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Archive for 2009

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.


Choices Choices Choices

Thursday, October 15th, 2009

During the economic downfall, pretty much everyone in the service industry wondered how their business would fare. With less money to spend, people had to make choices. Sadly for some, those choices were (and for some, still are) whether to pay a bill or put gas in the car…or worse yet, whether to pay the mortgage or buy groceries.

Those in the retail industry, auto industry and travel industry have had obvious challenges as well. With the economy struggling, few people have to buy a new pair of shoes, buy a brand new car…or take a cruise for vacation.

But, our quality of life depends on some of these non-essential essentials. Life is not about sitting on a chair and staring out into space. Its about, well, living, and having a nice meal or seeing a movie, joining a health club….or taking a vacation are important components that enhance living and the overall well-being of a civilized society.

Thank goodness our industry–the industry of providing leisure travel to Jewish travelers–has, for a good part (and don’t believe for an instant that we are not thankful) weathered the storm. Sure the economy has effected us, but Amazing Journeys is thriving and still venturing with high capacity–if not sold out capacity–to the far corners of the earth.

So how do so many people do it, while others continue to think otherwise? A dear friend of mine who has traveled with Amazing Journeys on fourteen journeys that were amazing was very poignant as she enlightened me on how it works for her. She told me that people think she has a lot of money, but the real truth is that it’s all about the choices she makes. She cooks and eats most of her own meals at home, makes her coffee at home (did you know that while a tall coffee at Starbucks costs on average in the US $1.75, by buying a pound of their coffee and making it yourself at home, it will only cost about $.95 per cup?)…she clips coupons and buys her groceries on sale . . . walks instead of taking a taxi or train (yes, she’s a New York resident)… and she cleans her apartment herself (no cleaning lady). In other words, she establishes and keeps a budget, thus affording her disposable income to spend on her true life indulgences; traveling the world.

Life is short. Play hard isn’t just slogan. You only get one chance to enjoy this world…and pity the souls who think that Little Italy, Chinatown or the World Showcase at EPCOT is a sufficient means to experience life beyond the borders. There is so much to see and do out there and there are worldwide travel opportunities for all interests and budgets.

Just Do It isn’t just a slogan either. These three words have a deeper and power meaning. Complacency is an evil that beguiles a person’s ability to enjoy life. Spirit, adventure, excitement and risk are all character traits that advance all possibilities in life. We should all seek and embrace such traits.

Just Do It.

Strange But True – Amazingly Said:

Friday, October 9th, 2009

In the world of travel, the journey is often more interesting than the destination. Having served over 5000 passengers on worldwide tours over the last decade, we have been a part of some amazing experiences with some amazing people. In preparation for so many tours, we encounter many phone calls, emails and letters with a variety of questions, needs and curiousities. Some of these are heartwarming, some funny…and some just utterly unbelievable.

The names have been changed to protect the guilty, but all comments below have been attested to, verified and personally experienced by yours truly and or/the rest of the Amazing Journeys staff.
Debbie from Chicago stated after taking a Caribbean Cruise with us: “The last time I visited this island it was very sunny and pleasant – not like this. I’m not going to travel with your group any more. My last group had much better weather!” –
In Nova Scotia our guide was wearing a kilt – David from Boston asked, “Do you know where I can pick up a kilt like this?” Guide answered….. “For $500.00 you can pick up mine!”
Martin from Los Angeles asked, “Should I get some money exchanged before I leave for Alaska?”
On the first day of a 3 night Caribbean Cruise R.P. walked in on her roommate who was naked with a guy! R.P. said “I’m not really comfortable with this.” Her roommate responded “Oh come on…Its a singles cruise!”
Exchange between J.T. and Amazing Journeys:
JT: “I’m assuming our group is mostly American
AJ: “Yes
JT: “So I don’t have to worry there will be bathroom stops along the way?”
AJ:”Yes, we do stop for bathroom breaks but I’m not sure what being American has to do with it
JT: “I just think it is a cultural thing
AJ: “I wasn’t aware of that so thank you
Another exchange between a passenger and Amazing Journeys:
KAREN: “Hi, I’m taking the duffle bag as my 1 piece of luggage . In your letter of 11/11, you mention TSA approved locks. Where can I purchase them? Many thanks, “

AJ: “Hi KAREN; You can get them at Brookstone, any luggage store, at airports, and probably at Target or CVS Pharmacy

KAREN: “Hi again. I don’t know how to lock the duffle bag for the trip, which you said was mandatory. The only part that could be locked are the 2 zippers that join to close the bag.”

AJ: “Hi KAREN,You will need to bring the 2 zippers together, insert your lock and click it together. Good luck!”

Amazingly said. Strange…but true!


Monday, October 5th, 2009

 When will we be able to board planes again with jugs of our favorite lotions, shampoos and conditioners? Sorry to be the bearer of bad news, but not any time soon. Due to technology glitches, the Transportation Security Administration does not expect to scrap the three-year-old ban on carry-on liquids and gels this fall, as previously anticipated. For those of us who like to toss our belongings in a carry-on bag to avoid the tedious task of checking in luggage, that means we’ll have to rely a little longer on hotel toiletries.

After all, they’re the most convenient – even if it means we might smell like a floral arrangement.

A recent online survey asked the question – How big a deal is your hotel’s shampoo and soap line? While one respondant said, “given the carry on restrictions, it’s nice to have decent toiletries and mouthwash”, another thought “most of the junk they put in hotels is terrible. Who wants to smell like a bouquet of flowers at a business meeting?”

Some folks liked the hotel toiletries so much that they admitted going out and purchasing them at a store. Others called out the brands like the person who wrote that “Hampton Inns have cheap soap that seems glued to the paper.”

One reader wrote that she loves Marriott’s line of Bath & Body Works orange ginger soaps and shampoos, but also gave a shout out to a Hyatt Regency for providing toothpaste. “I do really appreciate when hotels have nice toiletries. Given the travel restrictions on liquids, I’d much prefer to use the hotels products than bring my own because of the hassle.

Restrictions on the 3oz bottle of liquids aside, will someone please tell me why airports in the US are the only security checkpoints that STILL make us take our shoes off? I know, I know…”The Shoe Bomber” from 5 years ago. I’m just curious, though; if The Shoe Bomber had instead been The Underwear Bomber ………………………..

The joys of flying just got more joyous

Wednesday, September 30th, 2009

Special Surprise Announcement: All U.S. carriers now charge for a second bag to Europe!

Let’s have a party.
United Airlines announced recently that it will begin charging customers for a second checked bag on routes to Europe. With that, the lone U.S. carrier to buck the trend of charging international passengers to check luggage is joining the “feee-for-all”.
Every other major U.S. carrier has unveiled luggage fees on trans-Atlantic flights this year, seeking to raise revenue, recover money lost through discounting and to offset a falloff in business-class travel. As for United’s new charge, passengers flying trans-Atlantic routes will pay $50 for a second bag at the airport or $45 if purchased on the carrier’s website. This applies on routes going from the United States, Mexico and the Caribbean to Europe and back.
As is typically the case, some customers will be exempt from the fee. Elite-level frequent-fliers, customers on premium-fare tickets and active U.S. military (but only those traveling on orders) will not be subject to the charge. US Airways, Continental, American and Delta already have announced similar fees, and US Airways also just raised it rates on domestic checked bag fees to $25/first bag and $35/second bag (save a whopping $5 if you pay in advance with your online booking) for tickets purchased on/after August 26, 2009.
You’ve laughed about the rumor, but it really is just a matter of time before the who-needs-your-business-anyway common traveler will have to pay onboard for using the restroom or reclining our seats. And just wait until we have to pay for our carry-on!

During a time of reflection: Some Of Life’s Lessons

Thursday, September 24th, 2009

Written By 90 year old Regina Brett of The Cleveland Plain Dealer:

-Life isn’t fair, but it’s still good.
-When in doubt, just take the next small step.
-Life is too short to waste time hating anyone.
-Your job won’t take care of you when you are sick. Your friends and parents will. Stay in touch.
-Pay off your credit cards every month.
-You don’t have to win every argument. Agree to disagree.
-Cry with someone. It’s more healing than crying alone.
-It’s OK to get angry with God. He can take it.
-Save for retirement starting with your first paycheck.
-When it comes to chocolate, resistance is futile.
-Make peace with your past so it won’t screw up the present.
-Don’t compare your life to others. You have no idea what their journey is all about.
-If a relationship has to be a secret, you shouldn’t be in it.
-Everything can change in the blink of an eye. But don’t worry; God never blinks.
-Get rid of anything that isn’t useful, beautiful or joyful.
-Whatever doesn’t kill you really does make you stronger.
-Burn the candles, use the nice sheets, wear the fancy lingerie. Don’t save it for a special occasion. Today is special.
-Over prepare, then go with the flow.
-Be eccentric now. Don’t wait for old age to wear purple.
-The most important sex organ is the brain.
-No one is in charge of your happines s but you.
-Frame every so-called disaster with these words ‘In five years, will this matter?’
-What other people think of you is none of your business.
-Time heals almost everything. Give time time.
-However good or bad a situation is, it will change.
-Don’t take yourself so seriously. No one else does.
-Believe in miracles.
-God loves you because of who God is, not because of anything you did or didn’t do.
-Don’t audit life. Show up and make the most of it now.
-Growing old beats the alternative — dying young.
-All that truly matters in the end is that you loved.
-Get out every day. Miracles are waiting everywhere.
-If we all threw our problems in a pile and saw everyone else’s, we’d grab ours back.
-The best is yet to come.
-No matter how you feel, get up, dress up and show up.
-Life isn’t tied with a bow, but it’s still a gift.

Amazing Journeys wishes you…

Thursday, September 17th, 2009
Shana Tova to all our readers and travelers of the world.
May you and your friends & family have a sweet new year filled with health, happiness, peace, and maybe even something…..amazing!

Bill, Malori, Barry, Stacey and Michele


Friday, September 11th, 2009

Amazing Journeys advertises “vacations that can change your life” and on every trip we live up that standard in one way or another. Thousands of individuals have had “once-in-a-lifetime” experiences, met a new friend (or 4!) for life….and some have even met the love of their life.

As a true testament to changing lives, Amazing Journeys has partnered with Make-A-Wish for six years helping–along with the generosity of our passengers–to provide a wish to a sick child. Since 1980, the Make-A-Wish Foundation® has enriched the lives of children with life-threatening medical conditions through its wish-granting work.
The Make-A-Wish Foundation traces its beginning to one boy’s wish. In 1980, 7-year-old Chris Greicius was being treated for leukemia. Every day, he dreamed of becoming a police officer. U.S. Customs Officer Tommy Austin had befriended Chris and his mother and promised Chris a ride in a police helicopter. When Chris’ health worsened, Austin contacted an Arizona Public Safety officer, and planned a day that would lift Chris’ spirits. The day included a tour of the city in a department helicopter, a swearing in as the first honorary DPS patrolman in state history, a presentation of the official uniform, and a motorcycle proficiency test so he could earn wings to pin on his uniform. On May 3, 1980 Chris passed away, but not before seeing his dream come true and experiencing the hope, strength and joy that came from receiving his wish.

Last week, my friend Lisa shared with me a truly amazing, yet tear jerking experience. Lisa is a nurse in Boston who works in a ward with terminal children. She is a hero in so many ways by virtue of the work she does on a daily basis, but what she did for a very special 17 year old patient who was dying with Cystic Fibrosis took heroism to a new level. With time running out, Lisa poked and prodded her way through a very difficult maze of heirarchy to reach the heart of Ellen Degeneres; this young girl’s idol. Too sick to get on a plane and visit The Ellen Show as Make-A-Wish would have sponsored, Ellen herself called the hospital directly and spoke with this young patient lifting her spirits and fulfilling a lifelong dream. Ellen even gave the young girl her personal cell phone number if she ever wanted to call and say hello..and followed it all up with a care-package full of t-shirts, CDs, books and a personally written note . Ellen finished the note by saying “…you’re my hero. Love, Ellen”.

Lisa’s efforts to help this girl’s dream come true was such an amazing feat and I feel honored to know such a wonderful person. Sadly, the young girl lost her battle a few days later but not after touching the hearts of so many people..and having her own heart touched by a very special celebrity.

Whether you support the Make-A-Wish Foundation, volunteer your services to help a sick child, hold the door open for man in a wheelchair or just smile at a senior citizen, the ability to touch the lives of another human being is within all of our reaches. Don’t underestimate your ability to be an inspiration.

The Three Stooges of travel

Thursday, September 3rd, 2009

Fear, Ignorance and Inertia – these “three stooges” keep a lot of people from traveling. North Americans in general, and US citizens in particular, can be very timid travelers. We are all easy victims for a news media that plays to worst case scenarios. It is little wonder that people are often afraid to travel when the news is filled with stories of flu, drug violence, riot and terrorism.

The fact of the matter is, however, that most travelers will never encounter anything more troublesome abroad than a stolen purse or a picked pocket. The day-to-day crime in most foreign destinations to which the majority of North Americans travel is less prolific and violent than that found within a ten mile radius of those same travelers’ front door.
It is more the more mundane issues that keep people from traveling. For example, only 28% of US citizens have a passport. By and large, we are a geographically challenged people, with a poor understanding of other cultures and people. When people know very little about travel’s logistics, fearing what they do not know, they fail to act. Inertia takes over and a potential traveler stays at home rather than risking a vacation beyond the borders.
We are also a victim of our own advances. Believe it or not, many so-called travelers subsist on internationalism by visiting Disney World and living vicariously through casual and arm’s length means. Its baffling how many people actually feel like they’ve satisfied an international experience by visiting Morocco or Japan in the World Showcase of EPCOT. Others fulfill their international dreams by tuning into the Travel Channel or by going to Little Italy or Chinatown and having a meal. Not to diss on these means of experiencing a local flare of internationlism, but having Cappellini Primavera at CASA BELLA in a borough of New York isn’t the same as having gelato along the banks of the Grand Canal in Venice.
One may also say that cost is an issue, but as Colonel Sherman Potter used to say “HORSE HOCKEY!” There are so many ways to make travel affordable that all you have to do is want to do it and you can. Here are few suggestions:
  • Get a credit card that helps you earn miles for a free airline ticket
  • Plan to eat simple meals while on vacation
  • Take advantage of the all-inclusiveness of cruising. Meals, entertainment, accommodations and more, all for one price
  • If your days are about getting out and doing, why stay at a 5-star resort for $250/night? If you just need a clean comfortable room, there are options for lodging that range from simple inns to hostels that can help you use your wallet for other indugences
  • Travel during off-peak season: A cruise in early December before the holidays is loads cheaper than a cruise over New Year’s. The weather in Fiji is the same year round, but travel in the early fall elicit better rates than during holiday time when the demand is greater.
With all due respect to everyone’s individual needs and abilities, don’t be a stooge! A few proverbs to make the point:
-Life is short…play hard.
-When the final whistle blows, don’t be left holding the ball wishing you had played the game.
-Don’t be the one who’s headstone will read: “If only she had spent less time at the office”
-If you don’t like the way you view the world, move your seat.

A Fire Marshall would never allow this.

Friday, August 28th, 2009

I’ve often wondered about the the design of a plane. I find it disturbingly interesting and deviously restricting, even for its own purpose. Save for an emergency, there’s usually only one way in and one way out for anywhere from usually 40 to 240 passengers. Building codes on the ground would never take off with this kind of set up…..so why are airplane codes with this kind of set up never grounded? Its a baffling wonderment, this aircraft design thing; let’s row-up hundreds of seats, make them as narrow as your body width (or narrower than your body width for those who are a bit zoftik) and pile everyone in then herd everyone off….single file.

We fly because we have to, not because we want to. The comforts that airlines historically provided to make the experience as tolerable as possible have long been whittled down to just the basics. Security scrutiny, charges for bags, nasty customer service and pay-as-you-go nibbles are just a few of the lost luxuries we once enjoyed in our quest to journey the earth. There has even been word on the street–I mean, in the air–about an airline or two wanting to charge for use of the toilet. (Gotta love Southwest Airline’s take on this–remember their commercial for paying a quarter to relcine your seat, or a dollar to lower the blind?).
Well, like it or not sometimes we just have to get from Point A to Point B regardless of the hassel and abuse. We usually cross our fingers and hope that nothing like a rainstorm or mechanical issue interrupts the uninterruptable flow of the friendly skies, lest the frustrations of inconvenience that the airlines seem to love to impose, get the best of you.
Herein lies the needs for some Q & A. You’re tired, hungry, there’s a cranky baby in the seat behind you… and now, your plane has been diverted to weather issues in your city of destination. All you want to do is get off the plane when it lands . You’ve heard stories of late (and in the past) of planes being staged on the tarmac for hours, but not allowing passengers to get off regardless. Why does this happen?
Recently a six-hour delay with 47 people aboard a small Continental Express plane at a Minnesota airport brought this issue to the forfront yet again after it became a public issue up the ranks–even to Congress–a few years ago. A legal Passenger Bill of Rights stalled in the process (although JetBlue Airlines took the initiative to create one of their own, G-d bless them!) and the deal never passed.
Information is the best ammunition in such situations. Experts advise that passengers be prepared. Here are answers to some questions travelers may ask:
Q. Can’t I just get off the plane? No. The captain has ultimate control of the plane and generally will determine if and when to return to the gate and allow passengers to get off. “It’s not a democracy,” says Robert Mann, an airline industry consultant. Passengers can request that the aircraft return to the gate, or if they have a cell phone they can call airline customer service or their carrier’s frequent flier hotline and exert pressure that way. If you have a medical condition or are ill, notify the crew immediately. But taking matters into your own hands is ill-advised-unruly passengers who make a run for the aircraft door could be arrested.
Q. Why would the airline choose to keep the passengers onboard rather than let them get off? It takes a lot of time to get passengers off a plane and then back on again. If the weather clears up at the airport where you are heading, the crew may have a limited opportunity to take off. Tarmac delays often occur because of bad weather, congestion and air traffic control issues. Further delays could be caused by allowing passengers to get off, which also could mean passengers with connecting flights might miss those connections.
Airline operations also are a factor. Because of weak demand for air travel due to the ailing economy, airlines have taken large chunks of seats out of the air and are offering fewer flights and frequencies to some destinations.
Q. How long can the crew keep me on the plane before heading back to the gate? There’s no law or rule mandating that the crew allow you to get off after a certain period. Legislation introduced in the Senate in July would require planes delayed more than three hours to return to a gate. A rule proposed by the Department of Transportation would require airlines to have contingency plans for dealing with lengthy tarmac delays. Some airlines such as JetBlue have implemented customer commitments in recent years to try to appease passengers.
Q. Will I get something to eat and drink while I wait? Airlines generally only stock enough food and drinks for the length of the flight. Passengers on the Continental Express flight complained about not being offered food and drink during their lengthy tarmac delay. After a recent AirTran Airways flight from Pittsburgh to Atlanta was diverted to Chattanooga, Tenn., flight attendants offered bottled water and pretzels to passengers during the 90-minute tarmac delay. (I once had a Delta flight diverted to an alternate city due to weather and our Captain literally ordered pizzas to be delivered to the plane…on the tarmac! Strange but True! Points for Delta!) Experts advise that passengers should carry food and drink with them on flights in case of a delay while onboard.
Q. What kind of compensation am I entitled to if I experience a tarmac delay? Typically, circumstances beyond the control of an airline are not covered in terms of passengers being provided compensation. However, airlines have discretion to help passengers out, and some even have policies for allowing for compensation when there are tarmac delays. For instance, JetBlue customers who experience an onboard ground delay on arrival for two hours or more after scheduled arrival time are entitled to a voucher. (More points for JetBlue: On a recent flight the inflight satellite television was out of wack. No big deal…but a week later I received an apology along with a $25 coupon to use towards a future flight. There is customer service still alive in the airline industry!)

Its a Weird World

Monday, August 24th, 2009

Boy, do we have stories! I don’t think there’s any profession in the world that can come away, at the end of the day with as many crazy, unimaginable, strange-but-true stories as professionals who lead tours for a living.

But, this space isn’t about our stories right now (it will be at a later time because Boy, do we have stories!); its about some of the other crazy happenings in the world today.

  • A German tourist was refused permission to carry a litre of vodka aboard a flight in Nuremberg airport. So….he chugged it down, rather than surrender it. He left the airport, but not on his planned flight; he left it in an ambulance.
  • Pilgrims returning to Italy had their carry-on bottles of holy water from the Roman Catholic shrine at Lourdes confiscated at security. “Three-ounce bottles only”, they were told.
  • An American Airlines flight from Tokyo to Dallas had an emergency landing in Honolulu when the crew discovered a squirrel that had stowed away on board. The creature was given a new home among the palm trees in Hawaii and the aircraft took off again for its final destination with all its munchable wiring still in tact.
  • A British man recently completed a 13-year worldwide journey during which he only traveled under his own steam. Jason Lewis traveled 46,505 miles across the globe using various means of self-propulsion; he roller bladed across North America, kayaked from Australia to Singapore, biked from Singapore to the Himalayas, hiked through the Himalayas and even pedaloed (a form of waterborne transport, primarily for recreational use, powered through the use of pedals) from Mumbai, India crossing the Indian Ocean to Djibouti. Included in with his adventures was being run over by a car in Colorado, breaking both legs, and being arrested in Egypt when his visa ran out on suspicion of spying.