Wednesday, November 30, 2016

How Many Things Can Go Wrong On A Trip?

If you think that travel agents always have great vacations, you are wrong.  We suffer through some of the same issues everyone else does on a trip. We recently attended an annual travel conference that we look forward to every year. Hotels have always been excellent as have activities.  This year, the conference was half on land, half at sea with three days in Ft. Lauderdale and three nights on a Celebrity ship to Nassau and their private island Coco Cay.

Our adventure began at JFK on JetBlue with the oddest bunch of passengers and flight attendants I have ever seen.   As we were walking to our seats, I could see most of the overhead bins were full. Except one place that someone who thought she was special had put her coat. I said to my husband "Let me move this coat and you can put the carry on in here".  The owner of the coat jumped up screaming "That's a $500 coat!!" My response - "it doesn't belong in the overhead anyway". "I know but it's a $500 coat!"  She suddenly sat down and I later found out my husband had whispered to her to sit down and be quiet. Just not that politely.

Then a woman with a four year old  sat behind us dressed in the most daring dress I had ever seen a traveler wearing. It was held together with straps of fabric at the sides and how the front stayed pinned to her chest was beyond me. Of course she had brought nothing for her four year old to do on the plane so he kicked the back of the seat of the woman seated next to me for much of the flight.

The woman in the window seat in my aisle quickly took off her shoes and put her feet on the wall of the seat in front of her while asking the flight attendant when he'd be serving liquor before the plane even took off. (It was 9 AM). And the flight attendant had absolutely no system whatsoever in distributing drinks.  Some people got their beverages, some didn't, some had to keep reminding him he forgot them - except for booze woman who he happily served several times while people waiting for a bottle of water were ready to pounce on him. He finished serving drinks a half hour before we landed.

One of my friends was traveling with us and listened to a man preaching to his seatmate right behind her the entire flight.

When we landed, Mom and four year old were the talk of the airport. We were amused watching men walk around her back and forth to catch a look. My husband warned me not to take pictures but of course I had to. I did cut her head off so I can't be sued.



Unfortunately, at the same time as our conference, there was a huge boat show in Ft. Lauderdale. Big enough to have nearly every hotel in the area booked solid at top dollar.

In order to make our conference affordable, a hotel outside the immediate downtown area of Ft. Lauderdale was used. To say it was in Ft. Lauderdale was a bit of a stretch, since it was more than a $45 cab ride from the airport.

We arrived at a lovely looking hotel- pretty much in the middle of nowhere directly off I-95.  We checked in but our room wasn't ready yet  (it was 1:45) so we had to find something to do.

We decided to eat at the only restaurant in the hotel  because we didn't see anything nearby. Lunch was a little costly - $19.99 per person for the lunch buffet.  The manager of the restaurant asked if we'd like the buffet or to order off the menu.  We decided to try the buffet since he made it sound so enticing.  As were were looking at the food, our server told us that we had 15 minutes to serve ourselves before the restaurant closed!  As we were rushing trying to figure out how to fill plates and eat in 15 minutes,  the manager came over and told us we could take our time and sit. When I told him what the server said,  he apologized and told us he'd comp our lunch because it was his error not telling us the buffet was closing. That would end up being the best part of the hotel stay.

We decided to take a walk to see if we could find somewhere else nearby for dinner.  After walking almost two miles in 88 degree heat and finding a BBQ restaurant that had cookers outside and a diner that was only open for breakfast and lunch, we ended up having dinner in the restaurant.( We found out the next day that the hotel offered a shuttle that will drive guests to other restaurants within a three mile radius. The only problem is that the first three restaurants on the list we were given were out of business so the shuttle was of little use). On our walk we discovered that when they say "no parking" they mean no parking in this little hamlet.





The next day we decided to have a relaxing morning at the pool. The hotel was under construction and getting to the pool was an ordeal in itself, requiring us to walk through the entire hotel and conference rooms to go out a back door held open by a traffic cone because the main entrance sidewalks were closed. But we got our Fitbit steps in going back and forth!


It's too bad the pool wasn't heated because the water was so cold no one dared go in. We were kept company by Godzilla and his family of  amazing large lizards that live on the property  and thankfully were our entertainment for the morning. We especially enjoyed him when two people we knew stole two boxed lunches that were meant for a different conference that was departing the hotel that day. When this woman and her husband brought the lunches out to the patio, Godzilla knew there was food and kept coming to where she was sitting. We sat with our feet in the water laughing as the woman panicked trying to make him go away. She finally had to bring her lunch inside.



Elevators? What elevators? With two conferences the elevators were slow and at one time broke down, trapping about 15 people in it and requiring the fire department to come and free them. I was happy when my Fitbit buzzed on my arm as I walked six flights of steps for the second time that day, indicating I had met a goal of 13 flights in a day.

The hotel was just too small for a conference of a few hundred people at once and was under construction so we could only suck it up and deal with it. Due to the boat show we could either stay there at an affordable rate or stay elsewhere and pay $400 a night. So - we made the best of it and looked forward to getting to the cruise ship the next day.

That didn't go so well either. The bus driver that took our group from the hotel to the cruise port got lost and drove right out of the port as we were waving goodbye to our ship at the dock. Once he found his way back, he stopped at the wrong place and began offloading us, only to be reprimanded by the port agents and sent somewhere else - without us - to drop all the luggage.  We hoped our luggage would find it's way to our cabins.(It did).

When the cabins were opened up, we found an older ship that needed some updating but the cabins were clean. We were supposed to go to Nassau and Coco Cay, Celebrity's private island.  On the second day, as we were nearing Nassau, my husband, who was sitting on the balcony said "something is going on in the port. I don't think we are getting in".  Sure enough, an hour later an announcement was made that it was too windy for the ship to dock in Nassau and we were going to have an extra day at sea.  Unfortunately, the crew didn't come up with alternative arrangements for activities  so there was not much to do on the ship.  Suffice it to say we both read all the books we brought.

This was my fourth cruise that was supposed to go to Coco Cay. I have never made it because every time we sailed, it was too windy to tender to the island.  This ended up being no different. The next morning, another announcement - no Coco Cay.  We were having a three day cruise to nowhere.

Again - not enough activities for the passengers in lieu of going to the beach. There was a bright spot - it was the only time  I've been able to find seats around the pool without going out a 6 AM and putting down a towel because the water was so cold no one was swimming.

Later during the day, the Captain made an announcement that we were going to make a stop in Freeport the next day.  "Woo hoo" we all thought. Until we paid $10 for a round trip cab ride per person to go to the "shopping and casino area". When the cab driver told us that Freeport has been closed since the hurricane three weeks before, we looked at each other, knowing this wasn't going to end well. On arriving at the casino, we found is was closed, as were the beaches behind it and the majority of the stores in the "shopping area".

People were furious that they were told there was a casino but not told it was closed.  We spent 15 minutes walking around the shopping area and got a ride back to the ship. It was nearly a cruise to nowhere.

So what did we do? We rolled with the punches and tried to look at the positive.

-We didn't gain an ounce on the ship because the food wasn't very good. (I had the fattiest lamb in my life for dinner one night).

- We found Floridians have a great sense of humor as far as signs go.

- I did more exercise in six days than I did in the last year.
- We learned lizards are entertaining.

- I designed a shirt for my next Royal Caribbean or Celebrity cruise.



Traveling to the Dominican Republic

The Dominican Republic is fast becoming one of the most economical vacation spots in the Caribbean.  We have seen the best pricing here for the last year or so and it is an easy three hour flight from JFK. Here is what you need to know:



 - Valid passports are required for all visitors.

 -  There is a $10 per person tourist card that every visitor must purchase at arrival.

-  The most popular resort spot is Punta Cana, followed by Cap Cana, a quieter and more private area,  followed by La Romana.

-  Bavaro Beach is the most popular beach on the island.



- There are plenty of choices for family friendly resorts as well as adults only resorts.

- January is the coldest month with average temperatures between 71 - 71 degrees. Come May, temperatures start to get warmer. June - October are the warmest months with average temperatures going up to about 87 degrees. January - March are the driest months. Hurricane season brings more rain and storms, with September and October the months where beach waves can be stronger than other times of the year.
Water Park at Memories Splash Resort

- Spanish is the main language spoken here and some resort employees do not have the best command of the English language. Larger resorts will have more English speaking employees than smaller resorts.

- The Dominican Peso is the official currency, but dollars and Euro's are accepted throughout the country.

- Electricity is 110 volts.  No converters are needed.

 - If you are a foodie and love excellent food - this isn't the island for you. The DR is well known in the travel community as non - gourmet regardless of what resort you choose.  Drink bottled water, not tap water. Don't eat at restaurants outside of your resort.

- The Dominican Republic is in the hurricane belt. Travel insurance is a must.

- It is not recommended that you go off property on your own here - make sure you travel with a group or a tour company.

 - There are a wide variety of activities to do here from 4 wheel driving to zip lines to dolphin swims. If you are a golfer - plenty of courses!

- During Easter, motorized water sports and horseback riding on beaches are not permitted to operate. The Ministry of Tourism has issued Resolution No. 96/2012 announcing its annual ban on the use of jet ski/wave runners, motorized boats, horses, motorcycles and motorized vehicles on beaches nationwide  during Easter Week.
Majestic Elegance Resort

- Zika has been reported here - make sure you bring bug repellent. The alert level has been downgraded to level 2, take safety precautions. Our clients who have traveled there have reported they did not have issues with mosquitoes but that can change depending on the weather and humidity.  Keep up with the latest Zika information here: http://wwwnc.cdc.gov/travel/notices/alert/zika-virus-dominican-republic

If you are looking for the best value for your vacation dollar, call us and let us find the right resort for you in the Dominican Republic. 516-608-0568

Friday, October 28, 2016

Rolling on the River (Cruise)


Sitting in our cabin looking out the lowered window as our ship moved swiftly up the Rhine River, we relaxed as we watched the castles on the passing mountains, one after another. Some were ruins, some were intact but I thought to myself "This is exactly how I pictured a river cruise".

                                                    Panorama Balcony Room - Top of Window comes Down

Yet I was surprised and delighted by other parts of this wonderful Emerald Waterways journey to the Jewels of the Rhine.  After we had spent two nights on our own in Amsterdam, we boarded the Emerald Dawn in Amsterdam close to the central train station. When we arrived at the pier, our bags were whisked away and put in the dining room on the ship to be delivered later on.

We were invited to have a glass of champagne and either explore the ship or relax in the lounge. We did a quick tour of the ship and then went into the lounge and claimed a comfortable sofa which ended up being our "home base" for the remainder of the cruise.

Emerald is (almost) all inclusive and a great value.  Included in your cruise price are all your meals, excursions, gratuities, beer and wine at lunch and dinner. Other river cruise lines charge you for all beer and wine, excursions and gratuities so they truly are not the all inclusive value that Emerald (and it's sister line, Scenic Waterways) is. The "almost" part - in most of the cabins, the mini bar is not included, you pay for anything you eat or drink other than the bottles of water in your cabin.

On the Emerald Dawn, which carries 182 passengers, there are four categories of staterooms on three decks. The lowest deck, the Riviera, offers Emerald Staterooms. These cabins are below the water line with a short window on top of the cabin. You have light coming in but no true view. The cabin is 162 square feet but the rest of the cabin amenities are the same as other cabins. (There are also smaller single staterooms measuring 117 or 105 square feet). Our cabin was an Emerald Panoramic Balcony Suite. These suites offer a revolutionary indoor balcony design, complete with decking area, table and chairs – generating an entirely new space for you to enjoy the landscapes you pass. With the touch of a button, the upper part of the cabin’s floor-to-ceiling window drops down to unveil full views of the beautiful  scenery.

                                                    Emerald State Room on Riviera Deck

The Grand Balcony Suite offers a Nespresso Coffee Machine and the ability to order a continental breakfast from room service. These offer a true outdoor balcony along with the floor to ceiling window that opens by pushing a button. And finally there is a one bedroom Owners Suite that has a separate bedroom and a lounge area. For all but the one bedroom suite, you receive free bottled water that is replenished daily but the mini bar is at additional cost. (Mimi bar is included in the Owners Suite)

The food was very good. At breakfast and lunch, the Reflections dining room is open for a buffet meal and upstairs in the lounge a light menu is served. For breakfast that included scrambled eggs, smoothies, juice, coffee, cheeses and pastries.  At dinner in Reflections, a four course a la carte meal is served. You will order your full meal including dessert and the presentation and serving is well orchestrated.  There is also tea time in the afternoon and later at night a staff member came out with small desserts for everyone.



The most popular spot on the ship are the two coffee makers in the lounge, one in the front on on the bar. The other was bigger when you first enter the lounge next to the "library".  There was always someone making a cafe latte, espresso, macchiato or tea.

I can't say enough about the staff.  Because of the size of the ship and the small amount of passengers, you have an opportunity to interact much more with staff than on ocean cruises. The waiters in the dining room were efficient and most of them quite charming and "loose" with the passengers. The bar staff upstairs were a lot of fun.



We did not see the Captain except for the first two days. The water levels on the Rhine were dangerously low and he opted to stay in the wheel house and command the ship instead of allowing the second or third captains. We passed several ships that could not make it through the low river levels and were pulled over on the side. Those passengers might have had a bus tour instead of a river cruise.

The hotel director, Florin Spatanu, seemed to be a leader with a great sense of humor. We spoke quite a bit with him.  The Hotel Director is really the heart of the ship. He is responsible for everything but sailing the ship. Every staff member except the Captain and engineers report to him.  I believe his positive and relaxed attitude rubs off on the staff as they were playful and funny but did their jobs very well.

The Cruise Director, Ray Bauer, was the best CD I've encountered in 20 years of sailing. He interacted with all the passengers, was efficient and full of knowledge.  He was every where and when the guests were leaving the ship after the cruise, he said good bye to every single person.  We also had a mishap with a person in our group who had to be sent home from the cruise immediately. Ray took over, took her to her cabin, helped her pack, arranged emergency flights and transfers to get her home, and kept in touch with the woman's daughter until she arrived home. Rest assured, if you have an emergency while sailing you will be in good hands with Emerald.

We boarded the ship in Amsterdam and were in port the first night. The next morning there was a tour by bus and boat of Amsterdam. You could also get off the ship that first night and walk into Amsterdam to visit.

We left at noon the second day and had a 24 hour trip to Cologne (Koln) out first stop on this trip. The ship has a small pool that is at the ship's stern on deck 3.  It can be fully open to the air as it has a retractable roof but because it was cold, the roof was closed and the pool nicely heated.  At night, the floor of the pool is raised and chairs put into the room and the room is used as a theater! (There is also a small gym with a few machines right next door). Later on in the cruise, the pool had to be emptied to lighten the ship so that we could make it through the low river levels. (The other cruise ships we encountered all had to do the same).


There is beautiful scenery on both side of the ship as you sail on the rivers, very different than an ocean cruise where all you see is a vast ocean. One day going through the Rhine Gorge, it was castle after castle after castle.  The entire top deck is open and has seats and loungers you can sit on and enjoy the sights, but it was a bit too cold for many to be taking advantage of this deck.  On the 3rd floor, in front of the lounge there are some outdoor tables to sit at plus some lounge chairs. It was a little warmer sitting there since there is a glass partition at the front that acts as a wind breaker while sailing.

The typical day has passengers getting off the ship between 8:30 and 9:30 a.m. depending on the port for transportation to the city and your daily excursion.  In Koln, it was a ride into the city to see the Cologne Cathedral which houses what they claim are the remains of the Three Wise Men or Three  Kings. The construction of the cathedral began in 1241 and was completed in 1880.  The Cathedral was the only standing building in Koln after WWII. The rest of the city was destroyed.

Every day passengers were back on the ship by 1:30 for lunch. There are also bicycles that can be used if you'd like. Afternoons are spent relaxing and getting ready for dinner. There was a piano player in the lounge each afternoon for light music. Some nights there were things going on - one night was trivia, one night was a Crew Talent Show, one night opera singers were brought on board for an impromptu concert.  If you are looking for excitement and shows similar to an ocean cruise, you won't see it on river cruises.

One thing to be aware of is that in many ports, ships tie up next to each other at the pier and you have to walk over other ships to get on and off your ship.  So keep you blinds closed, as you could unknowingly be the entertainment for the ship next door to yours.

The cities we visited on the Rhine were charming. We went to a winery for a wine tasting, the Black Forest to an outdoor museum with homes from the 1600's for a glimpse into what life was like on the farms (and to see exactly how a Black Forest Cake is made!) and to a Museum of Mechanical Instruments (think music from carousels and player piano's) that ended up being fascinating.

The average travelers age on a river cruise is 65, but there were quite a few younger "kids" (one couple was in their 20's) as well.  The 20 somethings ended up rating the cruise very high. Children are not permitted, with the exception of Disney Adventures river cruises on another cruise line.

Be aware that there are many different companies offering river cruises that don't advertise. Viking has brought river cruising to the attention of American's but there are many more companies at different price points to choose from. There is a river cruise line for almost every budget.  Some include more than others which can make a huge difference. Emerald Waterways is a mid-priced option that includes quite a bit.

Emerald Waterways has been named Best River Cruise Value in 2016 by Cruise Critic for the second year in a row. And as a company in existence only three years, their repeat booking rate is 25% - an amazing number for a cruise line so young.

We have a chart of various river cruise lines and their inclusions. Contact us for more information on Emerald or to see the value for your dollar you will receive with various line. Call us at 516-608-0568 or email us at promalvacations@gmail.com.





Saturday, October 1, 2016

Captain "Sully Sullenberger Wants the FAA to Implement Changes




The air traffic controller asked Captain Sullenberger on United flight 1549 that January day nearly eight years ago  "What do you need to land".

"We can't do it. We're going to be in the Hudson" Capt. Sullenberger replied.

Hearing Capt. Sullenberger repeat the refrain from that fateful flight in person gave me goosebumps. We were lucky enough to hear Captain Chester "Sully" Sullenberger speak at a travel conference last week.  He spoke about all he has learned since the Miracle on the Hudson, describing the circumstances and the luck of having the right crew and the right resources in place to allow a positive outcome of the plane crash.

If you have seen the movie "Sully" you'll learn about what happened after the crash the with NTSB. (We won't spoil it). The room was absolutely silent as over 500 travel agents listened to Capt. Sullenberger described in his amazingly calm voice his thoughts on that day. Capt. Sullenberger credited his training as an Air Force pilot to help guide his decisions that had to be made in that fateful 208 seconds.

"Sully" is now a consultant on airline safety as well as an airline expert for CBS. The NTSB and FAA spent 28 months studying his actions on that day and the NTSB made 35 recommendations of changes by the airlines to increase passenger safety.  Only six have been implemented. Why? Because the airline lobby in Washington is too strong and fights safety proposals to save money. Mandating the airlines provide life vests instead of a flotation device is one of the recommendations that hasn't been adopted.

Captain Sullenberger is frustrated by the inaction of the airlines.  According to a story from the Associated Press "Fourteen of the recommendations issued to the Federal Aviation Administration and its European counterpart, EASA, are marked by the NTSB as "closed-unacceptable," which means that regulators rejected the advice. One has been withdrawn, and the rest remain unresolved." (Click here to read the AP story.)

These are not impossible - here are a few from the report:

Require Airbus to redesign the frame 65 vertical beam on A318, A319, A320, and A321 series airplanes to lessen the likelihood that it will intrude into the cabin during a ditching or gear-up landing and Airbus operators to incorporate these changes on their airplanes. (A-10-77)

Conduct research to determine the most beneficial passenger brace position in airplanes with nonbreakover seats installed. If the research deems it necessary, issue new guidance material on passenger brace positions. (A-10-78)

Require, on all new and in-service transport-category airplanes, that cabin safety equipment be stowed in locations that ensure that life rafts and/or slide/rafts remain accessible and that sufficient capacity is available for all occupants after a ditching. (A-10-79)

Require quick-release girts and handholds on all evacuation slides and ramp/slide
  combinations. (A-10-80) 

 Require 14 Code of Federal Regulations Part 121, Part 135, and Part 91 Subpart K operators to provide information about life lines, if the airplane is equipped with them, to passengers to ensure that the life lines can be quickly and  effectively retrieved and used. (A-10-81) 

Require that aircraft operated by 14 Code of Federal Regulations Part 121, Part135, and Part 91 Subpart K operators be equipped with flotation seat cushions and life vests for each occupant on all flight s, regardless of the route. (A-10-82) 

Require 14 Code of Federal Regulations Part 121, Part 135, and Part 91 Subpart
K operators to brief passengers on all flotation equipment installed on an airplane, including a full demonstration of correct life vest retrieval and donning procedures, before all flights, regardless of route. (A-10-83). Require modifications to life vest stowage compartments or stowage compartment
  locations to improve the ability of passengers to retrieve life vests for all occupants. (A-10-84)

 Revise the life vest performance standards contained in Technical Standard Order-C13f to ensure  that they result in a life vest that passengers can quickly and correctly don. (A-10-85).

You can read the entire report here.

What can you do to support these changes? Write to your State Congressman and Senators. Tell them you want the FAA and airlines to implement the safety recommendations made after this crash.  This is one of the few crashes that everyone survived and the investigators were able to speak to the pilots and flight crew.

When you are on your next flight - read the safety instructions and listen to the FA's during the demonstration.  I can tell you that on our return flight home, I actually did pay attention to the safety demonstration.

Tuesday, August 30, 2016

Florida's Space Coast - A Fun Place for Families

Florida's Space Coast -  A Fun Place To Visit

If you will be sailing out of Port Canaveral on a cruise, stay an extra day or two and visit the Space Coast of Florida.  It's a perfect opportunity to see all there is to do in a wonderful family destination.

Transfers from the Orlando Airport to the ship pier are expensive. It can be more economical to rent a car for a day for the trip to the pier. Drop it in Port Canaveral at one of the local car rentals and have them shuttle you to the pier.  They will pick you up after the cruise and bring you to pick up another car for your return to Orlando, but it's a perfect time to stay a few days and have some fun. Or fly into the Melbourne Airport and rent your car, it's closer than Orlando.

 I recently joined a group of travel agents on the Space Coast for a conference to see hotels and learn all about what there is to do in this area and was quite surprises with the variety of activities that are so family friendly.

I was not a space geek and when I learned that my day was going to be from 8:30 AM until 4 pm at the Kennedy Space Center, I groaned a little. Until we passed the rocket display where the Atlantis Space Shuttle building was as we approached the entrance.  Seeing the size of  the rockets filled me with excitement!. Once you enter the center you will see are various rockets in the "Rocket Garden".  There are narrated tours throughout the day.

There are several fabulous IMAX theaters with various 3D movies. There is a theater that allows you to meet an Astronaut (as well as a Lunch with an Astronaut program). There are only about 300 people in the world that have ever been in space and their stories are fascinating. Did you know when astronauts land, the first thing they are given are bottles and bottles of water because their bodies are dehydrated from being in  space?

The highlight is the Atlantis Space Shuttle. When you walk to the building housing Atlantis, you'll stand directly under the huge rockets that brought the shuttles into space. Once inside, you'll see two short movies about the shuttle experience and then be presented the shuttle in a jaw dropping fashion. There are more than 60 interactive displays in just this building. There is also a free Shuttle Launch experience that immerses you in the sights, sounds and feeling of a shuttle launch. Strap in and go vertical for a launch!


After our Lunch with an Astronaut, we were off on the bus to the Apollo/Saturn V launch center. You'll enter the Firing Room where you'll sit before the real consoles used during the Apollo launches. You'll see a presentation on just how dangerous those first launches were. When the program is finished, you are set free under a actual Saturn V moon rocket, one of only three in existence today. It is 363 feet long and 33 feet wide - as long as a football field. In addition to the rocket, you can touch an actual moon rock (it is TINY).


Besides the Kennedy Space Center, there are other great things to do and place to visit on the Space Coast.

A new attraction is Exploration Tower near the cruise port. This is a seven story tower that has some interactive displays where you'll learn about the origin and environment of Port Canaveral and all of Florida. On the roof you will get an amazing view of the cruise port. There are various interactive displays for kids and grown ups. Pilot a cruise ship into port. If there is a rocket launch scheduled, get to that 7th story observatory and watch.  There is a huge display inside the building of various sea animals all made of our garbage and litter pulled out of the water! Learn more about it here. 



Visit the largest RonJon surf shop in Cocoa Beach, the world's largest surf shop. See the Dinosaur Store Adventure Zone. Go kayaking or enjoy paddleboard, boat, JetSki and CraigCat paddleboat rentals with Wildlife Watersports. Visit the Merritt Island Wildlife Refuge or  the Brevard Zoo. Take a ride to Historic Cocoa Village, a cool bohemian area with some of the most amazing artist shops and restaurants. (Go on a Sip and Stroll outing, held several times a year.)


Now why wouldn't you stay a few days to experience all there is to see in the Port Canaveral/Cocoa Beach area?  Call us to help book your vacation. 516-608-0568.


Saturday, August 13, 2016

Fathom Impact Cruises - Travel with Heart

Do you want to make a difference to someone less fortunate than you? Would you like to teach your kids to engage in  side by side activities with local residents in the Dominican Republic to help improve the lives of those less fortunate?

If you do, then consider taking a Fathom Cruise. These cruises combine your love of travel with making a difference in the lives of others. Fathom offers cruises from  Miami to the Dominican Republic where you will participate in cultural exchanges that can be a life changing experience for you.

You'll sail for one week on a totally different type of cruise than you have ever experienced. 40% of the residents of the Dominican Republic live below the poverty line. You'll attend workshops on the ship while sailing that will get you ready for what you'll experience when you arrive in the DR.

You'll depart from Miami for Puerto Plata where you'll spend days one and two on the ship in classes and workshops.  On days 3 - 6 you'll enjoy activities on the ground with the locals and have some free time to enjoy the beaches and pool at Amber Cove. Then you'll sail back to Florida with the friends you have made on the ship - and some will become friends forever!

Some of the workshops and experiences: "How to Create and Tell Amazing Stories", tutoring training sessions to engage with students while teaching them English, an interactive festival with panel discussions and workshops with leading social impact partners and  more.

There will be leisure time between the classes to enjoy the pool or gym and great food and beverage too.
Typical Home in DR

On land, you'll arrive at Amber Cove and be able to participate in such activities as working with local students to share your knowledge of English, having lunch at a community center, and ground activities such as building cement floors in homes (most still have dirt floor), planting trees, or engaging in music, arts and sports with local kids.


Would you like to visit a woman's cooperative that is involved in cultivating organic chocolate to products that they can sell and create their income from?  You'll learn  about the production cycle from planting to packaging the product for sale.







 Learn about another cooperative that recycles paper and makes arts and crafts for the group to sell. You'll be able to assist in production and see the fruits of your efforts.

But it isn't all work! Amber Cove was built for Fathom cruisers to be able to enjoy the afternoon after their work is finished. You can rent snorkels and fins and other water sport equipment to enjoy the beach, or just hang our at Amber Cove's own pool complex that includes a lazy river and private cabanas you can rent.





Anyone who has been on a Fathom cruise will tell you that they came back changed forever.

Fathom also alternates cruised to the DR with cruises to Cuba for cultural exchange. You'll have 3 -1/2 days in Cuba on excursions to learn about Cuban history and be able to experience the vibrant culture. (Please note - tourists are still required to be on excursions that offer cultural exchange while in Cuba - you can't go off on your own to explore the country).

Interested? Call us at 516-608-0568 to book your Fathom cruise.

Saturday, August 6, 2016

Hotel Review - Hampton Inn Cocoa Beach



The Space Coast in Florida is a perfect place not only to stay for a couple of days before or after a cruise from Port Canaveral but a prime spot for a relaxing beach vacation. There are plenty of hotels throughout the area.

One of those is the Hampton Inn Cocoa Beach. Less than an hour from the Orlando Airport and half an hour from the Melbourne Airport, Hampton Inn is a great choice. This hotel and the Courtyard by Marriott right next door have the same owner and it's reflected in the quality of employees at both hotels.

When we arrived at the hotel we were late for a conference at the Marriott next door and it was too early for check in but I was concerned about parking my car without a hotel sticker in it. Terry was at the front desk, confirmed my room (oceanview king) hadn't been cleaned yet but assured me my car would be fine without the sticker. I told him I'd be back to check in later.

When I went back at 4:30, not only was my room ready but Terry had checked me in and all I had to do was sign my receipt and pick up my parking pass. And he assigned me to a room number that was my birthdate so I couldn't forget the number.

I was on the sixth floor in an oceanfront room. The room was good sized with the bathroom immediately to the left with a tub and shower combo. Across from the king sized bed was a credenza with 3 drawers, a microwave, a single serve coffee pot with coffee packets and a good size refrigerator. There was also a small closet with an iron and ironing board.

There was a sofa that pulled out into a bed, a coffee table, desk and arm chair. The room also had a small balcony overlooking the pool below and the ocean. There is a path to the beach from the hotel.

The room was well stocked with Neutrogena soaps, shampoo, conditioner, body lotion and mouthwash. The entire room was extremely clean. There were two things missing that should be added to every room- a room safe and a second garbage can in the bathroom. It is inconvenient not having them.

The hotel serves a free breakfast from 6-10 am with hot eggs, bacon, potatoes and waffles. There was also cereals, bagels and muffins and fruits. You know you are on the Space Coast because Tang was one of the juices served!

There is coffee out in the lobby all day and it was good coffee, not burned bottom of the pot bitter grounds.

There is a pool outside open from 9:00 a.m. until 11 PM.

The staff truly makes this hotel special. There wasn't a time I walked through the lobby that I wasn't greeted by whoever was working the front desk. Rose was another excellent employee. We spoke at the front desk and as a former Long Islander she immediately recognized my accent and we had some nice conversations over the days I was there.

The only glitch I had was on my last day, my room was never cleaned. I was in and out of the room several times, making sure that there was never a Do Not Disturb sign on the door. I saw the cart several times two doors down from my room when I went to breakfast at 8:30  but for some reason, they never came in and cleaned. When I got to my room at 7 PM and found the room with an unmade bed and towels still on the floor, I called the front desk. The sent up a very nice man named Brian who changed the towels and emptied the garbage, but the room wasn't vacuumed nor was the bed made. That was the only glitch in what would have been a perfect stay. 
BUT - when I mentioned it at check out, the clerk refunded the charge for the day. The fact that they are empowered to make a decision to make a client happy says a lot about management at the hotel.

I still recommend Hampton Inn here as a good value on the Space Coast and a hub to visit all the area has to offer.
Room Tip: Book An ocean front room. The views worth it.