Welcome to the January 2008 issue of "Smart Traveler". The newsletter with tips and information to help make your traveling smoother.
How to choose your cruise
There are more than 160 ships in the fleets of the 24 major cruise
lines and more than 7,500 itineraries, from Alaska to Zanzibar. So
how do you decide which one most suits your style? Follow these 10
steps to ensure smooth sailing
1. Where to go: Decide on the destination first, the ship second.
Alaskan and Caribbean cruises have long been mainstays, but cruise
lines are adding itineraries to unexpected places: Asia, the Indian
Ocean, South America.
Next, look at the specifics -- with Alaskan cruises, for example,
ships tend to follow two routes. Inside Passage itineraries run
round-trip from Seattle or Vancouver and call in southern Alaskan
ports like Juneau and Skagway; Gulf of Alaska itineraries, which
sail farther north, are typically one-way trips from Vancouver to
Whittier or Seward, or the reverse.
2. When to go: Shoulder seasons can offer bargains and may be even
more appealing than high season: a mild fall day can be more
enjoyable than baking under the August sun in the Mediterranean.
Alaska's popularity with families means that going in May and
September (when children are in school) often translates into fewer
visitors -- and better deals. Fewer people can also mean more
chances to see black bears and humpback whales up close.
3. Which line to book: Select the cruise line, and the fellow
passengers, that best match your personality. This is crucial
for the first time cruisers. It can make or break your experience.
If you aren't matched to the line, you probably won't cruise again.
Some have dress codes and assigned seating times for meals. Some,
like Carnival Cruises, are more kid-friendly. Norwegian Cruise Line
is more casual than other lines and doesn't have assigned dining
times. Royal Caribbean and Celebrity cruise offerings are more traditionally geared
toward baby boomers. Finally, lines like Crystal and Regent are more
upscale and, in turn, more expensive. A travel agent can help you
make sense of the different options.
4. What it costs: Don't look at the daily rate for a stateroom and
then simply multiply by the number of nights you'll be at sea.
Remember to factor in airfare to and from the originating port, the
costs of incidentals such as alcohol and shore excursions. A helicopter ride over the
glaciers of Alaska can be a once-in-a-lifetime experience, but it
can also add as much as $1,000 to your final bill.
5. Beat the rush: Many cruise lines give discounts for booking far
in advance. It's an issue of supply and demand. As bookings come in,
cruise fares go up in the most popular regions, like Alaska, the
Caribbean and the Mediterranean. It's never too soon to start
planning your cruise.
6. Ship tips: Size matters. The size of the ship can dictate the
itinerary. Smaller ships, like those operated by Cruise West (the
largest of which carries only 138 passengers) and SeaDream Yachts,
can dock at smaller ports and offer a more personalized experience.
They are often best suited for nature-oriented cruises to
Antarctica, the Galápagos and the Sea of Cortés. The downside:
entertainment and dining options are often more limited.
7. Cabin splurge: Consider your itinerary when deciding whether to
reserve a balcony stateroom. For a repositioning cruise across the
Atlantic, when there will be nothing to see from your balcony but
the open ocean for days, it may not matter. But on Alaskan and
Mediterranean cruises, it's all about the views. And in Alaska,
remember to book a cabin on the starboard (right) side of the ship
on a northbound cruise and on the port (left) side of the ship on
southbound itineraries so you'll have a view of the coastline.
8. Arrive early and stay on after your cruise: First, if you don't
book your flight through the cruise line, your ship won't wait if
it's delayed. As canceled and delayed flights have become
commonplace, it's wise to arrive at your starting port at least a
day before you are scheduled to set sail. Second, cruise extensions
are an increasingly popular option. You can cap off a Crystal
sailing, for example, with a safari organized by the line -- with
fewer hassles and less expenses than on a separate tour. Holland
America and Princess Cruises offer luxury railway and lodge trips
for passengers in Alaska.
9. Before you board: Don't waste time waiting in line after you've
pulled out of port. There are enough activities to make the most
adventurous cruiser happy, but popular shore excursions often sell
out. Be sure to plan your onboard activities early. Spas on ships
have a limited number of treatment rooms; book your massages and
facials in advance, if possible. Also, ask if there are discounts
for booking treatments on days in port.
10. Turn to an expert: When it comes to cruises, some professional
advice is often indispensable (and it's the main reason most cruises
are still booked through travel agents).
Passports To Cost
More Starting Friday
The price of passports will increase Friday, when a new
limited-use passport card also will make its debut, the Postal
Service announced Tuesday.
As of Friday, the cost of applying for a new passport book for
people older than 16 will increase $3, to $100. Passport books
for people younger than 16 will also increase $3, to $85.
Post offices will also begin
accepting applications Friday for the new limited-use passport
card, which can be used for land or sea travel to Canada,
Mexico, Bermuda and Caribbean countries. The card cannot be used
for air travel.
The new passport card will cost $45 for people older than 16,
and $35 for people younger than 16. The State Department will
begin issuing the new cards this spring
International Tipping Tips
Tipping is a cultural obstacle
that is unusual in that it falls into that funny
netherworld of things extremely awkward, yet
people don't often talk about it. There is
often a fear that either someone might be
offended, or that a business partner may think
they are somehow naive or feeble.
The following is a list of
appropriate gratuities in major cities around the
world, in U.S. dollars:
London: A 12.5 percent
service charge is generally included at
restaurants; 10 percent for taxis; up to $2 for
Paris: Between 5 and 10
percent at restaurants, if a service charge is not
already included; no tips for taxis; up to $2 per
bag at hotels.
Dubai: Tips are not
obligatory for restaurants or taxis; hotel porters
are $1.50 to $3.
Moscow: 10 percent at
restaurants; 5 to 10 percent for taxis; $1 per bag
for hotel porters.
Tokyo: Tips are not
With Your Wheelchair
With more and more wheelchair travelers taking
to the skies you would think that airlines would make improvements
that keep pace with the changing demographics of their passengers.
Sad to say, when it comes to handling wheelchairs and scooters, not
all airlines are taking the extra efforts to see that these vital
elements of our passengers' lives are making it to their destination
We can not recommend a favorite airline because in any given
situation any airline can be a villain or a saint to the wheelchair
traveler. Last year separate groups of clients flying on the same
airline at different times of the day. Each met connecting flights
at the same connecting airport. The first group praised the airline
for giving them the best assistance they had ever experienced.
Surprisingly, every member of the second group cursed the same
airline for their poor performance stating "they were the worst."
The bottom line of your airlines' performance depends on the airport
staff, the airline staff, and the airline crew on duty at the time
you check into the airport and board your aircraft.
Reconfirm your airline flights with your airline 24-48 hours before
any departure. Flight times and flight numbers are subject to
change. Take painstaking steps to notify your airlines that you are
traveling by wheelchair. Inform them if you are traveling with a
manual wheelchair, an electric wheelchair, or a scooter. When
reconfirming your flight, ask the airline for "maximum assistance"
at all airport terminals. Reconfirm your request for "maximum
assistance" when you arrive at the airline ticket counter.
At the airport, ask the ticket personnel to "gate check" your
wheelchair and obtain a luggage claim receipt for your wheelchair.
When you "gate check" your wheelchair it allows you to roll your
wheelchair directly to the fuselage of the plane where you will
either walk to your seat or transfer into an "aisle chair" for
assistance to your seat. Before handing your wheelchair over to the
airline staff, remove your leg supports and portable seat cushions
and carry these into the plane....these do not travel well when
attached to your wheelchair and are likely to be lost. We recommend
a small, nylon sports bag large enough to hold the leg supports that
is also light enough to fold into your carry on luggage when not in
use. This light weight sports bag keeps your leg supports in one
place and hopefully prevents them from falling out of the overhead
luggage bin onto someone's head. If your wheelchair folds, collapse
the wheelchair together and use a small strap or a piece of "duct
tape" to hold the sides together. This process makes for a compact
wheelchair that is less likely to be damaged with airport handling.
Remember: Without a travel agent you're on
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