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Travel Q&A



WHAT DO WE REALLY NEED TO KNOW ABOUT ZIKA. WE ARE HEADED TO SAN JUAN FOR A WEEK IN TWO MONTHS FOR A LONG-PLANNED VACATION.

Zika CDC Travel AlertAs of February 10, 2016 – this is the best summary we’ve found of information travelers need to know: (Source: Edward Hospital, Naperville, Illinois)

UPDATE: The Illinois Department of Public Health (IDPH) has advised that, while the primary mode of transmission for Zika virus is from the bite of an infected mosquito, there are at least three cases of possible sexual transmission of Zika virus.

According to the CDC:Zika 3

  • Sexual transmission of Zika virus from infected women to sex partners has not been reported.
  • We do not know how long Zika virus remains in semen.
  • Men who live in, or have traveled to, an area where Zika virus transmission is ongoing and who have a pregnant partner should not participate in sexual activity or should consistently and correctly use condoms during sex throughout the pregnancy.
  • At this time, the CDC does not recommend testing men to determine the risk of sexual transmission of Zika virus.
  • The IDPH recommends doctors offer to test pregnant women who are not showing any symptoms of Zika virus infection within 2-12 weeks after they have returned from travel to affected countries.

When a virus with the potential to cause serious complications starts to spread, especially one that’s not familiar, it can be unnerving.

Zika virus is one of those. Most of the time, people contract the virus through mosquito bites. According to the Centers for Disease Control, the most common symptoms of Zika virus disease are fever, rash, joint pain, and conjunctivitis (red eyes). People with this illness are not usually very sick, and symptoms disappear after several days to a week.

However, Zika virus may cause some sobering problems, such as Guillain-Barre syndrome and birth defects.

Zika virus has been on the radar for some time. It was first isolated from a monkey in Zika forest in Uganda in 1947. In May 2015, The Pan American Health Organization issued an alert about a Zika infection in Brazil.

Recently, the World Health Organization announced the Zika virus was a public health emergency of international concern. In a statement on its website, the organization said the best ways to prevent the spread of the virus “are the control of mosquito populations and the prevention of mosquito bites in at-risk individuals, especially pregnant women.”

The American Red Cross has asked people to hold off on donating blood for 28 days if they’ve been to a Zika-infected area.

One thing that isn’t a concern in the Midwest in February: mosquitoes. However, warm weather is coming and knowledge is a powerful prevention tool. Here are some important facts about Zika virus:

Who is at risk for contracting Zika virus? 

Most people in the United States will not come into contact with the Zika virus, as pointed out by CDC Director Tom Frieden in an article by CNN. The people who should be most concerned are people living in Puerto Rico, the U.S. Virgin Islands, Caribbean or Pacific territories, and Central and South America.

Because the Zika virus may cause birth defects, the CDC has warned pregnant women to avoid those areas, and if they’re there, to take steps to prevent mosquito bites. If you are a woman who is planning to conceive and may have recently traveled to the affected areas or plan to travel to the areas, please contact your OB/GYN physician for recommendations.

How do you get Zika virus? 

Mosquitoes are the primary vehicle. While the virus is mainly transmitted by mosquitoes, it can also spread through sexual contact, blood transfusions and (rarely) from mother to child during birth.

How do you protect yourself from Zika virus? 

There is no vaccine available to prevent Zika from infecting us, so protecting yourself from mosquitoes is your best defense. If you’re in a high-alert location, wear long-sleeved shirts, long pants and insect repellant.

What happens if you contract Zika virus?

The CDC reports that 1 in 5 people who are infected with Zika will get sick. If that happens, you just treat yourself as if you have a flu virus: rest, fluids, pain reliever/fever reducer.

What if I have a vacation planned? 

Think before you book that trip. Check the CDC’s Zika Travel Information.

Now, before you do check, remember that US governmental agencies tend to be ultra-conservative when warning Americans about terrorism or health-related travel.

IS THERE A NON-TOURISTY TEMPLE OF GASTRONOMY IN VENICE, ITALY?

Osteria Alle Testiere 2Q – Love the site but really wish you would include more unbiased recommendations for restaurants. I am not sure that some of the “critics” are willing to pay for fine dining on vacation.

We will be in Venice in July. We’re working with a fine agent but she does not seem to have any interest in recommending an excellent restaurant in the city. Can you point us in the right direction for a non-tourist restaurant that might result in a truly memorable meal? Also wondering best way to book it. Do we just go online?

Venice Osteria Alle Testiere 1A –  Venice is a tough food city because it is so easy for the owners/chefs to simply cater to tourists and fill their seats each night. But there are several excellent restaurants, some of them new, that cater to locals as well as the sizeable number of Italians from “the provinces.”

The current best restaurant in Venice is Osteria Alle Testiere on Calle Del Mondo Novo.  There are only nice tables and two seatings each night. Chef Bruno Gavagnin’s fresh local fare has impressed food critics worldwide – at least those that can score a table.

Venice All ArcoThe best way to get a reservation at a top-level restaurant is to have your agent use her On-Site Italy office, the same ones doing your trip operations, to secure the reservation. Local offices in Italy that work with the major consortiums have local contacts that can get you otherwise impossible reservations. Do note that, as a rule, most gourmet restaurants in Europe have little interest in increasing their number of American diners.

Venice La Zucca  AXLet us recommended several other top tables in Venice. We swear by each of these:

La Zucca

Da Ivo

Da Fiore

All Arco

ANY HOTEL RECOMMENDATION IN INDIA’S GOLDEN TRIANGLE?

India  ITC Grand Bharat Hotel   BQ –  We’re planning a getaway to India and want to stay for a few days in the area of the Golden Triangle so we can take day trips to both Agra and Jaipur. From there, we really want to do one, or possibly two, of the best luxury trains within the country. Can you please recommend a hotel for us in the Triangle and one or two of your personal favorite train experiences in-country?  Thank you in advance. This is rapidly becoming our favorite travel site and so nice that we are not bombarded with phony deals and come-ons.

A – Have your agent book you into the ITC Grand Bharat, a 100-room masterpiece located in Gurgaon, just between both Agra and Jaipur. THis is an elegant resort with fine services and our general philosophy when it comes to India hotels is “always book the most expensive property.” The rates are high only when they can be justified and demand is great. Don’t do four-star in India. Given all that, you can still book a room here for under $400 per night.

In terms of trains, there are several excellent options. Make certain that your consultants works with one of the two or three top Indian train specialists on earth, hopefully someone based in London or India.

India Palace-On-WheelsThe Palace on Wheels has 14 salons named after the provinces of Rajasthan and is considered one of the world’s top five luxury trains. It features two restaurants, a spa,internet, live music, and good security. It travels cross-country so you may not find matching dates and a trip length and suits your needs.

India The-Maharajas-ExpressThe Maharajas Express is the most expensive, most costly, and, some would say, the most luxurious of India’s top trains. It offers several itineraries including a hugely popular trip between Delhi and Mumbai. Think direct dial TV, internet, individual temperature controls that actually work, and in-suite bathrooms.

You might also consider the Royal Rajasthan on Wheels a luxury train that visits important destinations in Rajasthan and Agra.

India The-Golden-Chariot

These luxury trains offer one week programs to India’s southern provinces round-trip out of Bangalore. We do want to caution you about trying to do this kind of trip without having a travel advocate to coordinate.

WHO DO I CALL TO DO A TOP-TIER FAMILY TRIP TO MEXICO WITH OUR TWO BOYS?

Mexico Cenotes 2Q – We are committed to taking our two boys, ages 11 and 13, on a family tour that will take us from Mexico City to the Mexican Riviera with a fair amount of time in central Mexico. We certainly would not drive and we would want to be in the hands of the best drivers and guides. We’re looking for something private – not interested in group tours at all. I’ve been all over the internet and ended up more confused than enlightened. How do we go about getting this done so it is an incredible experience. Could you help us?

A – We can – but so can any of the better professional travel consultants located in your area. There is a great deal in Mexico that appeals to high-end families who have the good sense to bring their kids to the country. Think about the kids swimming in cenotes, or natural wells, or the family doing a private boat ride through the Celestun Biosphere Reserve. In Mexico city, kids love to be taken to one or two of the better churros shops.

Work through your travel consultant. They may have a relationship with Journey Mexico or Artisans of Leisure. These excellent companies specialize in working with your consultant to create truly customized vacation programs. Our feeling is that these are the only two options you should consider – they are that good. We might also suggest that you re-think including the Mexican Riviera. The boys can always go to a resort on another trip – seek out the hidden Mexico and you may well have your expectations exceeded. Interview your consultant before committing to work with them to make certain they are aware of one or both of these Mexico specialists.

YOU’VE SCARED US: SHOULD WE AVOID THE CARIBBEAN

Q –   This Zika thing is scary, especially since we’re scheduled to spend the week  at the Four Seasons Nevis, one of our favorite resorts, a place we’ve enjoyed a half dozen times in the past. My wife and I are in our fifties and forties (you can guess which is which) and, unless I am totally clueless, I don’t think my wife wants to go beyond our current three children. If she is pregnant, our marriage is in trouble.  Given all of that should we still give pause? Any updates since your initial entry on this subject? 

A –  The update would be that while the disease is approaching epidemic proportions, the risk factors are clearly limited to pregnant women and those who intend to become pregnant. The vast majority of travelers who are bitten by a mosquito carrying the virus will feel a bit off but will recover quickly. They will then be immune from catching the virus again. Given your profile, we certainly think you should do this vacation. The Four Seasons Nevis is a perfect spot for gofers, tennis players, and lovers. Nevis, as you know, is accessible by boat from St. Kitts and the small island is home to some lovely people and small hotels that were once main houses on the former sugar plantations. This is the island where Lady Di went to hide out when things with Charles were not going well.

Sunshine's Shack BXAs a “regular” you must be familiar with Sunshine’s Shack, on the beach just off resort property. The spiny lobster and grilled shrimp served by Mr. Sunshine, and the infectious reggae music make this a favorite hang-out for those wishing to break away from the 4S poshness in favor of something authentically Caribbean.

INTRIGUING DINNER CONVERSATION ABOUT BEST COUNTRY ON PLANET

Germany Castle  AXQ – We were out to dinner last night with two couples at Nomad.PDX here in Portland and a fascinating topic came up that I wanted to share with traveltruth. Our friend, the radiologist, asked us how we would respond to  the question “What is the Best Country in the World”. That led to a conversation that lasted almost two hours. It was a 15-course tasting menu so we had lots of time to talk. I promised I would ask you to answer the same question.

A – We would answer New Zealand – for the people, the values, and the incredible scenery. Australia, Italy, and France would follow closely.

But ours is apparently a minority opinion. In fact, The World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland has recently tackled this question in a joint study between the University of Pennsylvania Wharton School of Business, RAV Consulting, and US News & World Report. They asked the question of over 16,200 business leaders and frequent world travelers. The Top Three were:

# 1 – GERMANY

# 2 – CANADA

# 3 – THE UNITED KINGDOM

But no worries – Trump is going to fix the order of things when he gets in and he knows “the guys from Wharton.” Look for the US to be at the top of the list next year. Except what do we do about Norway and Sweden?

PLANNING VACATION TO CARIBBEAN BUT MY GIRLFRIEND IS AFRAID OF ZIKA

Zika Virus 1Q – I am just hearing about this Zika virus on the news. It sounds pretty bad and absolutely awful for pregnant women. We’ve booked a vacation in Puerto Rico in 30 days and I have some concerns as I suppose my girlfriend, and soon to be fiance, is in the “pre-pregnancy” stage of our relationship. Is there anything we should do to prepare or should we seriously consider another destination? We know you are not doctors so pointing us in the right information direction would be most appreciated. Can we get our money back at this stage?

A – We are getting many questions about the Zika virus. Your travel consultant should be discussing this with you in terms of specific recommendations to get a refund should you cancel. Your travel insurance may cover your expenses.

Puerto Rico is certainly an area that pregnant women and “women who are trying to become pregnant” should avoid right now. We think that there are serious questions involving ports in the Caribbean, travel to East Africa, and portions of Mexico. For the best information and latest updates you should be in touch with your physician or the closest tropical medicine clinic.

The disease is not treatable and is spread by mosquitos. You will need to wear some protective clothing and use deet-based mosquito repellent. While we don’t advocate that everyone cancel travel to the Caribbean, we do think that a knowledge of the disease and how it is spread, as well as protective measures to take, should be required of all travelers planning to visit Brazil and those countries in Latin America and the Caribbean where the Center for Disease Control is reporting outbreaks.

Take this threat seriously even though the odds of contracting the virus are still low. Do not trust the information you get on this subject from folks like us or anyone connected with .selling travel for a living. Last week the New York Times contacted three major cruise lines to inquire about any port changes or policy changes in reaction to this outbreak., The Times reported that not one of the spokesmen for any of the three lines had ever heard of Zika.

We think you should seriously consider putting off this vacation unless you can seek expert medical advice within the week. Why go on a beach vacation if you have to constantly be watching out for attacking mosquitos? Try Iceland.

CAN YOU RECOMMEND A SMALL, WELL-LOCATED HOTEL ON PARIS’ LEFT BANK?

Le Relais ChristineQ –     Since the attacks in Paris, we’ve changed our vacation plans from Ireland to France, our token measure of support for the French. We’d like to see if we could spend no more than $600 per night at a boutique property on the Left Bank that will put us close to the city’s best cafes and bakeries. A recommendation would be appreciated. The internet reviews are all over the place and we suspect  you have a favorite or two.                                                                                            

A – Try Le Relais Christine, a former small monastery located on a quiet side street in the high-timed St.-Germaine-Des-Pres area. Lots of nearby cafes and interesting boutiques and you are just across the Seine from the Louvre.

Hotel Espirit Saint Germaine ParisOur personal favorite is the Hotel Espirit Saint Germain, our home away from home in Paris. Think 28 rooms, perfect location, cozy fireplace, and a really warm welcome. Just keep this one to yourself. Oh, and right around the corner is the emporium of Gerard Mulot, the reigning king of macaroons. Enjoy them with a complimentary glass of something in the hotel’s living room.             

IS THERE GENERAL AGREEMENT IN THE INDUSTRY AS TO WHICH OF THE WORLD’S AIRLINES IS THE VERY BEST?

eTIHADQ – Interesting discussion with friends last night about which of the world’s airlines is considered to be the best within the travel industry. Realizing this is subjective, wondering if you might care to shed some light on this? Appreciate your approach. Lots of food for thought – and dinner conversation! 

Etihad First ClassA – Surprisingly, there is s real consensus regarding the top three or four airlines in the world and one of them is generally considered to be the best of the best. That would be Etihad, based in Abu Dhabi. Three of the remaining four are also airlines based in the Middle East.

Airline ratings are less subjective than you might imagine. Careful records and analysis are kept regarding every aspect of an airline’s operations. This includes passenger service, seating/comfort, safety, cleanliness, food, schedules, aircraft conditions, home airport, partnerships, and financial stability.

We are working on producing an up-to-date ratings list of the world’s best airlines in all classes of service that will be specifically dedicated to non-business travelers. When completed, these ratings will appear on traveltruth.com

There are concerns among many of the world’s airlines that certain carriers are being heavily subsidized by their governments in the United Arab Emirates corridor. This is clearly reflected in the ratings but it would be a mistake to assume that service ratings are simply a reflection of financial strength.

RESTAURANT GIFT FOR MY WORLDLY HUBBY

NomaQ – My husband is an excellent chef and a real foodie – but only a few of our friends in Manhattan really know this. He will turn 60 in February and I want to arrange to fly him to the best restaurant in the world. I really don’t care about favorable weather as this will just be a long weekend, somewhere on the planet, dining in the world’s top dining room. So how do I set this up and where will it be?

A – Right now, that would be NOMA in Copenhagen. But you will need to hurry up as NOMA will be permanently closing at the end of 2016 so Chef  Rene Redzepi can open a new, somewhat larger “urban farm” in 2017. Have your travel agent book the entire stay in Copenhagen, stay at the best hotel;, and have the On-Site, together with the hotel concierge, figure out how to get you in. These are sime of the toughest restaurant seats in the world to book so get started on it right away and don’t commit to air or hotel until NOMA is confirmed.

VISITING WARSAW – HATE HIGHRISE, LARGE HOTELS

WQarsaw H15 Boutique HotelQ – Visiting relatives in Warsaw in spring. Is there a small, boutique hotel that is well-located and has less than 50 rooms? We can’t stand the chains or the larger hotels. 

A – Try to book the H15 Boutique Hotel on Poznanska 15. This new property just went through a five year renovation. It was formerly the Soviet Embassy and the Nazi Party Headquarters. Pleasant dreams.

I LOST YOU AT ‘BEST WHEN YOU DON’T KNOW YOUR HOTEL RATE”

Hotel Check-in BQ – Y’all lost me a few weeks back. My wife and I have been huge fans of both this site and the information you provide for the past five years. We’ve used your information in our travels and passed it on to friends. But you just about lost us with the idea that anyone who actually knows what a hotel room costs is paying “too much.” Can you just touch on that one again?

Hotels Booked OnlineA – Sure. And thanks very much for your time on traveltruth. It is good having you visit from time to time. When you look for the best rate for a hotel you are looking at three possible sources: A so-called OTA (online travel agency) like Expedia, a travel agent, or, perhaps, the hotel on its own site. In most cases, they are working under rather strict rules that mean that you will find the same pricing from all three sources. Certainly, no hotel in its right mind is going to allow an internet site to charge less than it is charging on its own web site and then turn around and pay the OTA a commission as well.

But there is a fourth way to book a hotel and that is the method that will get you the lowest rate virtually each and every time. Hotels in major cities and locations around-the-world are willing to offer special, lower-cost, contracted rates to key travel agencies and tour planners within their own country. These rates are highly confidential and may only be used when they are included in an itinerary. Your travel agent will work with an On-Site office wherever you are traveling abroad who will be able to package hotel rates that are simply unobtainable online or in the States. The price is not broken down as that would reveal the confidential tariff. So, the way to get the lowest rate is to have it be a part of other services you are receiving where the lower hotel rate can be included in one lump sum. It is absolutely true that if you know what you have paid for a hotel room you have not received anything like the best rate. Hope this helps. It is a bit counter-intuitive.

HAVE YOU EVER HEARD OF TRAVEL LEADERS?

Travel LeadersQ – My new agent belongs to something called Travel Leaders. Any good?

A – Travel Leaders is the largest network of travel agents in the United States. They have offices in 41 States. With 4,000 member agents, some are better than others. But you can trust their pedigree and credentials and know that they are well connected. They have won numerous awards, have grown quickly under enlightened leadership, and they offer full-services in the traditional travel agency model. No red flags here.

WHERE IN THE WORLD CAN WE TAKE AN ELEVEN AND A 14 YEAR-OLD?

Lapland at night  AXQ – We’ve reached a point in our lives where we have the income to travel anywhere in the world and to do it in some style. But we’re relatively young and we have two girls ages 11 and 14. Given our age, we want to try to see places in the world that might really appeal to our girls while providing the family with the opportunity to walk, see animals, and experience cultures different than our own. But for the next several years, at least, the focus is on our girls. Any suggestions from your team would be really appreciated.

A –  There are lots of suitable responses but here are some of our personal favorites:

Lapland – Incredibly beautiful snow-filled villages, the northern lights, sledding and other winter sports. Great for the pre-Christmas vacation.

South Africa Safari – A bit of Cape Town followed by a family-friendly safari experience taking in Kruger National Park. This can be followed by a flight over Victoria Falls. Unforgettable.

Sicily CefaloSicily – Not on everyone;s radar -but the kids will love the food and Sicily has awesome beaches. Try staying at Cefalu where you can take hydrofoil boats over to the lovely Aeolian Islands.

Other options you might consider are New Zealand, with many outdoor options and a generally kid-friendly populace, and the Lake Districts of Italy or Switzerland.

Which of the above we would recommend would be heavily influenced by the specific period of time you would like to be away. Make certain that your consultant understands your priorities for this series of journeys. Knowing that this is primarily for the girls, will heavily influence the decision-making process.

THE MOST OVER-RATED PLACES IN 2016

Taj Mahal in Distrance SlumsQ – As we work on our future post-retirement travel plans, two things are clear. We want to see some of the world that we’ve missed out on all these years, and we want to stay in touch with traveltruth to help us make plans that will not disappoint. Could you give us a quick list of the most overrated popular destinations that you think we might want to miss?

A – Congratulations on your coming retirement. When ours comes, it is likely we will stop traveling. But then again, we always seem to do things in reverse.

stonehengeIt’s a challenging and quite subjective question. We prefer saying there are some places we would recommend you place on the back burner. Here is a quick list of places well worth avoiding in lieu of much better, more authentic  options:

Athens   –   The Spanish Steps in Rome   –  Stonehenge   –   The Leaning Tower of Pisa   –   The Taj Mahal   –   Frankfurt   –   Loch Ness   –  Buenos Aires   –   and virtually every Caribbean Island on the cruise ship itineraries.

WHAT IS THE FIRST WEB SITE I SHOULD TURN TO WHEN STARTING TO PLAN A TRIP?

Hipmunk logoQ – My boyfriend and I are starting to plan three trips next year, two of them overseas. To start looking at flights and hotels, which of the apps. do you think is the best for our initial; searches?

A – That is a question we got a lot from travelers who have been dumbed down by smartphone use. The first thing we would do is discuss our plans with an expert in the field – you know, like an actual human. But we know you won;t take that advice so we will answer your question by suggesting you begin with Hipmunk.com. You will find excellent flight and hotel information displayed on a visual timeline. Many of the travel pros use it. But remember, it will, like all other travel display web apps., only show you listed prices and so-called deals that anyone can get. Consortium negotiated hotel and air rates with benefits will never be listed as they are considered to be confidential. You will need an agent to get access to those rates.

TRY TO FINESSE COMFORTABLE SNUGGLING WITH MY WIFE EN ROUTE TO SYDNEY FROM LA

air-nz-premium-economy-2Q – Remarkable site but, perhaps, I can challenge you with a pressing question involving our planned trip from southern California to Sydney, Australia. I won;t spend the money for First or Business Class seats, but I might be willing to fly that distance in Premium Economy. But I would want to know that if I spent the money to upgrade from regular economy, where can I sit to guarantee that the person in front of me will not put his seat down into my lap. Also, how do I really know if I am receiving favorable pricing on that route. I’ve been on one or two of the frequent flyer sites but they’re a bit nerdy and mostly deal with flying squirrels trying to save as many of their nuts as possible.

Oh, one more thing. My wife and I are leaving the kids with Grannie. My wife and I will want to cuddle  for at least a portion of the flight. Any way to get rid of those annoying armrests?

A – Our first reaction was to suggest that you charter your own aircraft. But we do have a few serious recommendations for you:

For pure service and an excellent flight crew, choose Virgin Australia over Qantas on a non-stop flight. Try to get a bulkhead seat in economy so that no one is seated directly in front of you.

But given your parameters, we might suggest that you look seriously at booking the Premium Economy Spaceseat on Air New Zealand which offers handy connections from Auckland to Sydney.

Air New Zealand is one of the world’s top-rated airlines and it has designed seating that does not allow the person seated in front of you to lean back into your personal space. If you find these seats for just under $3,000 per ticket, we would recommend booking them.

Cuddling is a different story. Air New Zealand has also pioneered the Skycouch, a row of three economy seats with footrests that lift up to form a flexible space for couples who wish to show affection to one another during one of the world’s longest flights.

ARE REPORTS OF DISEASE ON BIG ISLAND TRUE?

Hawaii Dengue FeverQ – I have heard from one of my friends that I might want to cancel our Fifth Anniversary trip to the Big Island in Hawaii where I am holding reservations at Mauna Lani Resort. Is there any danger from mosquitoes? I am not sure if I should cancel or just hunker down and bring bug repellent.

A – As we are publishing, there have been more than 100 documented cases of mosquito-borne dengue fever on the Big Island. The vast majority of cases are local residents, many of whom live in more remote areas. But more than a dozen visitors have been affected.

Dengue fever symptoms include piercing pain headache and severe joint and muscle pain. Some sufferers say that it feels as though their bones are breaking. Even mild cases can cause hospitalization. The disease also causes a serious rash and body temperature as high as 104 degrees. The symptoms appear five to seven days after the initial bite.

Dengue Fever has been a problem in several Caribbean islands but this is the first time the disease has appeared in Hawaii. In many third world countries, Dengue Fever goes largely unaffected and is often fatal.

You will be safe if you use serious bug repellent and avoid areas where standing water exists. Walking into areas of heavy vegetation or jungle growth is not wise without proper precautions. With detection, the eventual survival rate is close to 99%.

We definitely think you should go on your trip. But be cautious about any time you may spend in remote areas of the Big Island. Fear nothing at night – almost all of the bites occur during daylight.

Dengue Fever is a subject you may wish to discuss with your travel counselor who can provide some specific advice. If you are headed for an island where Dengue Fever is an issue, we would advise that you discuss it with your physician or local travel health clinic.

We have been particularly concerned about exposure to this disease by guests on the larger cruise ships sailing out Florida to third world islands in the Caribbean. They often sign up for four-wheel drive and other adventure tours that take them into remote areas of the island where the disease may be prevalent. We do not wish to be alarmist, but Dengue Fever is one of those things that is rarely in the news but ought to be considered in making travel decisions.

Don’t let us bum you out on Hawaii. It is one of the world’s great vacation destinations and Mauna Lani is one of our most recommended resorts. Have a wonderful Fifth.

OUR AGENT IS PUSHING HERITAGE TOURS IN SPAIN; ARE THEY GOOD?

Spain Grenada AXXQ – Our family of  four is looking to do a privately-arranged tour of Spain next year. There will be four of us, including my son and his fiance. Our budget for the trip is around $40,000 and we have about ten days. We have a new travel agent who is recommending a company called Heritage Private Tours. They have a nine-night program in southern Spain that appears to be quite deluxe and includes private guides and experiences. We have no way of knowing if our agent recommended these folks because of some commission deal or if they are really good. Any feedback would be appreciated.

A – KHeritage Tours Joel Zacheep your new travel agent. Heritage Private Tours is a company we highly recommended. It is headed up by a former architect and Fulbright scholar named Joel Zach. Joel’s team specializes in high-end, private journeys to Spain, Portugal, Morocco, Turkey and Sub-Sahara Africa. On the program you are considering, you will be exposed to custom-designed adventures that explore Andalusian life in dance, food, and art.

We use this firm for guests seeking an above-average dose of class and intellect in their travels. You can probably assume that your agent recommended them based on their expertise and not on any commission-related issues. You will not pay more to book this through your agent. It would be appropriate to bring her flowers when you return home – Heritage is that good.

WE WANT IT ALL IN TUSCANY

Tuscany Hotel Castello di CasoleQ – We are six friends traveling together to Tuscany next summer. Call us luxury travelers for this trip, a celebration of two anniversaries. We’ve decided that we want to use Tuscany as a base, get a few vehicles, perhaps hire a chef or do some upscale dining, and we would like to do some stops in wineries arriving via helicopter. The problem is we really don’t want to rent a villa so we’re trying to find a hotel that feels like a private villa, isolated yet within driving distance of the towns in both Tuscany and Umbria. We trust this site and look forward to any suggestion you might make. If you can come up with a place that will “Wow” us please recommend the best way to book it directly, or otherwise. Thanks and keep up the good work.

A – It strikes us that you might be extremely pleased with the Hotel Castello di Casole, a 4,200-acre estate in Tuscany perfect for bicycle rides in the countryside, wine tastings (the estate produces several signature wines) or cooking classes. You might even spend an evening in the original Amphitheater listening to a string quartet play under the stars. Tuscany Hotel Castello di Casole 2 Dining Table Outdoors BX

As with all better properties worldwide, you always want to book with benefits through an agency that enjoys a proprietary relationship with the property. You will also be VIP’d that way, given the fact that you have two important celebrations. One caution, this property is extremely appealing to small corporate groups so make sure none are booked during your planned stay. The helicopter is no problem but you may have to land several roads over from the actual vineyards.

SHOULD WE FLY THE AIRBUS 330 TO FIJI?

Airbus A330Q – We have set up a great family vacation to Fiji next September. In looking over the air options, we notice that Fiji Airways is using an Airbus 330, a two-engine plane. Is there any way to fly over on a larger aircraft with four engines? Does the Fiji plane handle turbulence well? My wife is deathly afraid of flying.

A – If you want non-stop service to Fiji from the States Fiji’s non-stop flight out of LA is your best and only option. There are some pilots who claim that the Boeing 777, the aircraft often compared to the Airbus 330, has a superior wing design that enables it to handle turbulence better. Try to secure seats over the wing for maximum comfort and bring along a pair of noise cancelling headphones. You’ll be departing just before midnight so do all possible to put the Mrs. to sleep. Have your doc drug her appropriately. And put together a collection of facts about flying including the fact that planes just don;t simply fall out of the air no matter how bad the turbulence may be. Turbulence is annoying but it represents no danger to the structural integrity of the aircraft unless you are flying a single engine prop or a crop duster to Fiji.

QUIET, FANTASTIC, HIDDEN GEM IN TOKYO

Kanda Restaurant TokyoQ – Through a recent merger, I am going to be spending a fair amount of time in Tokyo and environs. In Manhattan, my fiance and I love going out to the best sushi restaurants. I know there is a ton of great Japanese food to be discovered in Tokyo but I was wondering if your food experts know of a place where I might feel comfortable dining alone while having some of the best  food in the city. I guess I am looking for a place where I won’t be stared at (I have red hair).

A – No worries, half the kids under 18 have pink and green hair in Tokyo. It sounds to us that you might really like Kanda. It sits in a plain apartment building near Ropponji Station. The door is unmarked so you might need a local the first time. There is an 8-seat counter that you will find extremely comfortable as you sample the Kaiseki-style menu. Try the kawahagi, a fin fish sushi served with liver. Seriously.

THE HYDRATION WEIRD LOBBY RAISES ITS VOICE

Water  CXX NY Daily NewsQ – Ultra-cool travel site – but no one has written in yet who seems to share my need to feel constantly hydrated while flying those stretch aluminum cans. I have to have water when I fly – lots of it. I just think dehydration is an awful feeling on a plane and its so easy. I used to bring several bottles through the airport (am I boring you yet) but TSA make me empty my super-size water bottle. This leads to my question – is it appropriate, normal, polite, expected that I would keep asking the flight attendants to refill them?

A – You have posed an interesting moral-ethical dilemma. Yes, ask them to refill your bottle from time to time, but since you will be getting up to use the lavatory every hour, carry the bottle up with you so it is easier for them to fill it. Then beware of what you are drinking. If they give you the aircraft’s stored water you very well get sick. Never drink anything but water that you see being poured out of a bottle on any aircraft. The water hose is hooked up to each plane on the ground and the fuel and water tanks are filled up. This is not tap water and the storage tanks may never have been scrubbed for decades. But we do not think you are overstating the need for hydration. We don’t think you’re weird. At least not all of us.

CAN I FLY ANY AIRLINE WITH THE CHASE SAPPHIRE CARD?

Chase Sapphire PreferredQ –  My fellow anesthesiologists and I have been following traveltruth for several years and all I can tell you is that if you ever want to be put out we’re here to help. The question of which travel-related credit card is best came up last week at our morning meeting. Can you fly any of the major airlines with the Chase Preferred Card which you seem to rate highly?

A –  Dear Docs – nice to know your business meetings center around which credit card will get you the best perks. We like the initial perks that come with the Chase card, the double points on travel and restaurants, the no foreign transaction fee policy, and the sign-up bonus coupled with the waived fees for the first year. But the card is weak on airline partners. The only airlines currently in the program are United, British Airways, Korean Airlines, and Southwest.

If you are after primary mileage perks on the widest variety of airline partners, look at the American Express Starwood Card.

 

ABOUT TO DO THE SEYCHELLES AND WILL LIKELY WANT INSURANCE BUT ISN’T IT FAR TOO EXPENSIVE FOR WHAT IT OFFERS?

Insurance Travel 1 AXXQ – We are going to be leaving for the Seychelles in six months on a trip booked through GoWay, a company we are working with for the first time. They wish to sell us insurance but before committing, we are wondering what your take is on that subject. We are First Class but definitely not deluxe travelers (don’t know if my terminology is correct) and we’re recently retired from Wells Fargo and ready to do likely two major international trips a year. Do agents make commission on this stuff and do you usually recommend travel insurance to our clients?

A – Our team has strong opinions on this one and we can easily ramble on about travel insurance. So let us summarize our response by offering

TEN THINGS YOU NEED TO KNOW ABOUT TRAVEL INSURANCE

Insurance Travel 201 – Each time anyone sells you insurance they are earning a commission that is built into the price.

02 _ Travel insurance is expensive – the cost on many policies is now between 8-10%. If your insurance is 7% or less of the total value of the trip you have gotten an insurance “deal”.

03 – Do not compare policies or look for “deals”. Insurance companies are never on your side. But some have a reputation to maintain and they do not want to lose the business of multi-billion travel agency groups. Your travel consultant should know, from personal experience, which insurer is best for you. If you are using a travel advisor for the first time, test them by asking them to summarize why they recommend a specific company or policy for your specific trip.

04 – As a general rule, avoid supplier-issued insurance. You will normally get better coverage and stronger advocacy from an independent policy. There are many exceptions to this rule and they include AMA Waterways, Tauck Tours, and Disney Cruises and Land Tours.

05 – One advantage of a private versus supplier travel insurance policy is that private policies are age-based, so if you are under 65, you may get far more reasonable premiums than travelers in their seventies or eighties. Supplier issued policies are not age-based so the fees for more mature travelers are figured into the total premium cost.

06 – Check with your home insurance agent to determine your level of insurance when you travel internationally. It’s probably worthless but do check.

07 – If you have Medicare or work-related insurance, we are less likely to recommend the absolute need to take out insurance for travel in the United States.

08 – Unless you are a Bernie Sanders supporter, you likely feel that insurance companies are entitled to make all the money they can. Yes, 8-10% of your total trip cost is rather obscene, but that should not prevent you from insuring travel to Asia, Africa, South America, Antarctica, and southern Europe. If you are traveling in Northern Europe hope that you get sick in Scandinavia. We would never recommend that you travel anywhere outside the United States, with the exception of Canada, without carrying some form of trip cancellation and medical coverage. And remember, they are not at all the same thing.

09 – Do not ever book travel insurance on the internet. If you have a claim, your travel consultant can be your advocate if a claim is unjustly denied.

10 – The single biggest financial hit you can get while traveling overseas is medical evacuation by helicopter or medical aircraft. Do make note of how much coverage you receive for this eventuality. If you receive less than $50,000 in medical evacuation coverage, walk away from the policy.

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