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.