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I recently had a client give me his take on traveling to Nepal.
You can pass on to any of your clients interested in going to Nepal, that it is a wonderful place for the off beat traveler. The problems they had a few years ago are gone, as the Maoists now are the elected government and have the challenge of running the country. The truth is they need tourism and I was treated kindly by everyone I encountered. I spent a little over two weeks there and found it very affordable for the shoestring traveler, but also stayed at what must be the nicest hotel I’ve ever stayed at, the Hyatt Regency Kathmandu. The highlights of my trip were the many Buddhist stupas and temples, the medieval cities of Patan and Baktipur, Lumbini, the birthplace of the Buddha, the Gurkha Museum and the International Mountain Museum in Pokhara, and the views of the Himalayas from Sarangkot. I studied anthropology at the University of Georgia, so I was very interested in the traditional arts and crafts of the Newari people and spent some time looking at how they made and fired pottery without a kiln.
My family and I went to Asia last summer and what an adventure it was! We had a great time, but I wouldn’t say it was an easy trip. It took a lot of planning and research.
Our time was limited, however we wanted to see the most of the continent that we could. (This, of course, is the age-old dilemma of many travelers). That being the case, we decided to take a six day cruise, which departed from China and visited the island of Cheju (Jeju), South Korea and Fukuoka and Nagasaki in Japan and then returned to China.
About a month prior to the trip, we had to get Chinese Visa’s and elected to get them ourselves in Los Angeles, instead of hiring a service to do it for us. It isn’t hard to do, but check before going to make sure the office will be open. You can get it done in two trips and the cost is currently $130 per person. Of course, you must also have a U.S. Passport.
We elected to arrive three days early and see some of Chine before the cruise. We flew roundtrip to Beijing, the capital of China, where the last summer Olympics was held. We wanted a very cultural experience, so we opted to stay in a small courtyard hotel within a “hutong”, which is an alleyway neighborhood formed by several private residences and sometimes small hotels.
Traditional Chinese courtyard house located in ancient central Beijing
We arrived in Beijing very late at night. Due to the H1N1 scare, Chinese officials boarded our airplane to scan our temperatures before we were allowed to exit the plane. We also passed by a device which took an infra-red scan of our whole bodies as we exited to the baggage area.
I had pre-arranged to have a driver and tour guide pick us up at the airport and take us to our hotel. Our guide, Frank Wong, had asked us for the address of our hutong in advance, so that he could be sure to find it. Good thing too, because it was so hard for him to find it in the daylight, that he may not have found it at night.
The hutong was a cultural experience, alright! It was a scary looking, wet, dirt alleyway. A cat-fight broke out as we pulled our luggage along through the mud. We also passed by a group of people staying cool and playing cards in the alley, which was a sight. We laughed and were wondering what we’d gotten ourselves into.
The Chinese Hutong Residents Play a Lively Game of Cards
After a short walk, we got to the doorway of “The Sitting on the City Walls Courtyard House”, our home-away-from-home. It had good feng shui, meaning it faced south, and had a cheerful, round, red doorway, opening out into a beautiful courtyard with a koi pond in the center. The English speaking staff was up, waiting for us as we checked in. And boy, we were exhausted and ready for a good night sleep!
Our hotel had air conditioning and a Western toilet, which we found was not common in the city. Sidenote: After we checked out of the hotel, my husband revealed that he had killed a scorpion that was advancing on him in the bathroom on our second night there! My daughter and I were appreciative that he had kept it to himself, but my son was disappointed that he had missed it.
The great thing about the hutong was that it was in a perfect location to walk to the main sites such as Tiananmen Square and the Forbidden City. As we
The Chinese people loved to take photos with us.
approached Tiananmen Square, a squad of soldiers marched by. Here we found that the Chinese love to have their pictures taken with Westerners. One lady followed me around for a bit, trying to communicate and I finally realized that she wanted to have her picture taken with our family. She held her fore and middle fingers in the shape of a “v” for the photo. We actually felt a bit like celebrities.
We also walked by several community parks where many Chinese people pass the time and really do all of the things shown on the Amazing Race last season, such as writing poems in calligraphy on large pieces of parchment, dancing, practicing Tai Chi and writing Chinese symbols on the cement with a squirt bottle of water. We were really impressed that the Chinese people utilize their community parks so well, making them a part of their daily lives to stay fit, as well as to challenge their minds.
It was terribly hot that day, so after as much sightseeing as we had the energy for, we retreated back to the hutong and took a nice long nap. We woke up after dark and headed off to the night market for some dinner and more culture.
The night market area was beautifully lit. There was a lake through the middle of it and one could rent a paddle or motor boat to explore it. The motor boats were all gone and we were too tired to paddle, so we opted to walk. There were hundreds of people doing different things; dancing, hacky sack, yo-yoing, juggling and just plain enjoying the refreshing night air. We couldn’t believe how quickly a man and his assistant got a long string of small kites up in the air with hardly any wind.
I’m embarrassed to say that we ate at a McDonald’s that first night! We weren’t feeling too adventurous yet, because we were still dealing with some heavy duty jet lag. The clerk didn’t speak any English, but had an illustrated ordering card and we pointed to the items we wanted.
Remember I said that “western” toilets weren’t common? We found that out at the McDonalds. They were the traditional Chinese type, which is basically a basin sitting on the floor that one has to squat over. That was a memorable experience!
My son is really into skateboarding and elected to bring his skateboard with him on the trip. At the McDonalds he spied some kids and knew they were skateboarders, even though they didn’t have their boards with them at that moment. My son was able to communicate with them a bit and they shared a “fist bump” and hand slap, which I guess is universal. We got his board from our hotel, returned and they skated together for awhile in another small park. I had fun watching them skate, knowing they had a common, cultural-crossing bond.
The next day we were up bright and early and walked to a bakery for pastries. We didn’t know what we were ordering, so it was all a surprise. We got peanut butter and cinnamon & sugar rolls, which we enjoyed.
We headed back to the hutong to meet Frank and the driver for a full day of sight-seeing. We were amazed at the driving of the Chinese people throughout our trip. Although their highways are marked with lane lines and such, the Chinese people don’t pay much attention to them. They merge into lanes at random and warn each other when they pass with a honking horn. They don’t pay too much attention to street lights, either, so pedestrians and bicyclists better watch out!
I asked Frank what happens when there is an accident. He said even if someone gets injured, there is no sympathy. The drivers just get mad at each other for causing the accident. I never had any desire to drive in China and I wouldn’t recommend it to any of my clients.
Back to the trip. The first stop was a giant government run jade factory. It was interesting to learn what the rock looks like in it’s natural form and then watch how it is shaped and crafted into a beautiful work of art.
Of course, the object of all of this is to sell the jade jewelry. My daughter and I obliged. I highly recommend one of the high-quality jade bangles. They are gorgeous and become translucent with wear, which increases their beauty and value. The salespeople will show you how to identify high quality jade. They are a good investment, too, as they do appraise for more than what you will pay for them in China. Unfortunately for me, my hands are too wide to slip one
Love Locks at The Great Wall
of the traditional jade bangles over, so I opted for a woven, adjustable bracelet with jade decorations.
We travelled on to the Great Wall of China at JuYong Pass, about 35 miles from Beijing. What a sight! The Great Wall marches straight up the mountain, with guard towers spaced along it.
As we started our hike up the Wall, we passed a line of padlocks called “love locks”, strung on the wall. Couples inscribe their love for each other on the lock, lock it along a chain and then throw away the key…
Chairman Mao proclaimed that in order to be a real hero, one must climb the Great Wall of China. We were on our way to do just that. The hike up the Wall was grueling. The weather was very hot and humid and many people carried umbrellas. My daughter and I had Chinese fans, which definitely came in handy. The steps are not even in height or width, so you can’t get a rhythm going on your climb. Bottles of water were definitely a must, although there was a small souvenir store on the way, selling T-shirts, water and ice cream. Once we had gotten up to the top
Skateboarding the Great Wall of China
of the first large hill, we reveled in the spectacular view, despite the thick smog, inescapable in China. We were heroes!
When we got back down, my son grabbed his skateboard and commenced boarding the Wall. We waited to be stopped by the guards, but they and the other Chinese people loved watching him. We snapped some photos to commemorate the moment. What a great memory!
The Great Wall of China should be on everyone’s to-do list! It isn’t an impossible feat, even to those with mobility issues. You
Chinese fruit stand
can even be carried to the top, if necessary!
As we left the area, we passed a small fruit stand, run by a lone, sweet Chinese woman. She weighed the produce by holding an old-fashioned manual scale, with weights on one side and the produce placed on the other. Very quaint. We purchased the largest and best tasting peaches I had ever seen, as well as and macadamia nuts in the shell. She gave us a small metal tool with a prong to press into cracks in the nuts to get them open. They were delicious.
Next on the agenda for the day was a visit to The Cloisonné Factory. The first floor is the work and sales shop. The second floor is the restaurant.
Cloisonné is the ancient art of enameling patterns rimmed with copper wire on copper vessels in colorful patterns, which is made into beautiful vases, jewelry boxes, ornaments, etc. Again, we viewed a demonstration on the process of making cloisonné. The Chinese people are certainly proud of their craftsmanship and rightly so.
As an American who missed the familiar foods from home, the upstairs Chinese restaurant, American-style was most welcome. It’s gigantic and seats 3,000 diners. They served Chinese food as we know it, with lots of brightly colored vegetables sautéed with the meats. Traditional Chinese food does not have all those vegetables and the spices and cooking methods vary widely from what we are used to. Also, it was great to connect with other English speaking travelers. (By the way, there is no such thing as a fortune cookie in China).
This was a marathon day. Next, we went to the sacred Ming Tombs, burial grounds to 13 of the 16 Ming emperors and largest tomb area in the world. Beautiful Chinese girls in long white dresses and elaborate headdresses greeted us at the door, but we were told not to take their picture.. As we moved from tomb to tomb, we asked Frank why the doorways in China had thresholds that you had to climb over. He told us that the threshold kept the evil spirits out, because the Chinese people believe that evil spirits are all short.
On our way back to the city center we stopped by the National Olympic Sports Centre and saw the Bird’s Nest and Water Cube. Beijing hosted the 2008 Summer Olympics and worked very hard to clean up the air in the city and to improve road conditions, landscaping, accommodations and dining options, as well as the sport facilities.
After a long day of sightseeing, our guide thought we would love a relaxing foot massage, offered at a nearby sports facility. This turned into a high-
Travel Genie Sheila Cannon with Officers of the Costa Classica
pressure sales pitch to purchase some medicinal oil, which we did not appreciate.
The following day, it was off to the cruise! Frank picked us up in the morning in his van and we headed southeast on what was supposed to be a two hour trip to the cruise port, but in reality took about three hours. We boarded the Costa Classica, which was our first experience with Costa. I wasn’t impressed with the ship, as it was older and a bit sparse compared to other cruise ships, however we kept reminding ourselves that we were there for the itinerary.
About 95% of the passengers on the cruise ship only spoke Chinese and 5% spoke English. However, I must say that the Chinese people seemed to really enjoy the cruise ship thoroughly.
Our first stop was Jeju, South Korea. What a gorgeous island, with it’s lush, green rolling hills and interesting sights along the drive, encircling the island. It is one of the premier vacation spots in the area.
Mysterious Garlic Mounds
We hired a taxi driver to take us around the island and he was a lot of fun. We tried to learn his name, but every time we asked he shook his head and pointed to his taxi ID, which was written in Korean. He didn’t speak much
English, but he knew “take picture” and stopped whenever we said that. He tried very hard to explain when we were curious about something. As an example we saw some domed, thatched mounds along the road, elevated on blocks. Our driver parked
Roadside Squid Stand
the car and ran over and brought back what appeared to be a clove of garlic. We also passed by squid for sale, dozens of them hung on clotheslines like laundry.
We climbed up to Sangumburi Crater - the top of an extinct volcano. Over 400 species of plants and animals live inside the
Jeju Women Divers Fresh Catch
crater. We had a beautiful view of the harbor from the top. Just west of the Sangumburi Crater, the Haenyo Divers (Women Divers) fish with nets that they take out in the water. They are famous in the country, but they are dying out as there are no young women to take their place.
The most distinctive memories I have of the island were the “Stone Grandfathers” or “Dolhareubang”, which are friendly, comical
Stone Grandfathers of Jeju (Cheju)
stone figures with a domed hat with their hands resting on their bellies. Their presence is believed to protect the home and keep evil out. They can be found everywhere!
We shared a meal with our taxi driver at an authentic Korean BBQ. We sat on wooden mats and had a large selection of foods spread before us with thick pork slices grilled on a wok. There were so many new foods to try. My favorites were the pork and marinated cucumbers.
Back at the port we sadly bid farewell to our driver. I would love to go back someday. I highly recommend Jeju.
Our second port was Fukuoka, Japan. Fukuoka is a modern, cosmopolitan city, whose main offerings are shopping and restaurants. I was most impressed with the underground subway complex. This place was massive and it was like a big, high class mall, with lots of upscale shops and eateries. One could get lost there quite easily. Outside, we passed by the beautiful
Beautiful food - tempura leaf
Ohori-koen Japanese Garden and visited Maizuru Park. We went to a wonderful little sushi and tempura restaurant, selected by our taxi driver in Fukuoka. They had wonderful tempura leaves, which tasted pretty good! Their presentation was so artful. We received a Taiko Drum Farewell as we left Fukuoka, presented by an energetic young band of students.
Nagasaki, Japan was our last stop before heading back to China. An absolute must-see is the Nagasaki Peace Park. Remnants of the walls from Nagasaki Prison can still be seen. There are reflective monuments from many countries around the world,
Nagasaki Peace Park Ground Zero
donated to the people of Japan. It was interesting to note that the WWII timeline in the museum didn’t start until well after the attack on Pearl Harbor, which was not even mentioned. After visiting the Peace Park, we had just enough time for some souvenir shopping, before needing to get back on the ship.
It was very noticeable that the sky became gloomy as we approached the port in China. We could taste and feel the smoggy air. We were met by our guide and driver in the pouring rain and we were very grateful to have shelter. Some of our shipmates were not so lucky, as they attempted to find taxies to make their way to the train station.
Frank took us to a large silk factory on our way to the Beijing Airport. We learned about the lifecycle of a silkworm and got to stretch several layers of their cocoons to make a silk blanket. I purchased a beautiful, reversible black and red silk robe, embroidered with a dragon.
T.G.I. Friday’s was a welcome site for dinner and we invited Frank and the driver to join us. We stayed one more night in an upscale hotel and had a restful night’s sleep before the long flight home.
I had heard that it is supposedly very hard to communicate in China because no one speaks English. Conversely, I expected most people to speak some English in Japan. I found the opposite to be true. Beijing, especially, had English signs almost everywhere and several people spoke a little English. In Japan it was difficult to find an English speaker.
I highly recommend that you visit Asia to see its stunning sights and meet its beautiful people, but allow yourself more time than I did. It’s a huge continent and deserves at least two weeks, if not more, not including your travel time. A cruise is a great way to see a lot of it, but not exclusively, especially for seeing sights in China, such as the Great Wall.
In May, I took what’s known in the travel industry as a FAM (familiarization) trip to the Sandals Royal Bahamian Spa Resort & Offshore Island. As a vacation specialist, I take these types of trips so that I can learn first-hand about popular destinations. This way, I am able to give a personal recommendation to my clients, based on my own experience.Unfortunately, these types of trips are not free to the travel agent; however, they are an important investment like continuing education for other professionals, such as doctors or lawyers.
If you haven’t heard of Sandals Resorts before, they are fourteen Luxury Included Resorts in the Caribbean for couples only. They’ve all been created for two people in love and are devoted to making every moment perfect.Everything is included and you can leave your wallet in your room.
Each Sandals resort has its own personality.Gorgeously landscaped, the theme at Sandals Royal Bahamian is sophisticated British elegance, coupled with a laid back offshore island.As you enter the beautiful courtyard, you’ll see this plaque, which helps explain;
As you and your beloved step over the threshold of Sandals Royal Bahamian, you will join an exclusive collection of Royals who have fallen in love with the soft golden sands, the crystal-clear turquoise waters and the genuine warmth of the people of the Bahamas.
HRH (Her Royal Highness) Queen Elizabeth II Prince Philip the Duke of Edinburgh, and the Prince and Princess of Wales, Princess Margaret, Princess Anne, and the Duke and Duchess of York have all made visits to this beautiful island and spent both official and personal time enjoying its hospitality.
In fact, after famously giving up his throne to marry the love of his life, Edward the VIII took it one step further and made the country his home.
So go forth and walk the path that Monarchs, Princes and Princesses have walked before you, safe in the knowledge that you are in good company.”
Once known as the Balmoral Club, this historic resort continues to be among the most romantic on earth.
Sandals Resorts are a favorite among honeymooners.Connection to Cruise can make sure that you receive a special honeymoon greeting when you arrive and a breakfast in bed served with fresh flowers on one morning.
Have the destination wedding you’ve always dreamed of at Sandals.There’s something eternally extraordinary about exchanging vows on a sun-kissed island, caressed by the gentle breezes.Martha Stewart Weddings are now offered at all of the Sandals Resorts, enabling you to use one of six unique themes.You can opt for the complimentary “beautiful Beginnings” ceremony or select either “Vision in White”, “Seaside Serenade”, “Island Passions”, “Flutter of Romance” or “Chic & Natural”.
Sandals also offers a Renewal of Vows Ceremony, complete with a bouquet for the bride and boutonniere for the groom.I think this would be a fantastic surprise for your spouse during your stay at Sandals!
There were couples of all ages at the resort.One of the things that struck me was that everyone there seemed to really be in love.There were couples holding hands everywhere and not just the honeymooners. I think the reason for this is that couples can really relax at Sandals and focus on each other, enabling them to rekindle the romance.While I was there a couple named Pam and Bill celebrated their 25th wedding anniversary and wrote their names in the sand like teenagers.There were so many secluded spots for twosomes to cuddle up, such as the double hammocks, hidden whirlpools and the lounges by the gas fire pits.
The Sandals Royal Bahamian is located in the Bahamas on the island of New Providence in the city of Nassau.It consists of an exotic offshore island with a regal mainland resort, with lush gardens spread over fifteen acres.All of the four-hundred and three guest rooms are located within the mainland resort.
When you arrive at the airport, there is a Sandals desk right in the terminal, where the friendly receptionist will greet you warmly and ready your luggage to be taken directly to your room.You’ll exit out the doors to your left where you will meet the Majestic shuttle, and about 20 minutes later, you’ll arrive at the Sandals Royal Bahamian, where you are greeted with a refreshingly cool, scented towel.Let the pampering begin!
After checking in, you can head off to the Royal Café, where cracked conch is a specialty.I ordered that and really enjoyed it.I relaxed in the open-air restaurant and got my stay off to a wonderful start.
Speaking of dining, there are ten restaurants and nine bars on the property.You don’t have to dress up if you don’t want to, as the dress code is mostly casual; such as at the buffet, Teppanyaki restaurant, pizza place or pub.There are three restaurants that ask you gentlemen to wear long pants and collared shirts.That’s the fanciest it gets.I personally recommend Baccarat for French cuisine and The Crystal Room for an international dining experience.
There are lots of activities available to you at Sandals Royal Bahamian.You can play tennis on the lighted courts, billiards, shuffleboard, chess, volleyball and ping pong.You won’t have to pay any extra to scuba dive**, snorkel, kayak or use the aqua trikes or Hobie Cats.Their gym is very well equipped and you’ll have a beautiful 180° view of the aquamarine ocean and private island while you work out.
Some of the off-property excursions available at an additional cost are: dive with the sharks, swim with the dolphins, deep sea fishing, golfing, island ferries to out islands, sightseeing tours, visits to casinos and catamaran cruises.
For you spa enthusiasts, Sandals Red Lane Spas* are temples for mind, body and soul.These magical sanctuaries of reinvigoration offer a selection of exclusive services with a distinctive Caribbean flair.
You and your mate can escape for a few hours or the whole day to the island via kayak, launch or ferry.Enjoy swimming, snorkeling or high-energy watersports at one of the two beaches.Let yourself slip into a state of euphoria with a couples massage*, looking out into the blue Caribbean water.There is also a restaurant, Café Goombay, and a lagoon style pool with a swim-up bar.
My favorite spot in the evening was the lively piano bar.Everyone sang old and new tunes along with the talented singer/pianist.There was also a theater where live shows went on in the evening, such as comedians and Bahamian dancers.
There are nineteen different room categories at the Sandals Royal Bahamian, which can be quite confusing.I can help you select the right room for you.You can be as pampered as you wish, enjoying their exclusive Suite Concierge Services or even your own butler!If you choose a butler category, you’ll enjoy complimentary VIP Rolls Royce or Mercedes Benz airport transportation, butler service, 24-hour room service, DVD player and exclusive dining privileges at Gordon’s on the Pier.
A couple I spoke to at the resort purchased 24 ounce lobster tails from the local fisherman’s wharf and had their butler take them to the restaurant, so that the chef could prepare them for their dinner that night.Diners around their table were wide-eyed and asked if that was a special on the menu.They also could have had their butler purchase the lobster tails for them, if they wished.I asked what they enjoyed most about having the butler.They said it was having the butler reserve lounge chairs in a prime spot by the pool each morning.They had a special cell phone with which to call him whenever they needed something.
After having been to the resort myself, I can recommend which rooms have the best view of the pool, garden or ocean.I know where the hidden spots are that most guests don’t even realize are there.Do you like to be where all of the action is, or do you prefer a more relaxing atmosphere?I can tell you which room to reserve that can achieve that.As a Certified Sandals Specialist, I help my clients get the most from their Sandals Luxury IncludedÒ Vacation.Give me a call today to reserve yours!
*Spa services additional.
**If you’re not a certified diver, you can take the resort course for just $70.
Wave season sales have been very good at Carnival Cruise Lines for this summer. Because of high demand, rates will increase effective March 22 for all summer sailings in June, July and August.
Carnival President and CEO Gerry Cahill said, “We’re seeing significantly increased volume as consumers are taking advantage of the incredible value that a Carnival cruise provides. And while pricing hasn’t fully recovered to 2008 levels, we are increasing prices and will implement an across-the-board increase effective March 22.”
Price increases will vary, but will be up to 5%.
Wave season generally runs from mid-January through early spring and is commonly the busiest, most critical booking period in the cruise industry.
Why are solo travelers not cruising? Solo travelers feel they’re being penalized by cruise lines, with their “single supplement” charges, which almost doubles the price of a cruise.
NCL EPIC Studios are a solution to this problem.They are the first cruise ship staterooms specially designed and priced for solo travelers. Fares start at $799, with no single supplement.
The EPIC Studios are private and accessed by key-card and have their own exclusive Studio Lounge, where solo travelers can meet up with fellow cruisers.And, since many of the EPIC Studio staterooms connect, friends can travel together, while still enjoying their own private space.
This fantastic new cruise ship launches this July, and will be alternating seven-day sailings in the Eastern and Western Caribbean. A few of EPIC’s amazing features are: a one-of-a-kind Cirque type Dinner show, the Second City comedy troupe, Gibson’s Check-In, Rock-Out program, a sultry, adults-only beach club, a 17° Ice Bar, Blue Man Group, water slides, bowling alleys and the first ever rappelling wall at sea.
Pack part of your clothes in your companion’s suitcase and their clothes in yours. If one suitcase gets lost or delayed, you will still have some clothing to wear.
Large vacuum or Space Bags are great for packing cloths for a vacation. They allow you to compress your clothes to almost one fourth the space. And, they’re great for separating your dirty clothes during your trip.
In addition to keeping a copy of your passport with you while traveling, it’s also a great idea to scan your passport and email it to your Yahoo or Gmail account. That way, you can access your passport via email from anywhere.
If handling luggage is problematic for you, consider sending your clothes ahead to your hotel or cruise ship using UPS or FedEx. U-Haul makes a great wardrobe box, which meets UPS shipping requirements.
In addition to an outside luggage tag, place a copy of your name, phone number and destination inside your luggage. Many times outside luggage tags are torn off.
Bring an electrical power strip. It will enable you to power several electronics at once, such as hair dryer, cell phone, lap top, shaver, etc, even with limited electrical outlets.
Bring a complete list of all your medications, along with a brief medical history, and keep it with your passport. Should you become ill or injured, it may be difficult for you to relay your health history, especially to a doctor or medical technician that speaks another language.
It’s a great idea to bring a nightlight or two on your vacation. It will save stubbed toes and bruised shins, not to mention a quieter night sleep for your companion.
Pack some Stick Up air fresheners in your suitcase to use in your hotel or cruise ship bathroom and closet to keep everything smelling fresh.
Pack your heart and mind for your best trip yet. Anticipate meeting new friends and learning new things. It’ll give you a fun, positive outlook!
Posted 3 years, 9 months ago at 5:34 pm. 1 comment
The US Department of State is proposing a US Passport fee hike from $75 to $110, which is an increase of 46%. Fees are expected to increase next month, so travelers thinking about applying for or renewing a United States passport had better do so quickly, unless they don’t mind paying a whole lot more for the privilege.
Some lawmakers, such as Congressman Brian Higgins (NY), oppose this plan. I have contacted Congressman Higgins office for a comment. I am also awaiting a response from Congressman Jerry Lewis (CA) on this topic.
This rate increase is intended to help cover actual operating expenses to the government of the passports, including assistance to American citizens who are victims of crime abroad or who require evacuation during natural disasters overseas, such as the recent earthquake in Haiti. The increase amount was based on a “Cost of Service” study, completed in June 2009. The last rate increase was four years ago. U.S. Passports issued in 2009 total 13,486,085.
There is no firm date set yet as the public has been given a 30-day comment period first. That time period began on Feb. 9, 2010 and ends on March 11. The Department will not begin collecting either of these new proposed fees until it fully considers public comments and publishes a final rule. In order to view the proposed rule and to submit comments, please go to www.regulations.gov.
Princess Revives Nostalgic Cruising Tradition with New Bon Voyage Experience
Breaking New from Princess Cruise Lines:
Reviving a signature tradition from the early days of cruising, Princess Cruises is debuting an innovative, new program giving passengers the opportunity to invite their friends and family aboard their ship on embarkation day to wish them “bon voyage” and get a taste of the onboard experience.
Called the “Bon Voyage ExperienceSM,” the program is a new twist on the departure celebration of bygone days, when friends and family would routinely come aboard to see off passengers. Because of increasingly tighter security procedures, this practice disappeared more than two decades ago, but it’s now back — complete with lunch in the dining room and tour of the ship.
Unique in the cruise industry, the Bon Voyage Experience enables passengers to extend an invitation to their guests to join them onboard during sailing day for a four-course dining room lunch with wine, a ship tour and even a souvenir photo. Passengers and their guests can enjoy priority embarkation and will be able to spend approximately four hours together on the ship before it sets sail. The cost for the program is $39 per person, which can be applied toward a future Princess cruise.
The program will debut in March in the ports of Los Angeles and Fort Lauderdale, and then roll out to New York, San Francisco and Seattle.
“Long-time cruisers will recall the fun of the bon voyage send-off with their family and friends, and we’re excited to re-introduce a new, modern version of this experience,” said Jan Swartz, Princess Cruises executive vice president.
Cruise passengers will be notified about the program through the pre-cruise emails they receive from Princess as their cruise date approaches. In-port guests can be booked through a travel agent or by calling 1-800-PRINCESS, beginning 120 days before the cruise and up to six days before the sailing date. Once registered, guests will be able to input their required security information through the line’s Cruise Personalizer.
The number of guests who will be able to participate in the Bon Voyage Experience on any given embarkation day will be approximately 50.
The roll-out schedule for the launch of the Bon Voyage Experience is:
Sapphire Princess — March 6 in Los Angeles
Crown Princess — March 6 in Fort Lauderdale
Coral Princess — March 7 in Los Angeles
Emerald Princess — March 7 in Fort Lauderdale
Island Princess — March 10 in Los Angeles
Ruby Princess — March 10 in Fort Lauderdale
Golden Princess — March 14 in Los Angeles
Royal Princess — March 27 in Fort Lauderdale
Star Princess — April 10 in Fort Lauderdale
Caribbean Princess — May 18 in New York
Sea Princess — June 1 in San FranciscoDuring the Alaska season, Sapphire Princess, Golden Princess and Royal Princess will offer the program in Seattle, beginning in May.
Additional information about Princess Cruises is available through a professional travel agent or by visiting the company’s website.
Some of the benefits of this new program are that more people can be exposed to cruising and that it builds excitement about the cruise, family members can see their loved ones off or it’s a way to thank someone who has given a passenger a ride to the pier.
Okay, so this isn’t travel related, but I was so impressed by this, I thought you would love to hear about it as well. It’s like an easter egg hunt for adults……
Emerson & Farrar is a fine jewerly store in Redlands, CA, USA and I mean, fine jewelry! They’ve been voted Top 50 Designer Jewelry Retailers. They are known as the Mercedes of jewelry stores. Store owner Paul Emerson is also very community minded and dreamed up an impressive idea to give back.
I call it “Random Acts of Jewelry”. The store is leaving surprise gifts all around Redlands. These gifts are jewelry items, ranging in value from $25 to $2,500. They leave the beautifully wrapped packages in random places about the town, such as at the bank teller window for the next customer to find or a park bench.
What do these gifts look like? They’re in a gold box, with a beautiful blue bow and a large gift card. So, if you’re in Redlands, keep your eyes open. You may just find the golden egg….or, box!
Some of the lucky people who’ve already found a surprise gift have called to say how this touched them. One gentleman said he had needed to purchase a gift for his girlfriend and didn’t have a clue what to get her when he found the gift. Another man thought someone had accidentally left the gift and didn’t want to open it. He eventually did, to try to identify the owner, and was astonished to find that it was for him!
This gem (pardon my pun, but it really applies here) of a jewelry store in the heart of beautiful downtown Redlands is located at 27 East State Street and the corner of 5th Street, Redlands, CA 92373. Visit today to see their new line of bridal jewelry called Gustav, in honor of the owner’s father, as well as their amazing selection of jewelry for ladies and men.
In many cases, your visit to Alaska may be a one-time experience. You will want to see the most of it that you can. Alaska is a huge state and very spread out. Some ports of call are not easy to access by typical modes of transportation, making it difficult to see the highlights independently. If your time is limited (say you have one week), the best way to see the Alaskan coastline is by cruise.
There are basically two types of 7 night Alaska cruises:
You will see much more of Alaska on a one-way voyage than on a round trip cruise, because they sail 500 miles further north across the Gulf of Alaska. The round trip cruises usually turn around at Skagway and head back to their starting point.
Glacier viewing is the #1 reason that people visit Alaska. Often the cruise line will have a naturalist on board from the US Forest Service while you are in Glacier Bay National Park. The naturalist serves as a guide and provides information about this national jewel.
When to go:
May – great for seeing animals, because they are being born then
Late June, July & Early August – hot, avoid because of mosquitoes
Late August & September – best time to see glaciers, as ships can get closer, because the ice in the water has melted. Some bears have gone into hibernation. Later in season rain more likely.
Some Port Highlights:
Ketchikan – Alaska’s 4th largest city, 10 miles of waterfront, surrounded by the largest national forest in the US, Tongass National Forest, “Salmon Capital of the World”, historic Creek Street
Juneau – the most isolated US State Capitol, accessible only by boat or plane, Sarah Palin was Alaska’s controversial 9th Governor, Mendenhall Glacier (largest ice formation accessible by road), gold mining history and viewable by aerial tram
Skagway – northernmost point of the Inside Passage, during the Gold Rush of 1897 became Alaska’s largest city, still retains that Gold Rush era feel along the city’s historic boardwalk, scenic railroad, small, easy to walk
While on your cruise, be prepared with binoculars and a camera with a good zoom lens. You may see whales, porpoises, sea lions, seals, bald eagles, as well as many other types of bird life.
Visit totem pole collections, native villages, lumberjack shows, crab fishing, sport fishing, seaplane tours, zipline expeditions, kayaking, snorkeling (yes, snorkeling), whale watching and wildlife viewing, salmon bakes, gold panning, helicopter glacier treks, scenic railway, dog sledding, bicycle tours, rock climbing and rappelling.
If you want to see a lot of Alaska in a short amount of time and you enjoy wildlife, nature, luxurious accommodations, great service, fun activities, getting away from it all and fabulous food, I highly recommend an Alaskan cruise.
There are fewer ships this season sailing Alaska, so I recommend that you don’t wait to book your cruise. Demand is much higher this year, so if you wait, you may find that there is no space on your once-in-a-lifetime dream cruise.
Contact Sheila for Expert Advice on your Alaska Cruise