Archive for 2008

Wanderlust Blog

Here at Amazing Journeys, we’re lucky have the best jobs in the world—and we think our good fortune is worth sharing. So, when your next journey seems like a distant dream, take a few minutes to explore our WANDERLUST blog—it’s chock full of engaging tales and helpful tips from our travels around the world. Check out the most recent entry (at the top) or search by your preferred criteria. Consider it motivation for your next embarkation.

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Goin’ to a Land Down Under

Monday, December 15th, 2008

To bring in the New Year, Amazing Journeys is headed to Australia and New Zealand in just a few days. Hanukkah “down under” will be in the offing too! Fifty two excited travelers from 16 US states and 6 countries around the world will embark the Celebrity Millenium in Auckland, New Zealand on Sunday for what is going to be a truly amazing journey to some of the most exciting landscape and funloving cultures in the world. We have a lot planned for our group, including jet boating in New Zealand, kangaroo & koala safari in the Australian savannah, a tour of the Sydney Opera House and snorkeling in The Great Barrier Reef. There’s so much to see and do; this wondrous land is hard to describe in words alone.

And then…we get to celebrate New Year’s on a cruise ship and that is really something special!

 

As we bid adieu to America for a while, from our family & friends to yours….Happy Hanukkah…and a Happy Healthy Prosperous New Year!
G’day Mate!

Can America Afford to Vacation This Year?

Wednesday, December 10th, 2008

Terry Dale, President and CEO of the Cruise Lines International Association (CLIA) has some poignant thoughts on this topic and I thought it’d be prudent to share them here. He states that Yes! Americans will continue to travel because for most people, leisure travel is considered less a discretionary expense and more of an expected lifestyle cost. There’s not doubt, however, that maximum value counts…and one of the best value-added vacation opportunities is definitely cruising.

 
There are many reasons why cruising offers outstanding value across all price categories. First and foremost is Inclusive Pricing–accommodations, meals, entertainment, use of most of the ship’s facilities, transportation from destination to destination and at times, complimentary wines and spirits means the consumer is already off to a great start in realizing value for money spent. Imagine having to pay your way for each of these vacation components, especially doing so in a country like the UK or anywhere in Europe where the dollar is weak. Cruising in these parts of the world are sold in US dollars, so even though you are touring and eating in foreign countries your dollar goes a lot further.
 
But, there’s more! The variety of cruises available–in every possible price category, length, size and type of ship–means consumers can easily pick a vacation at sea that matches their budget. And, with cruises sailing from more than 30 domestic ports, travelers can pick a cruise to drive to and save the cost of ever increasingly expensive airfare.
 
Its also worth mentioning that the price of your cruise is determined by the choice of accommodation you choose. Its so easy for vacationers to save by booking a less expensive (but still luxurious) accommodation and still take advantage of everything else the ship has to offer. Which is the same “everything” that those in the expensive suites receive too.
 
Finally, although you may not see it in the up front selling price, group travel is really the truest of bargains. While the price may look higher as compared to an advertised cruise price, group travel often incorporates most of the “plus plus” fees that individuals will pay along the way anyway (like onboard gratuities, taxes, government fees), and the customization of special events, private tours, hospitality, gifts, travel planning and VIP treatments makes the overall cruise price even a better value than an individual booking on a cruise.
 
Obviously, these are somewhat uncertain times economically, but the cruise industry, because of this very strong value message, is not only optimistic but thriving.

Amazing Journeys Party In DC

Sunday, December 7th, 2008

This past Thursday, over 150 local Jewish singles attended our AJ party at The Barking Dog in Bethesda..and oh, what a night! Bill, Malori and Michele were honored by the showing of old friends and the attendance of new folks who came to learn more about the opportunities of travel with our group. Thank you to all who came to visit us (as well as each other) and to to those of you who brought friends to meet us to discover the wonders of taking an Amazing Journey.

Several folks signed up for trips on the spot and many more asked lots of questions and gathered up lots of information to peruse. Some just came forthefunofit; a chance to “reunionize” with old friends and meet a few new ones.

Our parties are getting famous; we’ve now hosted AJ-sponsored parties in New York (three times), South Florida and DC as well as hosting presentations in Dallas, San Diego and Toronto. Coming up later this spring, we’ll be in Rockland County, NY for a presentation….and under consideration are a number of other cities for our next party.

We want to come see you, and host another Amazing Party. Where should we head next: Atlanta? Chicago? Boston? Los Angeles? These are the front runners, but we’re going to take a poll on this blog and see where we receive the strongest response. Please post your vote..and one lucky city will become the next hotspot for our next Amazing Journeys party.

The Leading Edge….

Tuesday, December 2nd, 2008

 

When I was a college student I worked on my campus radio station, WOSR at Ohio State. The call letters for the station, WOSR, was also an acronym for the “Other Side of Rock”–followed by the tagline “the leading edge of progressive audio”.

What does any of this have to do with travel? I think of the worlds “the leading edge…” every time I read an ad, see a commercial, or step aboard a Royal Caribbean cruise ship. If you’ve been on a new Royal Caribbean cruise ship recently, you know what I mean. If you haven’t…you should. Royal Caribbean has been the leaders of passenger cruise ship innovation since the mid 90s. They have had a steady flow of new and different vessels on the assembly line since the boon of the cruise industry even earlier that decade…and have not stopped reinventing themselves (and the industry) ever since.

Their ever-changing fleet now boasts the some or all of the following in many of their vessels–all unique to the company and all for the taking and enjoyment of you, the passenger:
*FlowRider-Body Surfing facility * Cantilevered whirlpools * Rock-climbing wall * Ice-skating rink * Royal Promenade; literally, a city block down the heart of the ship over a football field long, with shops and restaurants and cafes * Full-size, flat-screen TVs in every stateroom * Full-size Everlast boxing ring * Full-size sports court * 9-hole miniature golf course * Johnny Rockets ’50s-style restaurant * Ben & Jerry’s ice cream
….to name a few.

Royal Caribbean keeps building newer and bigger ships and for many years have been able to boast having the “newest” or the “largest” passenger luxury ship ever built. Check out a little about their ships at http://www.royalcaribbean.com/.

Amazing Journeys patronizes Royal Caribbean (and their sister company Celebrity Cruises) for many reasons, but one very important one is their ability to lead the pack in the cruising industry. We have two cruises currently planned on Royal Caribbean (and two more planned on Celebrity) in 2009…most notably our 17th annual Winter Caribbean Cruise on what is truly “the newest and largest…and most innovative” cruise ship ever built; Independence of the Seas. Why not join us from February 1-7?

Simple Reminders About Your Passport

Tuesday, November 25th, 2008

Before your next trip, be sure to check when your passport will expire. Most countries require a validity date of 6 months beyond your last date of travel (this is to discourage you from remaining beyond the legal allowable visit…or yes, the possibility that you could defect). You will also want to make sure that you have several blank pages to allow for visas and additional entry/exit stamps. It only takes about a week to send your passport away for insertion of additional pages.
When traveling with friends/family, be sure (be VERY VERY SURE!) to actually look at your passport when you take it out of the safe of your hotel room or ship’s stateroom….and make sure you are putting your own passport into your possession. If you and your traveling companions should happen to separate when going through the customs/immigration lines, imagine your embarassment (and subsequent inconvenience) of showing the wrong passport. Worse yet, imagine the horror of discovering such a mistake when your travel partners are still hanging out at The Parthenon, the Great Barrier Reef, or at the Great Wall while you are headed home…only to discover an hour before your flight that you grabbed the wrong passport. It sounds like a simple mistake, but take it from one tour leader who has experienced this disaster on more than one occasion with his travelers; the ramifications of such a minor whoops can be rather discomforting.
And finally, while your passport can survive round the world travels…it has its limitations at home. Be sure to store it in a safe & secure place, but in a place where you’ll remember to bring it along. Never pack it with the luggage you’re going to check; rather keep it as secure on your person as your cash and credit cards. And contrary to this tour leader’s absent-mindedness….a clean passport isn’t necessarily a worthy passport. The back pocket of one’s jeans is not a good place to store the passport after clearing customs upon returning home….because forgetting to check one’s pockets before laundering said jeans can make for a damp and frayed travel document that, thank goodness, wasn’t quite ruined. This time.

How to Avoid Travel Scams

Friday, November 21st, 2008

Wanderers of all types are susceptible to stings and swindles as anyone else. This tour leader was once scammed out of 50 euros by a streetwise sidewalk entertainer. Silly me, thinking I could find the pebble under the slow moving rotation of cups. When I discovered that the missing link wasn’t my own stupidity but rather the trick of a magician, I screamed bloody loud…only to have the “entertainer” pack up and ship out into the crowd faster than a bee into the swarm.

The ubiquity of instant communication has made it easier for con artists and dubious travel agents to prey upon those of us who like to move around. The California Department of Justice recently announced the arrest of an Orange County travel agent for allegedly ripping off dozens of senior citizens who wanted to travel to Cuba for religious and cultural purposes. The scam targeted Jewish and Greek Orthodox seniors trying to congregate with people of their own faith on the Caribbean island. After the 34 victims forked out five-figure deposits he announced their trips were being blocked by the Treasury Department and refused to refund their money.

Selling counterfeit merchandise is another huge travel scam, especially for anyone visiting Asia, the source of so many bogus goods. There was a day in the not-too-distant past when a fake Rolex was the height of Third World travel chic. But nowadays the knockoffs can be downright deadly. Sunglasses, handbags, DVDs—every product in every industry is liable to be knocked off these days. If your product isn’t being counterfeited, then you probably have a brand that isn’t worth much. Nobody’s going to get killed by a counterfeit handbag, but consumers are at risk of buying counterfeit products that pose a real danger such as bogus electronics with faulty wiring or potentially hazardous batteries, knockoff pharmaceuticals (its obvious what danger this possesses) , as well as shampoo and perfumes that contain harmful amounts of bacteria.

There are also all kinds of money scams, from hotels that charge exorbitant commissions to change currency to money changers passing you bills or coins that are no longer in circulation. Obviously, its best to change in kiosks and banks.

Another scam is the hotel that isn’t quite what it advertised—and sometimes nowhere close. Its so easy to get lazy in your booking process and not ‘read between the lines’ or ask the right questions…ending up booking rooms at beach hotels that were nowhere near the beach and airport hotels that were miles away from the terminals. The best advice is to do your research. The more educated you are about a given hotel, the better off you’re going to be.

And finally, despite the phenomenal growth of airport security over the last several years, getting scammed at the TSA checkpoint is still a distinct possibility. Often it’s just a crime of opportunity—somebody who decides on the spur of the moment to snatch your iPod or cellphone from one of those ubiquitous plastic bins. But there are thieves, working solo or in tandem, who make a living off airports. They stand behind you in the TSA line and snatch items from your carry-on as you’re passing through the metal detector. Or, they may be in front—one member of the team takes forever passing through the scanner while his or her partner walks away with your laptop that’s already gone through the X-ray machine.
The best suggestion keep from getting ripped off at airports is to keep an eye on your handbags and carry-ons at all times. Don’t go through the metal detector before your bag does. If you require secondary screening, always ask a TSA agent to get your bag from the belt and bring it with you to the screening area. Be vigilant and avoid distraction. And before you leave the TSA screening area, always double-check that your valuables are in place.

In the end, the best piece of advice is to USE A TRAVEL PROFESSIONAL to help you in your planning. They are your best resource to ensuring that you get what you paid for and a safety net for those particulars that may be unfamiliar to you. You go to a CPA to get your taxes done….a repair man to get your car fixed and a plumber to fix your pipes. Being a trained professional in that area, a trustworthy travel pro is just as important to your sanity on vacation as a warm blanket can be on a cold winter’s night.

Home Sweet Home

Tuesday, November 18th, 2008

At the end of an Amazing Journey, we often say “the easiest way to say goodbye, is to make plans to see each other again”. Having just returned home from China with 52 exhausted but exhilarated passengers from across 13 US states and four countries, the feeling of being home again is bittersweet. There’s nothing like the comfort of home, but the excitement and adventure of visiting a land most people only dream of visiting is a phenomenon that just can’t be ignored.

To walk on The Great Wall….to view the Terra Cotta Warriors….to order food in an authentic Chinese restaurant…to enjoy the more-common-than-you-think ritual of a foot massage….to tour the ancient yet mezmorizing Jewish ghetto of Shanghai…to ride a rickshaw through the “Hutongs” community…..and to just wander and see for oneself what an odd but fascinating place China truly is, is well, truly fascinating.

If you’re a traveler and have seen places outside the good ol’ USA…good for you. If you’ve dreamed of visiting a far away land–whether it be Europe or Australia, Peru or Japan, or maybe just the Caribbean or Alaska–you need to get out there and do it. Life’s just too short. The world is waiting for you to explore and Amazing Journeys is proud to be your source to do so.

And so, as the China group relishes the memories and experiences gone by…we hope that for those who have traveled with us recently (to Alaska, South America, Egypt & Greece, the Galapagos Islands and many more), “we make plans to see each other again”. And for those who have yet to make such a plan, we share with you one of our favorite quotes: “Its not just about where your dreams take you, its where you take your dreams.” Add to that the Amazing Journeys tagline: “Vacations that can change your life”, and you have a recipe that can fill your life with new experiences, new appreciations and especially new & wonderful friends.

Home Sweet Home, indeed…but the world is a beautiful place to visit. Let us show you how.

An Olympic Sized Amazing Journey

Thursday, October 30th, 2008

Amazing Journeys heads off to China this weekend; Bill, Malori and a group of 52 strong from all over North America (and the world!). All those great sights you saw on television during the Olympics will be seen by us, including The Great Wall, The Forbidden City, Tianamen Square, The Terra Cotta Warriors, the emperor’s Summer Palace, event Nanjing Road and a foot massage (there are foot massage facilities located throughout China like Starbucks is located throughout America) as well as a fascinating tour of Jewish China in Shanghai.

This is going to be a truly remarkable journey of amazing proportions as we visit a history and culture unparallelled in any land across the globe.
By the way….fortune cookies in China? Nope! Not a Chinese custom–we invented that over here in the west. But…snake on a stick or fried scorpions? Now THAT wasn’t chicken.

Kudos to Royal Caribbean

Wednesday, October 29th, 2008

 

In a move that shows that the travel industry has a heart Royal Caribbean Cruise Lines said it’s ending fuel surcharges for now for certain cruises because the global price of oil has come down and stabilized.
 
For such a move they deserve to have a free publicity logo placed here in this AJ Blog.
(Funny, though, how the airlines keep adding to their fuel surcharges/airport security fee/taxes/penny-for-your-thoughts/dollar-for-a-coke).
After Nov. 10, the cruise line will not charge the fees for new bookings on the Royal Caribbean International, Celebrity Cruises and Azamara Cruises for departures worldwide on or after Jan. 1, 2010. Royal Caribbean also said refunds of fuel charges for bookings made before Nov. 10 for sailings in 2009 and beyond will be determined quarterly.
Royal Caribbean said it could reinstate fuel surcharges if oil prices trend up.
Royal Caribbean announced a fuel surcharge in November for sailings on and after Feb. 1, 2008. It has since revised its fuel fees twice.
Currently, Royal Caribbean charge $10 per person daily for the first two guests in a stateroom, capped at $140 per person for each cruise. Additional guests pay $5 per person daily with a maximum of $70 per person for each cruise.
 
Kudos again to Royal Caribbean. This move shows they actually care about their customers.
USAirways….take a lesson!

Traveling in a Troubled Economy

Friday, October 24th, 2008

Even as American taxpayers bailed them out, executives of AIG enjoyed a $440,000 spa getaway to a decadent resort in California. If those guys think travel seems like a good idea now, who are we to argue, right?

While the still-unfolding global economic meltdown may seem like a major threat to your next vacation, the news may not be all bad. If you are careful, plan for contingencies, choose a good travel company, take a sensible vacation and look for the bright spots on the travel horizon, you can do very well at the moment — even if not “billion dollar bailout baby” well. Here are some tips on where to look, and where to look out when planning your next trip.

Reality Check Yourself:
Your first consideration, obviously, should be your own financial situation. Many of us need and deserve a vacation, and you should never undervalue the importance of the mental health factor For the cost conscious, there’s always the viewpoint of “you can’t take it with you”..but I’ve come up with a new motto: “you might as well spend it while ya got it”.
If you are inclined to treat yourself, which too few folks do often enough, taking a hard look at what a vacation actually costs you can sometimes be a good exercise. Thus,…

Do a Travel Budget:
If there was ever a time to do a proper travel budget, this is it. Most tend to do a quick accounting of the big expenses — airfare, hotel, car rental– add them up, and call it a budget. However, in a classic case of lots of small costs adding up to big expenses in the end, the less obvious costs incurred while traveling can turn out to be the actual budget breakers. Toward creating a more accurate budget, remember to research and include parking at airports, attraction entry fees, activity cost, hotel tip, ground transportation costs, food and more.

In cases like this, its often less expensive and duly more convenient to purchase a value-added vacation package.

The U.S. Dollar:
While most Americans worry that each dollar won’t have as much clout at the local grocery store, it turns out that our currency will do much better internationally than it has in some time. Currently at $1.36 against the euro, the dollar is the strongest it’s been since summer 2007.An improving exchange rate directly decreases the toll of those day-to-day expenses that can pile up during overseas travel. These are some of the things you purchase on the spot in local currency, and which thus actually get cheaper when the dollar picks up a little strength.Gas Prices DownAs of this writing, national gas prices are pegged at an average of about $2.90 per gallon, down, over 80 cents from July. Gasoline prices are not quite the bank breaker that they were just a few weeks back.

Saturday Night Stayover: If you have been researching airfares lately, you may have noticed the return of the dreaded Saturday night stay requirement. The airline practice of charging more for flights that depart and return inside the same work week, which had largely fallen by the wayside the past couple of years, has recently returned with a vengeance.If you can book your flights to include a Saturday night stay, you may find significant savings. This may in fact be good news for leisure travelers, who usually include at least one weekend in their itineraries; it is less so for business travelers. Note that we may see this pricing practice scaled back once again if businesses curtail employee travel considerably.

Fuel Surcharges Going Down?!?
Astounding as it may sound — it must be a public relations trick of some kind — but on earlier this month Northwest actually announced that the airline is reducing fuel surcharges. North of the border, Air Canada and WestJet have done the same; as these surcharge rollbacks get more publicity and momentum, we can probably expect other airlines to follow suit.

We are living in the most uncertain times in the United States in nearly a century, so any and all of the above may change at any minute, and dramatically — to the point where one guy is walking to work just to keep his job, while the other guy is getting a pedicure with an ocean view at the same time … on the first guy’s dime. Just ask the guys at AIG.