August 2017 Travel Column

Alaska Celebrates 150 Years

With the crowds thinned out and the spectacular fall colors emerging, Alaska can be a beautiful place to visit in September and October. And in 2017, there’s even more reason to plan a trip.

This year marks the sesquicentennial of Alaska becoming a U.S. territory, after its purchase from Russia in an agreement negotiated by Secretary of State William Seward. The official transfer took place in Sitka on Oct. 18, 1867, when the Russian flag was lowered and the Stars and Stripes was raised. Sitka, near the capital of Juneau, will celebrate with Alaska Day festivities from Oct. 10-18, including a parade and costume ball.

Alaska’s massive glaciers are one of its most spectacular natural features, and perhaps the best way to see them is from the deck of a ship. There’s still time to catch the tail end of cruise season, which generally runs through the third week of September. Even in October, when the larger cruise ships have moved on, you can still get out on the water. Charter boats from Whittier and Seward offer small-group sightseeing tours to Prince William Sound and Kenai Fjords National Park respectively that will get you up close to the glaciers as well as within view of wildlife like seals, puffins and bald eagles.

Of course, there’s much to see and do on land in Alaska, too.

With the weather a little cooler, September and October are good months to try outdoor activities, including hiking, biking and walking, amid the brilliant fall foliage. There’s also a better chance to see large animals like moose, caribou and grizzlies as they prepare for winter. Or, take in the scenery from the comfort of a train car. The Aurora Winter Train makes the 12-hour trip between Anchorage and Fairbanks every weekend. If it’s a clear day, you’ll get a glimpse of Denali, North America’s highest mountain peak. In October, Alaska Railroad runs a Beer Train from Anchorage that features a multi-course dinner and an assortment of microbrews. From Fairbanks, take a tour to see the dazzling nighttime display of the aurora borealis, or northern lights.

Most visitors to Alaska will stop in Anchorage, the state’s largest city. Its restaurants serve up some of the freshest seafood you’ll find anywhere, from oysters to king crab and wild salmon. One of the city’s biggest fall events is the Alaska Federation of Natives Conference, which this year takes place Oct. 19-21. Almost all events are open to the public, so it’s a great place to sample Native Alaskan food and culture, and buy crafts from local artists.

For a change of pace, take a trip about 120 miles north of Anchorage to the small town of Talkeetna, said to be the inspiration for the fictional community of Cicely in the popular television series “Northern Exposure.” Spend time checking out the shops, galleries, restaurants and breweries, and learn about the community’s gold mining history.

For help planning a trip to Alaska any time of year, contact your travel agent.

Consumer Survey Results – What Would You Do?

How would you handle some uncomfortable but fairly common travel dilemmas?

In a new survey, Travel Leaders Group polled 2,854 American consumers about what they would do when confronted with potentially sticky situations at the airport, on the plane, aboard a cruise ship or while sightseeing.

In some cases, the etiquette is clear. Most people respect the needs of travelers with disabilities, even in crowded airport waiting areas. More than half of respondents would not sit in a spot reserved for passengers with disabilities, even if it were the only seat available. If they did take the seat, it would only be in a situation where there were no disabled travelers in the area, and they would move as soon as asked.

Next to getting a seat, finding a place to charge a smartphone can be the biggest challenge in waiting areas, especially during the summer. But passengers don’t seem too bothered by it. The vast majority indicated that they would go to a different area to find an outlet or wait patiently for one to become available, while a third of respondents said that it wasn’t an issue for them.

When faced with someone cutting in front of them while they’re lined up to board, travelers have mixed views. Approximately a third of respondents wouldn’t do anything, despite being bothered by the behavior. But another third indicated that they would say something to the individual. Nearly 20 percent wouldn’t be bothered by the behavior.

One of the most common situations facing solo travelers is being asked to switch seats so that a family can sit together. Nearly half of those surveyed said they would move regardless of where their new seat was located. However, a third would do so only if they didn’t have to switch to a middle seat, and 11 percent only if they could sit on the aisle.

Some situations compel action. If a fellow passenger were watching a graphic video that a young child was able to see, two-thirds of respondents would either call a flight attendant or say something to the person. Likewise, if they saw a passenger mistreating a member of the flight crew, 80 percent would alert another attendant or say something to the individual.

Cruise ships bring their own set of etiquette rules. Only a quarter of those surveyed would say something to a fellow passenger who cut in front of them in the buffet line. On the other hand, if they spotted someone smoking on a balcony near their stateroom, nearly three-quarters would alert a member of the crew, while about 15 percent would confront the person.

Finally, from smashing 18th-century candelabras in Rome to breaking the finger off a 600-year-old statue in Florence, there’s no shortage of stories about visitors wreaking havoc at centuries-old sites. If they saw someone damaging an antiquity, nearly 90 percent of respondents would alert a security guard or official.

For help planning a trip across the United States or around the world, contact your travel agent.

Disney’s Newest Adventures

Sure, the thermometer still says summer, but if you’re thinking about a family trip over winter vacation, especially one that involves a Disney destination, it’s not too early to start planning.

Whether you’re talking about Disney World in Florida, Disneyland in California or the Disney parks around the world, including Paris and Hong Kong, there’s always something new for the whole family, adults and kids alike.

Pandora – The World of Avatar, in Disney World’s Animal Kingdom, is the new attraction that’s receiving the biggest buzz. Based on the movie, it explores the power of nature through rides like the family-friendly Na’vi River Journey, a gentle trip through the mysterious and colorful rainforest. Avatar: Flight of Passage is an exhilarating ride in 3D that gives visitors a banshee’s-eye view of this grand mythical landscape.

In the fall, Disney World marks the 35th anniversary of Epcot, which celebrates technological innovation and world cultures. Among this year’s special events is an expanded International Food & Wine Festival, which runs from Aug. 31 through Nov. 13. There’ll be 35 kiosks serving up food from around the world, celebrity chefs and cooking demonstrations, and a focus on the cuisine of India, Spain and Thailand.

Disney California Adventure, part of the Disneyland complex, features a new attraction called Guardians of the Galaxy – Mission: Breakout, inspired by the popular movie. From Sept. 17 through early January, Disneyland’s Haunted Mansion gets a frightfully fun makeover with characters from Tim Burton’s “The Nightmare Before Christmas.” Beginning in November, the Christmas Fantasy Parade returns to Main Street with beloved Disney characters and, of course, Santa Claus riding in his sleigh.

Hong Kong Disneyland has a major new attraction from the world of comics. Iron Man Experience, the park’s first Marvel-themed ride, opened earlier this year. The 3D motion simulator allows people to soar over the skies of Hong Kong alongside the superhero in an epic battle against the forces of evil. Of course Hong Kong Disneyland has favorites such as It’s a Small World and the Sleeping Beauty Castle.

Disneyland Paris is celebrating its 25th anniversary this year with additional entertainment and revamped attractions. There’s a fresh daytime spectacle, Disney Stars on Parade, a stunning nighttime finale with fireworks over Sleeping Beauty Castle and a stage show featuring Mickey Mouse that pays tribute to the Disneyland anniversary. A reimagined Star Tours: The Adventures Continue takes riders on a thrilling 3D journey through the “Star Wars” galaxy via a motion simulator. An old favorite, Pirates of the Caribbean, features new characters, special effects and Audio-Animatronics figures.

Finally, fans of all ages can look forward to Toy Story Land, opening next summer at Disney’s Hollywood Studios in Florida. Visitors will be able to explore the world of the Pixar movie in a trip to Andy’s backyard. They’ll find all their favorite toy characters, including Woody and Buzz. Rides will include the Slinky Dog Dash and Alien Swirling Saucers.

For help planning a Disney vacation at home or abroad, contact your travel agent. 

Empty Nesters – Travel for Adults

For many Baby Boomers, August is a time of transition, as they send their youngest child off to college and join the growing ranks of empty nesters. With this life-changing event, their travel plans also enter a new phase.

According to a 2017 report on travel trends from AARP, members of this generation are looking for a laid back and relaxing trip. Popular international destinations include Mexico, the Caribbean, the United Kingdom and Ireland.

Mexico and the Caribbean routinely pop up on Travel Leaders Group surveys of the top international vacation destinations for American consumers. The crystal-clear waters, white-sand beaches and warm temperatures are a draw for vacationers regardless of age. They’re also places that are easy to reach from most of the United States. Plus, there are lots of options for travelers who want an adults-only resort, including well-known brands such as Sandals, Iberostar and RIU.

If you’re planning a trip to Mexico, consider exploring the resort towns along the Riviera Maya as a less-crowded, quieter alternative to Cancun. Playa del Carmen offers a variety of recreational activities, including snorkeling sailing and golfing, along with a bohemian vibe. Its main street, Fifth Avenue, is a great spot for shopping and dining. The Mayan ruins of Tulum and the Xcaret eco-archaeological park are two places to get a taste of Mexico’s history and culture.

For a Caribbean getaway without the crowds, consider low-key Nevis, the smaller of two islands that make up St. Kitts and Nevis. It’s also the childhood home of Founding Father Alexander Hamilton, and history buffs can visit the museum built on the site of his birthplace. For a livelier spot, try Jamaica, the Dominican Republic or the Bahamas, all of which offer a range of resorts and opportunities for a romantic dinner for two, followed by a stroll along the beach.

Of course London is a popular base for traveling throughout the United Kingdom. See if you qualify for the British Senior Railcard and get a discount to explore places like Stonehenge, Salisbury Cathedral and Windsor Castle. Music fans can check out the Victoria and Albert Museum’s Pink Floyd exhibit that runs until Oct. 1. Be sure to visit one of the city’s pubs, like the Lamb & Flag in Covent Garden, where Charles Dickens was believed to be a regular patron.

Fall is a good time to enjoy Ireland’s festivals. The Dublin Theatre Festival takes place from Sept. 28 to Oct. 15 and the Cork Folk Festival will be held from Sept. 28 to Oct. 1. Also in Dublin, check out the shopping on Grafton Street, and the beautiful St. Stephen’s Green. Beer lovers should put the Guinness Brewery tour on their list along with the Brazen Head, Dublin’s oldest pub.

Whether your destination is Ireland or England, you’ll find a wide range of accommodations, from centrally located hotels with all the amenities to smaller spots in quieter neighborhoods away from the hustle and bustle.

Contact your travel agent to plan your own empty-nest vacation.

Business Travel: Consumer Rights for Delayed, Overbooked or Canceled Flights

Most business travelers have had to cope with at least one of these situations: their flight is delayed, overbooked or canceled.

Of course, a travel agent has the back of his or her clients, assisting them in getting on another flight or getting a hotel room if necessary. But it’s also important for travelers to know what rights they have ­– and don’t have ­– in these cases.

The law does not require airlines to compensate passengers if a domestic flight is delayed or canceled, according to the U.S. Department of Transportation. However, each airline has its own policy regarding what, if anything, it will do for customers. For example, some carriers may offer compensation in the form of meal or hotel vouchers. So it’s always a good idea to ask. (On international flights, passengers may be able to recover some expenses under the Montreal Convention.)

In the case of overbooking, federal law does come into play. Before bumping anyone off a flight involuntarily, airlines are required to ask for volunteers to give up their seats in exchange for compensation. If there aren’t enough passengers willing to do so, the airline may bump people based on criteria such as check-in time, fare or frequent-flier status.

Passengers whose arrival at their destination is delayed by one to two hours (or one to four hours for international flights) must receive compensation of 200 percent of the one-way fare, up to $675. For a delay of more than two hours, (or four hours for international flights) passengers are entitled to 400 percent of the one-way fare, up to $1,350. In order to get volunteers, airlines are free to offer more money than required. However, business travelers may not have the flexibility to volunteer if the next flight will get them to their destination too late for a meeting.

There are exceptions to the rules. Airlines are not required to issue compensation if a passenger doesn’t fully comply with ticketing and check-in procedures, if the flight is unable to accommodate a passenger because an aircraft with fewer seats is substituted due to operational or safety reasons, or if an aircraft with 60 or fewer seats is unable to accommodate the passenger due to safety reasons. And no compensation is required if the arrival delay is less than an hour.

Passengers who find themselves stuck on the tarmac for an extended period waiting for takeoff should know that they have rights under U.S. law, too.

Airlines operating aircraft with 30 or more seats cannot allow them to remain on the tarmac for more than three hours on domestic flights or more than four hours on international flights without giving passengers an opportunity to leave the plane. Exceptions are allowed for safety, security and air-traffic control reasons. In addition, airlines must provide adequate food and water, ensure that lavatories are working and notify passengers regarding the status of the delay.

For assistance booking business travel anywhere across the United States or around the world, contact your travel agent.

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