Monday, November 29, 2010

How to Get Hotel Upgrades

When 24/7 Real Media chairman and founder David J. Moore arrived at Caesar's Palace in Las Vegas, it could have been one of the worst travel experiences of his life. His flight had been repeatedly delayed, it was 4 a.m. and he had to wake up early the next morning for a conference. Instead, he scored an upgrade to the best room in the hotel: the top executive suite, replete with mirrored ceilings and an enormous hot tub.

That was 15 years ago. These days, with fewer reservations on the books and less money changing hands, hotel upgrades are harder than ever to come by. But that doesn't mean they're impossible. Many seasoned travelers attribute their most impressive upgrades to a combination of luck and overbooking, but our insider, a front desk manager at a luxury Atlanta hotel, says there are a few measures you can take to put yourself in a more favorable position to be upgraded.

"Staying only one night, coming in late and traveling when there's a conference in town make it easier to give someone an upgrade," he says. That's because short stays and late arrivals free up the staff to move people around, and traveling during major events makes it more likely all of the smaller rooms will be occupied, allowing the management to offer the top suites as an alternative to relocating guests to another hotel. And while our insider concedes that the best upgrades are partially a function of luck, he says the front desk staff has more control than most patrons realize.

"We want to keep people happy," he says. "We could be under-booked, and if someone comes up and is really pleasant, but obviously exhausted, I'll give him a nicer view, or a bigger bed."

Even if you're well-rested, just starting a brief conversation with the staff about events you have planned on your vacation can confer benefits. Guests who are celebrating birthdays or anniversaries, or who just need extra room to work can often procure an upgrade by mentioning their situation to the front desk managers, says former Opus hotel manager Daniel Edward Craig.

Playing nice with the management is important for another reason as well: It will make them more likely to remember you, and hotels are big on loyalty. Quintin Payton, a New York City-based freelance stylist, has experienced the benefits of customer loyalty firsthand at the Savoy Hotel in Miami, where he regularly stays for both business and pleasure. "I've stayed there so often, even the maid recognizes me," he says. "Now, when I go, they always give me the same room, no matter what I booked; I never have to pay for parking, which is supposed to be $30 a day; and they never charge me for the mini-bar."

So, what if you've booked your favorite hotel during the 31,000-strong Society for Neuroscience conference, and have arrived haggard-looking in the middle of the night, but no upgrades seem forthcoming? "Just ask," says our informant. "If you're nice and you act important, we'll probably give you something."

This original article by Jacqueline Detwiler of Forbes, can be read here.

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

First Cruise to Cuba Since 2007

A cruise ship carrying 220 passengers anchored in Havana on Nov. 12. The Gemini, a small cruise ship owned by a Spanish company, Happy Cruises, is the first cruise ship to call on Havana since 2007.

At that time Pulmantur offered a stop in Cuba but after it was acquired by Royal Caribbean in 2007, it had to stop the calls. It also had calls in Cozumel and Cancun. A British cruise line and a Russian line will also make calls in Cuba during 2011.

The Cuban Tourism Ministry predicts that Cuba would receive 1,000 cruise ships a year carrying 1.2 million U.S. tourists if Washington were to lift the travel embargo banning U.S. visitors to the country.
Contact a Cruise Specialist today to book your next cruise!

Monday, November 15, 2010

FAA Orders New Safety Steps on Older Aircraft

The Federal Aviation Administration has ordered new steps to protect thousands of commercial aircraft from serious structural fatigue as they age.

The FAA is requiring manufacturers and airlines to intensify and streamline inspections of the metallic skeleton and skin of aircraft, estimated to cost the industry some $3.6 million. The regulation has been in the works for years and pulls together related rules and directives issued by the agency on fatigue cracking, which is mainly caused by repeated changes in pressurization during flight.

Structural fatigue and questions about FAA oversight have arisen in a handful of incidents in recent years. At issue are tiny cracks, some of them visible, that often form on a plane as it ages. Individually, the cracks are of little concern. But they can weaken an aircraft's structure if permitted to spread and link with other cracks.

More than 4,100 planes registered to fly in the United States are affected by the new rule. There have been several instances in the past few years involving fatigue. The FAA said it is working with European safety officials to harmonize regulations. European Aviation Safety Agency is currently working on its own fatigue directive.

Manufacturers have between 18 and 60 months to comply with the new FAA rule, depending on the plane involved. Airlines then have another 30 to 72 months to incorporate the changes into their inspection routines.

Thursday, November 11, 2010

Tahiti's Heiva Festival

During the month of July, Tahiti comes alive with lights, costume, music, dancing, sporting events and other forms of entertainment to celebrate Heiva. This annual Polynesian festival originated in 1882 and is a version of Bastille Day for the Tahitians, comparable to Mardi Gras in New Orleans or Carnival in Buenos Aires.

Heiva is about bringing the community together and keeping the Polynesian traditions alive. From July 2nd through the 21st, there are daily competitions of all sorts: pirogue racing, petanque, javelin throwing, tennis, basketball, bike racing, and the traditional barefoot race where contestants have to carry heavy sacks of fruit on their shoulders. There are also demonstrations of Polynesian tattooing, medicine, massage, and basket weaving.

The most popular event of Heiva is the Mr. and Miss Tahiti competition. This beauty pageant is not just about good looks but also talent and intelligence, including a race to see who can crack open ten coconuts first.

The best days for visitors to attend Heiva is at the beginning of the month. Nightly singing and dancing begins on the 2nd, followed by days of nonstop entertainment. Tickets to sporting events, which last several hours, generally run about $20 USD. The festival concludes on July 21st (or 22nd in case of poor weather) with the awards ceremony.

Heiva is also celebrated [to a lesser degree] in California, Hawaii, Fiji, and Japan.

Contact a South Pacific Specialist to book your Tahiti vacation!

Tuesday, November 09, 2010

The Most Romantic Islands in the World

By Emma Sloley
Travel + Leisure

It’s easy to fall in love on an island. “I wore a bikini for five days straight and never put on real clothes for anything,” recalls Christina Greer, a New York professor who took a vacation to Panama’s Bocas del Toro a few years back with her boyfriend. “We went dolphin watching and snorkeling all day,” Greer says. “It was total relaxation.” The two are now married and have visited 15 countries together on a tireless quest to uncover the world’s most romantic destinations.

Whether you’re after all-out luxury or sand-between-the-toes casual, there’s a romantic island for you. And while many of these dream destinations have “remote” and “secluded” as their principle selling points, others are surprisingly close to home.

These are some of the islands that made the list.

Molokai, Hawaii
A conspicuous absence of international hotel chains is just one reason this idyll—situated east of Oahu in the Hawaiian archipelago—draws romantics from all over. Hike to remote waterfalls, kayak secluded rocky coastlines, and ride donkeys into the lush valleys, or just laze beachside. (Head for the golden sands of secluded three-mile-long Papohaku Beach, at the far-west end of the island.) With just one traffic light on the island, the only gridlock you’ll encounter is caused by colonies of curious sea turtles frolicking in the outrageously clear waters.

Capri, Italy
Sure, noon in Capri Town can be a tourist swarm, but the bulk of visitors depart on the last ferry back to Naples or Sorrento—leaving the island blissfully free for lovers. And this dramatically craggy outcrop, a Mediterranean Garden of Eden splashed with floral color and perfumed by lemon trees and herb gardens, has remained a magnet for the A-list since antiquity, when Emperor Tiberius set up camp here.

St. Lucia, Caribbean
If the Caribbean Sea were a catwalk, St. Lucia would be its most bankable supermodel. This 27-mile-long island is lush, mountainous, and blessed with gorgeous beaches and verdant cocoa plantations. The jade-green twin peaks of the Pitons, jungle-swathed volcanic plugs that rise from a silvery ocean on the southwest coast, are the Caribbean’s most striking backdrop.

Bocas del Toro, Panama
Located in the Caribbean Sea near the border with Costa Rica, this group of islands is all about low-key relaxation with a Latin American flavor, pitch-perfect for sybarites who don’t want to pack a designer bikini. The main island of Colon has a buzzy downtown full of waterfront bars and laid-back nightclubs, while the smaller islands offer deserted beaches, rainforests, mangroves, and coral reefs.

Catalina Island, California
Just 22 miles southwest of Los Angeles, Santa Catalina has a certain Mediterranean flavor. Yachts jostle in a glinting harbor, sorbet-colored homes cascade down the hillside, and the secluded coves are ready-made for romance—including the aptly named Lover’s Cove, east of Avalon.

Santorini, Greece
Sweeping views over a picture-perfect caldera—the result of a volcanic eruption around 1600 B.C.—is just one factor in Santorini’s romantic charm. Gorgeous, striated cliffs and black-sand beaches don’t hurt, either. Head to the famously picturesque village of Oia (book a room at the 18-suite Mystique) with its classic whitewashed, cliff-edge architecture, blue-domed churches, and stone houses overhung with bougainvillea canopies.

Rangali Island, The Maldives
Of the 1,192 islets that make up this island nation in the Indian Ocean, roughly 1,000 are uninhabited. Suffice to say, your chances of finding romantic seclusion are pretty high. Like most of the resorts here, the Conrad Maldives Hotel occupies its own private atoll, called Rangali Island. The romance factor kicks in before you even arrive, thanks to a seaplane ride over the shallow, impossibly clear lagoon. Soon enough, you’re dining in the underwater restaurant and kicking back in the over-water spa.

Laucala Island, Fiji
The South Pacific fantasy of swaying palm trees and extravagantly lush scenery reaches its fullest expression here. There are just 25 cottages on this privately owned resort, which occupies the entire island, each with a private pool, dining pavilion, and outdoor hot tub and shower. While the resort attracts deep-pocketed travelers, don’t expect glitzy lobbies. The emphasis is on rustic, pared-back luxury; every detail seems crafted to appeal to couples, including the lagoon pool with its man-made “islands” big enough for two.

Pamalican Island, The Philippines
You’ll find only one resort here—Amanpulo, set on its own private island southwest of Manila with just 40 secluded pitched-roof traditional villas, strung along a pristine beach with sand so white it’s blinding. Beachcombers can navigate the entire island on foot in less than two hours, keeping their eyes out for baby sharks, kingfishers, and sea turtles, which lay their eggs here between March and October.

Lizard Island, Australia
How’s this for romantic: Australia’s northernmost island resort is set on its own private speck of land in the middle of the world’s largest coral reef. Here, you’ll find seven-course private dinners on the beach; picnic hampers for two; and sundowners on the ocean-view deck. Every moment seems custom-made for couples. The island has no less than 24 white-sand secluded beaches. And couples can arrange a private picnic on any of them.

Sicily, Italy
Swoon-worthy scenery is something Sicily has in spades: winding rivers, olive tree–studded hills, Greek and Roman ruins galore, and of course the brooding Mount Etna, Europe’s largest active volcano. Thanks to a slew of high-profile new hotels—including the much-vaunted Verdura Golf & Spa Resort on the south coast—this rugged, mountainous island off the tip of Italy’s boot is firmly in the spotlight. Fortunately, there’s still time to clock up some romantic R&R before the crowds arrive.

Aitutaki, Cook Islands
This under-the-radar Polynesian paradise ticks several essential romantic boxes: seclusion, great beaches, and the complete absence of mass tourism. The combination was why New Yorker Nicole Daw and her husband chose to spend their honeymoon here. And the Aitutaki Lagoon Resort & Spa, set on its own motu and comprising bungalows suspended over a blue lagoon, will make any getaway even more romantic.

Vieques, Puerto Rico
In-the-know globetrotters have been whispering about this magical island for years. The secret is definitely out now—especially since W Hotels opened its first property here—but that doesn’t mean you can’t find a secluded corner to call your own. Naturally, Vieques has all the classic elements for a romantic escape: superb beaches, balmy weather, a languid pace. But the highlight is the bioluminescent bay on the southern shore of the island, filled with microscopic organisms that flash bright blue and light up the water with what looks like a million stars.

You can read the original article here.

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

Monday, November 01, 2010

Customs and Courtesies Around the World

By Harriet Baskas contributor

When President Bush once ducked a pair of shoes thrown by an Iraqi reporter during a press conference in Baghdad, he called it “one of the most weird moments” of his presidency. Anyone familiar with Iraqi culture knew immediately, though, that hurling shoes at someone wasn’t just weird — in Iraq it’s a sign of contempt.

The “shoe incident” reminded PR account executive John Kreuzer of the “peace sign incident” and a lesson he learned back in 1992. While visiting Australia, former president George H.W. Bush flashed a peace sign with his palm facing inward. That gesture, Kreuzer’s junior-high-school history teacher explained in class the next day, “actually means the same thing as giving the middle finger in many countries. He intended to give the normal two-fingered peace sign but made the mistake of giving it backwards.”

So what’s important to know as we trek around the world? We asked experienced travelers for their advice about traditions that can open doors and keep you out of trouble.

Meet and Greet
Samantha Brown, host of the Travel Channel’s “Passport to Great Weekends,” has noticed that in France and Latin America especially, people treat their stores and shops as if they are their personal homes,” so she urges travelers to make a special point of greeting shop owners when entering a store and saying goodbye on the way out. She admits that doing this in France at first seemed strange to her, “since in NYC the unspoken rules are ‘You don’t acknowledge me, I don’t acknowledge you.’” But when she tried making the extra effort, she discovered that “shop owners responded. Sometimes they’d even go out of their way by speaking in English to help me.”

Terms, tipping and nose-blowing
When planning a trip in the Australian Outback, “Remember that the term ‘highway’ in Australia might not refer to a high-speed, high-capacity road” says guidebook author Laine Cunningham. “It can mean anything from a freeway to a two-lane road with crumbling edges that cuts through extremely remote territory. Always carry extra fuel, water and spare tires.” And once you get somewhere, “Tipping is not done Down Under ... unless they hear your American accent,” she adds. “The exception is taxi drivers, who also don’t receive tips from locals but are notorious for pressuring Americans for tips.”

On a trip to Mexico, management consultant Lisa Koss was reprimanded for putting change onto the counter for a purchase. A Mexican colleague told her that it was considered disrespectful to mindlessly “pay the countertop” instead of putting the change into the person's hand and making eye contact. “By giving the money more intentionally, you are acknowledging the person while making a transaction,” says Koss.

Heading to Nepal? Leon Logothetis, host of the Fox Reality TV show “Amazing Adventures of a Nobody,” says that it’s a sign of respect to take off your shoes when you enter a temple or someone’s home. “Also, it seems that blowing your nose in public is not approved of,” he says.

For more on the meaning of gestures in other countries, global culture trainer Peggy Hazard swears by the books in Roger Axtell’s “Do’s and Taboos” series and warns travelers to pay careful attention to what they do with their hands. “Direct hand gestures and individual fingers have vastly different meanings all over the world and can even be construed as offensive,” says Hazard. “The OK sign of circling the thumb and index finger doesn’t always mean ‘OK.’ It’s considered vulgar in Brazil and Germany and means ‘worthless’ in France.”

Is that a yes or a no?
Sometimes you don’t even need to say or do much of anything to get into trouble in another country. Strategic foreign policy consultant Charles Francis says he had a hard time remembering that “unlike the rest of the world, Bulgarians shake their heads from side to side to indicate ‘yes’ and use an up and down movement when they’re saying ‘no.’”

While having dinner with his daughter one evening at a quaint little restaurant in rustic Dimitrovgrad, Francis got his yes’s and no’s mixed up. “My daughter had to help poor old dad home after I mistakenly shook my head “no” (which in Bulgarian means “yes”) when the young lady in the restaurant asked if I wanted another bottle of wine.”

More tips from around the globeStaff members of the public TV program “Worldfocus” not only want you to stay up to date on current affairs, they want you to be mindful of your travel manners.

A few other tips when globetrotting:
“Don‘t pull your hand away if an Arab businessman walking with you takes your hand and holds it as you go. It’s a sign of friendship,” assistant producer Mohammad Al-Kassim, a Palestinian from Jerusalem, advises.

In Asia, “When taking stuff from others, use both of your hands. And when sitting, sit still. Don’t shake your feet or rest your feet on the chair,” says assistant producer Hsin-Yin Lee, who is from Taiwan.

When eating in Europe, remember that “it’s very rude to put a piece of bread on your plate. Leave it on the table beside the plate. Also remember to break the bread with your hands and not with a knife,” notes production assistant Illaria Mignatti, who is from Milan.

In Russia, it’s taboo to give an even number of flowers, warns researcher Christine Kiernan. “Always buy odd numbers. Bunches of even-numbered flowers are for funerals.”

Mind your words, author and foreign language expert Mark Frobose warns, because they often don’t mean what you think. “In Spanish, ‘embarazada’ does not mean ‘embarrassed,’ it means ‘pregnant.’” he explains. “And ‘constipado’ means ‘stuffy nose.’”

The lesson learned? Before setting out to visit a foreign country, it’s a good idea to study up on the traditions and customs of that land. That goes for presidents as well as travelers without spokespeople to explain any unintended gestures.

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