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Showing posts with label Travel Tips. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Travel Tips. Show all posts

Friday, March 11, 2016

Why You Should Visit Europe in the Springtime

 Europe in the Spring makes for a fantastic vacation. May is a great month to visit, actually, it's one of the three best months to tour Europe. The weather is likely to be excellent, and the big crowds are at work/school/college.

Following are the BEST PLACES TO VISIT in Europe this spring. Here are a few festivals going on in May (in no particular order):


  • Feast of San Nicola in Bari, the Feast of San Gennaro in Naples, the Festival of Snakes in Abruzzo.
  • Maggio Musicale Fiorentino in Florence is Italy's oldest music event focuses on opera, ballet and concerts.
  • Vogalonga in Venice is hundreds of small, man-powered boats racing 30km, finishing in the Grand Canal.


  • Cannes Film Festival. Actually, that’s a bad thing unless you’re a film freak.
  • Chaumont Garden Festival – thirty wonderful and sometimes wacky show gardens around a perfect chateau (castle), every year May 15-October 19.



  • Isle of Man TT (motorcycle) Races, May/June.
  • Chelsea Flower Show in London – 11 acres of the UK’s (and arguably Europe’s) best flowers and gardens event, with plenty of original, even wacky ideas.
  • Glyndebourne Festival Opera (in a stately home outside London), late May-early July.



  • It's Tulip season. Seeing all those glorious blossoms in full bloom...spectacular!     


Czech Republic 

  • Prague Spring International Music Festival.


  • Vienna International Festival from mid-May to mid-June; a wide range of arts, especially music, naturally, but also dance and theatre, sometimes challenging pieces, all set in magnificent buildings.


  • Athens Festival – drama, dance, and music in the 2,000-year-old outdoor Odeion theatre at the base of Acropolis Hill. Location, location!


Thursday, March 10, 2016

5 Important Things To Know When Considering Hiring Me As Your Travel Advisor

 1.    You are not bothering me if you just need an airline ticket and a hotel in Chicago. I can indeed book more than just your exotic annual vacations and will do so gladly. Plus, I will likely have access to free amenities at the hotel that you might not find on your own because of my industry connections.

2.    If something goes amiss when you’re on your trip, call me immediately so I can fix it. Don’t be shy and say you didn’t want to make a fuss. You’ve paid money for this vacation and I’m your advisor for a reason. Little things that mar the experience can typically be fixed quite easily and that’s what I’m here for.

3.    When you compare the vacation packages I’ve offered you with what’s available via an online travel agency or discount website, please know that you’re probably not comparing apples to apples. The hotel I’ve selected is in a locale I think you will like, based on what you’ve told me. The room I have reserved for you is guaranteed in its category, meaning when you check-in, you won’t be given inferior accommodations, based on the desk attendant’s mood. Plus, if you’re looking at a website that brags that it has the lowest pricing available, you’ll likely be getting the lowest quality room available. Trust me.

4.    When you’re online and you see a deal that looks too good to be true, it probably is. Travel companies don’t give away things for no reason. Is there any small print you’re not reading because you’re so excited about the price you’re seeing? Do bring any deals you see to my attention and I promise to give you my best expert opinion as to what you’d actually get for your money.

5.    Do make travel a priority in your life. Every moment is precious and if you keep putting off that family vacation or that couple’s getaway, you may never do it and only end up with regrets. Let me craft a trip for you that will make the most of your time together so you’ll end up with fabulous memories. Live for the now; who knows what tomorrow will bring? 


Thursday, January 21, 2016

Hidden Costs of Cruising to be Aware Of

 A cruise vacation can be an excellent value to be certain – included in your fare are not just your accommodations, but onboard entertainment and activities, traveling to exciting ports of call, and all meals aboard ship in the traditional dining rooms, buffets, snacks, room service, and casual dining establishments.  Please do keep in mind though, that a cruise vacation is not an all-inclusive vacation, except on a handful of cruise lines.  Regardless, there are a number of items -- mostly of a personal or optional nature -- that are out-of-pocket expenses over and above the cost of your voyage.  And if you aren’t careful, those extra purchases can quickly run up your bill, which must be satisfied before you will be allowed to disembark the ship at the conclusion of your voyage. 

Once onboard, passengers can be easily tempted by the ships' expansive spas, diverse specialty dining options, and concept bars and lounges.  Whether for a massage, a fruity cocktail, or dinner outside the main dining room or buffet, you'll need to hand over your cruise card and then settle up at the end of the voyage.  Other extras that you will pay for include shore excursions while in port, internet usage, and any souvenirs bought on board ship, including onboard photography. 

When creating your vacation budget, be sure to add to the total cost you will need for the voyage itself for any of the optional extras listed below.   Set your budget and then stick to it.  Many of the optional extras listed below can be included in the cost of your voyage and paid for in advance so that you aren’t surprised on the last night of your sailing.

1. Alcohol and Other Beverages

Alcoholic beverages and wine are not included in the cruise fares on most lines and are the #1 cost contributor to any cruise vacation.  Keep in mind that you’re paying restaurant pricing or more for any alcoholic beverage purchased onboard.  If you choose to consume alcohol while onboard, be sure to check out the various packages offered by the cruise lines, as the cost of the packages typically will be a better value than buying multiple drinks at retail pricing.  Bar beverages are also automatically assessed a 15% gratuity, which will add up quickly.  In regards to non-alcoholic beverages such as soft drinks, bottled water, certain juices, and specialty coffees – most cruise lines charge extra for these beverage selections.  Be sure to understand what is and is not included in your cruise fare, especially if you consume multiple soft drinks or specialty coffees in a single day.  Again, be sure to check out the cruise line’s beverage packages, as many are a better value than purchasing a la carte.

2. Alternative Dining

Meals in the ship's main dining room and buffet venue are included in the cost of your cruise fare, but over the past decade more and more cruise lines have been adding numerous for-fee venues to their ships, for both paid meals and paid snacks.  You can pay anywhere from a few dollars for an ice cream cone at an onboard Ben & Jerry's or gelateria to $35 or more for a meal in a specialty dining venue.  Several European lines charge a la carte prices in their alternative venues.

3. Spa and Salon Treatments

Cruise line spas charge rates equal to high-end salons, and you may be shocked by the prices. A massage is typically about $110 to $150, with more exotic treatments running into the $200 to $500 range.  Passes to thermal suites and thalassotherapy pools average $15 to $30 per day, with cruise-long packages available.  Be sure to pay attention to the onboard communications for any specials that might produce lower-cost options – many times discounts can be enjoyed while the ship is in port.

4. Gratuities

Gratuities and tipping policies vary by cruise line, but most recommend about $10 to $12 per person, per day, to be distributed among those who provide key services - dining room waiters, assistant waiters, and stateroom stewards.  If you have a higher-end stateroom with butler service, be prepared to tip extra.  As a reminder, bar tabs are automatically charged a 15 percent gratuity, and any time the maitre d' performs a special service, such as arranging for a birthday cake to be brought to the table, he should be tipped, as well.  Most cruise lines allow you to pre-pay for gratuities, which are then built into the cost of the voyage and eliminate the need for this as an out-of-pocket expense while onboard ship.  If a guest has not pre-paid their gratuities, they are typically automatically added to the stateroom’s folio on the 2nd or 3rd night of the sailing (depending on itinerary length).

5. Shore Excursions

Shore excursions are designed to help you make the most of your time in port but know that the cruise lines sell these for your convenience, and for their bottom line.  Prices are generally inflated above what the actual tour operators charge.  Alternate vendors are available that offer similar experiences, often at better prices than you’ll find the onboard ship.  Prices for many of the excursions range from about $25 per person for a quick city and shopping tour to more than $300 per person for some of the more exciting tours which might include helicopter flight-seeing and hot-air ballooning. Most tours are priced somewhere between $50 and $150, depending on the length and activities involved.

6. Onboard Activities

Most onboard activities are free, included in your cruise fare, however, please note that there are a number of cruise lines with an increasing number of special activities that incur extra fees.  Several of the per-fee activities include things like fitness classes like Pilates, yoga, and spinning ($10 to $15 per class); wine-tasting or similar alcoholic beverage tasting events;  after-hours babysitting for the youngest children (about $6 per child, per hour);  behind-the-scenes tours;  bowling; and of course the biggie on most cruise lines, anything you do inside the casinos.  

7. Onboard Laundry

Yes, you can have your laundry done for you, or do it in self-serve launderettes, but similar to what you’ll find at land-based resorts, laundry and dry-cleaning charges on a cruise can be expensive.  Expect to pay somewhere around $2.50 to $3.50 to wash a T-shirt, for instance, through the provided services; or between $2-$4 per load going the self-service route if your ship has that option.  Save on the cost slightly by bringing your own detergent.

8. Internet & Wifi

Whether bringing along your own laptop utilizing the ship’s Wi-Fi, or simply use the onboard computer lounge, you will pay handsomely for marine satellite internet connections, which are much slower than anything found on land, unless you’re still somehow living the dial-up world.  Most cruise lines charge about 75 cents per minute for pay-as-you-go plans or offer bulk packages that can reduce the cost to around 55 cents a minute, depending on the package you purchase.  Unless you truly need it to stay in touch with business concerns, there’s often no need to connect while onboard the ship.  If you have a wifi-enabled tablet, bring that, and often you will find free wifi hotspots in port cities that you could connect to, in order to stay up to date with your friends and family online while traveling.

9.  Transportation To and From the Ship

Not all of us have the luxury of living within a short drive from a cruise port, and therefore a big part of any cruise vacation, of course, is the cost to get from point A (your home) to point B (where you’ll board the ship).  Whether that is by air, car, or rail, you simply cannot escape that cost of your vacation.  And then of course, what will you do with your vehicle if you drive (parking), or how you’ll get from the arrival airport to the cruise terminal (taxi, shuttle, walk?).  These are all intangibles that are completely different for every situation, but you absolutely must plan on them.  Don’t get swayed by the great ad that shows a cruise for just $149 per person (or whatever) and thinks that that’s all you’re responsible for! 

10. Photography

I decided to bookend this list with the two optional add-on extras that are often the biggest culprits for ruining a cruise traveler’s dream vacation by socking them with lots of out-of-pocket expenses.  We already talked about alcohol, so now let’s talk about photography.  Yes, onboard photography can take a big bite out of your wallet if you aren’t prepared for it.  The photos will start just moments after you check-in too, notably with the ever-present “Welcome Aboard” shot before you even hit the gangway.  Onboard photographers will be present in the dining rooms, on deck, and of course, ever-present if you’re on a family-friendly cruise with character interactions of any kind, and any time you disembark in a new port there will be exit gangway shots on the pier.  The cruise lines will play on the emotions of cruise travelers hoping they’ll drop big bucks at the onboard photo gallery, where an 8x10 photo can easily cost $20 or more.   To save yourself from blowing your vacation budget, and possibly lots of money, just politely say, “no thanks,” whenever the ship's photographers ask to take your picture (they’ll be roaming at times, in the dining rooms, onboard deck, and more – especially if it is a family-friendly cruise with various character interactions available onboard ship.  Another way to reduce the outflow is to simply resist the urge to "just check out" the photos in the gallery -- once you see the printed version, you're more likely to want it. Do yourself a favor and take as many of your own pictures, and rely sparingly, if at all, on the ship's photographers.  


So now you see the various hidden costs of a cruise vacation.  Of course numbers 4 and 9 are not optional, but the rest are.  Packing enough clothes for the week, you do not need to worry about number 7 unless something ghastly happens and you have nothing else to wear.  The rest are completely optional that only you can decide if you will partake of it or not.  Knowing these hidden costs upfront will better help you prepare for what the true cost of your vacation might be.  That bargain-basement $149 fare can easily turn into 3, 4, 5, or more times that cost depending on what you do about numbers 1 – 10 on this list.




Thursday, March 14, 2013

Tips on Thursday - Know Before You Go

Whether sailing through the Mediterranean or kicking back at an all-inclusive resort in the Caribbean, our travel tools and resources will help make planning your trip easy. Simply select the appropriate link(s) below.

Health- Familiarize yourself with conditions of the destinations that could affect your health. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) offers general guidance on country-specific health warnings, vaccinations and other precautions.

Money Converter- Ever wonder the value of a Vietnamese Dong? Find out how much you’ll get for the U.S. Dollar (USD) in other countries.

Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) - The Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) is responsible for the safety of civil aviation. The site offers multiple air travel safety resources and information. Click on the links below to learn more.

Preparation for Air Travel- Educate yourself and make airport travel a snap with security checkpoint wait times, baggage tips, weather and flight delays, and information on passengers with disabilities.

Passenger Safety- Learn more about turbulence, health, safety and approved electronics in flight.

Flying with children- Keep your little ones safe when you’re in the air.

International Travel- Prepare yourself for a wonderful international flight.

U.S. Department of State- A service of the Bureau of Consular Affairs (CA), its mission is to protect the lives and interest of American citizens abroad and to strengthen the security of United States borders through vigilant adjudication of visas and passports. Their vision is to help American citizens engage the world. Click on the links below to learn more.

Travel Alerts- Alerts are issued to disseminate information about short-term conditions, either transnational or within a particular country, that pose significant risks to the security of U.S. citizens.

Travel Warnings- Issued when long-term, protracted conditions that make a country dangerous or unstable lead the State Department to recommend that Americans avoid or consider the risk of travel to that country.

Safety Tips for Traveling Abroad- Helpful tips for before you go to excellent precautions to take while you are there.