January 2018 Travel Column

Wave Season Offers Cruise Passengers Bonus Amenities

It’s a new year and that means cruise lines are rolling out new wave season sales through the end of March. So it’s also a perfect time for travelers interested in the glaciers of Alaska, the crystal-clear waters of the Caribbean or the sunny Mediterranean to explore opportunities with ships that are new for 2018.

Royal Caribbean’s Symphony of the Seas launches in April, with room for nearly 7,000 passengers. The ship is divided into seven neighborhoods designed for relaxation and entertainment, including tree-lined Central Park, the Vitality at Sea Spa and Fitness Center and the Royal Promenade, with its luxury shopping. Attractions include the Ultimate Abyss, a 10-story slide, and Splashaway Bay, a water park designed for kids. Symphony of the Seas will sail throughout the Mediterranean this summer before heading to Miami in November, where she’ll embark on cruises to the Eastern and Western Caribbean.

Norwegian Bliss, the newest ship from Norwegian Cruise Line, sets sail for Alaska this summer and, beginning in November, travels to the Eastern Caribbean from its port in Miami. The ship, which can accommodate 4,000 passengers, will have a 180-degree observation lounge designed to provide spectacular views of Alaska’s mountains and glaciers, as well as the Caribbean’s turquoise waters. Passengers can put their driving skills to the test in electric go-carts on the largest racetrack at sea, play a game of laser tag set in an abandoned spaceship or try their luck in the ship’s casino.

Known for its popular river cruises, Viking is expanding its fleet of oceangoing ships. The all-veranda Orion launches in July with room for 930 guests. The design pays tribute to the company’s Scandinavian heritage. A Nordic-style spa includes a traditional sauna as well as a snow grotto, with snowflakes gently descending from the ceiling. The Orion’s itineraries include Barcelona to Rome and Venice to Athens. And the ship’s programming will feature the cultural enrichment for which Viking is famous, from vintage wine and food inspired by its ports of call to talks that focus on local history.

Also in 2018, Travel Leaders Group will expand its Distinctive Voyages, cruises that offer exclusive, bonus amenities such as private cocktail receptions, an onboard host and carefully curated shore events that enable passengers to connect with local culture. Seabourn’s Ovation, which will spend the summer in Europe, offers 12 Distinctive Voyages cruises beginning in May. The Azamara Pursuit will sail in Europe and South America, as well as make transatlantic crossings, beginning in August after undergoing a complete makeover. There will be five Distinctive Voyages in 2018. In December, Celebrity Cruises launches the Celebrity Edge, which will sail in the Caribbean. Among the features are two-story Edge Villas and the Magic Carpet, a cantilevered, floating platform rising 13 stories above sea level that will offer a full bar and live music. Non-hosted amenity sailings will be offered at first, with Distinctive Voyages added later.

For help planning a cruise in 2018, contact your travel agent.


2018 Can’t Miss Winter Festivals

If wintertime makes you think about activities such as skating and skiing, a cup of hot chocolate and maybe an ice sculpture or two, then here’s a look at some of the season’s best outdoor festivals.

Saranac Lake, in upstate New York’s scenic Adirondack Park, has held a Winter Carnival since 1897. This year’s event, which takes place Feb. 2-11, includes a lineup of sporting events, performances parades and fireworks. There are plenty of things you’d expect, like an ice palace, a display of woodsmen’s logging skills and a chocolate festival, as well as some you might not, like the ladies’ fry pan toss and snowshoe softball.

For a festival with a Western flair, head to Steamboat Springs, Colorado, where the Winter Carnival will be held from Feb. 7-11. This year’s theme is “Lighting the Flame,” in honor of the Winter Olympics in South Korea. Skiing plays a major role in the festivities in this resort town. Lots of events take place downtown, including the traditional parade that features the high school marching band on skis. And on Saturday night, Howelsen Hill is lit up for a thrilling display of ski jumping.

SnowFest, in North Lake Tahoe, California, celebrates its 37th anniversary in 2018. The winter carnival, from March 1-11, includes fireworks, parades, and the popular Polar Bear Swim. In addition, many of the nearby ski resorts will have special events during the festival like winter bowling and a ski and snowboard obstacle course for kids. Of course there’s always plenty of great food, from a luau to a clambake, a barbecue festival and an ice cream-eating contest.

In Anchorage, Alaska, the Fur Rendezvous, known informally as the “Fur Rondy,” began as a sports tournament in 1935. It’s grown into a huge celebration of everything that makes Alaska unique, from sled dogs to wintertime sports to Native Alaskan culture. This year’s festival takes place Feb. 23 to March 4. Some of the more unusual events include the Running of the Reindeer, Outhouse Races, the “Mr. Fur Face” competition to select the best beard and mustache, and the Blanket Toss, an Alaska Native tradition. Plus, there’ll be snow sculptures, fireworks, a carnival and music.

And don’t forget about Canada when you’re looking for wintertime fun.

Visitors to Quebec City can get a taste of European charm during the Winter Carnival, from Jan. 26 to Feb. 11. Old Town, with its historic buildings, bistros and shops is a center of activity. You’ll find nighttime parades, an international snow sculpture competition and an ice palace. Montreal is home to one of North America’s biggest winter festivals. Montreal en Lumiere, from Feb. 22 to March 4, features performing arts, fine dining and free activities for the whole family. In Ottawa, Winterlude takes place weekends from Feb. 2-19. The capital city’s Rideau Canal is the world’s largest naturally frozen ice skating rink. It’s also home to events like the Ice Dragon Boat Festival.

For help planning a trip to a winter carnival, contact your travel agent.


5 Cities to Explore African American History

With Martin Luther King Jr. Day on Jan. 15 and Black History Month coming in February, it’s a great time to plan a family trip over a long weekend and visit places that tell the story of African-Americans’ contributions to American history.

To learn about Dr. King’s life and legacy, head to the civil-rights leader’s hometown of Atlanta and the Martin Luther King Jr. National Historic Site. Visitors can tour King’s childhood home, pay their respects at the final resting place of King and his wife, Coretta and tour the Ebenezer Baptist Church, where three generations of his family preached. At the Atlanta University Center, the nation’s largest concentration of historically black colleges and universities, vistors can tour galleries and museums with works by African and African-American artists.

In Memphis, the Lorraine Motel, where King was assassinated, is now part of the National Civil Rights Museum. More than 250 artifacts, films, oral histories and interactive exhibits guide visitors through African-American history. Memphis is known as the Home of the Blues, and the city’s Blues Hall of Fame celebrates the music that originated with African-Americans in the South. About an hour north of Memphis, in Henning, Tennessee, the boyhood home of “Roots” author Alex Haley is open to visitors.

Chicago’s DuSable Museum of African American History is named after the Haitian explorer who, in 1779, established the settlement that would become the Windy City. Permanent exhibits include “Red, White, Blue & Black: A History of Blacks in the Armed Forces” and “Freedom, Resistance and the Journey Toward Equality.” Save time for a walking tour of the Hyde Park neighborhood that President Barack Obama and his wife Michelle called home before he was elected president. A plaque marks the spot where the former first couple shared their first kiss.

In Kansas City, the historic 18th & Vine district was a center of African-American life and a cradle of jazz. Today, it’s home to two museums of African-American history. The Negro Leagues Baseball Museum tells the story of black players from the late 1800s through the 1960s with photographs, artifacts and multimedia displays. The American Jazz Museum brings to life this American art form in a way that’s engaging for visitors of all ages and musical backgrounds. The museum is also home to the Blue Room nightclub.

Since it opened in September 2016, more than 2½ million people have visited the National Museum of African American History & Culture in Washington, D.C. With thousands of artifacts, stretching back several centuries to the present day, the museum’s mission is to tell “A People’s Journey, A Nation’s Story.” Free, timed-entry passes are released online several months in advance on the first Wednesday of every month. They go quickly, so start planning now if you want to visit later this year. Other sites in Washington to explore African-American history include the Martin Luther King Jr. Memorial and Cedar Hill, the home of abolitionist and orator Frederick Douglass.

For help planning a trip to explore African-American history, contact your travel agent.


Tips for Planning a Honeymoon or Destination Wedding

If 2018 is the year you’re tying the knot, and your dream nuptials include a destination wedding followed by an international honeymoon, planning may be easier than you first realize. Travel professionals are ready and waiting to help everything go smoothly.

The agents at Travel Leaders Group have developed working relationships with suppliers in destination wedding and honeymoon locations around the world. They’ve got the inside knowledge of various resort brands, as well as the personal experience that comes with having stayed at many of them. They’ll put their expertise to work helping to select the best transportation, destination and accommodations for the needs of you and your guests.

Here are some things to think about before you meet with your destination wedding and honeymoon travel professional.

First, figure out the size of your guest list. Even an estimate will help your agent provide you with the best recommendations. To make travel easier, as well as save time and money, your agent can assist with booking group air, hotel and ground transportation. In selecting the perfect venue, let your agent know whether this will be a multigenerational affair, including children, or an adults-only wedding. While every guest at your wedding is important, there may be some close friends or family members to whom you want to give extra attention. Your agent can help with upgrades and amenities. Finally, be up front if your guests have varying budgets, so that your agent can help ensure that they’re able to travel in an affordable manner.

When it comes to your honeymoon, factors to consider include, of course, your budget, the type of activities and entertainment you enjoy as a couple and your appetite for adventure. For example, is your dream to spend time relaxing at a luxury resort or would you rather spend your days sightseeing? Do you enjoy nightlife or would you rather spend a quiet evening away from all the hustle and bustle?

Another resource that supplements assistance from your travel agent is the new website Vacation (www.vacation.com). Powered by Travel Leaders Group, Vacation offers ideas and expertise from professionals who assist more than 50,000 travelers a year.

The section on weddings and honeymoons includes articles on topics such as all-inclusive versus pay-as-you-go accommodations, the hottest honeymoon travel trends and a quiz to help discover your honeymoon style. Also on the site is an interactive guide to destination weddings, designed with the input of Travel Leaders agents who have planned and attended hundreds of such events. It’s a fun, interactive way to get answers to some of the most common questions, including the average cost, who pays for what, the average number of guests likely to attend, how soon you should send out save-the-date cards, whether you should expect gifts and guidelines for creating your wedding website.

To help plan your destination wedding and honeymoon, contact your travel agent.


Business Travel: Packing Lighter

For many businesses, travel is a necessary part of doing business. But it also costs money when employees are on the road – for transportation, hotels and meals. And for airline passengers especially, those costs have been climbing recently in the form of new fees.

Paying a fee to check a bag on an airplane was once unheard of, but it’s become the norm for domestic flights in the United States. Now, some airlines are proposing to charge passengers to check a bag on certain transatlantic flights. Some airlines even restrict the use of overhead bin space for passengers who purchase bare-bones fares. While those changes may not yet affect travelers who fly regular economy or business class, it’s another reminder that business passengers can save some money by packing as lightly and efficiently as possible when they’re on the go.

To save their company some money, not checking luggage is one tried and true tip that many business travelers follow. You won’t have to worry about whether or not your bag makes it to your destination and you’ll save time by avoiding the check-in line and baggage claim — important considerations if you’re on a tight schedule. Just make sure you choose a durable carry-on that you can easily maneuver around the airport, as well as a laptop bag that slips easily over the handle of your luggage. And, of course, check the regulations of the airlines that you fly to ensure the bag meets their size restrictions for carry-ons.

Reducing the amount of paper you bring with you can save valuable luggage space. Most of the time, you can access everything you need on your laptop. But if there are specially prepared documents that you have to bring with you, consider shipping them ahead to your destination. The cost of shipping might be cheaper than paying a baggage fee.

When it comes to packing, it helps to have a plan.

Look at what you brought on your last business trip versus what you really used when you were on the road, and leave the nonessential items at home. This is especially important when it comes to clothes, if you want to fit everything in a carry-on. Consider fewer outfits – a couple of suits for men, and two blazers that can be worn with a matching pair of pants or a skirt for women. Just switching a tie or blouse can make a difference. Also, pick colors that are easy to mix and match a number of different ways.

To save space when it comes to personal-care items, don’t pack the ones that you know will be in your hotel room, like shampoo and a hair dryer. If you pack an extra pair of shoes, fill them with items like socks, underwear or toiletries.

For help planning a business trip, contact your travel agent.

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