Friday, August 19, 2016

Travel Insurance, is it worth it?

When I started in the travel business over 20 years ago, I was very suspicious of travel insurance.  I looked at it as the travel industry's version of an extended warranty.  I saw it as something they sold you to just increase the bottom line, but with no real value.

Unfortunately, I got a quick personal, real life lesson on the importance of travel insurance.  I went a on 3 night Bahamas cruise with my parents and my children in 1996.   Even though we were in the business, my father didn't think it was worth buying insurance for a little weekend getaway.  In this instance, he could not have been more wrong.  My mother took extremely ill on the first night of the cruise and was taken off of the ship in Nassau the next morning and operated on.  Without getting into all of the gory details, she had to be air ambulanced to Miami a few days later, and passed away about 3 weeks after that.  Besides the emotional toll, my father incurred major out of pocket expenses that would have been covered with insurance.

I would never travel without decent travel protection.  It is comparable to living without health insurance or driving a car without auto coverage.  Traveling far, particularly out of the country without insurance is a dangerous risk.  While most people think of insurance for cancellation protection (against penalties for canceling), I believe that the even bigger concern is medical and evacuation coverage.  If you have a medical emergency overseas, it is not unreasonable to assume one can incur hundreds of thousands of dollars in medical and transportation costs.  Many personal policies, including medicare, do not cover these expenses when outside of the country.

Travel insurance is usually not the focus when planning a vacation.  It is much more fun to pick out a ship or hotel, a destination and the tours or other fun things one wants to do.  Travel insurance is a "necessary evil".  But it is not the place to skimp.  When an emergency does happen far from home, one will want the best coverage possible, with a team standing by to assist.  There are various insurance plans out there, and you should always compare to understand what exactly is covered before purchasing (remember to look for pre-existing condition clauses, and if those can be waived).  A travel agent should help you select the policy that fits your needs.

Just like other insurance you buy, travel protection is something you hope you won't actually need to use for your trip.  But when the unexpected does take place, you will feel a lot better knowing you have the coverage to mitigate the impact.

Friday, August 12, 2016

Why does the news always have to be negative?

This morning I was watching the news, and heard the story about a JetBlue plane that experienced bad turbulence.  There were some minor injuries, but the pilot safely landed the plane.  All of the passengers who were taken to the hospital were released.

The news portrayed this is a horrible incident.  I see it as a positive!  Thanks to modern technology combined with great pilot skills, all of the passengers survived this scary situation.  The pilot, airline, and plane manufacturer should be commended for protecting the passengers from serious injury.  Why can't we focus on the positive instead of the negative?  Travel is safer than ever, and we can't forget that.

Friday, August 5, 2016

The Return of the Empress of the Seas

Last week, a few members of our staff were invited to tour the revitalized Empress of the Seas while she was docked in Miami.  I have a soft spot for this ship, as I sailed on her about 19 years ago when our children were very young.  Seeing the ship brought back memories!

This ship is very different from the rest of today's Royal Caribbean.  It is a smaller vessel, at under 50,000 tons carrying under 1900 passengers (compare that with the Harmony of the Seas, at 226,000 tons and 5400 passengers).  While the long term plan is for her to sail to Cuba, she is currently sailing short itineraries of 4-5 nights out of Miami.

If one is looking for a quiet getaway, this is a great ship.  It does not have the "bells and whistles", but brings you back to the earlier days of cruising.  The ship has a nice showroom, and we previewed the shows which looked great.  It has a fairly large casino for a ship this size (and by the way is the only non-smoking casino in the fleet).  There is one specialty restaurant on board, Chops Grill, which is a beautiful, completely new venue.  The other lounges have their old motif, except for Boleros which was redone in a Cuban theme.

The cabins are small, but clean and adequate for a short cruise.  The bathrooms are small, and because it is an older ship none of the standard staterooms have balconies.

One strange part of the ship is the gym.  It was added as a loft to the lounge in the Crow's Nest.  While you have to go up a spiral stair case from the lounge to the gym, it seems strange to me if you want to work out at night to have to walk through an active bar to get there (considering you will be wearing work out attire).  It was obvious they had to find a spot for the gym, so had to make do.

All in all, I would recommend this ship to couples looking for a short, relatively quiet getaway.  I think it is perfect for people who have cruising for a long time and would like an experience to reminisce about cruising of yesteryear.

Wednesday, July 20, 2016

Norwegian Fjords on the msKoningsdam

Last week, my wife Cathy and I had the privilege of sailing to the Norwegian Fjords on the beautiful new msKoningsdam.  It was a wonderful trip!  Check out the pictures!

We started with 2 nights in Amsterdam, always a fun city!  Cathy visited museums while I explored.  We want through town as locals, having rented a bicycle for the day.  It was fun, but you have to be careful, the Dutch take their bike riding seriously!  We enjoyed some of the local cheese and rode into a park and along side the canals.  It was great!  Of course Amsterdam does have it's interesting side, with the Red Light district and "coffee shops".  We didn't partake of those, but it was fun to watch what was going on!

We then boarded the Koningsdam.  Due to high winds, the ship could not get into Amsterdam, so we road about an hour to Rotterdam to embark on the ship.  The ship is beautiful, with a modern high tech theater, great entertainment venues highlighted by the popular B.B. Kings Blues Club, and many great food venues including the Dutch Cafe, Dive Inn, Pinnacle Grill and more.  I had never sailed on Holland America before, and really enjoyed it.  The crowd was older, which meant many of the venues were quieter at night than I am accustomed to on other ships.

As you can see from the pictures, the Fjords are beautiful.  Pretty much the way you would picture it, with snow capped mountain tops.   This is not a difficult itinerary.  There is not a lot of walking.  In fact, someone with little mobility could even stay on board the ship and enjoy the beauty.   One can certainly hike and be more active, but it is not a necessity.  If you enjoy picturesque landscapes, this is an ideal itinerary.  A special shout out to and Holland America Line for hosting us onboard this wonderful trip.

Thursday, June 23, 2016

Stay Tuned for Feedback on Our Upcoming Trip

2 weeks from today, my wife Cathy and I leave for Amsterdam.  We will be boarding the msKoningsdam on a Norwegian Fjords cruise for some meetings.  We are very excited to be sailing on this magnificent new ship to such a beautiful part of the world.  We have never sailed on a Holland America cruise before, and are looking forward to the experience.

Stay tuned as I will post my thoughts on this cruise.  I hope it lives up to my expectations, as this has been a "bucket list" trip for me for a long time!

Thursday, June 9, 2016

Follow up on International Travel

In my first post a few weeks ago, I spoke about travel abroad, particularly to Europe.  In that message I discussed my daughter, Sarah, who is spending a semester in Spain.  I wanted to follow up on that discussion.

Sarah completed her studies and is spending a few weeks travelling before returning home at the end of this month.  We spoke to her a few days ago, and she is having an amazing experience.  But she told us she continues to meet Europeans who will not travel to the United States out of fear.  One person told her that every American walks around with a pistol in their pocket.  The press has the world believing that every street in the United States is like the wild west of the 1800s, with constant gun battles.

The power that the press is wielding is frightening.  Network news creates impressions that are not true and create tremendous damage.  Candidates for office use these impressions to create more fear to garner votes.    The travel industry is suffering from declines in activity that are having serious economic consequences.  More importantly, when people stop traveling relationships and understanding suffer.  The world is a better place when we travel, see how others live and realize that while we may practice our lives differently, most want the same things out of life:  happiness, joy, love, family and friends.  

Bad guys want to create tension between different cultures to secure power.  By visiting other parts of the world we build bridges between our societies.  We must be defiant and enjoy life; and one of the best ways to do that is by continuing to travel.  We learn that just because we may have different political philosophies, practice different religions, wear different types of clothes or eat different types of food, in the end the vast majority of the world's population are good people that all want to live together peacefully.

Thursday, May 26, 2016

As we approach Memorial Day, we must always remember those who have made the ultimate sacrifice for our country.  From those men who lost their lives fighting for our independence in the 18th century, to those who fought to keep our union in tact in the 19th century, to those who fought for the freedom of our allies in the 20th century, and finally to those in the current century fighting those who want to destroy innocent people, we owe them all a debt that we can never repay.

There was an editorial in today's Wall Street Journal urging all Americans to visit our military cemeteries overseas.  I had the privilege of going to Normandy about 3 years ago, and it was an experience I will never forget.  Seeing these Americans buried in France makes you realize that our guys have not only sacrificed themselves for our freedom, but for that of so many throughout the world.

There are more opportunities than ever to visit these historic sites.  Normandy, for example, can be visited not only when traveling the roads of France, but can also be accessed from cruise ships and river cruises.  There is a lot to see there, and it can easily be a full day between all of the landing sites and memorials.  And what could be a better way to honor our fallen than to go stand on their final resting place?