Friday, April 1, 2016

Magical Peru

Having the ability to travel is a gift.  Instead of going to the same places over and over, why not branch out and put some places on your bucket list?  One of the places on mine was Machu Picchu and I was blessed to be able to take advantage of a trip there recently.

Being able to visit such a mystical place made me realize that there are experiences you can never replace. Peru is one of those. The Peruvians are amazing people and being able to see how advanced these people were 700 years ago makes you realize we are a small cog in a huge wheel and also wondering what kind of world our ancestors will find we left them in 700 years.

I didn't have a pre-conceived ideas of what to expect in Peru. If anything, I was expecting a similar experience to Costa Rica but I was totally wrong. Let me tell you what I discovered.

The country itself is beautiful.  I've never been in an area so high with such beautiful mountains. Seeing colors from bright green to purple to even snow capped not too far in the distance was breathtaking.  You can go from Lima, which is situated on the Pacific Coast with beaches (very cold water) to Cusco, which stands at 10,800 feet above sea level (and is not the highest point in Peru) to Lake Titicaca at 12, 400 feet.

The people are friendly and there are some fantastic tour guides. Our tour guides gave us very detailed information on everything we were seeing.

The food was outstanding. I had heard a lot of praise about Peruvian cooking but experiencing it was a whole new level of culinary experience.We had chicken prepared in wonderful dishes, great steaks and some of the most impressive desserts. Plus the famous Pisco Sour.

Hotels can go from 3 to 5 stars.  We stayed in two Marriots and a lovely Casa Andina Private Collection  and couldn't have been more pleased with our experience.

Peru is a country rich in history and full of buildings from the 1400's that still stand and are a wonder in architecture.  You'll be shocked at how forward thinking the Incan's were in cutting stones that were placed together like Lego's and have withstood time and earthquakes.  They even had advanced drainage built in the homes in Machu Picchu that will leave you wondering how they did it.

Twelve people traveled with us and it was amazing to hear the ooh's and ah's as we rounded buildings and found mountains with buildings built into them, saw stunning landscapes in colors from green to purple and stood thousands of feet on top of mountains asking how anyone every found these places to build.

Getting to Peru is not the easiest as there will be flights within the country that you'll need to take to get to Machu Picchu and Cusco but they are certainly well worth the work for the experience you will have.

We are going to put together a group for August of 2017 - we hope you'll join us to experience this once in a lifetime destination.

Wednesday, March 16, 2016

The NEW Nickelodeon Hotel and Resort in Punta Cana

One of our favorite family resorts, Azul Resorts from the Karisma Family of resorts, is opening their first Nickelodeon Resort in Punta Cana. The Nickelodeon Hotel and Resort in Punta Cana is scheduled to open in May and will continue the Karisma tradition of providing excellent value and gourmet food in a family friendly setting. 

This beachfront resort will have 208 large suites with the following categories: Jacuzzi Pads, Jacuzzi Swim Up Pads, Jacuzzi Flats and Jacuzzi Swim Up Flats. There will also be four two and three bedroom villas, including the Pineapple Villa, a take off of Sponge Bob's home in Bikini Bottom!

The Jacuzzi Pad features 1 king or two double beds, a pull out sofa bed, dining room, t.v., play area, marble bathroom with double sinks and a jetted jacuzzi tub and a balcony with sitting area. This room will accommodate either 2 adults or 2 adults and 2 kids.

The Jacuzzi Swim Up Pad has the same features plus a terrace with lounge and direct access to the resorts pool from your terrace.

The Jacuzzi Flat is your own little apartment that holds two adults and three kids. You'll have a dining and living area, master suite, marble bath with jacuzzi tub, and a separate room for the kids. The kids beds convert into a sitting area. The living room has a pull out sofa, TV and dining room area. Your private balcony has a round day bed with drapes for privacy.  The Jacuzzi Swim Up Flat is on the first floor with a terrace you can step right into the pool from. 

The Swank Jacuzzi Suite has  wrap-around  terrace with steps right into the pool. Enjoy a private master bedroom with a king size bed, smart TV, and an oversized marble bathroom complete with an indoor shower, double sinks, and  Jacuzzi tub. The Swank Suite’s living room has a TV, pull out sofa bed, dining table for four, and access to the private wrap-around terrace which features a sitting area furnished with sunbathing beds and a round daybed.

Need more room? The Pool Super Villa can accommodate 2 adults and 6 kids, or 4 adults and two kids.  With 1,500 square feet of luxury on 2 levels, your 2-bedroom/3-bath Super Villa is your family will have plenty of room to spread out and relax. 

When it is completed, the Pineapple is a 1,500-square-foot villa and the resort’s signature villa. The 2-bedroom/3-bath villa features all of the modern amenities and luxurious accommodations found in the Super Villas,but in a Bikini Bottom theme. There are indoor and outdoor living areas, indoor AND an outdoor shower, and two bedrooms, one a private master and the second the top level of the loft living room with two single beds, TV and bathroom. 

The living room features a pull-out sofa bed, dining room, TV, play area, storage space, a private bathroom and access to the Suite’s sublime private gardens and patio where the Pineapple’s signature infinity pool, sun-bathing beds, dining and living area can be found. And of course a private butler is included!

Karismas' partnership with Nickelodeon offers the Nickelodeon Experience at Azul Resorts in Riviera Maya. The Nickelodeon Experience offers interaction with Nick characters, customs kid's check in, a Nick Toy lending program, character dining and a kids club.

One thing that sets Karisma resorts apart from other family resorts (and their adults only El Dorado Resorts) is their gourmet inclusive experience.  Not only do Karisma resorts have just about the best food in the Caribbean, they also offer premium liquor, in room mini bar, 24 hour room service, concierge, hospitality desks and more. 

What you'll find at the Nickelodeon Hotel and Resort in Punta Cana, besides a spa, 10 restaurants, four bars and lounges will be the Aqua Nick Playground with water slides, splash pads sprayers and a lazy river. There are supervised activities for ages 4 - 12, meet and greet with characters, a kNick kNack shop that will sell Nick  movies, toys, and vacation items and a sports and entertainment center for everyone. 

As huge fans of Karisma resorts, we're sure this experience will leave your entire family with a smile on their face and asking to come back every year. Call us to book - 516-608-0568.

Sunday, February 7, 2016

Top Six Fallacies About Using a Travel Agent

With the advent of online travel booking, many people assume travel agents aren't needed anymore. Au contraire!  Not only are we not dead, we are flourishing as many people who have had a bad experience booking their own travel have come back to using an agent.

Here are the top fallacies about travel agents you should be aware of:

1. Travel agents are dead.

Not true - while many brick and mortar agencies have closed because of high rents, many of us have mobile home offices and can do everything a brick and mortar agency can. We also have the same pricing you will find at the large brick and mortar agencies because we use the same suppliers that OWN some of these companies.

2. It costs more to use a travel agent.

False.  It costs the same to use a travel agent.  We are paid by a supplier, not by you the customer.  If you book a Disney trip, or a cruise, our price is exactly the same as you find booking on your own. What you don't realize is that you are paying your travel supplier extra - the commission they would pay us is built into their price so if you book it yourself - you are giving it right back to the supplier. So the supplier is getting more money from you.

3. Once a trip is booked, I'll never hear from my agent again.

False. Once your trip is booked, we are your advocate through your trip and after you get home.  If you have a problem while you are traveling - you call us.  Were your flights canceled? Call us - we can rebook your flights while everyone else is standing online waiting for the gate agent to get them a new flight.  Booking your trip is just the beginning of our relationship with you.

4. I know what I want, I can do it myself.

Sometimes you might, but sometimes we know more than you and may have had experience going where you want to go and seeing or staying at the resort you are considering. We'll be honest with you about whether the resort or hotel you are considering is a dive or really as it is pictured.  We've had people who came to us wanting a trip to Cancun and ending up in Hawaii when we found a better deal for them.

5. Travel agents charge fees.

We are paid by suppliers we use, not by the consumer.  The only thing you might find a travel agent charge for are airline tickets, as airlines will not pay us for booking airline tickets.  An agent also might charge a fee that is given back to you when your final payment is made.  That is to ensure that we aren't giving you all of our good advice and you go and book on your own.  That's a planning fee and it all goes back to you when you book.

6. I can book my own airline tickets, it's easy.

For many people, that's true,  But if you don't know airport codes, or travel and visa rules when you book a flight, you could be left high and dry.  An agent friend of mine had a client who was angry about the fact that the agent's pricing to fly to London were more than the client found on line so the client told the agent she was booking her own flights.  She found out the reason that the flights were cheaper was because she was pricing (and bought) tickets to London, Ontario CANADA, not London England.  So not only did the client not save any money, she incurred a $200 rebooking fee to change her tickets to London England.

Why NOT book with a travel agent?  Call us for your next trip, let us show you how we can be your advocate and look out for your best interests.  516-608-0568

Monday, January 25, 2016

Making Your Destination Wedding Fun For Your Guests

Ah, are you dreaming about your ideal Destination Wedding?  Can you smell the fresh ocean breeze wafting through palm trees, you and your intended walking down a sand runway strewn with flower petals, barefoot?  Your guests enjoying tropical drinks and Jamaican music?  Everyone pouring love, love love to the bridal couple?

Well, as a Destination Wedding Specialist, let me pull back the covers and tell you this may be the end all on the day of your wedding, but getting to that point is not going to be lollipops and roses!
A Destination Wedding will be less stressful to the bride and groom - as long as you let a professional travel agent deal with booking and taking care of your guests - you do not want to take this on yourself!

From the day you send out "Save the Date" notes, there is going to be a lot of grumbling behind the scenes so if you are thin skinned, this may not be the dream wedding you envisioned.  Here are some things we can promise you will happen:

- Grandma or Aunt Bertha are going to complain about having to fly anywhere and the expense.
- People are not going to give you wedding gifts, thinking their attendance at such a cost is enough.
- Friends and Family are going to say "Yes, we'll be there!" and back out when they hear the cost.(Our experience is only 1/3 of guests who say they are going to go actually do).
- If you opt for somewhere out of the U.S. keep in mind that passports are involved and guests will put off getting them as long as possible and then come crying when they don't have them a week before the wedding.
- If you get a group rate for your guests to insure that you will have enough rooms or so you will get some freebies, like perhaps a free ceremony,  guests are going to shop the price and book on their own. That takes those bookings off the number you will be required to book to get anything extra and could hurt you if you book more rooms than you need in a contract.
- If you opt out of a group rate and contract, guests who book the last minute may not be able to stay at the resort with you. And none of them will get the same price for their trip, as it will be dependant on the current pricing on the day they book.
- Guests are going to want to stay somewhere cheaper and you may have to pay an additional fee to get them a guest pass to attend your wedding.

So how can you have your dream and try to make it fun for your guests?
- First, use a travel agent who is experienced in Destination Wedding. It usually doesn't cost you anything and they will deal with all the guest issues, freeing you up from having to handle complainers or problems.
- Keep in mind budget.  Most wedding guests won't stay a week - they stay three or four days to keep expenses as low as possible. Find a wedding resort, hotel or venue that will fit in your guests budget. If you want higher end - move to a higher end resort after the wedding for your honeymoon.
- Understand if there will be children attending the wedding, you are limited to family friendly resorts so Sandals is out, but Beaches is in.
- Arrive at least two to three days before your wedding to get last minute planning done so you can relax. Some islands require you to arrive earlier because they have residency rules as well.
- If budget permits, purchase an excursion for all your guests to do together when they book through your travel agent or group.  Not only does it make it a fun event for your guests, but it gives them a value add that they will not be able to get UNLESS they book their room through your group or with your travel agent.  It can be something as simple as a horse ride on the beach or a private catamaran cruise. 
- If it is in your budget, see if your resort can put together a private cocktail party for your guests for the night before the wedding.
- Start early. Resorts book up during popular times, such as winter vacation and summer. Get a contract and hold all the rooms you might need so your guests aren't shut out. 
- Put together welcome bags or baskets. Add a bottle of water, snacks for the room, sunscreen, sunglasses, flip flops - anything that can be used during their stay. g do (ask your travel agent) and guests that couldn't come to the wedding can watch it in real time on their computer and be with you for the day via video.

And for those guests at home who won't be able to attend, consider having a big party when you get home and invite them. It doesn't have to be a fancy, schmancy event - a backyard BBQ or a rental of a local VFW hall can work well to share your wedding with everyone.

You CAN have your dream but let a professional help you and take the burden of the hotel bookings off of you.

Tuesday, December 29, 2015

Hotel Review - Hyatt Regency Boston

If you are looking for a well priced hotel in downtown Boston that is convenient to the airport and cruise ship pier - this is the place.  Located on One Avenue de Lafayette, this hotel is in the Theatre District, less than 15 minutes from the airport,  10 minutes to the cruise ship and within walking distance of Faneuil Hall and  Boston Gardens. The hotel is connected to  Macy's with subway stops right there. You can't be in a more convenient location.

At check in, we were greeted warmly by the desk clerks and check in was quick and efficient. We received an upgrade to a junior suite which had a separate sitting area and large bathroom. And large IS large - more than enough space.

The room was catty corner so we had city views from a small window in our bedroom as well as a great view from the living room.  The wonderful Hyatt Grand bed made for very comfortable sleeping.

The room was very clean. The bedroom has two club chairs in it and a good sized dresser.  The living room had a couch that pulls out to a sleeper sofa and another chair and table. The bathroom had a host of amenities (and fine ones at that) from shampoo and conditioner to face and pillow mist, foot lotion, pulse point oil and much more.

There was free wi-fi and the hotel offers 24 hour room service.  We didn't use room service - in fact we didn't eat at the hotel at all. We were in the midst of so many great restaurants, we wanted to experience as much as possible.

The hotel has a seasonal terrace, heated indoor pool and gym.

The Freedom Trail, Boston Opera House, Boston Common, Newbury Street, and Boston Harbor are nearby. The hotel is conveniently connected to Macy’s and only a short stroll to nearby shopping districts like Copley Place, Newbury Street, the shops at the Prudential Center and Faneuil Hall. Hop on the “T”, which is connected to the hotel, to get anywhere in the city within minutes.

As far as pricing goes, the price of this hotel is just about the best value in Boston.  For all you get, this is very reasonably priced.

We will definitely come back and stay here when the weather is warmer.  It was cold and we didn't get to see as much as we could have had the weather been warmer.  We'll definitely be back!

Friday, November 27, 2015

I am Afraid to Travel - Can I Cancel My Trip?

The answer to this depends on on several factors but in 95% of cases, the answer is yes but you will probably lose money. How much money are you willing to lose canceling?

In the case of the recent Paris incident, airlines did not stop flying to Paris nor were they canceling flights or allowing changes.  Hotels were not closing down and waiving cancellation fees. So those who canceled lost their money.

  Have you purchased a travel insurance policy that offers Cancel for any Reason (CFAR) coverage?  If you have, check with your insurance company.  Since most insurance with CFAR coverage does not reimburse you 100% of your trip cost, you will likely have some type of monetary loss for this. You must purchase one of these policies either at the time of booking or within 14 - 21  days of making a deposit so if you haven't bought one of these policies and are already scheduled to travel, you are out of luck in most cases.  CFAR insurance cannot be sold to NY residents so if you live here, you can't purchase this anyway.

Some policies offer coverage if a terrorist incident occurs where you are traveling to within 30 days of the day you are traveling. Purchasing one of those policies when you are traveling and you will have some protection if an incident occurs within that time frame.

Any other travel insurance does not offer coverage for "fear". (It's considered an emotional issue and not covered). Some people have said they will get a doctors note saying that they cannot travel because they are afraid.  Even having a doctor write a note saying you are emotionally distressed doesn't result in a claim being honored as policies clearly state their rules about this.

So what if you cancel anyway?  If you purchased a non-refundable ticket, unless you have purchased a very restrictive fare, most airlines will offer a credit for your airfare that you can use up to one year from the date you originally
purchased your air tickets, less a cancellation fee (usually a few hundred dollars).

If you have booked a hotel that is not part of a package or pre-paid  and allows cancellations up to a few days before arrival, you can cancel with no penalties.  If you have booked your hotel room through an online travel agency such as Travelocity, Orbitz, or through your travel agent, they may have a per person cancellation fee. That is why it is usually best to book directly through a hotel site and not using an online agency, or making sure your travel agent doesn't have a cancellation fee.

If you have pre-paid for your hotel or booked a restrictive low rate that will charge you for the booked nights, you are out of luck as far as getting any money back.

If you've booked a cruise and are beyond final payment date, you will also lose all of the money you have paid for your trip.  If you haven't made final payment - you can usually cancel with no penalties, depending on the type of rate you booked. (Some cruise lines have non-refundable deposits, particularly river cruises and Carnival, which has a restrictive rate that has non refundable deposits).

In essence, you may have to decide how much money you are willing to lose by canceling. Call your airline, travel agent, hotel or cruise line and find out how much of a loss you may have before you do cancel. 

Thursday, November 26, 2015

Is It Safe To Travel At All?

With the unfortunate incident in France a few weeks ago, the bombing of a hotel in Mali, the terror alert in Belgium and the U.S. issuing a warning about travel, travelers are beginning to panic about traveling anywhere.

While this alert is meant more to ensure travelers are more aware of their surroundings and follow protocol to be as safe as possible, this isn't the first time that a travel alert has been issued by the U.S. In fact this is the 6th worldwide travel alert in the past four and a half years.

And there is a difference between a travel alert and a travel warning.  The U.S. has declared an alert.
From their website:

We issue a Travel Alert for short-term events we think you should know about when planning travel to a country. Examples of reasons for issuing a Travel Alert might include an election season that is bound to have many strikes, demonstrations, or disturbances; a health alert like an outbreak of H1N1; or evidence of an elevated risk of terrorist attacks. When these short-term events are over, we cancel the Travel Alert.

 A warning (which has not been issued)  is more ominous. From their website: 

We issue a Travel Warning when we want you to consider very carefully whether you should go to a country at all. Examples of reasons for issuing a Travel Warning might include unstable government, civil war, ongoing intense crime or violence, or frequent terrorist attacks. We want you to know the risks of traveling to these places and to strongly consider not going to them at all. Travel Warnings remain in place until the situation changes; some have been in effect for years.

If you read the entire alert, you will note that the full alert adds information:

U.S. citizens should exercise vigilance when in public places or using transportation.  Be aware of immediate surroundings and avoid large crowds or crowded places.  Exercise particular caution during the holiday season and at holiday festivals or events.  U.S. citizens should monitor media and local information sources and factor updated information into personal travel plans and activities.  Persons with specific safety concerns should contact local law enforcement authorities who are responsible for the safety and security of all visitors to their host country.  U.S. citizens should:
  • Follow the instructions of local authorities.  Monitor media and local information sources and factor updated information into personal travel plans and activities.  
  • Be prepared for additional security screening and unexpected disruptions.
  • Stay in touch with your family members and ensure they know how to reach you in the event of an emergency.
  • Register in our Smart Traveler Enrollment Program (STEP).

You can read the full alert here

  The alert also does not reference U.S. travel but we should remain vigilant in the U.S. as well.  But remember - there are hundreds of countries that have not been targeted as a hotbed of terrorism. While that can change any time, only you can determine how fearful you might be of traveling now.

There are a few things to consider. One, the chances of being involved in a terrorist attack are very small. Statistically the U.S. cities we live in are more dangerous than the places we travel to overseas. The risk of dying from terrorism is one in 20 million.Your risk of being killed in a car crash or being struck by lightning are much higher than your chance of being involved in a terrorism incident. The single biggest cause of death when traveling overseas is a car accident!

However, when we hear stories like the recent news, we think of the irrational happening. Every time I swim in the ocean I still hear the Jaws theme in my head and am on the lookout for sharks. But the chance of a shark attack are very small.  Every time I fly, I visualize the plane losing power and falling out of the sky. Living in New York, I have a better chance of being pick pocketed in Times Square on my frequent trips into NYC than I do of dying at the hands of a terrorist in Istanbul, of my plane crashing or of a shark enjoying me as a meal.  

Before deciding to cancel a trip you are already booked on, or before deciding you won't travel, take these things into consideration.

If you are already booked on a trip, unless you have a cancel for any reason (CFAR) travel insurance policy, if you cancel your reservation you will face monetary loss.  You can lose all you have paid thus far for your trip.  If you cancel your airline tickets and you purchased non-refundable tickets, you won't be able to obtain a refund for your tickets. Depending on the type of ticket purchase, most airlines will allow you to cancel and give you a credit to use within one year of the DAY YOU BOOKED your tickets (not the travel date), less a cancellation fee (which can run several hundred dollars). 

If you have a hotel reservation, depending on whether you booked it with a travel supplier or directly with the hotel, you may be able to cancel with no fees. If you booked your hotel as part of a package with a supplier such as GoGo or Apple Vacations, the supplier may have a cancellation fee you would have to pay. Or the hotel, if you pre-paid, might also have a cancellation fee. 

Any other travel insurance policies other than CFAR do not have coverage for "fear of traveling" due to the current alerts. Most specifically state they do not offer coverage for this. Some policies allow you to cancel if a terrorist event occurs within 30 days to the place you are traveling to.  

We'd love to hear your comments on how you are handling the current advisories. Will you travel or won't you? Please post your comments on our blog!