Welcome to the May 2007 issue of "Smart Traveler". The newsletter with tips and information to help make your traveling smoother.


Overseas Calls On The Cheap

Even if your cell plan allows free domestic roaming, you're probably paying through the nose when you're phoning home from foreign destinations. And let's face it: E-mail isn't quite the same -- especially if you're keeping pace with a student spending a semester abroad.

 

A free alternative: install Skype on your portable computer.

Here's what you need to have and do:

 

 

• Laptop: Take yours along.

 

• Download the free program from www.skype.com. This software, which began in Europe but was recently acquired by eBay, claims a staggering 170 million users and allows you to use a computer's microphone and speakers to chat, as if by telephone, with anyone else who has Skype running on their own computer -- for free. You can also use Skype to talk to regular non-Skype phone numbers for about 2.1 cents a minute; that's accomplished by loading your Skype account with a few dollars via the Skype website. Your account is debited each time you call a regular phone, but again, if you use Skype to call other Skype users, calls are free.

 

• High-speed Internet access: Be sure your hotel has it. While high-end hotels still charge heavily for daily Web access ($20 for 24 hours is normal), many moderately priced hotel chains throw in free Web access. Check before you book your hotel.

 

• Headset (optional): Communicating through the average laptop's speakers and microphone can be a little awkward, so some people prefer to travel with a small headset that plugs into the computer's USB port. These units start at about $10 and are available at Radio Shack, Best Buy and pretty much anywhere computer accessories are sold.

 

Skype's not perfect. Sometimes calls are dropped, and depending on how fast your connection is, you might experience a short lag time in your conversation. But much of the time, it's far clearer than a traditional telephone call, and the person you talk to sounds like they're in the room with you.

     
Disney World Bans Smoking

Smoking will be banned as of June 1 at all 22 Disney World hotels and time-share resorts in Florida.

The ban permits smoking at designated outdoor areas. The transition to become smoke-free will allow Disney to better accommodate the increasing number of guests requesting nonsmoking hotel rooms, the theme park's spokesman Jacob DiPietre said.

The ban follows a 2000 measure that restricted smoking throughout Disney's theme and water parks, limiting smoking to designated areas.

"We're focused on responding to what our guests are asking for and our guests are overwhelmingly asking for smoke-free rooms The number of guests requesting smoking rooms has declined dramatically in recent years."

DiPietre could not provide figures tracking the decline, but said it has been "significant."

Less than 4 percent of Disney's more than 24,000 hotel rooms are currently smoking optional.

Guests caught smoking after the ban could face cleaning surcharges as high as $500, DiPietre said.



Seating Advice For Frequent Fliers

Good luck trying to open your laptop to prepare for a meeting while wedged into a middle seat near the engine in economy class or on the aisle by the restrooms.

 

SeatGuru.com provides seating maps and aircraft information for 29 airlines, with comments and observations from users about specific seats and charts that allow travelers to compare seating options across multiple airlines.

 

Armed with this information and some simple strategies, you should be able to fly to your next business meeting with ease.

Act quickly

Make your seat selection when you book, as far in advance as possible.

Business travelers don't have as much flexibility as leisure travelers for planning, but choosing a seat as soon as you book is the best way to assure a comfortable flight.

Check in online

Checking in online is a good idea for last-minute seat selection. It saves travelers the trouble of arriving very early to get some of the choice seats that open up just before the flight.

 

Most carriers will allow you to select the exit rows or the bulkheads. Those seats become available on the day of travel or via the 24 hours in advance when you're allowed to check in online.

Suit yourself

The height of comfort and convenience for one traveler will make another frequent flier squirm. SeatGuru.com provides specifics on seat width and available legroom and color codes seats that might present problems for some travelers, as well as seats that are considered poor across the board.

 

Seats near the lavatories generally receive poor reviews f users, but some fliers like the easy access. Nine out of 10 people say I don't like sitting next to the bathroom, out one out of 10 says, hey, that's great. That's my favorite seat.

 

The flat seats some carriers offer in first and business classes also receive mixed reviews. Often the flat seats are positioned at a slight angle, making it difficult to get and stay situated. Consider your own requirements for comfort and select a seat accordingly.

Ask away

Inquiring with a gate agent may yield some extra space.  You might be able to do that before you get on the plane and get your own row because it's an empty flight.

These days it's not happening quite as often because the airlines are filling planes better than ever before, but it's still worth a try.

 

Traveling companions may also want to try reserving a window and an aisle seat in the same row in hopes of keeping the middle seat empty. That strategy has limited success, but when it does work you're happy to have that extra seat between you to stretch out or put something in that seat.

Stay loyal for best perks

If you're flying with frequency it does make sense to try to pick an airline and stick with it. It will pay off in getting better seats both in economy and also potentially getting upgrades

 
Caribbean's Off-Season Rates Worth Risk Of Hurricane

Hurricane season, even if no hurricanes cross your path, can be problematic. Most hurricane-related travel issues hinge on the definition of ''bad weather,'' which ranges from inclement to catastrophic with all the gray in between.

Suppose you see a hurricane on the weather map heading in the direction of your island, so you cancel air and hotel reservations, and the hurricane goes elsewhere. Picture yourself calling the hotel and trying to get a refund because of the hurricane, when 100 hotel guests are on the beach at that very minute soaking up the sun.

No, you're not getting your money back, and you might not get your money back even if the hotel was blown away. The locally owned resort may decide it doesn't have to give refunds for acts of God, and, in fact, may not have any money to give after a disaster.

If the flights, or cruise, left as planned, there will be no refunds either.
But it's also true that hurricane season lasts from June 1 through Nov. 30, half a year -- a big chunk of premium snorkeling and beach time not to go to the Caribbean.

Here are some tips for avoiding stormy weather with your money still in your pocket:

• Book your vacation with a resort that has a hurricane guarantee like Sandals and Beaches All-Inclusive Resorts.  In the unlikely event that hurricane force winds hit a Sandals or Beaches resorts while you are a guest, Sandals or Beaches Resorts will offer a free replacement vacation to be taken at any Sandals or Beaches Resort of your choice. This replacement stay will be for the same duration as the one originally booked, regardless of how many days were affected by the hurricane. The replacement stay will be in an equivalent room category to the one originally booked.

• Use a travel agent for cruises, flights and hotels. You will have someone working on your behalf, and they can often arrange what you can't. They can offer immediate assistance and help with alternatives. It will not cost you more to use a travel agent because the resort pays the agent, not you.

• Use a credit card. In theory, you can't be charged for something you don't receive, such as a hotel room. But this, too, can be tricky when you're trying to get a refund on your non-refundable deposit because you say a hurricane was coming but the hotel said the weather was beautiful. At least, though, you have the credit card company to speak for you.

• Buy travel insurance. Insurance offers some peace of mind, but read the fine print, before you buy. Travel agents can suggest a variety of companies such as Access America, HTH Worldwide, Travelex Insurance Services, TravelGuard and CSA Travel Protection. At www.TravelInsuranceCenter.com and www.totaltravelinsurance.com, you can compare policies online and examine the fine print to make sure your vacation will be covered.

Bottom line: Your chances of running into a hurricane in the Caribbean or the U.S. East Coast are very small. Keep an eye on the weather map, and any storms brewing off Africa's west coast, and then relax and enjoy the trip.


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


To sign-up for our twice monthly "specials" newsletter for Cruises, Tours and Vacation Packages, click here. (You may unsubscribe at any time)

 

Click Here to unsubscribe