traveltruth.com is a collaborative effort designed to offer the vacation consumer real world advice without exaggeration, deception, or sales bias. It is the ultimate insider’s view of how things really work, written by an award-winning team of travel consultants and journalists. We are the owners, managers, and staff at Churchill & Turen Ltd.
Q – There is all this media coverage of dirty hotel rooms, bed bugs, lousy security etc. But I am most concerned about touching something in my hotel room that will make me sick. Yuck. What do I Purell first and how do you know which hotels are the cleanest?
A – Start with the light switches and the Television remote. Then wash the water glasses you will be using in very hot water. Other than that, just know that there is a strong correlation between the average room rate and carefully monitored health and safety matters. You would be correct in assuming that a five-star hotel is going to spend more on room cleanliness and on hotel security. They are also going to be able to provide more savvy, better trained staff. The average travel consumer still thinks that, somehow, hotel rates and cruise prices are exempt from the general rule that you usually get what you pay for. We think that room cleanliness and security issues, as well as guest demographics, are all reasons to use a top-rated property rather than a three or four-star “deal.”
Q – I know you are going to say it is extremely expensive, but my wife and I have decided that we are not going to be traveling with luggage when we connect with our Absolute Asia itinerary in Hong Kong. Could you give us the one or two best luggage firms to contact? Thanks so much – awesome site! If you were on Facebook we’d give you twenty “likes”.
A – Well we’re not, so save your thumbs. We prefer talking to human beings instead of clicking like apes in a language lab at MIT. Luggage forward services are fairly new so these firms do not have extensive track records and, yes, the marketshare is still so low that prices haven;t come down vcry much. That said, the two best firms seem to be “Luggage Forward” and “Luggage Free”.
Q – Just can’t fathom the way these cruise lines give and then take away. For the past year we’ve been getting mailers from Regent Seven Seas offering a Free Hotel Night before each of their cruises. Now, our agent tells us that she can’t get us the free night for our planned cruise on the Navigator to Alaska this July. Should we work with someone else – like your firm?
A – No, stick with your agent. She is giving you the correct information. Regent has had a change of heart and the Free Hotel night offer ends prior to the summer cruise season. The new policy is that only guests booked in Concierge level cabins and suites will continue to receive a complimentary pre-cruise stay. The changeover policy takes effect on the following start dates:
Mariner – April 7 with Free Hotel beginning in Category E
Navigator – May 21 with Free Hotel beginning Category D
Voyager – June 2 with Free Air beginning Category E
On all sailings prior to those dates, the old program, meaning Free Hotel night in all categories, will still apply. You should, however, be aware that this program was never really “Free”. Regent guests have the option of taking a $500 credit off the price of their cruise if they do not use the “Free” Hotel night. Do factor in that the hotel night was a package that included baggage handling, transfers, breakfast, and all taxes so, in most of the areas where Regent sails, it was and remains a good value.
In Europe, particularly, simply securing the hotel space would be challenging for any cruise line. A little more than 50% of Regent guests have been using the program which means a minimum of accommodations for 350 guests per ship in the same property. This is a logistical nightmare that has kept other lines from imitating this extremely popular Regent innovation.
Q – We have have heard that people who travel out of the United States should carry clean, or fresh money. A friend of mine in Concord, says she literally irons her larger bills before going to Europe so they look more legitimate. This just sounds crazy to us. What’s the truth?
A – This is far less an issue in Europe than it is in Japan, China, and other parts of Asia. It isn’t that a rumpled twenty is not worth twenty dollars, it is more an issue of pride and cleanliness. Money that has been handled by many people is germ-ridden and it is never, ever cleaned. In fact, dollar bills are generally the most toxic thing you will touch all day unless you work in the septic business or the state legislature.
The real issue is that paper bills that are soiled, tattered-looking, or just dirty, cannot be given as change to other customers in many parts of Asia. So they do not like to accept it. If you are running off to Europe for a week or two, we wouldn’t worry about it. But for longer trips, particularly those to the Middle East or Asia, we do advise our clients to request “new bills” from your bank when taking out cash for a trip abroad. Your bank will be happy to comply and, shockingly, they have not yet figured out a way to charge for this extra service.
Q - My husband just retired three weeks ago and I can already tell you, I want out of this house. Wer’re going to start doing some long term travel planning and we are wondering if you are talking on new clients or if you would be willing to recommend someone in the Little Rock area? My first question has to do with China. What is the best way to see the most for the least amount of money. We want to tale it all in in about two or three weeks at the most. But we don’t want to travel deluxe, just moderately with nice, clean hotels. We’re in good health – I know you will ask about our health., I am a little hard of hearing. You’ll like us if you give us a try. We need some hand holding cause we don’t have passports yet and have never been out of the good old USA.
A - You have to be careful in China because there is not much in the mid-range category that we can recommend. Local tour guides are often not paid anything, living on kickbacks from local stores they include in their touring. In the mid-price range we would suggest Pacific Delight Tours as a place to begin. But our response to your question is that we would strongly urge you to avoid a group bus tour in China in favor of a land cruise combination of the type offered by Viking River Cruises in China.
Viking’s China product rates higher than its European fleet and they have created a series of excellent land and Yangtze River cruise tours that will enable you to see and experience all of the major sites plus many along the river that will provide insight into rural life. The down side is that that comprehensive sightseeing in included and you will be exhausted at the end of the trip. In terms of your hearing, it is important to inquire as to whether or not the tour guides used by the company you are booking use individual headphone amplification. Many firms now do so that everyone in a group can hear what the tour guide is saying. Some of them have volume adjustments. We don’t mean that the guide speaks through an amplification system. We want you in a group where every tour member has their own headset with volume adjustments.
We have had a full house for the past decade, generally accepting new clients exclusively by referral from our nationwide roster of current clients. But we really want to help you start off on the best foot so we’ve forwarded a New Client Application for your use. If you prefer walking in to sit down with someone locally, we will be pleased to recommend the best person to help you in Little Rock. Tell your hubby we said “Congratulations on retirement.” We’ll figure out the best way to get you both out of the house from time to time.
Q – OK, we’re going to trust you with the most important portion of our October trip to Italy. On the last night of the trip, we are going to be staying in Verona, after a few days in Venice. This is a honeymoon of sorts and, if all goes well, we may actually consider getting married next year. White tablecloths and violins are not necessarily our thing. We’re all about the food. We will have a car. Where in Verona should we dine? Please help us with this. We will do whatever you recommend.
A – Thank you, we think, for the responsibility. We don;t want you to stay in Verona. Just about a half hour away, southwest, is the small village of Mantua and a wonderful family-run restaurant called Dal Pescatore. There are three generations of the family running this establishment and it was awarded its third Michelin Star in 1996. Nadia Santini, the chef, is the first female chef in Italy to achieve such distinction. I want you to call them immediately to secure a reservation and ask for the Tasting Menu. If you think of it, order a little extra Tortelli stuffed with pumpkin, amaretto, Parmesan, and Mostarda. Just ship the leftovers to us in dry ice.
Q – Our agent booked us into Cuzco for two nights before taking the train to Machu Picchu, where we will have a private guide for two full days. We are really excited about the history and the views that lie ahead. Any suggestions on what we should do with our time in Cuzco. This is a wonderful site but I think we’re among the last to discover it.
A – Hmmm. You have nothing to do in Cuzco but you have a private guide fror two days in Machu Picchu. That just sounds off to us. We would suggest you cancel the guide for one of the days in MP. Take the money and hire a private guide, instead, for part of your time in Cuzco.
We can recommend all sorts of ways to spend your time. But we want you to have “getting acclimated to the elevation” your primary goal. If you are young enough and strong enough to deal with that, we would suggest that you consider preparing for Machu Picchu by visiting one or two of the Inca ruins that are accessible from the city. The two most interesting are Sacsayhuaman and Quenko.
If no one has mentioned it, this is a trip you run by your personal physician before departing. There are a number of medications that do not get on well with the higher elevations. This trip will mean a great deal more to you if you put some readings about the Inca’s on your pre-departure schedule.
Q – My travel agent can get me the best airfare to Ft. Lauderdale or Chicago, but she knows very little about Villas (trust me – I’ve tried to engage her on the topic). Some of the magazines like Travel + leisure now list Villa Agencies. Is this the best way or do we contact the embassy, use the internet, find a different travel agent, contact Villa owners directly or try to read the ads in the back of National Geographic? We are looking for a three bedroom for four adults and three children and we want to keep the price at under $20,000 per week for a two-week stay. At that price, we would expect to have a private cook included on staff.
A – The fact that your long-time agent does not personally know Villas well is not particularly disturbing. But if she does not have good connections in the Villa Rental world and has no idea how to proceed, you need to be working with another professional. The best procedure is to have your travel agent place you in direct contact with the best Villa specialists with operations in Spain. Villas of Distinction is one company your agent may want to use. All final negotiations are best done through your agent who will have yiour best interests at heart. Commissions are almost always included in the price so using your agent and then working through her/him witht he right Villa company will normally cost you nothing and it will provide you a number of complimentary services.
Your budget seems reasonable but the cost of a full-time chef, along with the other “staff” your question implies, could well take you over your budget. You must, ultimately, design a list of those things, such as a swimming pool, location near a village of charm, etc. that form your requirements. The Travel + Lesiure Villa List seems to be copied from the Annual Conde Nast List of Villa Specialists. Since Cinde Nast is independent and T + L is owned by American Express, your agent will likely use someone on the CNT List.
Q – We go to Rome every six months or so. We love the energy, the food, and the southern Italian “attitude.” We’ve always done the Hassler or your recommended Hotel De Russie, but now we’re looking for some new recommendations in the city, We would prefer to stay under $1200 USD per night.
A – There are two new properties we think you may like. J.K. Place Rome will be open for the summer. This is the newest branch of the chic chain with properties on Capri and in Florence. Margutta 54 is a great new option featuring beautiful suites
Q – Don’t think anyone has ever asked you this before – “Are there airlines that routinely offer lower air fares to Europe?” My feeling is that, once I’m over there, I can connect anywhere I need to go.
A – You may want to look at the schedules and pricing on one of the Frugal Fab Four. They are Air Berlin, Air Lingus (Ireland’s carrier), TAP (Portugal), and Iberia (flies into Madrid). Not one of these airlines ranks among our Top Recommended Airlines for service but you will, normally, find lower fares than those available on the “Majors”.
Q – Our frrinds in Aiken keep wanting us to join them on a Caribbean cruise. They tend to go with Princess or Holland America. We’ve done our last two cruises on Sea Dream Yachts and Seabourn, so we’re reluctant to get on any boat that doesn’t have “Sea” in its name. But then again, pennies always count in our house and we’re wondering if paying two or three times more is really a good idea or even necessary in the Caribbean. We all follow this site religiously and we’re good Baptists!
A – There are so many ways to respond to this question. Let us summarize some of our staff’s primary responses:
Your pricing assumptions are not really correct. We’ve done the analysis, and when you figure in Seabourn’s free air, gratuities, drinks, one or two shore excursions, the price per day for similar accommodations after all discounts are applied, may well turn out to be less than $100 per day per guest. Now for some folks, that is a lot of money. But in the scheme of things, we definitely feel that you will feel you get what you are paying for.
We would normally say join your friends. The fact that you will all be traveling together, makes it possible to pre-arrange some of your own shore excursions. You may, for example, work with a consultant who can get you in to some of the region’s most exclusive resorts. Your feeling that the Caribbean may be the place to step down a grade or two makes sense if you are prepared for the realities. Those realities on mass market lines now include large influxes of non-English speaking guests and an increasingly higher percentage of blue-collar, budget conscious travelers.
Our primary concern is that you have been to the mountaintop. Sea Dream Yachts, for instance, do not normally sail out of Florida. They begin and end their itineraries in the Caribbean avoiding the, sometimes rough waters, between the islands and the Florida Straits. Given their small size, Sea Dream can take you to islands or private berths that the bigger ships can only visit in their dreams.
Before committing to Holland America or Princess, determine what the real per Diem’s will be for the level of suite you may need to keep you in one of the nicer areas of the ship. Think about thousands of fellow travelers and how you will feel about that. Imagine being nickel and dimed continually. The value will have to be significant to decide that you are willing to put up with that. But who knows – your friend’s company may be well worth these relative “sacrifices”. If you do go with your friends, pre-negotiate that they will pick up your drinks. Explain you are not in the habit of having to pay for them.
Q – We want to take our family of five on the Disney Magic. What would you recommend as the best cabin strategy?
A – Do a deck 8 Veranda. They have a queen or twin beds and three singles that pull out from the wall. There is a divider between the sitting area and the master bath. Enjoy.
Q – I don’t know if you all give advice but I guess it’s worth a shot given my situation. I’m young (mid twenties) petite female who just booked a solo trip to Cozumel for five days in May. Given that I’ve been there before, albeit with a companion, I thought that I chose a safe place to travel. Now, however, I am finding disturbing reports such as the gang rape of a young woman in a “cruise-line recommended shop” in broad daylight. I am becoming seriously worried. All I want is a quiet vacation to Cozumel so I can rest on the beaches/read do a bit of shopping/scuba diving and visit the Bob Marley Bar so I can watch the waves. I even got an all-inclusive option at my hotel so I don;t have to venture out for food at night. But I did plan to visit restaurants, shops, and beaches during the day. Other than avoiding inebriation, how can I minimize risk of assault/etc. when apparently even shops in well-lit areas can be dangerous?
Sidelight: I also apparently look Latin American so every time I end up in the Caribbean/South America or LA I feel like I receive more attention from the local lotharios than my lighjter-skinned, blonde friends do. I’ve also never traveled alone before. I don;t have the option of having this trip refunded and none of my friends can join me due to work commitments. Your advice is greatly appreciated.
A – A vacation ought to be something you anticipate – not fear. Discuss this with your travel agent. Given what has been happening in Cozumel, your agent may be able to work something out. Here are some observations:
Most people go to Cozumel without incident
We would not allow our own family to travel to Mexico alone oif they were your age.
You may be underestimating the chances that someone will slip something in your drink. This is getting to be quite common.
The one thing that most bothers us about your scenario is that the police in Mexico are often, very often, corrupt. This is a game-changer and we would never book a trip of this kind for someone your age traveling alone.
It isn’t all about money. Cancel the trip.
Q – If you really want to be “truthful” you may want to tell your readers that the Chinese are already waging cyberwarfare against the United States and our entire air traffic control system can be brought down while thousands of planes are in the air causing who knows what level of chaos. I know you will not print this, but Americans better wake up. Are the airlines aware that this is going on and are they doing anything about it? Until you start dealing with political realities, your site will just be another travel dead zone.
A – Thanks for the charming update. There is, actually, some truth in what you say to the extent that any of our major grids such as those that regulate gas pipelines or chemical plants, as well as government facilities are vulnerable. In a truly important speech, outgoing Secretary of Defense, Leon Panetta said that we are in a “Pre 9-11 Moment” with hackers testing our defenses daily in a great many areas, including transportation hubs.
This is not something we worry a great deal about when we are ordering off the dinner menu on Singapore or Emirates or any of the world’s great airlines. But since you brought it up, here is what we see as a greater threat. Hackers in China and, to a lesser extent, the Russians, North Koreans, and Iranians, are testing our vulnerabilities on a daily basis. Our reading of the threats makes us believe that the greatest danger is a coordinated series of hacking attacks on the computer systems that store the financial records of our largest banks. The theory of experts in this field is that rather than just wipe these computers clean, a cyberattack would more likely change and reallocate the data rather than completely eliminating it for maximum chaotic effect. It would take years, esxperts believe, for the country to make a full recovery.
Last year, Congress failed to pass the comprehensive Cybersecurity Act favored by Panetta because major business lobbyists felt the costs of the new regulations governing computer security would be too high. Meanwhile, data has already been stolen from more than 140 major American Corporations including Apple, Google, and a wide number of government agencies, law firms, and think tanks. We would hope that the Washington Post and the New York Times would be vigilant in terms of this threat. They are among the 140 corporations already attacked.
So stay in your closet and don’t go anywhere near an airport. We’ll let you know when it is safe to come out.
Q – Reading about these cruise lines that register out of the United States and pay no taxes? Are they really non-American companies and why are we supporting them with our business. What is really going on here?
A - If you look at the five largest cruise lines operating in the United States, you will find that they are all registered in foreign countries including the Bahamas, Panama, and Liberia. By “foreign-flagging”, cruise lines avoid paying the kinds of taxes they would pay if they were US-based corporations. They also do not have to observe our labor laws or even many of our domestic safety requirements. The practice is referred to as “flags of convenience.”
The hard truth is that cruise labor is much like migrant labor – unless it continues, prices for the product will soar. The Hotel and Tour industries wonder why their major competitor is allowed to skirt so many US laws in order to maintain the present pricing levels. James Walker, a prominent maritime attorney, writing for CNN.com, claims that cleaners aboard Royal Caribbean ships are paid “as little as $156.25 a week with no prospect of tips”. If the larger cruise ships were registered in the United States, employed unionized labor, and followed current US labor laws, the entire pricing model of the cruise industry would collapse and, it is likely, so would large portions of the industry.
Q – Spent several hours on this site last night and had to drop you a line. Great stuff. Here’s my specific question. I am a consultant in the chemical industry and I fly, out of my home in Denver all over Europe. I work alone, with a part-time secretary and we do all of our own air arrangements. I have had numerous flight cancellations and delays at O’Hare and I just want to try avoiding it if I can. If you were me, which airports that have non-stop flights to Europe would be best for connections? Wish you had more on airline strategies and less on cruise line ratings.
A – Thanks for the advice. We won’t take it, but thanks anyway. Your question does, we think, have a specific answer. Our air people feel that you might limit your connections to three “first-choice” options, Dallas/Ft. Worth, Charlotte, and Detroit. All three have enviable connection stats.
Q – My husband and I are going overseas for the first time this April on a tour arranged through our church in Boise. It is a group tour and we have to get to New York on our own to get on a Delta Airlines flight. My question is how much time do you think we need between flights. Our travel agent says two hours and we found a flight that gives us a little less, one hour and fifty minutes. Our agent wants to book it but we thought we should run it past you first. Any advice would be appreciated. I just want everything to go right.
A – We disagree with your agent. Do not book the flight. With the current sequestration budget cuts, TSA staff at a number of US Airports, but most particularly New York’s JFK, O’Hare, and Atlanta, will be cut by as much as 30%. We are now advising all of our clients to allow a minimum outbound international connection time in those three airports of three hours.
We want everything to go right also. While you are waiting, have a Nathan’s Hot Dog in the terminal. You probably can’t get one in Boise. Have a terrific trip and make sure to carry copies of the picture page of your passport along with a sheet that has photocopies of the front and back sides of your credit card. Be safe.
Q – After watching CNN and other interviews with the poor folks getting off the Carnival Triumph, I really wonder if we ever will take that first cruise. So let’s see why travel “truth” is still, as far as I can see, recommending cruising. Given the honesty of your answers to other questions, I wonder how you respond to your bread and butter? This is not meant in any mean-spirited way. We read the site, enjoy it, and are really curious.
A – Fair enough. We don’t recommend “cruising” we recommend the top ten-rated cruise lines. We don’t recommend “hotels”, we recommend certain hotels that meet our stringest standards. We have never booked guests on a Carnival Cruise. The one essential rule that the consumer somehow thinks does not apply to travel is “you get what you pay for”. This is a critical mistake. We don’t sell Holiday Inn or Motel 6.
When you book the most budget of budget lines, on a short cruise, you can expect fun, sun, crowds, and a party atmosphere. For sophistication and elegance you will need to look elsewhere.
Travel sellers need to be defined by what they refuse to sell as well as by those companies they enthusiastically endorse.
Q – We work full time and have just nine or ten nights to spend in Italy. We love hiking, exploring, and really good food. Could the Amalfi Coast work in that time frame and how would we set it up in terms of hotels and air. We are in our fifties and we like good hotels that are romantic. Will our travel agent make dinner reservations for us and can her recommendations be trusted?
A – There is a lot of question there. We would fly into Rome and then train down to Naples. You would be met in Naples and then brought to your hotel. Our recommendation for ten days is to stay in two hotels. You should look first at Le Siranuse in Positano and the Hotel Caruso in Ravello. Both are truly memorable. There is some public transportation and the hotels can arrange for a private driver when necessary. Try not to do this trip between June 15th and the 20th of September. Late May and the first week in October are great times to go. We think there is enough of interest to fill ten days and you can hike the lesser-known villages in the crux of the hills. We have discussed these in response to a previous question. Finally, you might want to check out the travel agent’s culinary creds before committing to her recommendations. There is a simple test to find out how much your travel consultant knows about food. Ask them the difference between an Osteria, a Trattoria, and a Ristoranti. Follow that up by asking them to name the best restaurant in the best hotel in Hong Kong.(Gaddi’s in the Peninsula) This was once a question we would pose to those interviewing for a position at our firm.
It is a bit much to expect your agent to have personal knowledge of the best new restaurants worldwide. If you work with an agency that is a member of one of the major consortiums they will have on-site offices in Italy. The On-site office will be able to handle reservations for dinner through the agent. The best agents trend to be affiliated with one of the following consortium groups: American Express, Ensemble, Signature, and Virtuoso.
Q - We have been following the story, now on the New York Times second and third page, of the new Boeing 787 Dreamliner. I am writing this on February 8th and I wonder what the status is. We are supposed to fly the plane in April on United. You all seem to be honest journalists so let me ask you a personal question. Would you allow your family to board this aircraft?
A – Yes, if it was parked on the tarmac with the engines turned off. Here is the thing: No one, as of this date, has been able to determine the cause of the on board battery fire and the severe overheating issues. Progress is going extremely slowly because the battery maker, in Japan, thought to be the culprit, has come out of this with few scars.
Believe it or not, this is a major technological mystery. Now, it is thought that it may be at least a month before the cause of the problems is pinpointed and required fixes are made. It may involve complete re-engineering of portions of the electrical power system.
United has announced it is cancelling scheduled 787 flights through most of February. We would want this aircraft to be flying worldwide for at least six months and be incident-free, before we would consider flying her. And we’re among the Dreamliner’s biggest fans.
Q – In this day and age of less ostentatious travel, I wonder if cruise lines are still offering Around the World type cruises?
A – This year, we count nine lines offering ATW Cruises, six of which will literally circumnavigate the globe. Three of these lines, Holland America, Seabourn, and Silverseas, compete with identical length, 115 day, itineraries.
Crystal does its World Cruise on the 960-Guest Serenity. Reports from the line are that approximately 400 of their guests have signed on for the full journey while the rest of the guests purchase one or more segments of the sailing. Although generally less profitable for cruise lines than shorter sailings that use less fuel and offer fewer days at sea, world cruises are in demand and Crystal is currently taking reservations for its 25th Anniversary sailing in 2015 that will be a 108-day circumnavigation. Bookings are, we are told, robust.
This all started in England in the 20′s. Travel Weekly reports that the Lanconia of Cunard Line went out in 1923 for 130 days with stops in 22 ports. This year, two Cunard ships and three P&O liners departed Southampton for full, ATW journeys, almost all of which sail just after the New Year.
Our on staff Around-The-World Expert, recommends bookings be made 16-24 months prior to departure to avoid disappointment. Five characteristics of ATW Cruises:
Q – We’ve been searching for a really strange destination and thought your staff might be able to help. We will soon be opening an ice cream parlor in Sonoma, California. I’ve taken early retirement and before getting back to the hard work ahead in launching a labor intensive business, my wife and I want to travel a bit to discover the best, most interesting ice cream and flavors available anywhere. We’ve heard that there is a street filled with ice cream shops of high quality, one after another. But we don’t know where it is. Have you ever heard of Ice Cream Street? Where would you go to sample the most interesting, and best, ice cream and gelato on the planet?
A – We think you may have the name wrong. The closest we can come is Ice Cream City which is located inside an amusement park in the Sunshine City shopping center in Tokyo. There are several dozen ice cream stands competing with one another for the most intense and outrageous flavors and both Italian and American styles are available. We know that you will be able to get ell-flavored ice cream, along with soy chicken, but the varieties are endless. Best of all, you can enjoy the wonders of Tokyo, where prices have been falling to reverse the tourist decline of the past five years.
After that, we would head to Florence, Italy to taste every flavor at our personal favorite, the iconic Vivoli. But Florentine friends are telling is that they think that Perche No!, near the Duomo, is as good. Try the Honeydew Melon at Vivoli. Simply amazing. Both establishments have been around for decades and their formulas remain state secrets.
As far as the States are concerned, we will assume you have tried, arguably the best ice cream purveyor in the United States – Capogiro in Philadelphia. That is where the bar is set at the moment.
Q - We find your site rather confusing. On the one hand, it purports to be a cruise site, but we notice lots of information that seems way off topic. If you wish to have people use the site, you might want to think about sticking to one thing and doing it well. Our question has to do with Amazon River Cruising. We know that several of the deluxe lines like Silversea, Seabourn, and Crystal do Amazon itineraries but we are really interested in more of a comfortable, high quality expedition cruise experience with fewer people than a large cruise ship. Are there companies you might recommend?
A – Thank you for the advice. We won’t follow it because traveltruth.com is not a cruise web site. We deal exclusively with First Class and Deluxe vacation planning worldwide. There are many parts of the world where it is impossible or makes little sense to travel by ship. Our efforts are geared toward the upscale traveler who wants advice that is not tainted by sales pressure or advertising concerns.
There are several companies we think you ought to explore with your travel consultant. They are: Abercrombie & Kent, Aqua Expeditions, International Expeditions, and Voyages of Discovery.
Of those, we would rate Aqua # 1 and A&K # 2.
Q – These hotels really get me angry. They always pretend they are full when I ask for an upgrade. Meanwhile, I know from online availability, that they have suites available. I am just constantly being turned down for upgrades and I know others are getting them. I dress quite well, I’m a decent looking guy, and I have a good job, so what am I doing wrong? I just want more than I paid for and I see nothing wrong with that.
A – Do you think it might have something to do with your attitiude when you arrive? Try this: Never ask for an upgrade. Ask for a corner room or “a room with a nice sitting area where I can get some work done”. Be as nice as you can be. Do not address the desk clerk by the first name on their tag.
If there was a past problem with your behavior at one of the chain’s hotels, it is perfectly possible that you have a RAH next to your profile. We will leave it to you to figure out what those letters represent. Your profile designation will follow you around and you may never be upgraded. If you suspect that is the case, schedule a meeting with hotel management and explain your feelings and ask if there is anything on your profile that is preventing you from being offered an upgrade. They may possibly respond honestly. Finally, use a credit card that allows for automatic upgrades based on points.
The real trick is to never shout how important you are, in word or deed. Just be the nicest guy the desk staff has met that day and you will be surprised at what may happen.
Q - My boss just informed me that I’ve won a two week trip to Italy that will include three nights in Sorrento, along the Amalfi Coast. My wife wants us to rent a car and do some driving. Do you think that’s a safe idea? Any tips on the towns nearby that are “must-see’s”. We’re really excited and would appreciate any advice. We tell everyone we know about this site. Keep up the good work.
A – We’re OK with you driving in Italy. The Italians, along with the Dutch, are Europe’s best drivers. You will hardly get lost, just stay on Strada Statale 163 or, as the uninitiated call it, the Amalfi Drive. This incredible two land road hugs the edge of the cliffs for twenty-five miles, passing some of Italy’s most beautiful views.
We would suggest you swim in the Grota dello Smeraldo, visit the lovely town of Amalfi, and definitely go a bit out of your way to see the small fishing village of Atrani, poff the main tourist track. Unfortunately, many casual visitors to the Amalfi coast fail to see Ravello, a wonderful town with more incredible views and an artistic past. When you know Ravello, you know the Amalfi coast. Positano is lovely but the single street, Viale Pasitea will be filled with tourists, many of them just off the cruise ships for the day.
If you really want to feel like an Amalfi insider, visit some of the smaller villages in the hills, far above the sea. Try Montepertuso and Nocelle for starters.
Q – With great sadness, my husband and I read of the passing of Andy Griffith, a wonderful role model and, I think, a true southern gentleman. My husband suggested we just “drive to Mayberry”. Is there such a place and how would we get there? Hope this request is not sounding silly.
A – Not not at all. We all loved Andy though some viewers had a stronger attachment to Barney and they bear watching. There is no Mayberry but the show was truly inspired by a place in North Carolina named Mt. Airy, that Andy knew well. There’s an Andy Griffith Miuseum and every September there’s a celebration called “Mayberry Days”.
It’s all a bit touristic these days but you can still get a glimpse of small town life and there are numerous small towns within driving distance that have no tourists. You can actually tour Mt. Airy in a vintage sheriff’s car.
Q – I am a country club wine drinker but I do keep the Wine Bible next tot he remote and I am slowly getting into French red, particularly Bordeaux’s. We’re headed to France to do some tasting with another couple who thinks that the Trader Joe’s label is really prestigious. But I do want us to go to the very best vineyards. If you could let us know which Bordeaux’s are considered the very best, I’d be eternally grateful.
A – Well this is a bit tricky as there are tens of thousands of wine connoisseurs who wish to taste the best Bordeaux’s. To get into the very best vineyards, you need to know someone and, even then, it is extremely difficult to get to the Premier Grand Cru First Growth estates. We suggest that you work with your consultant to make all arrangements through one of the world’s top wine experts specializing in the top-level French production. Even then, you may be disappointed. Work at least a year in advance to have any chance at all. There are the wines you should target – they are the best of the current crop of Grand Cru’s:
Chateau Lafite Rothschild Medoc (Pauillac)
Chateaux Margaux Medoc (Margaux)
Chateau Latour Medoc (Pauillac)
Chateau Haut-Brion Pessac-Leognam
Chateau Mouton-Rothchild Medoc (Pauillac)
Q – I am a software gun for hire and I travel about 80% of the time. I know that there are often great deals online at the hotels I’m staying at but I just don’t have the time to check it all out on a daily basis. Is there any way to get the same rate as the internet when you’re at the check-in desk? Very cool site but wish you had more for the business traveler. Not all of us can be on a perpetual vacation.
A – Some experts suggest the “let’s be realistic” approach at the front desk. You might try pointing out that the average online site is getting close to 30% in commission from the hotels they are selling. So suggest that if the hotel will give you 20-25% off the online price, they will still be making a profit on your stay. But be careful how you handle this as it could easily backfire.
We’ll never be a site for business travelers. Dealing with the vacations in people’s lives that really matter is our narrow focus. Trust you understand.