Saturday, July 18, 2015

Atlantis Bahamas - Which Tower Is For Me?

Confused about the options for staying at Atlantis in the Bahamas? Five towers, different room types had us wondering about the differences. We recently had the opportunity to take a three hour tour of Atlantis and were able to see rooms in each tower.
Royal Tower

The entry level room towers are the Beach and Coral Towers. Beach is the least expensive, Coral a little more.  These towers are are the first you will see when you arrive after crossing the bridge at the eastern most side of the resort. They are the closest to the beach area of this huge resort.  

The rooms are those you will find at a typical Holiday Inn, Best Western, etc.  Rooms need updating but were clean. The Beach Tower rooms have been updated. Rooms feature a full balcony, sitting area, service bar, king size or two double beds, armoire with flat screen HD TV, iron & ironing board, hair dryer, safe and coffee maker. Coral Tower has these rooms as well as Regal and Governors Suites.

Regal Suites  provide the same amenities but also have 2 balconies, a parlor with sleeper sofa, armchair, dinette and service bar.  Bedroom with king-size bed, armchair, armoire, TV and two large closets.  Master bath with separate shower, large bathtub and twin sink basins.

Governor Suites offer all the above amenities and are larger than the Regal Suites. Governors Suites are larger than the Regal Suites but offer the same rooms amenities and style as the Regal Suites.

Standard Room in Coral Tower

The Royal Tower is the next tower and is the tower smack dab in the center of the resort. This is the tower that has the iconic room that bridges between the two towers of this building that is often referred to as the "Oprah" or "Michael Jordan" (or whatever famous person has stayed there) room. 
There are also suites that can accommodate families of up to two bedrooms.

Reef Bedroom

The Reef is the tower furthest from the activities and is a residential apartment unit.  Owners are permitted to use their time share for up to 90 days per year. The rest of the time, that condo is available for rental. There is an interesting display in the lobby which shows the status of which condos are sold and which are available for sale. All rooms have some type of oceanview.  This is a great option for families, again with studios, one bedroom and  up to two bedrooms. Studios and one bedrooms can accommodate up to 4 people, two bedrooms can hold up to 8 plus one child under 4.  There are also 2 and 3 bedroom penthouse suites. The two bedroom penthouse can accommodate up to 6 people and 1 child under 4 and the 3 bedroom  10 people and one child under 4. 
View from the Reef

When staying at either the Reef or the Cove, guests who want to include the dining option to their plans must purchase a dining package especially for these units which costs more than the dining package for the Royal, Coral and Beach Towers.  The rooms are beautiful at this tower with everything you could want, including a dining area and kitchenette.
Bathroom in the Cove

Finally, the Cove Atlantis is the most upscale of the towers, situated between the Reef and Royal Towers. Walking into the open air lobby is breathtakingly beautiful.  When you stay here, you  also have access to Cain at the Cove, an exclusive adult only pool and nightclub area as well as the Cascades Family Pool. 

Ocean Suites can hold up to 4 people with one king or two queens beds with partial ocean views. Deluxe ocean suites have a step down living room and full ocean views and also offer Club Level rooms. Azure Suites, Sapphire. and Presidential suites come with one or two bedrooms. Penthouse suites have two or three bedrooms. 
Cove Bedroom

An important thing to know is that there is a daily resort fee that is not included in your price and payable at the hotel. For the Reef and Cove, it is $49.95 plus tax per day. 

Just outside the resort is another area of villa type rooms called the Harborside Resort.  These are moderately priced rooms around the marina. They can accommodate up to 9 people. There are one, two and three bedroom villas here.  One bedroom deluxe villas can accommodate 4, premium up to 5.  Two bedrooms deluxe can accommodate 6, two bedroom premiums up to 9. Three bedrooms hold up to 10 people. 

These are time share rentals so you will not receive daily maid service, towel changes, turn down service. Wi-fi is not included. If you want this, you must pay extra for it - that is the difference between booking here versus at the resort. Since there are full kitchens, you can shop at the local grocery store in Nassau and save a lot of money by eating some of your meals right in your villa. The units have a washer and dryer so you can bring less clothing.  This is a basic three star stay - don't expect more than that. It takes approximately 10 minutes to walk to the resort from here. There is shuttle service but there are long waits that are reported.


There are 18 water slides, 11 pools, 14 lagoons, 3 beaches, 2 river ride pools, wi-fi, a fitness center,  2 bottles of water daily in the room, a movie theater, casino and shuttle between the towers. 

You can spend hours in "The Dig", one of the greatest marine life exhibits we've ever seen. There are also different lagoons to view fish in, from sharks at the Mayan Temple in a clear tube ride, to an Estuary Lagoon where you can observe newborn sharks and rays and much more.
The Dig

There is also a Dolphin Habitat where you can swim with the Dolphins. Just be aware that they sell passes to cruise ships for these dolphin swims and when the ships are in port (almost every day) there is an onslaught of people lining up for these encounters.  Book an early morning or late afternoon  encounter to avoid crowds. (There are extra charges for this).
Dolphins

Dining plans are important!  They are worth every penny you will pay for them.  There are three dining plans you can choose from.  The Value Plan offers breakfast and dinner at up to 7 restaurants and either a two or three course meal for dinner.  The current price for the value plan is $85 per person per day age 12 and over, $38 ages 7 - 11. (Kids under 6 are eat free with purchase of an adult plan).  The three course plan is currently $99 per adult and $43 per child.

The Atlantis Plan offers choices of up to 15 restaurants, including Celebrity Chefs. The two course plan is $129 per adult and $53 per child 7 - 11, the three course plan $149 and $59 respectively. 

If you stay at the Reef or Cove, you must purchase the meal plan for those towers. It features up to 16 restaurants and is a three course menu. Cost is $160 per adult per day and the childs cost is $59.
All two course menus includes a choice of appetizer or dessert and entree, all three course meals include appetizer, entree and dessert.
Chihuly Glass

Not included in these prices are VAT tax or gratuity.  The gratuity is added to your daily room bill and is based on what the full cost of dinner would be. Feedback from our clients has been that the average cost of a dinner for three people was over $300, so the value you get from the dining plan is worth the cost in our opinion.

At the Harborside Village, there are some small shops and restaurants that are less expensive to eat at and you do have the option of taking the nearby ferry into Nassau for the many choices of restaurants there. 

As an aside - there is a Comfort Suites Resort next to Atlantis. If you stay there, you can use the Atlantis facilities. It's an all suite, recently renovated hotel that includes breakfast and full access to Atlantis. 




How Cruise Lines Honor Crew That Go Above and Beyond

Travel Weekly published a very interesting story about how six cruise lines honor crew that go above and beyond when servicing passengers.  Read the story

http://www.travelpulse.com/opinions/blog/how-6-mainstream-cruise-lines-honor-crew-that-go-above-and-beyond.html

Wednesday, June 24, 2015

Get Married By A Ship Captain - Here's How.

There are many ways and places to have a destination wedding but how about having one onboard a cruise ship and being married by the ships Captain?

With Princess Cruise Lines, you can! While almost all cruise lines offer weddings in port or on the ship before it disembarks from your port,  Princess is the only line that currently allows you to be married at sea by the ships Captain and will have your guests raving about the unique experience. Invite your friends and family to join you on your cruise and have a wedding that will be remembered forever by both you and your guests.

There are three different Tie The Knot Weddings available with Princess. The At Sea Wedding Package is the opportunity to be married onboard by the Captain while sailing in international waters. Your at Sea Wedding Package includes:

-Wedding Chapel or Ideal Onboard location                - Two fresh floral arrangements
- Candlelit ceremony officiated by Captain                  - Rose bouquet (1 dozen)
- Special vows at sea                                                     - Boutonniere
- Wedding Co-ordinator onboard                                  - 9" wedding cake
- Pre-recorded ceremony music*                                  - Bottle of champagne
- Photographer+                                                            - Two Princess Keepsake Champagne flutes
- Videographer+
- One 16" x 20" unframed canvas print                        - Keepsake Wedding Certificate

Package               $1800
Licensing fees        $466  (witness fee may apply)

Total^                  $2266

^ - Prices quoted in U.S. dollars, subject to change and do not include applicable sales tax
* - When available
+ - Basic photography and video services are included for your ceremony at no cost. Photo and video packages and add- on services are available for purchase onboard.

If you have family and friends that can't sail with you, Princess (and various other cruise lines) offer
a Harborside Wedding Package might be the answer for you. In select ports, family and friends can attend an onboard ceremony that takes place before the ship departs. After the ceremony, your guests who are not sailing with you will disembark the ship while you go on to your amazing honeymoon cruise. This wedding page includes:

-Priority check in for couples and guests*                   - Videographer
- Wedding chapel or ideal onboard location                - Two silk floral arrangements
- Non-denominational officiant***                              - Rose bouquet (1 dozen)
- Romantic vows                                                          - Boutonniere
- Wedding Co-ordinator onboard**                             - 9" wedding cake
- Pre-recorded ceremony music                                   - Bottle of champagne
- Photographer+                                                           - Keepsake wedding certificate

Package prices vary by port,
*Only available for embarkation day weddings
** An additional wedding co-ordinator is required for additional guests in increments of 25.
***A local officiant will perform the ceremony
+ -  Basic photography and video services are included for your ceremony at no cost. Photo and video packages and add- on services are available for purchase onboard.

Finally, there is an Ashore Wedding Package.  With this package, ceremonies can be performed on land in certain ports. You can plan the ultimate destination wedding package by choosing a cruise visiting the country you want to get married in. The only drawback to this type of wedding is that if the ship doesn't make the port you opt to be married in, your wedding will not take place. There are only certain islands or countries that will permit these type of wedding, based on the legal residency requirements. (These are also offered on most cruise lines.) This package includes:

- Beautiful beach or garden ceremony location                - Boutonniere
- Non-denominational officiant*                                      - Specialty cake for two
- Exotic island vows                                                         - Bottle of champagne
- Wedding Co-ordinator                                                   - Keepsake wedding certificate
- Photographer                                                                    - Transportation for bridal couple^
- Bridal bouquet

Package prices vary by port. *A local officiant will perform the taxi's
^ - Usually a taxi

There are also many upgrade options to allow you to personalize your ceremony and reception. These include a DJ, three tier cake, keepsake video or the day, food and beverage, floral upgrades from bouquets to table arrangements, customized photography and video packages, private transportation, Lotus Spa appointments, live entertainment for your ceremony or reception, and tuxedo rental.

There are many destination wedding venues, but being married on a cruise ship is unique in it's very own way. Why not consider one of these unique wedding packages? Your guests will love you for providing them with a financially viable option to attend your wedding or you can invite guests who can't travel with you for the Harborside Wedding.

Call us to learn more about one of these unique weddings. 516-608-0568





Sunday, May 31, 2015

Hard Rock All Inclusive Resorts - Family Friendly!


Families that have three or more kids often find themselves on the short end of the stick when booking  hotel rooms.  There are very few hotels, cruise ships or resorts that allow five people in a room or cabin, unless one is an infant in a crib.  That often results in families having to book two rooms to accommodate their broods.

Hard Rock All Inclusive Resorts in Mexico and the Dominican Republic embraces families with three or more kids by offering Signature Family Suites (2 bedrooms)  that can accommodate a family of up to 6 people. (And these rooms can only be booked by families with children).  And that's not all you'll find in these rooms - in the adult room will be a mini-bar with beer, soda, bottle water and juice (and  liquor dispenser) and the kids room will have their own mini bar with juices, soda and chocolate milk. Each room also has a hammock on the balcony, hydro spa tub in each room, private bath and shower, LCD TV with satellite, Rock Star bath amenities for adults and L'Oreal Kids bath amenities, robes and slippers for adults and kids, IPod dock, Xbox 360 upon request, kids beach toys, kids room service menu and  candies and cookies upon arrival. Everyone gets free calls to the U.S. and top shelf liquor.

Each resort also has the signature Hard Rock exhibits of instruments and fashion from rock stars so you can spend a lot of time viewing actual guitars, drums or outfits from some of your favorite singers.

There is plenty of entertainment for kids of all ages, too. For the little ones, Bob the Builder, Angelina Ballerina, Barney and Thomas the Tank will entertain them at the Little Big Club.  There are also interactive play rooms for the kids at the Little Big Club as well.

For the 12 and older kids (and their parents too!) there are Music Labs where you can bring out the inner rock star in you. In Riviera Maya,  become part of the Jam Band and take up an instrument (regardless of ability) and be in the band for a live performance.

Their signature Sounds of Your Stay program is a unique feature that no other resorts offer. Have one of 20 Fender guitars delivered to your room,  out a guitar and  turn on the t.v. for some interactive instruction on playing. You may go home with a talent you didn't know you had, all free of charge.

What is better than receiving up to an $1800 credit to be used for extras? Every Hard Rock booking includes this! Three nights will give you a $500 per room credit, 4 nights $750, 5 - 6 nights $1500 and 7 or more nights $1800 in credits (there is a 20% service for for the amount of the credit you use) can be used for golf, the spa, tours and more with no limits.

There are currently four All Inclusive Resorts, each with their own personalities. By 2017 there will be several more opening thanks to the popularity of the resorts. Please note that these resorts not the same as the  traditional Hard Rock Hotels you find in the rest of the world - you will have many amenities free thanks to the all inclusive nature of these hotels.

Hard Rock Cancun is the party resort. Located on a beautiful beach in Cancun, this Hard Rock is the hardest partying of the resorts with nightlife lasting late into the night.  This is the first of the all inclusive Hard Rocks. There are 9 restaurants and golf nearby, a Hard Rock Roxcity Music Club for the kids and a Teen Spirit club for the older kids.


Hard Rock Riviera Maya is south of Playa del Carmen and a great resort for the younger kids.  There is no big wave beach - there is a private white sand beach with various coves and no waves. There is nice snorkeling in the coves (in fact the fish will come to the edge of the cove when they see people standing!), a zero entry kids pool and a family pool. This resort also has the exclusive Heaven area where adults only are permitted. Heaven has a main pool, semi olympic pool, cross current rhythm pool and private beach and natural sea cove, all limited to adults only. Kayak, snorkel or swim in a wonderful location.





There are 7 restaurants for all guests and five more in the adults only section, along with 24 hour room service offered in all the Hard Rock Resorts.

Hard Rock Vallarta is the newest Hard Rock All Inclusive Resort located 20 minutes from Puerto Vallarta. The Vallarta resort is the place to play and enjoy incredible golf courses, deep-sea fishing, scuba diving, snorkeling, sailing, horseback riding and shopping. There are six restaurants.

For the kids, enjoy the gorgeous beach or play a game of volleyball or soccer. Go boogie boarding and snorkeling in the clear waters of Banderas Bay. Parents can lounge by the pool while the kids play at the Kid's Pool with water slides, games and activities for kids.  Use your  Resort Credit for exciting family tours, such as the Ultimate Dolphin Swim.

Hard Rock Punta Cana in the Dominican Republic is the largest of the Hard Rock All Inclusive Resorts and the only one with a casino. There are 13 pools, nine restaurants, a Jack Nicklaus designed golf course and a huge spa. If a beach is a must have, this isn't the Hard Rock for it - if you want lots of nightlife, an exciting casino and even the famous Kids Club, you'll love it here.

To keep their resorts family friendly, Hard Rock stopped allowing school groups at the all inclusives. They want to ensure that families will feel warm, welcome and safe and by forbidding school groups, parents won't have to worry about wild partying at these resorts.

Who are the right people for Hard Rocks? Everyone, but in particular, the MTV Generation, ages 35 - 55. They grew up with music and will be able to introduce THEIR kids to music at Hard Rock. And Gen Y - the 25 - 35 age group - will love these resorts as well, plus kids from 1 - 17.  But don't eliminate multi-generational travel - grandma and grandpa remember lots of these groups and singers too.

Hard Rock also offers many Destination Wedding packages which are hugely popular at these resorts.

So are you ready to try it? Call us at 516-608-0568 to book your Hard Rock All Inclusive Vacation today.









Friday, May 29, 2015

Resort Review - Sandals Royal Bahamian

I last visited Sandals Royal Bahamian Resort in the Bahamas about five years ago on a fam.  The resort at that time sorely needed refurbishing - while the property was lovely and the grounds immaculate, the rooms here were stuck in the 90's.

Sandals has spent millions of dollars refurbishing this resort and it shows. This is one of Sandals smaller properties with an off shore island and is a quick flight from the East Coast for romantics to come down for a long weekend and relax or spend a week and pry themselves away to fly home. 


At check in we were welcomed as members of Club Sandals in the Balmoral room.  Our check in was quick and we were taken to our room in the Windsor Tower, the building furthest from the main lobby. The room was very comfortable with a king sized four poster bed, desk, small couch, two wing chairs and a table. The bathrooms are newly redone with the sink outside the toilet and shower. The showers are huge newly done with beautiful tile and lighting.There is a flat screen t.v. and mini bar with refrigerator. We had a small balcony.  The view wasn't great - we overlooked an apartment building and it's dumpsters next door and were over the swim out rooms. These rooms are Concierge rooms.  Our room was a WR - Windsor Grande Luxe Club Level Room. However, we only saw a Concierge in our building twice, so I am not sure why these are considered "concierge" categories.


This resort has 404 Rooms and Suites with 26 categories.  Why on earth any resort needs 26 categories is beyond me as all is does is cause confusion and can lead to disappointment when clients reserve what they think is a "walk out" room that simply walks out to the pool and are in an area that they have absolutely no privacy when sitting on their patios or balconies. There are two towers, the Balmoral and Windsor and then cottages in what is called the "Royal Village".




In  the the "Royal Village" are cottages set back from the beach behind the restaurants. These cottages have 4 rooms in each, no elevators. They have beautiful garden views and there are three quiet pools in this area, BUT two of these buildings are located right at the entrance of the resort and along the road. Constant road noise can be heard from these rooms. Be careful if you consider one of these - we have a list of the two that are closest to the room so you can request NOT to be put in them.

The original piece of this resort, the Balmoral Club, was opened in 1946 and created for the friends of the then Governor of the Bahamas, The Duke of Windsor. That room now houses the piano bar and many old pictures of the Duke and Dutchess. It is a nice historical touch to be able to see that room, which is used for get togethers for all Club Sandals guests and can get very crowded during nightly sing alongs.

There are two large pools, one at the Balmoral Tower (which is designated the quiet pool) and the Activity pool, near the Windsor Tower. Both are purported to be heated, but in fact only the Windsor pool seemed to be. We usually prefer the quiet pools, but the Windsor pool, even during the day, was not filled with loud charachters and was fine to hang about. Both pools have a swim up bar.


The biggest problem with the pools was that guests come down and put out towels early in the morning and then may never use the chairs until late afternoon.  If you are like us and find that behavior uncouth, you'll never find a lounge chair in the shade because they are all taken  by 11 AM.






The real star of this resort is the beach and  offshore island, Sandals Cay.  We wished we had simply taken the boat over to the Cay every day, as it was quiet and relaxing with plenty of chairs and more importantly, bali beds that were always available. Both beach areas on the Cay and at the resort were beautiful, clean and the water was beautiful. Lunch was available on Sandals Cay at Stewfish Restaurant (dinner available as well).

The sunsets are stunning from the beach. Sit at the fire pits or on one of the chairs or couches on the pier and watch the sunset - it was one of our favorite things to do every night.  

There are 10 restaurant options available. Gordons on the Pier is an outdoor dining area on the Pier as it's name implies. This restaurant can only be used by Butler guest, resort evening attire and reservations are required. Also requiring reservations is Baccarat, the French Restaurant serving a la carte breakfast and dinner. Evening attire is required for dinner here. The Crystal Room is located in the building next to Baccarat and doesn't require reservations but does require resort evening attire.

Restaurants that allow resort casual are Spices, open for breakfast, lunch and dinner with breakfast and lunch being buffets. Kimonos is a Teppanyaki Restaurant which also requires reservations. Casanova is their Italian Restaurant and open for dinner with a salad bar and a la cart menu but also was open for buffet breakfast on certain days.  Stewfish, on the private island, offers lunch and dinner. Beware at night, the sand fleas are unbearable over there.  They had 3 cans of OFF at the entrance to the restaurant the night we ate there and even though I sprayed, my legs were bitten and bleeding from the bites. 

For lunch, Bella Napoli Pizzeria and the Royal Cafe grill are open.  We never had the opportunity to eat at the Royal Grill as there were very few tables and they were always taken when we arrived to eat.  The Cricketeers Pub is open for continental breakfast, and dinner from 5 PM - 3 AM. And of course there is 24 hour room service. When you check in, ask for a map and for information on the activities and restaurants for the time you are there. We were not given any restaurant information and found ourselves wandering round trying to figure out which restaurant were open for which meals. (Open restaurants are changed daily so what you think may be open for breakfast on Tuesday may not be the same open for breakfast on Wednesday.

We were disappointed in the food and felt that for what Sandals charges, the food should be outstanding everywhere and it just isn't. The best meals we had were at Baccarat and Casanova. Otherwise food was mediocre. I am not a fan of eating outside and this proved true when we were forced to sit outside at Spices one night because the inside of the restaurant was not open and spent the entire meal swatting flies away. This happened at the Pizzeria as well.

At Cricketeers one night, we ordered a hamburger medium and were told they only cook it one way - well done. And it was burned and dry.  A steak was ordered as well which was tough and grisly.  Throughout our stay I looked for ice cream and none was to be found. It was on the lunch menu at Stewfish, but they were out of it. We didn't see it on any other menus. In Casanova they had gelato but on one flavor - lemon - which I abhor.  Luckily there was a DQ across the street as well as a Burger King where we were able  to get what we wanted, even having to pay extra for it.

The other area of disappointment here is the service. If I were paying half the price for a vacation here, I don't think I'd have such an issue with poor service, but paying a premium at Sandals should beget outstanding service and it just isn't found.  We found an interesting paradox, as so many employees are friendly when you are walking around with a hello and smile, but there are those that you can see that are not happy doing their job and don't do much to hide it.

Our room attendant was one. The second day, our room wasn't made up until nearly 6:00 pm.  If the room has two washclothes, 2 hand towels, four bathtowels and a bath rug in it, when the rooms is cleaned, why aren't the same number of towels replaced? On day two after our room was finally cleaned, I had to call to ask for two handtowels and a bathmat that were missing. We needed the handtowels to put on the floor because our air conditioning leaked and we had water on the tile floor going into the bathroom and worse yet, the carpet going into the bedroom was constantly soaked.

We knew our shower hadn't been cleaned either because there was silver foil on the floor from opening the shampoo, conditioner and body wash. It was there for 2 days. The day I called to get more towels, I told the concierge about the leaking air conditioning and the shower not being cleaned and pointed it out to the maid as well. When we came back to the room at the end of the day the shower STILL had the foil on the floor, indicating that even with me telling the maid to her face it wasn't being cleaned, she still didn't clean the shower. (The air conditioning wasn't fixed either - they just turned the room temperature up higher so it wouldn't leak as much).

We found similar issues in the restaurants, particularly the buffets. We would ask for coffee and half and half, which for some reason isn't kept out at the buffet. We'd get the coffee and not the half and half. One morning we were put in a different part of the buffet in Spices and never had coffee delivered at all. I watched a man who was there when we were seated eat his entire meal with no one coming over and then observed another girl with the same thing. I finally got up and went to the hostess and asked for coffee and then a girl came around with pots for all four tables in our area.





At Stewfish for lunch one day, we were grudgingly seated by a woman named Deidre. We were given menus and then it seemed we were forgotten about. She came back after 15 minutes and took our order but once the order was at the table, she disappeared in a back room.  We waited 20 minutes after we finished to order dessert and she never came out of the back room. I finally asked one of the other waiters to get her so we could order dessert and he took the order for us.

One group I can compliment were the crew at Stewfish the first night we arrived. The waitresses were delightful.  The only issue we had with Stewfish is we were told to be at the pier by 7:45 for the boat and an 8 PM dinner.  The boat didn't end up coming until 8:30 and by the time we began eating, it was 9 PM.  That is just too late for dinner for us and it also was almost an hour wasted standing on the pier waiting for the boat.

It is the small things like this that can really affect one's perception of Sandals. I loved this resort - the rooms, the layout, the fact it is small and intimate, the beach and the island.  But it certainly is not a 4 or 5 star resort because of the staff not being attentive enough.  Whether there aren't enough employees (and we were told there was going to be a company wide layoff next month in June) or the employees just don't really enjoy their jobs, it shows in the service.

What we did enjoy was the night entertainment. One night we were entertained by a Junkanoo Band, several nights by a great group called the VIPs, two nights of jazz music - it was entertainment worth staying out for. 





Would I re-visit this resort? I would. I truly loved the property, the rooms, the beach and private island and the location. (The #10 bus stops right outside the hotel and takes you into Nassau proper where you can take the ferry over to Paradise Island too.). It is about seven minutes from Baha Mar, which, if it ever opens, will have entertainment and a casino to enjoy for some more entertainment options.  It is a short flight from New York. 

We just need to make sure we keep in mind the service issues and the food problems and not expect high marks in those areas.






Sunday, March 29, 2015

9 Tips to Protect Yourself When Renting A Car

It seems a car rental is no longer just a simple process of booking the car, picking it up, driving and dropping it off. Consumers need to protect themselves so that they aren’t charged for damages months down the road. Here are some tips to remember when renting a car.

- Check pricing on comparison sites, then book directly with the car rental company. Prices are usually the same and you don’t have a middle-man to deal with if there is a problem.

- Make sure that the car rental office is open during the times you will be picking up and dropping off the car. Returning the car to a closed office and leaving the keys in a lock box doesn’t allow you to be present when the car is inspected for damages.

- When picking up the car, take pictures or video of the entire car, including the license plate number. Point out every ding to the employee and ask to have them marked on your paperwork. Do the same when you drop it off. You’ll have picture proof that the car was in the same condition you picked it up in if you receive an email three months later saying your credit card is being charged for damages.

- NEVER book a non-refundable, pre-paid car rate. If your flight is delayed or canceled, you are stuck with that pre-paid car and in most cases won’t get a refund.

- Check the terms of your car rental carefully online before you book. We once needed a car to travel from our home in New York to a conference in Boston. When we arrived to pick up the car, which we booked with unlimited miles, we learned that if the car were taken out of the bordering states, the mileage wasn’t unlimited- we were given 150 free miles a day and would be charged for anything over that. Had we clicked the “See details” line, we would have seen that and booked with a different company without restrictions.

- When you are renting a car in the U.S., check with your own car insurance company to see if it covers rental cars. If it does, bring a copy of your insurance card. It may not be necessary to purchase the expensive insurance the rental companies charge. Some credit cards offer coverage as well, but it may not include liability insurance and the rental office will often try to sell you that at their higher premiums.

- When renting a car abroad you will need to determine insurance requirements in each country. Some travel insurance companies and travel agents have policies available to cover in other countries. Some countries, such as Ireland, require you to buy their insurance when you pick up the car. Do your research so you know what your options are or you may have a large deposit held on your credit card for potential damages that may cause declinations at hotels or when shopping. Some companies will not rent at all without having proof of insurance.

- Never use a debit card when renting. As with hotels, the rental companies may put a hold on your card that may not drop off by the time you return the car. In addition, if you do not opt for insurance, many companies put a very large hold, some up to $5,000 on your card for possible damages.

- If you can pick up a car somewhere other than the airport, you’ll save money. There are many airport taxes that are added on to your rental price that aren't applicable to  off premises rentals.

Wednesday, March 18, 2015

Why Do I Need Travel Insurance?

You've just booked your annual vacation and have dreams of hammocks on the beach, or sitting on the balcony of your cruise ship enjoying the warm breezes as you sail from island to island. In our minds, we picture the perfect vacation but never think of "what if" scenarios if something happens to us, or a close relative or travel companion before or if an emergency occurs during the trip.

Travel insurance should be the second consideration once your trip is booked. There are a multitude of events that can happen before you travel as well as while you travel that can put a traveler into a huge financial hole. As an adviser on a consumer website, 50% of the complaints we receive  would be a non-issue if travelers had purchased travel insurance.

The right travel insurance policy can make you whole if you have to cancel your vacation before you leave for a multitude of reasons that have nothing to do with how young, old or healthy you are. We have clients who think because they are young and healthy they don't need travel insurance. The rule of thumb to go by - if you can't afford to lose everything you have paid for your vacation if you have to cancel you need travel insurance.  If you need to be evacuated from a cruise ship because you become seriously ill and don't happen to have $72,000 available for an evacuation - you need travel insurance.  If you do not have medical insurance that covers you in any country you may be traveling to - you need travel insurance.

Pre-trip, a policy can cover you for serious illness that may occur after you book your trip. What if you fall and break a leg two weeks before you are leaving? What if your boss tells you that due to an emergency at work, it's either your job or your vacation?  What if a hurricane or a fire destroys your home before you leave or you have a car accident on the way to the airport?  What if your flights are canceled and you can't rebook right away and miss some or all of your vacation or if an elderly parent is hospitalized or passes away right before you are ready to leave? What if your airline or cruise ship loses your luggage and you have no clothes for your entire vacation? All of these scenarios can be covered by purchasing the right travel insurance policy.

Insurance during your trip is just as important. Some of the scenarios we've actually seen - a passenger who has a stroke in the middle of dinner on a cruise ship. A helicopter landed on the ship to transport the client to the hospital. Average cost of a medical evacuation is $72,000.  How would you pay that without insurance?  In Bermuda, a client on a motor scooter was sideswiped on the road and had to go to the hospital for treatment. This client refused travel insurance and had to pay a $3,000 hospital bill before he was permitted to leave the hospital.  Another client had a massive heart attack, spent three weeks in a hospital in Costa Rica to be stabilized and then needed a med jet flight home. His insurance reimbursed him for over $100,000 in medical and flight bills. Another client received a phone call that her mother had passed away. She had to forgo the remainder of her vacation and get last minute flights to return home. Her insurance helped to reimburse her for the added expenses.

 What should you look for in a policy?  First, consider all the expenses you are pre-paying. If you are booking air and hotel and prepaying everything, insure the entire trip.  Cancellation policies vary for hotels, some charge cancellation penalties regardless of when you travel once booked, some only have cancellation fees if you cancel 30 days before, some a day before. If you are booking air and a hotel that is not pre-paid - that is only guaranteed by a credit card but has a generous cancellation policy, where you can cancel up until two days before arrival, you may only want to insure your airfare.

Another thing to ask is if it is primary or secondary coverage. Secondary coverage, which is what most travel insurance coverage is, picks up whatever your primary medical (or even homeowners) insurance doesn't cover. Primary insurance is usually more expensive and pays immediately.

If you have a pre-existing medical condition, you usually must purchase at the time of making your deposit or within two - three weeks of the day you make your deposit. One thing to note is that you must be medically able to travel the day you book insurance. Some less expensive policies do not offer a waiver for pre-existing conditions so check the policy carefully before purchasing.  Pre-existing coverage is also needed if you have an elderly parent or immediate relative who may be in a precarious medical state that could cause cancellation of your trip as the date gets closer.

An additional thing to consider when you book your insurance is weather.  A few years ago, a volcano in Iceland exploded and the ash closed air space over much of Western Europe. Thousands of people were unable to fly to or from their vacations. Those passengers who had purchased travel insurance with coverage for weather provisions were able to get refunds on their trips based on the coverage they had.  Many of those who didn't have insurance weren't able to be fully reimbursed.  Those that suddenly decided to try to book insurance once the volcano blew were unable to buy coverage because the weather scenario already existed.  It is too late to book for weather coverage once the storms have already developed. If you are traveling during hurricane or winter, buy that coverage right away.

The amount of coverage is important. Some lower priced policies offer minimal coverage, with perhaps $10,000 in medical insurance or $25,000 emergency evacuation. If you are a U.S. citizen traveling within the United States, your medical insurance might cover a medical emergency or hospitalization and you might not need a policy with coverage. If you are traveling outside the U.S.  check with your medical insurance company to see if you would be covered in the country you are traveling to.  If you aren't, get the best coverage you can afford.  $10,000 is not a lot of coverage if you have to be hospitalized for an extended period.

For frequent travelers, there are annual policies that can be purchased but most offer minimal insurance that you might need to purchase another policy to cover what the annual doesn't.

Where can you buy insurance?  Your travel agent has policies they sell and are usually well versed on what each policy covers. Check with your credit card company but read the details carefully to see what is actually covered and how much. We've seen folks put in claims that their credit card company rejected. Call your credit card to ask if they cover all the above scenarios. Call the insurance company you are considering to ensure you understand what you are purchasing.

There are many travel insurance websites that will have comparisons of various policies -  www.insuremytrip.com and www.squaremouth.com are two. 

A consumer that is prepared to ask the right questions when looking for travel insurance can easily find an affordable policy that will take the worry out of their vacation. Don't leave home without it.