Friday, September 4, 2015

Imagine Israel; Beyond Belief

When you think of Israel, what are the first images that pop into your mind? Most people asked will think about religion, history and archeology. Have you ever thought about nature, repelling down ancient hills, or sleeping under the stars in the desert?

Imagine landing in an ultra modern airport in one of the world’s most ancient lands. No need to fill out awkward custom papers to enter. Just hand your passport to the Custom’s agent, collect your luggage and let the fun begin. No matter where you begin, Israel is an eye-opening experience for all of the senses.

Tel Aviv is described by some of New York City on the beach. It is a modern, vibrant, cosmopolitan city with beautiful stretches of the Mediterranean beaches and marinas dotting the coast. In Tel Aviv, discover art galleries, shopping boutiques, craft bazaars and more. Then rest on the beach because the famous night life awaits you. Along the same coast, ancient cities of Caesaria and Acco will whisper stories of the past in your ears.

Jerusalem, the ‘City of Gold’, offers the most iconic of sights including the Old City where Judaism, Christianity and Islam meet. A walk through the Old City pulls you towards ancient fortresses, shopping bazaars, blending rich cultures and heritages. As you step out of the Old City from Jaffa Gate, you can pass through the modern Mamilla Mall and enter the New City of Jerusalem. There you find fine cuisines from all over the world, delicious street food and one of the oldest open markets, Machane Yehuda. Further into the city, one of the foremost art museums, The Israel Museum and Yad Vashem, memorial to the Holocaust round out your visit.

Traveling toward the desert, your eyes will meet lush date palm trees springing up from the oases. En Gedi, a nature preserve, offers a glimpse of nature and indigenous animals. Continuing on with the Dead Sea at your side discover Qumran and Masada. You might even want to refresh by floating on the Dead Sea. As you get closer to the desert, ATVs and camels are waiting to take you to Bedouin tents for your overnight experience and star gazing. In the morning rappel the ancient mountain sides then continue on the ancient paths through Timna and into Eilat, the diving capital of the Red Sea.

In the north, travel the green paths and hills of the Galilee and Golan. Ride mountain bikes through nature reserves or kayak the Jordan River. After your day of active travel, relax the next day with some leisurely sightseeing and visit one of Israel’s 227 wineries. You can also try a farm to table experience with one of the many local farmers or kibbutzism.

Israel offers so much to see and do. It is the perfect destination to visit for every age. If you have already visited, then it might be time to come back!

For more information about visiting Israel and planning your trip, call Tikva Tours; 877-499-2005 or visit their website:

Thursday, August 20, 2015

Travel For A Purpose - Voluntourism

Often times when traveling, the first things considered are rest, relaxation or discovery of a new destination. Travelers inquire about the best accommodations, places to see, activities and where to eat. An important part of travel most often missed is the people of the area and their culture.

One of the best ways to discover a new destination is through their people. Meeting the residents of the area, asking about their lives and their family history can offer a traveler the most intimate details about the area, way of life and culture. So many times were are busy with a tour guide’s information or relaxing by the beach, rarely do we leave the comfort of the scheduled vacation to truly discover the environment.

I was reminded of this earlier this week while attending a seminar for one of my resort partners, Sandals and Beaches. During the seminars were are given updates on new resorts, renovations and future planning as well as news about the islands on which the resort are located. On this evening, another element was added, one which is usually overlooked by travel consultants and travelers alike; voluntourism. I can think of few ways better to interact with people living in the destination visited.

Voluntourism can be planned many ways prior to leaving for your vacation. Most destinations have plans available. Your travel consultant can inquire for you. This becomes a very personal way for you to help those less fortunate and bond with the country you are visiting.

In the case of Sandals and Beaches, Caribbean born CEO Gordon ‘Butch’ Stewart and his family created the Sandals Foundation (a 501C registered charity). The Stewart family holds to the ethic that all employees of the company are family. Most of the ‘extended’ family is Caribbean born and the Sandals Foundation became arm to help these extended family members and their communities prosper and grow through better education, medical services and much more. When travel consultants are invited to inspect the resorts, they are asked to bring donations such as school supplies that can be distributed to the area schools children. Information is also shared about all of the volunteer programs in which guests and groups can engage in while visiting their resorts.

As a travel professional, I feel very lucky to travel the world and interact with the members of the communities I visit. Sharing my good fortune elevates that emotion and commitment to others in the world. When speaking with my travelers I, like many of my colleagues, am guilty of not recommending at least a half of a day to visit the communities, in which they are traveling, not as a tourist, but as a volunteer. What better way to get to know the true culture of a country? If they are unable to visit, then the gift of school supplies or other items on the charity list are welcome. They can be dropped at the front desk of their resort.

Groups are always encouraged to take part of this experience. Professionals from medical and educational organizations are always in need. Donations of supplies as well as hands on assistance are very welcomed. Recently the daughter of a close friend who is a pediatric/neonatal nurse traveled for one week to South America. She and her colleagues visited in 2 different clinics during their stay. For her, it was an eye-opening experience. Her love for those she helped and those she met as part of her team have created an indelible memory. She told me she is ready to do it again!

For more information about the Sandals Foundation and how you can help, please contact me. Make your travel more meaningful.

#voluntourism #meaningfultravel #travel #culturaltravel #adventuretravel #luxurytravel 

Wednesday, July 29, 2015

For All Of The Cecils

In the past few days terrible images of a beloved lion from Zimbabwe named Cecil have been making worldwide headlines. Cecil, who was part of a research project for Oxford University and wore a tracking collar, was somehow found outside his normal protected area within the national park.

The gory details of his killing by American dentist, James Walter Palmer and others in his hunting party were revealed earlier this week while the actual death of Cecil occurred July 6th. Cecil was 13 years old and left behind his pride and cubs as well as the humans who cared for him dearly.

The cost of the thrill for the kill was about $55,000.00. Dr. Palmer’s cowardly actions along with the safari leader included luring Cecil out of his protected area, shooting him with a crossbow and then after he suffered, shot with a high powered rifle. The reason Cecil was killed? It wasn’t for protection, food or due to illness. It was  merely for the ‘trophy.’ Cecil was beheaded and skinned without reason just so the dear dentist could have the bragging rights of killing an animal in the wild which posed no threat to him.

Trophy hunting is not necessarily something new. Teddy Roosevelt was an avid hunter. It is said he and his son killed 512 animals while on safaris during the early 1900’s. In 2012 Donald Trumps’ sons, Eric and Donald Trump, Jr. were photographed during a hunting safari. Trump Jr. took to Twitter to brag about killing a leopard like a spoiled child touting a new toy.

Not long ago, Ian Gibson another American hunter with a long line of kills actually became the hunted. In mid- April, Mr. Gibson was guiding a hunting group as they stalked elephants. This time, the elephant, a large male, took Mr. Gibson to task. As the ‘mighty’ hunter raised his rifle, the bull charged him and violently gored him with his massive tusks.

Other hunting events have made the news, but the item quietly disappears. This one, however, might not leave our memories so quickly. Rarely do we hear about a safari killing involving an animal with a name. Cecil had an identity, he had following, he was famous in Zimbabwe, he was loved.

Hunting animals happens worldwide, not just in South Africa. Knowing animals are hunted just for the fun and trophy is extremely disheartening. Some animals are hunted for body parts used for furniture, decoration, aphrodisiacs and ‘natural health’ aides. The animals are not killed for food and once the desired parts are taken, the carcasses are discarded like garbage.

These treasured animals are part of our world and some are now close to extinction. I can think of so many lovely travel opportunities that can be purchased for $50,000.00. The thrill of the kill is not one. About 6 months ago I spoke with a prospective client from the Utah area. She told me their family, as well as another family, wanted to travel to South Africa for a safari journey. We discussed the budget which for both families would have exceeded $50,000.00 and I silently smiled. Before the conversation ended she added one more request. As I heard her request my heart broke and my stomach began to roll. The final request, permits for their rifles. It took a minute to compose my thoughts and take a deep breath. I explained to her that I could not help with her travel and could not support her version of safari or travel. Assisting this family with their travel would make me complicit in the murder of innocent animals in their own habitat all for the glory of a trophy. No amount of money could compel me to be part of such an ugly sport.

I had the opportunity to visit South Africa as part of a US Travel Delegation. The beauty of the country and learning about the culture first hand was a wonderful experience. For me as well as most of my companions, going out in the jeeps for several safari drives in one of the national parks was the ultimate of experiences. Viewing my first male lion in the dark of night was an indescribable. It took a while before I could steady my hands to shoot, not with a rifle, but with a camera. My lion was as majestic as could be and let out a roar which shook the park. Instinct let him know we were there to just say hello and appreciate his beauty. For the next few days, I marveled at seeing these elegant creatures of the bush, in their natural habitat, while respecting their home, and their boundaries. These are images so etched in my mind, I will never forget them and hope to have another safari opportunity along with my camera.

It is my prayer that Cecil’s death will not be in vain. Hopefully his unwarranted death will serve to change the laws in Zimbabwe and other destinations where hunters’ willfully kill for the thrill.

Thursday, July 23, 2015

Overwater Bungalows In Riviera Maya, Mexico

So you thought to have the ultimate bungalow experience you had to travel to Bora Bora. Overwater bungalows are now featured at Secrets Silversands Resort in Riviera Maya, Mexico.

These private bungalows feature private plunge pools, stairs to your pool canal, preferred amenities and more. How perfect for a romantic getaway set in an all-inclusive, all-adult resort! 

For more information, please call Adrienne, The Travel Specialist, 800-501-8519, ext 65!

Friday, January 31, 2014

Bon Voyage, Safe Sailing

The recent news about illness regarding the Royal Caribbean Explorer of the Seas and Princess' Caribbean Princess has raised questions with some travelers. The main question seems to be, 'is cruising safe?' The answer in short is yes!

First, consider the population of passengers and crew onboard.  Some of the larger ship populations are the size of small cities, in some cases, larger than some towns. Unlike being at home after a day at the mall or at a major event, this population is in constant close contact with one and another. Virus, cold and flu germs are unknowingly being carried into public spaces, especially during the winter. No matter how clean your home, workplace or school, someone in the family is bound to pick up a bug and bring it home. A cruise ship, airline or vacation resort is no different. 

So many times when one flies long distances, 3 days later that crummy cold feeling arises. We tend to over look that and chalk it up to jet lag. Likewise when traveling to a foreign destination getting a stomach bug is blamed as food poisoning, but may well be a virus contracted before or during travel. 

Since the first outbreaks of what was once named the Norwalk Virus around  2002, new cleaning protocols have prevented entire ships from becoming ill. Also the outbreaks of Norovirus have greatly lessened. According to the CDC, since cruise ships adopted the Vessel Sanitation Program, shipboard illnesses have waned. This program calls for ships to be inspected at least twice yearly and they can also be inspected without prior notice. If they do not pass inspection they have between four to six weeks to meet the standards. 

I spoke recently with one of my clients who cruised on a ship when a virus was detected. He was so pleased to tell me how well the crew dealt with the salutation and curbed the spread of the disease. He mentioned sanitation stations where hand sanitizer was readily available, constant cleaning of the ship and food being handled by staff wearing gloves and other protective garments. No passenger was permitted to serve themselves at the buffets. 

Royal Caribbean International deserves high marks for the action they took to guard the well being of their passengers and crew. The Explorer of the Seas has a capacity (guests and crew) of 3840. Of that, 700 people, twenty percent, had taken ill to varying degrees on the ship. According to exit reports from passengers, they found Royal Caribbean did all they could to keep the population of ill guests and crew quarantined from the well population. Additionally, most said they would cruise again and were happy with the compensation from the cruise line due to the shortened itinerary.

According to CLIA, Cruise Lines International Association, 21.3 million people cruised worldwide in 2013. The CDC reported 7 Norovirus events in the same year affecting 1,238 people. This is less than one percent of the cruise population. Additionally they reported the CDC tracked about 20 million cases of the same virus on land in the US during a one year period. 

Of course no one likes to become ill when traveling. There are precautions you can take if you are concerned about being exposed. Be sure to stock up on your vitamins.You may also want to bring a few items from home to curb side effects from the virus. Ginger products work well to settle one's stomach along with other over-the-counter remedies. Always speak to your doctor first.

If you are curious about the grade the ships have before planning your next cruise, check with the CDC's Green Sheet Report. This document will reveal the name of the ship, date inspected and their score. Any ship scoring under 85 be cleaned again and inspected within 6 weeks. 

So, pack your bags and head for the pier. Bon Voyage

Saturday, January 4, 2014

Pre and Post Storm Travel

Travel is a way of life, whether pleasure or business. Unfortunately Mother Nature doesn't always cooperate with our plans.

Some plans are easier to change than others. The days before, during and after a major storm can really test your patience and the strength of your planning. You most likely sit hours by the computer/smart phone looking at your weather app, listening to the radio or watching breaking weather announcements on television. You wonder, "will I be able to travel and what if I can't?"

Sometimes weather interruptions are only regional and will have no effect on your plans. However, if your flight originates or ends in an airport or region having weather issues, your plans may be delayed or canceled. Many of the airlines will now send you a text message if your flight is impacted. Be sure your airline has your mobile number when you make your reservation for this service.

If cancellations are announced by your air carrier, you will be permitted to cancel your flights or change your dates of travel without penalty. If you must travel, the changes to a new flight can be a bit tough to reset, but let your travel agent help you with that. Your agent can view all of the new open flights very quickly through their computer system which has direct access to the airline inventory. If you have planned your travel on your own, you may be able to reschedule your flights via the airline's website. The airlines will work to help you the best they can, but keep in mind, many others have been bumped from flights and there is a finite amount of seats on every flight for each scheduled route.  Also, storm interruptions are considered force majeure, an event or situation out of reasonable control. Put simply, the airlines are not responsible for subsidizing meals or accommodations if you are stuck at the airport away from home. Do not expect them to help you with anything other than rescheduling your flight.

Days directly before and after a major storm can become a nightmare at the airport. Passengers with a reservation on a flight which is expected to be canceled may change their plans to leave a day or two prior to the storm or days immediately after the storm. The airports are going to be serving a high volume of travelers. Lines will be long! Be properly prepared. If you are able to effect an online check-in with your carrier, this will get you into the baggage check line faster, even if you cannot print out the boarding pass. The lines for TSA security checks will also be longer. Have your passport and boarding pass out before you reach the security check point. Don't waste time looking for everything as you are called to be checked. Instead of getting to the airport  2 - 2-1/2 hours prior to your flight, add a half hour. If you get through the lines quickly, sit back, relax with a beverage and a good book. You may want to have some extra items with you in your carry-on to get you through a long wait like toothpaste/toothbrush, contact lens solution if you wear lenses, extra dose of medicines you need and even a change of clothes.

Another scenario, you have a connecting flight from your international destination to your home/gateway airport. You can leave the destination to your first connecting airport, but not to your home airport immediately. If you can find a hotel near the first domestic airport the best option is to leave your destination on your scheduled flight. Your chances of getting home sooner rather than later are greatly increased since you will have more flight options to reach your home airport. 

Most hotels will relax their cancellation policies and penalties if you are unable to arrive on time. They may have travelers also stuck at their hotel who need to remain in their rooms if they are in a region affected by the weather. When traveling outside the affected region, the hotel still may assess a small penalty since they held the reservation in good faith for you and did not open that room to another guest. Just remember to advise the hotel of your situation.  If you are prevented from leaving a destination, the hotel will more often that not try to offer the room you are in at the same nightly rate. If they cannot keep the room open for you, their staff will usually help relocate you nearby or close to the airport. Again, in a situation like this, contact your travel agent. They will also be able to help you either keep your reservation at your hotel or help you with making new arrangements.

One international resort with which I work closely often releases a storm statement. They reassure their guests detained at in the destination continued services at a greatly reduced rate until they can depart on their flight. They also offer guests expected to arrive, but cannot, the ability to reschedule their vacation within the same calendar year without penalty. Unfortunately there are resorts/hotels which do not follow suit or will charge a small penalty for cancellation. Always check the cancellation policies ahead of time.

Cruise lines are a bit more difficult. Since cruises depart on an unyielding schedule, the cancellation policies are much stricter. Unless the cruise line needs to cancel the entire cruise due to weather conditions at sea, your weather woes will not change their penalty policies. However, many cruise lines will see you get to the next closest port if your cruise sails without you if you have made your air reservations through the cruise line. This will depend upon the cruise line, conditions for delay and cruise ports on itinerary.

The best way to be sure you keep your money in your pocket while traveling is protecting yourself with a good travel insurance policy. Read the policy carefully though. In cases, such as the cruise lines, the policies may not refund your money in full. You might only get a partial refund or a credit for another cruise if you purchase the cruise line policy. Your airfare might not even be addressed at all.

When purchasing a travel insurance policy, it is highly recommended to buy an independent travel policy. Be sure to read the coverages. Many will also help you recover funds for travel delays as well as cancellation. Keep all of your receipts for expenses incurred during your delay if you plan on making a claim to your insurance company. You will also need proof of cancellation or delay from the airline.  Consider the travel insurance as part of your travel investment. We never expect bad things to happen like blizzards, hurricanes or bellowing volcanoes to put a wrench in our plans, but weather phenomena rears it's ugly head when we least expect.

Most importantly, when storm delays happen, please, bring your patience with you. Everyone is experiencing the same delay as you. They may be going on vacation, visiting a sick loved one or closing an important business deal. The staff trying to help you is usually doing all they can. With the overflow of people staff  will be overwhelmed too. They can't open the airports, clean the runways, or fly the plane. The nicer you are to them, the nicer they will be to you. Just smile and let them know you know they are trying to help. 

Hopefully you will never experience a long weather or emergency delay. If you do,please try to stay calm. It will make the inconvenience a little easier to bear for you and all around you. 

Thursday, December 26, 2013

Happiness of a Travel Specialist

It is often said, if you are happy with your profession, you chose wisely. Funny thing is, the travel profession chose me. Some would say it was kismet, fate. 

There are strange perceptions about the travel industry and being a travel consultant. Mostly I hear how lucky I am that I get to travel all over for free anytime I want. Well, not exactly true. Yes, there are invitations to travel for learning experiences, but sadly they are not free. However it gives me the ability to share the experiences with my clients. 

The other day while in NY at the USA Today office for interviews, a colleague and I were talking about the good, bad and ugly of our profession. We both agreed the good far outweighed the other to options for us. This profession gives us the opportunity to share our love for travel and open the world to others who want the happiness travel provides. 
From USA Today NY Midtown Office

One of the best parts of this business is sharing knowledge of wonderful destinations, cultures, history, people and more. I get excited with each new request, no matter the request. It could be a short beach style vacation or an extended journey to the ends of the earth. Just knowing, in the end, my clients will have the travel experience they want is my satisfaction. 

Mostly, it is the thank you at the end of the journey or the picture sent during the vacation that says it all. When I see the smiling faces or a beautiful view taken during an excursion, it is confirmation of a job well done and a promise kept to my clients. Very few professionals get to have that type of satisfaction from their work.
View from Pucon, Chile

Of course as a travel consultant, bad days do happen. Airlines are delayed or cruises canceled because of weather. There is a rush to try to make other arrangements to 'save the day.' Sometimes changes are possible, but sometimes Mother Nature gets her way. 

One such story happened this week. I received a call from a friend who is a concierge at the Hudson Hotel in New York. He explained they had a lovely couple from Australia as guests. Unfortunately due to a situation in the Galapagos, their trip was canceled. They did not want to stay an extra 8 days in New York, but wanted a warm Caribbean beach vacation where they could dive as well. Oh, did I mention this was December 23rd and they wanted to travel December 27th? 

The search began! Trying to coordinate a new flight out of the NY area and an available resort, still affordable, a real challenge. Not to mention, getting them back in time to Miami for their next flight the following week.  I could not let this couple down. By the end of the day a room at a luxury adults only hotel was cleared from the waitlist and one of the last available flights out of New York was secured. They are all set to go. A few extra hours after 'office hours' were needed to get everything set, but in the end, it is the result that counts. Yara and Justin are very happy and their photo they sent last night, says it all. 
Travel Happiness - Yara and Justin

To my past and current clients, I want to say thank you for your business and all of the thanks and pictures over the year. On to next year with more wonderful journeys to plan and more pictures to come.