Friday, September 1, 2017
Six New Ways to Experience Alaska by Ship
As more Americans choose closer-to-home vacations, Alaska was this summer's hottest cruise destination: Almost 3/4 of the 700 travel agents polled by Cruise Lines International Association reported an uptick in Alaska summer bookings. Lines say the 49th state satisfies current cravings for an adventurous, scenic, family-friendly, and safe destination.
By ship, you can glide through the Inside Passage and watch humpback whales breach and glaciers calve in spectacular settings like Glacier Bay National Park. Strike out on adventures like heli-hiking and dogsled mushing in port, or catch your own salmon in a mountain stream. Many lines offer add-on land tours that take travelers deep into Denali National Park or through Yukon gold-rush country in northern Canada.
Here are six new ways to experience the Great Land by cruise in 2016:
1. Cook your catch. If you land a salmon or halibut during certain Princess Cruises shore excursions, the ship’s chefs will prepare it to your specifications to enjoy onboard. The new “Cook My Catch” offering is available during calls at Juneau and Ketchikan. As passengers return from their tour, they select their preferred fish preparation and accompaniments, and then the culinary team takes it from there. And if the fish aren’t biting? You can still dine on fresh Alaskan king crab, king salmon, and halibut in Princess ships’ main dining rooms. Plus, this summer their deck grills feature specialties from popular shore-side eateries, including crab cakes from Tracy’s King Crab Shack in Juneau, fish tacos from Alaska Fish House in Ketchikan, and halibut burgers from Skagway Fish Company.
2. More to do at Denali. Travelers on Holland America Line’s Land+Sea Journeys can experience more culture and scenery at the company’s gateway to Denali National Park. In the 60-acre McKinley Chalet Resort, the newly inaugurated Denali Square serves as a gathering area to relax, dine, hear music, and delve into Alaskan culture. An amphitheater provides a covered performance stage for local shows, ranger talks, and demonstrations. The Gold Nugget Saloon is a choice spot for live music, and a new restaurant offers mountain views from an outdoor deck. You can gather ’round fire pits on cool evenings and toast marshmallows for s’mores, visit an artist-in-residence cabin where Alaskan native and local artists display and discuss their works, and hike paths through mountainous landscapes and along the Nenana River.
3. Explore more at Icy Strait Point, Alaska’s native-owned and operated cruise port. A new floating dock means ships no longer have to anchor. This gives passengers more time to explore Hoonah, Alaska’s largest Tlingit town, with its restored 1912 salmon cannery and museum, nature trails, and 100 percent Alaskan-owned shops. Passengers step ashore at a new Adventure Center, where they can join many different tours, from exploring Glacier Bay to searching for humpbacks at Point Adolphus, one of Alaska’s richest whale grounds. Those who stick around Hoonah can see bald eagles wheel overhead, sip a local beer at the Duck Point Smokehouse, or fly down North America’s longest and highest zip line.
Princess Cruises allows its passengers to cuddle with sled dog puppies
4. Meet puppies (really!). Princess Cruises is bringing aboard some of Skagway’s newest sled dogs for a visit in the ship’s piazza (central atrium). You can snap a picture with the cuddly puppies and talk with the handlers who’ll be training them for a life of mushing.
5. Get active in the wilderness. Small-ship specialist Un-Cruise Adventures has two new routes: “Exploring Muir’s Wilderness” and “Yachters’ Alaskan Frontier,” both featuring hiking, kayaking, paddle boarding, skiff excursions, and whale watching in remote wilderness. With few or no port calls and flexible itineraries, the week-long programs, round-trip from Juneau, focus on exploration and wildlife. The best part? Each trip is different.
6. Trek the Northwest Passage, linking the Pacific and Atlantic via the Arctic Ocean. In August the luxurious, 1,070-passenger Crystal Serenity will become the largest cruise ship to navigate the route, maneuvering through 900 miles of waterways lined with glaciers, fjords, and vast, unspoiled landscapes north of mainland Canada. The expedition begins in Seward, Alaska, and ends 32 days later in New York City. On board, speakers will address climate change and how the retreat of polar ice has enabled Crystal Cruises and others to undertake this expedition. The cruise currently has a waiting list; however, Crystal plans a second voyage in August 2017. And next year, fellow luxury line Regent Seven Seas Cruises will be transiting the Northwest Passage, too.
Thursday, August 24, 2017
When people find out what I do for a living, weird things often happen...Some will tilt their heads to one side and ask “Do Travel Agents still exist?” as if they were magically staring into the eyes of a unicorn. Others will immediately start over-sharing every travel nightmare they, and everyone on the internet have ever experienced. Finally there are the folks that hit you up with a rapid fire, laundry list of questions like a hypochondriac during a doctor’s visit. The other ever popular response is “Wow, so you must get to like travel all over the world for free-right?”
Truth be told, I have the best, most misunderstood job in the world. It’s true, most people have no idea how travel agents work and how they can help. Hopefully, I can help clear up some of this confusion by explaining things about what we do....
Most desperate vacation-seekers, take the knee jerk reaction of heading online to make their reservations. The lure of internet convenience and control quickly turns into confusion, indecisiveness and anxiety not to mention a huge time suck. How do I know?...because not a day goes by that I don’t receive emails pleading for help from these exact problems from would-be vacationers.
Think of a travel agent as your tour guide that will lead you to the perfect vacation.
If you’ve ever wondered what a day in the life of a travel agent is like, here’s a bit more about what we’re all about and how we help our clients....
Travel Agents are “All Inclusive” - Hotels, vacation package companies and cruise lines all include travel agent commissions in their published prices. If you do all the work yourself online, they “pocket” the difference. Using the services of a travel agent means you get the customer service you deserve. You won’t be spending hours on the internet, hanging on phone hold for eternity or wasting any precious time wondering and worrying.
Travel Agent Do Not Cost More - Travel agents basically earn their living by the commissions we earn from our sales of hotel stays, cruises, sightseeing and rental cars. The airlines haven’t paid commissions to travel agents since the mid 1990’s. This is why when my travel agency recommends infants should have their own airlines seats instead of flying free as a lapchild, we’re not trying to part you from your money, we’re trying to make sure your baby stays safe. If you want to use mileage points too book your own flights, no problem. Online Travel companies do charge service fees. They build them into the cost that you pay. There are some travel agents that do charge a minimal service fee for their time which is usually offset by their time and money savings. Make sure you do ask in your initial consultation. Others may ask for an upfront deposit, especially in situations dealing with very complex itineraries or group events.
Travel Agents Are not pushy - Any good travel agent knows it’s not about making the sale, it’s about creating happy clients. Happy clients become fans of your company, come back to you every year and recommend your company to others. Most travel agents rejoice when we can save our clients money with a great deal. We make our recommendations based on the specific needs and requests of our clients. We don’t base our recommendations on industry sales incentives or bonus gifts. If we know of a better room or experience that will enhance our client’s family vacation, we’ll suggest. We just want our clients to make the best informed decisions to get the most value for their vacation dollars.
Travel Agents Match Online Prices - Some people just enjoy planning their own vacations. These are probably the same folks who like putting together IKEA furniture. No matter, make yourself happy find your best price and email us all the details. Your travel agent will either be able to match it or tell you why you’re setting yourself up for a scam. I even had clients who will make their own reservations directly with a cruise line or tour company then call and transfer their booking to our agency. It’s a win-win. They get and do exactly what they want while having us do all the follow up, follow thru while making suggestions to enhance their enjoyment. .
Travel Agents Have Rates That You Don’t - Travel agents are privy to special flight prices, special hotel and cruise cabin rates that consumers will never find online themselves. This feature alone will save you money. Beyond pricing, good travel agents have the buying power to get extra amenities like ship board credits or insider tours that can also enhance your family’s vacation.
Travel Agents Save You Time - Time in our most precious commodity and yet so many people are willing to waste it. HOURS can be spent properly researching a vacation. With the amount of conflicting information available online, it’s easy to quickly get overwhelmed and confused. Many times, the questions perplexing travelers are one that agents can answer right off the top of our heads thanks to our years of experience. If you have detailed questions or need to plan a complicated itinerary, we do all the work for you. We can make the international phone calls to get your questions answered. We know who and how to reach out to in order to get the job done, saving you hours of frustration.
Travel Agents Understand The Fine Print- Most people don’t bother reading any of the fine print terms and conditions of their travel documents until it’s too late. This is what “trips” them up (pun intended) and costs them big bucks in the long term. Even if folks do stop to read it, they fully understand all the implications. Travel Agents are well versed in these rules, terms and conditions. We can help navigate and protect your family and investment.
Travel Agents Protect You - Most DIY vacation planners don’t realize that medical insurance usually does not cover your family while on vacation out of area or especially overseas. Many foreign countries will take your passport if you are admitted to a hospital and will expect payment in full for any treatment or surgery prior to discharge. A good travel agent will make sure you have the proper peace of mind with the right travel insurance to keep your family safe and protected.
Travel Agents Have Contacts - Travel agents do not get “free” trips. We invest our own money and especially our time to travel and visit the destinations we recommend. Sure we experience new travel options and learn about destinations. The most important reason why we make this professional investment is for the opportunity to meet face to face with the right important industry contacts. These important connections truly benefits the vacation experience our clients ultimately enjoy. We know exactly who to speak to in order to make special requests for our clients. This could mean things like connecting rooms, welcome gifts or advanced restaurant reservations. These relationships have proved priceless in emergency situations.
Travel Agents Have Specialized Expertise - At our agency, we specialize in Family and multi generational vacations. In a former lifetime, I was a pediatric nurse so I often use those skills to help my clients. I will often share and collaborate with other travel industry professionals to help clients enjoy vacations that exceed their expectations. Even within our agency, we have agents who are Disney experts while others have experience creating customized tours in Europe, Africa and Asia. If we don’t have an in house person who can best serve our clients, we collaborate with other professionals who can.
Travel Agents Have Priceless Advice - First hand experience and knowledge are what will change a typical vacation into a real memorable experience. Even though good travel agents professionally invest in their own travel to gain this experience, not every Travel Agent can humanly know every destination in the world. That said, good travel agents have a “golden network” and know exactly who to call to get the answers their clients need.
Travel Agents Prevent Hassles - Most DIY travel people don’t realize if there is a HUGE difference between great value and the cheapest price. For example, you may pay a really low price for your family’s flight but that doesn’t mean you’ll make your connecting flight. This could result in an unexpected camp out at the airport terminal and the out of pocket loss for the vacation days you’re missing. A good travel agent know certain airport require longer connection times than others to prevent problems. This is just one of many examples that “trips” up online travel shoppers and may explain so many of the unnecessary rants on travel review websites.
Travel Agents Babysit Your Reservations - Many folks have commitment issues when it comes to pulling the trigger and confirming their reservations. They always think they will get a cheaper last minute rate. Often they wait too long, forfeit availability and end up paying much more for their vacation. Most people don’t realize that if their trip goes on sale, they can get a lower rate. A good travel agent will babysit your reservation and have any lower prices or sales applied to your reservation, even after you’ve made your initial deposit has been made. This is true for many cruises or Disney vacations. For Caribbean or Mexico resort vacations, our agents can direct you to price guarantee coverage that offers you the same option.
Travel Agents Offer Affordable Payment Plans - Online booking require payment in full at the time you confirm your reservations. This means you could be paying huge credit card interest fees that will add to the total cost of your vacation in the long run. If you plan ahead and use a travel agent, you will only be required to pay a small deposit to confirm your family’s vacation reservations. Final payment for your trip will usually be required 45 to 60 days prior to your departure. This means your travel agent can set up a monthly vacation layaway program that could save you hundreds on credit card interest.
Travel Agents Work As Your Troubleshooter - No matter how much you prepare, sometimes unexpected “stuff” happens while your on vacation. When you book with a travel agent, they are with you every step of the way. We are your personal advocate. If you run into any issues, your travel agent can make calls and usually fix the situation so you don’t have to waste valuable vacation time problem solving. We usually know who to call and how to ask for the right solutions many times exceeding your expectations. In the rare instance that you need to make a travel insurance claim or need to follow up on a complaint after you return home, your travel agent advocate continues to work on behalf on your family. We make sure any problems are solved to your satisfaction.
I don’t think my job is weird at all...honestly, I think I’m one of the lucky ones.
I am one of those rare individuals who looks forward to getting up, pouring a cup of coffee and going to work every the morning. I commute to my office where I connect every day with friends and great people all over the globe. Our staff works virtually and they are happy and get to be at home surrounded by the people they love every day. We get to help our clients explore the world, check items off their bucket lists, share life changing memories with their loved ones and come home with suitcases full of amazing experiences. I am fortunate now to be doing this long enough that the kids I once sent off on vacations with their parents are now calling me up to help plan their destination weddings or to take their own kids on vacation.
Tell me, does this all sound like a bad day at the office to you?
Wednesday, June 21, 2017
Oberammergau Passion Play
In 1633, the residents of Oberammergau, Bavaria, Germany, vowed that if God spared them from the bubonic plague ravaging the region, they would produce a play thereafter for all time depicting the life and death of Jesus. The death rate among adults rose from one person per 1000 per year in October 1632 to twenty in the month of March 1633. The adult death rate slowly subsided to one in the month of July 1633. The villagers believed they had been spared and they kept their part of the vow when the play was first performed in 1634.
The play is now performed repeatedly over the course of five months during every year ending in zero. 102 performances took place from 15 May until 3 October 2010 and is next scheduled for 2020. The production involves over 2,000 performers, musicians and stage technicians, all residents of the village. The play comprises spoken dramatic text, musical and choral accompaniment and tableaux vivants, which are scenes from the Old Testament depicted for the audience by motionless actors accompanied by verbal description. These scenes are the basis for the typology, the interrelationship between the Old and New Testaments, of the play. They include a scene of King Ahasuerus rejecting Vashti in favor of Esther, the brothers selling Joseph into slavery in Egypt, and Moses raising up the nehushtan (bronze serpent) in the wilderness. Each scene precedes that section of the play that is considered to be prefigured by the scene. The three tableaux mentioned are presented to the audience as prefiguring Christianity superseding Judaism, Judas selling information on the location of Jesus, and the crucifixion of Jesus.
The evolution of the Passion Play was about the same as that of the Easter Play, originating in the ritual of the Latin Church, which prescribes, among other things, that the Gospel on Good Friday should be sung in parts divided among various persons.
Wednesday, May 17, 2017
As a travel agent I get asked what is the newest or hottest destination right now. There are a lot of different opinions, but here is a list of destinations that popping up for us.
Travel between June and August tends to be the most popular with visitors. June offers 24 hours of Arctic daylight, while July and August are the warmest months, offering the best chances for good weather. Travel between mid-September and mid-October is perhaps the most ideal, as you’ll miss the swell of high-season tourist traffic, sneak in before snowfall blankets the trails, and have a solid chance of seeing the northern lights. Although winter weather can be an impediment, and the narrow window of daylight can shorten your sightseeing, excellent deals can be scored during the off-season.
Best known for its historic cafes and the Shroud of Turin, the city is also a vibrant contemporary art destination. Last year, superstar curator Carolyn Christov-Bakargiev was named director of two major institutions, Galleria Civica d'Arte Moderna, Italy's first modern art museum, and Castello di Rivoli, its first contemporary art museum, featuring works from powerhouses like Michelangelo Pistoletto and Paul McCarthy. Earlier eras can be explored at two other newly overhauled museums: the Galleria Sabauda, where visitors can see more than 500 works once owned by the royal Savoy family, and the Egyptian Museum, which houses one of the most extensive Egyptian-artifact collections in the world. Early in 2017, Turin's medieval roots will be revealed at Lavazza coffee's new headquarters in the Aurora neighborhood, when the company unveils a fourth-century basilica discovered during construction.
Thankfully, the pace of change is not overwhelming, leaving the simple pleasures of travel in Myanmar intact. Drift down the Ayeyarwady (Irrawaddy) River in an old river steamer or luxury cruiser. Stake out a slice of beach on the blissful Bay of Bengal. Trek through pine forests to minority villages scattered across the Shan Hills without jostling with scores of fellow travellers. Best of all, you'll encounter locals who are gentle, humorous, engaging, considerate, inquisitive and passionate – they want to play a part in the world, and to know what you make of their world. Now is the time to make that connection.In 2015, Myanmar voted in its first democratically elected government in more than half a century. Sanctions have been dropped and the world is rushing to do business here. Relaxing of censorship has led to an explosion of new media and an astonishing openness in public discussions of once-taboo topics. Swathes of the county, off-limits for years, can now be freely visited. Modern travel conveniences, such as mobile phone coverage and internet access, are now common, but largely confined to the big cities and towns, where the recent economic and social improvements are most obvious.
Kitesurfers have long made a playground of the breezy beaches of Paros, and no wonder: this sunshiny isle is a Cycladic triumvirate of sandy shoreline, history, and culture. Last summer the island debuted a new airport, opening it to larger aircraft and more vacationers. And the fishing village of Naousa, with its boxy white architecture and seaside tavernas, is increasingly sophisticated—check in to the modern, adults-only apartments of Porto Naousa or the elegant Seven Santa Maria, where six airy, all-white suites (and a separate villa) come with a private boat and skipper for exploring the island’s secret coves.
Málaga, in Spain’s Andalusia region, is now a veritable museum-goer’s paradise. The first wave included a Picasso museum (the artist was born here) and the sprawling 8,000-square-foot CAC (Centro de Arte Contemporáneo), which has hosted exhibits by Ai Weiwei and Marcel Dzama. Since then, the Carmen Thyssen, an outpost of Madrid’s Thyssen-Bornemisza Museum that houses the famous baroness’s extensive private collection, has opened; so has a five-year pop-up of Paris’s Centre Pompidou displaying works by Magritte, Chagall, and Kahlo. The Pompidou’s location along Málaga’s renovated waterfront is marked by a hypermodern, rainbow-hued glass cube. And in the industrial space of a former tobacco factory is a sister site of the Russian Museum in St. Petersburg. Archaeology buffs can comb the extensive collection at the Aduana Palace (it houses both a fine arts and archaeological museum) or head to the Antequera Dolmens (a prehistoric burial site that earned its UNESCO World Heritage nod in 2016). Unwind afterward at the lavishly appointed Gran Hotel Miramar; it opened at the end of 2016 in a historic 1926 Art Nouveau building across from Málaga’s most timeless attraction: Malagueta Beach.