Friday, July 13, 2018
HOW TO PACK A CARRY-ON LIKE A PRO
Have you ever struggled to manage multiple suitcases while enviously eyeing a traveler with one simple carry-on zip past you toward security? If you answered yes, you might be a chronic over packer. And though over packing isn’t a crime, it definitely has its consequences.
Extra baggage costs differ per airline, but most charge $50+ a pop. Not only will you add unnecessary costs to your travel expenses, you’ll have to bring all of that luggage with you throughout your trip, schlepping it from train station to taxi to hotel.
Other reasons you might want to avoid over packing? In European countries, cars are smaller, so if you plan on renting a car, all those bags might not fit in the trunk. In places like France or Italy, many boutique hotels and older apartment buildings don’t have elevators. And who wants to carry several suitcases up five flights of stairs to get to the Airbnb?
When it comes to easy and enjoyable traveling, less is more. Here’s how to save space when packing.
Friday, May 18, 2018
What's Trending in Destination Weddings
A destination wedding used to be a couple’s easy out. Rather than undergoing an expensive affair with aunts, uncles, cousins, second cousins, centerpieces and a DJ (band? DJ? band?), the pair could choose to hop on a plane and make all the stress fade away. Destination weddings were smaller, more intimate and, more importantly, far, far away, which whittled the guest list down to those who were able, and truly determined, to go — and typically cut the bill in half.
The No. 1 trend that experts are seeing in this market is that these events have blossomed into an experience for everyone involved. Sure, the couple has their special day, but for the rest of the guest list, a destination wedding has become more of an opportunity for a personal vacation — one that becomes the couple's responsibility to help plan.
Because travel has become so accessible and important to a wider number of Americans in the last few years, people are more likely to jump at the chance to attend a destination wedding. In the past, destination weddings were ideal for paring down the guest list, losing attendees due to cost, lack of vacation time or general discomfort with travel. But in today’s world, companies are offering more time off, and the general willingness to travel has grown, so guest lists can often be as long as they would be at a traditional wedding.
Host destinations are getting bolder, as well. While traditional locales such as the Caribbean and Mexico will never go out of style, couples are also turning to more exotic spots. And even within typical wedding locations, twosomes are branching out to see how they can raise the bar.
Because this is a once-in-a-lifetime vacation for both the couple and their guests, the bride and groom are willing to spend more for one-of-a-kind luxury touches.
The modern travel mindset is highly driven by social media, and this is no different when it comes to destination weddings. Couples want their weddings to be buzzworthy, beautifully photographed or — the highest level of brag-ability — to go viral. Facebook and Instagram feeds are loaded with images of picture-perfect weddings in exotic locales, showing that the destination weddings market is increasingly using social media to help fuel the desire for this kind of nuptial.
Those days are now a distant memory. Today, we live in the age of access. Travel has become an inalienable right, and while that’s certainly a good thing in terms of connecting with foreign cultures and trying new experiences, it has changed the way we travel — and the way we plan destination weddings.
From curated one-of-a-kind moments to personalized itineraries for the entire guest list to essentially a mega-vacation for more than just the bride and groom, here are some of the top trends in the way couples plan and execute destination weddings.
One Big Vacation for All
“Gone are the days of just providing food, flowers and music,” said Jove Meyer, owner and creative director of New York-based Jove Meyer Events. “Now, we create experiential moments and memories in beautiful places.”
There are twosomes who go so far as to create build-up to the wedding experience, acting almost like travel agents themselves to help sell the trip as a fun vacation for all.
“Some couples are even surprising their guests by using save the dates that simply say things like ‘Get yourself to London on X date and we will take care of the rest,’” said Ceci Johnson, founder and creative director of custom invitation designer Ceci New York.
“Another trend has been to send a save the date without a destination, and those who respond ‘yes’ get a second mailing with the details of the event along with ‘get excited’ favors, such as custom passport cases and luggage tags. Many guests have been mixing in fun save the date packages that include presents like tequila bottles with custom-designed labels, if the wedding is in Mexico, for example.”
Strength in Numbers
“Couples are increasingly surprised at how many people are going to their destination weddings,” said Tami Santini, owner of Paradise Getaways in Michigan. “The bride and groom aren’t seeing as much resistance, complaints or concerns when it comes to these weddings. Group sizes are larger, and couples are not looking at this type of ceremony as a way to save money. They just want to do it and are willing to spend $30,000 to have it happen. It’s common to see 100 people at a destination wedding.
The modern consumer is not so put off by travel. Thanks to social media, the world has become a much smaller place, and travelers today realize that time is fleeting and they need to seize potential experiences when they can.
“We’re seeing a different mindset about how people view the destination wedding,” Santini said. “They are willing to invest because they see the value that they are getting themselves. We are catering to millennials, for the most part, and they have no hesitation. Getting out and seeing the world is just normal for them.”
Go Big or Go Home
“Couples are not afraid of long layovers or longer flights, especially if it means they can have an exclusive property or location for their wedding weekend,” said Meyer of Jove Meyer Events.
“Everyone has done the Caribbean and Mexico so many times,” said Sonal Shah, senior event consultant for New York-based Sonal J. Shah Event Consultants. “Now, Europe is where couples look for their weddings. Think Switzerland, Paris and Greece. Marrakech, Morocco, is another destination on the rise.”
Johnson of Ceci New York adds that Ireland has become another popular place for Europe-bound Americans planning destination weddings.
“Far from the issues that some major European cities have had regarding safety, Ireland is filled with epic scenery and unique venues like castles,” she said.
Once travelers reach their destination, the wedding experience becomes about incorporating the local flavor into the overall vibe. Destination weddings are first and foremost about the celebrated couple, but they also give guests an opportunity to say they have seen and done something new. Authenticity and experiences are the currency of good travel these days, and that is true of destination weddings, as well.
“Embracing the local flare is a big trend,” Meyer said. “More couples are working with local talent to bring authenticity to their destination wedding — be it through decor, favors, entertainment or attire. We are all familiar with a classic wedding, but now, guests and couples are having so much fun incorporating local touches to make it more unique and creative.”
“Sometimes we'll see intimate weekend-long gatherings with a couple’s closest loved ones, where they treat every guest to a deeply personal and luxurious experience,” said Lisa Vorce, celebrity wedding planner and owner and creative director of Lisa Vorce Co. in Santa Ana, Calif. “This allows us to customize every detail with thoughtful attention to the couple’s tastes."
According to consultant Shah, couples are comfortable going above and beyond to truly customize their wedding experience. She has seen brides and grooms splurge on everything from private island buyouts and complete venue buyouts to chartered jets, a night on a yacht and flying in a celebrity guest.
Karisma Hotels & Resorts, for example, has catered to this growing trend with its Private Enclave Wedding Experience, which takes place at El Dorado Casitas Royale in Mexico's Riviera Maya. This package guarantees the wedding group a private casita enclave when they book a minimum of 17 casitas. Guests enjoy a private swimming pool with a swim-up bar, as well as private butler service. The package also includes a decorated Memorable Moments ceremony and a four-course private dinner reception with a private wine and cheese event, a bridal spa suite on the wedding day and a private poolside Mexican beach fiesta. The wedding couple is also upgraded to one of the Palafito Overwater Bungalows at El Dorado Maroma for the last two nights of their stay.
All for the 'Gram'
“Social media plays a big role in destination weddings,” said Scott Wiseman, president of Travel Impressions. “Many agents get their leads from referrals and testimonials from other brides. Social media also helps direct brides to the new hot spots.” Wiseman says that word-of-mouth has become an even stronger power with the influence of social media.
Celebrity wedding planner Vorce agrees.
“With the prevalence of social media, travelers are also planning their trips according to the guidance of leading travel bloggers, including couples who may be planning a destination celebration,” she said. “We use Instagram for digital reconnaissance, often finding unique artisans and creative services in the most exotic places around the world."
While the bar for destination weddings constantly moves higher, the good news for agents is that, for modern couples, great travel experiences seem to be the perfect add-on to their big day.
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?