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 be affected. But we would suggest you not change your flight schedule but do consider cancelling the three nights in Athens and, instead, connecting on a short flight to one of the lovelier islands for your three-night stay. (Perhaps fly into Rhodes and stay on Simi, or visit Lesbos or Patmos) Then on the day the cruise departs, book an early flight back into Athens and have a driver meet you for a visit to the Acropolis, the Plaka District, and any of the riot sites you care to visit. You won’t need to be at the ship until 3:00 pm. This will really maximize your enjoyment of this vacation without the need for major trip renovations.
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 sailing?
If we take the QM2 we would want a decent stateroom (Queens Grill category.) I haven’t really seen much on Traveltruth regarding the QM2 so your advice is, as always, my first choice.
Please let me know regarding this possible itinerary and whether Italy or Spain would be a better choice for December.
A – Thanks so much. Pretty straightforward.
You don’t want to be in the middle of the Atlantic in December in any class of service. We think it could be more of an adventure than you both require in your lives.
December is difficult – Spain would be marginally better than Italy but the weather will not be very different than, say, the Washington D.C. area at that time of year. We would think you might think more about someplace like St. Petersburg, Russia or Stockholm, where the winter weather could be fun.
To save some money and have a good experience, you might want to look at one of the Christmas Market river boat cruises in December to Germany. We love the experience but it helps if you would enjoy the beer and sausages.
When we think of December travel you could use your miles and be in prime season in:
The Orient/Southeast Asia
Portions of Africa
The crossings are wonder but we think that is a bucket list item that should be checked off in prime season.
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 Traveler – 866 – 700 – 3883. A human being will answer the phone. . They will ask what countries you are going to be visiting and what your needs are and they will overnight you the proper phone with sim card, along with detailed instructions. You don’t need to purchase a phone – just rent one for the length of your trip that will work in the countries you are visiting. Wireless Traveler will take care of all details.
02 – As an alternative, AT&T and Verizon rent overseas equipped phones to their customers. But you would need to have a nearby office for convenience.
03 – You will significantly better connections on land than you will have at sea so I would plan for that eventuality.
04 – If you have a serious need to be in telephone communication while aboard the ship, do seriously consider renting a satellite phone from Wireless Traveler. They are bulky but they always work as long as you are on a deck, outdoors aboard ship.
05 – Your current phones will not work abroad because they lack the proper Sim cards so one of the above steps is required.
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 back and point out that truly knowledgeable wine connoisseurs never taste a wine. Taste is a very personal thing. It tells you nothing important about the wine except whether or not, on that day, at that time, your friend likes it.
When a wine steward presents a bottle of wine the proper response historically is to simply sniff the cork to determine if the wine is spoiled or rancid.
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.
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.
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.
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 lines via a formal VIP upgrade request process. This requires your agent to provide biographical information to the cruise lines sales department. The request then goes to the dispatch supervisor for your particular ship. VIP status is generally granted to individuals with significant accomplishments of a level sufficient for them to be considered “influential”. Cruise lines like to upgrade those they feel are in a position to influence large groups to book their ships.
Your friends likely received an automatic booking upgrade, a technique used on larger, mass market lines. Under these programs, nearly everyone booking during a certain timeframe is given a complimentary upgrade. This is in lieu of an additional booking discount. It actually saves the cruise line money versus more typical booking incentive cash offers.
Finally, be aware that on the luxury end of the cruise market, top-end suites are often the first to sell out. Every cruise revenue yield executive assumes that guests talk about pricing issues. They are very careful to avoid alienating those who have committed early to pay the extra cost of top accommodations.
Our advice: Choose your agent on the basis of who they are and their likely clout should there ever be a problem. Most of what is written about upgrades is nonsense.
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 ate had been prepared on the ship using fresh, unprocessed ingredients.” Go with an open attitude and we think you will be fine. Besides, good tablemates are half the battle.
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 your flight will be about the same length of time as thirty episodes of SpongeBob Squarepants.
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 connected by using Google Translator to follow some of the more reliable Italian newspapers.
What we always suggest to queries like this is that you look at things dispassionately. Statistics clearly demonstrate that your drive on a US Highway to your departure airport is far more likely to kill you than any action by a terrorist cell abroad. The economy of Italy cannot afford to have its tourism flow interrupted at this time. You will see extremely strong security measures put into place that may be comforting to some visitors. Others may be put off by it. This is a very personal decision but we can tell you that yours is the first question we have received on this topic.
We pour over security advisories from time to time and one can always make a good case for hiding under the bed and spending this life watching others live on TV. Real travelers will never succumb to threats regarding their ability to explore this incredible planet.
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 three nights to the city.
Your agent should be able to request these reservations through her contacts handling operations for your trip within Spain. They will have much better luck then you would calling as a US tourist. You may get into one of these, possibly two, but you won’t get into all of them as they tend to book up at least six months in advance. Your agent is going to have to pull some strings. If that doesn’t work out, there may be an Outback in Madrid.
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 latest, smartest technology in your pocket, forget about your travel agent and download an App. called Hopper.
This new App., available currently on Apple products, tells you when you should book a ticket to a specific destination and how to get the best fare. You can see average prices by month and the app. has a notification feature if the price of your ticket spirals downward. There is money behind this project and the company is not shy about claiming that downloading its product is “like having a “super-fast, all-knowing travel agent in your pocket.”. From what we’ve seen, the claim has merit.
We are waiting for one of our technology guru clients to partner with us on an app design. But, quite frankly, we’d rather you read us on a larger screen. Smartphones are simply a ploy by optometrists to develop more patients.
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 doesn’t work that way. Sleep is very much an independent, single event similar to pulling the handle on a slot machine in Vegas. What happened before has no impact on the event.
Virtually all of the major hotel chains have now gotten into the bedding business. For some, like the Four Season and Ritz Carlton brands, it has become a profitable side business. Our recommendation is to pass on the bed and use the hotels for their specially constructed pillows and duvets.
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 vast majority of hotel chains do not change bedspreads or duvets regularly. The norm is to change them four times per year.
In most chain hotels in the mid-range to low price category, sheets are not changed automatically each evening. Housekeepers are taught to “eyeball” the bedding, only making changes when they deem it necessary. The number of pieces maids assign for cleaning is carefully monitored.
Multi-colored bedspreads and duvets are generally a tell-tale sign that the hotel is trying to hide dirt and stains. Hotels that clean duvets after each guest stay like The Ritz Carlson, the Peninsula, and the Four Seasons chain, automatically clean all duvets and bed covers after each guest checks out.
Sometimes hotel chains maintain stricter cleaning standards at their higher-end brands. Marriott guarantees its covers are changed between guests at its JW Marriott and Renaissance hotels.
Large three and four-star chains such as Hilton, Sheraton, and Westin ask maids to “look carefully” at bedding each day, removing bedding for cleaning where necessary.
Some hotel chains, according to Travel + Leisure magazine’s Peter Jon Lindberg, do a regularly scheduled “Deep Cleaning” of each guest room on a regular basis. For the majority of hotels in the United States, a “deep cleaning” takes place every three months.
When questioned about their bedding cleaning practices, most hotels respond that they clean their bedding on an “as needed” basis.
Many countries have a higher standard of living than the United States and that tends to translate to higher hotel room cleaning standards. But hotel bedding in underdeveloped countries may have lower standards. Sometimes, as in most of southern Africa, the availability of inexpensive labor and the lower cost of laundering services, combine to elevate room service standards.
The fact, that no one can ever put in print, is that five-star hotels tend to attract a clientele that has better personal hygiene practices. Every blue light test by investigative reporters in hotels around the country has produced unusually high percentages of toxic materials and insect-borne bacteria. The best defense against getting ill is to stay at the very best hotel that you can afford and to know their cleaning practices before checking in.
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 likely to be high because any advertised or available onside pricing is, essentially, being offered to the general public. Hotels do not want their rooms sold online so they routinely require high cancellation policies and assign online bookers some of the worst rooms in their inventory. Hotels want you to book with them directly but they have to offer the same pricing to anyone who contacts them. They cannot offer pricing that will alienate their regular guests.
The bottom line is that anytime anyone quotes you a hotel price, online or offline, you can be pretty certain you are not getting the best price. The best hotel prices are secret, they are never shown to the guest. These room prices are called “Contracted Rates” and tour operators in the country where you hotel is located have negotiated special pricing available through the tour operator or wholesaler. So when you visit Spain and you have arranged a complete itinerary using a Spain-based tour operator, through your travel consultant, you will receive your itinerary with the hotels and it will all have one price. The confidential rates, lower than what you could ever find elsewhere, are incorporated into the itinerary. In that way the hotel fills lots of rooms at the lowest possible price without upsetting the majority of guests who did not book through an in-country wholesaler and, consequently, paid more for their room.
Sorry for the long explanation, but your question required it. Bottom Line: If you actually know the price of your room and have seen it in writing, you are likely paying more than you should.
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 flight attendants requested that the owner clean the floor before they continued boarding. That resulted in the woman, with her pig, departing the plane. We can’t make this stuff up.
New Department of Transportation regulations instruct airlines to accommodate pre-approved animals that provide “emotional support” to be boarded in the passenger compartment following recommended guidelines.
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 Ted Baker. There are often delays coming into Heathrow. Believe us, the time will pass quickly.
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 popular US routes. They tested nine major airlines over a period of several months. They found major differences between the carriers.
Delta claims it offers more Frequent Flyer seats in its ads. In fact, the Consumer Reports testing indicates that claim is accurate. Southwest was in second place.
The airlines requiring the most miles with the highest fees were Spirit Airlines and US Airways.
Additional advice from Consumer Reports: Book your mileage seats as early as you can. If you can’t find what you want by going online or by speaking with an airlines reservations agent, contact the “Frequent-Flyer Service Desk”. Every major airline has one.
Q – Do you happen to know which country has the most travelers, meaning residents who travel abroad. The question came up over dinner last night and the answers ranged from the United States, France, and England. Also wondering why you no lo longer answer questions about restaurants. We used to find that part of traveltruth really interesting.
A – In the case of England and France, those are good guesses if you are considering the percentage of citizens who leave the country each year on vacation. Given that only 29% of Americans have a passport, we’re near the bottom of the list of industrialized countries in terms of overseas travel. The answer is that China now sends more citizens abroad than any other nation. Bloomberg BusinessWeek estimates that a staggering 116 million Chinese tourists will travel abroad this year and they will spend upwards of $155 billion.
Perhaps most amazing is the fact that this represents a one year growth rate of 20% among Chinese who leave the country for vacation, making the Chinese the most significant tourism market on earth.
There has been no deliberate attempt to devote less coverage to worldwide restaurant recommendations. We respond to questions asked of us. We think that some of the better consumer travel magazines such as AFAR, Travel + Leisure and Conde Nast Traveler are doing a much better job of late featuring hot, new restaurants within their area of coverage. Some of the best restaurant advice can be curated from the blogs of the better Concierge teams at top-rated hotels.
Q – After only a decade of talking about it, my procrastinating husband has finally agreed to take me on a crossing to or from Europe next year. Wait until he finds out he won’t be able to get ESPN on the ship. We want the best itinerary and ship and we’d love to have as many ports as possible. The world’s champion Pitt fan is retired now, so we can go anytime and we figure we can be away for about two weeks. Is there one particular sailing you would recommend?
A – Our favorite crossing in 2015 is going to be aboard the Crystal Symphony on August 30th from Amsterdam to New York City. This is before the Atlantic hurricane season on a five-star inclusive ship that can handle rough seas well. The 13-Night itinerary includes stops in Edinburgh (overnight), the Shetland Islands, the Farce Islands (Denmark), an overnight in wonderful Reykjavik, Iceland, and Nova Scotia. You can get an outside stateroom at heavily discounted pricing below $5,000 per person.
Q – We were directed to your site by another site. Looking for a ship or a company that supposedly will take you to Antarctica on an actual sailing boat. We can’t seem to find any information on this program and wondering if you could point us in the right direction. My wife and I are in our early fifties, we’re sailors, and we always select the most adventurous way to see a place. I think that doing Drake’s Passage on a sailboat would be just awesome.
A – This is a wild one but it does exist. Have your travel agent contact Natural Habitat Adventures. They have been using the 75-foot Australis, a true sailing vessel that is equipped for polar ice. The 17-Day trip normally goes out with eight passengers from Ushuaia down the Beagle Channel, along the coast of Argentina and then across the Drake Passage to the coast of Antarctica. There will be an on-board biologist and, if weather cooperates, you will be camping on absolutely deserted beaches. They charged $22,995 per person the last time they operated this voyage and that was not for the top accommodation. This is easily a $50,000 + adventure.
Q – We’ve got a situation where I have over a million miles on United and I will lose some of them if I don’t use them. My wife and I are sushi-lovers so we thought we’d do a fast round-trip from LAX for about a week of doing for lunch and dinner. We hope to take an advanced Sushi course so we have a real appreciation of this kind of dining when we return to Santa Monica. You seem tuned in to the best restaurants. What restaurants should we definitely include?
A – Ryugin is terrific and quite a modern take on classic sushi. Sukiyabashi Jiro is an incredible spot in the Ginza district made famous by the documentary “Jiro Dreams of Sushi.” and we think you should include Sushi Nakamara, considered by many experts to be the best in the city even though it is nearly impossible to find with zero signage.
Q – We’ve been covering your site for some time and readily subscribe to most of your views. But you have been extremely cautious about even mentioning Ebola even though you must know it is on everyone’s mind. The reaction of our hospitals and our government’s confusion about how to protect us at home, must have an influence on Americans traveling abroad. Why haven’t you addressed this? Afraid people won’t travel if you do?
A – Actually, if you truly follow traveltruth you will note that our position has generally been that one should not travel if concerns about your vacation are serious enough to detract from your enjoyment of the trip. The travel industry, to date, reports very few cancellations by Americans traveling abroad. Travel from the US mainland to the west coast of Africa has not been very significant in the best of times.
Much of the news, and we think you might find better sources for your news than this travel site, concerns Americans paranoia regarding Ebola’s arrival in the US and the closing of our borders. One fact we think is worth noting: To date, more Americans have been married to Kim Kardashian than have died from Ebola. In fact, three times as many.
Q – What a neat site. It’s like talking with a friend, perhaps a friend in the business. We’ve done some nice cruising but we’ve left our 17 year-old daughter and 14 year-old son back home with relatives. We are looking at a Seabourn European cruise to Greece next summer and wondering if we should bring the kids. Is there anything to do aboard the ship, particularly the Quest.
A – Thank you. You make our hearts soar like that of an eagle. We are less worried about the kids than we are about you and Dad. How will you feel when a bunch of rich, retirees, stare at the kids as though aliens have suddenly appeared in the dining room? If your kids are polite and well-behaved, there will be few issues. You are going to be off the ship pretty much all day. If you are traveling in the summer, there could conceivably be other aliens aboard the Quest.
If the kids are willing to dress properly, and if they would enjoy using the water sports marina at the back of the ship, it could be a win-win. But there will be stares. Some grumpy folks go on cruises choosing lines like Seabourn specifically because they offer no kids programs and cater to adults.
It is hard to be more specific without knowing your children well.
Q – If I might put forward a question: when staying in a hotel arranged by the tour operator as part of the itinerary, are personal gratuities to hotel staff employees redundant? We realize that one can never give too much & have been generous, but remain uncertain as to proper & expected protocol. This isn’t a topic addressed by the tour operators themselves.
A – This tour tipping confusion is really quite common and we are very grateful you asked about it. Many tips are not included on upper-end tour programs as really exclusive travel firms like to discuss the fact that “tipping is a truly personal …..” Well that’s nice, but the real point is that the last thing a tour operator wishes to do is tell you about additional fees that are not included.
Tour companies vary in their policies. In terms of hotels, we would recommend that you assume that baggage handling, meaning tips to valet staff that bring bags to your room, is included. All other hotel services are generally not included in the tour price so tipping is advised. Your travel professional should give you a list of recommended tips. This information should be included in your documents. Pay little attention to what the tour operator materials say. Have your personal consultant brief you.
As we’ve mentioned on traveltruth elsewhere, the people who are most overlooked by Americans are those who need your tips the most – the hotel maids who clean the rooms including, ugghh, the TV remotes and the bathroom. An envelope with a note of thanks and a $5 to $10 per night tip in local currency is doing the right thing “traveltruth style”. You will likely be supporting a family that really needs help.
Q – We are booked on a tour that will concentrate on the history of Persia (Iran). Yesterday, my local newspaper announced that several women have been attached by having acid thrown in their face for not dressing in the proper Islamic fundamentalist manner. The trip is in three weeks and we are seriously thinking of cancelling. What does your staff think we should do? Appreciate any help with this.
A – Clearly travel to Iran has its inherent risks. Eight women were harmed in the acid attacks, 1 of them died and several were blinded. They were all in or driving cars and had stopped to make a phone call or drop a friend off and two men came by on a motorcycle and threw the acid.
If it was us, we would still go… but we would stay with the group and keep our wits about us. The risk in and around hotels which cater to westerners and tourist sites are not being targeted. They will be traveling by bus, so the MO of the attackers would not be possible – plus authorities believe they have the assailants in custody.
The US and Australia have not posted travel warnings other than to say stay away from the borders with Afghanistan and Iraq. The UK’s language is stronger, but refers more to UK nationals being arrested in Iran for political reasons.
Likely, these resent attacks are the result of a new piece of legislation coming down on morality police/militias as the new regime tries to move in a more secular direction.
But please note our fundamental (oops sorry – perhaps the wrong term) feeling that if you are truly fearful about a trip you should cancel it immediately. A vacation ought to be something you look forward to, not a game of Survivor.
Q – We have been debating cancelling our planned trip to South Africa next August. We read the comments from the fellow whose wife is spooked – you advised them to cancel their trip. But I am sure many of your followers would like a simple, up-to-date summary of where the Ebola problem stands in terms of future travel to Africa. We are from Manhattan and we don’t scare easily. And my wife is even more anxious to go than I am.
A – We are not going to give you the same advise we offered to the gentleman whose wife had real concerns about their trip. We think the following summary from Abercrombie & Kent summarizes the situation quite well:
Every situation, every traveler, is unique. The ground operators in Africa will, of course, try to put the best face on it. But the facts speak for themselves. How interesting that Nigeria has eradicated the disease, but we’ve had two cases in the United States. Our problem is that many low-income individuals use local clinics or small rural hospitals in the United States. They are less well-trained in the handling of a serious epidemic than big city hospital centers with close ties to the CDC. People feel they want to run away from “Ebola” to be safe. The fact is that the United States does not qualify for the list of the world’s safest places – not even close. Other than “travel paranoia”, a disease you have not yet caught, we can;’t come up with a single good reason to cancel your upcoming trip.