Category Archives: vacation

Cruising 2.0

Have you been on a cruise lately? If so, you have experienced some of the great new innovations that have been introduced by the cruise lines. Of course cruising is not a new experience; it has been used for centuries to transport people and products. But the invention of the steam engine made the process much faster and the passenger ship industry began to flourish.

If you watched television in the 1970s you’ll remember a weekly series called “The Love Boat” that was set aboard a Princess Cruise ship. Each of the episodes included several story lines that revolved around the cast and crew. It provided an inside look at what vacationing onboard a cruise ship was like. It was also a great marketing tool for cruise lines.

Fast-forward to 2017 and you’ll find that cruising is no longer just a way to travel from point A to point B. The cruise game has changed completely. In the last 20 years cruise lines have continued to build bigger, more innovative ships – they have become floating cities! Onboard activities include IMAX theaters, zip lines, ice skating rinks, rock climbing walls, world-class spas, designer shops, waterslides and much more. Here are some examples:

In 2009 Royal Caribbean introduced the world’s largest cruise ships; the Oasis Class. They can carry more than 5000 passengers and 7 different neighborhoods, a 5-deck high Central Park with lush tropical gardens, a boardwalk with a full-size working carousel. Entertainment options are many and besides the usual casino and main showroom, guests can enjoy the comedy club, aqua theater, ice shows, and several nightclubs. Active cruisers can zip line, rock climb, ice skate or hit the waves on one of the FlowRider surf simulators. There is also plenty onboard for the little ones since Royal Caribbean has partnered with DreamWorks so you never know when you’ll run into someone like Shrek or Fiona.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Carnival has expanded their fleet to include activities like an IMAX theater, an onboard waterpark and even flying bicycles!

On the newest ship, the Vista guests can enjoy SkyRide at SportSquare. It is a twin-track suspended bike course — strap in and race around for the win or just cruise for great views.

Celebrity offers modern luxury cruising and its newest ship, the Edge, is advertised as “a ship to leave the future behind”. It does exactly that with transformative spaces. As the sun sets, the groundbreaking spaces on Celebrity Edge transform to deliver completely new experiences. By day, outward-facing ocean views, ever-changing abstract artwork, and unexpected entertainment create a luxurious resort-style atmosphere. At night, ambient lighting, unique al fresco dining, and live music set the scene for energy, intimacy, and elegance.

Custom-built for the spectacular, the Norwegian Bliss will cruise Alaska and the Caribbean seasonally beginning Summer 2018. In addition to the aqua park you can also burn rubber on the largest racetrack at sea and then challenge your friends or family to some friendly competition on the Aqua Racer. Dare to whoosh over the side of the ship on Ocean Loops before dodging lasers during an exhilarating game of laser tag.

Bellissima is the newest flagship of the MSC cruise line. The two-deck inside promenade features a spectacular 260-foot-long LED dome, and is lined with places to shop, eat and drink. There are 20 bars and 10 restaurants to choose from, including specialty restaurants. For entertainment, you can enjoy 2 brand new Cirque du Soleil® shows designed especially for MSC Bellissima, and relax in the desert themed Water Park – an oasis for kids and families.

Princess, the original cruse line of the Love Boat continues to expand its fleet with its new Medallion class ships. Its latest ship, the Regal Princess will debut in November 2017. Enjoy sweeping views from one of more than 1,400 balconies on Regal Princess or stroll on the SeaWalk®, a glass-floor walkway extending 28 feet beyond the edge of the ship! From the tranquil Sanctuary, a retreat reserved for adults, to the dazzling Princess WaterColor Fantasy light and water show and more, there are diversions for every mood.

If you’re looking for an all-inclusive luxury cruise experience, look no farther than Crystal and choose from 3 different cruise types – ocean, yacht or river cruise. The award-winning Crystal Serenity has a contemporary style with a bright, modern décor. Guests can shop at chic boutiques or dine under the stars at Trident Grill, a light and airy courtyard beneath a retractable glass roof. Most striking is the lush greenery – variegated “living walls” and live olive trees under-planted with lavender.

If ocean cruising is not your thing, consider taking a river cruise. It’s a great way to experience the beauty and scenery along the world’s greatest rivers like the Danube, Rhine, Yangtze or Nile. Traveling by river, beyond the reach of roadways, you’ll discover the true nature of these fascinating lands and the people who call them home. You’ll travel with ease, unpacking just once and enjoying the ever-changing scenery along the banks as you are gently carried aboard an elegant, intimate ship to your next destination.

Disney fans that want a “magic included” cruise experience can find it on one of Disney’s world-class ships. There is something onboard for everyone with activities for children and adults-only areas as well. They even offer convenient Wave Phones that let you call and text your fellow passengers while you’re onboard or at Castaway Cay (their private island) so you can always keep in touch.

World Cruises – If time and money are no problem, consider taking a world cruise. Sail from Los Angeles to London (120 days), Sydney to Vancouver (Australia, Asia & Alaska, 79 days), or Athens to Hong Kong (50 days). If you haven’t made vacation plans for 2018, it’s not too late to book the Princess Cruises 2018 world cruise, sailing round-trip from Fort Lauderdale where you can spend 111 days visiting 5 continents and 28 countries. However, the ship only holds 672 passengers, so it’s very likely that it is already sold out.

As you can see, there are LOTS of different cruise experiences to choose from. Cruise ships have become floating resorts. There is so much to do onboard the larger ships, that it can be difficult to experience everything. We have taken transatlantic cruises on Royal Caribbean’s mega ships, the Oasis and the Allure of the Seas and even with 12 days on the ship, we didn’t manage to do or see everything.

 

 

 

 

 

ENJOYING THE MERRY-GO-ROUND ON THE ALLURE

It goes without saying that cruising is not everyone’s cup of tea – there is no “one-size-fits-all” vacation. But cruising comes pretty darn close. Here are some of the benefits:

There is something onboard for everyone. Whether you’re a party animal who wants to be in constant motion, or a loner who prefers “me time”, there are spaces and activities for you. Even the ships that carry 5000 passengers are so well designed that there are always private nooks and crannies.

Cruises are a great way for families to travel together. There are age-specific areas and activities for all ages, so it’s a great way to vacation with the kids and still enjoy some “grown folks” time too.

Cruising offers the best value for your vacation dollar. Although many are not all-inclusive (you have to pay for alcoholic drinks, sodas), it’s still a good value. The cruise fare includes unlimited dining (in dining room, buffet and snack areas), 24 hour room service, nightly shows (we’ve seen Grease, Hair Spray and Cats with actual Broadway casts), nightclubs (no cover charge), and of course transportation between ports. The total for those activities for a 7 day vacation would be much higher than a cruise fare.

Cruising also offers an element of safety. A solo traveler who might be hesitant to stroll around a big city after dark would be perfectly safe going to dinner, a show or nightclub on a ship.

Are all cruises wonderful? Absolutely not! It is important to choose the cruise line and itinerary that fits your travel style and budget. As you can see from the list of ships and activities they are all very different. The experience depends on the ship and the itinerary that you choose. I’m not a fan of old or small ships, so I don’t book cruises on them. It’s also important to book the right cabin. I’ve heard people say that the cabin doesn’t really matter since you don’t spend much time there. Maybe it doesn’t…..to them. For me the cabin is a very important part of my cruise experience. So I want to be as comfortable as possible. I’ve heard people say that they don’t want to be “cooped up” on a cruise ship. That can happen if you’re in an inside cabin with no windows or outside light. But a cabin with a balcony provides an entirely different experience. It’s the perfect place to enjoy the beauty of the ocean in complete privacy, and enjoy beautiful scenes like this.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

If your idea of a vacation is a nonstop pool party, I wouldn’t recommend taking a river cruise – they tend to draw a quieter, more elderly crowd (#no turn up). Or if you are a senior who prefers to vacation with people in your age group, a spring break Caribbean cruise would not be the best choice for you.

What’s the best way to decide? Talk to an experienced travel advisor who has cruised and is familiar with all of the cruise lines. They can help you make the best choice.

The cruise industry continues to innovate and re-invent the cruise experience.  It’s a great way to vacation and a great way to see the world.

 

Caesars Palace – a Hotel Review

As frequent visitors to Las Vegas for the past 25 years, we have stayed at more than 15 properties – on and off of the Strip – ranging from the Flamingo to the Mandarin Oriental. So in January we stayed at Caesars for the first time. We had frequented the property for many years when it hosted major boxing matches. Our first was “The War” in 1989, between Sugar Ray Leonard and Thomas Hearns. We have also been regular visitors to their Qua Roman Baths and Spa and regular shoppers at the Forum Shops.

We’ve watched Caesars grow through the years, becoming one of the largest resorts on the Strip. So we wanted to find out what the experience would be like as hotel guests. We took a shuttle from the airport and upon arrival found that the hotel drop-off area was uncovered and a distance from the front entrance. There was no one in that area to assist with luggage. That is definitely an inconvenience in inclement weather. So if it had been raining or triple-digit temperatures (as is often the case during summer months) we would have been very uncomfortable after being dropped off, and waiting to be picked up. There is no covered shelter to protect from the elements. That area is also the designated drop off/pickup point for Uber and Lyft drivers. There is no clear walkway from that area to the entrance so we had to maneuver our way through traffic, over uneven surfaces to enter the resort.

When we made it to the check-in desk, and presented our reservation confirmation we were greeted warmly and processed fairly quickly. It was 1:30pm and check-in time is 3:00pm. This is normal procedure at hotels, but often there are rooms available and guests are allowed to check in early. We were told that there were no rooms available yet, and advised to leave our luggage at the bell desk. Then we were presented with and option – if we paid $30.00 a room would be available. We chose to utilize that option. However, we viewed that as an upsell. We have stayed at fine hotels all over the world, and have never had to pay for early check in. If a room is available, we’re normally allowed to check in. It was apparent that rooms were available, but not until we paid the $30.00. This is an unnecessary upsell and a deterrent.

Locating the room was an adventure in itself. Caesars is a 50 year-old property that started as a single hotel, but has grown into a maze of separate towers, connected in very disjointed ways. Signage is confusing, at best. Getting around the property is similar to maneuvering a maze. We stayed in the Palace Tower in a standard king room on the 26th floor, overlooking the pool. The room was spacious, clean, well-furnished and even offered a Jacuzzi tub. However, there was a letter in the room, informing us of construction due to remodeling. We should have been informed of that at the front desk. We did find the noise disruptive and registered a complaint. They did offer a change of room.

The Palace Tower is one of the oldest, and getting to the elevators requires walking through an area lined with shops and salons on both sides. Guests passing through this area are constantly solicited by aggressive shopkeepers. We were accosted each time we entered and exited the tower – VERY annoying. That sort of behavior is expected out on the Strip, but certainly not inside of your hotel tower.

DINING: The dining options are plentiful – from fine dining, to the food court – and service is excellent. The Bacchanal Buffet is one of the best in Las Vegas. We also enjoyed Gordon Ramsay’s Pub and Grill that served great pub food and the service is exceptional. Prices at all of the eating establishments (with the exception of the food court) would be considered $$$, so it is not the place to “eat on the cheap”.

Since it was January, we did not utilize the swimming pool. But walked around the area and examined the cabanas. The area is well maintained with marble statues and pretty landscaping. No doubt it is a happening place during the warmer months.

GAMING: Table games and slots are plentiful, covering much of the casino floor. There is a large Sports Book, with very large high-quality screens. However, it is poorly lit and with the layout, it is difficult to see the betting boards. Also, free seating is limited, there are only a few free seats in the very front row; which only allows a distorted view of the screens and the betting boards. The remaining seats must be reserved – at a price. In many of the other resort casinos on the Strip (Venetian, Palazzo, Wynn, Encore, Aria) free seats are plentiful.

SHOPPING: The Forum Shops still offers a great shopping experience, with shops and boutiques by many of the world’s top designers. It is well laid out and beautifully designed. It features the Roman theme and even has a small replica of the Trevi Fountain. The “Fall of Atlantis” show is not to be missed. With the dramatic music and moving statues, it is one of the best free shows on the Strip.

ENTERTAINMENT: There are a good number of nightlife options, including the Omnia Nightclub and the Colosseum where many of the world’s top entertainers like Celine Dion and Elton John perform.

Caesars is priced like many of the other luxury resorts on the Strip, but the overall experience does not compare. I would consider it a 3 star property with a few 4 star elements.

10 Ways to Play Around the Bay

There is no city quite like San Francisco. As one of the world’s top tourist destinations, it welcomes an average of 24.6 million visitors each year from all around the globe. With all of the activities, beauty, culture, shopping and dining that the city has to offer, it’s easy to see why Tony Bennett left his heart in San Francisco. However, those who venture outside of the city will find that there’s even more to see and enjoy in the surrounding areas. Here are just a few options:

purple-grapes21. VISIT WINE COUNTRY – The word “Napa” evokes visions of pretty vineyards and scenic wineries. However, there are several more wine regions to enjoy without venturing very far from San Francisco. One of my favorites is the Livermore Valley Wine Region. Located just a 49 minute drive away, this picturesque valley is the perfect place for wine enthusiasts to taste, tour and spend the day.

yard-house-stirfry2. EAT DRINK AND BE MERRY – To say that the Bay Area is a foodie’s paradise would be an understatement. There are literally thousands of restaurants, serving every type of cuisine imaginable. The freshness of the California produce and the cultural diversity of the population combine to make eating around the Bay Area a true culinary adventure. Whether you favor fine dining, or just want to grab a bite from a food truck, you won’t be disappointed.

action3. GO TO A GAME – No matter what the season, sports fans can always find a game to go to since the Bay Area is home to teams like San Francisco Giants and Oakland A’s (baseball), Golden State Warriors (basketball), Raiders and 49ers (football), Sharks (hockey) and San Jose Earthquakes (soccer). Just pick a season, grab a ticket, and go.

coastal-bluffs4. CATCH A WAVE – The northern California coastline is called the “Frontier of Surfing” and surf spots are scattered northward along the coast. Some of the most popular are Ocean Beach (San Francisco/Marin), Salmon Creek (Sonoma) and Point Arena (Mendocino). It’s not recommended for beginners since Northern California’s water is cold, rugged, and sharky, so be prepared to battle against big waves and strong winds. It is also the home of Mavericks, a winter destination for some of the world’s best big wave surfers. An invitation-only contest is held there most winters, when the waves come.

ac-shops5. SHOP TILL YOU DROP – Shopaholics can definitely satisfy their shopping cravings at designer boutiques, humungous shopping malls and outlet malls. For high end shopping try Stanford Shopping Center (Palo Alto), Santana Row and Valley Fair (San Jose). Premium outlets can be found in Livermore, Vacaville and Gilroy. If you’re in the mood for haggling, try the Berryessa Flea Market (San Jose) with more than 2000 vendors selling arts & crafts, clothing, produce, furniture, tires, bicycles and much more. It is a bargain hunter’s paradise.

mountain-winery6. CATCH A CONCERT – The Bay Area is an entertainment mecca where every musical genre and the world’s top performers can be enjoyed indoors and outdoors. Larger venues include the Oracle Arena, Levi Stadium and the Shoreline Amphitheater. There’s nothing quite like taking in a concert under the stars at the Mountain Winery or the Montalvo Arts Center. For more intimate performances try a venue like Yoshi’s (Oakland).

cypress-tree7. MONTEREY/CARMEL – No trip to the Bay Area would be complete without spending time in Monterey. Only 2 hours down the coast (possibly 3 depending on the traffic), the beautiful scenery of this region is not to be missed. There are jaw-dropping coastal vistas on the way and especially along the 17 Mile Drive, location of Pebble Beach. Pebble Beach is a resort destination and home to the famous golf courses of Cypress Point Club, Monterey Peninsula Country Club and of course the Pebble Beach Golf Links. Spend a few hours strolling around Carmel a charming city – more like a picturesque village – and enjoy world-class restaurants, quaint boutiques and art galleries.

mountainview8. GO SEE THE REDWOODS –Some of the tallest trees in the world are located in northern California. With a million visitors per year, Muir Woods is the world’s most-visited redwood park. Since it’s just a 30-minute drive from San Francisco, visitors to the city can drive here, experience a little of California’s unique natural beauty, and be back in time for lunch. Then there’s the Avenue of the Giants, a scenic 31-mile drive with 51,222 acres of redwood groves. Imagine the picture-taking opportunities.

gnr-at-stanford9. GO BACK TO SCHOOL – Pay a visit to one of the beautiful college campuses like Stanford, Santa Clara or Berkeley. Stanford is a thriving residential campus and community sitting on 8,000 acres of gorgeous foothills and flatlands. You can even take a free student-led walking tour of the central campus. Berkeley and Santa Clara also offer campus tours.

donner-lake10.  GO FOR THE GOLD – California is called the golden state for a reason. Even though the original California Gold Rush is over, you can still try your luck at gold panning and prospecting. Towns like Murphy’s, Angel’s Camp, Sonora, Calaveras, and Sutter’s Mill all have places where you can pan for gold. Many of the small towns’ hardware stores sell basic gold panning supplies if you want to hike into the hills and give it a try in a stream. Who knows, there still might be some gold in “them thar hills”.

So the next time you visit San Francisco, take time to get out of the city and enjoy what the rest of the Bay Area has to offer.

 

If it Sounds Too Good….

“If it sounds too good to be true, it probably is”

vacation for 4No doubt, you’ve heard this old adage many times in your life. And it’s true; especially in the travel arena. If you’ve tried to book travel online recently (and who hasn’t?) you know that there are literally hundreds of websites advertising thousands of “cheap travel deals”. Are they legitimate or are they scams? How can you tell?

As a travel professional who only works with reputable vendors – and vets them thoroughly – I was curious so I decided to check out one of these fantastic deals.

Eiffel Tower With Blue Sky

It was a 4-night getaway to Paris (round-trip airfare, 4 nights in a centrally located hotel) all for the low, low price of $699 (per person, based on double occupancy). Sounds good, huh? Maybe too good….This particular deal could only be booked by telephone, so I contacted the call center to make sure that $699 was the actual cost. As it turned out, there were a few more charges that had not been included in the original advertisement. They included a Paris city tax ($3 per night), seat selection fee ($98), checked bag fee ($149), 2% credit card processing fee.

TOTAL PRICE: $977 (a far cry from the low, low price of $699)

Hold on, it gets worse. This particular vendor had some very interesting clauses in their terms and conditions.
One stated: Airfare costs and availability are subject to change at any time prior to payment. Even after you have paid, trips with scheduled air transportation within or from the United States are subject to supplemental price increases that may be imposed by the supplier and/or government. By agreeing to these terms and conditions you consent to any such price increase.

Another stated: Fares and prices advertised on this site are accurate to the best of our knowledge. However, on occasion, inadvertent errors in relation to prices and flight details can occur. We will inform you as soon as reasonably possible of any such errors and we reserve the right to charge you the correct fare or, as appropriate, correct any inaccurate information in the contract between you and the carrier or ourselves.

So apparently if I booked the trip through them I was also agreeing to pay “unforeseen” price increases due to “inadvertent errors”. Are you kidding me?

Since they would only complete the booking via telephone, once they had my credit card number, who knows what the total charge would have been?

When booking travel arrangements for our clients, our agency always requires them to complete a written credit card authorization form. It shows the exact amount that will be charged to their credit card. It provides protection for them from unauthorized charges, and protects us against fraudulent accusations.

To add insult to injury, I found that I could book the trip online myself for almost the same price – without all of the “interesting” terms and conditions.

I’m not saying that discount travel deals don’t exist, but it is important to check them out thoroughly and read ALL of the fine print.

Here are some tips for vetting those great deals:

  1. WALK THE DEAL ALL THE WAY THROUGH. The advertised price is a lead-in price that does not include all of the taxes and fees. So don’t expect that $299 cruise to be only $299. Even when cruise lines or hotels advertise, “kids go free” it only refers to the base fare, but you’ll still have to pay taxes and fees for that free person.
  2. CHECK THE DATE: The advertised price may only apply to a particular date. I recently saw an example of this with a cruise fare where the fine print stated, *Fares from $499 is based on 12/11/16 for 6-day Caribbean sailing only Fares apply to minimum lead-in categories on a space available basis at time of booking. So if you and your BFF are thinking about taking a cruise on any other date, the $499 price will not apply.
  3. CHECK THE VENDOR’S TERMS AND CONDITIONS THOROUGLY. Once you complete the transaction, you have agreed to those terms, whether you read them or not. If there is a dispute, you will have no recourse, after all….you agreed.
  4. THERE AIN’T NO FREE LUNCH. Airlines, hotels, cruise lines, tour companies and all travel vendors are in business to make money. They may offer discounted rates, or extra amenities, but FREE? Forget about it. Even if someone offers your free show tickets or buffet vouchers, you’ll only get them after setting through a high-pressure presentation.
  5. YOU GET WHAT YOU PAY FOR. If you’ve ever shopped at a swap meet or street market you’ve probably seen some great deals on Rolex watches….or cheap designer purses. Guess what? They’re not authentic. Neither are many of those unbelievable travel deals. There are times when hotels or cruise lines will offer discounts on unsold inventory and those are good deals. But if you see a deal like “stay at the Ritz Carlton for $49/night” or “take a 7 day cruise for only $199”, be skeptical, very skeptical.
  6. BOOK THROUGH A REPUTABLE TRAVEL AGENT. An experienced travel agent can recommend reputable travel vendors because they have vetted them and have relationships with them. If there is a problem you have an advocate to help you sort it out.

Those unbelievably low travel deals are going to continue to flood your inbox and pop up on your computer screen. Just be sure that you check them out thoroughly before booking any travel. And if it sounds too good to be true…..

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Travel Connections

I have a serious case of wanderlust. Travel has been my passion for several decades and during that time I have been to numerous cities in 25 different countries. Travel has enriched my life on so many levels. I have developed a deep appreciation for other cultures – and a deeper appreciation for my own. I’ve learned that no matter where I go, people are just people; and we are more alike than we are different. I have especially enjoyed making people-to-people connections. Some have been brief encounters while others have developed into lifelong friendships. Here are just a few of my “global connections”.

In 1984 I traveled with a choral ensemble to Ecuador to participate in an international choir competition. In Guayaquil I met a lady named Gladys, who was a member of another choir. We were drawn to each other, probably because we looked a lot alike. Although I could only speak a little Spanish (muy poquito), and she spoke even less English, we made a sister connection. Between some very animated sign language and my poorly conjugated Spanish verbs, we managed to communicate.

santorini greco gold familyLEES WITH KERAMYDAS FAMILY

In 2005 our family took a Mediterranean cruise and Santorini, Greece was one of the ports of call. I’d seen pictures of those whitewashed buildings with the azure rooftops, but they were even more spectacular in person. We spent a lovely day strolling through the charming shops of Fira town. Santorini is known for beautiful jewelry, and there are lots of jewelry shops to choose from. We wandered in and out of several, but were drawn to one in particular. It was run by a family; parents and two identical twin sons. It was a pleasant experience (no hard sell), just like visiting with old friends. The father even offered us some of his homemade wine and it was delicious. We made several purchases and went on our way. In 2007 we returned to Santorini and paid another visit to our friends. We have continued to stay in touch and hope to see them again next time we’re on the island.

ac with waiters_thumbADRIENNE WITH WAITERS

In 2010 the Eyjafjallajökull volcano erupted in Iceland. It was notable because the volcanic ash plume disrupted air travel in northern Europe for several weeks. The eruption occurred 3 days before we were scheduled to depart on a cruise that was going to sail from Lisbon, Portugal to Oslo, Norway. However, many flights were cancelled since most of the major European airports had to close. As it turned out, the Lisbon airport did not close, so we were able to make it to the cruise ship. But many of the other cruisers did not make it. So the cruise ship was only 1/3rd full. That meant that the crew had fewer passengers to serve. The dining room was very sparse at dinner and there were lots of empty tables. It worked in our favor because our waiters were especially attentive. We got to know them well since they had lots of extra time on their hands. They told us all about their homelands, families, and future plans. Both were fairly young (about our son’s age) – and homesick, so they also enjoyed a little parental advice.

kelsey & meADRIENNE AND KELSEY

In 2014 we spent some time in one of our favorite cities, Paris. One afternoon we discovered a little cafe near the Montparnasse Tower. We sat outside to enjoy the lovely spring weather and struck up a conversation with a young lady at a nearby table. We don’t speak much French, so it was nice to chat with someone else who spoke English. She was a student who had spent several months studying there. We exchanged travel stories and contact information. We’ve stayed connected on Facebook, and hope to meet again – maybe in Paris.

rob and kevin_thumbROBERT AND KEV

During a transatlantic cruise we made friends with 2 wonderful people from the U.K. We started chatting over drinks one evening and found out that we had lots in common. Even though we were from different countries we found that we shared many of the same opinions and challenges. We exchanged contact information and promised to host them if they ever came to San Francisco. A few months later Kev took us up on that promise and we had a great time hosting him in our City by the Bay.

rob kev in sf_thumbROBERT AND KEV IN SAN FRANCISCO

In 2014 we also spent time in another of our favorite cities, Barcelona. Since we had been there several times before we decided to leave the city and go out to the Penedes Wine region. It was a group tour and they took us to several delightful wineries. At each one we enjoyed tasting and delicious tapas. Our group was comprised of 15 people who were from various parts of the world. 3 of the ladies were from Osaka, Japan. I don’t speak any Japanese but one of them spoke a little English, so with the help of a few glasses of wine and some very animated sign language we managed to communicate. Kaori and I exchanged contact information and we have stayed in contact on Facebook. Of course her posts are in Japanese and mine are in English, but pictures transcend language barriers.

frex ac and girls_thumbADRIENNE AND FRIENDS AT FREIXENET

As I write this I am already planning my next adventure, and looking forward to making more travel connections.

How Did You Learn to Travel?

plane at gateHow did you learn to swim? Did you go to the deep end of the swimming pool and jump in? Probably not. You probably started with inflatable water wings, then moved on to swimming lessons and soon enough you were dog-paddling your way across the pool.

How did you learn to ride a bicycle? Did you hop onto your bike and take off down the street? Probably not. It is more likely that you started by pedaling around on a tricycle, and then it was on to your first little bike with training wheels. Finally Mom took off the training wheels, let go of the back of your bike, and you wobbled your way to two-wheeled freedom.

How did you learn to cook? Was the menu for your first dinner party standing rib roast and grand marnier soufflé? No, it was probably more like grilled cheese sandwiches and canned tomato soup.

So how did you learn to travel? What are the ABCs of globetrotting? Is it necessary to take lessons? Of course not – travel is a very individual experience and each of us has very specific preferences. It’s not as simple as learning a set of “dos” and don’ts”. There is no school, travel is more of a learn-by-doing experience. However, if there was a Travel University, and they asked me to teach Travel 101, here are some of the topics I would include in the course curriculum.

passportsHow to Pack – If you are planning to be away from home for more than a day, you’ll need to take at least a few things with you. Your destination, and the length of your trip determine what you take. You might be able to manage an overnighter by throwing a few things into a backpack. Some people even manage to take long trips with only a backpack. But if you are going on an extended journey or are planning to visit a different climate, you’ll need something larger. It also depends on your personal style. If you are one of those creative types who can make 27 outfits from 2 pieces of clothing and a few accessories, you won’t need much luggage. But if you’re one of those people who want to make a different fashion statement every day, you’ll need to pack accordingly. Small cosmetics and fragrance samples are a great way to conserve space and weight.

Think about where you’re going and pack accordingly. For example, If you’re going to a tropical climate it’s doubtful that you’ll need that down jacket. Since most airlines charge baggage fees, taking too many pieces of luggage can be quite costly.

How to dress – Be sure to dress for the climate that you’ll be visiting. Last October I spent a week in Dubai where the temperature was triple digits every day. Then in November I traveled to China where it was quite cold and snowing. I took the same amount of luggage for both trips, but used very different packing strategies.

It is also important to dress for the culture that you’ll be visiting. Scanty or revealing clothing is frowned upon in some cultures and at many holy sites. I’ve seen young ladies in hot pants turned away from St. Peter’s Basilica in Vatican City. In Dubai I was very careful about what I wore. I saw many women in traditional dress and just as many in western-style clothing. I wanted to make sure that I was cool and comfortable, but did not offend in any way.

adrienne in jerusalemOne of the accessories that I always carry is a light pashmina. It doesn’t take up much space and can be used to cover my head and/or shoulders when necessary.

How to pick the destination – It is important to choose a destination that you really want to go to. You will be investing your time and money, so you want to get a good return on those investments. I’m a travel professional, so often clients look to me to help them decide where to go. In order to do so I have to ask them several questions like:

What is your budget? I’ve found that many people haven’t even considered total cost. In reality, that’s what’s going to drive your travel decisions. In addition to airfare, there is the cost of lodging, meals, tours, tips and entertainment. So all-inclusive resorts are good options since they include all meals, drinks (soft drinks and alcoholic beverages) gratuities and non-motorized water sports. Cruises offer excellent value since they include all meals, nightly shows, night clubs, childcare, and of course transportation from port to port.

What sort of travel experience are you looking for? If they are retired and looking for a quiet relaxing getaway, I won’t suggest that they take a Disney cruise. If they are young wild and free, I know several resorts that will give them exactly what they’re looking for.

What are your interests? Interests vary widely, so it is important to identify destinations that will satisfy those interests. An adventure traveler with an interest in wildlife might enjoy a trip to the Galapagos Islands. A history buff might enjoy a tour of the Tower of London. That fashionista would definitely enjoy a trip to Paris to shop on the Champs Elysees.

Aerial Oasis of the Seas - At Sea off Miami shoreline Oasis of the Seas - Royal Caribbean International
Aerial Oasis of the Seas – At Sea off Miami shoreline
Oasis of the Seas – Royal Caribbean International

Even cruises differ widely. An Amazon River cruise through the Brazilian Rain Forest on a small vessel allows passengers to experience wildlife, piranha fishing and all that the jungle has to offer. An ocean cruise on a big ship can be like a floating city. On a recent transatlantic cruise my husband and I sailed on Royal Caribbean’s Allure of the Seas with 5000 other passengers. We enjoyed gourmet dining, Broadway shows, an onboard surf simulator, ice-skating, a world-class spa, designer shopping and more. It was a 12-day nonstop party from Fort Lauderdale to Barcelona.

Take it Slowly – In today’s fast-paced world people often think that they have to rush into traveling at top speed. You don’t have to jump in at the deep end; it’s OK to ease into experiences. You may want to take your first trip with a buddy who has been to the destination before and can show you the ropes.

The good news is that there are some really good flight deals on the market. But before you book one, make sure it’s a destination that you really want to visit. If that’s not the case, it’s not a deal for you. And make sure that you can get lodging that fits within your budget. Hotel prices are often driven by demand. Recently we found a great airline price to Las Vegas. But when we checked hotel prices for those dates, we found that they were astronomical. Needless to say, we didn’t book those flights.

Start by taking local trips- there are many attractions near our homes that can be great ways to explore local history and culture. This is especially valuable for families who want to introduce their children to travel. A trip to a local museum can give them an appreciation for art exhibits so that eventually they are ready for the Louvre. A trip to a nice restaurant will allow them to get comfortable with ordering from a menu, being served and tipping a waiter. We began cruising with our son when he was quite small, so he learned the art of fine dining at an early age.

There is no single way to learn to travel, it is an individual endeavor. Learning as you go is part of the fun and It is well worth the investment. As a wise man once said, “Travel is the only thing you buy that makes you richer”.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Travel Responsibly

coastal rocks2A few years ago one of the leading beer companies used the slogan “drink responsibly” to promote responsible drinking. It was designed to save lives and remind people not to drink and drive. Hearing the slogan recently reminded me that it’s a good idea to encourage travelers to travel responsibly. Here are some of the ways that we can do that:

LEARN SOME OF THE LANGUAGE – Knowing as much of the language of the country you’ll be visiting can make the trip a lot easier. Communicating with the locals is one of the joys of traveling. You can get great info from chatting with shopkeepers and vendors in markets. Cab drivers always have a wealth of information to share – but only if you can understand them. Even if you only know a few words, people are always happy that you tried. Since I can speak some Spanish, I struck up a conversation with a shopkeeper in Vigo, Spain. OK, I’ll be honest – I can only speak a “teaspoonful” of Spanish. So when she began to answer me, I realized just how little I really knew. I was translating madly and conjugating verbs in my head, as I realized that I only understood every other word….sbut she was so friendly that I enjoyed our conversation.

FAMILIARZE YOURSELF WITH THE CUSTOMS – It is very important to know the “do’s” and “don’ts” of the country you’ll be visiting. Whether it is tipping, or hand gestures or dress code, it is important to know and abide by what is acceptable. When I was in the United Arab Emirates last October the temperature reached at least 99 degrees farenheit every day. Definitely shorts & t-shirt weather, if I were at home in California. But showing skin would definitely not have been acceptable. Make sure you know what is considered acceptable behavior. Loud shouting may be acceptable at a soccer match, but in a cathedral, not so much. So do your homework and keep an open mind. After all, traveling is all about new experiences. If you have problems with being flexible, perhaps international travel is not for you. As James Michener said, “If you reject the food, ignore the customs, fear the religion and avoid the people, you might better stay at home”.

ac at eiffel towerPHOTO ETIQUETTE – Whether you’re visiting the Eiffel Tower, the Leaning Tower of Pisa, the Taj Mahal or any iconic sight, there will probably be hundreds – if not thousands – of other people who also want to take a photo or selfie in front of the monument. So please make it quick. Have your camera ready, take the shot and move out of the way so that other people can do the same thing.

Suricata, small carnivorous mammals, a pair of observers around the hole in the zoo.

RESPECT THE ANIMALS – Animals around the world are hurt, and even killed when careless tourists insist on taking pictures with them and end up putting them at risk. A few weeks ago in Argentina a couple pulled a small dolphin up onto the beach to take a photo with it. Soon after others crowded around to do the same thing. The dolphin eventually died of dehydration. At the Unnan Animal Park in China 2 peacocks died after tourists picked them up to take photos. So no matter how cute or cuddly an animal is, take pictures….from a safe distance.

jamaica greeneryRESPECT THE ENVIRONMENT – As citizens of this planet, it’s up to everyone to work together to safeguard its plants, animals and natural systems. So we need to keep that in mind when we travel. We need to dispose of waste responsibly. For example, when cruising on the high seas it can be tempting to throw a little trash overboard – don’t do it. When traipsing through the rain forest you may be tempted to pick a leaf or blossom – don’t do it. When visiting the Parthenon you may be tempted to pick up a small rock or stone – don’t do it.

A trip can be a life-changing experience, but it is important to prepare, and expect the unexpected. Every trip can be a great adventure if you’re prepared to take it in….responsibly.