10 U.S. islands that feel exotic
Want to escape to somewhere truly memorable? Here are the best island getaways without leaving the country.
As much as we all wish to see every corner of the globe, it can be a challenge to do it all with limited funds and vacation time. Luckily, the United States is diverse enough to offer an array of exotic locales — from golden beaches to volcanic islands — all on our own home turf. Here are our picks for the ten most exotic destinations that don't require a passport.
Dry Tortugas, Florida
Turquoise water, tons of green sea turtles and white-sand beaches with visibility seeming to stretch to forever. Sounds like the Caribbean, right? Wrong. The Dry Tortugas, 67 miles off Key West into the heart of the Gulf of Mexico, pack epic snorkeling alongside Southern stingrays, parrotfish and schools of Creole wrasse — all just a ferry or seaplane ride from the Conch Republic.
San Juan Islands, Washington
San Juan Islands, Washington/Shutterstock
With conifer forests thick along its coasts and a marine climate with cool summers and mild winters, the San Juan Islands of Washington state feel a lot like Norway. Both destinations are renowned for sea kayaking as well as whale-watching tours, and yet the San Juans are a three-hour drive — and a ferry hop — north of Seattle. Plus, with alpaca ranches and lavender farms covering the hillsides, the experience also includes a touch of Peru-meets-Provence.
Assateague Island, Maryland
Assateague Island, Maryland /Shutterstock
Like Portugal's Soajo Mountain, Maryland's Assateague Island is home to wild horses — more than 150 in total. These feral ponies have free range of the beaches, marshes and forests. For the best viewing, try the Chincoteague National Wildlife Refuge's Wildlife Loop Road, a three-hour walk. For a more unique spectacle, time your visit with the annual pony swim, held every July, wherein a group who call themselves the saltwater cowboys wrangle up the horses, leading them on a swim across the Assateague Channel.
Sapelo Island, Georgia
The Spanish moss hanging from live oak branches gives Sapelo Island, Georgia, an only-in-the-Southeast feel, but its golden-sand beaches feel a bit like the islands off Queensland, Australia. Reach it only via boat: either the DNR ferry or private vessel. Once ashore, walk the hiking trails through dunes and maritime forests to encounter hundreds of bird species, including the Chachalaca bird — which otherwise requires birders to travel to either Mexico or Central America to cross off lists. Stay the night and you might even spot a bobcat.
Culebra, Puerto Rico
Culebra, Puerto Rico /Shutterstock
Culebra, a satellite island of Puerto Rico, is often referred to as one of the Spanish Virgin Islands, and for good reason. Its sugar sand beaches are mostly undeveloped, lending it the feel of Jost Van Dyke in the British Virgin Islands. Like the BVI, Culebra lacks any of the large, major hotel chains. Instead, it has a sleepy charm, appealing to those content to kayak, snorkel and beachcomb.
Kauai, Hawaii /Shutterstock
One of the wettest places on the planet, Kauai packs its mountains with unending greenery, punctuated by a dozen epic waterfalls. This makes it every bit as lush and exotic as Tahiti, but at a fraction of the flight time. Worth the splurge, a helicopter tour of the Na Pali Coast — where Jurassic Park was filmed — shows visitors more highlights than they could see in a week of hiking.
Elizabeth Islands, Massachusetts
Just south of Cape Cod lie the Elizabeth Islands of Massachusetts, including Penikese and Cuttyhunk, two of the only inhabited islands in the bunch not owned by the Forbes family. Cuttyhunk in particular still exudes British flavor, carried over from 1602, when it was the first British settlement on the new coast. Experience it at Avalon Inn, one of the few choices when overnighting. To see more of the neighboring isles, book a day cruise to explore beaches and see wild harbor, harp and gray seals.
Daufuskie Island, South Carolina
Daufuskie Island, South Carolina /Shutterstock
Daufuskie Island, South Carolina, is perhaps best known as the home of the Gullah people, a community of African Americans in the lowcountry who speak their own creole language called Geechee. To get a feel for the people and their culture, stop by the Historical Foundation to hear local stories and legends, as well as chat up the local guide, who's been on island for decades.
Cedar Key, Florida
Cedar Key, Florida /Shutterstock
Over-water bars, weathered and leaning on stilts, give the fishing village of Cedar Key off Florida's Gulf Coast a back-in-time vibe, like that of Bocas del Toro, Panama. But, unlike Bocas, Cedar Key averages in the low and mid 80s, making for more pleasant conditions for sea kayaking, for which the area is renowned. The Suwannee River empties into the Gulf roughly 10 miles north of Cedar Key, and the sound separating the two is lined with uninhabited islands, perfect for any boaters to enjoy day picnics and exploring.
Aleutian Islands, Alaska
Aleutian Islands, Alaska /Shutterstock
Alaska's Aleutian Islands, a chain of 14 volcanic outposts that string out west of the state, remain one of the most remote places on the planet. Sea kayakers treasure the destination, willing to brave the inclement weather for chances to see grey, minke, orca, sperm and humpback whales, as well as walrus, seals and sea lions. From these islands, it's possible to view the Northern Lights year-round. For those who aren't into roughing it, know that there is lodging at places like the Grand Aleutian Hotel on Unalaska Island.
Right now, around the world, brave members of America's armed forces are on duty, defending our freedom and upholding our values.
When not laser-focused on the mission at hand, they're looking forward to the day when their service to our nation is fulfilled and they can reunite with their families.
They are also imagining how they can use their hard-earned skills to build an exciting, rewarding and important career when they return home.
I want them to look no further than United Airlines.
That's why we are focused on recruiting, developing and championing veterans across our company, demonstrating to our returning women and men in uniform that United is the best possible place for them to put their training, knowledge, discipline and character to the noblest use.
They've developed their knowledge and skills in some of the worst of times. We hope they will use those skills to keep United performing at our best, all of the time.
That's why we are accelerating our efforts to onboard the best and the brightest, and substantially increasing our overall recruitment numbers each year.
We recently launched a new sponsorship program to support onboarding veterans into United and a new care package program to support deployed employees. It's one more reason why United continues to rank high - and rise higher - as a top workplace for veterans. In fact, we jumped 21 spots this year on Indeed.com's list of the top U.S workplaces for veterans. This is a testament to our increased recruiting efforts, as well as our efforts to create a culture where veterans feel valued and supported.
We use the special reach and resources of our global operations to partner with outstanding organizations. This is our way of stepping up and going the extra mile for all those who've stepped forward to answer our nation's call.
We do this year-round, and the month of November is no exception; however, it is exceptional, especially as we mark Veterans Day.
As we pay tribute to all Americans who have served in uniform and carried our flag into battle throughout our history, let's also keep our thoughts with the women and men who are serving around the world, now. They belong to a generation of post-9/11 veterans who've taken part in the longest sustained period of conflict in our history.
Never has so much been asked by so many of so few.... for so long. These heroes represent every color and creed. They are drawn from across the country and many immigrated to our shores.
They then freely choose to serve in the most distant and dangerous regions of the world, to protect democracy in its moments of maximum danger.
Wherever they serve - however they serve - whether they put on a uniform each day, or serve in ways which may never be fully known, these Americans wake up each morning willing to offer the "last full measure of devotion" on our behalf.
Every time they do so, they provide a stunning rebuke to the kinds of voices around the world who doubt freedom and democracy's ability to defend itself.
Unfortunately, we know there are those who seem to not understand – or say they do not - what it is that inspires a free people to step forward, willing to lay down their lives so that their country and fellow citizens might live.
But, we – who are both the wards and stewards of the democracy which has been preserved and handed down to us by veterans throughout our history – do understand.
We know that inciting fear and hatred of others is a source of weakness, not strength. And such divisive rhetoric can never inspire solidarity or sacrifice like love for others and love of country can.
It is this quality of devotion that we most honor in our veterans - those who have served, do serve and will serve.
On behalf of a grateful family of 96,000, thank you for your service.
Each year around Veterans Day, Indeed, one of the world's largest job search engines, rates companies based on actual employee reviews to identify which ones offer the best opportunities and benefits for current and former U.S. military members. Our dramatic improvement in the rankings this year reflects a stronger commitment than ever before to actively recruiting, developing and nurturing veteran talent.
"We've spent a lot of time over the past 12 months looking for ways to better connect with our employees who served and attract new employees from the military ranks," said Global Catering Operations and Logistics Managing Director Ryan Melby, a U.S. Army veteran and the president of our United for Veterans business resource group.
"Our group is launching a mentorship program, for instance, where we'll assign existing employee-veterans to work with new hires who come to us from the armed forces. Having a friend and an ally like that, someone who can help you translate the skills you picked up in the military to what we do as a civilian company, is invaluable. That initiative is still in its infancy, but I'm really optimistic about what it can do for United and for our veteran population here."
Impressively, we were the only one of our industry peers to move up on the list, further evidence that we're on a good track as a company.
The question of where David Ferrari was had haunted retired U.S. Army Sergeant Major Vincent Salceto for the better part of 66 years.
Rarely did a week go by that Salceto didn't think about his old friend. Often, he relived their last moments together in a recurring nightmare. In it, it's once again 1953 and Salceto and Ferrari are patrolling a valley in what is now North Korea. Suddenly, explosions shatter the silence and flares light up the night sky.
Crouching under a barrage of bullets, Salceto, the squad's leader, drags two of his men to safety, then he sees Ferrari lying face down on the ground. He runs out to help him, but he's too late. And that's when he always wakes up.
Italian Americans from opposite coasts – Salceto from Philadelphia, Ferrari from San Francisco – the two became close, almost like brothers, after being assigned to the same unit during the Korean War. When Ferrari died, it hit Salceto hard.
"After that, I never let anyone get close to me like I did with Dave," he says. "I couldn't; I didn't want to go through that again."
When the war ended, Salceto wanted to tell Ferrari's family how brave their son and brother had been in battle. Most of all, he wanted to salute his friend at his gravesite and give him a proper farewell.
For decades, though, Salceto had no luck finding his final resting place or locating any of his relatives. Then, in June of this year, he uncovered a clue that led him to the Italian Cemetary in Colma, California, where Ferrari is buried.
Within days, Salceto, who lives in Franklinville, New Jersey, was packed and sitting aboard United Flight 731 from Philadelphia to San Francisco with his wife, Amy, and daughter, Donna Decker, on his way to Colma. For such a meaningful trip, he even wore his Army dress uniform.
That's how San Francisco-based flight attendant Noreen Baldwin spotted him as he walked down the jet bridge to get on the plane.
"I saw him and said to the other crew members, 'Oh my goodness, look at this guy,'" she says. "I knew there had to be a story."
The two struck up a conversation and Salceto told Baldwin why he was traveling. She got emotional listening to him talk and made a point of fussing over him, making sure he and his family had everything they needed.
About halfway through the flight, Baldwin had an idea. She and her fellow crew members would write messages of encouragement to Salceto and invite his fellow passengers to do the same.
"We did it discreetly," says Baldwin. "I asked the customers if they saw the man in uniform, which most had, and asked them if they wanted to write a few words for him on a cocktail napkin. A lot of people did; families did it together, parents got their kids to write something. After the first few rows, I was so choked up that I could barely talk."
When Baldwin surprised Salceto with dozens of hand-written notes, he, too, was speechless. He laid the stack on his lap and read each one. At the same time, the pilots made an announcement about the veteran over the loud speaker, after which the customers on board burst into applause.
"It seems contrived, and I hate using the word organic, but that's what it was; it just happened," Baldwin says. "Mr. Salceto was so loveable and humble, and what he was doing was so incredible, it felt like the right thing to do. And you could tell he was touched."
On June 27, Salceto finally stood before Ferrari's grave and said that long-awaited goodbye. As a trumpeter played "Taps," he unpinned a medal from his jacket and laid it reverently on the headstone.
"I had gotten a Bronze Star for my actions [the night Ferrari died] with a 'V' for valor, and that was the medal I put on Dave's grave," says Salceto, pausing to fight back tears. "I thought he was more deserving of it than I was."
For the first time in years, Salceto felt at peace. His mission was accomplished.