Dear Travel Truth Seeker:

With the billions of pages of consumer-oriented travel information and data available in cyberspace, why would we devote a major web site to offering you truthful answers to your travel questions?

Sadly, there is a need for truthtelling in this industry. Unfortunately, the vast majority of travel sites do everything possible to insult your intelligence.

You don’t want a song and dance. You don’t want to exchange e-mails or have a salesman call you. You don’t want to filter through hours of travel drivel to find a kernel of truth.

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This is something different. This is a place you can feel comfortable visiting. You can count on the fact that no one is trying to sell you anything. You can assume your name will never be used or given to any advertiser or marketer. But we will name names when it comes to identifying the best and worst travel options and products.

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Travel Q&A



SCHEDULED FOR GREEK ISLANDS CRUISE IN SEPTEMBER – WILL IT HAPPEN AND SHOULD WE GO?

Q – We are doing a cruise out of Athens on Oceania that departs in September. We’ve scheduled our arrival early so we can have three nights in Athens to see the main sites. Would you advise that we cancel this trip, although we don’t think insurance would cover it since it is not medical. But then again, if we get killed that would be “medical”. Any guidance would be appreciated. Any precautions you would advise if we do go? A – We are expecting some major disruptions in Athens this summer. We are placing our clients in the most secure hotels. Tourists are appreciated and no violence will be directed toward you, but there could be street demonstrations and some flying souvlaki overhead. This is our recommended game plan: Do not cancel your cruise. You will love the islands and your enjoyment of the itinerary and ship will not…

BRITAIN HAS A CONTINGENCY PLAN FOR EMERGENCY EVACUATION OF TOURISTS FROM GREECE

Here is what tourists planning future travel to Greece need to know as Greece enters a pivotal week in its testy relationship with the Eurozone:1. Greece’s most immediate – as in first thing Monday morning – source of danger is its banking system. To compensate for accelerated deposit flight, the European Central Bank injected additional emergency funding on Friday to allow the banks to open on Monday. With a lot more needed, the ECB will grow more hesitant to pump in new money unless the Greek government secures an agreement with its European partners and the institutions through which they operate (the European Commission, the ECB and the International Monetary Fund).2. A Summit of European leaders has been called for Monday to increase the chances of such an agreement. The aim is to find a compromise under which Greece would agree to a set of economic reforms, creditors would provide…

SHOULD WE DO A DECEMBER CROSSING ON THE QUEEN?

Q –Need your advice and help on a possible trip for this December. Since we had to cancel our July Silverseas Baltic trip (which has been rescheduled for next year) I need to use or lose my airline credit by the end of the year. For many reasons, December would be the best month for us to travel (birthdays, anniversary, etc.) Anyway, one of the things that we have wanted to do was to take a cross atlantic trip. If we do so we are thinking that the Queen Mary 2 would be the best given the possible rough weather. I see that there is a crossing from Southamption to NYC on December 15. We are thinking of going to Europe a week earlier, spending some time perhaps in Rome (which we haven’t been to in a long while (or maybe Spain???) then making our way to London for the…

TRAVELING ON SEABOURN AND NEED HELP WITH SMARTPHONE STRATEGY

Q – I am taking our family on a really nice cruise. Fortunately for me, our children are gainfully employed and will need to be in touch with their offices, as will I. I went tot he Seabourn web site and got links to a satellite provider for the ship. Utterly useless. So what do we do? Will our smartphones likely work. We’re among the select few to own an iPhone. A – We can see that you have gotten a bit of a run-around in terms of sites linking to sites – none of which really answers your question. Seabourn has invested in satellite communication technology. But Internet service and Wi-Fi connections at sea are extremely problematic. No one can guarantee a clear connection unless you bring along a Satellite Phone and point it at the southern sky. Here is what we  recommend you do. 01 – Call  Wireless…

A LETTER FROM THE GALAPAGOS AND SILVERSEA

Report from the Silverseas Explorer in the Galapagos: We really enjoyed this journey. Two primary areas need improvement:1. The quality of the wine; and 2. The fitness center. There are literally hundreds of wonderful South American wines that retail in the US for under $20 a bottle. Silversea can and should do better. There were two problems with the fitness center. The first was the absence of a treadmill. They did have two elliptical machines. In my experience, both from personal use and observation in many fitness centers around the world, treadmills are much more popular and they should have offered one of each. The other problem was that a weight machine that they had in the facility had instruction that were incomprehensible and for three days I could not find anyone on the staff of the ship who could explain how to use it. Finally on Friday they found…

MEET MY LOVING BUT ANNOYING TRAVEL COMPANION

    Q – This has been bothering me for years and I thought you might be able to help. Our best friends are absolute wine snobs. I am getting tired of my friends habit of insisting on doing all the wine tasting on our frequent forays abroad. He makes a big deal of swirling his glass, endlessly “aerating” his wine before tasting it as the hapless wine steward stands by anxiously awaiting his nod of approvals. My friend takes every available wine course offered in our city and I suppose he knows what he is doing but the tasting and, occasional spitting out the wine back in the glass is sometimes embarrassing.  How would you deal with this? Q – If he enjoys it we would say let him gargle his wine, spit into out, or put it behind his ears. But, in truth, we would likely not hold…

LOOKING FOR A HIP, QUALITY, BOUTIQUE HOTEL IN LONDON

Q – Any recommendation for a nice, unique, small hotel, in London that attracts a hip crowd?  A – Try the new Chiltern Firehouse. This small, 26-room property was a firehouse in the 1890’s. It has a lively bar and a recommended restaurant. Can’t promise “hip” but it has been attracting an artsy, younger crowd.  

CALM, CONVENIENT, CARIBBEAN LUX RESORT

Q – We want to find a Caribbean resort that will provide sun, spa, serenity and an opportunity for my husband and I to have, well, never mind. But we’re stymied because we live in Chicago and it has to be an easy non-stop flight.  Is there an answer to our dilemma? A – There are several but the one that first comes to mind is the Dorado Beach Ritz Carlton. Think beautiful, secluded beach and the Spa Botanical plus James  Beard award-winning chefs on premises. This is a one-of-a-kind Ritz Carlton Reserve Property. 

AN IDYLLIC GETAWAY LESS THAN TEN HOURS AWAY

    Q – If your writers could take a month off and go  somewhere lovely next summer where they could enjoy village life, the sea, authentic, fresh local foods, and hours spent sitting at an outdoor cafe working on a novel, where might it be? It would need to be less than a ten hour flight from Atlanta. A – A bit subjective and there are at least thirty possible answers but your question takes us  to one of the less visited among the more than fifty inhabited Greek Islands. For starters, check out Paros, Lesbos, and Simi. If you can’t write while sitting waterside in a taverna along Simi’s waterfront, it is time to choose a new passion like reverse bungee-jumping.  

WHY WERE OUR FRIENDS UPGRADED WHEN WE WEREN’T?

Q – We’ve been enjoying traveltruth for a long time. We sail the better cruise lines and have used the same Denver agent for years. But our friends,  just got back from an NCL cruise got upgraded by their travel agent the first time they used her.  Should our travel agent be upgrading us? If we switched over to you, would we be upgraded. Our current agent seems knowledgeable and provides good service, but if we can get upgraded at no additional charge we would throw you our business. Will look forward to your response. Please do not use my name. A – We never make the names of our clients or web site guests public. If you “throw” us your business we will toss it back. Stick with your current agent as it sounds like she is providing more than adequate service. You generally get upgrades on the better…

JUST HOW BAD IS THE FOOD ON ROYAL CARIBBEAN?

      Q – We’ve been asked to join friends on the Royal Caribbean Freedom of the Seas. They’re wonderful friends, great company, but we’re folks who enjoy fine dining on vacation. So how bad is this going to be? A – There are specialty restaurants that you will likely find tolerable and perhaps even enjoyable. For the most part, dining aboard the mass market ships is very much a case of institutional catering. Passable, impressive presentation, but nothing to write home about. There actually is a much-discussed article published by the New Yorker in which writer David Owen examines the inner-workings of the Royal Caribbean Oasis of the Seas. He points out that the vessel has 23 dining venues including a sushi-and-ishiyaki restaurant, an Italian Trattoria, and a cupcake shop. He was impressed with the on-board butcher shop, twenty galleys and the fact that “virtually everything that I…

SAVING ON BUSINESS CLASS TO SYDNEY

     Q – I am bringing my family to Australia for a well-deserved holiday. It will be a costly trip and we are looking at flying coach. We are wondering if there are still any ways to dramatically save on Business Class tickets to Sydney from the States. A – This is one of the world’s longest flights (LA – SYDNEY) and there is little competition save that between Virgin Australia and Qantas. The rule of thumb is that if you see a Business Class Ticket under $8,000 per person – grab it. You might want to look at purchasing a coach ticket and trying to use miles to upgrade. The other option is to compromise and purchase premium coach, if seats are available. These long-haul carriers offer some excellent in-air service and they do their best to make the time pass quickly. It always helps to know that…

IS IT WISE TO CONSIDER TRAVEL TO ITALY THIS SUMMER?

Q – We have been listening to some of the talk coming out of ISIS about attacks in Italy in the near future. Is this something that should be a concern and are any of the potential targets identified? A – Statements from ISIS in Libya have claimed that Italy is their next target. The shortest route to Italy is from Tripoli to the island of Lampedusa where migrants are processed and set to other locations within the country. The trip can be done in a day and half in calm seas. Specific named or implied targets include the symbols of western religion so one imagines that security at the Vatican, normally quite high, will be strengthened. No reputable travel industry source has suggested postponing travel to Italy. In fact, US Shopping Malls have just been named as targets by the Somali branch of Al-Queda. We suggest that you stay…

A SNOB EN ROUTE TO SPAIN

Q – Dear traveltruth: We depart from SFO for Madrid and two weeks in Spain in the next three weeks. Our agent is quite good but not at all a “Foodie” In fact I think she believes that the Outback is gourmet fare. So wondering if you can help two hopeless food snobs. What are the best, at any price,  restaurants in Spain that we shouldn’t miss? Oh, and how do we book them, through our agent, directly, online etc? A – The “Don’t Miss” threesome is El Celler de Can Roca in Girona, Mugaritz and Arzak, both in San Sabastian. Martin Berastegui in San Sebastian is also a top pick. Are we saying that three of the best restaurants in Spain are all located in San Sebastian? Yes, and so are critics from around the world. If you are serious about food, make certain that you allocate at least…

WILL MY TRAVEL AGENT KNOW THE BEST TIME TO PURCHASE AN INTERNATIONAL AIR TICKET?

Q – I am traveling more and more lately, pretty much globally. This is business travel, but since I’m the financial guy at the company, I like to handle my own arrangements. I’ve been amazed at how much flights can vary in cost and was wondering if a corporate travel agent would be able to tell me when I should be planning on purchasing a ticket. I know that certain months must be better, but how do I find out precisely?  Great site but you need an App. Any plans? A – As you might imagine, knowing precisely when fares will go up or down is not possible since such decisions are made deep inside the bowels of computer mainframes. Your agent will have some capability to tune you into a fare alert system, so you know when the fare is going down. But if you want to have the…

REALLY NICE MARRIOTT BED

Q – We just spent three nights at the JW Marriott in Dallas and absolutely loved the bed. We both slept like a baby and made up for the sleep we’ve been lost the past several weeks dealing with some issues at home. We’re back a week and my lovely wife instructs me that I am to order the bed. Do I call the hotel or some company that handles it for them? A – You could contact the hotel directly and ask for Guest Services. But it is highly likely you were sleeping on an 800 coil Serta “Perfect Sleeper”. We would suggest you call a nearby mattress store that carries Serta products. They should be able to get it for you and deliver it quickly. By the way, the top sleep specialists in the nation have pretty much proven that you cannot compensate for lost sleep. The body just…

DO HOTELS CLEAN THE BEDSPREADS AFTER EACH STAY

Q – Just back from a two-week jaunt around the British Isles. We stayed mostly at the better-known chain hotels but we also found some charming three-star places. I thought they were fine but my wife said she felt “itchy” during our last night in Edinburgh and wanted me to ask how we can tell if the hotel washes the sheets and the covers after each guest stay. I’m sure other people who use this site would like to know about hotel policies on changing the linen after each guest stay. The alternative is just too nasty to contemplate. A – Well you better contemplate it. Hotel cleanliness and night security are two of the issues that are never addressed in hotel or online hotel sales ads. Here are some generalizations and facts that will help you understand how hotel bedding changes are handled by hotels: Price dictates everything. The…

BOTTOM LINE: HOW DO I REALLY GET THE BEST HOTEL PRICING?

Q – My wife and I really appreciate your approach and so we come to you with a question that’s been on our minds for months. You could say we are frequent world travelers. As COO of a large company based in Boston, I travel overseas an average of two times per month. We take three weeks of vacation every year, always enjoying top grade accommodations and services. I am a seeker of high-end services, hate skimping, but the accountant in me demands that I ask “How exactly do you get the best pricing on a top-end hotel room or suite? What is the secret? Is it online, web site, calling direct etc?  A – The goal of this game is make the consumer feel that he//she has the best rate whenever and wherever they book. In fact, any price that you receive online or from a travel agent is…

A LETTER FROM ANTARCTICA: AN INTREPID TRAVELER’S FIRST VISIT

My Trip to the 7th Continent By Derek Lloyd – Quark Expeditions   As soon as I was confirmed I did what probably 90% of your travelers to Antarctica do: I spent way too much on new equipment and clothes for the trip. Of course I checked out our blog on what one needs to pack, and then probably doubled it. I was most likely influenced by my “cruising” days, thinking I needed a different outfit for each day’s outing and of course every meal! My trip started in Buenos Aires – what a fantastic city. I purposefully booked myself in the same hotel that we are using for the Ocean Endeavour transfer package next year – the 725 Continental. If you’re not familiar with the property, it’s a good classic hotel and most importantly in probably the best location you could ask for. Looking down the street to your…

A LETTER FROM THE SAFEST PLACE ON EARTH: HEADING SOUTH FROM IRAN

By Richard Bruce Turen The news was starting to get to me. Too much negativity. The world seems to be in a knot, a twisted, convoluted series of pressure points, any one of which can explode at any moment. My clients have concerns. I have concerns for them as they travel the globe. I needed to get away with the family, away to the safest place I could find on this angry planet of ours. So we packed up and flew fourteen hours on a new Airbus 380 to a place where I knew we would be safe and where I hoped we would find a pleased and productive populace.     Norway would have been nice but I wanted a place safer than that. After months of following the news at home the tinkling of cow bells in a small Swiss village might have been soothing, but I wanted to go…

IS THIS REALLY THE TRAVELTRUTH OR A PIG IN A POKE?

Q – My wife and I have been following traveltruth for the past eight years. And we always thought we could take anything you said to the bank. But this last story about flying monkeys, horses, and pigs is stretching our credulity. I just can’t believe that any airline is going to let any of these animals into the passenger compartment of an aircraft. And I say this as a certified private pilot. Please retract the story as it demeans the trust we’ve placed in the information that appears here. I’ll grant you this – it’s a good story. A – Actually, we were being entirely serious and stand by our story. In fact, the photo that accompanies the piece shows a women with a rather hefty pig who was boarded by US Airways at Bradley Field in Connecticut. The pig made a rather huge mess in the aisle soon after boarding and…

THE PIG SEATED NEXT TO YOU MAY NOT BE HUMAN

We get a fair number of e-mails from civilians complaining that air travel is not as elegant as it once was. OK, that’s a given. Perhaps we ought to have some minimum dress rules aboard aircraft. Perhaps we ought to close down bars at airports. Perhaps we ought to have odor detection machines and available showers for those who need them. But lest you get frustrated, dear reader, we want you to know that our government is doing its part to make flying the elegant affair it once was in the days of the Pan Am Clippers. Our Department of Transportation has proposed new guidelines that will broaden the types of service animals’ disabled travelers may bring aboard domestic flights. It turns out that there is something of a discrimination issue here as the rules, heretofore, seemed to apply specifically to approved guide dogs. But, it turns out, a fair number…

WORLDWIDE HEALTH ADVISORIES FOR THE INTERNATIONAL TRAVELER

Given the importance of tourism in the underdeveloped world, accurate news of diseases that can affect visitors is often under-reported. Here is a list of some important worldwide health advisories that may be of interest to travelers in the months to come. Some of them have occurred in developed nations including portions of Europe. The most recent outbreaks are listed first. If you are concerned, we suggest that you consult with a travel medicine clinic for updated information or your personal physician if you are traveling or considering traveling to an affected/named region: Bubonic Plague in Madagascar In August through November 2014 inclusive, a significant outbreak of bubonic plague has occurred in Madagascar with cases in the capital Antananarivo. Fatality rate has been 30% to date. Legionnaires Disease in Portugal In November 2014, health authorities advised of Portugal’s largest ever outbreak of Legionnaires Disease in Lisbon. Ebola Virus Disease Case…

FOUR HOURS TO KILL AT HEATHROW: ANY SUGGESTIONS FOR DINING AND SHOPPING?

Q – We will be leaving for London next week flying on United, with a United connecting flight to Lisbon. We just noticed we have four and a half hours between flights. Any suggestions as to where we should eat or shop in the Terminal would be appreciated. A – You need to get specifics from your travel agent. Our guess is that you are flying British Airways from Heathrow to Lisbon on a code-share with United. That means that BA will actually fly the plane. United flights usually arrive at Terminal 2. We would recommend the new Perfe3ctionists Café which is headed up by celebrity chef Heston Blumenthal. (Don’t expect to see him in the kitchen. Most celebrity chefs with outposts at an airport limit their appearances to the departure gate) For shopping we would recommend the new John Lewis store and the boutiques belonging to Cath Kidston and…

IS ANYONE STILL GIVING AWAY MILEAGE AWARD TICKETS?

Q – My wife and I have just spent several hours on the phone trying to actually book seats using miles, miles we’ve earned by being loyal customers. I used to fly for my work so I am in a position to see how the damn airlines have cut and cut the seats they allocate to mileage customers. I’ve about had it. I want to find one or two airlines that still have some portion, some molecule of customer service in their DNA. Is there any way to know which airlines we should fly because they still have some integrity in their frequent flyer program. A – Airlines have integrity. What they don’t have, however, are policies that reflect a proper appreciation of their best customers. Consumer Reports, one of the organizations whose journalistic standards we greatly respect, tried using frequent flyer miles to book seats on the five most…