TO LISTEN TO CURRENT OR PAST SHOWS, CHECK OUT THE LET'S TALK TRAVEL PODCAST PAGE! CLICK HERE
Check out Sandy's ongoing Patriot-News special travel features. Go to www.PennLive.com/travel - look for "Fenton's Favorites."
ALL SHOWS ARE SATURDAY 3PM-4PM
SATURDAY, MAY 18TH, 3PM-4PM - "PA TOURISM SUMMIT, Part 2 of 2" Our beautiful Commonwealth of Pennsylvania offers both residents and visitors a wide variety of unique travel opportunities. From world-class entertainment to all-season indoor and outdoor sporting and recreational activities to getaway weekends at cozy B&B's and historic country inns. Pennsylvania has it all! Big city celebrity chef fine-dining or small town mom and pop restaurants specializing in traditional local foods. Pennsylvania offers any escape or adventure imaginable. Tourism is more than a vibrant industry in Pennsylvania...it is critical to the economic well-being of our state...and our lives. Tourism ranks as the second-largest industry in Pennsylvania - accounting for more than 452,300 jobs. In 2011, visitors spent more than $37.2 -billion dollars and generated over $3.8 -billion in state and local taxes. Next Saturday you can discover why 175-million people travel to and within our Commonwealth as "Let's Talk Travel with AAA" features the third annual Pennsylvania Tourism Summit with part two of a two-part series broadcast. Interviews include Kim Schaller, the executive vice president of the Hershey Entertainment and Resorts Company ; Mark Preston, Northeast sales manager for Trip-Advisor ; Michael Stershic, President of Discover Lehigh Valley ; Joseph Meade, Director of Government & External Affairs for Philadelphia Museum of Art ; Jim Werner, Partnership Director for Visit Philly and Joe Massaro, General Manager of Hilton Harrisburg. Pennsylvania has spectacular natural scenery, popular cosmopolitan cities , historic towns , rolling farmlands and more award-winning museums, cultural events and seasonal festivals than I can count. We will tell you what to see and do during your next local getaway or statewide family vacation in the Keystone State. www.patravelandtourism.org
SATURDAY, MAY 25TH, 3PM-4PM - "The All-Inclusive Regent Seven Seas Cruise Experience" Having recently returned from extensive Bahamas/Caribbean cruises, travel events and site inspections - I learned that the best value for upcoming summer and fall vacations may be the excellent discounts, particularly in the luxury travel brands. One of the best is the all-inclusive luxury cruise market and one of my favorites, Regent Seven Seas Cruises, continues to offer exceptional values on many worldwide sailings. Regent Seven Seas is an award-winning , all-suite , all-inclusive cruise line with three luxurious mid-sized ships (Seven Seas Voyager, Seven Seas Mariner and Seven Seas Navigator), carrying 490 or 700 pampered guests, to some of the most glamorous and off-the-beaten-path places on the planet. Some of Regent's all-inclusive experiences include roundtrip air, unlimited shore excursions, pre-paid gratuities, specialty restaurants, unlimited beverages plus open bars, lounges and in-suite mini-bar replenished daily…and so much more. Kate Otto, Regent Seven Seas sales director, will be my in-studio guest next Saturday at 3 p.m. on "Let's Talk Travel with AAA" on WHP-AM580. Before you settle for the "same old - same old" vacation, be sure to tune in and learn why a Regent Seven Seas cruise may be a perfect fit for you.
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During this time of the year, I am always asked my advice for upscale, romantic and warm weather vacations. Even though our weather has been remarkably mild and I'm still waiting for the big snowstorm - many of you are ready to head South to relax and have fun in the sun.
The list is endless, but a few of my "tried and true" favorites would include :
*GRAND LAKES ORLANDO, FLORIDA -
A luxurious, full-service resort that is actually a combination of a deluxe 1,000-room JW Marriott and a beautiful, refined 584-room Ritz-Carlton. Situated on 500+ acres of natural and manicured lakefront surroundings, this unique property has it all. An award-winning, world-class spa ; a Greg Norman Signature golf course ; celebrity and master chef dining and very separate outdoor pool, lounge and restaurant areas.
Both hotels are currently offering fantastic special rates and packages. On the JW side, check out the "Stay for Breakfast" and the "Escape Romance" offerings. At the Ritz-Carlton, I really like their Golf , Special Occasion (romance) and Spa Indulgence packages. And just in case you want to visit a theme park - Disney, Universal and Seaworld are minutes away via the reliable resort shuttle service.
(tip) - Be sure to check out roundtrip air first from Harrisburg International Airport (MDT) to Orlando (MCO), remember AirTran is still offering non-stop, direct service. www.grandelakes.com
*NASSAU, BAHAMAS -
I had heard and read about Graycliff for years and although parts of the property was worn and needed a facelift - we loved it. World renown as the gracious, old-world grande dame of Nassau, the history (and it's current and past guests) of this Georgian colonial mansion will knock your socks off. Located next to the Government House with an easy walk to and from downtown, Graycliff is also considered Nassau's must-do dining experience. From cocktails served in the living room to dinner in one of the lovely dining rooms - it's worth every penny. If you are a wine connoisseur or a cigar aficionado, Graycliff boasts one of the largest wine collection in the world and Graycliff cigars are hand-rolled on the property by Cubans in a small factory that you can visit. www.graycliff.com
If you prefer a larger hotel or resort experience, I've always liked the British Colonial Hilton. A classic property catering to a successful business crowd, the Hilton is smack in the heart of downtown Nassau with a small beach and in the shadows of the gigantic docked cruise ships. www.hilton.com
Considered Sandals best property, Sandals Nassau is part of the famous all-inclusive resort chain and has it's own private island. I was pleasantly surprised with the demographics as I thought the guests would be 24-year-old honeymooners, yet 30-60 seemed to be the norm. As I am writing this, Sandals has up to 50% off for new bookings. www.sandals.com
(tip) - If you like British history, Nassau was home to the Duke and Duchess of Windsor while the Duke served as Governor of the Bahamas, following his abdication from the throne. I loved our walking tours exploring historic Nassau and the Royal British family connections.
*ST. THOMAS , U.S. VIRGIN ISLANDS -
The Caribbean's most popular destination offers decent duty-free shopping, a variety of beaches and easy flights from the Northeast. Marriott's Frenchman's Reef and Morning Star Beach Club recently completed a $48-million dollar renovation and have several ongoing promotions, including discounted rates and resort credit. Both properties overlook one of the most picturesque harbors in the Caribbean - Charlotte Amalie. (Sipping on cocktails and watching the many cruise ships sailing in and out of the harbor is a perfect way to wind down after a busy day of touring.) Frenchman's Reef is a deluxe full-service resort while Morning Star Beach Club is an exclusive and intimate beachfront hotel. If you are taking a cruise roundtrip from St. Thomas, this is a great way to spend a pre-or post cruise night…or two.
(tip) - Ask about special AAA member benefits available now. www.marriott.com
Another top Caribbean destination famous for it's culture, golf, water sports, multitude of accommodations and Red Stripe beer. Jamaica has been shaped by its colonial past and its African heritage and boasts some of the most luxurious resorts in the Islands. The Ritz-Carlton, Rose Hall Resort is surrounded by crystal-blue waters and lush, green mountains. It is elegant and luxurious, but not stuffy or formal. If you're a golfer, you know about The White Witch Golf Course and there are more golf packages than I can count. If it's romance you want - there is a very popular "Special Occasion" package. If your budget can afford it, and you don't want to leave the property (they had to kick me off), ask about the "Escape to Luxury All-Inclusive Dining" package that includes a complimentary 5th night. www.ritzcarlton.com
(tip) - Take the historic Rose Hall Great House Tour, it was complimentary when we were there.
February and March may not be ideal swimming and beach weather (although when I last checked it was sunny and 70-degrees) - it is perfect for golf, tennis, hiking, biking and being pampered at one of the excellent spas. If you're not familiar with the British colony of Bermuda, imagine pink beaches (yes, they really are pink) , turquoise ocean waters, pastel-colored architecture and a fascinating sea-faring history.
The quaint lanes, alleyways and picture-postcard cottages in the historic town of St. George - a UNESCO World Heritage site - are best explored by foot. The same goes for the harbor-front capital City of Hamilton where restaurants, specialty shoppes (Shetland sweaters, English bone china and Burberry are good buys) and lively English pubs line Front Street. I am a big fan of Fairmont properties and there are two in Bermuda. The most-famous hotel on the island, the Fairmont Hamilton Princess, renowned around the world since 1885 as the iconic Pink Palace is elegant and traditional. The Fairmont Southampton is a full-service luxury resort with a world-class spa and award-winning dining. Both properties are on sale and have special winter promotions available now. www.fairmont.com
(tip) - If you can splurge, upgrade to Fairmont Gold. The exclusive lounge amenities may be well worth the extra money.
If you are interested in staying at any of these hotels and resorts, I would recommend acting fast. Hotels, particularly those in the above luxury range, are offering significant savings, but they will not be around forever and they will sell out. Ask your favorite travel agent about all sales , special winter promotions, hotel and air combo packages and discounted airfares. (Stop laughing, there really are bargain airfares out there. Maybe not on nonstop routes. You may have to change plans, a few times, but it'll be worth it once you're lounging barefoot on the beach, toasting the sunset - I promise!)
And last, but not least, other than St. Thomas, USVI you must have a valid passport.
As I'm writing this feature, the capsized Costa Concordia continues to make front page headlines around the world.
And rightly so.
This is a tragic event that should never have happened.
None of us can imagine enjoying dinner on a modern cruise ship and suddenly find ourselves in a state of emergency surrounded by chaos, incompetence and panic.
So what happened?
As far as I can tell from the 24/7 evolving media updates, and some insider scoop - it is primarily the Captain's fault. Human error. However, I believe we won't know the whole truth until the investigation is complete.
The International Maritime Organization, which regulates ship safety around the world, sets the rules on providing drills for new passengers and evacuating ships.
According to the I.M.O. - "On a ship engaged on a voyage where passengers are scheduled to be on board for more than 24-hours, musters of the passengers shall take place within 24-hours after their embarkation. Passengers shall be instructed in the use of the life jackets and the action to take in an emergency."
The muster drill (better known as the lifeboat drill) never happened on the Costa Concordia. This is very puzzling to me. Having been on 80+ cruises, I can not remember a mandatory lifeboat drill that did not happen before we set sail. (although my husband says we were on a couple in Europe)
I would imagine all cruise lines will now change this rule and they will be sure to drill passengers before they set sail and not within 24-hours. As it should be. I also suspect the industry powers-that-be will re-examine the rules and regulations on the safety of all large and small passenger ships once investigations are complete.
Over the years I've interviewed more cruise ship captains than I can count, and when I ask their top 3 priorities, number one is safety. Always.
So, are you safe onboard a cruise ship?
My answer is yes. According to CLIA (Cruise Lines International Association), over 16-million cruise passengers sailed in 2011 with 2012 projected to exceed 1-million more. So yes, this type of accident is very rare indeed.
Cruise ships undergo rigorous regulations and inspections for both the vessel and the crew. In the United States, the U.S. Coast Guard conducts announced and unannounced safety inspections on every cruise ship that embarks passengers in U.S. ports. For foreign-flagged cruise ships trading in the U.S., the International Convention for the Safety of Life at Sea (SOLAS) requires compliance with stringent vessel safety and crew competency.
Here are some safety, security and well-being tips I believe you can easily follow the next time you get onboard your cruise ship :
*When you first enter your stateroom, read the safety instructional brochure which is generally located on the back of your door.
*Locate your life vests and your assigned muster station. Walk to your assigned muster station so you know exactly where to go when the lifeboat drill occurs - typically 30-minutes prior to the ship's scheduled departure time.
*Monitor your alcohol intake. Many onboard personal injuries have occured because of excessive drinking - with guests of all ages. Forget the hangover, I'm talking about broken limbs from falls and yes, even some bloody noses from fights. (remember, you are on a gigantic city at sea, so whatever happens on land, can also happen at sea). Over the past few years, cruise lines have become much better at cutting off passengers who have obviously had too many drinks and strict policies are enforced for underage drinking.
*Be aware of your surroundings. Definitely enjoy yourself. Indulge yourself. You've earned it and you're onboard a fabulous cruise ship. It's your vacation, but you know the rules. Don't accept drinks from strangers. Don't walk down darkened hallways alone. Don't wonder off into "crew only" areas. Keep your distance when tempers flare. If you are uncomfortable, and something just doesn't feel right or look right to you - leave the situation. But don't keep it to yourself. Speak to a ship's officier or notify the Purser's office the minute you suspect trouble.
*Watch what you eat. Onboard dining is one of the great pleasures of cruising, but if you have allergic reactions to shellfish on land, you will still be allergic on the ship. When you are in port and decide to try the local fare from a random street vendor, you may find yourself with some stomach ailments that you will surely regret. Whenever you tour a foreign country, particulary a third world port, a good rule to follow - if you can't peel it, or boil it - then forget it. And always drink bottled water - with a sealed bottlecap. ( Although shipboard drinking water is perfectly safe to drink.)
*Use your cabin safe for valuables - however for big ticket items that would cause you great distress if lost or stolen, such as very expensive jewelry - use the ship's safe.
*Vessel Sanitation Program (VSP) at the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) gives updated inspection scores for all cruise ships. You can check out your ships rating (plus additional onboard prevention tips) by going to the CDC website. - www.cdc.gov
*Wash your hands. Often. It is the number one preventive measure you can take to cut your chances of contracting any gastrointestional illness onboard. (Remember the Norwalk virus?)
*Medical care. All cruise ships have some kind of medical facility with a doctor and nurse onboard to treat broken bones , seasickness and respiratory ailments. Although medical care differs from line to line, it is safe to assume the newer (and larger) the vessel, the more modern and comprehensive the medical facilities will be.
*Smoking. Many cruise experts claim fire is the most dreaded emergency at sea. If you are a smoker, never smoke in bed. Never throw a lit cigarette overboard and only smoke in designated areas on the ship. And never light candles in your cabin. (A few years ago we were on a Caribbean cruise and some woman in the cabin next to ours brought an aromatherapy candle with her, lit it, forgot about it and went to dinner. Thankfully her steward came to the cabin for turndown and blew it out. He told his superior and she was visited by the Hotel Manager and the candle was taken. Leave your candles at home.
*Bad weather. It happens to the best of us but it doesn't need to spoil your cruise. Be sure to pack rain gear and comfortable rubber-sole shoes that won't slip on deck. When the Captain cautions against going outside, listen to him. Go to the movies, read a book, take a computer course, go to the spa or play cards. There are more inside activites, lectures and entertainment than you can even imagine. Enrichment programs are very popular and there is something for everyone.
*Travel agents. A trusted travel expert is worth their weight in gold. In the event of a missed flight or a full-blown emergency your travel agent provides critical, timely and valuable assistance. You're not alone, and to me - that means everything.
*Travel insurance. Once again, this is when your travel agent has the best information and advice on how much - or how little - you need.
As tragic, senseless and sad that the Costa Concordia is - please don't let this affect your current or upcoming plans to take a cruise vacation.
With all the cruises I have personally experienced, there has never been an incident where I felt unsafe or scared. Ever. I love cruising. And like many of you, I feel it is the best all-around vacation for the money, the ease and the comfort. Yes, we've had rough seas, a couple hurricanes and even went "dead-in-the-water" - but the enjoyment and excitement of cruising the world in luxury is all I ever remember and look forward to.
LISTEN UP -
Because of the recent Costa accident, are cruise lines going to offer major discounts? How will cruises to Europe and the Meditterean be affected? What onboard changes are going on now? Next Saturday, Beth Widhson from Holland America Line will be my in-studio guest and we'll be talking all about cruising news - including Alaska cruisetours , the stunning Norwegian fjords itineraries and special savings on popular summer sailings.
It's official, Americans choose travel as the ultimate life goal. According to a recent (Oct.-Nov.2011) Wakefield Research poll, if Americans could only accomplish one goal in their lifetime, 72% would choose a travel goal.
And why not?
Studies have shown that despite the economic turndown, Americans are still unwilling to totally give up their vacations. We want to give (and receive) lifelong cherished memories and exciting new experiences with the people who matter most to us.
Many families are searching for ways to buy holiday gifts that won't sit around and collect dust.
And no mater what our income level is, we all want a good value for our hard earned travel dollar.
Unfortunately, we are being bombarded with 24/7 vacation sales , travel bargains and last minute deals - it's overwhelming and mind boggling for all of us, including myself.
So, I decided to put together a few of my favorite gift of travel ideas for this season and having personally experienced each of them, I am very comfortable recommending the following properties to you.
*For busy couples needing a break (close to home) -
How about the gift of total relaxation with a luxurious spa getaway, a romance package or the popular "Chocolate Covered February" offerings at the beautiful and historic Hotel Hershey. The kick-off weekend begins with the very fun Chocolate-Covered dinner on February 3rd. (splurge on the cottages) www.hotelhershey.com. Or how about a "Two Nights Stay Dinner" package at Lancaster County's Inn at Leola Village, complete with breakfast and dinner at the on-site Osteria Avanti restaurant with wine. www.theinnatleolavillage.com.
And if you can't get away for an overnight, we're fortunate to have the Hilton's Golden Sheaf and Bricco in our own backyard for upscale dining. (although discounted overnight packages are available at the Hilton Harrisburg) www.hiltonharrisburgdining.com.
*For crazed wives, stressed moms and girlfriends wanting to rewind -
The highly acclaimed and elegant Bedford Springs resort presents several popular packages including the "Eternal Indulgence Spa" ; "Thanks a Latte" and "Retreat & Relax". Bedford Springs is being recognized as one of the best resorts in the country (love the 1796 dining room and casual Frontier Tavern) and is less than a 2-hour drive from Harrisburg. www.bedfordspringsresort.com.
If it's wellness and over-the-top spa treatments that you want (and your body is craving), the stunning Lodge at Woodloch (considered one of the top 10 spa destinations in the US) offers a "Girlfriends Reconnect" package with three gourmet meals per day, spa allowance, wellness lectures and cooking demonstrations. www.thelodgeatwoodloch.com
*For everyone -
New York City and Washington, DC are drive-to or Amtrak destinations with terrific winter packages for all ages. Typically, these two fabulous cities offer the best bang-for-the-buck on the weekends, are fantastic walking cities and popular for celebrity and VIP sightings.
NYC - The recently renovated Omni Berkshire on Madison Avenue is promoting their "Winter Wonderland" package with s'mores and hot chocolate in the cozy Fireside Restaurant, two tickets to Top of The Rock plus a late check out. www.omniberkshire.com. Another newly renovated NYC hotel is the gigantic Grand Hyatt (next to Grand Central Station) presenting a simple and affordable (as much as NYC can be affordable) "Bed & Breakfast" package and for the little girl in your life that is crazy about "American Girl" dolls, book the popular "American Girl" package including milk & cookies and "American Girl" gift card and amenities. www.hyattnewyork.com.
Wash,DC - The iconic Willard Hotel, two blocks from the White House and National Mall, is as grand as it gets. "Winter Weekend" packages offer daily valet parking and breakfast. If price is not an issue and you still haven't decided on New Years Eve, check out the Willard's New Years Eve getaway with champagne, valet parking and breakfast. Free live music programs in the infamous Willard lobby, 5:30pm-7:30pm, now thru Dec. 23. (Be sure to relax with your favorite cocktail in the clubby Round Robin bar.) www.intercontinental.com.
The luxurious Fairmont Hotel, located in DC's fashionable West End and adjacent to Georgetown, presents a "Holiday Lights and Breakfast Delights" package including cookies and hot chocolate plus daily breakfast. (ask about upgrading to Gold level and if you can afford it, go for it) www.fairmont.com
There are several affordable winter Pocono Mountains ski and sports getaways (www.800poconos.com) and a Fenton family favorite for 22-years is the all-inclusive Skytop Lodge (www.skytop.com) complete with dog-sledding and the new Treetop Adventure Course. Ask about the winter getaways and mid-week special rates.
Of course we can't forget the "Happiest Place on Earth". Yes, that's really how Disney wants to be known. Not sure if I totally agree, but if planned the right way, with a Disney expert, you'll definitely be happier than someone who doesn't have a plan. I think the middle to end of January is a good time to visit Disney. Better pricing, fewer crowds and no lines. AirTran flies from HIA (my favorite airport in the world) two times a day with nonstop flights to Orlando, FL. www.flyhia.com January is also "Disney Month" at AAA, and I recommend planning your Disney vacation with an official AAA Disney expert for the best value. www.aaa.com
All lines are on sale and offering outstanding 2012 promotions and values. If you're ready to "bump it up", your overall best value is on an all-inclusive, ultra luxury cruise ship. Regent Seven Seas , Silversea and Seabourn are currently running some of the best offers I've even seen. If it's a once-in-a-lifetime luxury cruise experience you want, lock it in now. If you wait, you lose.
The premium lines of Cunard, Holland America, Celebrity and Princess are also on sale as are the contemporary non-stop action mega ships of Royal Caribbean and NCL. And my new favorite, European River cruising, has specials throughout 2012, check out Viking River Cruises and Uniworld.
I consider cruising the best vacation value and the easiest way for every family member to relax, enjoy and do what they want - when they want. As always, be sure to talk to a trusted travel agent and cruise expert before booking your trip. Ask about all discounts and special promotions and get onboard the right ship at the right price for you and your family.
For excellent stocking stuffers and travel related gifts and gadgets I particularly like Magellans.com and TravelSmith.com. Also, my very favorite guide books are DK Eyewitness Guides and love the "1000 Places to See before You Die" 2012 calendars and book.
Don't wait another year to give your family the best holiday gift ever - the gift of travel.
Now I know why European River cruises have exploded in popularity. River cruising is the fastest-growing segment of the travel industry - and I get it.
Just a few weeks ago my husband, Stewart, and I were sailing the famous Blue Danube, from Budapest, Hungary to Nuremberg, Germany, onboard Viking River Cruises newest ship, "Prestige" - and loving every moment of it.
We began with a two night, pre-cruise stay at the historic Corinthia Grand Hotel in Budapest, Hungary. We spent our time touring (and eating Hungarian specialties like goulash soup and porkolt) in this grand cultural city. On embarkation day, we walked from the hotel to the Viking River Cruise dock on the Danube and in less than 20- minutes we were unpacking in our lovely French-balcony stateroom.
A river cruise is very different than an ocean cruise.
For starters, the pace is slower and the ships are smaller with much less people and no children. (we were sold-out with 188 guests)
Forget about crowded on-and-off the ship tender service - you literally sail directly to the heart of your destinations and walk right off the ship into the center of town.
There are no intrusive welcome aboard announcements, no frozen tropical drink specials and no loud reggae bands playing their version of 'Margarettaville'. Instead, guests get comfortable (with Austrian wines and German beers) and become acquainted in the Viking Lounge. On our sailing most guests were North Americans and first-time river cruisers. All were well traveled and former ocean cruisers.
You won't have to worry about trying all 15 dining choices onboard this ship. There is one main restaurant plus an optional grill venue. Sumptuous breakfast and lunch buffets are complimented with table-service menu options, and dinner is a sit-down, three to four-course meal with complimentary regional wines. (Everyone loved the generous wine pours throughout the entire meal.) Attire for dinner is smart-casual, with several men wearing sport coats, few sporting ties and none in tank tops or baseball caps.
If you're looking for 24/7 scheduled onboard activities, high-energy casinos, head-to-toe specialty spa treatments, glitzy shopping venues and Vegas-style entertainment - jump off the ship - now.
A Viking River Danube cruise is all about scenery. Beautiful, picture postcard scenery plus cultural enrichment, traditional local entertainment and historic port lectures by local experts. It's about walking and touring the medieval fairy-tale villages of Melk and Passau, Austria. It's about sitting in an outdoor café enjoying a local Franconian beer and sausage (forget about the diet) in fabulous Regensburg, Germany and attending a private concert in glorious Vienna.
Did I mention that every port included a complimentary excursion, mostly walking and sightseeing tours combined with free time. (Very important to pack comfortable shoes and easy travel attire. Check out TravelSmith.com and Magellans.com for stylish and easy-to-pack travel clothes.)
If it sounds like I'm gushing…I am.
For many years I pooh-poohed taking a European river cruise. Maybe because we did a Mississippi River cruise several years ago and let's just say, it wasn't for us. I also thought the clientele would be extremely elderly (I'm talking 90+ here) - I was really wrong on that one. Our cruise averaged 60-65 years old and it was one of the most friendly and interesting group of cruisers I've ever been around.
And last, but not least, this Viking Danube River cruise exceeded my expectations.
No one complained. Do you get that? No one complained. (Ok, at the end of the sailing, some folks wanted to spend more time on the ship and some wanted more leisure time in the morning - but that's not really complaining - is it?) And after 85+ ocean cruises under my belt, I can't say the same about any one of them.
There are several European River cruise companies and cruise ships available. Before you book, be sure to sit with your trusted travel agent and decide what ship and itinerary is the best fit for you. Due to extremely high demand, Viking River Cruises will have six new ships innaugurated in 2012 with balconies, luxury suites and complimentary wine, beer and soft drinks. As I am writing this column, 65% of those staterooms are already sold-out. Other popular river cruise lines include Uniworld, Tauck, AMA and Avalon. Be sure to ask about 2012 special incentives, including 2 for 1 airfare and cruise rates.
Fall is a wonderful season for cruising. The cool, crisp autumn weather is an ideal time to take in the glorious colors along the shoreline and also to explore some of the most picturesque and historic seaside towns in New England and Canada.
Popular New England ports-of-call include Boston, Newport and Bar Harbor, while most Canadian stops will visit Quebec, Montreal, Nova Scotia and the Gulf of St. Lawrence.
A handful of Fall Foliage sailings are repositioning cruises and may take you from New York to New England into Canada and then south along the Eastern Seaboard to Florida for their regularly scheduled winter cruises to the Bahamas/Caribbean. (These longer cruises have more sea-days, offer an exceptionally good value - and have become very popular - particularly with past passengers.)
Several cruise lines plan special events onboard their fall foliage cruises, including world renown lecturers and celebrated chefs. Most autumn cruises are 7 - 9 day sailings departing from New York City, Baltimore, Boston and Bayonne, New Jersey and many offer discounted rates and special promotions through October.
The participating cruise lines represent all types and tastes of cruising. From the contemporary, mega-ships of Carnival, Royal Caribbean and NCL…to the premium lines of Holland America, Princess and Celebrity ; and for the luxury cruiser, Seabourn , Regent and Cunard sailings are available.
Having done (and absolutely loved) the picture-postcard New England/Canada sailings onboard Carnival, Seabourn and Holland America - here are a few of my favorite things to do :
*Halifax, Nova Scotia -- Walking the historic waterfront city and spending time in the Maritime Museum of the Atlantic (excellent Titanic exhibit), Pier 21 and the Halifax Citadel. (although Peggy's Cove is considered a must-see, it is way too busy with people and tour buses)
*Quebec City -- Plan for hours to stroll and explore this beautiful city. Cobblestone streets, quaint shops and the most photographed hotel in the world - Fairmont's Le Chateau Frontenac. (at the very least have coffee or a glass of wine at the hotel and just take it all in)
*Lunenburg, Nova Scotia -- A UNESCO World Heritage Site and undiscovered scenic jewel. Proclaimed the prettiest town in Canada - and I whole heartily agree.
*Sydney, Nova Scotia -- If you love Scotland and all things Scottish - you'll love Sydney.
*Saint John & Bay of Fundy, New Brunswick -- Mother Nature in all her glory.
*Boston, Massachusetts -- Put on your comfy walking shoes and trace America's independence on the Freedom Trail.
*Long Island Sound and Cape Cod Canal -- Sit back, relax and take in the stunning views as you sail north to picturesque Bar Harbor.
There may be some 2011 Fall Foliage cruises still available, and I would recommend calling your favorite travel agent for all details. If, however, this is a cruise you want to lock in for 2012 - meet with your agent (sooner rather than later) to reserve the itinerary and ship that best matches your lifestyle, interest and budget.
It doesn't seem possible that 10-years have passed since the unimaginable happened.
9/11. That's all you have to say, and we remember, with great sadness, the day that changed the world.
My husband, Stewart, and I were flying home from Norway, having completed a fantastic10-day sightseeing tour of Oslo, Bergen and a picture-postcard coastal cruise onboard Hurtigruten's MS Nordnorge. (Famous for being known as "the world's most beautiful voyage".)
We were settled into our SAS transatlantic flight when a Norwegian doctor, sitting across the aisle, turned to me and said, "Look at your monitor, the plane is turning around".
Word began spreading quickly throughout the cabin and after several inquiries, the captain announced in Norwegian (you could hear the gasps) and then in English , we would be returning to Oslo. He first said there had been a bomb at the World Trade Center and then shortly followed up that a terrorist attack was confirmed and all US airspace was closed.
We were over Greenland and had enough fuel to make it safely back to Oslo where we would be debriefed upon arrival.
There were 22 Americans on the plane and everyone was in a state of shock and disbelief. The captain and crew spent the return flight expressing sorrow and comfort to each of us.. Back in Norway we were overwhelmed by the sympathy, support and generosity the Norwegian people displayed to us. SAS and Radisson SAS Hotels paid for everything. Our lodging, meals - even access to professional grief counselors - were taken care of for our five-day unexpected stay. The street across from the American Embassy was lined with candles, flowers and American flags. All Norwegian flags were at half-mast and their news coverage was 24/7.
By the time we could fly home, an unprecedented heightened airport security was firmly in effect.
It took four hours for just our plane to get thru security, every single item in every bag was taken out and examined.
Once everyone was onboard , the SAS reps came onto the plane to wish all Americans the very best, said a prayer and ended with "God Bless America". Everyone cheered, clapped and yelled 'thank you'.
Before take-off our captain told us in his 37-years of flying he had never felt more secure in an aircraft and promised us a safe flight back to Newark. He also said how deeply saddened he and his crew were. He prayed all Americans would find hope - and that the whole world was in mourning and in total support of America.
There wasn't a dry eye on the plane.
About 30-minutes before landing the Captain walked back again, expressing his hope that we all take good care of ourselves and each other. Just then you could look down and see the smoke coming up as clear as day.
Once again, not a dry eye on the plane.
I remember thinking how different travel was going to be and in the following weeks, months and years I was right. It was different. But it wasn't all bad.
Yes, travel has changed. Yes - air travel security is still a hassle and an inconvenience. And yes - some aspects of travel and tourism took some hard economic hits.
But Al-Qaida and the terrorists did not change everything.
In fact, one thing that 9/11 did do in a positive way for travel - it brought families and loved ones together. More families vacation together. Multigenerational leisure travel is at an all time high. When busy couples need to connect, they schedule a getaway. The American dream of working hard and taking a well-deserved vacation is still a priority. We cherish the time spent with people who matter the most and a family vacation becomes even more precious.
I also believe that since 9/11 the value of a trusted travel agent is more important than ever. It's essential for the traveler to know they are being looked after. If something happens, you can connect with them. Instead of you scrambling and not knowing what to do or where to go - your travel advisor is working on your behalf.
Travel is part of who we are. It's how we do business. It's how we connect with our loved ones. It's how we celebrate and take time for ourselves.
Al-Qaida and the terrorists didn’t change that.
I'm often asked if there is really a difference in sailing onboard an all-inclusive luxury cruise ship versus the majority of all the other popular ships. My on-going answer - you bet there is.
And then of course the follow-up question - is it worth the extra money?
My answer - you decide.
So - what is the difference?
Based upon my personal experience cruising several times onboard the all-inclusive luxury lines of Regent Seven Seas, Seabourn and Silversea - listed below are some of the notable differences :
* Size. Most are smaller, more intimate (200-750 passengers) and club-like. Expansive open decks and public spaces for lounging or conversation without crowds.
* Itineraries. Unique and off-the-beaten path. Many ports-of-call are hidden gems where larger ships can not go. Less people. Less waiting.
* Quiet. No unneccessary ship-wide announcements or pool-side waiters trying to sell you the drink of the day or onboard photographers wanting to take your picture. And although we've sailed with multiple families onboard, (especially during the summer in Alaska and Europe), all-inclusive ships cater mostly to adults and/or older children.
* Personalized attention and gracious service. The staff knows you. You are looked after by thoughtful, professional and award-winning crew members that truly do care about every aspect of your cruise vacation. Your pleasure really is their pleasure. (I'm still amazed when most of the staff greets you by name on the very first day…and then all of the staff the following days.)
* Spacious, all-suite and all-oceanview accommodations. Most have private verandas, marble appointed bathrooms and all are designed as luxurious homes away from home.
* Complimentary premium spirits, soft drinks, bottled water, beer and fine wines. Open bars throughout the ship plus your private in-suite bar stocked according to your preference. (When you meet fellow guests for pre-dinner cocktails - no one ever has to reach for the tab or leave a tip.)
* Tipping. There is none. It is neither required or expected.
* Gourmet dining rivals the finest restaurants anywhere. Period. And it's your choice. Dine when, where and with whom you wish. From casual to elegant, indoors or on deck.
Of the three all-inclusive cruise lines I am the most familiar with, Regent Seven Seas is the most all-inclusive. Regent offers complimentary air, unlimited sightseeing port excursions and pre-cruise hotel packages. Both Regent and Seabourn include all on-board specialty dining restaurants, while Silversea does have a dining fee for two of their dining venues.
I recently asked Mark Conroy, the President of Regent Seven Seas, why he thinks the all-inclusive, ultra-luxury cruising market has become so very popular and he answered - "Our ships attract fascinating people who are not interested in collecting "things", but rather collecting experiences…one-of-a-kind travel experiences, without compromising their lifestyle when they go on vacation. They enjoy traveling the world with like-minded people and appreciate the value they receive onboard our ships for their hard-earned dollar."
Many travel experts believe the best cruising value in today's market is the luxury, all-inclusive cruise lines. I agree. (Crystal Cruises just announced they are also offering all-inclusive sailings in Spring 2012.)
So before you book your next cruising vacation, sit down and spend some time with a cruise expert at your local travel agency. Ask about the different offers available. Ask about the 2-for1 fares , the free air programs , the onboard entertainment. Compare all of the costs…and then you decide.