Welcome to the July 2008 issue of "Smart Traveler". The newsletter with tips and information to help make your traveling smoother.


Tips For The First Time Cruiser Part 2

Have you planned and booked your first cruise or considering a cruise? Life on board a ship is like nothing else and can be intimidating for a first-timer. Here are some tips on what to expect.
 

Cruise ships are like floating cities. They are large and complex with several levels and many public spaces. They include many facilities such as gyms, swimming pools, bowling alleys, restaurants and shopping facilities. Like visiting a new city, it can be easy to get lost.

To get your orientation, first study the map of the ship. Figure out where your cabin is located and mark it on the map. Make a mental note of large structures that will help you get your orientation if you get lost such as pools and restaurants. Wonder around the ship and discover the facilities that are available to the guests. This may encourage you to participate in activities that you wouldn’t normally get involved. Check out the various restaurants; there is usually a 24 hour buffet so you can fill your craving for food no matter what time of day. Locate the pubic restrooms and convenience stores.

There are several information desks so don’t worry if you get lost. In fact, crew members are very familiar with the ship so don’t be afraid to ask if you get lost. They’ll be happy to suggest activities and tell you how to find them.

Take a look at the cruise ship’s newsletter. It will be full of suggestions for activities while you’re on the ship. There are suggestions for activities for children and things to keep the adults occupied while the kids are at the pool.

Make a list of the things you’d like to see and do while you’re on the ship. If you like to see shows then make sure you plan for them. Arrive in plenty of time to get a good seat.

There will be a mandatory lifeboat drill. With all of the advanced technology on ships, the chances of abandoning ship are almost zero. Even though boat travel is very safe, make sure you pay attention.

Almost everything on the ship is included in the price of the cruise but a few things are not. One of the biggest expenses on the cruise is the alcohol. Make sure you know how much something costs before you order it to it.

Your first cruise will no doubt be an experience that you won’t forget. Orientate yourself with the ships facilities and activities and you’re sure to have an enjoyable holiday. 

        
The Lowdown On U S Passport Cards

The new passport card (Courtesy The Department of State)

This month the government began to produce U.S. passport cards—a cheaper, easier-to-carry alternative to traditional passports. Each passport card fits in a wallet and typically costs only $45, versus $100 for a passport. (Both are valid for a decade; prices and rules vary for citizens under 16 years old.)

Whoa, back up a sec! I've forgotten the rules for traveling in and out of the country. Give me a quick update.
Until recently, your needed a driver's license and birth certificate to return home after sea and land travel. Now you have an additional option, called a passport card. Starting . Starting June 1, 2009, you'll be required to carry a passport or passport card to return home after sea and land travel (with some exceptions).

Do passport cards work the same way as traditional passports?
No. Cheaper passport cards can only be used for land and sea travel between the U.S. and Canada, Mexico, Bermuda, and the Caribbean. For any air travel outside of the U.S., you need a traditional passport. Plus only traditional passports can be marked with cool stamps from around the world.
 
I'm confused. Why would I bother with a passport card when a traditional passport covers both land/sea travel and air travel?
Think of passport cards as similar to—though not exactly like—the EZ Pass electronic toll collection system that's popular on Northeast toll roads. Border officers can access photographs and biographical information on your passport card from 20 feet away because each card contains a radio frequency identification chip. Officers pull up your info on their electronic devices before you reach them, speeding up the process. Your traditional passport can't do that.

Hmm.... Can anyone read my passport card and learn my private info?
For people who may have concerns about privacy, "there's no danger of any personal information being transmitted from the chip on the card, because there is no information on the card," says Steve Royster, spokesman for the Bureau of Consular Affairs at the State Department. "Instead, all the chip has is an ID number that will be used to link the card to a secure government database that's accessed as someone drives toward the border." And for added security, each card comes with a protective sleeve that acts as a shield to prevent any kind of transmission.

So which should I get: a passport or a passport card?

Do you frequently cross either the Mexican or Canadian border by car? Get a passport card. It will speed your processing at the border.

Plan to fly outside of the U.S.? You need a traditional passport.

Taking a cruise? Ask your Travel Agent what identification you will need. Some cruise lines have identification requirements that are tighter than the State Department's.

What's the best option for a child? If you don't expect that your child will take an international flight in the next five years—a passport card is best. It costs $35 for kids under age 16, versus $85 for a traditional passport.
 
Is there any reason why someone might want to get a traditional passport and a passport card?
Says the spokesman, Royster, "Some people like the convenience of having a reliable ID they can walk around with in their pocket or purse." When applying for a new job, a driver's license, a marriage certificate, or conducting financial transactions, you may need to show copies of your birth certificate. Now, instead, you can carry a passport card, which is valid in all states as a way to confirm your identity and citizenship. A tip: If you apply for both at the same time or if you already have a valid passport, you can get a passport card for an additional $20.

How do I get a passport card and/or a passport?
If you don't already have a passport, you must apply in-person at a passport acceptance facility (such as a post office, library, or courthouse). To find one, search by zip code at iafdb.travel.state.gov.  To learn how to apply, visit travel.state.gov.  As a general rule, bring proof of identity and of U.S. citizenship along with two passport-ready photos.

If you already have a passport, you can apply by mail—the same way you would renew your passport. Note: Like a normal passport renewal, you'll have to send in two passport photos with the application, plus your current passport, which will be returned to you within about four weeks, regardless of when your passport card arrives.

Is it easier to get a passport card than a traditional passport?
Alas, no. The application process for the cards is the same as it is for traditional passports. With both, if you're eligible to mail in the application, you'll save the potential hassle of waiting in line at the post office or courthouse. Royster says that the cards will eventually have the same turnaround time as traditional passports (currently, about four weeks).
 
But don't expect a four-week turnaround this summer: The State Department began accepting applications, first come, first served, for the cards in February and received more than 350,000 requests. It has mailed out 7,600 cards and expects to have the rest of the preorders sent out by the end of September.

Expedited service ($60 more plus delivery fees, for a two-week turnaround), like what’s currently offered for passports, will also eventually be available for the cards, but not until production catches up.

Anything else I should know?
Travel from U.S. territories, such as Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands, doesn't require either a passport or a passport card.

   
10 Tips For Savvy Business Travelers

It only takes a few extra minutes and a little forethought to make your business trip more productive and comfortable. But unless you travel a lot, you probably haven't discovered some of the ways to improve your trips.

These ten tips will turn you into a seasoned business traveler.



* Consider alternative airports. Fly into an airport that's just outside of your destination city. Typically, you'll experience fewer delays and overbooked flights if you avoid a city's main hub.

* Charge your equipment. In airport waiting areas, check the wall space directly under the windows overlooking the tarmac and near support beams: It's often equipped with electrical outlets. You can recharge your laptop and cell phone batteries while you're waiting for your flight.

* Become a frequent flyer. Concentrate your air mileage with one carrier to earn elite status and enjoy the perks that come with it: early boarding, seat upgrades and prime positions on standby lists.

* Know where you're going. Before your trip, go on line and search for maps and driving instructions. Tuck them in your briefcase for a fast getaway.

* Choose an aisle or window seat. On an airplane, don't sit in the seat in middle of the row if you want to use your laptop — you won't have enough elbow room.

* Bring a cell phone headset. Driving in an unfamiliar city can be complicated. A cell phone headset will keep your hands free while you check in with the office.

* Test your dialup connection. Dial into your corporate network before you leave to make sure you'll be able to remotely access email and network files.

* Stay at hotels that cater to business travelers. Hotels that have fax service and rooms with Internet access make it easier to work when you're on the road.

* Make copies of your passport. For international travel, always bring two photo copies of your passport and three extra passport photos. It prevents you from turning over your passport to customs officials for photocopying and simplifies visa application.

* Carry an international driver's license. Police officers who don't speak English are far more likely to recognize this document than a state driver's license.

  
Baggage Rules!

United Airlines started it all back in March, announcing that it would charge $15 for a second checked bag on domestic flights. From there, the trend escalated — airlines’ way of managing jet fuel prices. Now some carriers charge passengers for all checked luggage, and many have raised their overweight and oversize fees. Even bags that are allowed free of charge must, in most cases, weigh 50 pounds or less, and the sum of a bag’s length, width and height must be 62 inches or less. To prevent passengers from dragging big bags into the cabin, some airlines are becoming more vigilant about carry-ons as well. Most major airlines have a "one bag and one 'personal item' " rule.

 

Below are the fees that several major carriers charge for oversize and overweight baggage, as well as new checked-bag fees and size limits for carry-ons. Note that a bag may be subject to a triple whammy of charges if it’s too large, too heavy and one too many. Maybe you don't need all those shoes

NOTE: Check with your airline before arriving at the airport. These fees can change overnight. For your convenience there is a link to each airline listed.
 
Airline  Baggage Charges Overweight Bag Oversize Bag Carry-on
AirTran First: free.
Second: $10 online,
$20 at airport.
Third: $50.
51-70 lb.: $29.
71-100 lb.: $69.
62-70 in.: $29.
71-80 in.: $69.
55 in
American First: $15.
Second: $25.
Third to fifth:
$100 each.
Sixth: $200.
51-70 lb.: $50.
71-100 lb.: $100.
63-115 in.: $150. 45 in. and 40 lb.
Continental First: free.
Second: $25.
Third: $100.
51-70 lb.: $50. 63-115 in.: $100. 51 in. and 40 lb
Delta Domestic: First: free.
Second: $25.
Third to 10th:
$80-$180 each.
International: First and
second: free. Third to 10th:
$150-$600 each
51-70 lb.: $80.
71-100 lb.: $150.
62-80 in.: $150. 45 in. and 40 lb.
JetBlue First: free.
Second: $20.
Third: $75.
51-70 lb.: $50.
71-99 lb.: $100.
63-80 in.: $75. 50 in. for Embraer
190 planes, 56 in.
for Airbus A320s.
Northwest First: $15.
Second: $25.
Third: $100.
51-70 lb.: $50. Domestic:
63-80 in.: $100.
International varies.
45 in.
Southwest First and second:
free.
Third: $25.
Fourth and additional:
$50-$110 each.
51-70 lb.: $25.
71-100 lb.: $50.
63-80 in.: $50. 50 in.
United Domestic:
First: $15.
Second: $25.
Third and additional:
$125-$250 each.
International varies
51-100 lb.: $125. 63-115 in.: $125. 45 in.
US Airways
Second: $25.
Third and additional:
$125-$250 each.
International varies
 
51-70 lb.:
$50-$150,
71-100 lb.: $100-
$200 (based on
number of bags)
62-80 in.: $100 51 in.

 


Remember: Without a travel agent you're on your own
 


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