Last night at the Plaza Hotel in New York City, Philip and Cathi were on hand at the Travel Weekly Readers Choice Awards. We were guests of Karisma Hotels & Resorts and were delighted to see them win the honor of being named as the Best Boutique Hotel Company.
Winners were selected in 59 categories in the airline, car, hospitality, rail, GDS, agent education, tour, cruise, destination and theme park sectors. The first part of the process is that the readers of Travel Weekly magazine nominate companies in each category. After the nomination period, then the readers are asked to vote on the winner.
Here is a list of the winners in each category:
Best in Airlines
- Domestic: Delta Air Lines
- International: Virgin Atlantic
- Business/First Class: Emirates
Best in Car Rental
- Domestic: Hertz
- International: Hertz
Best in Hotel Chains
- Domestic: Marriott International
- Asia: InterContinental Hotels Group
- Caribbean: Sandals Resorts
- Europe: InterContinental Hotels Group
- Mexico: Dreams Resorts & Spas
- Hawaii/South Pacific: Starwood Hotels & Resorts Worldwide
- Sales & Service: Marriott International
- All-Inclusive: Sandals Resorts
- Boutique: Karisma Hotels & Resorts
- Luxury: Ritz-Carlton Hotels & Resorts
- Mid-Priced: Hampton Inn
- Upscale: Westin Hotels & Resorts
Best Las Vegas Hotel
- Bellagio Las Vegas
Best Resort Worldwide
- St. Regis Bora Bora
Best in Tour Operators
- Domestic Packaged: Gogo Worldwide Vacations
- Domestic Escorted: Tauck
- International: Globus
- Africa: Abercrombie & Kent
- Asia/Pacific: Globus
- Canada: Tauck
- Caribbean: Travel Impressions
- Europe: Trafalgar Tours
- Hawaii: Pleasant Holidays
- Mexico: Apple Vacations
- Luxury: Abercrombie & Kent
- Sales & Service: Travel Impressions
Best in Cruise Lines
- Domestic: Royal Caribbean International
- Alaska: Princess Cruises
- Caribbean: Royal Caribbean International
- Europe: Celebrity Cruises
- Luxury: The Yachts of Seabourn
- Premium: Celebrity Cruises
- River Cruising: Viking River Cruises
- Sales & Service: Royal Caribbean International
- Overall: Royal Caribbean International
Best in Cruise Ships
- Luxury: Queen Mary 2, Cunard Line
- Premium: Celebrity Solstice, Celebrity Cruises
- River Cruising: S.S. Antoinette, Uniworld Boutique River Cruise Collection
- Rookie: Celebrity Silhouette, Celebrity Cruises
- Overall: Norwegian Epic, Norwegian Cruise Line
Best in Destinations
- Africa: South Africa
- Asia/Pacific: Australia
- Canada: Vancouver
- Caribbean: St. Lucia
- Central/South America: Costa Rica
- Europe: England
- Hawaii: Maui
- Mexico: Riviera Maya
- U.S. State: Hawaii
- U.S. City: Las Vegas
Best Travel Agent Program
- NCL University, Norwegian Cruise Line
Best Rail Vacation
- Rocky Mountaineer
Best Theme Park
- Walt Disney World
As I write this, the travel plans of many people have been affected by Hurricane Sandy. It’s a good reminder that when we leave our home, it’s important to be prepared.
How can a traveler be prepared for disruptions?
1. Have an advocate. Be sure you have someone in your corner who can help you and fight for you. The easiest solution to this is to find and use (consistently) a great travel agent.
2. Have Travel Insurance. Travel insurance can help smooth out the bumps along the road. Was your home destroyed by a hurricane? Covered. Did you misconnect on your way to the destination? Hotel expense: Covered. Did your flight get canceled and you have a non refundable prepaid hotel? Covered. There are a million great reasons to be covered by insurance.
3. Charge your electronics. (And carry chargers with you) Before you leave home, make sure your cell phone, your tablets, your computer, your wireless internet card and any other electronics you carry with you are completely charged up. If you need to communicate with your advocate or with home or with the hotel or the airline reservation department, the last thing you need is to lose the ability to use your phone.
4. Bring your contacts with you. Make sure you have the phone numbers you need. It isn’t hard now that you can store infinite contacts right in your phone. It isn’t like you need to be afraid to lose a piece of paper.
5. Prepare financially. Be sure you have more than one card with you in case one gets eaten by a rogue ATM machine, or in case the issuing bank goes off line and you can’t get an approval for a purchase. Also, cash is king. Be prepared with at least some cash.
6. Pack your carry on wisely. Certainly any medications that you must have should stay with you and not be checked. Also, you should consider carrying some basic vital toiletries so that if you get stranded with just your carry on, you have enough with you so that you won’t be miserable. Consider a snack too. I love to carry Larabars because they fill me up and don’t mess with my blood sugar. In fact, I have a travel blanket that has come in handy on more than one occasion.
7. Bring your best attitude. Keep in mind that the ticket agent in front of you isn’t responsible for the weather or the mechanical issue that is causing your disruption. Raising your voice with them isn’t going to solve anything. It won’t even make you feel better, and it certainly won’t make anyone else feel good either. Why not be that understanding person who is a breath of fresh air for the very people who are in the best position to give you that last room or that last seat?
How else can you be prepared for a travel disruption?
At many resorts, when you check in you’re given something called a “towel card”. If the person who checks you in explains it completely you’re told that you use this card to exchange for a pool towel. When you turn the pool towel in you can either receive a new dry towel or a towel card. During your stay you are charged with the responsibility of keeping track of your towel card (or your towel).
Usually there is either one or several places throughout the resort where this exchange can take place.
When you check out, you are responsible for turning these towel cards back in. If you do not, then you are required to pay a fee, usually around $25, for each missing towel card.
The reason the hotels do this is to reduce the number of towels that go home in guests luggage.
Higher end resorts don’t usually have towel cards. High end resorts generally set towels on the loungers around the pool so that they are easily at hand for use by guests at the moment they need them.
So, now you know what a towel card is!
I flew up and back to Oklahoma City in the last 24 hours. My nephew graduated from high school and I wanted to be there for the event.
Anyway, I flew home in first class this morning (AAdvantage Gold Upgrade) and I was next to a nice enough guy. He wasn’t gross, didn’t talk too much and didn’t smell bad. He did, however, keep putting his foot on the arm rest of the chair in front of him.
His bare foot.
On the arm rest that belongs to the seat of someone else.
Am I the only one who thinks this is gross and completely unacceptable?
I can’t wait to hear your comments.
1) You need to restore your creativity.
Being in new surroundings and getting out of your routine brings new ideas to your mind. I can’t tell you the number of business changing ideas that have just “come to me” while in a beautiful destination.
On vacation you try new things and you play. There is nothing like play to spark your creativity. (Be sure to keep a pen with you to record your brilliance.)
2) You need to reconnect with someone.
Daily life is busy. I know my day goes something like this: Get kids out the door to school, dash off to work, work all day without taking a break, return home in time to make dinner and to make sure that homework gets done. Shortly after that, I collapse into bed with high hopes to get a few hours of sleep before getting up the next day to do it all again.
All of this dashing about doesn’t leave any time for leisurely conversation and unstructured time. It doesn’t even leave much time to simply be together in the same place. A vacation allows time to reconnect.
3) You need to escape from stress.
Life is a pressure cooker. If you’re like me you always have a cycle going on in your head where you’re trying to resolve issues in your life and bring your initiatives forward. There is always more to reach for, always another item on the to do list. You’re a fox always trying to out run the hounds.
A vacation is, above all, an escape from stress. For just those few days everything is on hold and you can take a deep breath.
…and isn’t that what you need? A really deep breath.
The definition of an agent: As your agent, we represent you in finding the best vacation and doing our best to see that the vacation process goes well for you. We are not in control of many of the factors of the vacation. For instance, the airline can change your schedule.
Hotel Room Requests: Unless the feature you are wanting is guaranteed for that room type, your request is a request. For instance, bedding type (one king vs. two doubles) is almost never guaranteed. It is up to the hotel to fulfill the requests that we give them on your behalf.
Relationships: We work hard to develop relationships with suppliers and hoteliers so that we have the resources we need to fulfill a special request, or solve a complex problem. These relationships mean that your requests go directly to key people so that they are given the attention they deserve.
Airlines: Airlines can change fares at any time. Airlines can change schedules at any time.
Price Changes: Until you book your trip, the price on it can chanage at any time.
Last Minute Deals: Most people do not gain anything by waiting to book their trip. Most deals are had further in advance. (It happens just often enough to keep people talking about it. Most people get burned by waiting.)
Payment Advantage: I wish people knew that by booking with us they are usually able to do a small deposit and pay their trips out until final payment time.
Motivation: I wish clients would understand that we really do have their best interests at heart. We want their repeat business and we love referrals. Our main motivation is pleasing you.
Budget: Giving us a budget really is helpful. If we know what you’re trying to stay within it helps us find the right thing for you. If your budget is way too high or way too low, we’ll be honest with you.
Problem Resolution: Working with us gives you an advantage if you encounter any problems. Oftentimes we have the relationships that will help smooth things out. Also, since vacations are all we do, we’ve probably encountered the problem you’ve got and we know how to fix it.
Saving time in research: When we’re researching your trip, we can do it faster than you can because its all we do all day. We can quickly check several alternatives to see what is the best for you. Also, if you work with us and someone needs to sit on hold to find the answer to a question, it’s us rather than you.
Travel Insurance: I wish people knew that travel insurance is very important. When we offer it to you, it isn’t because we are wanting to sell you something additional. It is because we do this day in and day out and we’ve seen everything that can happen.
Assigned Seats: We spend a great deal of time dealing with assigned seats. We are limited to assigning you seats that are available. If acceptable seats are not currently available, we will continue to check back until something becomes available.
Why work with an agent: I wish people knew that the main reason to work with an agent doesn’t have to do with price. Our prices are competitive, but that isn’t the main reason that we are a great asset in planning your vacation.
What do you have to add? Put it in the comments.
When you call our office about a prospective trip, we are likely to offer you an option that includes a “charter” flight. Sometimes that term scares and confuses people. So, allow me to explain.
A charter flight IS NOT your family and some guy named Mack on a crop duster winging your way to your destination. (That seems to be what scares some people.)
A charter flight is when a tour operator (something like Funjet Vacations or Apple Vacations) goes to an airline and says, “Hey, dude! I see that you have that nice shiny plane that isn’t doing anything next summer. How about if I pay you to fly it to and from Cancun all summer? How much will you charge me for that?”
Then the owner of that bright shiny airplane and the tour operator make a deal as to how much it will cost. Then, the tour operator divides the number of seats into the cost, marks it up to make a profit (since this is the great USA, the land of opportunity) and they proceed to sell those seats along with hotel packages.
There are several advantages of choosing charter flights over scheduled carriers like American or Continental.
Cost: Charter flights sometimes cost less than scheduled carriers.
Bag Fees: Sometimes, but not always, bag fees are included in a charter flight.
Convenience: Charters are nonstop to the destination.
Name Changes: Charter flights usually allow name changes, whereas scheduled carriers do not.
Low Deposit: Charter flights only require a small deposit, with the final payment due usually 45 days prior to the trip. Many times scheduled carriers require that you pay the flight portion in full at the time of booking.
Charter flights are a great part of a great vacation!
We’re back from France. It was an amazing trip, and I’m sure I’ll write about it more in another blog post.. What I want to write about today are the lessons we learned along the way. Before the trip I wrote about the process of packing, and I’ll also write about how that all worked out. Today, though, it’s all about lessons. Maybe some of them can translate to every day life lessons too.
Here they are, in no particular order.
1) Learn the basics of the native language. We didn’t do this. I wish we had. If you learn the niceties of the language as well as a few useful things (perhaps having to do with food and things like the bathroom) people will perceive you less as an intruder and more as a guest. Go ahead, make some flash cards. You can do it.
2) Eat when you can. One day we were in a beautiful small town, but only for three hours. Because we wanted to digest all of our surroundings and record them in photographs, we elected to skip eating in the dining room on board and head straight for town. Our thought was that we would pick up one of the wonderful sandwiches that are at little shops everywhere and maybe a diet coke, and eat them while walking around. Sadly, the three hours we were there were the three hours in the middle of the day that everyone in small town France takes off in the middle of the day to go home and eat with their families. This means that every single thing is closed with the exception of the sit down cafes where you can expect it to take 90 minutes to eat.
Nice tradition, but it sure didn’t fit our schedule that day. We were starving. We did, however, find the worlds most legendary cream puff that day. There was one solitary bakery that was open straight through instead of closing. Probably not very popular with the locals to be open straight through, but were we ever thankful for those cream puffs.
3) Pee when you can. I always made sure I went right before leaving the ship. Even so, sometimes we were caught having to locate acceptable facilities. We usually found them, but even so, it took away from touring time and interuupted the enjoyment of the amazing beauty we were there to see. I will admit it was an interesting cultural experience to stand in line for the potty, pay a Euro and get a receipt indicating that we’d paid to go to the bathroom. It was also fun to put the Euro coin in the other bathroom later in the trip to gain access to the stall. Multicultural lessons abound.
This also leads to a related lesson which is, Have Change for the Bathroom.
4) Be aware of national holidays. The day we took the train from Paris to Arles (pronounced “Ar-La”) was All Saints Day. This meant that the tourist information desk at the train station was closed which meant we couldn’t ask about how to get from the train station to the ship. This also meant that everything was closed. When I say every thing I mean every.single.thing. Even the supermarkets and the pharmacies. Fortunately for us on this trip we overnighted in Arles so we got to fully enjoy the town the next day.
5) Be careful of standing in the street. We primarily visited small towns where the roads were so narrow that to most Americans it looks more like a pedestrian district than an actually street where automobiles would dare to roam. With fair regularity, cars would come by and the drivers would be quite frustrated that the tourists were standing in the street. This isn’t a problem in a major city. I don’t think anyone would make a mistake in thinking a Paris street was anything but a busy major metropolitan throughfare.
6) A photo will look better back at the hotel than it does while you’re standing in front of the actual object. My traveling companion and I both have intimidating cameras with which we digest our surroundings. (She is a much much more skilled photographer than I am. I just have the big camera and try hard.) One thing I noticed is that I would be standing in near this impossibly beautiful thing and would take the best picture I could frame up. I would look at the screen on the back of the camera at the picture I’d taken and see a poor represenation of the magnificience before which I was standing. Many times I hit the delete key on the camera. (Thank goodness for digital photography.)
Then I noticed that when I got back to the hotel and uploaded the pictures to my iPad with a bigger screen, and I was away from the actual object of the picture, I was much more impressed with the picture. So, save those pictures and delete them later while looking at a bigger screen. (Now this doesn’t apply if it’s clearly a picture of the back of the person who stepped into your shot, or if it’s blurry, or something obvious like that.)
7) Remember rush hour. Even though you are on vacation, there are many people around you who are simply moving through their normal lives. People around you are going to work, getting groceries for their familes and trying to survive.
At the end of our trip we had to get clear through Paris on the RER train and it happened to be at 5:30pm. We endured a crush of people surrounding us on the train for the two hour journey. Between really popular stops I had to close my eyes, breathe, and try not to have a panic attack. (I don’t have panic attacks, but I was seriously considering an exception.) If I’d been thinking, I would have stowed our luggage and had dinner in Paris and had a much more enjoyable trip later in the evening.
8) Remember electricity. I always travel with a power strip. This keeps me from having to crawl around a night stand to switch out my cell phone charger to my iPad charger, to my laptop cord. I have plenty of accessible places in which to plug things. My favorite purchase on this trip was a European power strip. I plugged it in and stuck my US adapters in the slots. This essentially gave me my normal power strip (at least for those things that didn’t need a converter – refer to my blog post about Electricity while traveling for more details.)
What lessons did you learn last time you took a trip? Share them in the comments.
We’ve all witnessed other passengers behaving badly while traveling, but I wonder how many of us have been behaving badly and perhaps not even realized it. So, I decided to look around the aircraft and compile a list of 10 tips for being a good citizen while flying.
1. Try not to use overhead bin space. I can already hear things whizzing past my head as you business travelers are throwing things at me, but hear me out. For one thing, I believe that most of my audience are vacation / leisure travelers. When you’re going on vacation or you’re going to attend a family wedding or visit your grandma you are not usually on such a tight schedule that you can’t wait the extra 15 or 20 minutes at baggage claim. As far as the baggage fees, what I hear people say most often is “why don’t they just build it into the airfare”. Well, the same could be said of you. Why don’t you just build those baggage fees into the total price you intend to pay for your trip.
When you’re not worried about getting an overhead bin, you don’t have to worry about how soon you get on the plane and you’ll never get stuck with a seat in row 14 and your bag back in row 27. (How much time are you saving anyway when you have to wait for the whole plane to get off before you can get back to get your bag?)
2. Stay in your space. I know this is easier for some people than others. At the very least, do go ahead and put the arm rest down and respect the fact that the area beyond that arm rest belongs to your seat mate.
3. Get on and sit down. When your row is called, get in line, board the plane and don’t stand in the aisle messing with your stuff. Stand in front of your seat (or at least in your row) and finish whatever messing around you have to do to stow your stuff. Don’t stop traffic to mess with your stuff.
4. Don’t lean back in coach. There is precious little room for each passenger. Don’t lean back and take up the space that rightfully belongs to the person behind you. Also, your leaning back makes it awkward for the passenger behind you to use their tray table.
5. Touch the seat in front of you as little as possible. If the person in front of you is sleeping and you grab that seat so that you can stand up, or you jostle that seat to pull down your tray table, or you play air drums on that tray table, that person is going to wake up. If the person in front of you is lucky enough to have fallen asleep, do you really want to mess that up?
6. Don’t read the screens around you. Maybe your fellow passenger is writing email, maybe they’re watching a movie, maybe they’re reading a website. Whatever they’re doing, I’m pretty sure it is none of your business. Keep your eyes to yourself.
7. Follow crew member instructions. Put your electronics away at the proper time, take your seat and don’t get up while the seatbelt sign is on (unless it is an honest to goodness emergency). Follow instructions and make the flight as smooth as possible.
8. Order promptly. When the cart comes near to you and it is almost time to choose which snack to purchase or which drink to have, go ahead and make those choices so that when the flight attendant asks, you’ll can order promptly and let them continue their cabin service. (There is probably a list of the options on a card in the seat back pocket in front of you.)
9. Bathroom Tips: There are an awful lot of people using those teeny tiny bathrooms. Don’t linger, someone is probably waiting for relief. Also, Drain the basin. Wipe the basin out Flush. Make sure your paper towels go all the way in the trash can without hanging out. Try to leave it in good shape for the next person.
10. Be nice. It isn’t the flight attendants fault if you had a fight with your spouse right before you left the house. It also isn’t your fellow passenger’s fault if you had a really rude clerk at the hotel. Take a deep breath and remember that you’ll always catch more flies with honey than with vinegar.
P.S. I just went back and talked to the flight attendants in the galley as they were cleaning up. They added these two tips to my list:
11. Don’t touch the flight attendants. They said that people are forever poking them on their hips and bottoms as they go by on the cart. If you wouldn’t touch a stranger in a certain way any other setting, don’t touch the flight attendants that way either.
12. Please and thank you go a long way.
Wikipedia defines an urban legend as ” a form of modern folklore consisting of stories usually believed by their tellers to be true.” We’ve all heard them. The guy in the ice filled bathtub without his kidney is the first one I think of. Your great uncle who just discovered the wonders of the “forward” button seems to have an inexhaustible supply with which to provide you.
In travel, we have urban legends too. These aren’t completely untrue. These things do happen just often enough to keep the legend alive. They are , however, exceedingly rare.
The Last Minute “Deal”: There’s a long weekend coming up. You have a few extra dollars (not many). You heard about a guy one time who got a really cheap deal at the last minute and decide to give it a try. What you’re more likely to discover is that booking your travel at the last minute is usually quite expensive.
Think about it. The airlines in particular, as well as hotels and resorts, would prefer that their inventory be sold well ahead of time so that they can a) get a better price for it and b) plan for the traffic and occupancy levels. You’re way more likely to get a better price with advance purchase. The goal for the airlines and hotels is to be sold out and unavailable for last minute purchase. The airlines in particular have their fares structured such that you will pay a premium for buying at the last minute.
Still, it happens once in a very great while and, when it does, the story spreads far and wide.
The $500.00 All Inclusive Vacation: It seems to be a widely held belief that one should be able to buy a three night all inclusive resort vacation including airfare for $500.00 per person. This budget has been stuck in people’s minds as long as I can remember.
Keeping in mind that there is about $100.00 in departure tax for most international destinations, this means you’re really asking for round trip airfare, three nights accommodations and three days and nights filled with food and drink for $400.00. Does that seem reasonable to you?
Again, every once in a great while we’ll get a $399 deal on a particularly distressed date. But, there are never very many and they go almost as soon as they come out.
Bulkhead and Exit Row Seats: Many people have heard about the extra legroom available in exit row seats and bulkhead seats. The problem is, unless you’re an elite traveler with status on the airline in question, those seats are held for airport check-in and not available for advance seat assignment.
Mexico is Dangerous: This one is a biggie. To listen to the American media, you would think that a day anywhere in Mexico is filled with the sounds of automatic weapon fire and guerilla warfare between drug cartels. The fact is that the areas with safety concerns are concentrated mostly around the US border. There are places in the United States that one would be ill advised to walk the streets alone as well, but that doesn’t stop you from traveling freely in other areas, right?
The fact is that we have had people in the various Mexico resort destinations just about every week for the last 22 years. Never ever, not ONE time has anyone had anything remotely resembling a safety issue. Now, we’ve had people do stupid things like get drunk and fall of the balcony of their room, or a child running on a pool deck and fall down and require stitches. But never, ever, has anyone reported feeling unsafe.
The people in our office, myself (and my children) included, travel to Mexico frequently and consider it a second home. In fact, I personally feel safer walking the streets of Playa del Carmen or Cancun alone than I do at the Walmart near my house after dark.
Oceanview Rooms: This one really should be true, but we have to report that it usually isn’t. If a resort sells an oceanview category and and oceanfront category, the oceanview category will actually have very very little oceanview. If you actually want to see the water, book the oceanfront.
Price Stability: When you are quoted a price, that price is not guaranteed until it’s paid for. If you have to take several days (or even one day) and clear things with your family, or your boss, or whomever, that price is quite likely to change. Once in a great while, the price will go down some. Much, much more likely it will go up. Several times a week we have to have that experience with people. They price a trip, call back in a day (or three or four) to book it, and it has gone up by hundreds of dollars. Believe me, it is heartbreaking for everyone.
What’s your opinion?