bars and restaurants that serve the locally made liquor. But just because you've filled your passport or you've left Louisville doesn't mean you should delete the app — you wouldn't want to lose the drink recipes.

Visitors to Maryland have a lot of options around which to frame their vacations: There's Baltimore's lively Inner Harbor, Ocean City's sprawling shoreline and, of course, all the crab you can eat. But throughout the rest of 2014 and 2015, the Maryland tourism board is placing a lot of emphasis on the state's Civil War history in honor of the 150th anniversary. Civil War buffs who want to explore beyond Antietam can download the free Civil War Trails app (available in iTunes and Google Play), which can help you navigate more than 225 battlefields and other notable sites. A zoomable GPS map can highlight nearby points of interest, while built-in image filters allow you to add a 19th-century feel to your vacation photos.

Miriam B. Weiner is the Lead Travel Editor at U.S. News. You can follow her on Twitter, circle her on Google+ or email her at mweiner@usnews.com.

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