NATURE EVENT Virginia Beach, Va.
It's wintertime, and the humpback and fin whales are returning to Virginia Beach. So once again, Virginia Beach is featuring whale watching packages starting at $83 per person, available through March 14. They include three days, two nights of accommodations; admission aboard a two-hour Virginia Aquarium & Marine Science Center whale-watching boat trip; and admission to the Virginia Aquarium, including the new Restless Planet exhibit, and the Aquarium's 3-D IMAX® Theater.
Thanks to the food-rich mouth of the Chesapeake Bay and warm Atlantic Ocean waters, humpback and fin whales can be seen diving off the Virginia Beach coast each winter. These massive creatures can weigh up to 70 tons and range up to 79 feet long.
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AWARD-WINNING SPA Cary
Umstead Hotel and Spa among world's best
The Umstead Hotel and Spa has been named one of Travel + Leisure magazine's Top 500 Hotels in the World for 2010. Since it opened in 2007, The Umstead also achieved both the AAA Five Diamond and the Forbes Five Star distinctions. It is one of the few relatively new hotels to make the list.
Based on readers' ratings, the list is a guide to the top places to stay in six continents. As part of the survey, Travel + Leisure readers rated hotels on several characteristics including rooms/facilities, location, service, restaurants/food and value.
Other N.C. hotels that made the list are Richmond Hill Inn and the Inn on Biltmore Estate - both in Asheville.
S.C. hotels that made the grade are the Inn at Palmetto Bluff (Bluffton); Charleston Place and Planters Inn (both in Charleston) and the Sanctuary at Kiawah Island Golf Resort (Kiawah Island).
For the list of the Top 500 Hotels in the World for 2010, go to www.travelandleisure.com/tl500. For details about The Umstead, go to www.theumstead .com .
CULTURAL EVENT Hilton Head Island, S.C.
Annual Gullah celebration
Through Feb. 28, the island is celebrating the customs of the West African-based Gullah culture through a series of special events.
The original Gullah were slaves. Since they were forbidden by plantation owners to speak their native tongue, the African slaves developed the Gullah dialect out of necessity by incorporating broken English with African words. Today, the Gullah culture has shaped generations of families who live in native islander communities that span nearly 3,000 acres on Hilton Head Island and in the Lowcountry.
The festival is an annual reminder that the Gullah culture is still alive in the Lowcountry. Featured events include a Gullah art show and sale; a Gullah Film Series, special performances by Lee Williams and the Spiritual QC's, and a Taste of Gullah that showcases native food and entertainment.
The festival ends with the Marsh Tacky Horse Run, a horse race that celebrates how the Marsh Tacky horses played a big part in the survival of the Gullah people.