Monthly Archives: July 2017

Tips For River Cruise

River cruising is hot. From A to Z (Amazon to Zambezi), there’s a river cruise for every taste, style and budget. With nearly a dozen new river boats being built by 2012, it’s no doubt that river cruising is the latest trend.

So far, I’ve spent over two months on the great rivers of Europe in the last two years. I’ve also cruised 2,000 miles on the Amazon River and parts of our own Mississippi. I have to admit, however, I’m in love with cruising the European waterways. While I’m not a bona fide expert, I do have some advice that I’d like to share. First, though, who goes on river cruises?

Statistics indicate that most river cruise passengers have already taken an ocean cruise and they are ready to move inland. With an average age of sixty-one and a median income of $80,000/year, these folks have both time and money to view Europe up-close and personal. However, as river cruise lines want to lure a younger demographic, look for shorter seven-night cruises and more active shore excursions. How about a fifteen-mile bike ride? AMAWaterways is one of the few river cruise companies that still offer complimentary bicycles and bike tours. Some river cruise lines charge a fee to use their bikes. Others have eliminated all onboard bikes and work with a bike rental company in various cities, for a fee of course.

What are the advantages of a European river cruise? While cruise ships only touch the edges of continents, river boats take you to the very heart of magnificent cities and ancient towns. Quietly glide past hillside vineyards, medieval castles and historic monuments. Disembark and walk right into town for a cafe lunch. Stroll along the pier or borrow one of the river boat’s bicycles to explore further.

With so much to do and from three to twenty-five days to experience a river cruise, here are my Top Ten suggestions for getting the most enjoyment.

  1. Pack light. Not just for the airline requirements but for convenience. There are no formal nights. Men need only a collared shirt and sport coat. Women can leave their long dresses and high heels at home. Attire is country club casual even at dinner. Best of all, there are do-it-yourself launderettes on many of the river boats. Complimentary laundry service is included with many suite-level accommodations.
  2. Acknowledge your physical limitations. Cobblestone streets, walkways and stairs can be a bit tricky to navigate if you are unsteady on your feet. Europe doesn’t subscribe to the Americans with Disabilities Act. If you are out of shape or have a heart condition, you might want to reconsider that 200-step climb to the top of the castle. Pace yourself accordingly. Some of the river boats do not have elevators, so make sure the boat you choose has one if you need one. Alternatively, once ashore, many river cruises lines including AMAWaterways, offer an easy-paced walking tour option.
  3. Wine and dine. Unlike cruise ships, river boats have “open seating.”Stroll into the dining room (7am-9am) for a leisurely buffet breakfast. Lunch is fairly relaxed, too, as it is mainly buffet-style dining. Dinner however, doesn’t operate the same. To facilitate good service and freshly prepared entrees, you are expected to arrive fairly close to when the dining room opens. Dinner times can vary based on the timing of the shore excursions, so check your daily planner.
    On some river cruise lines, the complimentary wine with dinner tends to abruptly stop when your entrée plate is removed. So if you like to sip wine after dinner be sure to flag down your waiter for a refill before your plate is cleared.
  4. When in “Rome…” Nothing garners a warm welcome quicker than saying hello in the local language. Learn to say “hello,” “thank you”and “excuse me”in as many of the countries’ languages as possible. Write it on a cheat sheet and put it in your pocket. Chances are that the local shopkeeper, upon hearing your broken German or Romanian will immediately speak to you in English. But you’ve made the effort and it won’t go unrewarded.
  5. Cash is king. Make a list of the countries you will visit and find a local bank that will order your foreign currency. Mainly, you’ll need Euros. But if you can get any of the other currencies (and there are quite a few on the lower Danube river) you can avoid the high commission exchange fees. Of course, the boat’s front desk will also exchange currency, but there are some limitations. Tipping at the end of your cruise is expected to be in Euros.
  6. Weather reports. If you travel on the rivers in the spring or fall, there will certainly be a variance in temperatures and precipitation. Bring that nerdy plastic pancho and a folding umbrella. And leave that backpack at home. Nothing says “American Tourist”more than an Eddie Bauer backpack. If you must carry belongings, a tote bag is much more European. Also, when taking a motor coach tour, the bus is locked and you can leave that extra sweater or bag on your seat.
  7. Remember to bring your electric current converter. While the front desk on some of the river boats may be able to lend out a few converters, it’s always a good decision to bring your own. I always bring two.
  8. If you are after the perfect photograph while cruising the river, remember the Golden Hour Rule and adjust your dining accordingly. The Golden Hour is that perfect moment near sunset and sunrise. Since you’ll most likely be in the dining room at or near sunset, bring your camera with you to dinner and keep a watchful eye on the passing scenery. When you think the moment is right, quickly walk outside and snap those gorgeous sunset photos. It’s not like being on a huge ocean vessel. On a river boat, it’s only a two minute walk from the dining room to an outdoor viewing area.
  9. Stop and smell the roses. At least once on your river cruise, get up and outside just before sunrise. A fog-like mist rises from the river, birds slowly begin to chirp and the river looks like liquid silver. It’s a not-to-be-missed experience.
  10. Arrive early or stay late. You’ve come so far for this river cruise, it seems like a waste if you don’t spend at least two full days in either your arrival or departure city. Taking a Danube cruise from Vienna to Budapest? You should definitely spend two or three days in both cities! Sometimes the river cruise companies offer a pre or post cruise extension. These are good too as they also include your transportation to/from the ship to the hotel. Investigate your options and try to include a few extra days on land to fully appreciate the cities along the paths of the great rivers of Europe.

If you have any of your own tips to share, please add them below.
Time to plan my next river cruise for this year!

Travel Tips For Disability

Accessible travel — travel by people with disabilities — is an adventure enjoyed on a global scale. Yet too often this adventure is sidelined or delayed by inadequate facilities, higher prices and general hassles other travelers do not face. In spite of this, travelers with disabilities are boarding cruise ships and planes in record numbers to explore the four corners of the Earth.

There are as many disabilities as there are disabled people, so each traveler’s needs are different. Thankfully, the travel community is generating more and more solutions to these needs, creating a growing network of travel options for disabled people worldwide and broadening the access of accessible travel.

To travel around the world without barriers, check out these tips from the American Society of Travel Agents. Some of the most travel-wise people in the world, ASTA members know travelers with disabilities do not ask for charity or discounts, only an equal opportunity to see the world.

Choosing a Destination – Play it Smart Before You Depart

Many countries accommodate disabled citizens and travelers competently, from creating the proper infrastructure for wheelchair and scooter access to having a wide selection of hotels and restaurants that allow service dogs. Unfortunately some countries do not support disabled travelers to the same extent.

The lesson here is simple, thoroughly study the country you’re traveling to before boarding the plane or ship. World of mouth from other disabled travelers is a great resource, and the Internet can provide some details, but no source is more valuable than a travel agent, especially one who specializes in disabled travel.

Ask a travel agent detailed questions about the customs of the country and the services provided at each destination you plan to visit. Your travel agent should also provide you with information on transfers while advising you of types of terrain you can expect to encounter, for cobblestone streets, while very picturesque, do not mix well with wheelchairs.

Preparation is the Best Medicine

Your health should be the number one priority wherever you travel. Talk to your physician about the trip you have planned and immunizations you’ll need. Be specific when describing the trip to your doctor, including all ports your cruise ship will stop in and all means of transportation you’ll encounter. Your doctor can provide tips and medicines for coping with long flights, along with advice on medical facilities at your destination and how you can obtain prescription drugs in case of an emergency.

Be sure to take enough prescribed medication to last the duration of the trip, including extra medicine and a copy of your prescription just in case. Pack all medication in your carry-on bag, for checked baggage occasionally travels east while you’re heading west. Also, carry your prescriptions in their labeled containers, for many countries have strict drug-trafficking laws and might be suspicious of pills in unlabeled bottles. In fact, it’s wise to travel with a signed letter from your doctor detailing your condition, medications, potential complications and, if you’re diabetic, your requirement to carry needles.

Puppy Love

Some countries have restrictions on service dogs arriving or simply traveling through their countries, so check with your travel agent first. If service dogs are permitted, discover if any quarantine or vaccination requirements will apply. Be sure to have your dog’s rabies shots and other vaccinations up-to-date, and bring all paperwork to prove it.

Ask your travel agent if your hotels will allow your service dog entrance, if there will be an adequate area for the dog to relieve itself and if the airline you plan to use has any animal restrictions. Some airlines, such as United and Northwest, impose summer restrictions when the temperatures soar higher than the planes.

Several cruise ships have designated areas such as individual boxes filled with wood chips or crumpled newspaper designed for your dog. Check with your travel agent to ensure your cruise ship supplies these, and if so, practice with your dog in a similar container before you go. And since some ports do not allow dogs to enter without proper quarantine time, be sure to have a back-up plan or a friend handy in order to disembark and enjoy.

Wherever your plan to explore with your guide dog, be sure to research where the closest vet and emergency pet hospitals are located. Hopefully you will not need to use this information, but having it close may be vital.

Wheelchairs and Scooters

Some large planes have a space to put a manual wheelchair in the cabin, though most wheelchairs and scooters are placed in cargo. They are the last items loaded and the first to come out. Have your travel agent try to book a non-stop flight if possible to alleviate the hassle of getting your chair out of cargo. Use gel-cell batteries if traveling in a power-driven wheelchair, for many airlines refuse to carry wet-cell batteries for security reasons.

No matter what type of wheelchair or scooter your ride, have it serviced before a trip. It may be difficult to find a repair shop while on safari in Botswana. Be sure to bring spare parts and tools, and you or someone you’re traveling with should know how to dismantle your scooter or wheelchair just in case something goes wrong.

The Art of Travel

With so many factors to organize at once, planning a trip can be wonderfully chaotic. So all travelers,disabled or not, benefit from advanced planning, which can save you a lot of time and effort. It’s far easier to make reservations and deal with problems from home than from a castle in Germany where you may have to deal with language barriers. Yet no matter how much you plan your next vacation, unexpected problems still arise.

When a problem arises, especially when you’re in another country, a travel agent is a good thing to have on your side. Before, during and after your trip, you can ask your travel agent about what special assistance you can expect from the hotel, tour group or transportation company; whether your special dietary needs will be met at certain hotels; or where the nearest accessible hotel is in Amsterdam if your reservation is accidentally lost. Also, some travel agents specialize in different types of accessible travel, from hearing-impaired to wheelchair tour groups. In short, travel agents make the world more accessible.

Romantic Honeymoon

So you’re planning your honeymoon? Congratulations! The honeymoon is an important part of the wedding experience, and a much-needed escape after months of exciting, yet exhausting, wedding planning.

To unlock the secrets of honeymoon bliss that will make all your friends envious, check out these tips from ASTA (American Society of Travel Agents). Some of the most travel-wise people in the world, ASTA members know that planning your honeymoon should be as relaxing as the honeymoon itself.

First Things First – Let’s Define Ideal
Most people grow up with a preconceived notion of what an ideal honeymoon should involve. However, a bride’s idea of tropical paradise and a groom’s idea of a ski resort could conflict.

Communication and compromise are needed from the start (and preferably the duration) of the marriage, with the goal to make your honeymoon romantic, memorable and stress-free. Consider these questions as soon as honeymoon talks begin:

  • What is most important? Suntan lotion, sand and surf or the privacy and seclusion a cozy mountain retreat?
  • Are you looking to experience new cultures in distant lands or do you just want to get away from it all?
  • Are you more interested in going around the corner or around the world?
  • Do you want to spend more on the wedding or the honeymoon?
  • Niagara Falls like your parents? The Caribbean like your friends? Europe like your ancestors?
  • What sounds better: a cruise, a package vacation or an all-inclusive resort?

Paradise Comes in Many Guises -Types of Honeymoons
When it comes to honeymoon planning, most couples try to select the destination first, yet travel agents suggest a more productive way to begin. Unless your dream destination has already been set in stone, first decide what type of vacation you want and then narrow down your list of destinations accordingly.

Resorts are the most popular honeymoon destinations, for they transport you into another world for a miraculous escape from the daily grind. Often set in the most picturesque places in the world, they include pools, private beaches and golf courses, as well as culinary delights and relaxing spas.

All-inclusive resorts streamline the enjoyment process by including everything – your room, transfers, recreational facilities, meals and drinks – all in one price. Without the worries of wondering how much everything little thing will cost, you are free to live the high life and experience everything you want as often as you want it.

If an all-inclusive resort sounds tempting but too stationary, consider taking a cruise. Cruises are floating resorts that whisk you away to one exotic port after another. Whether you want a cultural cruise to the Mexican Riviera or a wildlife adventure up the Alaskan coast, your travel agent will match you and your betrothed to the perfect floating experience.

If the idea of lying on beach sounds about as exciting as a nap, then shift to a higher gear and take an adventure vacation, especially if you and your fiancé share a kindred spirit for outdoor exhilaration. Whether it’s white-water rafting in Colorado, hiking through the Alps or taking an African safari, sharing the experience will become a vital bond you both will share forever.

Cultural and historical trips are fascinating and romantic ways to reconnect with the past. Visit a famous European city – Paris, London, Rome…the list goes on – and inhale the culture, soak in the sights and experience the art of living. Or dive into the rich history of the old world country from which your family originated. The unique perspective you gain will become a central root for your future family tree.

Want Stress Free? Leave it to a Professional
After “I do,” your two favorite words will be “stress free,” and we can’t stress that enough. Planning for the most important day of your life will be a wonderfully crazy time for you, so finding someone you trust to aid in your decision making will be a welcomed relief.

Would you try and bake your wedding cake yourself or ask a professional for help? For stress-free travel plans – especially those with multiple steps like a honeymoon – seek out the expert advice of a travel agent.

A good travel agent can save you money as well as time – two enormous factors for a couple trying to plan a wedding and a honeymoon simultaneously. Through incomparable experience and valuable resources, travel agents specialize in providing personalized suggestions to suit your interests and your budget. And visiting their office for a chat is absolutely free!

From Their Lips to Your Ears – Travel Agent Tips
Begin early and share the planning. To ensure that you both enjoy the honeymoon, make all the decisions together.

Make time for yourselves. Pad your honeymoon schedule with generous amounts of free time, for a rushed and overly organized honeymoon might feel too much like your wedding. Instead, plan a few enjoyable activities and leave lots of opportunities to just enjoy each other’s company.

Set a tentative budget. Talk about your expectations and priorities from the very beginning and decide what you might splurge on and where you might cut corners.

Splurge on whatever accommodations you choose. No matter what type of vacation package you choose, you will spend an enormous amount of time in your room or cabin. Make it special = make it unforgettable.

Use your maiden name. Unless you’re taking a delayed honeymoon, you won’t have time to change the name on your passport and driver’s license. Use your maiden name on visas, airline tickets, etc., so they match as it appears on your official documents.

Tell the world you’re on your honeymoon. Stand up on every chair, on every rock and shout, “We’re on our honeymoon!” Everyone from strangers to airlines to hotels will take notice and cheerfully offer you such special treatment such as complimentary champagne in-flight or a gift basket in your room. Go ahead, it’s your honeymoon.