Archive for 2011

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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STAYING CALM IN THE HOLIDAY RUSH

Thursday, December 22nd, 2011

Tis the season to get out of town! With Hanukkah upon us, Santa doin’ his thing for those with whom he does his thing, and New Year’s on the heels of it all…more people will be traveling over the next two weeks than at any time throughout the year. Vacation time is supposed to be a time of refreshment, escape and bliss. But with the challenges of airline rules, security issues, unpredictable weather, traffic surprises, lugging heavy luggage, and challenging traveling companions and its a wonder we ever get the fun out of what we seek. To help you deal with some of the potential headaches of travel, here are a few tips on preparation, prevention and patience:

*Anticipate the unexpected. It may be an unexpected traffic jam, a car that won’t start or a suitcase handle that breaks as you are packing. Leave yourself plenty of time for the unexpected. It’s better to have time for an unexpected leisurely cup of coffee at the airport than to have to be nervous that you will miss your flight.

*Some things you are in control of; and others you are not…identify which is which. No matter how hard you try, you can’t use your mental telepathy to “will” a plane to take off on time. Take solace in the serenity prayer as written by theologian Reinhold Niebuhr: God, grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, Courage to change the things I can, And wisdom to know the difference.

*A smile and a thank you will get you farther than a “bark”. On travel days, everyone is stressed out. The last thing that a gate agent expects is for someone to say “thank you”, or “I appreciate what you’ve done for me”. If you want to get something done…be “exceptionally nice”.

*Travel light. Carrying on a backpack, a rolley, and hands full of packages will make your flight “Not Fun”.  Don’t be an overpacker – rather, be an “over underpacker”.  Its a lot cheaper to do a little laundry while on vcation than it is to pay for overweight or too many pieces of luggage. Do your best to minimize the carry-ons - think of how much better it will be not to have to fight for the overhead compartment with your seat-mates.

*Start packing sooner than later. Move on from that college student mentality where cramming the night before is hip.  Lay things out a little at a time starting a few days before your travels. By spreading out the task, you relieve yourself of a full-onstress day, the day before your travel.  The last night is used only for putting everything into the suitcase (and hoping it weighs less than 50 pounds!).

*Patience is a virtue…but it isn’t an option. No one likes to stand in line, especially a long one. The holiday time is notorious for “Travel Newbies”. Remember, not everyone is travel savvy. Believe it or not, some people don’t know that they have to take their computer out, or that they have to take their shoes off (Some people even argue that point with the TSA agents). If you’ve left yourself plenty of time, you can sit back and giggle at their ignorance.

* Traveling is a journey, not a destination.   With proper physical, mental and organizational preparation, the journey to get where you’re going can be part of the fun.  Don’t look at the packing, the flight or the road trip as a means to the end. By looking at is as a part of the journey, you can not only limit your stress but have a little fun on the way.

New Years Eve Asia Cruise

Tuesday, December 20th, 2011

Black Sea

Tuesday, December 20th, 2011

Cruise Alaska 2012

Tuesday, December 20th, 2011

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Journey to Spain

Tuesday, December 20th, 2011

West Coast Cruise

Monday, December 19th, 2011

CONFESSIONS OF AN AIRLINE “BAG THROWER”

Sunday, December 18th, 2011

As one of the busiest travel periods looms, so does one of the greatest travel “wonders of the world” IF! We all wonder if our bags will arrive on time, and if they will arrive in tact. At the airport, we watch our checked bags disappear into that black hole in the wall and hope against all hope that someway, somehow they will miraculously appear on the other side of our travels. If we happen to show up on time!

What goes on behind the curtain?
You might be amazed at how much manpower it takes to get your luggage on plane. Once you leave your bag at the check-in counter, it goes through a series of conveyer belts, where it may or may not be opened and searched by TSA, until it reaches the pier for your departing flight. It is then sorted into carts by one ramp agent who brings it planeside for other ramp agents to load on the airplane. And there’s a lot more than just loading and unloading your bags-there is a lot of other cargo that gets transported by air. Bag Handlers see everything from human remains to mail to fruits and vegetables coming on and off the plane. They’re also the guys directing the plane to its parking position at the gate, securing the aircraft and hooking up the ground power, and driving the push-back tug, ensuring that aircraft do not come in contact with each other.

How do bags get damaged?
It’s obvious, your checked luggage takes a beating. They call it “throwing bags” for a reason. Airplanes only make money while in the air, and no airline wants an airplane on the ground too long. Due to the nature of some aircraft, it would be impossible to turn around a 757 in an hour or less without throwing bags because it’s just faster. On these planes, there are only two long and narrow cargo holds where your luggage goes. One agent puts the bags on the belt loader, which carries it up to an agent inside the cargo hold who throws it 50 feet to the back where another agent stacks all the bags as if it were a game of Tetris. Wheels and handles oftentimes break or crack on impact, and anything fragile inside that is not packed well doesn’t stand much of a chance. Don’t put red wine or alcohol in your suitcase ever. Do not check any fragile items in a soft sided suitcase, unless it was professionally packaged. Those fragile stickers don’t get noticed very often in the rush of loading bags unless it is an obvious shape, such as a musical instrument. One good thing about the larger aircraft (747, 767, 777, 787, etc.) is that they are all loaded by machines. Your bags are just put in a can and that can is loaded on the plane by machine so there is no bag throwing. Theoretically there’s a better chance of your bag coming out unscathed if you fly on one of those jets.

How do bags get lost?
Sometimes the airport code is read incorrectly and it gets put in the wrong cart and brought to the wrong plane. Someone might mistake VCE for NCE or PDX for PHX. It happens, but not that often. It’s always important to ensure you have the correct destination on your bag tag and to keep your receipt. Secure your contact information on the outside and inside of the bag in case the outside tag falls off. If your bag ends up in a different destination, it won’t get re-routed until it reaches wherever it went and is scanned. Scanners are all wireless now and don’t always work due to bad connections or getting locked up. If time is of the essence, your bag may not get scanned. Also, if you have a tight connection, you may be able to make it, but your bag may not. On smaller regional flights, many times bags are not loaded or taken off due to weight and balance limits. This is for safety reasons and ensures a safe take off and landing weight. So ideally, try to avoid those planes.

What kind of suitcases get damaged least? The most?
Cheap bags that you buy at the discount store break very easily. If your handle is sewn on or is very flimsy, it’s probably going to break. If you travel a lot or pack heavy, make sure you buy a quality, durable bag. Hard-sided suitcases will get less damage, but also look for well-designed handles that are attached with rivets and some sort of protection around the wheels. Speaking of wheels, the best bags to get are the “spinners” with four wheels on the bottom. We like these because we don’t have to throw them when loading. We just roll them down the belly of the plane so your bag and its contents will suffer much less damage.

Should I worry about theft?
There are no cameras inside the belly of the plane. Always use the TSA-approved locks to lock a suitcase. This not only prevents someone from easily taking something, but also keeps the bag closed securly. Bag Handlers see open bags all the time because the zipper just started coming apart, and yes, things do fall out of these open bags. Sometimes, they see it and can put whatever came out back in the bag it came from, but sometimes there are just random items strewn around the belly. If it’s a random piece of clothing or a shoe, those won’t go down the baggage claim belt too well and just get discarded eventually.

How can passengers prevent their bags from going astray?
The main thing to do is keep your bag tag receipt so you can track your bag. If it didn’t get scanned on the flight, it will get scanned eventually when it reaches a station. Also, try to plan sufficient ground time for your bag to make its connection. Thirty minutes isn’t always enough at a big airport like Atlanta.

Will the Bankruptcy of American Airlines Affect You?

Tuesday, November 29th, 2011
At its best, holiday flying is a harrowing experience with higher odds of delays, brutal weather, overcrowded terminals, lost luggage and stressed-out agents. Today American Airlines just added a slice to that pie as it filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection.
 
 
As one of America’s largest airlines prepares to massively restructure itself, will its customers be left at the gate? In the short term, the answer is no. According to messages sent to all American Airlines’ customers and a posting on their website –they “expect to continue” their flight schedules, honor all their tickets, and maintain all of their customer service programs. In particular, its frequent flier offerings.
 
In all likelihood American will go on with business as usual. Perhaps the most optimistic indicator for fliers is American’s emphasis on customer service as it begins the bankruptcy process. In the airline industry, customer loyalty is a precious commodity, and American doesn’t want to lose any fans.  According to most analysts this is a ”fairly routine business move in the airline industry”.
 
In the past 10 years, all of the country’s major airlines have declared bankruptcy except American and Southwest. Now, of course, Southwest stands alone, due in no small part to the fact that it’s a bargain airline that has long prided itself on its low overhead, and its clever deals in hedging its jet fuel purchases.

This isn’t to say that all is ok by virtue of  Tuesday’s filing. American’s investors got a nasty shock after the announcement, as the company’s stock price slid from a close of $1.62 per share on Monday to $0.23 on Tuesday morning. Over a longer timetable, AMR stockholders have had an even worse year: In January, the stock was trading at $8.85. 

If the bankruptcies of Delta and United  are any indication, American’s decision to file Chapter 11 will also hit the company’s employees fairly hard.  Chances are that today’s move will lead to new contracts for less money. The bankruptcy may also affect customers in out-of-the-way locations, as American may cut less-profitable routes.

For the short term, however, American’s passengers can likely look forward to blue skies … as long as they don’t own its stock.

Just a bed to place your head

Thursday, November 17th, 2011

Sure, luxury accommodations take headlines, but what about us regular folk who want just a decent bed to place our head before our big day in the city?  Big hotel chains such as InterContinental, Swiss-Belhotel International and Accor have recently announced plans to build hundreds of economy and express hotels around the world by the end of 2012.

Don’t call the new breed budget hotels or hostels, which are usually in cheaper areas. High-end hotel companies that have “economy” brands are often higher quality, cleaner, chicer and closer to city centers. Post-recession travelers are being more responsible with their money and hoteliers say they are demanding high-quality hotels with fewer trimmings like business centers or rooftop pools.  Consumers are looking, more than ever, for a quality vacation but without exhorbitant costs.  If you are such a vacationer-one who wakes up and hits the highlights not to return to your hotel until the end of the day-why pay for resort or convention facilities if you’re not going to use them?

These days there’s a louder cry than ever for tourists who can enjoy two- to three-star facilities because it’s convenient, clean and comfortable.  They don’t want to waste money on facilities like convention rooms, pools and restaurants they won’t use.

Global business travel spending is projected to grow 34 percent in four years, from $896 billion in 2010 to $1.2 trillion by 2014, with Asia, Latin America and the Middle East expected to grow faster than the current recovering economies of the United States and Europe, according to Ernst & Young’s report.

Much of the growth will be driven by the increased demand for economy hotels, which cost less than full-service hotels because guests pay only for basic amenities. Fewer frills means more savings;  express hotels are everything you need and nothing you don’t.

And the strategy for no-frills, but decent, rooms is working. Revenue per room grew 15 percent in Asia-Pacific during 2010, while the United States saw about 7 percent growth, as reported by Ernst & Young.

For the regular non-business folk who just want to hit the beach on a nearby island over a weekend, this means more economy chains located in downtown cores.

So while the roach-infested hotels with views over the sewer will still be there for those who like to slum it, there are now cheap places in good areas to toss your luggage and explore the city — without forcing yourself to use the pool or gym you didn’t ask for.

Scenes from Paradise

Thursday, November 10th, 2011

It’s hard to believe that our glorious Jewish singles Amazing Journey in French Polynesia has come and gone.   What an adventure! What relaxation!  What pristine beauty! 

Among other things, we snorkeled along our private motu, explored an island by 4 x 4, gazed at flipping dolphins, shopped for a black pearl (or ten!), kayaked off the back of the ship, dined at a fancy restaurant with sand between our toes, danced with Polynesian princes and princesses, and just chilled out on the balcony with a good book.

The islands we visited, the fun we had and the many friends that we all made will not soon be forgotten.