Thursday, December 31, 2009

New Year's Around the World

Here in the United States we celebrate the New Year with friends and family, at parties, with food and drinks, midnight toasts, fireworks and resolutions of what we plan to change or improve in the New Year.

The biggest celebration in the U.S. is of course, in New York city, with the "ball dropping" on top of One Times Square, which is broadcast to all of America, and is a major component of the New Year celebration for many Americans. The 11,875-pound, 12-foot diameter Waterford crystal ball located high above Times Square is lowered, starting at 11:59:00pm and reaching the bottom of its tower 60 seconds later, at the stroke of midnight, and a fireworks show to follow.

Ever wonder how people in other parts of the world celebrate this holiday?

In Australia, celebrations are held around the nation, especially in Sydney, where one of the world's largest fireworks displays draws 1 to 1.5 million people to the harbor. Australia is one of the first countries in the world to celebrate the New Year. Many people also run into the ocean on New Year’s Day in Australia.
In many European countries, the New Year is greeted with private fireworks. This day is also the occasion to make bonfires of discarded Christmas trees in some countries.

In Brazil, celebrations are held around the nation. Most famous is the celebration in Rio de Janeiro which occurs in Copacabana beach, drawing 1.5 to 2.5 million people.
In Scotland, there are many special customs associated with the New Year. These are a part of the Scottish celebration Hogmanay, the Scots name for the New Year. The World famous street party in Princes Street in Edinburgh is one of the examples of Hogmanay events.

In Russia, the New Year is greeted by fireworks and drinking champagne. The New Year is considered a family celebration, with lavish dinner tables and gifts. The president of Russia normally counts down the final seconds of the "old year", as it is called in Russia. A giant clock tower chimes in the New Year, and it is customary to make a wish with each chime.

The French call New Year's Eve "la Saint-Sylvestre". It is usually celebrated with a feast called le Réveillon de la Saint-Sylvestre. This feast customarily includes special dishes like foie gras and drinks like champagne. The celebration can be a simple, intimate dinner with friends and family or a much fancier ball (une soirée dansante).

In South Korea, the most popular way of celebrating New Year's Day is to travel to Jung dong jin, the place on the peninsula where the Sun can first be seen each day.

In Davos, Switzerland, the final match of the Spengler Cup ice hockey Tournament is usually held on this day by tradition.

In Indonesia, the local government of Jakarta often holds a music show, a New Year’s countdown, and fireworks party in New Year's Eve celebration.

In the Philippines, people light fireworks, loud firecrackers, booming sound system, bamboo canons as well as make a lot of noise with the belief that the noises would scare evil spirits away and prevent them from bringing bad luck to the coming New Year.

In Japan, New Year's Eve is a preparation day to welcome Toshigami, New Year’s god. Therefore, traditionally, people clean their home and prepare Kadomatsu and/or Shimenawa to welcome the god before New Year's Eve.

In Mexico, the people eat a grape with each of the twelve chimes of the bell during the New Year countdown, while making a wish with each one. Also on New Year's Eve, those who want to find love in the New Year wear red underwear and yellow if they want money.

In Greece, families and relatives switch off the lights at midnight, and then celebrate by cutting the "vassilopita" (Basil's pie) which usually contains one coin or equivalent; whoever wins expects luck for the whole year. After the pie, a traditional game of cards called "triantaena" follows, similar to black jack.
London celebrates the New Year with a New Year's Day parade.

Wednesday, December 23, 2009

The North Pole

Many people don’t realize that there is actually a city named North Pole located in Alaska about 10 miles southeast of Fairbanks. The North Pole is a small town with just over 2,000 residents where the spirit of Christmas lives year-round. Most of the streets bear holiday names such as Santa Claus Lane, Snowman Lane, North Star Drive, Misteltoe Street, etc…, and many of the shops are focused around the same theme.

People from all over the globe come to the North Pole to visit the world-famous Santa Claus House where you can take pictures with Santa and his reindeer any day of the year. You can even mail postcards to friends and family who then receive mail postmarked from the North Pole. (Santa’s zip code is 99705, fyi.)

Due to it’s location near the Arctic Circle, during the Winter months the North Pole can have days as short as 3 hours and 42 minutes. In Summer days can be as long as 21 hours and 49 minutes. The North Pole is a magical place, just don’t forget your earmuffs as Winter temperatures can dip as low as -78 degrees. Brrrrrr!

Happy Holidays from The Travel Team!

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

First Flight of the Boeing 787 Dreamliner

The long awaited maiden flight of the 787 Dreamliner occured this morning in Everett, WA, to the cheers of thousands of spectators. The flight is expected to last about five and a half hours.

The mid-sized, wide-body, twin-engine Dreamliner is made of lightweight composite materials, such as carbon fiber-reinforced resin, which results in using 20 percent less fuel. It can seat between 290 - 330 passengers, depending on the variant.
So far, so good for the inaugural flight, which follows delays that have put the Dreamliner program more than two years behind schedule. The aerospace giant has booked 810 orders for the next-generation Dreamliner. Japan Airline, Air India, Al Nippon and United have placed the largest orders so far.

Friday, December 11, 2009

Virgin Atlantic Unveils First Commercial Passenger Spaceship

Earlier this week Virgin Atlantic unveiled the first commercial passenger spaceship, a sleek black and white vessel that represents an expensive gamble on creating a commercial space tourism industry.

The spaceship is about the size of a minivan with wings and will take space tourists into zero gravity in about three years! The project has a $450 million budget to build six of the spaceships that would take passengers high enough to achieve weightlessness and see the curvature of Earth set against the backdrop of space.

A twin-hulled aircraft named Eve would carry Spaceship Two to an altitude of about 60,000 feet before releasing it. The spaceship would then fire its onboard rocket engines, climbing to about 65 miles above Earth. The trip would take about 2-1/2 hours, with passengers experiencing weightlessness for about five minutes.

The ride is expected to cost aspiring astronauts about $200,000, 300 people have already placed deposits. They will receive three days of training prior to taking the ride.

Eventually, Virgin Galactic, the offshoot of Virgin Atlantic, may offer suborbital travel that could dramatically cut the length of flights.

Wednesday, December 09, 2009

Tips for Traveling Cheap

The world is in an economic crisis and tourism has slowed down all over the world, which can mean big savings for savvy travelers. Cheap travel is possible if you’re willing to plan ahead and do a little research. Make the most out of your dollar with these tips on traveling cheap:

Be flexible with your travel dates. Traveling is always more expensive during the times when people travel the most: holidays, spring break, weekends. Flights in the middle of the week are less expensive than on the weekends. Cheap flights aren’t hard to find if you’re willing to do some research. Look into trains or car rentals to see what options are the least expensive. Overnight trains can be a very economical option because you’re combining traveling and lodging costs into one, all the while catching up on your sleep!

Many large cities, especially in Europe, are best seen by walking or bicycling. Amsterdam and Paris, for example, have excellent bike-rental systems which are a great alternative to expensive taxis. Ask about different passes for the metro or bus - sometimes day or weekly passes are cheaper than buying one ticket at a time.

Hostels are a great inexpensive alternative to hotels. While some hostels can still be downright scary, it’s not always the case. Some hostels offer private rooms with private baths just like a hotel but without the hefty price tag. Hostels may not be the most luxurious of accommodations but traveling cheap requires a few sacrifices. Besides, how much time are you really going to spend in your room anyways?

Eating out for every meal can add up very quickly. Set a budget ahead of time to avoid overspending. Balance out several cheap meals with one nicer one. Scour guide books or ask locals about the tiny restaurants located off the beaten path with the smaller prices. Planning ahead and shopping at grocery stores for snacks, bottled water, and simple items for sandwiches is a great way to travel cheap, as is bringing snacks from home.

Take advantage of AAA or student discounts. Many hostels and hotels give students a discount, as do certain attractions such as tours, shows, museum passes, etc... It never hurts to ask!

Contact a Professional Travel Agent today to get started booking your next trip!

Tuesday, December 08, 2009

Hotels Located Inside Airports

Hotels located inside of an airport are becoming increasingly common around the globe. They can be very convenient for travelers with early morning flights, or a long connection, delayed flight, or just need somewhere to rest for a few hours.

They often have the same amenities of other hotels, such as room service, Wi-Fi, fitness centers and pools, and alleviate the need for taxis, shuttles or car rentals.

Below is a list of some of the best airport hotels:

Hilton at Chicago O'Hare Airport is located in O'Hare's Terminal 2 and is within walking distance to all O'Hare Airport's domestic terminals. It features sound resistant rooms, in-room coffee and refreshment center, business center, pool, fitness center, three dining options and 24-hour room service.

Sheraton Paris Airport Hotel is located inside of the Charles de Gaulle Airport, at International Terminal 2, just steps from the free automatic shuttle service which links the three airport terminals. The rooms and suites feature 100% sound proof walls, in-rooms coffee, safes and bathrobes. Four dining options on-site, and also a fitness center, business center and sauna available for all guests.

Hilton Mexico City Airport is located inside Benito Juarez International Airport, at Terminal 1. This hotel features an outstanding restaurant - Belvedere, and a bar - Carlo's Place, which offers an incredible view of the airport's runways. Free Wi-Fi service, a fitness center, and business center is available for all guests.

Hyatt Regency Orlando International Airport offers award-winning dining and deluxe amenities - they can have your luggage delivered from baggage claim directly to your room! Hotel offers fitness center, pool, massage service, airline counter, Wi-Fi, three dining options on-site and 24-hour room service.

Tampa Airport Marriott features triple-paned glass, the Marriott Revive bedding, outdoor pool, hot tub, on-site fitness center, rotating rooftop restaurant, in-room coffee, tea, morning newspaper and room service.

Ambassador Transit Hotel at Singapore Changi Airport offers a fitness center, pool and pool bar, beauty salon and spa, wake-up service, and restaurants nearby.

Miami International Airport Hotel is located at the Concourse E departure level. Every room is sound proof, with pillow-top mattresses, satellite TV, On Demand movies, marble bathrooms, and coffee makers. The hotel services include room service, hair salon, business center and Wi-Fi. Top of the Port Restaurant is located on site.

Yotel is an airport hotel offering locations at Amsterdam Schiphol, London Heathrow and London Gatwick Airports. Yotel is unique in that they book "cabins", which the company claims is "Everything you would expect from a luxury hotel in a small space", and you book exactly what you want when you want it – from just a few hours’ day or night to 24 or more.

Contact a Professional Travel Agent today to get started booking your next trip!

Wednesday, December 02, 2009

NYC Police Cracking Down on Unlicensed Airport Cabs

Police are cracking down on the swarms of unlicensed taxi drivers who hustle passengers at New York City airports.

The crackdown is taking aim at the small army of quick-talking drivers who approach passengers as they emerge from the terminals and offer them a ride into the city for an under-the-table fare, negotiated on the spot. These trips aren't always a rip-off.

Unlicensed drivers often charge equal to, or less than, the legal flat taxi rate of $45.50 (plus tolls) for all taxi trips between Manhattan and JFK. But these unauthorized pickups can be problematic, especially when drivers come across someone who isn't familiar with the city or U.S. currency.

Port officials and prosecutors announced Tuesday that police had arrested 17 men at Kennedy International Airport in an enforcement sweep timed to coincide with a new law imposing tougher penalties on unlicensed hacks. An 18th driver was arrested at LaGuardia Airport.

Under the new state law signed last month, the drivers could face up to 90 days in jail and fines as high as $1,250. Previously, violations usually resulted in the equivalent of a traffic ticket.

Monday, November 30, 2009

International Business Travel Tips

International business travel presents its own, unique set of challenges, so it’s best to always be prepared for the worst-case scenario (and then hope it doesn’t happen!). A few things to consider before traveling abroad:

1. Always carry your laptop onto the plane and keep it near at all times. Contraire to popular myth, airport x-ray machines will not harm your computer. Also remember to back up before you leave – you’re most likely to have your computer crash or worse, have it stolen, while traveling abroad.

2. can help you find a seat on your international flight with a convenient and accessible plug-in, and let you know which type of adapter you’ll need in order to use your laptop, if any. Many airlines offer in-flight wireless internet access for a small fee and using your laptop for work in-flight is a great way to pass the time. It’s better to use the plane’s own power than depleting your laptop battery. Bringing a second battery is also suggested.

3. Make sure you have the correct outlet adapter. If you plan to travel to Australia, you will need a special adapter, which can be purchased at myriad online sites, such as Likewise, Europe and Asia have different outlets as well. Many hotels provide adapters for your convenience, and many don’t so it’s better to be prepared and bring your own regardless. Click here for a handy guide on finding the correct adapter.

4. Check with your cell phone provider to make sure your phone will work overseas. GSM, short for Global System for Mobile Communications, is a digital radio frequency that is accepted in virtually every country on the planet and allows for seamless international travel. Even with a GSM phone, different countries may require a different SIM card. SIM cards are the “brains” of your phone. For example, you will need a European SIM card for travel to Europe, and you will need an Australian SIM card for travel to Australia and New Zealand. Both GSM phones and SIM cards can be purchased online or through your local cell phone retailer. Cell phone coverage is surprisingly good Downunder especially considering its relative population.

5. If you’re traveling internationally for business, chances are good that you’re pretty familiar with the customs and culture associated with your travel destination. However, international business etiquette is constantly evolving. To avoid embarrassing mistakes that may ultimately not only damage your own reputation, but your company’s as well, take a minute to research the latest cultural developments and learn key phrases and pleasantries in the native language as a courtesy, even if you’re doing business in English.

Contact a Professional Travel Agent to book your next trip!

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Surviving Thanksgiving Travel

Most people already know that the Wednesday before Thanksgiving is the busiest travel day of the year. According to AAA, an estimated 33.2 million people will be traveling by car this year, and approximately 2.3 million traveling by air. Another 2.9 million people will take other modes of transportation, including trains and buses.

Considering these numbers, if you are one of the many traveling, brace yourself, it might be a rough day.

Here are some travel tips that should help you get home with the least amount of stress and hassle.

1. Check-in for your flight (or train) online. Most airlines will allow you to check in up to 24 hours in advance and print your boarding pass at home, to skip the long lines at airport check in.

2. Charge your cell phone, laptop battery, portable DVD player, etc, the night before you travel.

3. Pack plenty of snacks and entertainment in case of delays or cancelled flights.

4. Try to avoid checking bags by either fitting everything into a carry-on, or shipping your bags ahead of time.

5. Print out maps of departure and connecting airports and study them: if they change gates or terminals on you, this could be a real time-saver.

6. Don't wrap gifts that you're bringing with you.

7. Last but not least, try to avoid traveling on the Wednesday before Thanksgiving all together, and the Sunday after, if possible.

Contact a Professional Travel Agent for assistance booking your next trip!

Friday, November 13, 2009

World's Largest Cruise Ship Arrives in Florida!

Royal Caribbean International's newest ship, the Oasis of the Seas, arrived in Port Everglades, FL from Finland this morning.

Oasis of the Seas is now the biggest cruise ship in the world! This gigantic vessel is nearly 40 percent larger than the industry's next-biggest ship and five times larger than the Titanic. It is 2.4 million square feet and almost 1,200 ft. long!

This luxury cruise ship accommodates 6,300 passengers, 2,100 crew members and has 2,700 cabins, featuring luxury suites and 2-story loft suites. The ship contains 16 decks, 24 restaurants, 37 bars, 13 retail outlets, a zip-line, a casino, four swimming pools, a mini golf course, volleyball and basketball courts, a carousel and theme parks for kids!

The ship is scheduled for several promotional cruises with travel agents, journalists and guests before making its first revenue cruise on Dec. 1st. It will be sailing in the Eastern Caribbean until May 2010, and then it will alternate between Eastern and Western Caribbean.
To book your next cruise, contact a Professional Travel Agent today!

Thursday, November 12, 2009

Traveling to Australia? Don't forget Your Visitors Visa.

If you are planning a vacation to Australia, don't forget to get your Australian Electronic Travel Authority (ETA).

For U.S. Passport holders traveling on leisure or to visit family or friends, this is typically a very simple and painless process. Most Travel Agents can process it for you in the same day, for a minimal fee, with some basic information such as your passport number, issue date, expiration date, birth date, and full name.

If you hold a passport issued from another country, are traveling for business, or plan to stay longer than 1 year, make sure to plan extra time for the process as you may need to apply directly through the Australian Government.

ETA's are valid for 12 months with stays of up to 3 months on each visit, and can be used for single or multiple entry travel.

Contact an Australia Travel Specialist today for more information, or for assistance booking your next trip to Australia!

Friday, November 06, 2009

Go Downunder for some Sun this Winter!

If you're aching to get a break from cold weather this winter, Australia or New Zealand are both great options!

Their warmest months are December, January and February, our winter! In Australian cities such as Sydney or Brisbane, the temperatures typically reach into the mid-upper 70's, and in the Tropical North (Cairns), temperatures often reach the upper 80's in their summer months. While New Zealand tends to be a bit cooler, they're still usually seeing sunny skies with highs in the low-mid 70's, while most U.S. cities are buried in snow.

Why not do something different this winter? Go scuba diving at the stunning Great Barrier Reef, get inspired at Uluru (Ayers Rock) in Australia's great Outback, or drive through peaceful New Zealand in a camper van.

Contact an Australia Specialist today to get started planning your next trip to the Land Downunder!

Thursday, October 29, 2009

Vampire Vacations Popular this Halloween Season

Now more than ever, the fascination with vampires seems to be ingrained in our culture. Vampire lore has been around for ages, becoming mainstream with movies like "Dracula", "Interview with a Vampire", the "Underworld" movies, and the recent and very popular "Twilight".

Many tour groups around the world are now offering tours and excursions that are helping the vampire imagery come to life.

Dracula's Castle (Bran Castle), located in Transylvania, Romania is the most popular vampire vacation spot in the wolrd. Tourists who come to this area usually make sure to also visit Dracula's birthplace, in Sighisoara, and Dracula’s burial grounds at the Snagov Monastery.

New Orleans Vampire tours and Haunted History tours are also very popular among Vampire enthusiasts. These chilling yet fun tours take guests to locations mainly in the French Quarter that are based on real diaries, city archives, and very real legends will make a believer out of anyone.

Forks, Washington, is home of "Twilight's" Cullen family of vampires. The popular "Twilight" series has given this small town (with a population of 3,175) a new life, with tourists coming from all over the world to see the real life town that was portrayed in the books and movies.

San Fransisco is not usually known for vampires, but there is an underground history of vampire lore. With the San Fransisco Vampire Tours, participants visit some very haunted places around the Nob Hill neighborhood.

Contact a Professional Travel Agent today to get started booking your next spooky, or not-so-spooky vacation!

Friday, October 23, 2009

First All Female Flight Crew in the Middle East

Royal Jordanian flight number 132 recorded a first for Jordanian Airlines, and aviation history when it landed in Amman this week.

Returning from Athens, the plane flew with an all-women cockpit and cabin crew. The plane was led by Captain Carol Rabadi and co-pilot Hadeel Khamash. Captain Rabadi said her first flight as captain, together with co-pilot Khamash, would be a landmark in her life and the airline's history where women play a major role.

Way to go Royal Jordanian!

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

Some Airlines now Charging for Seat Assignments

Airline fees are on the rise again! On October 7th, British Airways began charging fees for all pre-assigned seat assignments. This even includes discounted business class.

The cost for a pre-assigned seat on a trans-atlantic flight in coach or premium economy class is $30 USD per flight! Passengers traveling on a discounted business class must pay $90 per flight! For exit row seats the fee is $75 each way! These fees are non-refundable.
No U.S. Airlines have started charing for seat assignments yet, but they most likely will start soon.

This is a perfect example why to use a Travel Agent for international travel. Most Travel Agencies can still book British flights without charging for seat assignments.

Contact a Professional Travel Agent today to get started booking your next trip!

Friday, October 09, 2009

5 Helpful Tips for Women Traveling Alone

If you are a woman who travels alone, or will be, as many women do these days, here are some helpful tips to ensure safer travels.

1. Pack Smart. Pack light so you won't be weighed down or look weighed down, both of which could make you an ideal target for pickpockets. Also, avoid using expensive looking baggage and clothing, lock all suitcases and only use covered luggage tags with your office address written on it rather than your home.

2. Be Familiar with Your Surroundings. Download maps of the area where you will be staying at home before you go, and try to familiarize yourself with surrounding streets and neighborhoods, to avoid looking like a lost tourist. Ask the hotel concierge where to go and where not to go.

3. Hotel Safety. Ask for a room on a higher floor near the elevator but away from emergency exits, stairwells, and any renovation work. Never accept a room if the clerk loudly calls out your name and room number.

4. Know Before You Go. Try to learn as much about the destination as possible, especially when traveling to a foreign country, before you go. An area's religious or cultural beliefs can directly impact you, compelling you to adapt your dress and demeanor to comply with local customs.

5. Getting Around Safely. Grab a card or matchbook from the front desk with the hotel's name, address and phone number on it, and keep this card on you at all times. This is especially helpful in foreign countries where you taxi driver might not speak English or in case there are several hotels with similar names in the area. Also, explore transportation options available at your destination ahead of time, especially if you will be arriving late in the evening. If renting a car, it's probably a good idea to also rent a GPS to help you navigate unfamiliar roads.

There is also safety in knowledge. With advance planning and the advice of a Professional Travel Agent, your vacation or business trip can be safe, hassle-free and memorable.

Thursday, October 08, 2009

Disney Announces Give-A-Day, Get-A-Day Promo

Disney parks announced last week, that beginning January 1, 2010 they will be giving away one million free admission tickets in exchange for one day of volunteer service.

What a great promotion! This encourages people to volunteer one day of service at a participating local charity organization and get involved in their community, and in return will get one day admission to either Disneyland, Disney World or Disney's California Adventure FREE!

This promotion is limited to one ticket per person and will last until December 15, 2010, or until all one million tickets have been givien away, which ever occurs first.

For more information go to Disney's website.

Friday, September 25, 2009

Dining in a Tree?

Yep, that’s right. The Yellow Treehouse Restaurant, located approximately 45 minutes north of Auckland, New Zealand recently opened for business.

The tree-house concept is reminiscent of childhood dreams and playtime, fairy stories of enchantment and imagination. This whimsical tree house was built up in a redwood tree, designed to look similar to a chrysalis. It is in a meadow on the edge of a forest overlooking a stream.

The circular café is 33 ft x 40 ft, with the split-level floor sitting 30 feet off the ground. The Treehouse seats 18, with the restrooms and kitchen on the ground. It was designed to be weather resistant using acrylic sheeting fixed to the roof under the fins with vertical roll-down café-style blinds within.

This is something that I would make sure to do, were I going to New Zealand!

To get started booking your next trip to New Zealand, contact a Professional Travel Agent today!

Thursday, September 17, 2009

New Laser Technology Could Reduce Pirate Attacks

Somali pirates could face a new space-age weapon used to stop hijackings on the high seas. This would be a giant laser gun, similar to the laser pens used to disorientate pilots coming into land.

The Laser Dazzle System can disable pirates from 1,000 yards away. It won't harm the pirates, but is designed to confuse them when shone on their boat as they prepare to board tankers and cruise ships. It is part of a range of James Bond-style devices for shipowners shown by BAE Systems at a defense exhibition in London's Docklands. There is also a radar that can spot a dinghy from 15 miles and a device that can even turn off the pirates' engines remotely.

The technology is designed to counter the threat posed by Somali pirates off the coast of East Africa. Nato and the EU have deployed naval forces across the Indian Ocean to keep the shipping lanes to the Suez Canal open. But the area is so vast that shipowners need new ways to beat the pirates.

BAE Systems says the radar can detect the pirate dinghy 15 miles away, further than any other commercial radar, giving captains time to escape and alert naval ships. BAE System's chairman Dick Olver said: "We can put radar on the ships which looks over the horizon and can see a rubber boat. When it gets a bit nearer we can turn the engine off."

Normally reserved for military use, BAE Systems has adapted the devices for the commercial sector.

Thursday, September 03, 2009

Tour Company now Offering "Divorce Tourism"

An Indian travel company, KVTours and Travels, based in Mumbai, recently launched "Divorce Tourism" packages, designed to get spouses who are considering divorce to reconsider.

The tour operator wants warring couples to hold off consulting lawyers and go on vacation instead - with a relationship counselor. "With divorce tourism, what we're trying to do is to bring together couples who are heading towards divorce to stop them," the company's chief executive Vijesh Thakker said. India, where marriage is still viewed as the bedrock of society, has traditionally had one of the world’s lowest divorce rates.

Only about one in 100 marriages fail, compared with one in two in the United States. But the divorce rate is rising, particularly in India's big cities. Reasons for the rise include the greater empowerment of women in urban India through better education and employment, also interference from in-laws, many of whom live with married couples in the joint family structure, or imported ideas of "love marriages", as opposed to ones arranged by families along social, religious or caste lines.

There are various Divorce Tourism packages available, from week-long stays in hill station resorts costing about $860 US dollars to more expensive foreign destinations. "We're trying to send them where they have not been before, where there are not many people - and no relatives," said Thakker. Experienced marriage counselors, whose costs are paid through deals made with hoteliers and travel agents, will accompany the married couples, encouraging them to patch up their differences and make a fresh start.

To get started booking your next vacation, contact a Professional Travel Agent!

Friday, August 28, 2009

Wi-Fi on Airplanes Not so Popular When it's not Free

The Wall St. Journal reports that more than 500 airlines are now flying around the U.S. with wireless internet access up and running! But airlines are finding that the technology that they hope will bring new revenues may be more like in-flight meals: People gobbled up food when it was free, but they find it a lot less appetizing when they have to pay.

Airlines and in-flight Wi-Fi providers say usage has been strong and is growing as more travelers sign up for the service and find it on more flights. Virgin America and AirTran Airways have Wi-Fi hotspots installed on all their aircraft and Delta has them on more than 225 of their planes.

But in tests and now in regular service, usage drops off considerably when travelers must pay for the service. Alaska Airlines even tested charging just $1. The result: a lot fewer laptops, BlackBerrys and iPhones signed on. "There's a very substantial decline in passenger usage the minute you start charging for the service,'' said Michael Planey, a consultant specializing in in-flight passenger technologies. "It really begins to invalidate the model on which this service is being built for the next 10 years."

Mr. Planey believes that ultimately Wi-Fi will be free for most fliers, and the best use for airlines will come in having that seat-back connection to customers. A Wi-Fi hotspot can allow airlines to sell tours and tickets in destinations travelers are flying to, and could possibly one day allow in-flight updating of flight connections or baggage problems before landing.

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

River Cruising: a great way to see Europe

A cruise through Germany’s Mosel and Main rivers is like taking a step back in time: rolling hills and steep vineyards that cascade along the horizon. Castles perched high above, with the sound of cathedral bells ringing in the town square. All this viewed from the AMA Waterways ms Amalyra ship, which I personally cruised on June 29, 2009 from Trier to Nuremburg, Germany. Everything on this ship impressed me: great service, large and comfortable staterooms, internet service in every room, and a smiling, helpful crew on board.

River cruising is quite different from ocean cruising with the major cruise lines. Calm seas, proximal shores and lower ship capacity (maximum 148 persons) all make for a more intimate cruising experience. Although you won’t find a wave pool or a Broadway style theater on board, you will enjoy five-star cuisine along with a cheerful and attentive staff endeavoring to meet your almost every need. In fact, on our particular ship there were just 105 guests aboard. This was a great number both in terms of access to the dining and lounge areas as well as offering the opportunity to get to know one another better while onboard.

Shore excursions are included with AMA Waterways, so you can choose to do as many of the offered tours as you like, or simply sit back and relax in the air-conditioned comfort of your stateroom or lounge. One benefit of small ship cruising is that the boat docks right in town, so disembarkation takes only a few moments and the tour guides can wait alongside the ship. This was a great plus in cities such as Mainz and Frankfurt, where we were within walking distance to attractions such as the Gutenberg and Goethe Museum. The local guides are enthusiastic and quite knowledgeable about their areas of expertise, shedding light on the lesser-known aspects of a particular region. This made for an “insiders” tour experience and greatly added to the enjoyment of the cruise.

If you’re looking for a different way to see Europe, consider an AMA Waterways cruise!

Contact a Professional Travel Agent to get started booking your next cruise!

Friday, August 14, 2009

Jet Pack Flying is Coming to New Zealand!

Forget bungy jumping and river rafting, New Zealand's tourists will soon be able to whiz around in a strap-on mini helicopter to get their thrills.

The Kiwi inventor, Glen Martin, will launch public flights early next year, with plans to expand to Australia soon after. The Martin Jetpack, literally a personal strap-on aircraft, is a two-liter jet-powered engine designed to soar across the skies at 60 miles per hour at heights of up to 160 feet!

The first public flight program will be limited to low and slow flying in a controlled area while the Christchurch-based company road tests the safety and limits of the engine. "It will still be flying as it's never been done before, just in the confines of a rugby field-type space." said the inventor. "Just because we have to stay under 30 feet high and under 6 miles per hr doesn't mean it won't be an incredibly exciting experience."

The flights are expected to cost about the same as a bungy jump or a tandem skydive, and will require just a few minutes training before a person can strap in and take a solo flight. Inventor Glenn Martin dreams of the day commuters will hop into the contraption to fly to work, missing rush hour traffic in their cars.

To book your new vacation to New Zealand, contact a Professional Travel Agent today!

Monday, August 10, 2009

Why is Airport Food so Expensive?

USA TODAY recently posted a good article regarding airport food and it’s pricing. Different airports have different ways of how to calculate food costs, the article mentions.

Many airports have adopted so-called "street pricing" policies, which means they require airport shops and restaurants to charge prices comparable with similar stores in town. But many haven't. Most retailers claim the operating costs are too high at airports to follow these guidlelines. Los Angeles International, for instance, doesn't even have a policy, while others, such as Atlanta's Hartsfield, allow retailers to charge a set premium over street prices.

Since airlines have cut back drastically on meals and snacks on flights in recent years, this leaves travelers with little choice then to pay higher prices.

Contact a Professional Travel Agent today to get started booking your next trip!

Tuesday, August 04, 2009

Celebrity Introduces Chair Concierges

Celebrity Cruise Lines' new "Chair Concierges" will help passengers arriving at Solstice and Equinox pool decks find a spot.

The "chair concierges" will keep tabs on where chairs are open so they can quickly lead passengers to them. A Celebrity spokesman said the line is getting more aggressive about stopping passengers from "saving" unoccupied chairs for long periods of time. Both the Solstice and the Equinox ships do not have as much deck space as some of the other ships. The chair shortage issue only comes up on Solstice on the sunniest sea days, in certain warm-weather destinations where most passengers want to be on deck at once, and the level of complaints have been few. However, the cruise line made a design change to Celebrity Equinox; widening and lengthening the Solstice Deck at the front of the ship to allow for 100 extra deck chairs.

Celebrity has not made a final decision on what to call the new position but "Chair Concierge" works for now.

Contact a Professional Travel Agent to get your next cruise booked!

Friday, July 31, 2009

Know Your Rights if You're Bumped from a Flight

Even though there has been a significant decrease in air travel recently, airlines are operating fewer flights, so planes are still packed.

Typically airlines sell more tickets then there are actual seats, in anticipation of cancellations and no-shows, or sometimes airlines have to substitute a smaller plane with fewer seats. These things sometimes result in a shortage of seats. Last year, approximately 63,000 passengers were bumped from their flights, according to government figures, and this year is shaping up the same way.

It is good to know that if you get bumped, the federal government has set rules on bumping and occasionally fines airlines for breaking them. This month, the Transportation Department fined Delta Air Lines $375,000, although it may waive about half if Delta improves its procedures for handling oversold flights.

Airlines must ask for volunteers first, and pay passengers some type of compensation who are bumped against their will. If you are bumped from a domestic flight, the airline must pay you the price of a one-way ticket, up to $400 cash if you are rescheduled to reach your destination between 1-2 hours of the original arrival time. If it is longer, the maximum doubles to $800.

While there are federal rules on bumping, there is no requirement for airlines to provide accommodations or meals for passengers who are stranded overnight, even if it's the carrier's fault, according to the Transportation Department.

Sometimes gate agents put out a sign or simply announce that they're looking for volunteers to skip the flight. It's often best to wait until departure time nears to accept any type of offer, as the bidding will usually get stronger. Experts warn about accepting travel vouchers, as they can be hard to redeem, especially at peak travel periods. Make sure you understand any limitations before accepting one.
Since summer airline travel often comes with delays, experts advise that you know what flights are available if yours is cancelled. Also, if your flight should be delayed or cancelled, get on your laptop or phone to see if you can rebook, rather than waiting in long lines.

Contact a Professional Travel Agent for assistance booking your next trip!

Thursday, July 30, 2009

Some of Mexico's Beaches are Being Restored

In an effort to preserve Mexico’s Caribbean coastline, Cancun, the Riviera Maya and Cozumel are having their beachfronts restored in time for the winter vacation period this year. The plan will add sand to an 11-mile stretch of beachfront, helping the area guard against erosion for the next 10 years.

In five months, the dredging company that presented the winning bid, Mexicana de Dragados, plans to extract nearly 247 million cubic feet of sand from underwater and use it to widen the beachfront. When the project is finished, Cancun’s beaches will be 44 yards wide, Playa del Carmen’s 33 yards wide and Cozumel’s 22 yards wide.

The project is supported by the Quintana Roo State Government and Tourism Secretariat, Mexico’s Environment and Natural Resources Secretariat (SEMARNAT) and Mexico’s Federal Electrical Commission, by a 900-million-peso (68-million-dollar) trust with federal, state and municipal (Riviera Maya, Cancún and Cozumel) government funds.

Tuesday, July 28, 2009

Airlines Increasing Baggage Fees

Airlines are raising fees again, this time it's for checked bags. American and Delta have recently joined US Airways, United and Continental in raising fees for checked baggage.

Each of these airlines are now charging $20 for the first bag and $30 for the second bag checked at the airport. Some of them offer a $5 discount for checking your bags in online.

Alaska and Hawaiian Airlines are still charging $15 for the first bag and $25 for the second.

Southwest Airlines is still allowing checked bags for free.

Friday, July 17, 2009

Looking for an Inexpensive Trip? How about Argentina?

Looking for an inexpensive, yet exotic trip? Argentina is a great choice right now! With the Argentine Peso at 3.80 to the US Dollar, the lowest it's been in over 6 years, the dollar goes farther here than most other countries.

There is plenty to see and do in this beautiful country, from Ushuaia in the far south to Iguazu Falls in the north, and Mendoza and it's beautiful vineyards to the west. Buenos Aries is known as the Paris of the West and is as beautiful as the major cities in Europe.

If you've ever wanted to visit Argentina, now is the time!

Contact a Professional Travel Agent today to get started booking your next vacation!

Thursday, July 16, 2009

Former Nuclear Missile Site Now a Tourist Attraction

A former nuclear missile launch center that closed as the Cold War was winding down, opened on Monday to a public curious to see what life was like at the once-top secret site.

The Ronald Reagan Minuteman site in eastern North Dakota is surrounded by wheat and soybean fields and looks pretty much the same as it did in 1997 when it was still being used.

Visitors can now go underground and view where Air Force officers once sat to wait for a possible nuclear war. It was their job to monitor 10 nearby Minuteman III nuclear missiles - and to launch them if ordered. The former living quarters, a building that stands about 60ft above the underground nuclear missile control center, still has the kitchen equipment, televisions, pool table and magazines it did when the site was closed.

On Monday a freight elevator took about 30 visitors to two cavernous rooms that resemble railroad tunnels, where the underground air smelled faintly of diesel fuel and parts of the floor were sticky with hydraulic fluid. One room housed diesel generators and air conditioners to cool the equipment. Another was for two officers who worked 24-hour shifts.

The missile site, about three miles north of Cooperstown and about 70 miles northwest of Fargo, is one of a handful of US locations that commemorate the Cold War. The National Park Service operates a former Minuteman II launch center and missile silo in South Dakota. In Arizona, historic preservationists operate a former Titan nuclear missile site.

Friday, July 10, 2009

Climbing Uluru (Ayers Rock) May be Banned in the Future

Under a new plan released on Wednesday July 8, 2009, by the National Parks Service of Australia, climbing Uluru, Australia's famous red sandstone monolith, may be banned in the future, citing cultural, safety and environmental reasons.

Climbing the rock has long been opposed by the Nguraritja, the Aboriginal tribe who regained title to the land in 1985 and consider it sacred territory. The tribe and federal parks service jointly manage the site, a UNESCO World Heritage site.

There are signs at Uluru that say it is a spiritual place for Aborigines and warning that the steep, slippery climb can be dangerous. More than 30 people have died while climbing the rock, which is higher than the Eiffel Tower and about six miles in circumference.

The park draws about 350,000 visitors a year. The parks service said the number of visitors that choose to climb Uluru has dropped to about 38 percent from 74 percent in 1990.

Thursday, July 09, 2009

What to do in Adelaide, Australia?

Adelaide is the capitol of South Australia. This vibrant city sits between the Adelaide Hills and the Gulf St. Vincent. It is adorned with pristine beaches, numerous water sports and activities, national parks and is surrounded by parkland.

Some of the most popular features of Adelaide are;

Glenelg is an historic and very popular beachside community. It offers many restaurants, cafes, and shopping.

South Australian Museum was founded in 1856. It is home to the largest collection of indigenous Australian artifacts in the world. Open daily, entry is free!

National Wine Center of Australia promotes awareness of over 10,000 Australian wines. There is an extensive list of wines available for tasting, and one can even talk with a hologram of famous Australian winemakers. Open year round, except for national holidays.

Warrawong Wildlife Sanctuary is a wildlife reserve approximately 25 miles outside of Adelaide. It was created as a reserve for endangered Australian wildlife in 1969. Today it is home to over 100 species of native birds and mammals. It is a great place to visit for an opportunity to get up close with Australian wildlife in a protected environment. Open daily, free admission!

Art Gallery of South Australia is renowned for the extensive collection of Australian art, and housed in a beautiful histroc building. Open daily 10am-5pm. Admission is free. Entry fees may apply to some special exhibitions.

Adelaide Zoo is home to over 1,800 animals and almost 300 species of exotic and native mammals, birds, reptiles, amphibians, invertebrates and fish exhibited in magnificent botanic surroundings. Open daily 9:30am-5pm.

Adelaide Botanic Gardens is comprised of three botanic gardens, Adelaide, Mount Lofty and Wittunga, that provide visitors with an exceptional range of cultural, recreational, educational and scientific facilities which enhance people’s enjoyment and understanding of the plant world.

The seaside suburb of West Beach. Its white sands on the eastern shore of Gulf Saint Vincent and boating lakes are some of it's most notable features.

Contact a Professional Travel Agent to get started planning your Australia vacation today!

Thursday, July 02, 2009

Continental Now Offering Flights to Cuba

On Tuesday Continental Airlines began offering direct flights from Los Angeles International Airport to Havana, Cuba.

Cuba Travel Services Inc. will offer a chartered flight every Tuesday on a Boeing 737-800 operated by Continental Airlines. The flight will take off from LAX at 11 a.m.

Most travel from the United States to Cuba has been banned since an embargo was imposed on Cuba in 1962. Cuban-Americans were allowed to visit their families under various policies, however. About five years ago, President George W. Bush placed a three times a year limit on such trips for Cuban-Americans. His administration also more tightly regulated who could accompany them as family members on the trips.

President Obama repealed those restrictions in April. Cuba Travel says it hopes its new flights will be possible with the 100,000 Cuban-Americans living in California, some 85,000 of those in Los Angeles. The company also hopes to serve "journalists, government officials and researchers, as well as sports teams, educational facilities and other groups."

Cuba Travel Services was formed by a group of Los Angeles business professionals to facilitate a better understanding between the United States and Cuba.

Friday, June 26, 2009

Peru's Railway Service Suspends Trains to Manchu Picchu

Peru's railway service suspended train service to the famed Machu Picchu ruins on Wednesday, after members of the areas indigenous community vowed to launch protests that would have hampered access to the ancient site.

Officials at Peru Rail, which runs the popular service, said the temporary closure was taken as a precaution, after indigenous leaders vowed to hold protests and blockades to press their demands regarding land use and territorial rights.

Earlier this month, deadly clashes between police and native peoples in Peru's Amazon rainforest killed at least 34 people, prompting Congress to revoke two controversial decrees on land ownership in the Amazon River basin.

Contact a Professional Travel Agent today to book your next trip to South America.

Thursday, June 25, 2009

Delta's Red Coats Are Back

Do you remember the days when those Delta Red Coats could be found in any Delta terminal? They came into existence in the 60’s but then disappeared several years ago.

Last summer Delta brought them back at JFK. This year they can be found at 14 airports around the country. They will be walking the concourses and around the gate areas. Atlanta, Los Angeles, Orlando and Reagan National are just four of the 14 airports. It’s at least a small return of some customer service by an airline.

The Red Coats are being equipped with handheld units, similar to those used by rental car representatives, to help them more efficiently assist passengers, directing those who've missed a connection to their new flight, securing boarding passes or even providing food vouchers if there is a need. They are considered to be a kind of super-agent who can handle virtually any task but the Red Coats' primary mission is to fix problems.

Tuesday, June 16, 2009

Trip Advisor Warns About Phony Hotel Reviews

TripAdvisor, the giant of user-generated hotel reviews, is now posting a message on some of their hotel reviews warning they may have been posted by individuals affiliated with the hotel and could be biased.

The warning reads: "TripAdvisor has reasonable cause to believe that either this property or individuals associated with the property may have attempted to manipulate our popularity index by interfering with the unbiased nature of our reviews. Please take this into consideration when researching your travel plans."

This doesn't come as a surprise to most, as it's a good opportunity to promote your properties. Beat of Hawaii, an Expedia owned company, and Arthur Frommer have been complaining about TripAdvisor for a long time, for failing to police against fake reviews.

It's always a good idea to double check any property with a few different websites, or with your Travel Agent, to make sure you're making a good choice.

Monday, June 15, 2009

Royal Caribbean is Testing Balloon Rides

Royal Caribbean Cruise Lines is testing a balloon ride off the stern of the Oasis of the Seas during Sea Trials.

RCCL Chairman and CEO Richard Fain explained what was happening on his blog. He said the balloon is actually an "aerostat," a lighter-than-air object that usually remains tethered to its base by a long wire and could be used to give passengers rides. "The idea is interesting, but it has such a cornucopia of practical issues that I give it less than a 50 percent chance of being used on Oasis," Fain wrote. "If we don't use it on the ship, I will consider it just another of the many ideas our people develop that didn't work. On the other hand, if it is successful and we do decide to use it on the ship, I will consider it another of my better ideas. Remember, this is just one of many experiments we undertake and, unless we actually decide to go forward with it, one that you will never hear about again."

Fain promised to report on whether the aerostat will actually make it onto the ship. For more information, visit

Contact a Professional Travel Agent today to book your next cruise!

Friday, June 05, 2009

Review of V Australia Airline

This is a review from a clients' recent experience with the new airline, V Australia.

"I'm back after my last-minute run to the other side of the planet to be on V Australia's first flight, which left Sydney on February 27, to tell you that V Australia is a nice airline to fly!

Thought you might like a traveller's review of the V Australia flight experience so that you're not depending solely on what they tell you until you have a chance to go yourself.

Wow, that new plane experience is even more fantastic than the new car experience. Pristine upholstery, seatback pockets that don't contain crumbs, walls without scuffs... just beautiful! So THAT is how the other half lives, in their clean private jets while the rest of us ride mass transit in the air!

Their seatback entertainment system is still a work in progress -- I hung it a couple times, once requiring a hard reboot in the middle of the night in order to re-enable my console, and email and net access are not (yet?) available from it -- but it's promising. The armrest contains a 2-prong headset plug, and the seatback entertainment console contains a USB plug for charging one's phone/device or, apparently, plugging in a USB memory stick/MP3 player and playing music (although since I didn't have one with me, I didn't try this to verify that it worked the way I think it does). I enjoyed a few hours worth of Bejeweled 2 gaming, some Wiggles episodes, and a movie in-flight when not talking with my fellow passengers, eating or sleeping.

The seats in economy seem at least as wide as Qantas', maybe a bit more so, and definitely recline more. There was plenty of space for me to stretch my legs and feat out beneath the seat in front of me, without reaching the front of the seat in front of me (I'm about 5'6"), and at no point did my knees come into contact with the seat in front of me, even when it was reclined! Taller folks might not have the same luck, of course. Business and premium economy seats apparently have power points for laptops and other devices, but those of us in economy have to give our devices to an FA so that they can charge them in the back, which they're glad to do (I did a laptop recharge while I slept). There's one exception -- apparently the first row of seats in economy, row 20, have at least one power point per set of seats. Those seats also have hooks for in-flight bassinets in the bulkhead in front of them.

The premium economy cabin is quite NICE (I think it would pass for business domestically) and even more spacious. I didn't particularly notice first class, so I can't speak to that.

The food is good (breakfast of a belgian waffle, candied peaches and walnuts, plus yogurt, a muesli bar, juice and coffee in economy?!). As usual for Virgin Group airlines, the flight attendants are pretty good eye candy for those to whom that sort of thing matters.

The mood lighting on the plane was fun, albeit imperfect. I was in the front-most economy sub-cabin (of three economy areas on the plane), and our lighting was occasionally out of sync with that of the other areas of the plane -- for a long time, we just had plain white light, while others had mood lighting, and when I asked about this, they said something about it being timed to meal service (?). The lighting was deep blue and pink/purple in the evening, much like Virgin America, and changed to blue and a sort of gold/orange color, presumably reminiscent of dawn, in the morning.

In-flight reading material was a bit sparse, consisting of just one thinnish magazine describing the entertainment options on-board, that contained a short piece in the front welcoming passengers to the new airline. I'm guessing they figure people will either be talking to each other or will have planned ahead and brought their own activities with which to occupy their time.

More on the seats -- the last two rows of seats on the plane have only two seats in the row by the window, rather than 3 as for everywhere else in economy on the plane. Unlike Qantas, which leaves the extra space between the window seat and the window, and leaves the aisle seat right behind the other aisle seats, V Australia uses the extra space in the reverse way. The window seat is still up against the window, but the aisle seat is indented from the regular aisle location (if that makes sense). So, if you have someone looking for a bit of a more spacious feel, but can't get a bulkhead/emergency door seat, you might suggest an aisle seat in one of the last two rows. Additionally, the front economy cabin, immediately behind premium economy, had a more private feel as well, due to its smaller size (just 8 or 9 rows, I think), kind of like Hawaiian's front economy mini-cabin.

I would not hesitate to recommend V Australia over Qantas if the fares are equivalent, or even if V Australia's is a bit higher, based on the novelty of the lighting and in-flight entertainment system options, plus the nice breakfast (dinner was a bit better on V Australia, too, but the breakfast was really a standout.) Service-wise, I can't really compare the two, as I'm sure they had their very best folks on the first flight (that this client was on), and those poor guys and gals seemed to be run ragged by all the special gift bag deliveries to the front of the plane, t-shirt deliveries to the rest of us, helping sort out various glitches, etc. I don't think I saw an FA just sitting around on break at any time during the flight -- I don't know how they did it. My guess is that they're comparable although the relative inexperience of the V Australia staff regarding international flights did show in that they handed me both a US customs form *and* a visitor form, insisting when I asked "Why the new form? I've never seen this one before," that it was necessary (it wasn't). I liked that there was no duty-free shopping arm-twisting on-board (as you probably know, Qantas has its own duty-free catalog in every seatback pocket)."


Thursday, June 04, 2009

Identification While Traveling

Recently I took a trip to Las Vegas. After checking in at the SeaTac Airport and checking my bag, I made a stop in the ladies room, before heading to the security lines. Somehow, between the restroom and security, my driver’s license disappeared. I looked everywhere, including the lost and found, and it didn’t turn up anywhere!

It’s annoying and stressful to lose a driver’s license anytime, but especially when traveling! To my surprise, I was still able to get through security and board the plane. This is after the security agent and her manager looked through all my credit cards, insurance cards and membership cards in my wallet. However, I think the reason why I was able to board was because I was traveling with my husband, who verified me, and I also had a (very old) expired driver’s license in my wallet.

Luckily I was just traveling domestically. Had this been an international flight, I’m sure the outcome would have been quite different. Security is (obviously) a lot stricter for international travel. These are a few suggestions I would make for U.S. citizens traveling internationally:
  • Make sure your passport is valid for at least 6 months beyond your travel dates.
  • Make at least 2 copies of your passport. Take one with you, but keep it in a separate place from the original, and leave one copy with someone at home who could fax it to you if necessary.
  • Never carry your passport in your pocket.
  • Children, including infants, are also required to have a valid passport to re-enter the U.S.
  • Check on an visa requirents for the country you are traveling to, and make sure to apply for any applicable visa's well in advance.

Contact a Professional Travel Agent to get started booking your next international trip!

Tuesday, June 02, 2009

Cruise Lines Taking Steps to Keep Pirates Away

A recent survey of major cruise lines shows that most cruise lines haven't drastically altered itineraries through the Gulf of Aden, the vital East African route between the Mediterranean and Arabian seas, however they are increasing piracy deterrence measures.

The ships that route through that area now have pirate-emergency drills for passengers and crew, that are just as routine as mandatory lifeboat drills. "All officers and crew are trained and drilled in piracy evasion and defense, and the anti-piracy measures are reviewed in a guest safety drill," said Tim Rubacky, communications director for Oceania and Regent Seven Seas. The Oceania Nautica, which managed to dodge a pirate attack last November, sailed through the area again May 2, this time following the protection path.

Attacks on cruise ships are rare, but two, the American-owned Oceania Nautica and the Italian-owned MSC Melody have been among those targeted by pirates in recent months. The Nautica was fired upon in November, but evaded capture by outrunning two pirate skiffs. In April, an Israeli security team aboard the MSC Melody scared off pirates after exchanging gunfire with them. No one was hurt in either incident. American-flagged cruise ships do not carry armed security personnel.

Twelve countries, including the U.S., have assigned warships in the area to create a maritime protection zone. This is all part of a support convoy system, that uses warships and helicopters to protect vessels by coordinating group transit through what has become known as "pirates' alley." Approximately 20,000 vessels go through the gulf area each year. Cruise ships or other vessels can make arrangements to join scheduled military-escorted passage by contacting the Maritime Security Centre's Horn of Africa website.

There are also several anti-piracy measures available, such as long-range acoustic devices, using additional lookouts, training crew to recognize vessels, training in evasive maneuvers and the use of heavy water hoses.

Thursday, May 28, 2009

New Passport Requirements

On June 1, 2009, the U.S. government will implement the new requirements of the land and sea phase of WHTI (Western Hemisphere Travel Initiative). The proposed rules require most U.S. citizens entering the United States at sea or land ports of entry to have a passport, passport card, or other travel document approved by the Department of Homeland Security.

Children under the age of 16 who are citizens of the U.S., will be able to present the original or copy of their birth certificate, or other proof of U.S. citizenship such as a naturalization certificate or citizenship card.

The U.S. Passport Card: The passport card is only valid for re-entry into the United States at land border crossings and sea ports-of-entry from Canada, Mexico, the Caribbean region, and Bermuda.

Also, a final ruling was issued allowing leniency for “closed-loop” cruises, or sailings that both originate and end in the same U.S. port. U.S. citizens taking “closed-loop” cruises are not required to have a passport but will need proof of citizenship and a government-issued photo ID, such as an original or certified copy of a birth certificate and a driver’s license. Children will also be required to carry a birth certificate and a photo ID if over the age of 15.

For more complete information about the WHTI, go to

For assistance booking your next international vacation, contact a Professional Travel Agent today!

Friday, May 22, 2009

Hanalei Bay Named Top U.S. Beach

Hanalei Bay, located on Kauai's north shore, was just named Top Beach in America, according to "Dr. Beach", or Stephen P. Leatherman. Leatherman based his selections on 50 criteria, including water quality and temperature, cleanliness, sand quality, weather, safety and facilities.

This remote 2-mile beach, located around the corner from the Napali Coast features breath taking views from every angle, and is practically untouched compared to Hawaii's other beaches. It is a perfect place for swimming, surfing, snorkeling, or just relaxing in the sand.

Even when the surf is up during winter months, parts of the bay are protected by an outer reef, so people are still able to swim safely.

Siesta Beach in Sarasota, Fla. was the runner-up on Leatherman's list.

Contact a Professional Travel Agent today to get started booking your next sunny vacation!

Tuesday, May 19, 2009

Some Cruises Returning to Mexico

Now that the CDC is no longer recommending against nonessential travel to Mexico, cruise lines are making plans to return to their regular itineraries.

Voyages with previously modified itineraries will continue and revert to their original routes in Mexico, as most itineraries were modified through mid-June. Royal Caribbean Cruise Lines will resume its port calls in Cozumel beginning with sailings that depart on or after May 24. Ships with Cozumel port calls include Freedom of the Seas, Liberty of the Seas, and Enchantment of the Seas. Mariner of the Seas will continue its modified Pacific Northwest itinerary, up to and including, its June 14 sailing.

Carnival Cruise Lines will make its first call back to Cozumel on May 30, with Carnival Holiday, but most ships will resume calls to Mexican ports in June, once all previously modified cruises have been completed.

Passengers on both Carnival and Royal Caribbean ships will still have to fill in a health questionnaire on embarkation and there will continue to be spot checks on anyone showing signs of flu.
For more information, or to book your next Cruise, contact a Professional Travel Agent today!

United Raises Bagges Fees

United followed US Airways in raising bag fees to $20 for the first bag and $30 for the second bag. The increase will be discounted $5 only if paid online. The increase goes into effect June 10 and applies to any purchases bought after May 14th.

Tuesday, May 12, 2009

AirTran to Add Wi-Fi to All Their Flights

AirTran Airways announced today that they plan to equip their entire fleet of jets with wireless capabilities.

The airline plans to have the Wi-Fi service installed in all of its planes by July of this year, which would make them the first airline to do so.

AirTran mainly just flies within the U.S., with the exception of Mexico and Puerto Rico.

Thursday, May 07, 2009

First "Cruise with Purpose" Shore Excursion

Juneau's local tour operator Gastineau Guiding has created the first Cruise with Purpose shore excursion, in partnership with the Alaska Sea Grant's Marine Advisory Program and the Alaska Marine Conservation Alliance.

This program was designed especially for Holland America Line. Guests board an exploration vessel out of Auke Bay to look for and help document individual humpback and orca whales. Guests will identify individual whales by their tail "fingerprints" and record their songs using an underwater microphone called a hydrophone. Participants will also collect water samples, trawl for plankton and record ocean temperature readings.

Since plankton is a significant indicator in predicting the success of Alaska's salmon runs, this data will help manage this precious wild resource. All collected data and water samples are contributed to the body of research maintained by Alaska Sea Grant's Marine Advisory Program. The beach landing vessel will then make a one-hour stop at a secluded cove or shoreline where guests then turn into volunteer beachcombers. A naturalist-guide provides interpretation on the flora and fauna of the area as guests help pick up any non-native debris in support of the Alaska Marine Conservation Alliance's efforts.

The cost of this tour is $219 per person. At the tour's conclusion, guests receive a Cruise with Purpose VolunTour pin, and will be able to track the projects they contributed to at the program's web page The tour is available from May to September.

To get started booking your next Cruise vacation, contact a Professional Travel Agent today!

Friday, May 01, 2009

What to do in Melbourne, Australia?

Melbourne is the second most populous city in Australia, with a population of approximately 3.9 million and serves as the state capital of Victoria. Melbourne is located on the lower reaches of the Yarra River and on the northern and eastern shorelines of Port Phillip and their hinterland. Melbourne is a major center of commerce, education, tourism, the arts and cultural activities, and also industry.

It is consistently ranked one of the most liveable cities in the world.

Things to Do:

The Queen Victoria Market is the oldest and largest open air market in the Southern Hemisphere. Here you can find anything from fresh produce and gourmet food items, to clothing and souvenirs.

National Gallery of Victoria is the oldest and largest gallery and museum in Australia. It holds more than 70,000 items between its 2 buildings, which are just a short walking distance apart. One building houses international art, the other houses Australian art only. Both buildings are open year round, except for major holidays. And admission is free!

Royal Botanical Gardens are some of the most beautifully landscaped gardens in the world. Just a short walk from city center, these world famous gardens boasts more than 20 different types of gardens, including an interactive children’s garden and the Aboriginal Heritage Walk. Entry is free!

Federation Square is considered the city’s “hub”. This cultural precinct connects the city center with the Yarra River. It is comprised of art galleries, a museum, shops, restaurants, bars and a cinema.

The Melbourne Observation Deck, located some 237 metres above the city streets on the 55th floor of the Rialto Towers, offers spectacular views of the central business district and beyond.

The Melbourne Aquarium contains a variety of exhibits showcasing marine wildlife found in the Southern Ocean and the Antarctic.

Some other noteworthy attractions in Melbourne include St. Patrick’s Cathedral, the Melbourne Zoo, and the Victorian Arts Centre.


Melbourne is also noted for the number, variety and quality of its restaurants. Major restaurant strips are found throughout the city and the suburbs, including:

Chinatown, on Little Bourke Street and now spreading out onto Russell Street in the CBD, offers numerous restaurants, mainly but not exclusively offering Cantonese cuisine, at the lower end offering Hong Kong-style noodle restaurants up to the Flower Drum, renowned for its Peking Duck and is generally regarded as Melbourne's best restaurant.

Lygon Street, in the inner-northern suburb of Carlton, offers a selection of mainly Italian-influenced food.

Brunswick Street in inner-suburban Fitzroy used to be a grungy hotbed of students, musicians, actors and the like, and still retains some remnant of that edginess with the presence of several live music venues, all manner of eclectic stores, accompanied by restaurants and cafes, many of which serve varied and contemporary menus.

Chapel Street, south of the city is a popular destination for fashionable clothes shopping, eating and entertainment. The long street contains commercial areas providing goods and services for local residents. Chapel Street intersects with Toorak Road, itself offering entertainment, food and shops.

Other prominent cafe strips include:
St Kilda's Fitzroy Street, Carlisle Street and Acland Street are home to many popular cafes.
Fitzroy's Brunswick Street
South Yarra's Chapel Street
Collingwood's Smith Street
Richmond's Bridge Road
Southbank's Southgate and Crown Casino


Melbourne contains all manner of pubs, bars, and nightclubs. The CBD contains a wide variety of venues, from the ubiquitous faux-Irish pubs and more traditional Aussie hotels, through some very upmarket wine bars, serious jazz venues on Bennetts Lane, fashionable nightclubs and dance venues (where the Melbourne Shuffle was born), are often hidden away down obscure grungy alleys.

The restaurant strips, particularly Brunswick Street have their own bars, some of which are the best rock venues in Melbourne. King Street, on the southern side of the CBD, was traditionally a nightclub strip and still hosts several, but many are now exotic dancing venues. Chapel Street, Prahran, is perhaps the trendiest, most upmarket nightlife strip. Bayside St Kilda is the home of several huge music venues including the famous Esplanade Hotel (known as 'the Espy'), the Prince of Wales, and The Palace.

The recent influx of city-dwellers has given rise to the numerous underground bars and sidewalk cafes in the alleys between Flinders Street - Flinders Lane and Bourke Street - Lonsdale Street. Notable alleys include Block Arcade/Block Place, Degraves Street, and Hardware Lane.

Day Trips From Melbourne:

There are a variety of interesting things to see outside Melbourne proper but still within a day trip of Melbourne:

The Yarra valley region, producer of high-quality wine and with beautiful rainforest scenery nearby.

The Mornington Peninsula, with its wineries, beaches and the Arthurs Seat lookout.
The Surf Coast near Geelong, with excellent surf beaches and the spectacular views of the Great Ocean Road (Voted the world's best road trip in 2003).

Ballarat, a small city once the centre of the gold rush and site of the Eureka Stockade.
Phillip Island, home of the Australian Motorcycle Grand Prix, also has one of the few easily-accessible colonies of little penguins.

French Island in Western Port Bay

Geelong, 80 km down the Princes Hwy is the gateway to many of Australia's tourist destinations such as the Great Ocean Road, Twelve Apostles and Bells Beach. Geelong is famous for its world class waterfront on on Corio Bay. One of the largest waterfront redevelopments ever undertaken in Australia, Waterfront Geelong includes Cunningham Pier with its Smorgy's restaurant, a Carousel Pavilion, and the art-deco bathing area at Eastern Beach.

Gippsland region, home of the Gourmet Deli Tours, the Gippsland Lakes, Wilsons Promontory (with South Point, the most southerly point of the Australian mainland), and many picturesque towns such as Sale,Foster, Bairnsdale, Lakes Entrance, and Warragul - one of the richest dairy farming areas in Australia. The ghost town of Walhalla is filled with goldmining memorabilia.


Australia is within the southern hemisphere where the seasons are reversed to those in North America. Melbourne’s changes of seasons are renown for starting late, the “official” first day of summer is 21st December, but it rarely feels like summer until mid January or even later. During the summer months outdoor activities in particular the fabulous Melbourne beaches are popular with both locals and visitors.

Melbourne enjoys a temperate climate with warm-hot summers; spring and autumn are balmy and mild, the winters cool. Melbourne is seldom unbearably cold or unbearably hot, temperature extremes when they do occur see the hotter realms of the thermometer causing more problems than the colder.
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