Q – We will be leaving for a European Cruise booked through Regent Seven Seas in three weeks. We booked the air/sea program and paid extra for an air deviation. We were flying United Airline on a flight from Atlanta that is actually going to be operated by Lufthansa. We have a connection in Frankfurt to Istanbul, also on Lufthansa with a United flight number on a code-share.
Yesterday, we were advised that our seats had been taken away and re-assigned. We are now seated in different rows in middle seats. We had everything confirmed in writing and are furious about this. How could it happen and what can we do about it? We are being told to wait until the day of departure when something may open up. I just don’t think that customers realize that this sort of thing can happen.
A – You’re right – flyers think a confirmed seat means it is “confirmed” when, in fact, it doesn’t. . For those booked in economy seating, this sort of thing happens with some regularity. It almost never occurs in Business or First. Here is what likely happened:
Almost all seat changes occur for one of two reasons: They may have needed the seats you were holding for elite status flyers. Or, there may have been a change of equipment, a different type of aircraft or version of the aircraft assigned to your flight. When that happens the computers take over and rather haphazardly assign open seats.
Your flight is currently on airport lockdown. That means that the flight is showing full and no airline employee can get into the seating chart to make changes until 24-hours prior to departure. Lufthansa tells us that on transatlantic flights involving the Airbus 443, which we believe is your assigned aircraft, 30% of all seats remain unassigned until the day of departure. If you try calling 24 hours, to the minute, prior to your scheduled departure you will likely be able to change your seats to two together. If that fails, get to the airport at least two and a half hours prior to departure for early check-in. We would expect that your seats would be changed at that time.
This does not strike us as a problem caused in any way by Regent. Cruise lines. But Regent should be following up with their contacts at Lufthansa to see if they can get this cleared for you prior to departure.
Q – We have read that Iran is a great destination with friendly people and a great deal to see. Wonder if you agree? We’ve been looking at Travcoa and Mir Tours. They each seem to be operating two departures this year. Which of the two passes your “legitimate Tour Operator” Test? Really enjoying the site but wish there were more on the various tour operators and the programs they offer. That would be great consumer information if accurate and professional ratings could be included.
A – Both Travcoa and Mir pass our tests with flying colors. Each has been around for a long time. Mir specializes in Eastern and central Europe. Travcoa is a more deluxe tour operator who we recommend highly. But Travcoa is quite expensive given what is included and the category of accommodations used.
Unfortunately, both companies have sold out their departures this year. All four dates are fully booked. Too bad, because we are in agreement that the personal contacts you would have on this journey might well make up for any pre-trip fear factor you might experience. Iran would be a fascinating destination for those with an open mind. It also might be a good idea to visit before they fully develop a nuclear delivery system. Just a suggestion.
We have not rated specific tours because we think it would be far too subjective. The assigned Tour Director and the make-up of the group might change the review of the tour from one departure to another. But we truly appreciate your feedback.
Q – Over a period of about 24 months, we’ve noticed that when we start planning our flights for vacation it seems that the prices have always gone up when we are ready to book, often just a day or two later. It happens too often to be a coincidence. Any recommendations or are we just plain nuts?
A – Actually, you have made a fairly sophisticated and little-known discovery. Airlines have developed software that will insert cookies on your hard drive. It alerts the airline that you are interested in particular flights and the software is programmed to raise the price when you finally go to book. It is our understanding that this is not, currently, illegal, Your behavior online is carefully monitored and stored and it can and will affect the price of items, like an airfare, that have been the subject of a previous search. The solution is to disable your “cookies” just prior to initiating an online fare search.
Q – We have a rather unusual situation. We are traveling with friends on a Baltic cruise this July that includes three full days in St. Petersburg. My mother is quite ill and there is the remote possibility that I could be called during the cruise with the need to fly out of Russia in a hurry. Our travel consultant has set us up with a full itinerary of specially created tours. The Visa will be included. Is there any reason why I need to apply for a separate visa in addition to the one being provided?
A – Yes, in your specific set of circumstances you will need a separate visa. The documents issued by your consultant’s ground operator in Russia will cover you as long as you stick to the proscribed sightseeing program. But you are not covered for independent travel to the airport or, for that matter, for flights out of Russia. Your visa from the tour operator will only cover you for arrival and departure by ship. So, in the unlikely event that you get the call and have to fly out immediately, we do want you to have an independent visa covering such an eventuality.
Q – Realize yours is not an airline site but I always wonder about the cleanliness of the blankets I find all wrapped up, nice and tidy, on my seat when I am flying Business Class internationally. I’d love to know how often those blankets are actually cleaned? I start itching just thinking about it.
A – It turns out that blankets used by airlines are far more sanitary than the blankets that adorn your hotel room bed. Our favorite frequent flyer web site, Viewfromthewing.com recently tackled this subject. In the case of American Airlines, blankets are not put back into cellophane. The blankets are collected and sent off to cleaning contractors in major hubs who clean them and then repackage them. It is safe to assume that any airline blanket sealed in cellophane has not been used by other passengers. Hope that helps with the itching.
Q – We’ve been following traveltruth for the past two years and we love every bit of it – but there is one question I don’t think you’ve ever addressed. When is the best time to get awful assigned seats changed to something better? Whenever we call the airlines they say the seating is “closed”.
A – Airlines, bless their hearts, close their seating down when their computer software tells them that just about all of their sucker seats are gone. This means regular folks coach seating. But every airline holds some seats for their most preferred elite status flyers. So the trick is to try to get those seats when they are released. This is what the pros do:
Set the airline on speed dial and sit down with a watch that is accurate. At exactly 23 hours, 59 minutes and 59 seconds prior to your departure time, hit speed dial. Better yet, use two phones. Seats are released for general sale at precisely 24 hours prior to scheduled departure from the gate. By the way, this call will also serve to reconfirm your flight, not a bad idea when the airlines operate under rules that allow them to take your seats and offer them to an Elite Status flyer. Always ask for an e-mail confirmation of anything promised to you in airlines reservations. It turns out the ad about “The Friendly Skies” was, alas, just an ad, not a statement of policy and practice.
Q – We will need to make a payment to Celebrity Cruises for our final payment for a two-week cruise to the Mediterranean. We booked it directly with Celebrity and there seems to be some confusion about the credits we were given when we booked with their agent, Joseph. I think we should be allowed to take the credit off the price but Celebrity is trying to get us to pay the full rate. Who can I turn to for help with this? Can I still get another travel agent involved with final payment only three weeks away?
A – You have made a direct booking with a commissioned salesman in a cubicle whose job is to maximize revenue for his employer. Celebrity will charge you the commission meant to compensate your travel agent. That’s the bad news. You’ve been suckered. The good news is that you may still be able to turn this reservation over to a professional cruise consultant since you have not yet made final payment. Since the travel consultant commission is built into all cruise pricing, it is unlikely you will have to pay anything for professional services.
There are two kinds of credits. If a cruise line mails you a credit because something happened on your last sailing, you can take the amount of the credit off your final price. But if you have received an “On-Board Credit” you may not deduct the value from your cruise price. The on-board credit, which we suspect you have, is simply applied to your final expense account aboard the ship. It is deducted from the amount to be charged to your credit card for on-board activities, drinks, medical treatment, spa services, gift shops etc. Hope this is helpful. Probably best to never book directly again. You should always have an advocate when purchasing travel services – things can and do go wrong.
Q – We were at a friends house last night doing some Pinot Noir blind tastings accompanied by s’mores when the subject of credit ratings for countries came up. A Wall Street player in our group said that he believed that credit agencies that rate businesses also rate countries. I’d really be interested in which countries get the highest ratings if you could chase that down. If you do, we’ll invite you to our next party, “Chardonnay and Cannolis.” We’re up in Westport.
A – We really like your themes. Well done. It sounds like no one in the neighborhood appreciate a fine cheese selection.
Your friend is correct. Several major ratings agencies have identified a select group of nations that have achieved the highest financial health ratings form the three major agencies. They are: Canada, Finland, Germany, Luxemburg, Australia, Singapore, Norway, Sweden, Switzerland, and Denmark.
These countries could, in our view, form the basis for a travel bucket list of countries you need to get to know better. Each has excellent healthcare, low or non-existent poverty, and high level accommodations and cuisine. It is also interesting to note that none of these countries has a serious pollution or crime problems so travel is intrinsically safer than staying at home.
Q – As frequent cruisers, we have to make our minds up quickly about a 16-Day voyage on Regent Seven Seas between Oslo and Copenhagen. This is a cruise pretty much limited to the coast of Norway and St. Petersburg, which we’ve previously visited, is not on the itinerary. Wondering of you would recommend this specific itinerary?
A – In fact, you’ve picked one of our favorites all-time cruise experiences. The North Cape cruises are only offered once or twice each summer by a few of the top lines. It is an ideal itinerary but rather expensive for the lines to operate since Norway is not particularly interested in attracting day visitors and port charges and docking fees are unusually high.
This particular itinerary is outstanding and we highly recommend it. Here are a few specific reasons why:
01 – Absolutely beautiful small towns and villages. The fjords form a magnificent backdrop.
02 – The days at sea sometimes feature views of land.
03– There is no crime or poverty. It is really uplifting in many ways.
04 – It is a great way to beat the summer heat.
05 – There are not many ships doing this route. Towns are not crowded.
06 – Most North Cape Cruises are 10-12 days. The length of this cruise seems to us to be ideal.
Q – We have a rather large, tightly-knit Greek family (so what else is new) and we’re planning to go to the islands in 2016 for a two-week spectacular trip. We thought it best to start now. Of course we’ll have all age groups and some will want to do their own thing. We have some decent financial reserves for this trip and were wondering if you could provide a few ideas we may not have thought of that we could bring to our travel agent.? We will likely number 23.
A – Sure. We’ve planned numerous family gatherings of this kind and we have some specific suggestions: Start with these and have your agent think about including them in your itinerary:
Rent a yacht, preferably in the Cyclades island group, and spend six nights touring the best islands. Nothing will bring the family closer together, the per person cost will be manageable, and the crew will do all the work.
Try to get the family to an authentic wine village where they can join the locals in the harvest celebration while stopping their bare feet to crush grapes for next years wine.
Have the younger folks hike the Samaria Gorge on Crete. The hiking is memorable and the scenery is fantastic.
As a great finish, before flying home from Athens, charter a few helicopters and fly the family above the suspended in air” monasteries in the rock pinnacles of Meteora. Four of these impossible to get to structures still house small, monastic communities.
Do remember that you will want to carefully consider taking over entire restaurants for a party each night of your trip. That will involve a good deal of planning but the results will be well worth it.
You should start planning this trip fourteen months prior to departure.
Q – We have three BMW’s in the garage. For our next trip to Europe, we’d love to have a custom trip arranged where we might drive a Beemer on some of Germany’s best roads, with frequent stops for beer and Brotzeit. We know what we want – we just don’t know how to begin. Awesome site unlike anything we’ve seen on the internet before.
A – Start your vacation in Munich. We would suggest that you, first, fortify yourself at the Hofbrauhaus with a private insider’s tour, then rent a late-model, high-performance BMW and drive some of the great back roads of Bavaria and then head up into the foothills of the Swiss Alps. The scenery will blow you away. And please drive responsibly, which, in Germany, means keep it under 90 on the straightaways.
In terms of beginning, find a travel consultant, not a travel agent, you can trust and inquire about their affiliated offices in Germany. If they don’t have one – move on.
Q – Please don’t use my name but you can say that I am a fairly well-known amateur photographer whose work has appeared in several major publications including AFAR and National Geographic. But I have a day job that finances our photographic journeys. My dream is to take some great photos of Japan’s Mt. Fuji. It seems there are some wonderful lights in the distance if you choose the right spot. Is there any way you might advise us as to where we might go to get the best shot and who we ought to be booking this with to go exactly where we need to go?
A – Nice to meet you. We’ve got several photographers on staff whose work appears on Instagram and Pinterest. We did not know the answer to your question but we have contacts with the best travel specialists in Japan. They recommend that you try to take your pictures from Lake Ashi in Hakone. They promise amazing views with the lighting background we think you are seeking. We would suggest that you plan the trip with someone who is part of one of the best consortium groups such as Virtuoso, Signature, or Ensemble. Inquire about their offices in Japan.
Q – We’re really into traveltruth but we feel you seriously shortchange the Caribbean. There isn’t much objective information about the islands online – they all use the term “paradise” interchangeably. In three months, we’re off to Jamaica on a corporate reward trip including accommodations at Rose Hall. But we keep hearing negatives about the island. How we spin this trip so it is awesome?
A – You could go out to Bob Marley’s house and just inhale for a half hour. But better to play one of Jamaica’s excellent golf courses, go horseback riding on the beach, get set up for a few hours with a picnic lunch on a deserted beach, and definitely go for a ride on the “Country Bus” to meet the real Jamaica. Stay away from anything touristic and make contact with a great travel specialist or the Head Concierge at Rose Hall. Watch yourself at night if going “off-campus” but do dine-around. Here are some recommendations for dinner:
Q – Thank you for the information you give about some of the things you need to be careful about on some of these cruise ships. My 17 year-old daughter has asked me to let her go with a friend on a three-night Royal Caribbean Bahamas cruise. Her friends mother will be going, but she has three other children and is traveling with other family members, so I just don’t see how she would have time to watch out for my daughter. She really wants to go and I am leaning toward letting her. Can I assume the crew will keep an eye on any young people who seem unsupervised? No one in our family has cruised. Please respond as soon as possible.
A – The cruise industry has not, for rather obvious reasons, been interested in discussing crime, particularly crimes of a sexual nature, that take place on the high seas. Crimes aboard cruise ships include rapes of passengers by crew members. An attorney who represents many of the victims of on-board crime, reports that there were 959 crimes at sea reported to the FBI during one 18-month period in 2011 and 2012. Specific allegations regarding NCL, Holland America, and Royal Caribbean and others can be examined on the web site www.cruiselawnews.com.
We urge you, in the strongest terms, not to allow your daughter to travel on a mass market mega-ship unless you, or a member of your immediate family you can trust, accompanies her and provides full-time supervision. Ships with thousands of guests, none of whom has to go through any background screening, serviced by a largely transient crew that is denied basic rights under US labor laws, is a recipe for disaster. The fact that these ships operate in international waters under phony out-of-country registrations of convenience, is even more cause for concern.
It is true that the vast majority of cruises are incident-free. But it is also true that the industry has done everything possible to hide the facts of on-board crime from the public. We just don’t see any travel agent or cruise sites discussing these issues in-depth. Somehow, consumers feel that “you get what you pay for” does not apply to cruise vacations. It does, particularly as concerns crew background, training, and crimes against passengers.
Q – We have always had a desire to sail the world’s largest ship for a week or so. I’ve heard Royal Caribbean and Carnival ships are huge but we literally want to sail the biggest next summer. Can you tell us which ship that would be?
A – The Royal Caribbean Allure of the Seas is, by two inches, the largest vessel currently afloat. She is 225,000 gross tons.
In a rather surprising announcement, Royal Caribbean announced that it is taking the Allure out of the Caribbean next summer and basing the ship in Europe in 2015. This is a hedge bet that they can fill the ship with a mix of guests from the US and Europe. You will be able to do a seven-night itinerary between Civitavecchia (Rome) and Barcelona.
It will be an intimate experience you will share with 5,398 fellow guests. But we suggest you do not walk into a bar and shout “drinks for everyone.”
Q – With all the problems we’ve been reading about involving American Airline’s bankruptcy and this pending deal with US Airways, we are wondering if keeping miles in our Advantage account for a planned major Christmas trip in 2017 is a good idea?
A – The merger with US Air went through last year and American Airlines profits are soaring based on higher ticket prices and relatively low fuel costs. The new AA made profits of $436 million in the 4th quarter of 2013 compared to a loss of $42 million a year earlier. So don’t bet against American.
As to your mileage bank. We recommend storing your miles in one of the better credit card depositories, preferably one that give you a bonus when miles are cashed in. Choose a credit card that allows you to accumulate miles and then, whenever you choose, to have them applied to any major airline. In other words, you only tap into your mileage and transfer miles to the airline when you are about to purchase a mileage ticket. Never let miles languish in an airline frequent flyer account.
By the way, it is highly unlikely you will be able to purchase mileage awards on American for travel over the Christmas Holiday in 2017 or any other year.
Q – I know the airlines can notify you of an assigned gate or change, but is there any single source I can use all of the time to get information without having to trust my airline to update me?
A – There are two apps that are quite good and both have a basic version free. Try Iflyairportguide or gateguru. They will give you security checkpoint times as well as gate assignment at all major domestic and hundreds of airports around the world. If you fly frequently, we would recommend the “Pro” version.
Q – We’ve been listening to the horrific news reports about the virus that got everyone sick on the Royal Caribbean Explorer of the Seas. We have never cruised and are scheduled to take our first stab at cruising this October with two other couples from our church. As luck would have it, we’re booked on the same ship. My husband and I can’t fathom what it must be like to be sick at sea like those poor people and we are thinking about cancelling our cruise. Just how high is the risk of it happening on our cruise? We booked directly with the cruise line and the agent handling our reservation seemed to downplay the incident. We can use a little travel truth.
A - Well, first of all, every traveler is entitled to an honest and straightforward response as regards issues of personal safety and hygiene. When that doesn’t happen, it makes our blood boil.
The 600 or so guests and 95 crew on the Explorer of the Seas were suffering from a “Norovirus”. A norovirus can be passed through contact with a person who has it. It can be passed by drinking or eating an item that is contaminated. It is also possible to get it by just touching an area that has been tainted.
Norovirus outbreaks are common and generally unreported when they happen off cruise ships. They occur in office buildings, stadiums, concert venues, movie theaters, and shopping malls. An outbreak can be triggered by a single carrier and the disease can infect and spread rapidly. The illness usually passes in a few days but it is debilitating and serious when it occurs.
The percentage of norovirus outbreaks is significantly higher on larger cruise lines, particularly those that cater to a mid-range and budget travelers. When you are on a ship carrying several thousand guests, each of whom paid an average of $150 per day for their cruise, logic would dictate that on-board services do not rival those provided aboard ships costing three and four times that amount per day. Personally, when we travel with our families, we avoid mega-liners with thousands of guests. Of course, when we are working on a story or inspecting one of the large ships for our client reports, we try to pack a few quarts of Purell, sani-wipes, and we wash our hands twenty times a day.
If you believe that a budget cruise line provides the same levels of cleanliness and vigorous safety inspections found on a smaller, more expensive, luxury vessel, you are being naïve. But this is an extremely complex subject because it is likely that the virus on the Explorer and most of the other viruses reported on other lines such as Carnival, Princess, and NCL. were brought onboard by guests. So, one could argue, how hard the crew works to keep the ship clean and sanitized is largely irrelevant if an infected guest is coming onboard.
We think you should cancel your cruise. We do not say this because we think you will get ill. In fact, Royal Caribbean has a fairly good record when it comes to issues of sanitation and hygiene. We think you should cancel because you are already experiencing anxiety about a vacation you should be looking forward to with great anticipation. Instead of a floating mini-city, try to find something more intimate and refined for your first cruise experience.
By the way, for the record, we’ve experienced more than 130 cruises and we have far more concerns when visiting indoor shopping malls and movie theaters.
Q – Over the past two years, you have kind of spoiled us with the candor of your responses in the Q&A section of your site. So let me pose a question that may put you on the spot. I have to fly rather frequently to Europe where my company has several factories and storage facilities. Sometimes I fly United, sometimes American, etc. I have no loyalty and earn miles with everyone. But I’m wondering which of the major US airlines now has the best overall service in Business Class across the pond? If you don’t wish to answer we’ll still follow traveltruth.
A -No worries. Delta has the best current overseas onboard service to Europe in Business Class of the three major US carriers. But we would advise that you not make too much of the service variations, instead, it would be wise to concentrate on the type of aircraft and whether or not the beds are true Lie-flats. The 777 is a far better comfort option than the 767.
Q – Interesting and honest responses to other questions lead me to ask you if you know of any services that will make my life easier as I travel the world and frequently have to call in from abroad? I would also like to video conference from time to time. As a CFO in the pharmacology field, I need to set an example in terms of frugality so Io guess I’m asking what is the best way to keep in touch on the cheap? But it has to work.
A – There are now multiple options for keeping in touch on a wide variety of platforms. But here is a quick summary you may wish to discuss with your IT people:
01 – If you spend time in a single country, a separate cell phone with a local sim card works best.
02 – If you travel all over there are services such as Telestial.com that deliver a phone package that works in more than 100 countries at substantially lower rates than you would pay with an American carrier.
03 – Don’t discount SKYPE. It keeps getting better because WIFI is available nearly everywhere and you can video conference for an amazingly low price.
Q – We worked with an agent who was in the Virtuoso Consortium for many years. We now have a new agent who is in something called Signature. Meanwhile, our best friends use someone connected to Vacations.com who just got them a wonderful upgrade at the Hyatt in New York. Each of these groups seems to get their members hotel upgrades and cruise deals etc. What are the real, if any, differences? It is all pretty confusing and I understand it has something to do with commissions.
A – Each of these organizations is respected and each strives to design amenities for its guests. Signature and Virtuoso tend to do more high-end business than Vacation.com, which is the largest agent consortium. Signature is owned by its agent members, Virtuoso is a privately held for-profit corporation. Generally speaking, we would say stay with your Signature agent if you are happy. Working with a top-flight professional is likely to be a more significant choice than which consortium they personally support. Every one of the more than a dozen major consortium groups tries to secure the best commissions for their members.
There is one caveat. If you do high-end, private touring, and you rely on working with the very best overseas office contacts through your agent, Virtuoso and Signature are the better choices.
Q – We are on a Crystal cruise to Malaysia and Singapore that stops for the day at Port Blair, in the Andaman Islands, which technically belong to India. We just learned it will cost is $334 and a whole lot of paperwork, plus sending our passports to the Indian embassy, in order to get cleared to go ashore. Is it worth it?
A – No.
Q – We are mid-town Manhattan Foodies, quite used to choosing from America’s best restaurants, many with world-famous chefs. We are considering our first experience at sea and friends tell us they’ve read that Oceania has the best food. We shop at Zabar’s and we dine at Le Bernadin at least once a month, if that tells you anything. Will we be disappointed if we choose to sail on the Marina?
A – Well, since you’re from New York City, we are going to assume you may be disappointed in everything. But putting that cultural characteristic aside, we think you might be able to squeeze out a fine experience aboard the Marina. Jacques Pepin is the line’s supervising chef. His namesake restaurant features Coquilles St. Jacques and a delicate Dover Sole. La Reserve serves small group chef’s choice dinners with course-by-course wine pairings. And Red Ginger does relatively authentic Pan-Asian with an emphasis on Malaysian cuisine such as Penang Beef Curry. So yes, you can dine quite well on an Oceania ship.
Do they have the best food at sea? On any given night the answer can be yes but we would rate Crystal higher. But the Marina or the Riviera are the proper choice for foodies, partially because the ship features a dedicated Culinary Center with 24 work stations, countertop grills, and gas burners. Guests can take featured culinary shore excursions, purchase goods ashore, and come back to cook them onboard.
But you may find that getting in to one of Manhattan’s top restaurants is a tad easier than assuring yourself dining reservations at the Marina’s smallish specialty restaurants. Make certain you are able to deal with this frustration before you sign up, along with some other lifestyle sacrifices you will need to make when you cruise. Is it all worth it? Just remember that 94.6% of first-time cruisers repeat the experience within 24 months.
Q – Having just received my retirement “papers”, my wife and I are off to see the world for the next twenty years. That is of fate, my knee joints, and arthritis, all permit it. The few trips that we’ve done abroad were a mixed bag, and we found that so much is determined by the quality of the guide. Love this site and but we’ve never heard you address this issue. Do you get better guides on escorted tours or when you pay for more deluxe private arrangements.
A – Excellent question. Generally speaking, you will get the very best guides on a higher-end escorted group tour. Here’s why: Almost all guides are contracted. If they can secure work with a well-known tour operator who is going to be doing multiple departures of the same tour, they can depend on a full season of work. Most of the better guides prefer looking after groups because the tips they receive from a happy bus load of guests can be many times greater than the tips they would receive from just one couple.
There is, of course, another view. Some of the better tour guides think it is below them to escort groups of folks and to play to an “audience”. It is sort of like bragging to your friends that you just had a great dinner at Applebee’s. Guides love to brag to other guides that they just showed Justin Timberlake around the Medina. They prefer customizing their commentary and really getting to know one or two couples at a time. The best guides can receive both salary and tips and the very best book up months in advance and can get you around crowds and bureaucracy.
If you would like the best possible, genial overview, we think one of the guides associated with one of the Top Ten rated escorted tour firms will best meet your needs. If you detest crowds and have a particular sightseeing agenda, private guides can absolutely make a trip exceed your expectations. o note that every escorted tour member evaluates their guide in writing. The bad ones are quickly weeded out, a comforting thought given your investment. Have a wonderful retirement.
Q – Now that the Iranians have promised not to build nukes and the Syrians are dismantling their nerve gas depots, it is time for a family cruise to Israel we’ve been putting off for close to 20 years. We’re not worried, if you’re not worried, about taking our teens, 15 and 17, to Israel on a cruise this summer. Before we start our search, please tell us what we should be looking for in terms of ports in Israel. It appears there are several places a ship can stop and we want to see as much as possible.
So first, would you bring your children to Israel right now and what port is the best for a family that wants the best bang for the buck?
A - Actually, you might want to consider taking your kids to Israel and leaving them there for a few years. They will find an absolutely lovely country carved out of the desert, with history, great schools, a serious culinary environment, and a people dedicated to squeezing every moment out of each sun-drenched day. Of course you should go – you should not have waited this long. Travel in Israel is far safer than in many areas of the US and the Israelis are better drivers. As driving accidents are the most serious danger in virtually any country you visit, the statistics on Israel are quite good. By the way, Tel Aviv, is a hip, beautiful city, with an incredible night life that attracts travelers from all over the world.
There really are two major ports in Israel. Ashdod is on the West Coast, in the middle of the country within driving distance of Jerusalem and the Dead Sea on the eastern border. Tel Aviv is north of the port, along the coast.
The second port in Israel is Haifa which is in the northern portion of the west coast. The Golan Heights are due east on the other coast. Haifa is an easy ride to Nazareth.
The bottom line is that Ashdod is the preferred port.
Q – We are really excited to be going on one of the first scheduled tours to Cuba. We just signed up but we had two immediate questions. Will our iPhone work in Cuba and what do we do with our Passport? Will we be carrying it with us?
A – You will be able to use your iPhone and you will not need a converter. Service people in the hotel or even in restaurants will be able to charge the hone for you, if necessary, Carry at least one full copy of the picture pages of your passport with you, including photos copies stored on your phone. You will leave your passport in the hotel safe. All Cuba “People to People” Tour Operators provide full documentation as your departure approaches. No worries. Just expect a more-or-less regimented tour experience led by a “true believer.” One important cultural note: Duck Dynasty is now quite popular in Cuba, and if you get cable in your hotel, highly likely, you will be able to watch Uncle Si dubbed in Spanish.
Q - We are going to be attending a conference in London next month and we’re trying to figure out whether we should be booking our air on American or United out of Chicago. The seating in Business Class is really important to us and we are wondering which of these has beds that will allow us to stretch out? It looks like we will be flying a 777 on United or a 767 on American. Are the beds all the same?
A – We were in a great mood here until you asked about airline seating. It is a rather upsetting topic because they are definitely not the same. There are no industry rules or even “norms”. Airlines buy a “shell aircraft” and then customize it with seating that meets their needs. Financial needs almost always come ahead of aesthetic needs. When flying, you can analyze exactly what your seating options are going to be. We keep a book on our desks that we constantly update with seating stats on every aircraft operated by every one of the world’s important airlines. It is currently 47 pages.
The American 767-300 offers a seat width of only 18.5 inches. We would expect that in coach – not Business Class. The aircraft does not have lie flat beds. American has equipped this aircraft with Angle Lie Flat beds. That is a big difference. On any flight over five hours, we think you should look for true, 360 degree horizontal, lie-flat seats. Frequent travelers report that angled beds that do not allow them to lie flat, as you would at home, are far less desirable than true “Lie flats”. Airline marketing lingo tries to confuse the consumer as each seat has “Lie Flat” in its nomenclature. The question you need to ask is “true lie flat or angled lie flat seat?”
The United 777 200 Series will give you true Lie-flat beds plus 20 inches of seat width. But beware, one version of the United 777, the V3 model, has Recliner Seats in Business and doesn’t even have beds. On your routing, however, you will have better seating on United in Business Class.
One caveat. If you are flying American overseas on a 777-300 ER Series aircraft, you will have true Lie-flat seats as well as 26 inches of seat width, clearly preferable to United’s configuration. So it all boils down to the exact type of aircraft you are flying.
One more – final caveat. Our experience tells us that airline reservation agents are not always a good source of accurate information about seating details. Do not try to get comparative seating statistics directly from the airlines.
Q – Our family of five is booked on a Crystal Cruise to New England and Canada in top suites in Mid-October. We booked this cruise largely based on the traveltruth ratings, the most honest we’ve found. But given our substantial investment for two doubles and a single all upper decks, I am concerned about my lack of ability to cancel close in should a hurricane be forecast. Two questions – how likely is this possibility during mid-October and how do I best protect my investment?
A – Long-term weather prognostication is a dying art. There are just too many exceptions to the old weather rules since we’ve started to see the effects of major weather pattern changes (our conspiracy nutjob readers hate it when we say “global warming”) Theoretically you should be safe cruising the coast of the Atlantic in Mid-October. But storms are possible. You can protect your investment by taking out one of the “cancel for any reason” riders offered through your consultant from Travelex or TravelGuard, two of the better travel insurers.