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Traveltruth Q&A Archive

Traveltruth Responds to Your Travel Questions

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IT HAPPENED AGAIN: MINI-BAR OUTRAGE

Q - Like most of the folks on this site, we're extremely well -traveled and we tend to stay in one of the three best hotels in every city we visit. I love the treatment we receive and the benefits we get from our agent's consortium group. But one thing just drives me crazy  and it just happened again. We like to take an afternoon nap and we keep getting awakened by calls and knocks on the door (the last time they ignored the "Do Not Disturb Light") by some knucklehead who wants to "check the mini-bar."  When I am spending over $1,000 a night for room, taxes, and incidentals, I hate being ripped off by a refrigerator stocked with overpriced stuff I would never buy on principle. My partner and I both work very long hours and we like to just relax at a really nice hotel. The last…

LOOKING FOR CHIC, NEW, SMALL AND WELL-LOCATED IN ISTANBUL?

Q - We have heard that the Four Seasons in central Istanbul is small and quite nice and we're ready to book. Thought we should run this past you first. We're from New York, fashionionable and style-minded, we like to explore the latest hotels and restaurants when we travel and we blog for friends only. A sense of authenticity is important and we always like to be centrally located. Should we pull the trigger on the Four Seasons? I will say that my incredible girlfriend is worried about bad dreams at the FS given that the rooms were once prison cells. Looooove the site!  A - We're wondering what you were wearing when you sent this e-mail? Trust you are color-coordinated. We are not in the Four Seasons bashing business as they are a brand that always seems to exceed expectations. For this trip, however, we'd suggest you head, instead,…

CONNECTING THROUGH GERMANY: HOW LEGAL IS LEGAL?

Q - My work will be taking me to Germany at least six or seven times in the next year. I missed my connecting flight last time because my nothing on Expedia seems to tell you that the lines for security can be long and that even passengers in transit may have to clear security in Frankfurt or Munich. Any advice would be appreciated as I know there are many business travelers who share my concerns. I had booked a "legal" connection. A -  This is a bit of a scam that affects thousands of travelers to Europe. When you book off a computer screen, as corporate agents and Online Travel Agencies do, as well as the airlines when you call them directly, they are looking at a computer screen that tells them what they can book for you as a "legal" connection. That means that, assuming your original flight…

WE HAVE A PROBLEM WITH DRYNESS IN HOTELS. WHAT SHOULD OUR EXPECTATIONS BE IN FIVE STAR HOTELS TO SOLVE THIS PROBLEM?

Q - I am looking forward to a lengthy trip planned by our agent that will take us to Paris, Bordeaux, and Monte Carlo. I have a real problem sleeping in dry rooms and I wonder what I should expect from the top tier hotels we are using to help get some moisture in the room at night? Who should I be contacting at the hotel? A - It is perfectly reasonable to ask a hotel to provide one or two humidifiers in your room. We do this all the time when open windows are not an option. The better hotels will have high-powered, quiet machinery specifically designed for the hotel industry. Your travel agent should make certain this information appears on your guest profile. We think that in-room humidifiers are a good idea even for those who do not feel they suffer from a lack of moisture in a…

THREE NIGHTS IN VENICE BUT DON’T WANT A HOTEL FILLED WITH TOURISTS

Q -  We will be in Venice for three nights before taking a cruise for a week. We have only been to Europe twice, once on business but we know enough to know what we don't like - large hotels that cater to tourist groups on the main drag, which in Venice, I imagine, means near Rialto Square. Can you suggest a boutique neighborhood hotel of high quality that offers charm and a less touristic feel?  A place with character is more important than price as we understand prices in Venice are otherworldly in high season. A -  There are two small hotels we really like. Our first choice is Ca' Pisani, a 29-room gem in the artsy Dorsoduro neighborhood. The little-known Palazzinag sits in a 16th century building on the Grand Hotel and only has 22 rooms. You will find "tourists" in any hotel as local residents don't like…

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.

As 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: 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…

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

Q - 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? A -  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…

ANY HOTEL RECOMMENDATION IN INDIA’S GOLDEN TRIANGLE?

Q -  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…

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

Q - 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…

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…

INTRIGUING DINNER CONVERSATION ABOUT BEST COUNTRY ON PLANET

Q - 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…

PLANNING VACATION TO CARIBBEAN BUT MY GIRLFRIEND IS AFRAID OF ZIKA

Q - 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…

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

Q -     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…

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

Q - 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!  A - 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…

RESTAURANT GIFT FOR MY WORLDLY HUBBY

Q - 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,…

VISITING WARSAW – HATE HIGHRISE, LARGE HOTELS

Q - 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”

Q - 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? A - 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…

HAVE YOU EVER HEARD OF TRAVEL LEADERS?

Q - 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?

Q - 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…

THE MOST OVER-RATED PLACES IN 2016

Q - 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. It'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   -…

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

Q - 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…

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

Q - 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…

ARE REPORTS OF DISEASE ON BIG ISLAND TRUE?

Q - 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.…

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

Q - 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 - Keep 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…

WE WANT IT ALL IN TUSCANY

Q - 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…

SHOULD WE FLY THE AIRBUS 330 TO FIJI?

Q - 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.…

QUIET, FANTASTIC, HIDDEN GEM IN TOKYO

Q - 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…

THE HYDRATION WEIRD LOBBY RAISES ITS VOICE

Q - 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.…

CAN I FLY ANY AIRLINE WITH THE CHASE SAPPHIRE CARD?

Q -  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,…

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

Q - 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 01 - Each time anyone sells you insurance they are earning a commission that…

BIG GUY WANTS HONEST ANSWERS ON SEAT WIDTH

Q -  Given that I am a  multi-state franchise territory manager, I guess you could say I'm a very frequent flyer. As a large man, I've started noticing that sometimes my economy seat feels like I actually have a squoosh more room but for the most part, it seems like the seats are getting smaller. I was talking to another frequent flyer on a flight to Minneapolis last week and he swears the seats are, despite what the airlines might say, actually getting smaller. I told him I knew who to ask. A - The web site, Seatguru.com actually studies this stuff and they have compiled some interesting statistics that clearly demonstrate that seats have been getting narrower in the back of the plane. In the 1970's, the average seat width on America's major airlines was 18". In the 1980's, a rather competitive decade for the airlines, seating increased to…

MAUI-BOUND FAMILY WANTS TO HEAD INLAND

Q - Really cool site and we love the lack of ads, pop-ups, and other distractions. We're headed to Maui with our 9 and 11 year-old boys and we want to spend a day or two inland. We'll be based in a family-suite at Kea Lani but would love just a few specific suggestions. Yes, we have used a travel agent and she has been quite helpful - up to this point. A -  If you head inland make the Surfing Goat Dairy a planned stop. The kids can pet the goats, you can buy cheese, and get a tour of the farm.To get there. We also like the idea of a day on Lanai for kids. It has none of the commercialism of the other islands and is easily reached by day boat from the Maui Marina. Look into The Feast at Lele, a good quality luau that is…

IT LIVES IN LISBON, IT’S # 28, AND IT’S YELLOW

Q - We will soon be visiting Portugal. We were in our doctor's office on Saturday and he mentioned that there was a fantastic, curvy, atmospheric tram ride through some interesting neighborhoods in Lisbon. But he he didn't remember the name of it. He couldn't remember if it was orange or yellow. Actually, he's not even sure if it was Madrid or Lisbon - this was about ten years ago. Anyone on your staff who might know about this? A - Well our first thought was that we hope you are not seeing this doctor for help with memory loss. You want to catch the #28 tram that runs between the quite hilly Alfama District to the Prazeres Cemetery. This is an old, old route and the cars reflect that. They are painted a bright yellow and have wood interiors. There will be lots of close turns down narrow streets.…

CAN I USE MY PHONE FOR AIRLINE TICKET PURCHASES?

Q - Although I appreciate that this site deals with upscale travelers, there are those of us in our thirties who can afford to travel well. But to do so, I would want to use my iPhone for payments. It's just easier. How do I do this? A - Yes, we understand. Taking a credit card out of your billfold is just so damn time-consuming. If the Apple Pay machinery is working properly, you might save two seconds. Delta Airlines is the only major airline currently on-board with Apple Pay. But you have to access it through their "Fly Delta App" so there goes the two seconds. We think you will see other airlines quickly following Delta's lead. In 2016 it is estimated that about 18% of all online airline bookings will be made via smartphone technology. This means that everyone is being trained to squint at flight schedules at…

ICE IS NICE BUT AT WHAT PRICE? CONSIDERING LAPLAND.

Q -  I thought I'd reach out to you for suggestions to extend a Scandinavian trip for next summer already booked. We are considering having our kids  fly to Stockholm to meet us and then spending a week in Sweden, just the four of us. We are active, nature loving, travel veterans and usually enjoy avoiding cities and renting a house or cozy inn in a smaller town with easy access to the outdoors. I'm guessing Sweden has neat towns on pretty lakes but I could use a little direction. The alternative, or additional, thought is to head up north to check out Lapland since it is so unique. Our travel time is July 28th - August 6th and we probably wouldn't want to go more than 2 places in that time. We usually do the travel planning ourselves, how does working with an agent work in terms of fees…

CRUISING VERSUS TOURING WHILE TASTING IN AUSTRALIA AND NEW ZEALAND

Q - We've been looking at several ways to do  Australia and New Zealand including cruising on Seabourn or Crystal, or possibly doing a land tour like Tauck's 20-Day Grand Australia and New Zealand. You seem high on Tauck as a company and wondering what you think of their A/NZ trip? By way of background, I'm a scriptwriter in the LA area and I'll be traveling with my wife who is a radiologist. Both mid-fifties, not especially well traveled, good health, love walking and seeing as much as possible when we travel. Both into photography and I don't mean iPhone snaps. Price not really an issue. Mingle well with other humans but like quiet moments. And, finally, as I suspect you have already guessed, really into wine and experiencing some great stuff from both countries, particularly Syrahs. Likely our only trip to this part of the world so we want…

A SOLILOQUY ON SEASICKNESS

Q -  I enjoy your site and appreciate all of the valuable information I have encountered! I have not seen any questions on how to avoid motion sickness on a cruise. My husband and I will be first time cruisers celebrating our 25th wedding anniversary. I have heard that motion sickness is not much of an issue on much larger ships, however we will be sailing with Regent. We have upgraded to a room with a balcony in anticipation of this. What steps, if any, would you recommend I follow prior to our departure or even during the trip should I have issues? Thank you for your time. A - The research shows that a surprisingly large segment of non-cruisers and first-time cruisers see this issue as a real concern. Since 94.3% of first-time cruisers book a second cruise within 36 months of their return, we have to assume that…

DOES EUROPE HAVE AN ICONIC MUSIC FESTIVAL THAT MIGHT REMIND MY WIFE AND I OF WOODSTOCK?

Q - We won't discuss our personals but let's just say that my wife and I remember Woodstock for lots of reasons some of which can't be discussed on a classy travel Q&A site. Our tie-dyes still fit, well my wife's does anyway, and we want to try to relive the experience somewhere in the world, most likely Europe. If we have as good a time as we think we will, it may become an annual summer ritual, following the music and the carefree young. Our travel agent seemed lost when we asked the question and we sense this is one trip we ought to handle on our own. But where to go? A - Woodstock is going to be hard to replicate, although some of the odors will be the same, and we agree, Europe is where you want to be heading. Specifically, we recommend you find a big…

HOW TO REALLY THANK MY SON IN A MEANINGFUL WAY

Q - We've got the world's greatest kid. He just won a full music scholarship, saving us four years of college tuition and we want to take him on the best trip of his life somewhere outside the USA. He's been to London - that's about it, and his passion is seeing whales up close. Money is really not the issue here, we can go up to $100,000 since it will be our last family gathering before he begins his studies. My wife and I have done a good deal of traveling in Europe, we've been to Russia, and I've had three trips to Brazil on business. But this trip, I'm thinking just under two weeks, is for Jacob and his passion for whales. I've been told we should go to the coast off Cabo San Lucas but somehow that doesn't excite us and I want this trip to absolutely…

ARE THERE FOUR-WHEEL DRIVE VACATIONS AVAILABLE IN AFRICA?

Q - Hello. I'm an off-road enthusiast. My wife and I drive a Jeep Cherokee and we've had it on just about every hill in Arkansas we can find. A buddy of mine told me that you can now do touring by four-wheel drive and see some really neat parts of the world in luxury. I'm a redneck but I'm also a CEO so I love nice things and I prefer to see the world on my own terms. I'm starting to slow down a bit and will retire in the next 24 months, so if I can get in some fun driving while seeing a bit of the world I'm all in and I know my wife would love it. How do I go about this and what's the best company to use? I would use an agent since it sounds as though I'd be paying for one anyway.…

YOU SAID SOMETHING THAT MADE NO SENSE ABOUT HOTEL RATES

Q - We were reviewing your truly ambitious site. You have set yourselves quite a challenge. But how are we to trust your information when we read that "if you know the price you've paid for a hotel room - you've paid too much." Please explain. Otherwise love the information and the way it is presented without "commercials." A - You are taking a sentence out of context. There was a long explanation that led up to your quote. When you book a hotel online or directly with a hotel, you are receiving a rate that is in the public domain. It is available for everyone to see. The very best rates are not available to foreign tourists who book their rooms online or directly with the hotel. They are contracted rates available only to local travel firms that do substantial business in the destination. These are known as "In-bound"…

BUDAPEST IS OUR DESTINATION: IS IT TOO DANGEROUS TO GO?

Q -  We are scheduled to stay in Budapest for three days before boarding our Uniworld River Cruise. The news is just awful, and the refugees seem to be causing all sorts of problems in the city. My wife is somewhat fragile and I will admit, based on what I am seeing on TV, I'm worried. We were just planning on walking around on our own. We booked ourselves into the Prestige Hotel. We set up the entire trip ourselves so we're dependent on you for some good advice here. Should we try to cancel in view of what is going on? Is the news media overstating the situation in Budapest? A - They are not overstating it according to the hoteliers and offices in the city with whom we work regularly. This is a serious situation and the reaction of the Hungarian government to newly arriving immigrants from Syria…

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

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

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

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

SHOULD WE DO A DECEMBER CROSSING ON THE QUEEN?

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

TRAVELING ON SEABOURN AND NEED HELP WITH SMARTPHONE STRATEGY

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

MEET MY LOVING BUT ANNOYING TRAVEL COMPANION

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

LOOKING FOR A HIP, QUALITY, BOUTIQUE HOTEL IN LONDON

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

CALM, CONVENIENT, CARIBBEAN LUX RESORT

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

AN IDYLLIC GETAWAY LESS THAN TEN HOURS AWAY

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

WHY WERE OUR FRIENDS UPGRADED WHEN WE WEREN’T?

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

JUST HOW BAD IS THE FOOD ON ROYAL CARIBBEAN?

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

SAVING ON BUSINESS CLASS TO SYDNEY

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

IS IT WISE TO CONSIDER TRAVEL TO ITALY THIS SUMMER?

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

A SNOB EN ROUTE TO SPAIN

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

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

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

REALLY NICE MARRIOTT BED

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

DO HOTELS CLEAN THE BEDSPREADS AFTER EACH STAY

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

IS ANYONE STILL GIVING AWAY MILEAGE AWARD TICKETS?

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

WHO ARE THE WORLD’S LEADING TOURISTS?

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…

THE BEST ATLANTIC CROSSING IN 2015

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…

SAILING NOT CRUISING ANTARCTICA WOULD BE COOL

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…

GOING TO TOKYO PRIMARILY FOR SUSHI. WHERE SHOULD WE EAT?

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…

DISAPPOINTED IN YOUR COVERAGE OF EBOLA

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…

IS SEABOURN RIGHT FOR OUR TEENS?

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…

DO ESCORTED TOUR COMPANIES INCLUDE HOTEL TIPS?

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…

IRAN TOUR; SHOULD WE PLACE IT ON HOLD GIVEN LATEST INCIDENT?

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…

STILL WAITING FOR EBOLA UPDATE

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:Africa is a vast continent. The Ebola outbreak in West Africa is thousands of miles from safari destinations in East and Southern Africa and there are no direct links by land.Commercial flights…

LAKE BLED BEFORE I DIE

Q - We were going  to sit down with a travel specialist and then we discovered traveltruth. I am Slovenian and I have had a rather charmed corporate life. I want to take my wife, who happens to be from Nicaragua, to Lake Bled, a place my father spoke about for years. I am sad to confess I've never been there. Rather than a tour, I would love to go on one of the small group Private Jet trips  where everything is included. I do suffer from mild coronary disease and wonder if doctors go along on these trips? Is there anything you can recommend next year that would include Lake Bled. A - You need to look carefully at TCS Expeditions Eastern Europe and Beyond by Private Jet Program departing from London on September 17th next year and returning to London on October 6th. This tour spends two nights in…

NEED SOME HELP: DO WE GO ON SCHEDULED SAFARI?

Q - A co-worker turned me on to this site yesterday and I hope you can help me even though I am not a client. We're booked with a well-known agency in Los Angeles. Our plans are to go on a safari taking in Kenya the Serengetti and the Masai Mara. We booked with a reputable travel agent through a very well-known tour operator and we are scheduled to leave in less than 90 days. Our travel agent keeps telling us that travel to Kenya is not a problem and that it is a long way from the West African nations affected by Ebola. What would you do.   We have been told we can still get out of it, but our agent insists it is safe. My wife is really worried about this and will be most anxious to read any reply you might provide. I have been pushing her…

SEEKING THE ‘WORLD’S MOST BEAUTIFUL BEACH” NO MATTER HOW FAR

Q - We are looking to celebrate my recent retirement from Citibank with a trip that has only one major requirement: We wish to visit the world's most beautiful beach. There is little interest in visiting the second best beach or the third. We certainly understand the subjective quality of this question but, "Is there a beach that you would recommend that might satisfy our two decade-old obsession? A - We have our favorites but the beach of your dreams may well be Anse Source d'Argent, a lovely boulder-studded oasis on the lovely island of La Digue in the Seychelles. In terms of credibility, this beach has been named the world's best by National Geographic in their book "The 10 Best of Everything".Closer to home, if you don't mind about a hundred or so fellow visitors, you might want to check out one of our favorites, the Soggy Dollar Bar…

WOULD YOU RECOMMEND COACH ON AN AMERICAN AIRLINES 777-300?

Q - My husband and I are making our second trip to London and we are scheduled to fly a 777 on American. The model is a 300, whatever that means. We have asked for aisle seats across. Our travel agent says this is a great plane but we know that sometimes the information on this site is more accurate. My husband is a large man and 6'4". Would you spend the extra money for the more leg room economy seats? A - The 777 is a really comfortable ride, provided you are seated in the front of the aircraft. The 777-300ER holds 304 passengers, 220 of whom are accommodated in coach. The seat pitch is 31" and the aisles are notoriously narrow. It is virtually impossible for a passing passenger to walk past you without knocking into your arm. The window seats on this aircraft produce a curve that…

WHAT MAKES DISNEY S0 SPECIAL FOR YOUNG KIDS AND FAMILIES?

Q - Forgive me, but I just don't get it. My wife wants to bring the grandkids, ages 8-16 on a seven-night Disney cruise. I've heard they do some special things but have no sense of the experience. Wouldn't the family have just as good a time on an adult line like Princess that also offers kid's programs?   I never bought into the mouse and the characters. It all seems so juvenile. If I see a fake pirate running around the ship I'm liable to shove him overboard.A - But you won't - because that would be juvenile. Then there's the matter of "the hook".  If the cruise is really for the grandkids, and you're not just bringing them along to accompany you on vacation, Disney is as good as it gets.You will do rotational dining with the  same waiter throughout. In Animator's Palate, you draw characters that come to life…

IS IT BETTER TO USE CURRENCY EXCHANGE OR CREDIT CARD?

Q - We will be making our third trip to Asia, this time Thailand and Laos. I am wondering if I should let the credit card company just work out the exchange rate when they bill us or should we try to exchange at a currency outlet here or abroad? We do have a Capital One Venture Card that does not charge the foreign transaction fees. I hate being ripped off by money changers. Maybe it's a biblical thing. A - Generally speaking, you are going to do better by just leaving it to Visa or MasterCard to charge you in US funds based on the conversion rate in effect on the date the charges are entered on your account. Currency offices, biblical  or otherwise, charge fees and also make money on the conversion rate.

WOULD YOU PUSH FOR THE PUSHKAR FAIR?

Q - My wife and I are planning to travel to India in November and are wondering whether or not to include a visit to the Pushkar Far in our itinerary? A - The Pushkar Fair takes place in the fall every year, with the exact dates being determined by the Hindi calendar.  This somewhat dusty and frenzied annual five-day gathering brings  100,000 local people together, along with an onslaught of camera-toting tourists, to trade camels and other livestock. While truly memorable, it would require adding 2 days to your travel plans, it is a tremendous experience for those seeking great photo opportunities, to see India’s holy men, and to be up-close and personal with the local culture.  As you might imagine, the fair is also very crowded and ‘colorful’. Most of our clients who have attended come home believing that the photo ops were well worth the hassles and travel time. It…

ITALIAN RESTAURANT MANNERS 101

Q - We will be leaving shortly for a culinary tour of southern Italy. Are there any "proper manners" we should be aware of as we dine out?A - Try not to ask the owner if he or any member of his family is involved with the Mafia. This could possibly ruin your meal.The biggest "gaffe" is ordering cappuccino after 12:00 noon. Italians have a deep-seated belief that only infants and morning "Cappo" drinkers should indulge in milk.  The proper course of action is to always order an espresso at the end of dinner. This will assure that you remain awake for the following three days.Do not think about adding Parmesan cheese to your dish after it is served. If it is a good idea, and deemed appropriate, the waiter will offer to grate some atop your dish.  Italians tend to like fish relatively unadorned. Don't add cheese to any fish dish.Have…

PASSING THROUGH O’HARE PAUSING FOR CHOCOLATE

Q - Somehow, I know that your team will know the answer to this question. I was doing a quick connection at O'Hare Airport in Chicago and walked past this gourmet-looking chocolate store called Vosges. Any good, worth bringing home, or skipable?A - We're not huge fans but it is decent chocolate. The stunner, at the moment, is something called "Mo's Dark Chocolate Bacon Bar". You want to grab several of these as they are difficult to track down. Think great dark chocolate with caramel, salt, and deep-seated bacon. If you're flying American internationally, you might want to grab two or three of these and skip the Vanilla Hagen Daz served at your seat in Business Class. Oh, and thanks for the most useless question of the week. 

CHILD FRIENDLY DINING IN ST. PETERSBURG

Q - Call us crazy, but we're bringing the twins, our eleven year-olds girls, on a Crystal Cruise to the Baltic that will include several days in St. Petersburg, Russia. We want to put together a special day that might include a really nice lunch the entire family can enjoy. Is there anywhere you could recommend where you would trust the food and the atmosphere as child-friendly. Crystal was not very helpful when we called. Thanks so much and best wishes for the long life of this wonderfully helpful web site. A - Try Lujaika on Aptekarsky Prospekt. The actual theme of this really good Asian restaurant is a child's imaginary wonderland. The children can fish in a pond next to outdoor dining areas and the restaurant's pet rabbits roam the grounds. Remember that the ship's blanket Visa will not cover you for any independent time off the ship.We might suggest…

WHEN IS THE BEST TIME TO BOOK A EUROPEAN RIVER CRUISE

Q - As we plan a river boat journey, our first, from Basel to Amsterdam next September, we are wondering when it might make the most sense to book. We are looking at Viking River and we know that the boats book up early. A - Two schools of thought. You may want to book this afternoon. The entire bed count on all of the Viking River fleet (the world's largest), would fit into Royal Caribbean's Allure of the Seas, with many beds left over, Book as soon as you are committed. Another strategy is to wait until eleven months prior to your scheduled return date. This will allow you to lock in your air arrangements as soon as the flights are available for sale. 

DAY TRIP DINING NEAR STRESA

Q - We are going to be staying at the Grand Hotel des lles Borromees along the water in Stresa for a week. Flying from LA to Milano, renting an Alfa, and ready for some day trips. Are there any restaurants in the area worth a drive of am hour or so that you could recommend? We hear there are islands near Stresa. Is there a way to get there? We thought this could be a great drive vacation using Stresa as a base. Good idea? A - Actually, it's an excellent idea, although your hotel is old world Europe and you may imagine it smells "musty". The three islands are each lovely, different, and easily accessible from the main pier in Stresa with frequent local boat service. We would suggest that you make reservations on Isola dei Pescatori (Fisherman's Island) at Ristoranti CasaBella.Our favorite drive restaurant is Piccolo Lago…

BARCELONA CHURROS: WHERE ARE THEY BEST?

Q - In the mid-eighties, I spent a semester in Barcelona, studying Spanish and a bit of Architecture. Now, my wife and I, she has never been to Spain, are heading for Barcelona to begin a 12-Day Cruise on Oceania. Because of work, there is just the one day in Barcelona and I am intent to sit with her at  one of those wonderful cafes where she can experience the warm churros and Chocolate a la taza.  This is just something we need to do. Is there a place you can recommend not far off the tourist route?A - You might try Granja M. Viader which is on a small street, Carrer d'en Xucia next to the famed La Boqueria market. The Ramblas is right there. This is the perfect place to sample an authentic Spanish mid-morning snack, a habit not yet exported. 

CAN YOU HELP MY HUSBAND FIND THE TACO OF HIS DREAMS?

Q - Do you think it is practical, to plan a trip to Mexico City that would allow us to take in some of the best local food spots and markets in about a week? My  husband just lives for authentic Mexican food but we live just outside of Birmingham and we're not about to get too adventurous. I wonder how you set something like this up using really good, safe hotels, flights, and tours. I am looking for a foodie tour in depth. My husband made me fly with him to Chicago just to eat at Rick Bayles'  Frontera Grill. We loved it!A - Our inclination would be to set up the air, hotels, transfers (important in Mexico City) through a local travel agent you trust. Then work on the food tours yourselves contacting companies such as "Mexico Soul and Essence Tours" or "Eat Mexico Culinary Tours." Urban Adventures…

IS NORWEGIAN RIGHT FOR MY FAMILY AND WHY DON’T YOU RATE THEM

Q - I think it is fair to say that you have no bigger fans of this site but, sadly, we find little help from you in planning our upcoming cruise with our 8 and 11 year-old boys. I know, for example, that Norwegian Cruise Line and Royal Caribbean are supposed to have the best kids programs at sea but couldn't find any information about them on your site. Why is this? Just curious and is there anything you can offer that would be helpful about the new Norwegian Getaway? Understand that you write for the upscale traveler but when this family cruise is all over, I think we will have spent close to $10,000 on a one week vacation. This is not a typical blog attack, just an honest question as to why these lines are not covered?A - And we take it as such. No harm - no…

GETTING BLANK STARES ABOUT A CRUISE THAT INCLUDES WEST AFRICA

Q - I thought I would see if traveltruth.com is going to give us the same blank stare we get when we ask a travel agent about cruising West Africa. I mean, Africa is a fairly large continent and, near as I can tell, it has both an East and a West Coast. We would for a nice cruise, particularly on an itinerary that includes Ghana, the land of our ancestors. Is there any decent ship that goes there and are there reasons that you would advise not going at all? I am a historian and my husband is a physician. We have never been to Africa before and we want to do it before children come along. We're in our late thirties and early forties.A - West Africa is high on our Bucket List so we are definitely not going to suggest you not go. You are smart enough…

BEST CRUISE WITH KIDS NEXT SUMMER

Q - I am a pediatrician here in Dallas and an avid reader of this space. Next summer (2015) Patti and I want to take our three children on a real quality cruise up to Alaska that might have children's programs. I would love to know the best line to do this with and how I should book it since there are five of us (12, 14, 17).  I keep getting recommendations from local agents for Princess and Holland America but I know they are not in your Top Ten and we can afford something more inclusive with better food and services, as well as fewer people. Any options that could work well to please every  member of our family. Stares from old biddies cause we brought three young-uns with us won't bother us a bit. (anticipating your response)A - Well you've likely made the best itinerary choice. We would recommend…

IS SINGAPORE REALLY RIGHT FOR US THIS WINTER?

Q -  I am going to need to be in Singapore in February on business and I am thinking about bringing along my wife for a week of seeing and exploring the city. Some of what I am seeing online makes me feel that this might not be worth five nights or so and the hotels all seem to be city-centered with a business feel. (I will be staying at the Fullerton for the meeting). I won't get to see much of the place during our meetings. We're in our mid-fifties and friends would describe us as "foodies". How do I turn this into a really nice getaway for my wife?A - Your concerns are valid. Singapore can seem sterile and built for business. But we definitely think you can pull this off. Book yourselves into the Singapore Resort & Spa Sentosa.  Sentosa Island has the feel of a tropical…

HOW LIKELY THAT MY RIVER BOAT CRUISE WILL TURN INTO A BUS TOUR?

Q - Our travel agent has set us up with a cruise on the Viking River Line, which I understand is the Cadillac of river cruises. We're scheduled to leave on June 12th next year but I've heard from friends that the rivers sometimes flood preventing a full sailing on the river with days made up by doing a bus tour. This is something my wife and I would not enjoy. In fact I would be furious. My TA says river cruising is extremely popular and I should be more positive. What do you say?A -  We are not particularly pleased with the manner in which river boat lines, in general, have handled this question of water levels and their effect on itineraries. This topic has not been tackled with candor and you are right to be concerned. Just this past week, one company, Viking River, had twelve sailings that…

IS THERE A LIST OF THE WORLD’S MOST OVERRATED PLACES?

Q - As we approach the magic day - two weeks from now, retirement will mean that we will be going out to see much of the same world we have been avoiding for the past six decades. We don't want to see it all - no interest in seeing the Congo or hiking the Himalayas, but we do want o see those places on most everyone's bucket list. Time and money are factors so we will need to pare it down a bit, which is why we are wondering of there is a list of the world's most overrated places?B - That could be a long list. It would also be entirely subjective, heavily influenced by the travel writer's frame of mind at the time. Leon Logothetis, whose name you might recognize from his work on the Discovery Travel, wrote a piece for the LA Times in which he named…

AM I BEING RIPPED OFF: WHO’S LYING?

Q - My wife and I read travel blogs for fun and we think your sis one of the best. But I've been told by two different cruise lines reservations departments that you are not telling the truth when you claim that booking directly with a cruise line is a rip-off. The two lines I spoke to claim that their computers assure the lowest price, something a travel agent can't do. Are they right?A - No, you are being fed a sales pitch by a commission-based reservations clerk. If a cruise line offered better pricing to those who call directly, no reputable travel agency would ever sell that line. It just never happens. Most of the top cruise consultants in the nation are completely up-to-date on the best pricing initiatives because they appear in their computer system or in e-mailings from the line. The rip-off is that cruise lines charge you…

WHICH KINDS OF RESTAURANTS ARE MOST DANGEROUS FOR E-COLI CONTAMINATION?

Q - We will be doing a driving trip from coast to coast later this summer. We're in our mid-sixties, relatively well-traveled, but we've not done a driving vacation in the United States. Our biggest concern is all those meals we will have in strange places and we want to stay healthy. How would you suggest we prepare, research, etc? You could say we are E-coli super-conscious. Which restaurants in these small towns and cities are likely to have kitchens that won't kill us.A - There actually is some research in this area. The first thing to point out is that there is not any medical research to back up the fact that urban dwellers with sophisticated palates live longer than their rural cousins. But you could make a case for obesity and less access to the best medical care influences rural lifespan statistics in some major ways.As far as…

NORMANDY BOUND, BUT NOT FOR THE BATTLEFIELDS

Q - We are off to Normandy this August with our 19-year-old son who is, of all things, fascinated by Impressionist art. We will tour the battlefields, but the main purpose would be to enroll him in some painting classes where they stress the Impressionist school techniques. Where would you suggest we stay to use as a base?  We're not on a tight budget and we also want to pick the best guide off the internet. How do we do this?A - You will want to stay at Le Ferme Saint Simeon, a small hotel that was loved by many of the better-known Impressionist painters. Try, if at all possible, to book room # 22, where Monet spend some time. The hotel manager will be able to set your son up for classes in the painting studio. The hotel is owned by the Boelen family.Do not try to choose Normandy…

WHO IS THE BEST PERSON TO PLAN AN ECO FRIENDLY, ENVIRONMENTAL TOUR OF COSTA RICA?

Q - We have strong environmental interests both professionally and privately. We are rather interested in going to Costa Rica to see and enjoy some of the best most eco-friendly resorts and off-the-beaten path experiences. We want to be in the hands of people who will get what we're about and who won't be intimidated by our academic credentials. How should we approach doing this? We're loyal to our travel; agent but she just doesn't seem to be very up on this kind of thing.A - Have your agent contact a company called Greenspot, run by Richard and Irene Edwards. They will coordi8nate through your agent and you will be in the best possible hands when you arrive. They devote themselves entirely to sustainable travel in meaningful ways.

ANY WAY TO GET US INTO RESTAURANT GUY SAVOY IN PARIS?

Q - We are going to be in Paris later this summer. Our dream is to dine at Guy Savoy's Restaurant. We tried online but that doesn't seem to work. I hope this is not an inappropriate question, but is there any secret way to get into a restaurant of that caliber when traveling overseas? All the regular channels just never seem to work.A - Many tourists make the mistake of trying top contact the chef/owner of a Three-star Michelin restaurant. In fact, every restaurant has a Manager of the Front-of-the-House operations which always includes reservations. In the States, that person is called the General Manager or the Director of Operations. In France, that person is, almost always, the Maitre d'Hotel. At Guy Savoy's in Paris try contacting Hubert Schwermer, who holds this post. Don't beg, but point out why the reservation means so much to both of you. There…

I AM BOOKED FOR BANGKOK – NOW WHAT?

Q - My wife and I have planned a trip that includes a number of days in Bangkok through one of the better tour companies in that part of the world. We worked with Pacific Delight directly. We're under deposit for a trip in August. It may be hot but we're both school teachers so we have to be back in late August. We're under deposit and we are starting to get cold feet. Pacific Delight is saying we shouldn't cancel. Please tell us what you recommend.A - Well, firstMartial Law Becomes Full Coup, Curfew in PlaceThe Thai army declared a military coup on the afternoon of 22 May. The caretaker government has been suspended and leaders of both pro- and anti-government groups have been detained. Military leader General Prayuth claims that the coup is "in order for the country to return to normality quickly, and for society to love…

ANY PLACE WORTH SEEING NEAR BUT OUTSIDE VENICE?

Q - In late September we've booked a great itinerary on the Seabourn Spirit round-trip out of Venice for ten days. The cruise will visit ports in Greece and Croatia that we really want to see but it overnights at the end in Venice. The problem is we've been there twice before, once with a wonderful guide named Anna Ferrari. I wonder if you know her? Our question is, given that we feel we've seen Venice, is there anyplace nearby, something charming, that might have fewer tourists and would make a great day trip?A - We don't know Ms. Ferrari, although we suspect it is an assumed name. Many guides end their touring day making their guests feel like they have become fast friends. Some tourists will try to contact them at home, so some guides use, easy-to-remember, assumed names. If Venetian tour-guide Anna Ferrari exists, we can't find her.One…

WHERE CAN WE FIND THE CHEAPEST TRAVEL INSURANCE?

Q - We will be leaving in three months for a two-week cruise to Greece and Turkey with Sea Dream 1. Picking the cruise was easy, the ship only has 50 cabins and 100 people. But choosing insurance is tougher. How do we find the best deals on travel insurance?A - We're not going to tell you because you are asking the wrong question. If this were the Mayo Clinic site would you be asking us to direct you to the cheapest heart surgeon? You don't normally want the "cheapest" anything when it comes to vacation planning, a reality that applies in spades when looking at comprehensive travel insurance. In fact, the most expensive policy is often, usually, the one that will actually protect you in an emergency. There are several good insurance companies with very similar rates. Your insurance discussion should be held with the  consultant who sold you your trip…

CAN YOU FIND US THE ULTIMATE RETIREMENT TRIP?

Q - We would very much like to have your help with planning our ultimate trip, a celebration of my retirement from the financial world with  a month-long journey that might include as much wildlife as possible in Africa as well as, if at all possible, the Amazon. We're open to what else we might see but we really prefer the exotic. Our budget would be in the neighborhood of $250,000 but we'd like everything included and handled. We don't mind traveling with a small group but we could never handle a long cruise or a typical group tour. We need this to be absolutely top-drawer. Our schedule is that we can go anytime in 2015. We want six months, at the very least, to thoroughly plan for this journey. We dread the long flights/delays etc. But that is, I suppose, something one must endure. Can you help us and do…

USING MY PHONE ON A CRUISE TO SOUTH AMERICA

Q - We leave for a cruise to South America this winter and we're already looking forward to it - except for the communications part. Is there any way to cut down on the cost of making a call while still using my regular phone (Android)?  A - There is one rather new technique that will save you big bucks. It is called data compression technology and it will save you money on the cost to download data as well as the high roaming charges involved in making overseas calls. The best of these programs is called Onavo Extend. You can download it to your phone for free.

WHICH AIRLINES HAVE THE LOWEST FARES TO EUROPE?

Q - We love reading this site even though it is clearly aimed at the upscale traveler. I suppose we are about fifty-fifty upscale. But we just hate spending money we don't have to for another inch of chair for eight or nice hours. For a 5-star hotel at the other end yes - but we just don't think airlines that charge 50% more than their competitors are worth it. Can you tell us if there are certain airlines you would recommend for those seeking the very lowest Business Class or coach seats from New York to Europe? A - There are more than a dozen so-called "budget"carriers across the Atlantic. We wouldn't fly most of them. Here are the Top Five "True Value" airlines across the pond:THE TOP FIVE "TRUE VALUE" AIRLINES FLYING TO EUROPEIcelandair - The upside is that you get a free stopover in Reykjavik. Service is professional - these…

LOOKING FOR A CHICKEN IN PARIS

Q - Don't know if you can help with this, but would appreciate it if you can help. I am not a vegetarian but my fiancé and I do not eat meat. We do eat chicken and fish. We will be in Paris for six days in August and we would love to know that we have sampled at least one really good restaurant that could accommodate our needs. Fancy white tablecloths are not necessary - just great food. If you help us we'll write you back a report on how nice the French treated us. We're in our thirties, fairly comfortable financially, and, our parents, say, rather demanding.A - No need to do the report. We've called the French and told them about you. We know how you will be treated. We think the restaurant you will really enjoy is Le Coq Rico which is modern French and totally…

HOW DO WE LOSE SEATS THAT WERE CONFIRMED SIX MONTHS AGO?

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…

WHICH IRAN TOUR SHOULD WE BOOK?

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…

ARE ONLINE FLIGHT SEARCHES RIGGED?

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…

DO I NEED A VISA FOR TRAVEL TO ST. PETERSBURG, RUSSIA

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…

HOW MANY COOTIES ARE LIVING ON MY BUSINESS CLASS BLANKET?

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. 

ONE QUESTION YOU NEED TO ANSWER

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,…

CAN WE USE CRUISE CREDITS TO REDUCE THE PRICE OF OUR CRUISE?

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…

WHICH COUNTRIES HAVE REALLY GREAT CREDIT RATINGS?

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…

WILL THE COAST OF NORWAY BE A BOREWAY?

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…

GREEK FAMILY SPECTACULAR

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…

CAN WE DO A CUSTOM BEEMER TOUR?

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…

A PHOTOGRAPHER’S DREAM TRIP

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…

CAN WE TURN JAMAICA INTO A MEMORABLE VACATION?

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…

SHOULD I LET MY DAUGHTER GO ON A CRUISE?

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…

BIG MOVES TO EUROPE

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…

WILL WE BE ABLE TO GET AWAY ON AMERICAN CHRISTMAS 2017?

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…

WHAT IS THE BEST WAY TO GET UPDATED GATE INFORMATION ON MY iPHONE?

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.

SHOULD WE CANCEL OUR ROYAL CARIBBEAN CRUISE?

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…

A ‘PUT YOU ON THE SPOT” QUESTION

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…

I AM A TRAVELING CFO. WHAT IS BEST WAY TO COMMUNICATE WITH OFFICE BACK HOME?

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…

VACATION.COM VERSUS VIRTUOSO, VERSUS SIGNATURE

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…

DO WE REALLY NEED AN INDIAN VISA?

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.

THE OCEANIA MARINA SAYS IT HAS GREAT FOOD. DOES IT?

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…

WHERE DO YOU FIND THE BEST TOUR GUIDES, ON ESCORTRED TOURS OR BOOKING PRIVATE ARRANGEMENTS?

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…

WHICH PORTS IN ISRAEL ARE BEST FOR CRUISE PASSENGERS?

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…

iPHONES AND PASSPORTS IN CUBA

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…

AMERICAN VERSUS UNITED TO LONDON

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…

WILL AN ATLANTIC HURRICAINE BANKRUPT OUR VACATION?

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…

ANYTHING COOL AND HIP IN THE CARIBBEAN?

Q - My boyfriend and I are professionals in the fashion industry in New York and we are in dire need of a Caribbean getaway sometime in December, perhaps over the Holidays. We like hip resorts with progressive food and rooms with modern design touches. We also have rather high expectations about service, a rare commodity, from what we understand, on the islands. I'm a Vegan, if that makes any difference. We'd be bringing along some work, but mostly, this is a vacation for soaking up the sun and relaxing with a little Buddha music in the background. Any suggestions?A - First, do this so you are home by the 18th of December. You will save a great deal of money, more than enough to pay for a second vacation, and you may actually be able to get some seats on an aircraft. The resorts we are recommending are either sold out or close…

WHY NO REPORTING ON THE REAL SCENT OF PARIS – URINE?

Q - My husband and I have just returned from a week in Paris. We were rather amazed at the number of homeless people on the streets. We had been there in 1994 and it was nothing like this. The smell of urine is everywhere and people are just setting up cots on the sidewalks all over the city.  You should tell your readers about this as it really impacted our memories of Paris on this trip. You go to Paris for the perfume - not this! Any idea why this is happening?A - It is a problem, but we still rank Paris as one of the planet's most beautiful cities. The fact is that homelessness in France has doubled in the past decade, the result of a shrinking economy and an influx of poor immigrants who can't find work. Our experience is that most of the homeless are in the…

TWO QUESTIONS REGARDING FREE AIR AND USING AN AGENT VERSUS BOOKING DIRECT

Q - Hi - I have spent some time on your site, and I have to thank you for the effort you put in, and the advice that you provide - it is a great resource. I have seen a couple of comments or recommendations in regards to cruise vacations that I would like you to expand on, if you could. The first is that for 'air-fare included' cruise lines, a client would be better advised take the credit and book their airline tickets directly. Can you really do better than the cruise line (and is the credit they offer really enough to let a client do so?) The second is that a client should deal through a travel agency, rather than booking directly with the cruise line. Why - especially with the "miracle pricing" you have alluded to - isn't that only available when you deal direct?A - Thank…

SHOULD WE BRING MAGNETS ON OUR CRUISE?

Q - We will shortly be taking our first cruise aboard the Celebrity Eclipse. Do you like and recommend this ship and Celebrity generally? Also, we read on the internet that you are supposed to bring a set of magnets on a cruise but we have no idea why nor does our travel agent. Any advice would be appreciated. A - You should love it. Have modest expectations as Celebrity, despite its advertising, is not a Five-Star inclusive experience. However, we believe that the Celebrity brand provides the overall best big ship, pay-as-you-go experience currently available. You are going on one of their newest ships with all manner of bells and whistles. Do dine in the additional charge restaurants and you will have some memorable meals as well as service similar to that you would receive on a higher-rated line. For a first cruise, we don't think your travel agent…

GOING TO KINGSTON MON, AND NEED GREAT FOOD

Q - We are heading to Jamaica for a vacation that will involve a great music festival in Kingston. We're foodies but know little about dining in Kingston. Any recommendations would be appreciated. Our air fare and hotels are set. Know you will provide trustworthy advice.A - While Jerk Chicken is everywhere, we would suggest you seek out locally caught fish. The best restaurant in Kingston is Norma's on the Terrace, a place that will give you a contemporary take on classic seafood preparation.But we want you to be very careful about your transportation to and from Norma's or anywhere else you go in Kingston at night. Kingston, Montego Bay, and several other popular tourist destinations ion Jamaica have serious crime problems and they carry a stern State Department Warning. Naïve Americans walking about at night in search of a restaurant or a taxi are potential targets. You can enjoy some…

HOW FAR CAN I GO ON A NON-STOP FLIGHT?

Q - Wondering whether one of your editors can tell me who is operating the longest passenger flight these days. For the ultimate getaway, I might be tempted to take it and let that be the degree to which I do itinerary planning. Is there any advantage to using a travel agent once I decide to do the trip? A -  Well right now Singapore Airlines 19-hour flight from Singapore into Newark is the world's longest flight. But Singapore will be ending non-stop service from the States. The Qantas flight from Dallas to Sydney at 7,454 nautical miles will, for a time, be the world's longest flight. But all that changes when Turkish Airlines begins flying from Istanbul to Sydney next year, a distance of 8,076 miles. This flight, when it finally operates, will be a game changer. Turkish Air has said it will be using Boeing 777-300's for the…

BARCELONA IN JULY – ANY DANGER?

Q - My husband and I read traveltruth on our iPad in bed. So thanks for that. Despite the time devoted to your excellent site, we have managed to have two kids and we're all scheduled to do an Azamara Cruise next summer that will spend two days in Barcelona. Our perfectly behaved angels are four and five and they have assured us that they will be ready for this cruise. But I wonder about issues of safety. You have indicated there is a crime issue in some areas of the city and then I've been reading about secession from Spain. Are we likely to encounter riots and street actions or am I just being an overprotective mother?A - Yes, we  think you are. Despite the street gatherings and rock throwing in Barcelona and other portions of Catalonia, most protesters demanding independence paused to take a nice lunch. Yes, there…

BARBADOS TO RIO: SHOULD WE SPLURGE?

Q - We are seriously considering joining friends from work on the January 15th sailing of Silverseas from Barbados to South America. We've never cruised this line but the combination of the Caribbean and South America intrigues us. Is $5650 a great deal for a window suite?  We've been working with an agent but were wondering what you might give us if we booked with you? A - We'd give you directions back to the  agent who has put in time trying to assist you. No matter what the ads and the hype might tell you, all of the better cruise consultants receive exactly the same pricing. If we didn't, we wouldn't book the lines. So now that you know we are not going to take you on, let us address your primary question. This is what is known as a "repositioning voyage". You can expect discounts to be deeper on this…

ROME DURING EASTER WEEK?

Q - We are taking our 16-Year old on a dream trip to Italy this coming spring. Our highlights will be Venice, Rome, and the Amalfi Coast. Our tentative schedule puts us in Rome Easter week flying home after the Holiday. But we don't know how insane Rome will be that weekend. We had wanted to do Sorrento last but now we're thinking about doing the trip Venice-Sorrento-Rome to avoid having to commute to Rome from Sorrento on departure day. Are our concerns about Easter week justified and how would you recommend we do the trip? A - Your concerns about Easter crowds in Rome, tied-up traffic, possible protests, and gridlock stress are all justified. You might consider staying in a hotel away from the center core, perhaps something just across the river in Trastevere like the Dei Mellini. You might want to re-think Sorrento, perhaps using Positano as a base. If…

ANY WAY TO DO THE SILK ROAD BY TRAIN?

Q - Your site was recommended to help us answer a question about my personal bucket list. Can you actually do the Silk Road through Turkmenistan, Uzbekistan, and Kazahkstan by train. I want  to see it all, and my wife will indulge me, from the Karakum and Kysilkum deserts to the Tien Shan Mountains. We're rather well-traveled, much of it on our own. We need private facilities but, other than that, we have minimal expectations although we would want the best accommodations on the train that they have - assuming a train exists. I would have no way to know if this is something two sixty-three year old retirees in good health can actually book, we'd love to know how. Thanks to your staff  for the most credible travel site we've found. A - Love your idea and we would never discourage you from this amazing adventure. The good news is that there…

CUBA NOW – SI OR NO?

Q - Like many traveltruth fans, we have always wanted to go to Cuba. Now, it seems, things are opening up and we noticed that Tauck Tours is offering programs there next year. Can we book this and do you recommend this. Does Tauck have a  decent reputation?A - Tauck is, in our view, the world's best First-Class Tour Operator. That is very different than being the world's best "Deluxe" operator but for most upscale clients, Tauck is the most reliable, best organized, tour operator for sophisticated travelers who don't need the top suite in the best hotel but welcome a company that does away with the stereotypical trappings of group travel such as name tags, guides hoisting umbrellas in the air to be followed, and trips to stores that pay kickbacks tot he company or the guide.But Cuba is a different animal. The rules on "Exchange Programs" haven't really been…

WE ARE BOOKED ON A SHIP THAT JUST FAILED ITS HEALTH INSPECTION

Q - We are really worried about a cruise we have booked for next year on Silverseas Cruises Shadow, This will be our third cruise, first on this line, but we are now quite worried because our daughter-in-law was checking the ship out online and tells us it just failed its health test. There also was a big problem with the crew hiding food like steaks in their pants and stuff and taking it to their cabins. Would you consider cancelling and trying o book something else?A - Well, we hope the chef wasn't cooking sausage and peppers. Let's try to set the facts straight on this.In its last surprise sanitation inspection, the Silverseas Shadow received its first ever failings score, an 84 out of a possible 100. The inspection, done in Skagway, Alaska,  uncovered the fact that some galley crew were so discombobulated by the presence of CDC inspectors…

DOES DISNEY REALLY DOUBLE ESCORT THEIR TOURS IN EUROPE AND SOUTH AMERICA?

Q - We are thinking about doing a trip to Great Britain with a family whose daughter attends grade school with my son. The parents get along well and so do the kids. My friend is recommending the Disney Tour company and says they actually provide two escorts. Is this really true and is this a concept you folks would recommend?A - Given the level of mediocrity in the travel industry, we tend to recommend anything with Disney's name on it although we would bring a few of the half ton bottles of Purell along on any of the trips.You will receive a well-rehearsed, well acted, Disney experience on any program or cruise the company operates and they do nothing below the Four-Star level of service. They are an extremely trustworthy brand. So what if they are a cult with a rodent leader who has a sort of wife but no…

BEST FIVE-STAR CRUISE OPTIONS FOR NON-SMOKERS

 Q - Quite frankly, we are disappointed that traveltruth does not have more questions about smoking on cruise ships. The vast majority of us are non-smokers and we feel that the last thing we need is to be exposed to second-hand cigarette smoke. We understand that smokers have rights, but we would choose a luxury cruise company based, in large part, on their smoking policy. Is there one of the top lines that is best for non-smokers, or, put another way, is there a line we should avoid. We love balcony cabins but we would never put up with someone smoking on the balcony next to ours. A - We have had a sharp increase in questions about smoking aboard ships. Ironically, the mass market lines, which appeal primarily to Americans, have had strict anti-smoking policies in place for a while. Some of the deluxe lines, which appeal to more of an…

CRUISING TO WORLD WAR TWO PACIFIC BATTLE SITES

Q - I am a retired Officer who would love to visit some of the sites of the Second World War  Pacific Theater with my wife. I have the time and the means to do it right and was wondering if there is a cruise that might make us happy in terms of a focus on the major battlegrounds like Pearl Harbor and Okinawa?A - Yes Sir - there is one cruise that would be the best for your needs. But we must advise you that it is heavily booked. Crystal Cruises will be sailing from Los Angeles in mid-January on a 22-Day sailing on the Serenity that will call at Hilo and Honolulu, Guam, Saipan, Northern Mariana Islands, Okinawa, and the port of Yokohama. Crystal has invited an impressive group of guest lecturers including four-star generals and historians like James Bradley, author of "Flags of Our Fathers." Work with someone…

DO I NEED PAPERS TO GET INTO AUSTRALIA?

Q - My buddy and I will stop trading commodities for a few days, hope the markets can withstand our absence, and we're off to Sydney for a few days of rest, relaxation, and some sailing. We're getting conflicting advice about the need for an Australian Visa and we were wondering if getting one is really necessary. We live in downtown Chicago so the offices are right there. It just sounds like a hassle.A - As you will soon discover, the Aussies don't believe in hassles. They make visa purchases quite easy. You can do it all online for a $20.00 fee. Just go to https://www.eta.immi.gov.au/ETA/etas.jsp  Have your passport in front of you. You will receive a "code" number that you just carry with you on your travels. The entire process takes no more than five minutes.Do note that to properly fit in with the Aussie lifestyle, men are expected to wear…

TRYING TO FIND LISBETH SALANDAR?

Q - Both my husband and I have just finished the three Scandinavian detective thrillers in Stieg Larsson's "Millennium" series. We know Mr. Larsson passed away but we would really like to enjoy a visit to Stockholm to try to trace the steps of Mikael Blomkvist and Lisbeth Salendar, the wonderful tattooed computer hacker and kicker of butts. Is there an organized tour for this sort of thing? A - Actually, the Stockholm City Museum offers a nifty "Millenium Trilogy" walking tour. We're big fans of "The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo" as well. If you want to visit on your own, try visiting:Fiskargatan 9 – It is here at this upscale address with a view over Djurgården and Old Town that Lisbeth Salander buys a 21-room apartment. But she lived in only three of the rooms. The name on the door is “V. Kulla,” in a nod to the…

REALLY GETTING ANNOYED ABOUT SHORE EXCURSIONS

Q - In your reviews of the Top Ten Cruise Lines, we notice that you say very little about the cost these lines are charging for their shore excursions. We've done one previous cruise on MSC and we're trying Oceania in Europe next May. But we notice that they are charging up to twice as much as we can pay for the same tour booking it ourselves online. We like the private tours, my wife tends to get bus sick. Why are these tours such a rip-off?  I hate to think about planning a vacation while worrying about being taken for a ride. And believe me, we can well afford to pay what they are asking - it's just the principle.A -  This is a complicated topic and we don't want to over-analyze it. Let's begin by saying that the tour departments of all of the cruise lines are, essentially,…

GOING TO PROPOSE IN EZE AND NEED HELP

Q - My girlfriend and I visited the hilltop town of Eze in the south of France on a recent  cruise and we fell in love with it. Now, I want to go back and spend a few days so I can propose in a beautiful setting. Where should I book and how should I book? Love the site, know you don't take ads, so wondering if there is a place to send donations to keep it going? A - There are two really nice, upscale hotels in Eze. For your purposes, we want you to stay at Chateau Eza which has a bit more warmth than Chevre d'or and only 12 rooms. But do a dinner, or two, at Chevre. Book your hotel with a member of one of the leading consortium groups and ask specifically if the Chateau Eza is "in your network". If it is, you will…

ARE YOU FOLKS RECOMMENDING TRAVEL TO MEXICO?

Q - We are thinking about a trip to Cabo San Lucas but were wondering if you are sending people there and if you feel it is generally safe? We're rather high-end travelers, I suppose, fans of Peninsula and Mandarin Oriental, but my wife is worried about traveling where drug cartels are ruling the streets. Thinking about a February trip. Does Cabo have any high end hotels? By the way, if we go, will we be the only ones there? A -  Most of the hotels/resorts in Mexico are reporting that their numbers are increasing by about 25% year over year. Part of this resurgence is the growth of the Australian market which has traditionally supported Hawaii. Drug cartels are not a problem in Cabo and you should go with confidence, albeit our ongoing concerns about Mexico which center around the uncertainty of travel in a country where the police…

ARE THERE REAL LAST-MINUTE CRUISE DEALS ON THE TOP CRUISE LINES?

Q - We just returned from a cruise on Crystal to the Baltic and loved the experience. We're already signed up for another trip next year. But being retired, we can cruise on short notice. We've read what you've recommended about the benefits of being among the first 20% to book. But now, we're wondering about being in the last 20% to book. Are there any truly great deals on for those of us who can travel in the next several months on the world's top-rated lines?A - Up until very recently, the answer would have been no. But your question is timed well since we are just starting to see the advent of a new phenon we call "Miraculous Cruise Pricing". As we've indicated, the southern Mediterranean is extremely weak this year. At last count, fourteen US cruise ships will be pulled from European waters next year. Many of the sailings of the very…

787 UPDATE: IS THIS PLANE SAFE?

Q - My entire family of seven is scheduled to fly from Houston to Denver in October and we are currently bo0ked on the new Boeing 787. First we had the battery issues and now it seems that there are more issues with the  airplane. We do not fly often and we are a little nervous. We know you will give us an honest answer so thanking you in advance. A - We have seen some issues with United Airlines newly acquired 787 fleet since they returned to service. Bloomberg News reports that the UA's 787 flights are cancelled four times more often than the rest of its current fleet. On that basis, and because you have anxiety about your flight, we recommend that you change your flight times and use a different aircraft. Your travel agent should be able to help you with this and we would expect that United will…

AM I GETTING HUSTLED ABOUT RUSSIA?

Q - We are working with a travel agent we've known for years. Last week, I brought her a tour put out by General Tours that really looked interesting. But she quickly tried to turn things around trying to get us to book a Viking River Cruise in Russia instead. I'm just wondering about how your industry works in terms of which of these two options would be more profitable for the agent. I hate being hustled for a few extra bucks. A - It is unlikely that is what happened. Generally, travel agencies receive a commission of the sale, the more expensive the trip, the more they earn. But given your two examples, it is doubtful that the agent would risk losing your goodwill for the difference in earnings. Travel agents earn commission on the cost of any brochure program that you book with virtually any company. If you…

MATH CHAOS IN GERMANY’S RESTAURANTS

Q - Our friends from Portland recently joined us on a custom arranged vacation that took in portions of Switzerland, northern Italy, and almost ten days in Germany. We loved this vacation and being with our friends of twenty-five or so years, was terrific. But we ran into one problem that we just didn't understand. Our practice has always been to just split the dinner bill equally. We figure that it all comes out in the end. But every time we tried to do that in a German restaurant it seemed to cause consternation and confusion. In one or two cases, there were raised voices. We never did find out the cause. What had we done wrong?A - You did nothing wrong. But your experience can really shed some light on the German position vis-a-vis the debt of some of its neighbors like Greece, Portugal, Italy, and Spain. You ran…

FLYING FOR FREE WITH A MERCEDES CARD

Q - I've been getting mailings about a new credit card called the Mercedes-Benz Platinum. In terms of travel benefits, is this one of the better cards. Given the cost of my Mercedes, I'd love to feel that I can get a few free international tickets out of my purchase. A - This is one of the better cards but it is not our favorite. They have had an offer of $50,000 Amex Reward Points for new members. There are no foreign transaction fees and you can transfer points to major airlines. You also get airline lounge access, a benefit that can be worth the price of the card if you are a frequent Delta, US Airways, or American flyer. Best of all, whenever you spend $1.00 at your dealership. Mercedes will give you 5 points.The down sides would be that there is a $475 annual fee and some airlines,…

CAN YOU MAKE MY HUSBAND AN OFFER HE CAN’T REFUSE?

Q - My husband smokes cigars continually, has an eight handicap, runs a five million dollar auto-supply business and knows about 75% of the dialogue from the original Godfather movie. He's big, loud, obnoxious, and a sort of typical Jersey guy. He's a sweetie and I want to take him to Sicily as a surprise for his sixtieth Birthday. I don't think he'd sit still for a tour or even a private guide, so I'd love it if  traveltruth could just tell me one or two villages where filming was done that he would immediately recognize. I'll see if I can find him a big black Buick to rent over there. By the way - is it safe?A -  It is safe but we would recommend that your husband not stand in the middle of the village square demanding that all "Mafioso" identify themselves. Start him out in Savoca, a town that Francis…

THE BEST OVERALL CRUISE LINE

Q - OK, we've read your entire site, or 90% of it, and, wow!  Congratulations. So the one question we're dying to know the truth about. All in, which cruise line is really the best in the world. And don't be concerned about naming names - we won't tell any of the other lines you work with. A - No problem and thanks for agreeing to keep it to yourself. The best line overall is Hapag-Lloyd and their two ships, Europe 1 and Europa 2. In terms of service standards, luxury in every aspect of the cruise experience, and fine dining, they are the best at sea. We don't think that asking you to learn to speak fluent German before selling you a cruise on this line is unreasonable. When it comes to cruising, as with automobile manufacturing, it boils down to the Germans and whoever is in second place.

DO YOU RECOMMEND INTERNET-BASED SHORE EXCURSION FIRMS?

Q - My husband and I, as well as our best friends, are all working with a great travel agent here in Pittsburgh on a cruise to Europe with Windstar. She has recommended several private shore excursions through her connections with the group she belongs to. They all seem wonderful but pricey. Our friends have gone online, and found similar sounding tours for about half the price. Is this something you think we should pursue?A - Perhaps. Booking with someone you don't know from an overseas office who may or not have drivers or guides under contract can be extremely risky. To protect yourselves, we would recommend that you be extremely specific as to the kind of guide you require, the kinds of experiences you will want, and the quality of the vehicle and driver who will take you around. It is also quite appropriate to request local references. A guide in…

OK, I’M IN MY HOTEL ROOM. WHAT DO I CLEAN FIRST?

Q - There is all this media coverage of dirty hotel rooms, bed bugs, lousy security etc. But I am most concerned about touching something in my hotel room that will make me sick. Yuck. What do I Purell first and how do you know which hotels are the cleanest?A - Start with the light switches and the Television remote. Then wash the water glasses you will be using in very hot water. Other than that, just know that there is a strong correlation between the average room rate and carefully monitored health and safety matters. You would be correct in assuming that a five-star hotel is going to spend more on room cleanliness and on hotel security. They are also going to be able to provide more savvy, better trained staff. The average travel consumer still thinks that, somehow, hotel rates and cruise prices are exempt from the general…

WHO SHOULD WE USE TO SHIP LUGGAGE?

Q - I know you are going to say it is extremely expensive, but my wife and I have decided that we are not going to be traveling with luggage when we connect with our Absolute Asia itinerary in Hong Kong. Could you give us the one or two best luggage firms to contact? Thanks so much - awesome site! If you were on Facebook we'd give you twenty "likes".A - Well we're not, so save your thumbs. We prefer talking to human beings instead of clicking like apes in a language lab at MIT. Luggage forward services are fairly new so these firms do not have extensive track records and, yes, the marketshare is still so low that prices haven;t come down vcry much. That said, the two best firms seem to be "Luggage Forward" and "Luggage Free". 

WHY CAN’T I GET REGENT’S FREE HOTEL NIGHT?

Q - Just can't fathom the way these cruise lines give and then take away. For the past year we've been getting mailers from Regent Seven Seas offering a Free Hotel Night before each of their cruises. Now, our agent tells us that she can't get us the free night for our planned cruise on the Navigator to Alaska this July. Should we work with someone else - like your firm?A - No, stick with your agent. She is giving you the correct information. Regent has had a change of heart and the Free Hotel night offer ends prior to the summer cruise season. The new policy is that only guests booked in Concierge level cabins and suites will continue to receive a complimentary pre-cruise stay. The changeover policy  takes effect on the following start dates:Mariner - April 7 with Free Hotel beginning in Category ENavigator - May 21 with…

DO I REALLY NEED TO IRON MY MONEY?

Q - We have have heard that people who travel out of the United States should carry clean, or fresh money. A friend of mine in Concord, says she literally irons her larger bills before going to Europe so they look more legitimate. This just sounds crazy to us. What's the truth?A - This is far less an issue in Europe than it is in Japan, China, and other parts of Asia. It isn't that a rumpled twenty is not worth twenty dollars, it is more an issue of pride and cleanliness. Money that has been handled by many people is germ-ridden and it is never, ever cleaned.  In fact, dollar bills are generally the most toxic thing you will touch all day unless you work in the septic business or the state legislature.The real issue is that paper bills that are soiled, tattered-looking, or just dirty, cannot be given…

CHINA FOR FIRST-TIMERS ON A BIT OF A BUDGET

Q -  My husband just retired three weeks ago and I can already tell you, I want out of this house. Wer're going to start doing some long term travel planning and we are wondering if you are talking on new clients or if  you would be willing to recommend someone in the Little Rock area?  My first question has to do with China. What is the best way to see the most for the least amount of money. We want to tale it all in in about two or three weeks at the most. But we don't want to travel deluxe, just moderately with nice, clean hotels. We're in good health - I know you will ask about our health.,  I am a little hard of hearing. You'll like us if you give us a try. We need some hand holding cause we don't have passports yet and have…

ORDERING; ONE OF THE GREATEST MEALS OF OUR LIVES IN VERONA

Q - OK, we're going to trust you with the most important portion of our October trip to Italy. On the last night of the trip, we are going to be staying in Verona, after a few days in Venice. This is a honeymoon of sorts and, if all goes well, we may actually consider getting married next year. White tablecloths and violins are not necessarily our thing. We're all about the food. We will have a car. Where in Verona should we dine? Please help us with this. We will do whatever you recommend. A - Thank you, we think, for the responsibility. We don;t want you to stay in Verona. Just about a half hour away, southwest, is the small village of Mantua and a wonderful family-run restaurant called Dal Pescatore. There are three generations of the family running this establishment and it was awarded its third Michelin…

HEADED FOR CUZCO – WHAT SHOULD WE DO?

Q - Our agent booked us into Cuzco for two nights before taking the train to Machu Picchu, where we will have a private guide for two full days. We are really excited about the history and the views that lie ahead. Any suggestions on what we should do with our time in Cuzco. This is a wonderful site but I think we're among the last to discover it.A - Hmmm. You have nothing to do in Cuzco but you have a private guide fror two days in Machu Picchu. That just sounds off to us. We would suggest you cancel the guide for one of the days in MP. Take the money and hire a private guide, instead, for part of your time in Cuzco.We can recommend all sorts of ways to spend your time. But we want you to have "getting acclimated to the elevation" your primary goal. If…

A VILLA IN SPAIN: WHERE DO WE BEGIN?

Q  - My travel agent can get me the best airfare to Ft. Lauderdale or Chicago, but she knows very little about Villas (trust me - I've tried to engage her on the topic). Some of the magazines like Travel + leisure now list Villa Agencies. Is this the best way or do we contact the embassy, use the internet, find a different travel agent, contact Villa owners directly or try to read the ads in the back of National Geographic? We are looking for a three bedroom for four adults and three children and we want to keep the price at under $20,000 per week for a two-week stay. At that price, we would expect to have a private cook included on staff. A - The fact that your long-time agent does not personally know Villas well is not particularly disturbing. But if she does not have good connections in…

ROME’S LEAST-KNOWN NEW HOTELS

Q - We go to Rome every six months or so. We love the energy, the food, and the southern Italian "attitude." We've always done the Hassler or your recommended Hotel De Russie, but now we're looking for some new recommendations in the city, We would prefer to stay under $1200 USD per night. A - There are two new properties we think you may like.  J.K. Place Rome will be open for the summer. This is the newest branch of the chic chain with properties on Capri and in Florence. Margutta 54 is a great new option featuring beautiful suites

DO CERTAIN AIRLINES CHARGE LESS FOR FLIGHTS TO EUROPE?

Q - Don't think anyone has ever asked you this before - "Are there airlines that routinely offer lower air fares to Europe?" My feeling is that, once I'm over there, I can connect anywhere I need to go. A - You may want to look at the schedules and pricing on one of the Frugal Fab Four. They are Air Berlin, Air Lingus (Ireland's carrier), TAP (Portugal), and Iberia (flies into Madrid). Not one of these airlines ranks among our Top Recommended Airlines for service but you will, normally, find lower fares than those available on the "Majors".

DO WE NEED TO GO 5-STAR IN THE CARIBBEAN?

Q - Our frrinds in Aiken keep wanting us to join them on a Caribbean cruise. They tend to go with Princess or Holland America. We've done our last two cruises on Sea Dream Yachts and Seabourn, so we're reluctant to get on any boat that doesn't have "Sea" in its name. But then again, pennies always count in our house and we're wondering if paying two or three times more is really a good idea or even necessary in the Caribbean. We all follow this site religiously and we're good Baptists!A - There are so many ways to respond to this question. Let us summarize some of our staff's primary responses:Your pricing assumptions are not really correct. We've done the analysis, and when you figure in Seabourn's free air, gratuities, drinks, one or two shore excursions, the price per day for similar accommodations after all discounts are applied, may…

WHAT IS THE SMARTEST WAY FOR A FAMILY OF FIVE TO SAIL MICKEY?

Q - We want to take our family of five on the Disney Magic. What would you recommend as the best cabin strategy?A - Do a deck 8 Veranda. They have a queen or twin beds and three singles that pull out from the wall. There is a divider between the sitting area and the master bath. Enjoy.

HELP IN COZUMEL

Q - I don't know if you all give advice but I guess it's worth a shot given my situation. I'm young (mid twenties) petite female who just booked a solo trip to Cozumel for five days in May. Given that I've been there before, albeit with a companion, I thought that I chose a safe place to travel. Now, however, I am finding disturbing reports such as the gang rape of a young woman in a "cruise-line recommended shop" in broad daylight. I am becoming seriously worried. All I want is a quiet vacation to Cozumel so I can rest on the beaches/read do a bit of shopping/scuba diving and visit the Bob Marley Bar so I can watch the waves. I even got an all-inclusive option at my hotel so I don;t have to venture out for food at night. But I did plan to visit restaurants, shops,…

NEWS FROM THE STATE OF PARANOIA

Q - If you really want to be "truthful" you may want to tell your readers that the Chinese are already waging cyberwarfare against the United States and our entire air traffic control system can be brought down while thousands of planes are in the air causing who knows what level of chaos. I know you will not print this, but Americans better wake up. Are the airlines aware that this is going on and are they doing anything about it?  Until you start dealing with political realities, your site will just be another travel dead zone. A - Thanks for the charming update. There is, actually, some truth in what you say to the extent that any of our major grids such as those that regulate gas pipelines or chemical plants, as well as government facilities are vulnerable. In a truly important speech, outgoing Secretary of Defense, Leon Panetta said that we…

WHY AREN’T CRUISE LINES FLYING THE US FLAG?

Q - Reading about these cruise lines that register out of the United States and pay no taxes? Are they really non-American companies and why are we supporting them with our business. What is really going on here? A -  If you look at the five largest cruise lines operating in the United States, you will find that they are all registered in foreign countries including the Bahamas, Panama, and Liberia. By "foreign-flagging", cruise lines avoid paying the kinds of taxes they would pay if they were US-based corporations. They also do not have to observe our labor laws or even many of our domestic safety requirements.  The practice is referred to as "flags of convenience." The hard truth is that cruise labor is much like migrant labor - unless it continues, prices for the product will soar. The Hotel and Tour industries wonder why their major competitor is allowed to…

I HATE O’HARE – OPTIONS?

Q - Spent several hours on this site last night and had to drop you a line. Great stuff. Here's my specific question. I am a  consultant in the chemical industry and I fly, out of my home in Denver all over Europe. I work alone, with a part-time secretary and we do all of our own air arrangements. I have had numerous flight cancellations and delays at O'Hare and I just want to try avoiding it if I can. If you were me, which airports that have non-stop flights to Europe would be best for connections? Wish you had more on airline strategies and less on cruise line ratings. A - Thanks for the advice. We won't take it, but thanks anyway. Your question does, we think, have a specific answer. Our air people feel that you might limit your connections to three "first-choice" options, Dallas/Ft. Worth, Charlotte, and…

FLYING IN APRIL – HOW EARLY DO I NEED TO GET TO THE AIRPORT?

Q - My husband and I are going overseas for the first time this April on a tour arranged through our church in Boise. It is a group tour and we have to get to New York on our own to get on a Delta Airlines flight. My question is how much time do you think we need between flights. Our travel agent says two hours and we found a flight that gives us  a little less, one hour and fifty minutes. Our agent wants to book it but we thought we should run it past you first. Any advice would be appreciated.  I just want everything to go right.A - We disagree with your agent. Do not book the flight. With the current sequestration budget cuts, TSA staff at a number of US Airports, but most particularly New York's JFK, O'Hare, and Atlanta, will be cut by as much as…

SHOULD WE REALLY CONSIDER A CRUISE AFTER THIS?

Q - After watching CNN and other interviews with the poor folks getting off the Carnival Triumph, I really wonder if we ever will take that first cruise. So let's see why travel "truth" is still, as far as I can see, recommending cruising. Given the honesty of your answers to other questions, I wonder how you respond to your bread and butter? This is not meant in any mean-spirited way. We read the site, enjoy it, and are really curious.A - Fair enough. We don't recommend "cruising" we recommend the top ten-rated cruise lines. We don't recommend "hotels", we recommend certain hotels that meet our stringest standards. We have never booked guests on a Carnival Cruise. The one essential rule that the consumer somehow thinks  does not apply to travel is "you get what you pay for". This is a critical mistake. We don't sell Holiday Inn or Motel 6.When you book the…

DOES TEN DAYS ON THE AMALFI COAST MAKE SENSE?

Q - We work full time and have just nine or ten nights to spend in Italy. We love hiking, exploring, and really good food. Could the Amalfi Coast work in that time frame and how would we set it up in terms of hotels and air. We are in our fifties and we like good hotels that are romantic. Will our travel agent make dinner reservations for us and can her recommendations be trusted?A - There is a lot of question there. We would fly into Rome and then train down to Naples. You would be met in Naples and then brought to your hotel. Our recommendation for ten days is to stay in two hotels. You should look first at Le Siranuse in Positano and the Hotel Caruso in Ravello. Both are truly memorable. There is some public transportation and the hotels can arrange for a private driver…

WOULD YOU PUT YOUR FAMILY ON THE DREAMLINER WHEN THEY CLEAR IT?

Q - We have been following the story, now on the New York Times second and third page, of the new Boeing 787 Dreamliner. I am writing this on February 8th and I wonder what the status is. We are supposed to fly the plane in April on United. You all seem to be honest journalists so let me ask you a personal question. Would you allow your family to board this aircraft? A - Yes, if it was parked on the tarmac with the engines turned off. Here is the thing: No one, as of this date, has been able to determine the cause of the on board battery fire and the severe overheating issues. Progress is going extremely slowly because the battery maker, in Japan, thought to be the culprit, has come out of this with few scars. Believe it or not, this is a major technological mystery. Now,…

DOES ANYONE STILL OFFER AROUND THE WORLD CRUISES?

Q - In this day and age of less ostentatious travel, I wonder if  cruise lines are still offering Around the World type cruises? A - This year, we count nine lines offering ATW Cruises, six of which will literally circumnavigate the globe. Three of these lines, Holland America, Seabourn, and Silverseas, compete with identical length, 115 day, itineraries. Crystal does its World Cruise on the 960-Guest Serenity. Reports from the line  are that approximately 400 of their guests have signed on for the full journey while the rest of the guests purchase one or more segments of the sailing. Although generally less profitable for cruise lines than shorter sailings that use less fuel and offer fewer days at sea, world cruises are in demand and Crystal is currently taking reservations for its 25th Anniversary sailing in 2015 that will be a 108-day circumnavigation. Bookings are, we are told, robust.This all started in England…

WHERE IS ICE CREAM STREET?

Q - We've been searching for a really strange destination and thought your staff might be able to help. We will soon be opening an ice cream parlor in Sonoma, California. I've taken early retirement and before getting back to the hard work ahead in launching a labor intensive business, my wife and I want to travel a bit to discover the best, most interesting ice cream and flavors available anywhere. We've heard that there is a street filled with ice cream shops of high quality, one after another. But we don't know where it is. Have you ever heard of Ice Cream Street? Where would you go to sample the most interesting, and best, ice cream and gelato on the planet?A - We think you may have the name wrong. The closest we can come is Ice Cream City which is located inside an amusement park in the Sunshine City shopping…

CRUISING THE AMAZON WITHOUT BINGO

Q -  We find your site rather confusing. On the one hand, it purports to be a cruise site, but we notice lots of information that seems way off topic. If you wish to have people use the site, you might want to think about sticking to one thing and doing it well. Our question has to do with Amazon River Cruising. We know that several of the deluxe lines like Silversea, Seabourn, and Crystal do Amazon itineraries but we are really interested in more of a comfortable, high quality expedition cruise experience with fewer people than a large cruise ship. Are there companies you might recommend?A - Thank you for the advice. We won't follow it because traveltruth.com is not a cruise web site. We deal exclusively with First Class and Deluxe vacation planning worldwide. There are many parts of the world where it is impossible or makes little sense to travel…

I WANT MORE THAN I PAID FOR

Q - These hotels really get me angry. They always pretend they are full when I ask for an upgrade. Meanwhile, I know from online availability, that they have suites available. I am just constantly being turned down for upgrades and I know others are getting them. I dress quite well, I'm a decent looking guy, and I have a good job, so what am I doing wrong? I just want more than I paid for and I see nothing wrong with that.A - Do you think it might have something to do with your attitiude when you arrive? Try this: Never ask for an upgrade. Ask for a corner room or "a room with a nice sitting area where I can get some work done". Be as nice as you can be. Do not address the desk clerk by the first name on their tag. If there was a past…

TOUGHING IT OUT ON THE AMALFI COAST

Q -  My boss just informed me that I've won a two week trip to Italy that will include three nights in Sorrento, along the Amalfi Coast. My wife wants us to rent a car and do some driving. Do you think that's a safe idea? Any tips on the towns nearby that are "must-see's". We're really excited and would appreciate any advice. We tell everyone we know about this site. Keep up the good work.A - We're OK with you driving in Italy. The Italians, along with the Dutch, are Europe's best drivers. You will hardly get lost, just stay on Strada Statale 163 or, as the uninitiated call it, the Amalfi Drive. This incredible two land road hugs the edge of the cliffs for twenty-five miles, passing some of Italy's most beautiful views.We would suggest you swim in the Grota dello Smeraldo, visit the lovely town of Amalfi, and…

OK, ANDY GRIFFITH HAS PASSED, SO WAS MAYBERRY REAL?

Q - With great sadness, my husband and I read of the passing of Andy Griffith, a wonderful role model and, I think, a true southern gentleman. My husband suggested we just "drive to Mayberry". Is there such a place and how would we get there? Hope this request is not sounding silly. A - Not not at all. We all loved Andy though some viewers had a stronger attachment to Barney and they bear watching. There is no Mayberry but the show was truly inspired by a place in North Carolina named Mt. Airy, that Andy knew well. There's an Andy Griffith Miuseum and every September there's a celebration called "Mayberry Days". It's all a bit touristic these days but you can still get a glimpse of small town life and there are numerous small towns within driving distance that have no tourists. You can actually tour Mt. Airy in…

BORDEAUX’S BEST WINES

Q - I am a country club wine drinker but I do keep the Wine Bible next tot he remote and I am slowly getting into French red, particularly Bordeaux's. We're headed to France to do some tasting with another couple who thinks that the Trader Joe's label is really prestigious. But I do want us to go to the very best vineyards. If you could let us know which Bordeaux's are considered the very best, I'd be eternally grateful. A - Well this is a bit tricky as there are tens of thousands of wine connoisseurs who wish to taste the best Bordeaux's. To get into the very best vineyards, you need to know someone and, even then, it is extremely difficult to get to the Premier Grand Cru First Growth estates. We suggest that you work with your consultant to make all arrangements through one of the world's…

NEGOTIATING WITH A HOTEL AT THE FRONT DESK

Q - I am a software gun for hire and I travel about 80% of the time. I know that there are often great deals online at the hotels I'm staying at but I just don't have the time to check it all out on a daily basis. Is there any way to get the same rate as the internet when you're at the check-in desk? Very cool site but wish you had more for the business traveler. Not all of us can be on a perpetual vacation.A - Some experts suggest the "let's be realistic" approach at the front desk. You might try pointing out that the average online site is getting close to 30% in commission from the hotels they are selling. So suggest that if the hotel will give you 20-25% off the online price, they will still be making a profit on your stay. But be…

ARE WE GOING TO BE ABLE TO GET INTO COPENHAGEN’S BLUE PLANET?

Q - Very cool site but we wish you would have more on food and restaurants. It would be great if we could get all kinds of restaurant information mixed in with your highly valuable travel insights. My husband and I will be in Copenhagen at the end of June, having just ended a cruise. My husband mentioned there is supposed to be a terrific new site in Copenhagen called Blue Planet and he was thinking about adding a day to our trip so we could spend some time there. Do you know anything about this and would it be worth the extra day?A -  Well it looks like you are in luck. Copenhagen's absolutely stunning new aquarium, Blue Planet, is scheduled to open on March 22nd in time for the summer tourist season. We expect this to quickly become one of the two or three leading tourist attractions in Scandinavia. There…

HOW DO WE GET AROUND BUS TOURS IN ISTANBUL?

Q - We have a little but of a dilemma. We are doing a land tour that begins in Istanbul and includes two nights in the city with sightseeing. But to use frequent flyer miles with US Air, we had to add on three additional nights to make our upgrades work. So we now have three nights in a Muslim country with the sightseeing of all the major places already included in our tour. Your site mentions "Lifestyle Touring" for people who don't want or need historical bus tours. I suppose that's us. Any suggestions? A - You can have your agent arrange private sightseeing or you can contact the Concierge at your hotel to arrange the kind of sightseeing you really want. But very few guides are prepared to really take you inside the daily lives of the residents. The best program for you would be the Istanbul Lifestyle…

DO YOU RECOMMEND THE PAUL GAUGUIN?

Q - We are thinking about taking a cruise on the Paul Gauguin in Tahiti. We are looking at an 11-Day sailing out of Papeete to the Society Islands. We are casual people, we don't like dress up nights but we're ready to try some quality after our last disappointing cruise on one of the mega-ships. I guess we need to know if this is a good time to go, if the line is reputable, and about what we should expect to pay after their advertised two-for-one and Free Air deal. A - The Paul Gauguin is owned by an American based in Tahiti, is well-funded, and is highly reputable. It is, in our view, the very best way to experience the islands in the South Pacific and the ship is elegant but casual. Dress is about the same as it might be in a nice Hawaii-based hotel. For men,…

DIRTY RESTAURANT STORIES

Q - My wife and I were curious if  your restaurant writers saw the 20-20 on ABC TV about food and restaurant contamination (November 16th)? What did you think about it?A - Yes, we saw it. It struck us as a combo platter of light investigative reporting that really didn't take on the corporate entities that are selling our kids on corn syrup, salt, and chemically modified foods. But anything on this subject is helpful so we won't be too critical.The commentary on fish reflected some information we reported here several years ago. One expert said that virtually no one who orders Red Snapper in a restaurant is eating Red Snapper. Those who order "white tuna" on a sushi menu should know there is no such fish. They are really being served Escobar, a fish that causes diarrhea.The reporting on airline food contamination was interesting because it showed that the…

IS THERE REALLY ANY SUCH THING?

Q - My golfing partner thinks he read somewhere that you can do a safari in the Arctic. Any truth to this and how would we go about getting additional information? Is there really such any such thing?A - Well it's a bit of a marketing ploy but you can actually see wildlife like the elusive narwhals and search for polar bears in their native habitat. The Arctic is big and beautiful and one of the experiences you will never forget is hot air ballooning over a massive iceberg, The company that we like for this sort of soft adventure is Arctic Kingdom. Try to plan your trip eleven months prior to your favorite departure date as the air needs to be planned surgically.

SANTORINI RESTAURANT RECOMMENDATION

Q - The family, six of us, are headed for two nights on Santorini as part of a Greek islands itinerary planned with Isram Travel in New York. Is there a particular restaurant on Santorini that you think we should go out of our way to try? Will the cruise ship hordes ruin our time on the island? A - We're getting excellent reports from the Nichteri Restaurant in Kamari. Make sure your driver waits and offer to buy him dinner. The vast majority of cruise guests will be gone before sunset. That is rather interesting since one of the primary  reasons to go to Santorini, and particularly the village of Oia, is to watch the sunset. 

IS THIS ITINERARY WORTH $20,000 FOR TWO?

Q - Don't know if you folks are allowed to do this but I would love your opinion on a 33-Day Voyage on the Oceania Marina in April of 2014 from Tahiti to New York via Easter island, Peru, Ecuador, the Panama Canal, some of the Caribbean and even a day in Charleston before heading to New York. We're in our early seventies and have just started traveling seriously. I'm not a jogger but we get around OK. We've done two previous cruises on Holland America. And what cabin should we get?A - Look up and down this page. No Ads. We can do and say anything here, so no worries. We absolutely love this itinerary. You'll see the best of Polynesia, Machu Picchu, Easter island, the Pitcairn islands, and that's not even half the itinerary. We say do it and try to get a Penthouse level cabin for that…

SHOCKED BY TREATMENT BY RIVER BOAT OPERATORS

Q - My husband and I were planning our first cruise on a Danube River Boat Cruise. We've read so many wonderful things about these cruises on this site and others. We didn't use a travel agent and tried booking the cruise ourselves with Tauck, Viking River, and Grand Circle. I am rather shocked to say that we were turned down by each line because my husband uses a scooter to get around in port. He has enough mobility to do some limited walking around the ship but I don't see why they would not agree to help one of their own guests on or off the boat so he could use his scooter. Any light you can shed on this will be appreciated. I really got the impression they don't want our business. A - Well they don't. The average scooter that you are referring to weighs between 130-140 pounds.…

CRUISE CREW SALARIES EXPOSED

Q - We've just returned from a cruise on the Oasis of the Seas and some friends we had dinner with told us that they had gotten friendly with their cabin attendant who told them that crew is paid next to nothing and really survives on tips. In this day and age and with minimum wage laws, I wonder if this could be true? Do you have any information on this?A -  Workers aboard cruise ships are not protected by US laws as they are classified as foreign workers aboard ships that are not registered in the United States. They lack the same Minimum Wage, Health Care, and Working Conditions rights that you and I enjoy as citizens. By every measure they are exploited labor. Janitorial and cleaning staff average about $500 per month. A waiter can make $1,000 per month. They usually work seven days a week. They sleep…

SUNDAY: IS IT THE BEST DAY TO BOOK FLIGHTS?

Q - Having just retired from Duke Power after twenty years, my wife and I are ready to do some traveling. We'll do some overseas cruises but we really want to travel within the US at least four or five times annually. I've heard that I should go online on Sunday evening to get the best deals. Just checking to see if that is right. Enjoy the site immensely and appreciate the honesty. A - No, Sunday is not the day. The current best advice about airline purchases holds that an airline almost always is going to announce a fare sale on Monday evening. The other airlines scamper about on Tuesday morning and by noon on Tuesday, they have matched the fare sale offer. So the best time to book domestic air travel seems to be around noon, California time on Tuesdays. If this is of interest to you, you…

POSITANO SECONDS

Q - We have a problem that is, admittedly, in light of real world problems, insignificant. So we thought we would turn to your editors. We have a full day in Positano while visiting Sorrento off a Holland America ship. We've been there before and walked the streets of Positano which we loved. We wish to go back to Positano but we're looking for something a bit different since shopping is not our thing, which is to say it is not my thing but since my wife is not writing to you, I feel I can speak for her.  Also notice that you do not list Holland America in your Top Ten, an omission I must chalk up to elitism. Feel free to defend your lack of consideration for the Dutch.A - Yes, we are the masters of "insignificance". Thank you.We suggest two approaches in Positano. You might want to…

HOW DO WE TAKE ADVANTAGE OF REGENT CRUISE LINES FREE BUSINESS AIR OFFER?

Q - Read about your site in one of the travel magazines and would like to know a bit about the "Free Business Airfare Offer" they have at Regent Cruises. We are looking at a cruise in South America on the Seven Seas Mariner next December 8th that starts in Rio  de Janeiro and ends in Buenos Aires. We'll be booking the Free Air deal but we really want to get into Business Class. If I pick the right agent is there a chance of an upgrade? Can you tell us how to make sure we get the best seats and the best flights out of  Oklahoma City?  Wer're thinking of booking category F. o you recommend that category and are there any cabins to avoidA -  Regent's Free Air Offer is an effective marketing ploy but we are unaware of any cruise line that has ever really given consumers…

CHINA NEXT YEAR: WHEN SHOULD WE GO?

Q - We are thinking about doing China next year, using one of the better tour companies like Trafalgar, Abercrombie and Kent, or the Tauck Tours. We are wondering which of these you would recommend for the best overall experience? We would also like to know exactly when we should do this trip for optimum weather. We're hearing conflicting opinions. Also, how do we avoid the pollution and the smog?A - Trafalgar is a moderate to budget priced mass market tour operator. They are not appropriate for your needs. Tauck does First Class touring while A & K is the premier luxury tour operator. But each tour firm that tries to operate worldwide has geographical strengths and weaknesses. In China, we would clearly recommend A&K as they have the best local offic es and  operations staff. They do not outsource their guides or their touring components.You are getting some contradictory…

GOING TO THE MIDDLE EAST IN MARCH, WHAT TO DO?

Q - Love this site. Like sitting down with our doctor or attorney - but for free. This March we're headed on a voyage that will include several ports in the Middle East including Egypt. We booked through the cruise line for the savings but we're not getting any updates on the itinerary changes that might occur given the events of this weekend. We've called the line and they said they don;t know anything "yet" and we should just "sit tight." This trip is costing us close to thirty thousand dollars and I am not a "sit tight" kind of person. Any advice would be sincerely appreciated.A - First, you've been suckered into dealing directly with the cruise line - always a mistake. Always. They are charging you the commission that would buy you professional services, additional amenities, and caring oversight of your total cruise experience (assuming you have a really knowledgeable…

DO WE REALLY NEED TO DO THE WORK OF OUR TRAVEL AGENT?

Q - We've been going on three major trips a year for the past five years, using a travel agent with whom we feel we have a good relationship. But she is always telling us that we should reconfirm our reservations at hotels even though she has made the bookings. We're rather tech savvy so no big deal but we were wondering if we're doing her job? A - If you are arriving at a five-star resort or hotel property, your agent should be making the reservations through personal contacts. In that case there is no need for you to personally reconfirm. If your reservations are, on the other hand, being made by a traditional travel agent using an airline computer system (GDS), then it is a good idea for your to reconfirm the morning prior to your arrival or the morning of your arrival. This is a particularly good…

BEST SINGLE WAY TO CUT AIR COSTS DOMESTICALLY

Q - My husband and I love reading about luxurious travel options on your site. But with two pre-teens, our primary goal at the moment is planning three and four day vacations within the United States. Other than using low-cost airlines like JetBlue and Southwest, is there one single strategy that you could recommend to save on the cost of  four tickets? A - Since you live in Portland, your options are somewhat limited. But we've been to Portland and we know you won't move, so let's deal with what we've got. The best single strategy would be to arrange your vacation to depart on Saturday with a return on Tuesday or Wednesday. Fares on Fridays and Sundays are always going to be higher based on demand.

HOW DO WE BOOK THE NEW DREAMLINER FOR A CROSS COUNTRY FLIGHT?

Q -  How do we actually book a flight on the new Boeing Dreamliner? We hear such great things about the plane but I don't see any ads for it and I don't know how to go about getting on board this year or, if necessary, next year. It is likely we would want to fly her from Minneapolis to Los Angeles.A -  We're anxious to fly the Dreamliner as well. There are larger windows with a button that controls the "dimmers", the luggage bins are larger and do not cut into headroom, the pressurization system is significantly advanced over older aircraft and should help passengers avoid in-flight headaches, and it is less expensive to fly because it is made of lightweight composite materials.As to your question: United will be years ahead of its domestic competition. They have 50 Dreamliners on order and the first will arrive at the end of this…

BOTTOM LINE: SHOULD MY DAUGHTER DO THIS TRIP?

Q - My daughter, my only daughter, has come to me asking permission to join two girlfriends on a cruise aboard Royal Caribbean next Spring. There may be an older sister on board who is twenty-two if the line requires it. Her girlfriend's parents have given their consent, feeling that a cruise ship is as safe a place as our kids can be during Spring Break. We are being told that they have good security aboard. The kids will want to enjoy the ports, particularly those in Mexico and they've promised us they won't be drinking. Just thought we would run this past you before giving the go ahead. Are we being naive?A - "Naive" doesn't even cover it.   This is just irresponsible on your part. Here are a few facts and observations that might help you and other parents of potential unaccompanied, youthful Caribbean cruisers understand the risks:01 -…

WINTER IN THE FURIOUS FIFTIES; POSSIBLE? RECOMMENDED?

Q - We are writing about our desire to do something really different next year, exploring the sub-Antarctic Islands of New Zealand, the Antipodes. We know the seas are rough but we wonder if there is anything in these waters we might consider?  We're thinking of, perhaps, seeing Campbell Island and the Bounty Islands, perhaps Macquarie. We're in our mid-fifties, in good shape, and we've done four or five adventure trips and photography jaunts since my retirement as an international consultant. A - It would be inaccurate to say that the Antipodes are hot right now, but they are slowly gaining interest among photographers, and particularly birders as islands with really amazing populations of large numbers of species. You will probably want to look first at Orion Expedition Cruises, a wonderful company that has just made our coveted listing of The World's Top Ten Rated Cruise Lines. There is one…

CRYSTAL OR SILVERSEAS: IS THERE REALLY A DIFFERENCE?

Q - My wife and I are looking to take a Baltic Cruise next year. Given the current offers, we'd prefer booking now rather than wait. But we are rather new to cruising and not really sure about the differences between Crystal and Silverseas. Any light you might shed on the differences? We understand they are both rated five stars.A - A good first step to understanding the major differences between these two lines would be to carefully go over our Ratings which you can reach from our home page. In our Ratings, we rate and evaluate the world's top ten rated lines in descending order. Crystal is currently ranked higher than Silverseas.We think it likely you would have a thoroughly enjoyable experience on either line and any of their ships. But here are a few recommendations and points of differentiation we think you should consider:01 - We would look…

WHO REALLY HAS THE LARGEST SUITES AT SEA?

Q - The stuff on the internet is really confusing. I am trying to find out which cruise line has the largest cabins, or should I say suites? My wife and I like lots of space and there is a possibility that we will bring our family of six along with us. I've looked at Silverseas and Seabourn and nothing is really that large so I'm wondering if some of the really big ships have the kind of multi-bedroom suites I might want? A - Right now, the largest suites at sea, they are actually called Villas, will be found on the Norwegian Pearl. This is a 2400 mass market ship but the Haven Garden Villas are three-bedrooms and measure 4,252 square feet. Norwegian Cruise Line will allow up to eight guests in one suite and the total fare for a week for everyone will hover around $20,000. You will…

WHY YOU WANT TO LEAVE PARIS SOON AFTER ARRIVAL

Q - My seventeen year-old daughter, her best friend, and I are off  to Paris in six weeks for a shopping splurge the likes of which Westport, Connecticut has never seen. Wondering if you could give us your best tip to really take advantage of  the best designs at the best prices. We'll have ten days in the city. My husband and I refer to your Q and A frequently and hope that you all just keep doing what you're doing. You're helping lots of us make better travel decisions.A - Our best advice is to take one complete day and get out of Paris. You will want to do as Parisian insiders do, grboard one of the the three daily buses that depart from just near the Louvre to La Vallee Village, a part of the Chic Outlet Shopping empire of nine discount outlets within Europe. Here, just off the A4…

ARE THERE ANY BRAINIACS ON THE VOLGA?

Q - My wife and I are rather astounded at the lack of intellectually interesting river boat options available in Russia. We have a deep and abiding interest ion the fine arts and we were wondering if there is anything like a program along some of Russia's rivers that might cater to Americans who wish to expand on their knowledge of both Russian history and Art?  Like the site a great deal but wish you would direct those on a budget elsewhere. There are plenty of web sites that cater to the tee shirts and bingo crowd.A - You are probably taking advantage of the fact that we protect the identities of our visitors. We think you may find cultural nirvana aboard the Volga Dream's Russian itinerary sponsored by Academic Arrangements Abroad. These are river cruises for those with a serious interest in the arts and they are sponsored by…

WHEN ARE INTERNET CONNECTIONS GOING TO IMPROVE ON CRUISE SHIPS?

Q - As an IT Professional, I am rather appalled at the sorry state of internet service as evidenced by recent cruises on MSC, NCL, and Holland America. I was just wondering who provides internet to ships at sea and when is it going to get to the point when I can search the web in a lounge chair by the pool bar?A - Well you do realize that sensitive communications equipment needs to  stay as far away from sun and water as possible. Be mindful that your Bahama Mama does not tip over onto your keyboard. Internet service began showing up on ships in 2000. The leading Satellite provider has been a company called MTM Satellite Communications. That technology is now being eclipsed by Harris Rock Cap, a company whose O3b name stands for "other 3 billion." O3b technology will provide more broadband aboard ships than the current standards. The…

SHOULD WE CRUISE TO MEXICO OR JUST GO TO A MEXICAN RESTAURANT?

Q -  The little woman and I are interested in sailing down to Mexico, perhaps getting off or on in Acapulco. But we're fairly cautious people and if there is crime we'd just as soon go to one of the Mexican restaurants here in Denver, sip a few Margaritas, and pretend we're out to sea. We are in our mid-sixties and my wife walks a little slow. I'm no gymnast either. Do you recommend these Mexican cruises?A - The statistical truth is that crime is an issue in certain ports in Mexico including Acapulco, Puerto Vallarta, and Mazatlan which has seen something of an outbreak in the past twenty-four months. It has reached the point where Holland America and Princess Cruises have said they will not be doing their normal full schedule of sailings to Mexico in 2013.Inclusive resorts in Mexico appeal to a wide variety of travelers and there are upscale…

WHY AREN’T THERE MORE CRUISES TO SCANDINAVIA?

Q - We've been looking into cruises to Norway and the Fjords next summer on one of the better lines. We're just amazed at how few there are and we wonder why the demand isn't greater. It seems that Seabourn, Crystal, Regent, and Silversea will do one, possibly two of these itineraries each summer yet they have multiple departures to the Greek islands or the Baltic and Russia. It all makes us think that the itineraries are lousy so demand is low. Is that the bottom line? A -  No, you're far off course but we understand how you got there. Cruise lines could generate marketing interest and increase the number of Norwegian coastal voyages if they felt they had a shot at full ships. But apart from the fact that most Americans just don't know how  beautiful the Norwegian fjords really are, we suspect the real reason that you don't see…

48 HOURS IN LISBON: WHERE DO WE WALK?

Q - Where will soon be leaving for Europe. At the end of our trip, we have two full days in Lisbon. We're walkers, we love to go where the tourists don't, we love discovering where the people live and play. We have little interest in museums or historic sites. Where would you head if you had two days to explore the real Lisbon on foot?A - You might want to start out with three neighborhoods, Baixa, Chiado, and Alcantara. This will get you into the oldest, the hippest, the most stylish, and the most recently discovered sections of this difficult to know, but totally rewarding city. Use the trams, go to a real deal Fado Club at least once, and do seafood along the waterfront.

CAN MY WIFE AND I SLEEP OVERNIGHT IN HARROD’S?

Q - Greetings from Cape Town where Traveltruth is not yet a household word. But my husband and I love you so that's all that matters. We've just read somewhere that it is now possible to sleep in Harrod's Department Store in London. We're headed back to London soon after the Olympics and we were wondering how you would book this sort of overnight?  I would be quite tickled to spend the night camped out in Harrod's Food Hall, particularly that area of the Hall devoted to fine wines and cheeses. Any truth to this or are we starting a rumor?A - Well of course you are but it is a rather intriguing concept and one that probably could be arranged by our contacts in London for a phenomenal price.But we think we have this one figured out. It is true that the Qatari owners of Harrod's under the name…

SEABOURN VERSUS TIES AND GOWNS

Q - The wife and I are seriously considering a Seabourn Cruise that will explore Japan and some of Korea next year. We've been on one cruise, a Windstar, which we enjoyed. There is lots on the internet about Seabourn but the criticisms you always read are that they are way too formal and they are owned by Carnival, not a very good line from what we hear. What do your editors think about these criticisms?A - Not much. This is kind of typical of the cruise prattle that litters the internet.Let's look at dress first. There is only one dress up night aboard Seabourn on a one week cruise and even that event does not require any more than a sports jacket. There are alternative restaurants that are always country club casual. There is absolutely no reason to pack a suit, sports jacket, or ties unless you want to…

WE’RE SPEADING THE NEWS . . . .

Q -  My husband will be annoyed that I wrote to you. First, feel free not to print this but, if you do, I trust you will not use my name. My husband and I have traveled on ten or eleven tours and about twelve cruises. Over the years we have been struck by how unpleasant an experience it can be finding oneself stuck on a bus or aboard a ship with a herd of New Yorkers. People are people, but I find the New York travelers, or at least a certain class of them, to be rude and obnoxious to the point of really impacting our vacation. I don't expect you to agree with this, but I was wondering if there are cruise lines that carry a nice mix of people from all over the country as opposed to being "New York centric." Am I the only one who has ever…

SLEEPING IN ROME’S CITY CENTER AFFORDABLY

Q - We will be visiting Rome in the Fall and we were wondering of there is a really nice, really well-located, hotel you might recommend that will cost less than the Excelsior or the Eden? We like to avoid hotels that are small and so hip and modern that it requires an engineering degree to control the lights. A - We think you might like the rather low-key and largely unknown Rome Garden Palace, which is just around the corner from the Excelsior. If it is booked, and we do our best to fill it, try The Fortyseven or Capo d' Africa, both are well regarded four-star properties of modest proportions.

IS THERE AN ALTERNATIVE TO TAUCK IN EUROPE?

Q -  Although we suffered from a bit of sticker shock when our agent showed us a Tauck Tour brochure last year, we thoroughly enjoyed it and we felt the quality was well worth the extra cost. What a difference between the way they handle things and the way our previous tour was managed, with all of the "up charges" and shop visits etc. So now we want nothing less than Tauck quality but we were wondering what other companies we should look at in that price range. Is there any other company as good? A - Only a few birds soar in the upper reaches of the tour stratosphere. We would rank both Abercrombioe and Kent as well as Travcoa above Tauck in terms of quality. But companies are truly upper-end deluxe. Many consumers are unaware that Abercrombie and Kent offers tours in their brochure that are generally priced…

UNITED CANCELLED OUR FLIGHT: STRATEGIES IF THIS HAPPENS AGAIN?

Q - We were scheduled to fly out of Jacksonville to connect to a flight to Europe on United's partner, Lufthansa. There was one United employee working the desk at the airport when our flight out was cancelled and she could do little to help us with our missed connections. After hours of work and hold time, we finally got it sorted out but who knows how many years we've lost because of the aggravation. Is there a strategy we can use next time to make sure this doesn;t happen again?A - The best strategy for international travelers these days is to have all of your flights professionally monitored by people who do nothing but watch over you and your needs. The cost is minimal based on the peace of mind you get in return. No travel agent really has the time or means to do this properly. There are firms that…

ANY RECOMMENDATIONS FOR BARCELONA DINING?

Q - We will be leaving in two weeks for Barcelona, where we intend to spend three days before joining a cruise. We really appreciate great  food and were wondering if you have any tips?A - You will be visiting one of the world's most vital and important restaurant cities. Barcelona's culinary influences have not spread worldwide, so we are taking your question quite seriously. No one should visit Barcelona without first laying out a culinary map with most meals planned in advance. The world's most important food movement led by the world's most respected chef are all centered in Barcelona and Madrid. To go to Barcelona and not dine well would be like going to India and failing to see the Taj Mahal. And now that the dollar has recovered nicely against the Euro, all the more reason to splurge.You should definitely make a reservation at Cinc Sentits, the best…

ARE AMERICANS GOING TO EUROPE THIS SUMMER?

Q - We are based in Wales and very much enjoy the information and the insights. Quite frankly, we learn a lot about Americans going over the Q and A. That leads to a query regarding travel to Europe this summer. We are wondering what trends are being noted in terms of cruises and tours. What appears to be hot and what areas are suffering as a result of Euro-zone challenges?A - Welcome. We are, quite frankly, rather surprised at the scope of our international readership, and we especially welcome visitors from abroad.Virtually every major five-star cruise line and tour operator is reporting that sales to the Mediterranean countries, particularly Spain, Greece, and even Italy are down by anywhere from 5-30%.  In contrast, Baltic Cruises and tours to Great Britain and Scandinavia, along with the Alpine Region, are up substantially. Several lines wish they had reassigned an additional vessel to…

DO BOUTIQUE LUXURY HOTELS EXIST IN ATHENS?

Q - We are going to be staying in Athens prior to an upcoming cruise of the Greek islands and Turkey. Having been to Athens before, we understand that there are surprisingly  few boutique hotel options. The King George and the Grand Bretagne have great locations on Syntagma Square, but we prefer something on a side street with fewer rooms in a different neighborhood. Any recommendations would really be appreciated. Great site. A - Athens likely had more operating hotels in the days of Pericles than it does now. Construction costs are quite high and then there is the problem of actually finishing the construction work. But there are three boutique hotels that we recommend. But please note these are less expensive four star properties - they do not compete with the King George or her big sister across the square: The small Fresh Hotel has a nice bar and swimming…

CAN YOU ENCOURAGE A RETIREE TO BECOME A TRAVEL AGENT?

Q - I am a recently retired consulting engineer in the field of water collection methodologies. We have done some traveling and would like to do more. I think I would be the perfect part-time employee. I'd really appreciate a quick overview of the industry in terms of the issue of survival. I'd want to keep working from five to ten years. Does your firm have any openings? Hope I am not asking too much but this is the only place where I know I'll get a straight answer.A - In the mid-nineties, there were 35,m000 travel; agency locations in the United States. In some areas they were as prevalent as gun shops. Today, that number has shrunk down to about 15,000 travel agencies.That would seem to be bad news, but it is just the opposite. The result of the closing of so many agencies is that most of the finks,…

ARE MY AA ADVANTAGE MILES SAFE IN MY ACCOUNT?

Q - We've been following your responses to questions about American Airlines bankruptcy carefully. Just wondering if anything has changed or if you remain confident we face no danger in letting our miles grow in the account. We're approaching 500,000 miles. Please try to do less cruise reporting and more on the airlines. We all fly, only a handful of us cruise.A - The situation at American is changing rapidly since the company petitioned a federal judge to say yes to its plan to make all current labor contracts null and void while also terminating 13,000 jobs. American's management feels that is what it will take for the airline to emerge from bankruptcy in a position to survive. A dramatic spike in fuel prices would be disastrous for American at this stage.At this stage, we would recommend that you take 50% of your miles and convert them into a travel…

CAN WE TIE THE KNOT AND AVOID THE CARIBBEAN?

Q - We are frequent visitors to your site. In fact, we decided to get married and ask you about our honeymoon four days ago. Here is our dilemma. We are planning a June 2013 wedding date and we'd love to be legally married aboard a nice cruise ship. But we just don't want to spend our cruise time on the Caribbean islands. Been there - done that. We've got about two weeks. Ideally, some of the immediate family would be with us for a week and the wedding. But what do we do then - throw them overboard?  We realize we are early to make arrangements but we wonder what you might suggest. We can't seem to find anything. A - For this one we went to our on-staff honeymoon specialist, named "World's Best" by Conde Nast Traveler. She recommends that you look at a new program unveiled by…

CAN Y0U BUY CRYSTAL FOR $2305?

Q - We have friends in Portland who claim to have booked a Crystal Cruise for $2305 per person. They've been bragging about the great deal they got but we wonder if this is really the rate. I don't know exactly where they are going but I think they are traveling in April or May. My wife and I find this amazing because we've always heard that Crystal was one of the top lines. Can you shed any light on this? Cruise pricing is just one dark tunnel as far as I'm concerned. A - We know. The best way to handle pricing issues is to understand that cruise lines just don't go around to different top-producing travel agencies with different price offers. Cruise pricing is a surprisingly level playing field. All of the top agencies get exactly the same rates for their clients. If they didn't, they would refuse…

WILL MIAMI START TO SMELL LIKE AN ASHTRAY?

Q - My wife and I like to gamble and we go on upscale gambling vacations twice a year. We've heard that there is something coming to Miami to be built by the Chinese that will be the largest casino in the States. Is there any truth to this?  As a suggestion, your coverage of gambling destinations is really inadequate. A -  There are kernels of truth in the rumor but this is by no means a done deal. The problem any major gambling enterprise faces in Florida is that the current Chamber of Commerce Chairman is a top Disney executive. And the Mouse does not approve of gambling. The project you refer to is the 30-acre Resorts World Miami. This is a design by a Malaysian company called the Gerting Company. Their plans call for 800,000 square feet of gambling space, 5,000 hotel rooms, and 50 restaurants and bars.…

WHAT HAPPENED TO CRUISES OUT OF MEXICO?

Q - My husband and I and our two children were looking forward to booking a cruise to the Mexican Riviera this year. But when we spoke to our agent, she told us that there just aren't any cruises that would suit our needs and she suggested we look, instead, at the Western Caribbean. What is really going on here. I can't believe that the economy is so bad that people can't afford a one week cruise to Mexico.A - If you look in any travel-related publication or web site, you will likely see significant advertising by the Mexico Tourism Board. As one of the industry's largest single advertisers, they have the ability to influence public opinion and they are currently enmeshed in a verbal battle with some of the major cruise lines that have home-ported in Mexico in the past.The view of the MTB seems to be that the…

ARE WE SAFE UP THERE?

Q - I am desperate to take my wife to see relatives in County Clare, Ireland next summer. But she is absolutely afraid to fly. Any facts you might provide to help me convince her it is safe would be much appreciated.A - We're not sure she will care much about our "facts" but we're here to help. The years 1994-1998 were relatively safe years in terms of air fatalities in the US. But the last five years have seen a 93% decline even in those rates. This translates to a US aircraft having a 1 in 49 million chance of being in an accident that results in fatalities. You literally are safer flying or cruising than you would be had you remained in your house with all of the doors double-locked. Our advice would be to drug her and drag her over.

HOW MANY MORE CRUISE BERTHS ARE BEING BUILT?

Q - I am just wondering about the state of the US Cruise industry. With the economy, and all, are new ships going to be launched in the next several years or are they holding off?A - Cruise brands based in North America have firm contracts to launch 10 new cruise ships between now and 2015 accommodating a total of 33,744 guests. The largest of these ships, accommodating 4100 each, will be launched by Royal Caribbean in 2014 and 2015. Norwegian Cruise Line will launch the 4,000 passenger Breakaway in 2013, followed by her sister, the Getaway, in 2014.

CAN WE ACTUALLY WALTZ IN THE NEW YEAR?

Q - A quick question about a lifelong dream. I have always wanted to surprise my wife with a lavish New Year Ball celebration, where we can waltz in the New Year in Vienna. Is this even possible? I know that it will not be inexpensive.A -  Yes, you can attend any one of a series of almost 300 Balls held in Austria's Capital New Years Eve and through Ash Wednesday. The best of these are the famed Opera Ball held in the lovely Vienna State Opera House and the strangely named Ball of the Viennese Coffee House Owners which is held in the Imperial Palace. The best way to book your dance is to arrange a custom vacation through a travel firm associated with an on-site office in Vienna. They will have access to tickets that a US-based travel agent may find challenging to obtain.  Live the Dream! 

BED BUGS AT SEA: HOW SERIOUS A PROBLEM?

Q - We're turning to traveltruth with a serious concern. We are being urged by family members to join them on a Spring Break cruise next year on Norwegian Cruises Line. But my husband and I have real concerns about bed bugs which we understand is a real problem on cruise ships. How serious a problem is it and what can we do to prevent it - if anything. It really is holding us back from booking. Our travel agent is saying there was a problem on one or two of the ships in the past but the cruise lines are now using pesticides that prevents the problem. Is this true? A - We are going to try to answer this question as clearly as possible since it has been raised by a number of visitors to our site. Bed bugs are a growing problem in the United States. You are far…

THE INEVITABLE HARRY POTTER QUESTION

Q - I read this site all the time now and I know you are not particularly child-centered. But please help us. We've got eleven year-old Natalie and thirteen year-old George, Muggles one and all. They are begging us to take them to Universal for a week of Harry Potterizing. Has anyone on your staff been there and is it worth it. We can afford to spend more than most but we want our kids to have the best possible adventure and experience so just wondering what you think. We'd stay at a really nice hotel - I figure my husband and I will need it at the end of seven or eight very long days. If you don't have an opinion, we'll still be loyal fans and readers. A - We have an opinion on rice. No worries. We don't think you should go to Universal in Orlando, despite…

OUR BEST BALTIC BET

Q - I have avoided cruises for most of my adult life, not wishing to attend any party I would be unable to leave at my choosing.  In February, my wife and I accepted an invitation to join her tennis group and their spouses on what seems to have been a stereotypical cruise of the Caribbean aboard what I would categorize as a "mass market" line.  The overall experience was good, despite the constant attempts to sell us wine tastings, overpriced aperitifs, gold and silver chains by the inch, photographs of every imaginable type and marked down tee shirts. The important outcome was that we grasped the concept far more positively than anticipated.  We very much enjoyed the relaxation, the comfort, the unpacking and packing but once, and would like to expand upon it.  Over the last few years we have planned vacations using travel agents from the Wendy Perrin…

PONDERING SOUTH AFRICA ON A RIVER CRUISE

Q - We have found a sixteen-day tour to South Africa run by AMA Waterways. I've never heard of them or the river cruise boat they are using, a boat called the MS Zambezi Queen. South Africa has been a dream of ours for a very long time. On this trip you get to see Cape Town, then you do a safari cruise through the Okavango Delta and you stay for two nights each in two safari camps. The trip ends with two nights in Victoria Falls. At $12,000 per person not including airfare, this is a considerable investment. Since we've never heard of these companies we were wondering what you think we should do? Is this really a smart way to see South Africa and is the boat really reliable. It really looks nice. Can't wait for your response. Oh, I should add that we're in our mid-sixties, we…

IDEAL TIMES TO VISIT CHINA AND THE SILK ROAD

Q - We're recently retired from the financial sector where, I suppose you could say, quoting  that famous Saturday Night Sketch, "we've done berry, berry well." So now it's time to see the rest of the world excluding Europe, a continent we know well. Our first thoughts are to do, perhaps, two trips to China, one to see the highlights, and the second to do the Silk Road and Tibet. Should we pay to use a travel agent and when should we plan on going. There seems to be conflicting information about the best time to see China. Finally, how do we find an agent who will work with us for our next decade of travel. We're in our early sixties and anxious to get started. Congratulations on the site. It is wonderful.A - The sheer size of China makes it somewhat difficult to certify the best months to visit…

SO HOW MUCH DID MY BAKED ALASKA REALLY COST?

Q -  We've sailed  on NCL twice and Royal Caribbean three times, the last time on the Oasis of the Seas. On our last cruise we shared a table with a couple from Arizona and another from Philadelphia. The fellow from Philly owned a restaurant and we talked quite a but about the food on board, which we thought was pretty good. We got around to asking about how much these lines actually spend per person for food. I imagine NCL spends more than NCL but I don't know by how much. No one on board, of course, would tell us, but we thought you folks might know. The next time we cruise, I can assure you that everyone within the sound of my voice will know about traveltruth. A - Actually, food costs are a matter of public record since the three cruise lines that control about 83% of…

CAN WE DO OUR DREAM HONEYMOON FOR $10,000?

Q -  We have this dream that we  can do an over-the-water bungalow honeymoon for no more than $10,000 including economy airfare from New York.  Is this in any way possible and how or where do we begin? A - Difficult but not really impossible. The trick will be to use an agent who works with a major package wholesaler such as Classic Vacations. Get an air-inclusive package to Tahiti and seriously consider that your honeymoon may need to be limited to five nights to come in under budget. You didn't mention your dates, but  avoid December through March. Even though rates are highest during this period, torrential rains are also a possibility during the height of the winter season from the 18th of December through the end of January. The Paul Gauguin Cruises are really excellent for honeymooners who want to experience several of the islands. It might be over…

DO WE WANT THE CRUISE LINE’S INSURANCE?

Q - We will be taking our two teenage girls on a Christmas Cruise aboard the Celebrity Eclipse. Our travel agent wants us to take Celebrity's insurance but has been less than helpful in educating us on this fairly important component of our trip.  One of the girls has, what I think would be, a "pre-existing" condition. Do you agree with our agent?A - No, not at all. Private insurance is generally more comprehensive. Celebrity's insurance is outsourced to BerkeleyCare, a New York based insurance firm used by most of the major lines. Their policies are not age-based so you will be sharing in the premium costs of older onboard guests.We think you should take out an independent policy from one of the better independent firms like Travelex. Your policy will be age=based and you can have the pre-exisiting condition exclusion waived if you take out the policy within two…

IS THE PAUL GAUGUIN GETTING A SISTER?

Q -  We had an extraordinary time on the Paul Gauguin sailing the Society Islands last May. Since then, we've heard rumors that there will be a Gauguin # 2. Any truth to the rumor? Wonder how they rate currently and when the 2012 Revised Cruise Line Ratings will be finalized? I hate to be the bearer of bad news - but we're well into 2012. A - We had some real concerns about the Paul Gauguin when the company was sold to Grand Circle. But the ship was sold again in late 2009 by Beachcomber Croisieres, a company managed by American hotelier, Richard Bailey. The Paul Gauguin is back to, and in our view currently exceeds, its former glory when it was operated by Regent Seven Seas. It will place well in our soon-to-be-completed 2012 Updated Top Ten Cruise Line Ratings. The rumors of a second ship arfe true.…

DOES DISNEY DISCOUNT FOR EX-MILITARY?

Q - Don't know if anyone ever just says "thank you" for this site, but we feel like we ought to. I am ex-military and my son is currently based at Ft. Hood. One of my neighbors told us that Walt Disney World actually has a resort for the military with sharply reduced rates. Any information would be appreciated. A - You are likely referring to the Shades of Green Resort at the Disney Resort in Orlando. The resort is actually operated by the Army in support of all military branches. This Armed Forces Recreation Center was built with soldier dollars and no congressional support. It is available to military and Department of Defense personnel and arriving guests must possess a valid military or DOD ID as well as a current leave and earnings statement. Thank you, and your entire family,  for your service.

EXPLORING AMAZON RAINFOREST WITHOUT POISON DARTS

Q - We are going to be turning the corner on seventy and we are starting to think we ought to move on some of our bucket list exotics. We're really anxious to get into the Peruvian Amazon to see as much as possible off a safe, comfortable expedition boat. Any company we should be looking at first? A - We think you ought to start with a company called International Expeditions using a boat called Aquamarina. Try to choose a journey that gets you into the protected  Pacaya-Samina Reserve. This is an area just filled with off the charts wildlife. Try to do some birding research before you go.  A knowledge of what you might see if you're lucky will really enhance this travel experience.

HIDDEN BELT OR FANNY PACK?

Q - In a few months we'll be off to Europe for the first time, visiting primarily Italy with some France. As we walk around, we were wondering if we should buy one of those hidden money belts or a fanny pack for our valuables?A - The money belts and fanny packs are not as impervious to a pickpocket with a sharp knife as one would imagine. Fanny packs are the worst place to store your money and credit cards. They also identify you as a tourist who will soon be leaving town. The safest technique seems to be the passport size zippered case that you wear around your neck and tuck inside your shirt. If someone wants to cut the cord they will have to remove your entire head and in Europe they seem to feel that is somewhat extreme. It isn't hard to know exactly where pickpockets work…

HOW DO WE AVOID BANQUET QUALITY RIVER BOAT FOOD?

Q -  It is our 40th anniversary and first European trip. We are looking at river cruises. Outstanding food is a concern with any cruise or all-inclusive tour. We'd hate to be in Europe for two weeks eating buffet or banquet style food. Any advice would be appreciated.A - Since you used the term "outstanding" to describe your culinary goal, we would have to say that we seriously doubt that any of the current crop of river cruise lines will meet your expectations. The food aboard many of the river cruise ships, particularly, Tauck, AMA Watrerways, and Uniworld, is often quite good. But these boats have small kitchens, rather limited menus, and food budgets that just don't match those of some of their five-star cruise line competitors.If you are seeking truly memorable cuisine during your stay in Europe we would recommend that you narrow your search to one of the…

WILL OUR FELLOW TOUR MEMBERS BELIEVE THE EARTH IS FLAT?

Q - No one has ever asked traveltruth a really important question. My wife and I are off to China on our first ever escorted tour. We are extremely nervous about this trip as we really have no sense of who our fellow guests will be. The tour company is Gate1 and the feedback we get from the company is that they attract "really nice people." But how sophisticated are they or do we risk being placed in a group that thinks only snobs go on to college How does the consumer find out who one's fellow travelers might be on these tours.A - Well you know the obvious answer is to use a travel consultant who can describe the differences. But the best you can do as a consumer is to read the marketing copy and pay close attention to the "real" per diem, per person cost. By "real" we mean excluding airfare…

URGENTLY NEED MEDICAL TEST RESULTS FROM CRUISE

Q - Thank you for FINALLY telling the truth, the whole truth, the cruise truth! I hope you can answer the question I have. My Mother just disembarked from Singaport on a flight to Dallas Texas after a 52 day segment of the Seabourn's world cruise ( Seabourn Quest). She was taken from the airport to the emergency room where she was admitted with a severe case of double lobe pneumonia. The culture shows it is not due to the pneumoccoxis (sp?) organism, but is something else they haven't been able to determine. Is there any way to find out what organism has been found aboard the ship-that might have caused this illness? My parents are in their late 80's and spent the last month in their stateroom, unable to leave due to my mother's illness on board ship. The ship's doctor apparently only administered 3 days of antibiotics and…

MY CRUISE WAS LIKE A BAD WEDDING RECEPTION

Q - Dear Traveltruth - Greetings from Australia. I know that Aussies have a reputation for telling the truth in a direct manner. Hence these comments and question. I found your site by accident on the internet. But I sense I will get a truthful response.My dear husband who is now in a wheelchair and I took the chance to see what cruising was like from Melbourne to New Zealand on the Dawn Princess a couple of weeks ago and were quite shocked by the experience.  Everyone said how great it was for them and how great it would be for us and we are left amazed that others see us as people who would like over salted food reminiscent of someones rather poor wedding reception; overzealous crew who push you daily to spend more than your pay packet would allow and elderly fellow passengers using more wheelie frames than…

ROMANTIC BEACHES AND A GOOD DINNER

Q - OK here's the deal. We're in our mid-thirties, not all that well traveled, but we have a week and want to do a Caribbean island that has a nice variety of beaches. We are willing to spend up to $1200 a night for a great beach and we'd love a restaurant recommendation on the island for something romantic. Where should we stay and where should we set up dinner? A - There are several options but you sound right for Parrot Cay in the Turks and Caicos. It is a gorgeous property on one of the Caribbean's best stretches of beach. Grace Bay Beach is also lovely. For a romantic dinner consider Parallel 23 in the Regent Palms Resort.

IS MY TRAVEL AGENT PARANOID ABOUT SOUTH AMERICA?

Q - We are headed off to Brazil in October for a two week custom-planned vacation. Our travel agent is recommending that we take out a new credit card just for this trip because she is concerned that the card could be compromised during our stay. Do you think she is being just a little bit paranoid on this issue? A - No.

HELP SUPPORT THESE BOOBIES

Q - We were referred to you by a serious world traveler friend. My husband and I are planning a trip to the Galapagos but we're not sure that the Celebrity Expedition  Cruise is the way to go. There are land trips and other sailing vessels but we feel like the blue foot boobies. Help! We love adventurous travel and we want to sail with a company that caters to those seeking a real adventure not a cruise that just happens to take place in the Galapagos. Hope this question makes sense. Absolutely entrallA - The Galapagos can be a tough call. The Celebrity product is somewhat downscale from some of the other options but the ships are beautiful. Celebrity attracts a fairly high percentage of its guests from the Celebrity cruise brand. They are larger 100-Guest ships and that is something to factor in as you make your decision. We think…

WHY DON’T YOU WRITE ABOUT ROYAL CARIBBEAN, CARNIVAL, OR NORWEGIAN?

Q - We are going to devote a portion of this weekend reading this site, but so far, we can't find anything much about the Splendour of the Seas, the Enchantment, the Norway, or the Celebration. We've sailed all of them and wonder why these cruise lines, which I believe are the largest, seem to be ignored. I am sure that you are turning off large numbers of potential visitors to your site. We would like to meet others who may be going on our next Caribbean adventure.A - There are literally hundreds of cruise sites that devote themselves to discussion of the largest, mass-market, cruise lines. Many of them enjoy advertising support from one or more of the lines. We are not a cruise site. But when covering the cruise portion of the industry, we devote 100% of our time to reporting information related to the World's Top Ten Rated Cruise…

SEEKING COLLETTE VACATIONS RATINGS

Q - We are members of Marriott's Vacation Club and we are thinking of going to Italy with them. They use a company called Collette Vacations and we've been trying to find ratings of the company. Any advice would be appreciated.A - Collette Vacations is a highly reputable company that is family-owned and has been in business for ninety-three years. They are based in Pawtucket, Rhode Island. The company operated it's first tour in 1918, a three-week trip from Boston to Florida that was sold for $61.50 per person. Collette is very much mass market, offering affordable tours in the low middle range. They are extremely active in the "clubs" and "organizations" market where they set up complete travel programs in coutnries around the globe. If you are upscale travelers you may well be disappointed at the choice of hotels and the travel backgrounds of your fellow travelers. If you…

SHOULD WE DO EGYPT IN OCTOBER?

Q - We are considering joining our church group for a tour our Minister is leading to Egyot and the Holy Land. As part of the trip, we'll be spending nine nights in Egypt and we're a little nervous. We've never been to Europe or the Middle East so this is kind of a big deal for us. We're in our thirties and in great shape. It's more the political situation that causes us, particularly my husband, to be nervous about this. We do need to make a decision as the deposit is due this coming week so a prompt response would be appreciated. Thanking you in advance for all you do. Please do not use my name. A - As you may have noticed, we protect the names of anyone who participates in our Q and A. The fact is that no one knows what the political situation will…

FORGIVE US – WE’RE NOT ON FACEBOOK – YET

Q - Cool site but we I wish you could tell us where we can find you on Facebook. We've tried several searches and we can't seem to find anything. A - Well first you have to sign in to Facebook. Then put our name, Churchill and Turen Ltd., or our web site name, www.traveltruth.com in the space before the slashmark. Then search. You will, of course, discover that we are not there. It isn't so much the privacy issues, although they are rather serious, it isn't so much that we are against enriching Mark Zuckerberg even further so he has a nice little nest egg for his digital retirement, it isn't that we are afraid we would attract new "friends", even though they are not really friends because our friends have to do more than click a finger on the word "like". No, we're not on Facebook because we think most of what…

HEADED FOR LISBON AND NEED ADVICE

Q - My 18 year-old son and I will be spending a week in Lisbon as part of his graduation present. We're pretty much set but were wondering if you had sources that could direct us toward a shop that sells the best hand-painted tiles in the city. We hear they are beautiful. My son is into photography. We'll be staying at the Four Seasons and we have sightseeing planned but we were wondering if there is anything like a Photography tour of the city?  A - There are several excellent tile shops in Lisbon but the best is currently thought to be Fabrica Sant'Anna. We would suggest that you contact the Hotel Concierge, Luis Miguel, and have him set your son up with a motorcycle sidecar photo tour. He should absolutely love it.

USING OUR 4G PHONE IN GERMANY

Q - I wonder if you can advise me if I can be assured that my new Verizon 4G LTE phone will work on an upcoming trip to Germany and Austria. The salesman in the Verizon store said it would but he was all of eighteen and told me he had never been to Europe. A - Well he probably has spent virtual time there. Our guess is that you will encounter problems. If you absolutely need to have a phone that works in any particular country, you need to have a local sim card and a phone that connects to the local wireless network. 4G technology is an improvement but the fact is that  a smartphone that is going to work on a 700MHz in this country, will probably not work in Germany which uses a different radio frequency combination. That is the part they don't normally bother to…

SEA DREAM VERSUS REGENT SEVEN SEAS – AND THE WINNER IS …

Q - I just happened upon your site and am so happy that I did ...what a concept, telling the truth! My husband and I love to travel and will be taking a first cruise on Sea Dream 1 in November. The reviews I have read on those "other" sites (before I found yours, of course) are mostly positive but now that I have found you, I would love to have some honest feedback. How would you compare Sea Dream to Regent, which we have traveled on several times. Keep up the great work! This will now be added to my "favorites" and I will be checking back on a daily basis. A - Well please don't come back daily - that would make us work even longer hours  than we are at the moment. Sea Dream's two old yachts, let's be honest, that's what they are, will not make a great…

SEEING AUTHENTIC AFRICA WITH A CAMERA

Q - We're in our late fifties, still quite active, and we travel from our home in Southern California about three times a year. We'll spend somewhere between $15,000 - $20,000 on average per trip. Our problem is that we've done most of the destinations that our travel agent has been to and we are looking for something in, say, Africa that is really different. I own my own company and I can get away for up to three weeks at a time. We love seeing authentic peoples and we love to line our walls with blow-up prints of our travels. In fact we actually have a room thst is a complete travel photo gsllery. My agent suggested we visit traveltruth and I wonder if anything comes to mind that might be different than South Africa, done two safaris, or Kenya and Tanzania, where we've been before? A - The…

IS THIS AIR DEAL FOR REAL?

Q - Wow, fascinating site with great information. Yesterday, we received a mailer from Tauck Tours, a firm that does quite well in your ratings, that was announcing a new air deal to Europe. If we are reading it right, and my bifocals are not failing me, Tauck will fly us up and back to Europe from Cleveland for $1290 per person and $3290 if we want to spring for business class. I've checked, and when you add in the taxes and the transfers, the air deal would seem to be saving me a lot of money. Are there restrictions and are we missing something here. Keep upo the good work.A - Congratulations. You've actually found one of the few legitimate deals from a top quality supplier. It should save you in the neighborhood of $1,000 in total. There are only a few restrictions. You have to travel between March…

IS THE TITANIC CRUISE LEGIT?

Q - After spending two weekends reading everything on this site, (it goes nicely with Red Bull), we thought we would ask about the 100th Anniversary of the Titanic Cruise sailing out of New York on April 10th. Is this thing legitimate? Do we have to worry about the Captain. I've never heard of Azamara and we are justifiably nervous but also fascinated. Is this a scam? Is it safe?A - Yee of  little faith. You must be a follower of  Geraldo Rivera. Azamara is a newly-named cruise line that uses mid-size ships that were originally built by the, now defunct, Renaissance Cruises. We rate Azamara at 4.5 Stars and it delivers a high level of personal service, excellent food, and some rather port-intensive itineraries. The line's President, Larry Pimenthal, is someone we admire a great deal. He was formally CEO of Seabourn and Sea Dream. You would be in…

WHOLE FOODS AT SEA

Q - Do you know of any cruise line that  likes to cook and serve organic food.? A - Well we can't imagine any cruise line would actually "enjoy" serving organic food given the cost. But cruise line marketing people understand that this segment of the market is growing and virtually every upscale cruise line now offers spa menus and a selection of some organic dishes. The next step, and plans are already underway, involves the opening of an actual alternative health food restaurant aboard ship. Oceania and Regent Seven Seas currently offer selections from Canyon Ranch Spa. One of the biggest misconceptions about cruising is that you are going to be fat and lazy for a week while lined up at the lunchtime buffet. In fact, the perpetually lazy tend to favor all-inclusive resorts. There is just too much walking about a ship and required mobility for full days in port…

MORE ON BIG SHIPS AND SAFETY

Q - We had dinner with friends last night from St. Louis who have joined us on a number of cruises. The entire evening was spent discussing the Costa Concordia situation. We were somewhat surprised by the advice you have offered to some folks who expressed concern about sailing a mega-ship in the future. We appreciate the honesty but we were curious if you are seriously advising people not to go on ships that carry several thousand guests and crew? Do you really think they are dangerous.A - If we thought that, we'd probably work in plastics. No, the mega-ships are certainly not dangerous. But we would like to be as clear as possible in responding to your question:We advise those who have serious anxiety about boarding a large ship to delay their vacation. We feel that a a vacation ought to involve several important stages and anticipation is one…

CRUISE PRICES AND THE COSTA TRAGEDY?

Q - We are seriously considering a cruise for our family sometime this year. We read what you had to say about school vacation time and the impact on cruise pricing so we were wondering when might be the best time to cruise in 2012. Simply put, when are the best prices? We're not cheap but we may end up paying for as many as fourteen family members so cost is an issue. We are thinking about a ship that is large enough to have good facilities and small enough to evacuate in an emergency. Any guidance would be appreciated.A - We are anticipating that you will see a general decline in cruise prices between the months of October through mid-December. This is not related to the Costa tragedy but is closely related to the fact that this is a Presidential Election year. History shows that people just do not…

SHOULD WE CANCEL OUR PLANNED CRUISE?

Q - We are just so upset about the tragedy in Italy and the way the Captain of a luuxury cruise ship would just walk away. My husband and I are taking our two daughters on a cruise out of Ft. Lauderdale to the Caribbean on Norwegian Cruise Line and we are seriously thinking of cancelling. Our travel agent says we should just let time pass, but I just cant look forward to a cruise four months away without thinking of what could go wrong. These poor people were just having dinner the first night out and look what hapopened. I guess my question has to do with all we are hearing on the news about big ships. Are they too big? If you were us, what would you do? We have not made final payment yet.A - We have received a number of similar questions and we will try…

DOES ANYONE OUT THERE CARE ABOUT OUR LUNGS?

Q - I am writing on behalf of my parents who, in their early seventies, are going to be visiting Europe for the first time. My brother and I want to send them on a nice seven-to-ten day cruise in Europe. They have never been, so we were thinking of a cruise that does the British Isles. My Dad's folks come from Wales. Here's the problem. My folks are rabid non-smokers. The smell of tobacco literally makes them sick. So we've been looking at one of the small, upscale ships that does not allow smoking. So far, our Internet search is telling us that all of these ships allow smoking in various areas and some of them allow smoking in their cabins and balconies. Yet, when a new passenger boards the ship, like our folks, we would have no way of knowing if they had a no-smoking cabin. Friends turned us…

IMPLICATIONS OF COSTA CATASTROPHE

Q - We are scheduled to take a cruise on a line called Azamara this coming August. It was to do the coastline of Italy near the area where the Luxury Liner went down. My husband wants to just cancel, saying the port pilots obviously do not know what they were doing. What is your take on this?A - It is a bit early for us to have a take that is worth very much. The news is still just hours old and this is clearly a black mark for an industry that has an enviable safety record. If you cancel your cruise, we don't know where you might go since staying at home is statistically far more dangerous. Flying in an airplane and cruising at sea are about the safest places you can be on this planet of ours.The reporting in the early hours has been interesting because it…

THE ULTIMATE WALL STREET BLACKBERRY BREAK

Q - OK, here's the deal. My boyfriend is head of research at a Wall Street hedge fund. We're both in our thirties and we both work long hours. I want to surprise him with a vacation he'll never forget, taking him to a place where his Blackberry won't function. We're both into climbing and we've done some high altitude stuff  in the States. If at all possible, we'd like to keep the vacation under $10,000 for both is us, not including airfare or expenses. But is has to be absolutely awesome. Just found this site and thought you might be able to make a recommendation.A - Well, first understand that the last time we did something adventurous it involved flying Premier Economy instead of Business Class on United. But we think you ought to look closely at a new program in Abercrombie and Kent's "Extreme Adventures". "Mount Kilimanjaro: The…

WILL THERE EVER BE ANOTHER AIRLINE REALITY SHOW?

Q - Since traveltruth is a not-so-guilty pleasure and you don't list names, I can ask a couch potato question. We loved that reality show that took you behind the scenes at Southwest. Are any other airlines going to do a reality series? A - No, but the good news is that there will be a second Southwest Reality series premiering on the TLC Network. Travel Weekly reports that the series will be taped at Baltimore-Washington and Denver airports.The original show "Airline" ran from 2004-2005 then went into reruns. In all there were 70 episodes. Southwest has a commitment for 13 of the new shows and the airline is promising that viewers will get to see inside operations in a way that has never previously been shown on television. For those of us who fly often, we're not sure that seeing how Southwest cooks up its particularly brand of stew…

CROSSING THE POND THIS CHRISTMAS

Q - Hope this gets answered on traveltruth or via e-mail. We're in our early fifties and both my wife and I work long hours as programmers and data consultants. In the last ten years of our marriage, we've gone away for the Holidays to the Dominican Republic or Puerto Rico seven time over Christmas. (cancelled or seriously delayed flights five of the seven times). This year, we want to get out of bed and do something a little more challenging like going to Europe in the off-season. We know the weather will be cold but we were wondering which European city might be the most interesting during Christmas or New Year? Is this at all a good idea? Love the site. There's nothing else like it.A - Anything that offers you an escape from the  Dominican Republic is probably a good idea. Why pay top dollar for a beach when…

WHY DO CRUISE LINES HATE SINGLES?

Q - I am an attractive guy in his late sixties, ok, early seventies, and, believe it or not, I've never been married. I like to play the field and I like to meet and dance with all the widows on cruises. But I am on a fixed income and I wonder why single supplements on cruises are so high. Don't they realize how many single travelers there are out there? I call it highway robbery. I've been asking this question for years and no one seems to have the answer.A - It all has to do with yield per guest. Cruise ships are always designed to maximize the number of guests to increase the yield, or profit, on cabins, shore excursions, and onboard spending. If a cruise line sells you a cabin designed for two, they are diluting their yield by 50% in most areas of the ships operation.…

BARCELONA’S MOST DESIRABLE RESERVATION

Q - We are heading out to Barcelona in June for a long-delayed second honeymoon. We'll be staying at the Hotel Arts, which we hope you will agree is the best hotel in the city. Our question has to do with one memorable meal. We have established a relationship with a member of the Concierge staff at the Arts who we think will help us book the hottest restaurant in the city. Is there one place we absolutely must try and where should we sit?A - The Hotel Arts is very Ritzish and modern. But it does not have the city's best location. You will need to take a taxi to get tot he Ramblas and the heart of the action. The restaurant of the moment in Barcelona  is simply called "Tickets". When El Bulli was closed earlier this year, Spain lost the world's top-rated restaurant. Now, former El Bulli Chef/Owner Ferran Adria…

INDIA: WHEN AND WHERE

Q - Well we are going to finally do a real trip and head off to India in 2012. We know that you have advocated travel to India and we're going to do it. We've started our searches and it seems as though there are two primary questions to ask right away? Should we do Northern India, Southern India, or a combination of the two. We would stay about twelve days. Secondly, when should we go. we assume some months are better than others. My wife and I are in our mid-fifties, reasonably well traveled, and, except for Diabetes ,I'm in good shape. Thanks for the opportunity to pose these questions in such an uncluttered atmosphere.A - Our pleasure. Do Northern India on your first trip. You don't have the time to do both justice and seeing the palaces and the forts is not to be missed. The sights, sounds, and…

CRUISE LINE SNOBBERY INDEX

Q - We read your "Cruise Line Sophistication Index" with a great deal of interest. But we're less afraid of being at sea with sophisticates then we are locked up for a week or two with "snobs." Any chance you would help out any number of traveltruth readers who feel like we do by listing those lines most apt to attract passengers with a need to show off  their jewelry and their wealth. I know which of the lines are the top-rated but I have no idea how comfortable we would be with the on-board crowd. A - Our first impression is that you probably should not be thinking about going on a top-rate line if you are worried that some of your fellow guests may be affluent in the extreme. Clearly some will fit that category. We would not attempt to create a snob index because that would portray some very nice, kind,…

US AIR VS. LUFTHANSA VS. AMERICAN

Q - We have a rather specific question. We can fly to Barcelona from Philadelphia or JFK in New York. We've found three airfares similarly-priced, with decent availability, US Air, Lufthansa, and American. We'll probably end up flying coach. Which of these airlines has the best seating and the best food?A - In your scenario, we would look at the aircraft and choose between Lufthansa or American. If at all possible, fly the 777 on American and have your agent select two seats on the  side. Check with Seat Guru to make certain there is nothing wrong with your seat location. Lufthansa is the best of the three airlines in terms of overall passenger satisfaction and  you likely will be flying an Airbus 340 or a 747.  US Air is the lowqest ranking of the three.  We would advise you to go to ITAsoftware.com to review the actual time of your trip with connections.You…

WHO HAS THE BEST SERVICE LEVELS AT SEA?

Q - What an odd site - you people have obviously never been to business school. You could be making a lot of money if you featured advertising and, quite frankly, ads  wouldn't bother me a bit. Anyway, I come to you with a question no one seems willing to address. It's simple - my wife and I love great service. If good people are taking care of us, we're happy and in a great mood. We're about to go on our first cruise, probably somewhere in Europe during July or August. Which Cruise Line has the best overall service? A - It would bother us. We do not believe you can review travel products honestly while accepting payment from them for advertising. This is something we learned while earning our MBA. The best current overall service levels among the five-star ships will be found on Crystal Cruises.

WE HAVE AMERICAN AIRLINES ADVANTAGE MILES – NOW WHAT?

Q - We were just reading about American Airlines going bankrupt and it sent shivers down my spine. My husband and I  been saving Advantage Miles for years and we're planning on using the 250,000 miles we've accumulated for several trips we have planned in the next 24 months. We're in our seventies and not very familiar with how these things work. Our travel agent says we should just "stay calm" but the news doesn't sound too good. We have good credit scores so we will take your advice about getting those certain American Express or Visa cards. But what if we were planning on using miles to fly American next June. Couldn't they just change the rules and make it harder to get seats using the miles? Or, they could end the program all together.What should we do, this is really getting us frustrated. Any advice would really be appreciated.. A…

TACOS ON THE RUNS

Q - My girlfriend and I are off to Cancun in three weeks. We've never been to Mexico and I was really looking forward to trying the tacos made on the street. I was wondering if street food or food from food trucks, if they have such a thing, is safe in Cancun or other parts of Mexico? A - Safe in an interesting word. Will you die from street food or the delights served in the shacks along the beach? Probably not. Will you get really sick? There is a high probability. It has a great deal to do with your bodies tolerance of certain microbes in the food. If you have not been there, you have not built up an immunity. Locals will not get ill. We're betting you will. Travel sophisticates and those who need to remain in the good graces of the Mexican Tourism Board will claim…

HOW TO GET A POWER SHOWER, AN UPGRADE AND A RESCUE LADDER

Q - My wife and I watched Peter Greenberg on The Early Show this morning and we heard several things that were rather new to us. He said that you should never stay above the eighth floor in a high-rise hotel, that you should only ask for rooms that have a booster of some sort, and that it is never a good idea to book a hotel with anyone but the Manager of the hotel. I know he has written several books but I was wondering what you thought of this advice and if  it makes sense for travelers like us who go abroad on vacation twice a year? I guess we're also asking if Peter Greenberg is someone we ought to be listening to regarding travel advice? A - Peter has been at this for a long time and he recently joined CBS after serving as the Travel Editor…

ANY WAY TO AVOID AMALFI COAST HOTEL RIP-OFFS?

Q -  We are headed to Italy this summer and have every aspect of our trip planned with the exception of four nights along the Amalfi Coast. From reading the information on traveltruth and speaking with friends who have been there, it sounds as though we need to be in Positano. But the hotels that everyone recommends, Le Siranuse and San Pietro are coming in at about $800 per night and up in June. We were thinking more like half of that. We like nice things and we also like nice values. Is Positano right for us (first-time in Italy) and is there any hotel you might recommend that borders on wonderfulness at a much more favorable price? A - We think that Poistano, though packed with day-trippers during June through October, is still the right place to stay. Its hillside charms and stunning harbor views more than make up…

TRIPADVISOR HAS SERVED ME WELL

Q - We just had to comment on your recent posting about TripAdvisor. Whilst we understand your leanings toward the upwardly mobile user, many of us just don't fancy freu-freu accommodations when we travel. And there are millions of us out there who would never take an escorted tour, a cruise, or even think about having a private guide to lead us by the hand. A clean room,  a  loo, and a safe location - those are the things we need in a hotel. So please tell us why you are so arrogant when it comes to those of us, millions of us, who rely on TripAdvisor? I wonder what your reasoning is and why I should turn to the  hotel inspection reports you describe? Do you really think I would ever spend more than 150 Pounds on a hotel room for the night? Your site is clever and well done but it…

TRIPADVISOR: DO I WANT THEM ADVISING ME ON MY TRIP?

Q - I've noticed that traveltruth.com and other professional sites seem to take a dim view of TripAdvisor. I like to book my own hotels for business and pleasure but I know their reviews are often way off the mark. Does your staff use TA and, if so, how do you get the most out of it? I'm really curious as I just don't know of any alternatives. How, for instance, would I really be able to learn the truth about the three best properties on St. Lucia without TripAdvisor? Love this site but wish you'd have more about hotels and less about cruises and airlines.A - You are correct, TripAdvisor is immensely popular. It has 50 million visitors per month on its sites in 30 countries. That is the epitome of travel clout. TripAdvisor comments can lead to hotel closings or sudden bursts of new business. The company is now operational  in…

THE BEST HOTEL VALUE IN BARCELONA

Q - It isn't that we're cheap, but I suppose you could say we're thrifty. We know the Meridian and the Hotel Arts are two of the best hotels in Barcelona, but we're looking for something smaller and, if at all possible, under $350 a night. We love that we know who is giving advice on this site and we trust you to set us straight. We're from Oregon, my wife is a lawyer and I'm a school teacher. We're doing two weeks in Spain in May with five nights in Barcelona. Any help would be appreciated. But we don;t want dives so if we have to spend more we'll understand. A - No, what you want is realistic. Try the 22-room Neri Hotel and Restaurant. It's a stylish 18th Century Palace in the Bari Gotic Quarter. Be a little careful, walking the area at night. This is a small,…

WILL ITALY BE SAFE NEXT SUMMER?

Q - We have just heard that Italy's Prime Minister, Berlusconi, iks resigning. Italy's debt crisis dwarfs that of Greece. We're doing a cruise out of Rome in July on Celebrity Cruises , booked with Celebrity, and we are both extremely worried about possible riots related to the new cuts the new government will have to impose. Are our fears justified and what would you advise we do? Should we change to a Baltic Cruise?A - We do believe that the potential exists for widespread protests, even violent protests, in Italy during the next six to eight months. But the fact is that there have already been numerous street demonstrations and even some riots in every major Italian city. You know, kind of like what we saw in our own Oakland. Our feeling about your cruise is that you should change nothing. Austerity measures in this country and certainly in…

WHAT IF MY TAIL ICES OVER?

Q - We are scheduled to go on a wonderful South America trip on February 2nd planned by our travel agent in Rochester (New York).  But we have real concerns about a snowstorm or ice on the wings or any number of winter problems that could ruin our departure and put us days behind. My question concerns "who do you call" if you find out your flight is cancelled or your airport is closed. My agent works part-time and I am not certain I could reach her in an emergency or even that she would be able to help me out in an emergency. Is there any service or number you can call in a winter emergency?A - We are proud of you for not suggesting a call to the airline. The closest thing to a service is www.crankyconcierge.comThese folks, for a fee, will monitor your status and help you…

WHERE CAN WE FIND JIMMY BUFFET’S CARIBBEAN?

Q - We've beent here and done that, from Sandals to Sandy Lane. and my lady and I have decided that we're done with big hotels, cruisers, and packaged tourists. Now, we're looking for a few secret spots, just a few cottages on a beach where Jimmy Buffet might be lounging in the hammock. We're big fans and we just like to chill out on vacation. Part of that, I suppose has to do with the fact that we live in Connecticut so Cheeseburgers in Paradise are still important to us. Laid back simple luxury. Do these places still exist in the Caribbean or do we have to start considering Mexico?A - They do exist but Jimmy B. will not likely be in any hammock where you can find him. More likely it will be an insurance salesman from New Jersey. Actually you are most likely to find Jimmy in Palm Beach…

DO WE USE CRUISE LINE’S AIR PROGRAM?

Q -  We are set to take our second cruise sailing out of Venice next summer. This is a "Free Air" sailing, one of the reasons we picked it. We will be flying out of Miami and we are worried about the air route Holland America might give us. Our agent feels the fact that the air is included is worth waiting for. We won't know our flights until two months prior to our departure from home. My husband is not a good flyer and I am concerned about being assigned a bad airline and bad routing since the air is included. Any advice would be appreciated.  A - You, like many other cruisers, have purchased an illusion. Airfare is almost never really free. Cruise lines, even those rated much higher than Holland America, get to promote Free Air even though you are clearly paying for it. You could have…

DO I NEED TO TAKE OUT A LOAN TO SLEEP IN ROME?

Q - We just discovered this site and we can't stop reading. But it is clearly built around the needs of the 1% who demand five-star accommodations. We are returning to Rome for the second time and we stayed at the Hassler on our first trip. Our room nightly bill could have bought us a nice 50-inch Plasma and we vowed "never again". We're not on a really strict budget and we don't want a two-star, a bad neighborhood, a tiny room, anything dirty etc. You know, we're typical Americans who don't need a five-star in this economy. Where should we stay this time around? A - You actually stayed at a hotel that has been ranked among the most overrated hotels in Europe. It isn't that the Hassler is not an absolutely lovely property - it is just that the US Dollar and the 18% VAT Tax have conspired…

ON OUR OWN WITH THE KIDS IN ST. PETERSBURG

Q - Our family of four will be visiting St. Petersburg on a cruise operated by Celebrity. We hear it is one of the very top lines. Hope you agree. We will be bringing our 12 and 14 year old girls and wonder if there is a really good restaurant they might enjoy as we wander around St. Petersburg. We're not the tour type and we love getting lost and going off the beaten track. A - Your e-mail makes us a tad uneasy. First of all, Celebrity is not, by any measure, one of the very top lines. It is the very best line among the mainstream cruise lines that utilize larger ships. For the money, Celebrity offers real value and there are spots on their ships that are truly elegant and even understated. They have better food then their primary competitors, Holland America and Princess, but do not…

DOES SIZE REALLY MATTER WHEN IT COMES TO AIRLINE SAFETY

Q - Love the site, and forgive you your occasional spelling errors .I wonder if you can answer a question I've never seen addressed by travel folks. Are some aircraft safer than others? Are 747's more dangerous, for example, then smaller. more maneuverable planes? Aren't larger planes, like the 747, more likely to head into bad weather while small planes generally go around it? Just wondering of there are is any information out there on this subject. We fly a lot and we'll keep flying, no matter what, but I like to know if I should go smaller or bigger if given the chance. A - You are far off base on the 747. Based on miles actually flown, this is one of the safest auircraft in aviation history. Where the statistics become meaningful is when you look at really smaller jets and prop planes. The fact is that aircraft…

VEGAS ODDS

Q - We have just started going to Las Vegas two or three times a year for a little gambling and some great food. We were wondering if you have ever seen the payout percentage for the casinos and how it might compare to our former home town of Philadelphia where we were regulars at Atlantic City? Just wondering if this kind of information is readily available to people in the hospitality or travel industries and if you might share it? A - Yes, every Monday a large black limo pulls up to our office and a guy named Guido gets out and hands us the actual slot machine payout statistics. Some of the details of his last visit are sketchy, but in general it is our understanding that the payout in Las Vegas is between 92-97%. The older casinos on Fremont street and off the main drags have higher…

GOING TO EGYPT AND I’VE BEEN TO ISRAEL – OOPS

Q - We love the lack of garbage on this web site. Congratulations. It is so nice not to have to get past ads to get a questions answered. We're headed to Egypt and then, possibly Syria, if things cool down. We've been to Israel twice. But my job requires a good deal of international travel and I anticipate really being hampered by my Israeli stamps. Any long-term solution to this? I know you can ask the Israelis not to stamp your passport. A - We think the permanent fix for you is going to be one of the State Department's best kept secrets - Americans are not necessarily limited to one passport. You can get a second passport. It looks exactly like your first passport and it has been designed exactly for the situations you describe. It is an extra fee and it will be issued for a limited…

CAN WE VACATION AT DAVID COPPERFIELD’S PLACE?

Q - We are serious luxury level travelers and we've heard that the magician David Copperfield made a lot of money in Las Vegas and set up a beautiful resort in the Caribbean. Your recommendations would be appreciated. We have no problem with rates in the $1500 a night range for something memorable. A - Well, we're afraid that $1500 won't quite cut it. David has built a lovely resort in the Bahmian out-island group, the Exunas. His place is called Musha Cay. There are five lovely cottages and any number of small boats for exploring the two dozen or so islands in the immediate vicinity. Copperfield has tried to spread the word that the waters in this area have life-prolonging minerals. Some of the super-rich have bought into this. Currently, Musha Cay is only sold to groups of up to 12 at an all-inclusive price of $37,500. That is…

DO YOU KNOW THIS SEAFOOD JOINT ON ARUBA?

Q - I turn everyone on to this amazing site. You guys should really link up with the big boys to get more hits. If you don't know the site's name you can't find it. So you owe me. A simple question. We're going to Aruba in two weeks and we heard there is this incredible seafood place that has the best sunsets but it's way out. I just can't find it when I Google it. Any ideas? A - We think you are probably thinking about one of the Yachties favorites - the Flying Fishbone. It is way out there on the edge of the water but the local taxi drivers all know it. Huge platters of seafood that was caught by the boats next door. If you call them in advance to let them know you are headed their way, ask for one of the tables that actually…

BERMUDA VACATION IN MAY

Q - We are thinking about getting away next May to Bermuda. We've found some rates that are almost too good to be true. Any thoughts? A - Other than pass - not really. Bermuda visitors are just often unaware of it's location. The Visitors Bureau may not like it when we point it out, but the island is in the Atlantic Ocean not the Caribbean. Mid-summer is the time to visit for the best beach time. Remember, you are talking about an island that is, essentially, off the coast of North Carolina.

BEACHING IN ST. BARTS

Q - Really interesting web site. Much appreciate the specifics. So, we're off, for the first time to St. Bart's, a rather silly place for two Brits to go - but that's another story. We want to find a beach or two to call our own. Where do/would you go? A - The insider's choice is the "slight effort to get to" Grand Saline. But if you want to be around the seen and be seen crowd Baie de St. Jean is tres chic and steps away from otherworldly dining.

GETTING NAKED WITH CLASS

Q - I hope this question is appropriate but we are in shape and we enjoy nude beaches. It seems like most of what we read about beaches where you can go topless or even nude is licentious .We're not into anything kinky it's just that my husband and I can go to a beach near our home. When we think Caribbean we think of unwinding and being able to take off our suits without creating a small riot. We are rather upscale travelers and were wondering which islands or cruise ports are suited to our preferences? If any? A - No problem at all. Nude or clothing optional beaches are becoming more and more popular. There are even some serious "clothing optional" tour operators who include nude beaches on their worldwide itineraries. (more…)

ARE WE NUTS FOR GOING TO QUEBEC?

Q - Instead of going to Paris, we've been there five times, we've chosen, much to the consternation of our very local, she lives next door, travel agent, Quebec this coming August. We've asked about hotels and she recommended the Chateau Frontenac. But it seems huge and huge is not something we generally like unless we're at some kind of buffet. We don't mind spending up to $500 per night for something nice. Should we go with her recommendation?Love the site but I wonder if we're the first dummies who ever considered a vacation in Quebec? None of my friends have been there. A - We actually think that you are far ahead of the travel curve. Combining Montreal and Quebec is an ideal alternative to crossing the pond and you will find some of the best neighborhoods along with world class cuisine if you prepare adequately for the trip.…

COSTA RICA HOTEL IN GUANACASTE

Q - Trying to pin down a hotel. My husband is a golfer, I love the sun. We're headed to Guanacaste on Costa Rica's west coast and have been looking at both the Hotel Punta Islita and the Four Seasons. Any bottom line opinions you might share? A - See if you can get golf privileges through the Punta Islita. (more…)

ARE THERE ANY FLYING STRATEGIES FOR LONG WEEKENDS?

Q - My husband and I decided, well more I decided and I let him know, that we will, in the next 36 months, be taking long weekend vacations instead of longer trips abroad. After that, we'll return to our travel addiction but, for now, we want to cut the travel budget a bit. For a long weekend, are there certain days we should be traveling rather than others? A - Actually we do have a rule of sorts for long weekends. Try to depart on Saturday instead of Thursday or Friday and try to return on a Tuesday or Wednesday instead of Monday. Days to avoid, in order of level of price difficulty, are Friday, Sunday, and Monday.

DOING SORRENTO AND POSITANO WITHOUT PRIVATE DRIVERS

Q - Enjoy your site but you have to know that most of your visitors can't afford to get around by taxi or private drivers. A lot of us use public transportation and your site is not very good at telling us how to get around on the cheap. Right now, we are getting ready for a trip to Italy and the Amalfi Coastal. My specific question is how do I get from Sorrento, where we're staying, to Positano, which we hear is a cool village. Hope you will improve your site to include more stuff for folks like me. A - We want to assure you that we won't. But it is always nice to hear from an escapee from TripAdvisor.See here's the thing. Some adults have enough money to travel well. There aren't many places for them to go in cyberspace to get unbiased travel advice. (more…)

IS CRYSTAL MORE EXPENSIVE THAN ITS COMPETITORS?

Q - We are thinking of going on a Crystal Cruise to Europe in 2012. But friends tell us that they read on the internet that Crystal is more expensive then some of the smaller ships. Price won;t be the main issue in our decision, but we were wondering if Crystal is generally more expensive then its competitors? A - Actually, when you do cost-by-cost comparisons, Crystal is often less then many of the smaller luxury vessels. (more…)

WHO SHOULD WE USE IN ANTARCTICA?

Q - Really grateful for this site and your willingness to help. We are about to plunk down a fistful of cash to see Antarctica, the trip of our dreams. We don't necessarily care about having the largest cabin etc., but we want to see as much as possible. Our agent is saying Le Boreal is the way to go. I know you have had some nice things to say about it and was wondering if I should pull the trigger? Anything I should bring with me? A - Le Boreal is the newest yacht-like vessel built by a French company with a French crew. (more…)

IS SEABOURN GOING DOWNHILL?

Q - We are currently booked on a Greek Islands cruise on Seabourn this summer. We just read about the changes at the line on traveltruth and we're concerned. Should we change our plans given that the ship is now going to be run by Carnival Cruises? We booked directly with Seabourn so they are not going to be very forthcoming with advice. A - The Carnival Corporation owns many cruise lines. (more…)

VENICE HOTEL CHOICES

Q - We are making a return trip to Venice before embarking on a cruise. We have one night to spend before the cruise and we are looking at Ca' Segredo, the Hotel Cipriani, or the Hilton Stuckey. We like our comfort and appreciate hotels that have safety procedures in place and no bed bugs. Where should we stay? A - In order to answer you properly we would need some particulars. (more…)

AMERICAN OR CATHAY PACIFIC

Q - We are going to be flying to Hong Kong in May to begin a lovely trip to China. How many nights should we stay in Hong Kong and should we do it before or after the trip? Also, I went online and it looks like I can fly American or Cathay. Which one has a better business class? A - We think that Hong Kong is a three-night minimum city with an extra night for time zone change adaptation. We'd like to see you do one night on arrival before flying out to China and then three nights at the end of your trip before flying home. Hong Kong is an extremely rewarding city on many levels. There are great hotels, both Kowloon and Central to explore, shopping, world class dining, not to mention sunset cruises through a waterway that intersects one of the world's most beautiful skylines.…

INTRODUCING MY WIFE – AND HER JEWELRY

Q - Don' know if you can answer this - wondering if I can win anything for stumping you. The wifey and I are off to Monte Carlo for a nine-night First Class cruise on one of the best lines out there. She is looking forward to dressing up and showing off her jewelry. She wants to put it in our luggage since "we're insured" if the airlines lose her bag. If she looses the family jewels, will I actually be able to get replacement value when I file a claim? A - Packing expensive jewelry in your luggage is a dumb idea. "Wifey" will just have to pack it in her carry on. You are bound by each airline's "Contract of Carriage." In the United States, airlines have a maximum total liability, seldom utilized, of $3,300. But the contract of carriage always states that the airline does not accept…

WILL MY HOLLAND AMERICA CRUISE PRICE COME DOWN?

Q - My family is booked on a Holland America cruise to the Caribbean in January. We've sailed with them before and we have not yet made final payment. How are we notified if the price goes down? I've booked with some travel agents where cruise pricing was automatically adjusted. How does the system really work? A - Like most policies in Travelworld, it really depends on the supplier. When it comes to cruise pricing stability, the bottom line is that the larger, mass market lines have none. They want to train consumers to use their web sites so they will often suggest that booked guests check "for lowered prices.". In reality, most consumers are now aware that those who book the first half of almost any ship get the best pricing offer. The primary difference between cruise lines is really the difference between the top-ten rated lines on traveltruth…

PRICE OF GUIDE SERVICES IN ITALY

Q - We are pretty much convinced that guides can make or break a trip. We are planning a 20th Anniversary with a vacation taking in Florence, Assisi, Bologna and Rome. We are staving at really nice hotels with amenities provided by our travel agent but we haven't pulled the trigger yet on guide services for a September trip. We do not want a guide who is simply cheap. Can you give us some guidelines as to what a guide in these Italian cities should cost if we give the agent the go-ahead. A - We really agree that the guides you select will largely influence the experiences you have in these cities. Prices will be less in Assisi and Bologna, but not by much. Here is what a really excellent guide and a certified and safe driver will cost in Florence and Rome: Guide for Half-Day Walking Tour: 300…

KEEPING UP ON TURKISH NEWS PRIOR TO VISIT

Q - I have one, hopefully, simple question. How are people supposed to keep up with events in a country abroad they are going to be visiting in the near future? Sure there is lots of info on the internet but it all seems uneducated or anecdotal. Travel agents don;t seem very good at describing current conditions and, according to CNN and FOX, every country on earth is in turmoil. We depart for Ankara and Istanbul in two weeks. How should we prep? A - Fair enough. First, consider using one of the better security sites.The one we like is ASIgroup.com These folks are in the business of analyzing security threats for prominent individuals and corporations. They will send you a summary report that will cover Turkey and it will be up-to-date. But the best thing you can do is scan the local papers in English before you travel abroad.…

WHAT AIRLINES SELDOM TELL YOU ABOUT PRICING

Q - We just saved about $400 by paying no attention to what a US Air agent told us on the phone and doing our own online research. It turns out that we were able to save considerably by departing Philly for the West coast on the early morning flight and leaving LA around dinner time. Just wondering if this was a fluke and why we weren't told this by airline reservations. Our departure and return flights were pretty close to the ones they quoted so why didn't they tell us about the lower fares if we just changed our times? A - Thanks for a great question because you have put your finger on a pricing anomaly that makes the airlines millions upon millions of additional dollars per year. If you give them your desired flight times, they will, most often, not go the extra step to inform you…

TOKYO BOUND FOODIES

Q - Thanks to Japan Airlines mileage desk, and a business trip, my wife and I are headed to Tokyo for two weeks on the company. But, unfortunately, that does not extend to the six days we are on our own for a short vacation. We live in Denver where there is some good Japanese food but we are anxious, really anxious to try the real thing. Where should we splurge and how can we learn the most while dining well for the few days we have in the city? A - We never minimize the challenges of Tokyo. But the rewards are beyond measure as the starting point for everything is so different. Two approaches we recommend. Find someone at your company based in Tokyo who is willing to take you to one or two food markets. Have them explain what is being sold and how it is used…

40 Somethings on Ibiza

Q - OK, we're in our forties, about three decades younger then your average blogger on this site. My goodness, if they are so afraid of getting robbed, hurt, or sick, why don't they just stay and go to Starbucks for entertainment? But we trust your advice so put on your party hats and advise, if you only had one night on Ibiza, where would you party? A - Actually, we don;t go to Starbucks because it is filled with 40 something's starring vapidly at their computer screens. Our generations prefer places where people actually converse. You are not a very good prognosticator of demographics - but that said, The Blue Marlin is where you want to head. It sits right ont he beach, has great music, and they spritz you with water instead of air conditioning. Pardon us if we don't join you.

Water on Delta

Q - Living in Atlanta, I get to fly Delta quite a bit on business and for pleasure. I've always wondered about something. About a month ago, I returned from overseas and got a bad case of something that seemed food-related. I kept reviewing what I ate and then it hit me that I had been drinking a ton of water on the return flight and it did not appear to be out of any bottle. Could this be the cause of my stomach upset? A - Well we blame the airlines for everything else - why not a bout of food poisoning. Actually, it wouldn;t surprise me if it was the water. Commercial jets have water storage tanks that are not, as far as we can determine, under any federal inspection controls. Once in a while, those water tanks are supposed to be "cleansed" with some soft detergents. I…

Following The Beasts

Q - We keep hearing about this "follow the great migration" thing in Africa and it is really confusing. We think we want to see it but when should we go and where? Any thoughts on this? Have gotten several contradictory answers including one gen from a Kenyan tourism official. A -