Editor’s Note: NEA Member Benefits understands how much you love to travel and how much you’ve missed it. As states begin to relax their regulations with regard to COVID-19 and more Americans become vaccinated, travel is opening up more and more. Before planning a trip, read the health and safety protocols and requirements for visitors to any destination, as well as those of airlines, car rentals and hotels before booking and again before traveling.
The tail end of winter can feel like a moving goalpost: You can almost see the light at the end of the tunnel, but you’re not there yet. You can get an early taste of spring by visiting an indoor conservatory or greenhouse or a botanic garden in a destination with warmer climes. Bursting with foliage and flowers, a leisurely trip to the garden is the perfect way to shake off winter. Or, start planning an outdoor visit for when the weather gets warmer over the next few months. Many of these have low admission fees, but consider joining as an annual membership to the garden if you are local to a garden for greater discounts and access to special perks not offered to the general public.
1. Longwood Gardens in Kennett Square, Pennsylvania
One of the world’s greatest gardens is tucked into the Philadelphia countryside and is inviting all year-round. While many people visit for the spectacular winter holiday displays, Longwood Gardens’ jaw-dropping conservatory is a half-acre under glass with almost every kind of greenery imaginable, tropical and otherwise. As an extra bonus, you just might be able to catch Longwood’s popular orchid and spring bloom events. As schedules vary, be sure to call or check the events section of the website in advance of your visit. And if it’s warm enough, gardens like the Topiary Garden, Wisteria Garden and Peony Garden will surely beckon. (Admission starts at $25 for adults, $22 for seniors 62+ and college students with a valid ID, $13 for children ages 5–18 and free for children 4 and under.)
NEA member travel benefits: Book a flight through the NEA Travel Program to Philadelphia International Airport (PHL) to get the best prices, and then drive about 35 minutes to Kennett Square. Visit NEA Travel: Hotels to find deals like an average of $109 per night at Fairfield Inn By Marriott Kennett Square Brandywine Valley, $117 per night at Hilton Garden Inn Kennett Square and just $46 per night at Microtel Inn & Suites By Wyndham West Chester.
2. Greater Des Moines Botanical Garden in Iowa
The stunning geodesic-domed conservatory at this Des Moines gem is an invitation to a tropical paradise. The dizzying array of tropical plants at Greater Des Moines Botanical Garden includes the starfruit tree, traveler’s palm and chenille plant, among other fascinating varieties. Tucked in here is also an incredible desert garden, which showcases yucca, jade plants and more.
Meanwhile, the 7 acres of outdoor gardens feature everything from daffodils to bluebells to irises in spring. Guests also can enjoy various sculptures and have a tasty bite at the Trellis Cafe. (Admission: $10 for adults, $9 for seniors and military personnel, $7 for children ages 4–17 and free for children 3 and under.)
NEA member travel benefits: For great airfare deals, visit NEA Travel: Airfare and search for tickets to Des Moines International Airport (DSM). Then find the perfect hotel at the perfect price on NEA Travel’s Hotels page. For example, Hyatt Place Des Moines Downtown is an average of $119 a night, or for an average of $66 a night you can book a room at Baymont by Wyndham Des Moines North. If you’re up for a splurge of an average of $167 a night, try the Surety Hotel, which is a chic boutique hotel in a historic building.
3. Rawlings Conservatory & Botanical Gardens in Baltimore, Maryland
Imagine a conservatory that lets you move from a balmy Mediterranean climate to an arid desert and then on to the warm tropics. That’s exactly what you get at Rawlings Conservatory & Botanical Gardens, majestic home to a dazzling array of plants, and the second-oldest glass conservatory in America. The best part about visiting is that some plant or other is always in bloom, making it worth repeat visits.
Tour the Tropical House, the Mediterranean House, the Desert House, the Palm House, and the Orchid Room—which has more than 30,000 species on display—to get your fill of lush foliage and flowers. Watch for an early peek at spring flower displays or join a Sunday educational session if you can. (Admission is free, but a $5 per person donation is encouraged.)
NEA member travel benefits: Reserve airline tickets through the NEA Travel Program to Baltimore Washington International (BWI) or Ronald Reagan Washington National Airport (DCA), which is about an hour’s drive away. Spend the night at Staybridge Suites Baltimore - Inner Harbor (an average of $110 per night on NEA Travel: Hotels) or Delta Hotels Baltimore Inner Harbor (an average of $127 per night on NEA Travel: Hotels). For just a bit more ($150 per night) you can get a room at Kimpton’s fashionable Hotel Monaco Baltimore.
4. Conservatory of Flowers in San Francisco, California
Located inside Golden Gate Park since 1879, the Conservatory of Flowers is a San Francisco landmark. Inside the historic building are five galleries, each focusing on a different ecosystem, such as the dense tropical rainforests of Sumatra and the cloud forests of Ecuador. Visitors can luxuriate in a mix of highland and lowland tropical plants, their aquatic cousins and more. (Admission: $10 for adults; $7 for seniors 65+, college students with ID and children ages 12–17; $3 for children 5–11; free for children 4 and under. Discounts for San Francisco residents with ID.)
NEA member travel benefits: Book a flight through NEA Travel: Airfare to San Francisco International Airport (SFO) or Oakland International Airport (OAK). On NEA Travel: Hotels you’ll see deals like an average of $102 a night at Yotel San Francisco, $108 a night at The Cartwright Hotel - Union Square, BW Premier Collection and $163 a night at Holiday Inn Express San Francisco Union Square.
5. Denver Botanic Gardens in Denver, Colorado
If skiing is by now squarely in the rearview mirror, put Denver’s gardens on your list of getaways. The Mile High City is so in love with The Boettcher Memorial Tropical Conservatory at the Denver Botanic Gardens that it is an official historic landmark.
Foodies will especially appreciate the range of food plants, including bananas, coffee and chocolate, and everybody will love the exotic tropical and subtropical plants sure to chase the winter blues away. In warmer weather, venture outside to view (and smell) the plants native to the Rocky Mountain and Great Plains region including lilacs, day lilies, peonies and roses, plus cactus and succulent gardens and an interactive children’s garden. (Admission: $15 for adults; $11.50 for seniors 65+, military and veterans with ID; $11 for students with ID and children ages 3–15; children 2 and under are free.)
NEA member travel benefits: You’ll get the best airfare prices into Denver International Airport (DEN) when you book through the NEA Travel Program and you can find great deals on hotels there, too. For an average of $75/night you can reserve a room at Home2 Suites By Hilton Denver Downtown Convention Center or at the Springhill Suites By Marriott Denver Westminster for $81/night. Or spend a bit more on The Westin Denver Downtown, which rings in at an average of $144/night.
6. Desert Botanical Garden in Phoenix, Arizona
An outdoors option, this cactus and succulent-focused garden is breathtaking enough to visit year-round (yes, even in the summer months!). The Desert Botanical Garden features desert hiking trails and paths, one of which leads to views of the surrounding mountains and another that features colorful wildflowers and blooming cacti.
In spring or fall, duck inside the Butterfly Pavilion to witness thousands of the colorful winged creatures. And, from now through June 19, 2022, visitors can catch the Chihuly in the Desert exhibition, which features the famous glass artist’s sculptures interspersed throughout the garden. (Admission: $24.95 for adults; $14.95 for children ages 3–17; children under 3 and active military are free.)
NEA member travel benefits: For the best airfare deals, visit NEA Travel: Airfare and search for tickets to Phoenix Sky Harbor International Airport (PHX). On NEA Travel: Hotels you’ll see prices such as an average of $68 per night for Rodeway Inn Phoenix and $137 per night for Fairfield Inn By Marriott Phoenix North. Or stay downtown at Springhill Suites By Marriott Phoenix Downtown for an average of $166 per night.