Category Archives: Travel

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.

Know More About Voluntourims

There is no doubt that travel feeds the soul. Travelers return from trips often refreshed and a smidgen wiser for experiencing a new part of the world and a new culture vastly different than their own. The effect is reciprocated by those countries and cultures that thrive from the inward flow of money tourism brings.

But oftentimes those cultures need more than money. They need help building schools and shelters. They need help learning skills and languages. They need help preserving the fragile environments and historic sites that draw tourists to their small part of the world. That is where voluntourism steps in.

Voluntourism involves people from all age and social classes traveling globally to give aid to communities in need and intimately experience the culture. This combination of exploration and inspiration is growing in popularity, mostly due to an increase in the number and variety of opportunities now available. No longer do travelers need to stay enmeshed in a foreign land for months to make a difference – they can now impact an entire community over the course of a week or two, or even during their honeymoon.

Regardless of how these travelers choose to contribute their time and energy into such a globally beneficial cause, they always return satiated, their souls well fed after making a lasting difference in the lives of their international neighbors.

Do You Have What it Takes to Volunteer Abroad?

Many of us have a strong urge to help others around the world, especially after witnessing such high-profile devastation in the wake of Hurricane Katrina or the 2004 tsunami off the coast of Thailand. Voluntourism is the perfect way for everyday people to make a difference; however, they should first know what they’re getting themselves into.

As a voluntourist, you must be realistic – you are not going to single-handedly save a village or build a new school. During a week-long stay in Tanzania, you may only build a few desks and paint a classroom, which will not seem like much at the time. But the schoolchildren who later sit in those desks and enjoy that classroom will appreciate your efforts for a lifetime. Every improvement – no matter how miniscule it initially seems – helps form an essential foundation for further social and economic improvements.

Voluntourism is more than an alternative to a standard vacation. It’s about offering your skills and time while being part of a team and interacting with diverse cultures. Anyone considering this line of travel should be flexible, take direction well and have both a sense of adventure and humor. No special skills are needed – you only need an intense desire to make a difference and experience a destination in a way few tourists ever will.

What to Expect on Your Trip

While each voluntour trip is unique, they generally share a few similarities when it comes to the services and amenities provided. Your fee will usually include meals, which will feature delicious and adventurous local cuisine; accommodations, where you’ll stay in a hotel, guest house, community center or private home; and ground transportation from the airport to the community site.

The program fees do not typically cover airfare, visas or medical and trip cancellation insurance. For those crucial components, many wise travelers turn to a travel agent. Travel agents also offer good advice when you’re considering various options during your free time. While the purpose of these trips is to serve the host community and learn from the local people, most programs include free time for their volunteers to venture outside the community and experience more of the host country.

The trips usually last one to three weeks, depending on the location, but travelers who wish to stay longer may sign up for additional programs, which are often offered in succession. As for the other people on your trip, you can expect a wide and diverse range of allies. People of all ages are traveling abroad, including families, grandparents and grandchildren, to experience this life-changing vacation together. Regardless of who else is on your tour, you all will automatically have several important traits in common: an innate desire to help others and a passion to experience the world.

Types of Voluntourism

The variety of programs is matched only by the variety of emotions each volunteer experiences during their stay.

You can teach English to Hungarian children, helping them fulfill their education requirements. You can nurture children in Ecuador, working at an orphanage. You can restore villages in the fabled Blue Mountains of Jamaica, restoring dignity to villagers. You can help care for disabled children in China and experience life through their eyes. You can repair Aboriginal homes in Australia, helping these proud indigenous people in their struggle for equality. You can help save lives by providing basic health-care screenings, such as diabetes tests, well-baby checks and prenatal exams, in Northern Greece.

Within the United States you can tutor the children of immigrants in Minnesota, construct playgrounds for Blackfeet Indians in Montana, help deprived Appalachian families start fresh in West Virginia, work with senior citizens on an Indian reservation in South Dakota, restore community buildings in Mississippi and more.

If you’re a budget-conscious college student who wants to see the world, a volunteer abroad program overseas is ideal. Set your sights on the unforgettable scenery of Yorkshire, England, while taking part in a conservation program. Soak in the gorgeous South African sunset and learn how to protect dolphins, whales, seals and seabirds. Or venture to Costa Rica and get your hands dirty rebuilding homes. These trips are often less expensive than normal vacations, and you get more out of the travel experience than just a few souvenirs.

You will find many of these altruistic travel options and more at Global Volunteers, an organization that mobilizes teams of volunteers to live and work with local people on human and economic development projects.

Let a Travel Agent Help You Help Others

At the core of voluntourism is the desire to help others. When it comes to travel, no group of individuals understand that core principle better that travel agents, for helping others travel better, safer and smarter is what they do best. Travel agents can help you set up your voluntour program, save money with your airfare tickets and plan some exciting adventures for your free time.

How To Buying Travel Insurance

Travel insurance can protect you from substantial losses that result from a variety of situations, including canceled trips, lost baggage, medical emergencies, supplier defaults, as well as other unforeseen circumstances.

TYPES OF TRAVEL INSURANCE COVERAGE

There are several general types of consumer travel insurance available. The coverage and limitations of each will vary depending on the insurance company issuing the policy. The following is a brief description of some of the general types of travel insurance.

Trip Cancellation: The most important and common type of travel insurance. Generally covers non-refundable payments or deposits if a trip is canceled or interrupted due to unforeseen circumstances.

Trip Delay: Provides reimbursement for expenses incurred when a trip is delayed.

Accident/Sickness Medical Expenses: Covers costs incurred due to injury or illness that occur while on a trip.

Medical Evacuation/Emergency Transportation: Covers transportation when a medical emergency while traveling requires transportation to a hospital or other medical facility.

Supplier Default: Covers deposits or payments lost due to the financial default of a travel supplier.

Baggage/Personal Effects Loss or Delay: Covers losses due to items lost, damaged or delayed during a trip.

TRAVEL INSURANCE ADVICE: SUPPLIER PROVIDED COVERAGE VS. THIRD PARTY INSURANCE COMPANIES

Many travel vendors (tour companies and cruise lines) offer their own protection plans and these plans may provide very different coverage than offered through third party insurance companies. In most cases, supplier-provided coverage won’t cover you in the event they go bankrupt. When considering a supplier protection plan, you should carefully compare the coverage with third-party travel insurance products.

Who should buy travel insurance?
Travelers who want to protect their travel investment should consider purchasing travel insurance. If an illness, accident or sudden change in plans forces you to cancel or interrupt travel plans, you face two major financial losses – money you’ve invested in nonrefundable prepayments, and medical expenses that aren’t covered by your health insurance.

How does trip cancellation coverage work?
It is designed to reimburse you for forfeited, nonrefundable, unused payments or deposits if you have to cancel your interrupt your trip due to a variety of situations, including but not limited to inclement weather, illness or another unforeseen event.

Depending on your policy, it may also cover:

  • Emergency medical expenses
  • Transportation ordered by a doctor to the nearest adequate
    medical facility
  • Reasonable accommodations and travel expenses for travel delays
  • Essential items you purchase if your baggage is delayed
  • Lost or stolen luggage

How much does travel insurance cost?
The cost of travel insurance varies from company and policy to policy. The more you have invested in your trip, the more you need to protect it. Travel insurance covers you for losses caused by trip cancellation and interruption, medical expenses, baggage, trip and baggage delay. When you consider all the protection you get, travel insurance is actually a great value.

Where do you buy travel insurance?
Most travel agents offer travel insurance and many may even require customers that decline insurance to sign a waiver form.

Simple Ways To Packing For A Cruise

Packing – is it your least favourite part of a holiday? Do you struggle with what to pack and when you finally get it all together, you don’t have enough space? Tedious. The fact there is no weight limit for luggage on a cruise is extremely attractive to everyone, but what happens when you are flying to meet your ship? The job of packing completely changes when there is a weight limit involved and it is estimated 40% of holiday-makers will not take a fly-cruise due to airline weight limits. With most European flights having a 20kg allowance it sparks instant panic in our minds.

I regularly visit cruise forums to see what cruisers are talking about and more importantly, what people are wanting to find out. A subject that I have seen regularly is the dreaded 20kg weight limit. With many of us preparing for our summer cruises it is no surprise this subject is trending again.

Do all airlines have a 20kg weight limit?

British Airways
Checked baggage: One checked bag per person weighing 23kg
Hand luggage: One Personal bag plus one cabin bag 56cm x 45cm x 25cm
Children: Same as adult allowance

Virgin Airlines
Checked baggage: One checked bag per person weighing 23kg
Hand luggage: One cabin bag 23cm x 36xm x 56cm weighing 10kg
Children: Same as adult allowance

EasyJet
Checked baggage: A charge of £11 – £21 per bag is required for any checked luggage weighing up to 20kg
Hand luggage: One cabin bag 50cm x 40cm x 20cm
Children: Same as adult allowance

RyanAir
Checked baggage: A charge of £15 per bag is required for any checked luggage weighing up to 15kg (£30 if paying at airport)
Hand luggage: One personal bag plus one cabin bag 55cm x 40cm x 20cm
Children: Same as adult allowance. One pushchair free of charge

Thomas Cook
Checked baggage: £19 per bag weighting 20kg
Hand luggage: One cabin bag 55cm x 40cm x 20cm weighing 5kg
Children: Same as adult allowance

Thomson
Checked baggage: One checked bag per person weighing 15kg
Hand luggage: One piece of cabin baggage per person 55cm x 40cm x 20cm weighing 5kg
Children: Same as adult allowance

Tips for making the most of 20kg

From the above it is clear to see most airlines still offer around 20kg per person. Although your initial reaction may be that this is not enough, if you pack right it is more than enough. Of course if you had more allowance it wouldn’t be hard to use it but trust me, from someone who has had to pack six months into 20kg, it is ample allowance for your cruise.

I recently went on a Fly-cruise around the Mediterranean and our Managing Director has just returned also so we came together and compiled a list of tips on how to make the most of your 20kg:

  • Take full advantage of your hand baggage allowance – Pack heavy items such as shoes and belts in your hand luggage
  • Wear what you can – Try to wear any heavy items such as your coat or costume jewellery when travelling
  • Forget the ‘just in case’- We all do it, but you do not need to pack the ‘just in case’ pile. You will not need multiple layers, that extra pair of shoes or a spare swimming costume. If the worst comes to the worst and you do, there are shops onboard.
  • Towels are not needed – Towels take up lots of weight and space in a suitcase. As well as bath towels, a fresh beach/pool towel is provided every day on a cruise.
  • Purchase travel size toiletries – Toiletries are the main culprit for heavy luggage so purchasing travel size toiletries are perfect for a one/two week cruise. Most cruise lines provide shower gel, shampoo, and conditioner and body lotions so these are not needed. Ladies, take minimal make up.
  • Make the most of your children’s allowance – All children, even babies get the same allowance as adults and many people forget this. Naturally, packing for children will not require as much space as adults so use all of their allowance too!
  • Invest in a foldable beach bag – It is a good idea to take a beach bag as you are likely to use it every day on a cruise, whether carrying a towel and lotion to the pool or using it to hold belongings when out exploring. However, if you pack a large one it will take up unnecessary space and weight. You can purchase a lightweight foldable one for a couple of pounds and they are great.
  • Do not over indulge on formal attire – Another one us ladies are guilty for, but you only need to take a maximum of two formal dresses. Most cruises will only have one or two formal nights during a cruise so you do not need to pack a selection of dresses.
  • Plan your outfits – I know this is not the most enjoyable thing to do but if you plan your outfits it makes it less tempting to pack clothing that will not be needed.
  • Onboard laundry service – Most cruise lines provide a laundry service. Some have a self-service laundry room where as others offer a valet laundry and dry-cleaning service. This means you can pack less clothes knowing that you can wear the same basics again.

Tips for making the most of 20kg

Another common subject trending recently is what to pack on a cruise, particularly popular with first time cruisers. I find packing for a cruise easier than packing for a land holiday as you already know your itinerary and where you are going to be each day. Obviously your packing relies on where you are travelling to, whether it’s a hot climate or cold and whether it’s a relaxing beach break or a city exploration. Although, wherever your cruise is taking you, packing needn’t be stressful. Having packed as a crew member and a guest I think I have cruise packing down to a T. Here is my check list:

  • Formal wear – Suit or tux for male and cocktail dress for female (if required)
  • Casual wear – During sea days you can be as casual as you wish and most people will enjoy the ship in shorts, dresses and light clothing
  • Shoes – One formal pair (if required), one comfortable pair for excursions, one evening pair and one pair of sandals/flip-flops for daytime
  • Toiletries – Most cruise lines provide essentials such as shower gel, shampoo and conditioner so travel sized toiletries are all that’s needed
  • Medication – As with any holiday always remember your medication. There is a medical center onboard that can provide certain medicines but be aware there is a charge
  • Chargers and Plug adapter – As cruise ships are built all over the world, many of them have international plug sockets in cabins. A plug adapter will be required for charging electrical equipment etc.

Simple Tips For The first Time Cruise

“It’s not exactly in the middle of nowhere.” That’s what I find myself saying whenever someone says to me, “I’d never go on a transatlantic cruise.”

I have to admit, while not exactly in the middle of nowhere, there isn’t a whole lot of activity going on around you, except maybe for an occasional whale or dolphin sighting. You do feel like you are out there all alone. Kind of.

Never mind my very first transoceanic trip in 1961 aboard the petite Matsonia, from Los Angeles to Honolulu. Fast forward to my first “grown-up” transatlantic crossing in 2005. This would be a litmus test for latent agoraphobia. When you think about it, visualize a tiny cork gently bobbing or violently tossing around in an Olympic-sized swimming pool, with no swimmers in sight. Yes, I was a bit nervous.
When my first transatlantic ship, the Celebrity Century, quietly slipped through the channel in Ft. Lauderdale and out to sea, I drew a deep breath and said to myself, “you can do this.”

And “do this” I did.

Since then, I’ve done a total of eight transatlantic “voyages,” as Cunard prefers to call them. What’s it like and do you really feel totally stranded out there? Here are some of my thoughts and advice to help you with your first trip across an ocean.

  1. Be prepared. Channel your inner Boy or Girl Scout and be prepared. Not only in your mind, but with lazy day diversions. With a minimum of six consecutive sea days, even the most entertaining of the mega ships will have a lull in the activities. All of the ships have some sort of library. For the best selection, get there when it first opens. By the second or third day, the choice for best sellers has dwindled.

    Not a reader? Bring your home craft project (providing it fits into your suitcase.) You’ll find knitters, needle-pointers, scrapbookers meeting each day in some public space, as unhosted activities.
    Wine tasting has expanded into single-malt scotch, craft beer and tequila tastings. There is a fee but what else do you have to do?

  2. Smell the roses. If you find yourself on the verge of activity-overload, scout out a quiet spot to watch the sea. I usually search for both an indoor viewing area as well as an outdoor, wind-blocked vantage point. Sunny days with flat seas warrant an outdoor vantage point. On foggy or rough seas days, you’ll want to curl up in a comfy chair near a picture window. Yes, you will want to look out and see what’s going on. Mid-ship on a low deck and you’ll hardly feel those thirty-foot seas and gale force winds!
  3. Keep moving. On some ships, you can almost walk your way across the Atlantic. On Cunard’s wraparound outdoor walking track/promenade, a mere three times around is 1.1 miles. On other ships, you can walk in circles ten or eleven times to finish one mile.

    If a good fitness center is important, head on over to the cruise line’s website for photos of their workout facility; the bigger the better. A tiny gym means to use one of only five treadmills for 1,000 passengers on a transatlantic crossing is going to take some planning.

    The legendary weight gain. With a stretch of six to possibly ten sea days, one of the biggest concerns is weight gain. I’ve come to realize over time that it isn’t the actual over-eating that is the cause but the amount of salt in the food that is the culprit. Also, I hear a lot of people complaining about swollen feet and ankles. Again, it’s the sodium in the food.

    Solution? Tell your dining room waiter that you would like to be on a sodium-free diet for the cruise. Here’s how it works: every night at the end of your dinner, the waiter (or head waiter) will present to you the menu for the next evening. You choose your entire dinner and the order is brought to the kitchen where there are other special diets orders (gluten-free, allergy requests etc.).

    By eliminating the “built-in” salt, you will avoid retaining water and thus not blow up like a puffer fish. But be forewarned: if you order salt-free, your dinner will be salt-free. This means that the gorgeous bowl of steamy French onion soup will arrive sans toasted French bread and cheese. You can always do a modified salt-free when something sounds too good to pass up.

    A transatlantic is a great time to do nothing. This isn’t a “If It’s Tuesday, It Must Be Belgium” experience. Transatlantic cruises are generally not “port intensive.” But if there is a port you would like to visit, chances are you can find a cruise that stops there en route to where you will disembark.

  4. With careful planning, you can find an itinerary which will visit two to five ports along the way once you’ve crossed the ocean. Some cruise lines are eliminating the “cruise” portion and are almost mainlining straight across with only one port visit before debarkation in Europe.
  5. Hop on the bus, Gus. Important to note, Cunard’s Queen Mary 2 is the ONLY cruise line offering regularly scheduled non-stop transatlantic crossings nearly year round. The Queen Mary 2 is also the ONLY purpose-built actual ocean liner, not cruise ship, in service today. She’s built for transatlantic voyages and sails them beautifully.
  6. Make a new plan, Stan. My suggestion is that once you’ve decided on which transatlantic voyage to take, book yourself into back-to-back cruises so that you stay onboard for either the first cruise once you arrive in Europe or the last cruise before the westbound crossing. That way, you not only feel “special” in saying that you are “continuing on…”, but you get to spend time in many wonderful ports throughout Europe.
  7. What time is it, anyway? One of the best advantages of a transatlantic crossing is the elimination of jet lag. Yes, you arrive at your destination either in Europe or the U.S. without needing two or three days to catch up to the local time zone.
  8. Which direction is better? Personally, l prefer a westbound crossing because it results in 25-hour days. Here’s how it works. Say, for example, you are booked on a crossing with seven sea days before you get to Florida. Starting on the first or second night after departure from Europe, clocks are set back one hour at bedtime. You continue to do this for maybe two consecutive days, take a break to adjust and set the clocks back again until you reach your debarkation port. I find that I do wake up a bit earlier than usual towards the end of the voyage, but I’m well-rested and ready to go.

    Going eastbound with 23 hour days, you might find yourself at the buffet at 2am because your body is telling you it’s only 9PM! If you are sensitive to time changes, be sure to check that the ship you are on will have a 24 hour food option, even if it’s only room service. Otherwise, you might find yourself, like I have many times, 2AM at the 24 hour coffee and tea location, getting a flavored tea to bring back to my room to have with cookies that were saved from the afternoon.

  9. Is anyone out there? For a little piece of mind along your journey, remember that the ship travels in shipping lanes. You are never too far from another ship, even though it may not be visible.
    However, there is a portion on the north Atlantic where you may find yourself in “no-man’s-land” for a day or so depending upon the route that your captain decides to follow. Be prepared for a brief blip in satellite communications which affects the internet and television.
    On my recent Cunard voyage, we never lost a second of communication via wifi or TV. Ships’ satellite technology (meaning the company that they contract with for access) vastly improves every year.
  10. Roundtripping. Finally, if you have the time, why not do like I do and make the transatlantic crossing in both directions? This does take a bit of skillful planning and occasional maneuvering but it is quite frankly, the best way to visit Europe.

    For example, cruise from Ft. Lauderdale to Barcelona. Continue onboard for a Mediterranean cruise, which returns to Barcelona. Spend a couple of days in Barcelona and then make your way via train from Barcelona to Paris. Depending upon your schedule, spend a night or two in the City of Lights. In 9:00AM, take a taxi to the Gare du Nord Eurostar train station. In two and one-half hours, with twenty-one minutes of that spent zooming under the English Channel, you arrive rested and relaxed at St. Pancras train station in London. Walk a few yards from your train to the departure hall, find the Cunard representative and board their motor coach to Southampton. In another two hours you’ll board the Queen Mary 2 for your voyage home.

    With the mystery of a transatlantic crossing hopefully solved, why not start planning your trip today? If you would like the convenience of staying in the same cabin for back-to-back cruises, book early. Otherwise, your room attendant can help you change cabins on turnaround day. But if you can remain in the same cabin, it’s so much easier and less stressful.

    Once you’ve experienced the exhilaration and excitement of crossing an ocean, you will be hooked. For a very memorable experience, sail into New York City. Cruise ships arrive into New York harbor at dawn, pass under the colorfully lit Verrazano Bridge and quietly sail past the illuminated Statue of Liberty and Ellis Island.

    Everyone is out on deck at 5:30am to view this amazing sight. I’m sure many passengers reflect on how their ancestors might have felt hundreds of years ago. I’ve seen grown men cry and overheard people speaking in hushed voices with thick Irish brogues. Others blankly stare at Ellis Island. It’s a very moving moment, indeed.

Avoid Sneaky Airline Fees

This summer is proving to be the busiest travel season. According to the Transportation Security Administration (TSA), agents screened more passengers and crews during the weeks of June 18 and June 25 than ever before. With more and more people traveling, it’s important to plan accordingly for your trip in order to avoid unnecessary fees.

Airlines have gotten more creative at tacking on charges for perks that were once free — like choosing your seat. Fees vary by airline. Ultra low-fare airlines, for instance, are more likely to charge additional fees to make up for the cost of those discounted tickets.

“They charge for everything,” says Rick Seaney, CEO and cofounder of FareCompare.com. “The ticket price is ridiculously low. And if you fly naked and don’t eat, you’re in good shape.”

You don’t have to go that far to avoid add-ons. Here are some common fees on domestic flights and ways you can bypass them — or at least lessen their impact.

Checked bags

Many airlines charge to check luggage, often starting at $25 for the first bag and quickly escalating. For instance, the fee for three or more bags on United, American and Delta can range from $150 to $200 each.

What to do: If packing light isn’t possible, your baggage fees may be waived if you buy the ticket using the airline’s branded credit card. Or fly Southwest Airlines, which doesn’t charge for the first two checked bags. And when flying ultralow-fare airlines Spirit or Allegiant, baggage fees will be lower if you pay them at the time of booking rather than later at the airport. Some travelers also avoid this fee by checking a bag at the gate, which is often — but not always — free, Seaney says.

Big bags

You’ll pay extra for oversized or overweight luggage. You might even owe two fees on United and JetBlue if your bag is too big and too heavy. Oversized fees often run $75 to $200. Overweight bags cost $75 to $100, but can climb to $200 for each bag over 70 pounds on American, United and Delta.

What to do: Make sure your bag isn’t bigger than the 62 inches allowed by many airlines, and weigh luggage before going to the airport to stay within the 50-pound limit. Or, mail your luggage ahead of time to your destination. Shipping a 51-pound bag from Chicago to New York via FedEx costs as little as $41.

Change tickets

Most airlines charge extra to switch a nonrefundable ticket. Delta, United and American slap travelers with the steepest fee — $200 to change a domestic flight days before departure.

Cancellation

You’ll pay similar fees to cancel a flight as you would to change it.

– What to do:

If you must cancel, do so early. Federal regulations require airlines operating in the United States to refund your money if you cancel a reservation within the first 24 hours — provided you booked seven or more days before the flight.

Seat selection

Not all seats are created equal, and many airlines charge for extra leg room or to sit by a window or aisle, says Jami Counter, with SeatGuru, a website that provides info on seats and flight entertainment. Seat fees range from $15 to $150 on domestic flights, depending on distance and demand, he says. Spirit Airlines also offers spacious “Big Front” seats for $12 to $199 if you pay in advance.

What to do:

For some lanky travelers on long trips or families wishing to sit together, selecting seats in advance may be worth the extra money. Some airlines will waive or discount fees for frequent fliers. Or, let the airline assign you a seat for free — usually in the back or middle — and then 24 hours or less before departure, check to see if a desirable seat has opened up that you can now grab without paying extra, Counter says. (Starting next year, airlines must seat children under age 13 with their adult companion without charging a fee, says FareCompare’s Seaney.)

Priority boarding

The cost for getting on planes early — otherwise known as the cutting-in-line fee — ranges from around $4 to $30.

What to do:

The fee may be worth it for travelers wanting to get the first crack at overhead bin space or to choose an unassigned seat on Southwest before the crowd. You might be able to avoid the fee altogether by using certain airline-branded credit cards.

Carry-ons

Airlines don’t charge for one small personal item like a purse or briefcase. But go too big and take up bin space on low-cost carriers Allegiant, Spirit and Frontier and you’ll pay a carry-on fee of $15 to $100, depending on the flight. United’s new “bare bones” fare doesn’t allow passengers to use bin space, and oversized personal items will be checked for $25.

What to do:

Make sure your personal item fits under your seat.

Food and beverages

After years of no frills (meaning no meals), airlines are bringing back food — for a fee. Main cabin passengers pay $4 to $12 for a snack or sandwich. Although major carriers don’t charge for sodas, water, pretzels or other light snacks, freebies generally aren’t available on deep-discount airlines.

What to do:

You may be entitled to free meals if you’re an elite status passenger or your credit card offers this perk. Otherwise, pack a snack for the trip and drink only complimentary beverages. Be aware: Some foods, such as peanut butter, may count toward the liquids and gels you can bring through security.

The human touch

Talking to a real person often costs money. Allegiant charges $15 for this per segment (each stop on an itinerary). American assesses $25 to buy a ticket over the phone. United charges $50 for purchasing a ticket in person at the airport.

What to do:

Buy tickets online. Or fly with an airline that doesn’t charge a fee.

Boarding passes

Having the airline agent print out your boarding pass will cost $5 at Allegiant and $10 with Spirit.

What to do:

Print your boarding pass at home for free if you’re flying with an airline that charges this fee.

Wi-Fi

JetBlue offers internet access for free, but other airlines often charge $8 to $16 for a daily pass.

What to do:

Bring a book. But if you must surf the net, check with your airline before the trip. Some offer limited internet access for free, or will give you a discount if you pay in advance, Seaney says.

Danube River

It was in the early morning hours, still and silent, when I slipped out of bed and drew back the curtains on our balcony window. In the darkness, the ship’s hull lights cast a yellow glow on the dark, rushing river, betraying just how fast we were skimming through Austria’s historic Wachau Valley. Inside, snug and warm, I lay back down and was rocked back to sleep by the gentle rolling motions of the ship. A few hours later, I opened my eyes to see the 12th-century Schönbühel Castle appearing out of the mist like a mirage.

Just another day on the Danube, the second-longest river in Europe and street address for dozens of historical towns and villages along its banks. The Danube flows from the highlands of western Germany to the Black Sea, nurturing cultures, cuisines and civilizations along some 1,800 miles. And what better way to sample these offerings—or those of the other mighty rivers of the world—than to sail on big, specially designed vessels that move you from port to port with no fuss and hardly a bump?

River cruising is one of the great travel-industry brainstorms of the past two decades, says Richard Turen, owner and managing director of vacation planners Churchill & Turen Ltd., and the market is growing about 16 percent a year. There are river cruises in the U.S., Europe, Asia, Africa and South America, led by 20 or so companies large and small, each of which offers specific charms and peculiarities.

Last October, my wife, Nichol, and I—first-timers to any type of maritime vacation—spent seven days on the Danube. We set sail from Vienna; headed east to Bratislava, Slovakia; and then traveled upriver, making stops in towns and villages in Austria, Germany and the Czech Republic. Our home for the week, the newly commissioned Savor, is part of a nine-ship luxury river-cruise line started by Tauck, a well-regarded Connecticut-based touring company that’s celebrating its 90th year of providing all-inclusive tours. The vessel, nearly as long as one-and-a-half football fields, was designed for comfort—outfitted with a gym, massage room, hair salon and lots of convenient touches, including Nespresso machines and U.S.-style 110-volt electrical outlets in each cabin, to charge phones and iPads. On the top deck, an outdoor hot tub and putting green beckoned those willing to brave the cold European fall.

Our tour began on land, in Vienna, where Nichol, I and 128 of our fellow travelers spent our first evening together at the Palais Pallavicini, a baroque 18th-century palace where Mozart and Beethoven flattered their wealthy patrons. During a wine-soaked five-course dinner beneath magnificent gilt-and-crystal chandeliers in the Great Ballroom, a local chamber orchestra presented a buffet of kultur Viennese-style: string pieces by Beethoven, Mozart and Strauss; a few operatic duets; and a ballet pas de deux or two to boot. Judging from the whoops, we were an appreciative bunch of culture-vultures. I surveyed the room. It seemed to be largely populated by energetic retirees, mostly experienced travelers, whose average age I would guess to be in the mid-60s. Arnon Reichers, 65, a willowy retired college professor and veteran traveler from Columbus, Ohio, summed up the evening for all the revelers in a single word: “Spectacular.”

Following a couple of days of motor coach touring in the Vienna Woods, Baden and other destinations, we were eager to set sail. The Savor’s 47-person crew welcomed us aboard for an ambitious first-night dinner, including a memorable mushroom cappuccino soup beneath a cloud of creamy white froth. My wife has food allergies, and the staff made every effort to keep her well-fed and healthy and was successful close to 95 percent of the time.

Then the river beckoned. Our first stop was Bratislava, a lovely 10th-century town with more “Original Slovakian” restaurants than is likely to be true. It was a Saturday, and even in the chilly weather, riverboats were double- and triple-parked at the riverbank. Bratislava is a popular port for most of the river-cruise lines, and it can get crowded by midmorning. We passed up the guided tour and did our own walk around Old Town, quirky and charming, with lots of public art, including a statue of one of conqueror Napoleon’s soldiers in the main square; according to area lore, he fell in love with a local girl and stayed behind.

Information About Family Fun in Boston

“Huzzah!” we all shouted, hurling boxes of tea overboard into BostonHarbor, egged on by an actor dressed in 18th-century Colonial garb. A huzzah-inducing (or not) election season was around the corner, and I had decided to immerse my school-age kids in a little American history by taking them to the city at the heart of the revolutionary fervor that gave birth to these United States.

So we boarded replicas of the Beaver and the Eleanor — ships rebels invaded on the night of December 16, 1773, to protest Britain’s insufferable tax on their tea. They unloaded some 342 chests of it into the harbor.

We didn’t mind that the tea we dumped was really just empty boxes tied to the ship’s side so they could be hauled back up for repeated dumping. “Tonight we are joined together to end tyranny!” our leader cried, managing to stoke up a bit of giddy patriotic fire in kids and adults alike.

After a post–tea party good night’s sleep, we tackled a section of the Freedom Trail, the 2.5-mile route through the city that includes 16 historic sites at the heart of the revolutionary story. It winds through a bustling downtown to Charlestown on Boston Harbor.

We signed up for a 90-minute walking tour with the Freedom Trail Foundation, starting at historic Faneuil Hall and ending a little more than a half-mile away at Boston Common, the nearly 50-acre public park where British troops quartered in 1775.

Our guide (“Prudence,” in frock and bonnet) led us to the site of the 1770 Boston Massacre by the Old State House, and to John Hancock’s and Paul Revere’s graves in the Granary Burying Ground.

After lunch, we rejoined the Freedom Trail to see Old North Church (“One if by land …”) and Paul Revere’s house in the North End.

Boston is arguably best experienced on foot — if walking is not for you, there are also daily trolley tours — and you could walk the Freedom Trail in a day.

But we chose to save the final section, in Charlestown — with the USS Constitution and Bunker Hill, site of the 1775 “Don’t fire until you see the whites of their eyes!” battle — for another time. We spent the late afternoon exploring the shops and ice cream vendors at Faneuil Hall. There’s such a deep pool of history here that a weekend allows for only a toe dipping. I’ll bring the kids back — after I’ve tried to explain U.S. electoral politics to them.

Travel Tips

  • Hit the ground ready
  • Reserve a table at Union Oyster House, billed as America’s oldest restaurant, to try “chowdahs.”
  • For more great getaway ideas, go to travel.aarp.org/weekend-getaways
  • Buy Steve Gladstone’s guide to the Freedom Trail online