December 2017 Travel Column

Look for Cruise Promotions During ‘Wave Season’

If you’re thinking about taking a cruise in 2018, it’s time to get ready for wave season.

Right around the time people in many parts of the country are coping with ice, snow and freezing temperatures, cruise lines are rolling out deals to entice travelers dreaming of a warm-weather getaway. This period, known as wave season, lasts from Jan. 1 to March 31, and it’s the biggest time of the year for cruise bookings. In fact, some cruise lines even start offering perks in December so they can fill up their cabins as early as possible.

While there may be some fare discounts, it’s the extras that make wave season such a great time to book a trip. Cruise lines will usually sweeten the pot by offering amenities such as a cabin upgrade, prepaid gratuities or onboard credit. There may even be deals on extras such as specialty dining, beverage and spa packages, shore excursions or Internet access.

Of course, before you decide among the deals, you’ll have to think about the type of cruise that best fits your interests, style and budget. Large oceangoing vessels that travel to Alaska and throughout the Caribbean are like floating cities, with a wealth of options for dining and entertainment, as well as children’s activities. River cruises, like the ones that travel Europe’s waterways, use smaller boats and provide a more intimate experience. Luxury travelers and older passengers especially find river cruises attractive. River cruises are more likely to offer onboard activities that focus on the food and culture of the places you’ll be visiting. Since these ships travel close to city centers and historic sites there is an emphasis on intimate excursions.

Whichever type of cruise you pick, a few tips can go a long way toward enhancing your experience.

First, think about arriving at your departure point the night before the cruise begins. You’ll be able to do some sightseeing and start your trip relaxed, without the stress of a long travel day and worrying about delayed flights or missed connections.

If you’ve got your heart set on a specialty onboard restaurant, consider making a reservation early in your cruise. On the first night it can be easier to get a table for popular dining options and you may even receive a discount for booking the first night of your voyage.

There’s a lot to do on a cruise ship, especially on huge oceangoing vessels. Take the opportunity to try something new, but don’t try to do everything. It’s okay to pass up a shore excursion and spend a day exploring the ship at a time when it’s likely to be less crowded.

Of course there’ll be days when you want to go sightseeing. To make the most of your limited time, do research beforehand and figure out a plan for port days. Pick a few attractions as your top priorities.

Your travel agent has the expertise to help you wade through all the wave season specials and pick the cruise and excursion itinerary that’s right for you.

A Caribbean Love Affair

Americans have long had a love affair with the Caribbean. As much as we enjoy visiting, the people of the Caribbean love hosting us. Tourism plays a key role in their economy, providing 2.4 million jobs.

While recent hurricanes have devastated parts of the region, the Caribbean consists of nearly three dozen countries and spans more than 1 million square miles. More than 70 percent of destinations were not affected by the storms and the majority of the region’s hotels are fully operational and ready to receive guests.

As rebuilding continues in the affected areas, Americans can do our part by continuing to visit, which helps to keep the region’s economy healthy. To provide consumers with the latest information the Caribbean tourism industry, along with partners, has launched the One Caribbean Family campaign. This initiative is designed to spread the word that most of the destinations in the region are open for business and ready to welcome guests and help affected destinations recover.

For its part, Travel Leaders Group introduced the One Caribbean Family Ambassador campaign to let consumers know that there are travel agents skilled and up-to-date about the Caribbean and all of the terrific options for fall and winter travel to the region. With their deep knowledge of the region and close relationships with cruise lines, tour operators and hotels and resorts, travel agents are perfectly positioned to advise their clients about where to go and what to do.

With the Caribbean’s pristine beaches, turquoise-clear water and variety of accommodations from luxury hotels to all-inclusive resorts, as well as rich history and culture, there’s no shortage of places to visit and activities to enjoy.

If you’d like to do something different for the holidays, think about a getaway to the Cayman Islands. On Grand Cayman, you can dine on fresh seafood on Christmas Day, then ring in the new year along Seven Mile Beach, considered one of the most beautiful spots of sand in the Caribbean. In between, there’s plenty to do, from shopping in George Town, the capital, to looking for the rare blue iguana in Queen Elizabeth II Botanical Park.

If you love the Caribbean but you’ve never been there during Carnival, you’re in for a treat. Trinidad & Tobago is home to one of the biggest celebrations, which in 2018 takes place Feb. 12-13. But the fun begins the weekend before in the capital, Port of Spain, with a festival in the city’s biggest park. During Carnival, revelers parade through the streets in colorful costumes, dancing to the sounds of traditional music like calypso and steel bands.

Bermuda’s famous beaches of pink sand are perfect for relaxation, but there’s plenty to do in the water, too. Surrounded by teeming coral reefs, the island has great diving and snorkeling. In January, Restaurant Week offers diners deals on local cuisine, with its mix of British, African, Caribbean and Portuguese influences. The Bermuda Festival of the Performing arts begins Jan. 13, with a full slate of music, dance and theater through March 17.

For help planning a Caribbean vacation, contact your travel agent.

REAL ID Compliancy Affects Domestic Air Travel

Starting Oct. 1, 2020, every air traveler will need a REAL-ID compliant driver’s license or other ID, such as passport, to pass through airport security screenings for domestic air travel. Beginning Jan. 22, 2018, travelers from some states may need more than a driver’s license for domestic flights.

The REAL ID Act, passed by Congress in 2005, is designed to improve security and prevent identification fraud. It establishes minimum standards for the design and issuance of driver’s licenses and state-issued ID cards. Federal agencies, including the Transportation Security Administration, are prohibited from accepting identification that does not meet those standards.

But states have been given time to bring their driver’s licenses into compliance, and considerable progress has been made. According to the Department of Homeland Security website, as of late November every state is either in compliance with the law, has been granted an extension or has requested an additional extension.

Several states extensions expired Oct. 10, including Illinois, Louisiana, Michigan, Missouri, New York and Rhode Island. Their requests for additional time to become compliant are under review.

Another group of states has been granted an additional extension until Oct. 10, 2018. They include Alaska, California, Idaho, Kentucky, Maine, Massachusetts, Minnesota, Montana, New Hampshire, New Jersey, North Dakota, Oklahoma, Oregon, Pennsylvania, South Carolina, Virginia, and Washington. Other states, and the District of Columbia, are in compliance with the act.

What does this mean for air travelers?

If your enhanced driver’s license or ID card is from a state that’s in compliance, you can use it at an airport security checkpoint. But be sure to check with your state agency that issues licenses about acquiring one that’s compliant with the law, especially if you haven’t received a new one recently as part of your renewal cycle.

If your state has been granted an extension, you can continue to use your current driver’s license as identification as long as the extension remains in effect. Extensions won’t be handed out indefinitely. Starting Oct. 1, 2020, every air traveler will need a REAL-ID compliant license or other ID for domestic air travel.

If you’re from a state that isn’t in compliance and has been denied an extension ­–­ a scenario that hasn’t happened yet – you’ll need a different ID, such as a passport, at the airport come Jan. 22, even if you’re only traveling domestically. Without it, you won’t be permitted through security. At least two of the states awaiting word on an extension – New York and Louisiana – have begun offering optional REAL ID-compliant licenses and identification cards. Five states ­– Michigan, Minnesota, New York, Vermont and Washington – offer enhanced driver’s licenses, which are also acceptable.

Other alternate forms of identification acceptable to the TSA include a passport, passport card, Trusted Traveler card issued by the Department of Homeland Security, military ID or a permanent resident card. And remember that children under 18 aren’t required to provide identification when traveling with a companion on a domestic flight, although the companion will need an acceptable identification. That doesn’t change under the REAL ID Act.

For help planning a trip, and for the most up-to-date information on how the REAL ID Act may affect you, contact your travel agent.

What to Do in the Twin Cities 

Just like the players who’ll be competing in Super Bowl LII, football fans heading to U.S. Bank Stadium in Minneapolis also have to prepare in advance of the big game on Feb. 4 in order to make the most of their stay in the Twin Cities.

A highlight of the week leading up to the game is the 2018 NFL Super Bowl Experience, which will take place from Jan. 27 to Feb. 3 at the Minneapolis Convention Center. There’ll be autograph sessions, a memorabilia show, youth football clinics and a chance to gaze upon the ultimate prize: the Vince Lombardi Trophy awarded to the Super Bowl champions. Downtown’s Nicollet Mall will be home to the free Super Bowl Live festival from Jan. 26 to Feb. 4, with food, ice sculpting, live concerts and other activities centered on the theme “Bold North.”

Minneapolis was once known as the “Flour Milling Capital of the World.” Visitors can explore that history at the Mill City Museum, built on the ruins of what was once the world’s largest flour mill. The ninth-floor observation deck offers a great view of the Mississippi River and St. Anthony Falls. To get a closer look, take a walk across the Stone Arch Bridge. Built in 1883 and made of granite and limestone, it’s the only span of its type over the mighty Mississippi.

Be sure to check out some Minneapolis neighborhoods, too, like Dinkytown near the University of Minnesota, where you can walk in the footsteps of former student Bob Dylan. Or visit some of the shops, restaurants and bars in the eclectic Uptown area.

But the week’s fun isn’t limited to Minneapolis.

Head to neighboring Saint Paul, where the city’s Winter Carnival is being extended by a week just for Super Bowl fans. An annual event since 1886, it’s the oldest winter festival in the United States and this year runs from Jan. 25 to Feb. 10. Most events are free. Historic Rice Park will be the setting for many of the activities including, concerts, ice carvings and parades. And the city’s Xcel Energy Center will be the site of a Dave Matthews Band concert on Feb. 3, the night before the Super Bowl.

No doubt you’ve spent time at a mall at home, but you haven’t seen an indoor shopping center until you’ve visited the Mall of America, in Bloomington. You’ll find more than 500 stores, an indoor amusement park, an aquarium, miniature golf, movie theaters and restaurants. The Blue Line light-rail service that connects the Minneapolis-St. Paul International Airport with downtown and U.S. Bank Stadium also goes to the mall.

In nearby Chanhassen, fans can tour Prince’s Paisley Park estate, where the legendary musician lived and worked up until his death last year. You’ll see Prince’s recording studios and artifacts from The Purple One’s personal archives, including his iconic concert wardrobe, awards, musical instruments and motorcycle collection.

For help planning a trip to the Twin Cities for the Super Bowl, contact your travel agent.

Business Travel – Useful Apps

When you’re on a business trip, especially in an unfamiliar place, having a good collection of apps on your smartphone can help things go smoothly. And these free downloads won’t put a dent in your company’s travel budget.

One app that’s helpful before you leave is PackPoint. Enter where you’re going, when you’re going and the duration of your trip. The app generates a packing list of clothes, toiletries and other essentials, taking into account the weather at your destination. You check off the items as you pack them.

Of course business trips always involve lodging and transportation. Airlines and hotel chains also have apps, and they can come in handy. It’s a good idea to download them before you leave home.

Airline apps offer a quick way to check your flight status and departure gate, as well as maps of major airports. Some can be used as in-flight entertainment devices to watch movies and TV shows. If you’re unsure about whether an item can go in a checked or carry-on bag, the MyTSA app has a searchable database, as well as information on wait times at security checkpoints. Amtrak’s app lets you search schedules and check the status of your train. Some hotel apps allow guests to check in from the train, plane or on the road and will send them an alert when their room is ready. For travelers on a tight schedule, it’s a time-saver.

Business travelers who take trips abroad often need to navigate a foreign language as well as a new place.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has a TravWell app that will help you plan your trip, with vaccine recommendations by country and a place to record medications and immunizations. For your language needs a free translation app, such as Google Translate, can be very helpful. Just type a sentence in English and it’ll be automatically translated into any one of dozens of languages. There’s also a voice-activation feature that will turn whatever you type into audio. Another good one to have when traveling abroad is XE Currency, which lets you keep track of exchange rates around the world. Also handy is the State Department’s Smart Traveler app. It has the addresses and phone numbers of embassies and consulates around the world, as well as information on each country and travel warnings and alerts. And no matter where you are in the world, the WiFi Map app will help you get online.

Most major cities have apps that can help you find your way around, as well as give you information on restaurants and attractions. For example, Chicago’s official visitors guide, with an events calendar, is available as an app. Remember to download the transit system app if you’ll be taking the bus or train. The New York City subway app includes a route planner and will also send you travel alerts about service delays.

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

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