March 2018 Travel Column

Exploring Adventure Travel in Mexico

While the resort areas along Mexico’s Yucatan Peninsula are terrific places to spend a relaxing beach vacation, there’s also a lot to tempt travelers who want to add outdoor activities to their trip.

If you’d like to try snorkeling or scuba diving, the waters off of Cancun and Riviera Maya are a great place to get up close to aquatic life. The region is home to the Mesoamerican Barrier Reef, which starts at the tip of the Yucatan Peninsula and stretches down to Honduras. Known as the jewel of the Caribbean, it’s teeming with more than 500 species of fish and more than 100 types of coral. Take a 45-minute ferry ride from Playa del Carmen, along the Riviera Maya, to the island of Cozumel, where the warm, shallow water makes it an excellent spot to explore this colorful underwater world. Cozumel is also a good place to try other watersports, like kitesurfing and parasailing.

The nutrient-rich waters found in the reefs around Cancun and Riviera Maya also make them one of the world’s best fishing grounds. You can try your hand at sportfishing, fly-fishing or deep-sea fishing. Tour operators will provide everything you need for a fun day at sea. Depending on the time of year, you’ll have a chance to catch everything from marlin to mahi-mahi, tuna, kingfish and more. The lagoon system around Cancun also offers year-round fly-fishing, where you can catch and release species like tarpon, barracuda and red snapper. If you’ve never tried fly-fishing, book a lesson from a tour operator.

If you’d rather play a round of golf, you can pick from more than a dozen courses. The most famous is El Camaleon Mayakoba, designed by Greg Norman and home to the OHL Classic in November.

To explore the Yucatan’s natural wonders, head to one of the many nature reserves and ecological parks. You’ll be able to spot wildlife like monkeys, flamingos, crocodiles and marine turtles in their natural habitat. Take a horseback riding tour along the beach or through the lush tropical jungle. Just off the coast, Isla Contoy is a nesting place for more than 150 species of sea birds and Isla Holbox is home to thousands of flamingos, pelicans and other exotic birds. On Isla Mujeres, the Garrafon Natural Reef Park offers visitors a variety of activities, including cycling, kayaking and zip lining. You can also go swimming with the dolphins and, from May to September, with whale sharks.

To learn more about Mexico’s history, take a day trip from Cancun to Tulum, where you can explore the remains of a 13th century walled Mayan city. Just outside Tulum is the Grand Cenote, one of many natural caves filled with fresh water that were considered sacred by the Mayans. Today, they’re perfect spots for swimming and snorkeling. The Sian Ka’an Biosphere Reserve is a great place to see wildlife or just walk around the beautiful park.

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

Disney Theme Parks New Attractions

If a trip to Disneyland or Disney World is on your list for spring break or summer vacation, you’ll find old favorites plus plenty of new events and attractions for the whole family.

On the West Coast, the Disney Food & Wine Festival, at the California Adventure theme park, is expanding to six weeks, taking place this year from March 2 to April 12. There’ll be a variety of cuisine inspired by the Golden State, dinners featuring specially selected parings of beer and wine, and demonstrations by celebrity chefs. Kids ages 3 to 11 can take part in Jr. Chef, a hands-on cooking experience. Visitors to Downtown Disney will find a new, multi-sensory attraction in “Star Wars: Secrets of the Empire.”

Another spring highlight, beginning April 13, is Pixar Fest. At Disneyland, the Play Parade will include characters and floats from beloved movies like “Toy Story,” “Monsters, Inc.” and “Up.” In the evening, “Together Forever – A Pixar Nighttime Spectacular” will feature music from the films and fireworks, capped by a flyover above Sleeping Beauty Castle by Buzz Lightyear. At California Adventure, the Paint the Night Parade will spotlight Pixar characters and a rotating series of short films will be screened in Hollywood Land. June 23 is opening day for Pixar Pier, a reimagined land featuring four neighborhoods that represent different stories from the movies, as well as an “Incredibles” themed roller coaster ride.

At Disney World, the big new attraction is the highly anticipated Toy Story Land, which opens June 30 on 11 acres at Disney Hollywood Studios. The entire “land” has been created as a celebration of toys of all kinds. Adults and children alike can join in the fun in Andy’s backyard with Woody, Buzz and the rest of the “Toy Story” characters, go for a thrilling ride on the Slinky Dog Dash roller coaster and take a spin on Alien Swirling Saucers, then head inside Andy’s room to play games in a carnival-themed arcade.

Disney World is celebrating two special anniversaries in 2018. Animal Kingdom turns 20, and to mark the occasion, a new family-friendly show, “A Great Bird Adventure,” debuts on April 22. It features wilderness explorer Russell and his furry friend Dug from Pixar’s “Up.” At Epcot, it’s the 25th anniversary of the International Flower & Garden Festival, which takes place through May 28, with Disney-character topiaries, 15 outdoor kitchens, garden tours, new children’s activities, concerts, a scavenger hunt and more.

Finally, fans of Disney Springs, the shopping, dining and entertainment complex at Disney World, will be able to choose from eight new dining options, including The Edison, a 1920s-themed restaurant, bar and lounge built in what was once a power plant. It will feature a family-friendly lunch menu but in the late evening, serve up fine food, handcrafted cocktails and dazzling nightlife. Maria & Enzo’s, in the art deco Disney Springs Air Terminal, will showcase the food of southern Italy.

For help planning a trip to Disneyland or Disney World, contact your travel agent.

2018 Is Year of the Travel Agent

You’ve worked hard, you’ve saved and now it’s time to plan your vacation. When you put your trust in a Travel Leaders agent, you’ll have a professional travel advisor who has your back every step along the way. That’s why, 2018 is The Year of the Travel Agent – time to honor those professionals, as well as explore what they have to offer for your next trip.

First and foremost, Travel Leaders agents are passionate about visiting new places and trying new experiences. They’ve traveled extensively, scouting out options for destinations, transportation, hotels, resorts and activities. They’ve become specialists in certain types of trips or parts of the world, whether it’s destination weddings and honeymoons, cruises, trips to Hawaii, the great capitals of Europe or an African safari. Through their travels and work planning trips for clients, they’ve developed close relationships with airlines, hotels, resorts, cruise lines and tourism boards in destinations around the world. They have access to exclusive benefits and discounts, the types of added amenities and deals that travelers can’t get on their own.

Travel agents use that deep well of expertise, developed over many years, to design a personalized experience for each client. Each traveler has unique needs. Agents are skilled at getting to know a client’s travel style ­– their interests, the types of places they like to go, the activities they enjoy and the type of accommodations they prefer. Some clients may want a more active trip with lots of outdoor activities. Others may want a relaxing beach trip. Or perhaps they love the cultural attractions of a big city. Whatever you want, your travel agent is someone with whom you can have a conversation and get all your questions answered, perhaps even some you hadn’t thought about.

While there’s a lot of travel information online, it can be overwhelming, especially if it’s about a place you’ve never visited before. Often, it can be difficult to separate what sounds good from what really is worth your valuable time and money. A travel agent can help cut through that clutter of information, read the fine print and help you plan the experiences that are truly worthwhile, the ones you’ll remember for a lifetime, whether it’s the attraction that’s a must-see or the restaurant you really must try, or something off the beaten path. And all the while, they will work within your budget, to help make your dollars travel further.

Your travel agent’s job doesn’t end when you start your trip. Wherever you go, travel agents provide their clients with peace of mind. Your agent is a real person, accessible in real life. If you have a problem while you’re away from home, whether it’s with transportation, an accommodation or in the event of a weather disruption or emergency, or even if you just want to extend your stay or change your itinerary, your travel agent is available to help. There’s no substitute for being able to get ahold of someone around the clock.

If you haven’t used a travel agent, or you haven’t done so in years, contact a Travel Leaders professional to learn what they can do to improve your travel experience.

Wine Country as a Spring Getaway

With hundreds of wineries, Michelin-starred restaurants, breathtaking natural beauty and luxurious resorts, northern California’s wine country is a great spot for a fun getaway.

While Napa and Sonoma counties experienced some wildfires, the damage was confined to a small area and vineyards were largely spared. The wine industry and tourism provide about 100,000 jobs and generate billions annually, making them vital to the region’s economic health. Officials want travelers to know that wine country ­­– 60 to 90 minutes from San Francisco – is ready and eager to welcome visitors.

Northern California’s Mediterranean climate – warm days, cool evenings and dry summers ­– makes it an ideal spot to grow grapes for fine wines. The history of winemaking in the region dates to the mid 19th-century, but really took off in the 1960s and 1970s.

Today, no matter where you go, you’re never far from a tasting. Full-bodied Cabernets, fruity Merlots and buttery Chardonnays are just some of the dozens of varieties you’ll find at the more than 400 wineries that dot the region. At large operations, like Robert Mondavi in Napa Valley, with its graceful, California Mission-style architecture, you can not only sample wine but also take a tour that follows the path of grapes from the vineyard to the finished product. Or try the Napa Valley Wine Train, a three-hour trip served with wine and a multiple course gourmet meal.

Travelers who want a taste of the great outdoors along with their wine will find plenty of opportunities.

Wine country is a great place to see California’s towering redwood trees. Take a drive along the 10-mile Bohemian Highway in Sonoma County, one of the state’s most scenic routes. It winds through the redwoods and past organic farms, wineries and towns with unique shops and restaurants. Also in Sonoma, visit the home of writer and adventurer Jack London, known for books like “The Call of the Wild.” The area, now a state park, has miles of trails for hiking, biking and horseback riding, as well as historic buildings from the time when London lived there. In Napa, take a walk through Yountville and enjoy its small-town charm. If you can’t get a reservation at the famed French Laundry, you can always walk across the street to explore the public garden, where many of the vegetables used in the restaurant are grown.

This spring’s wine country events include Passport to Dry Creek Valley, Sonoma County’s premier wine and food festival, April 28-29, with more than 40 wineries taking part. That same weekend, Napa Valley’s Stags Leap District holds its annual Vineyard to Vintner event, with special dinners and winery open houses. Sonoma County’s Hot Air Balloon Classic takes place June 9-10. If you visit during harvest time, beginning in mid-August and running through the end of October, some wineries, like Grgich Hills Estate in Napa Valley, will let you stomp in a barrel of freshly picked grapes.

For help planning a trip to California’s wine country, contact your travel agent.

Business Travel: Delayed Flights Are Top Concern

The outlook for business travel in 2018 is positive, according to a new national survey of travel professionals.

Travel Leaders Group recently polled its travel agency owners, managers and frontline agents who focus on business travel about their trends for 2018. When asked how much travel their business clients anticipate in 2018 compared with 2017, 78.8 percent expect the amount to be the same or higher. And 87 percent of respondents say that so far, their bookings are the same or higher compared with the previous year. Overall, 87.1 percent of agents are optimistic about their business outlook in 2018.

The logistics of air travel remains the biggest concern for business travelers, as it has over the past several years of surveys. Delayed flights are by far the top concern, followed by limited airline seat availability, earning frequent flyer/loyalty points and the ease of passing through airport security.

But in 2018, survey respondents report slight improvements in each category among their clients who travel for business. Seventy percent of agents responded that delayed flights were the main concern for business travelers, compared with 73.2 percent last year. That was followed by limited seat availability at 39.6 percent, compared with 43.8 percent in 2017; earning frequent flyer/loyalty points at 36.1 percent, compared with 41 percent last year; and the ease of passing through security at 30.4 percent, compared with 31.4 percent in 2017.

Travel Leaders agents note that they can use their expertise to help lessen the impact of any inconveniences. Over the years, they’ve developed a deep knowledge of airports, airlines, schedules and frequent flyer/loyalty programs. They put that information to work for their clients every day.

When asked which concerns they are most able to address or mitigate for business travel clients, delayed flights was at the top, at 46.1 percent; followed by making sure someone has their back, 40 percent; earning frequent flyer/loyalty points, 31.3 percent; limited seat availability, 30.4 percent; and travel costs, 28.3 percent.

The primary focus for business travelers is, of course, the work that has sent them on the road. The focus of specialists in corporate travel is to ensure that the travel part goes smoothly and fits within a client’s budget. The level of expertise that travel agents bring to their clients is vital, especially when a delayed flight can mean additional expenses and potentially missing an important meeting. For example, if a flight is delayed Travel Leaders’ corporate travel specialists can act quickly to arrange a new flight or connection that will get them to their destination or back home again.

And travel agents have a business traveler’s back while he or she is on the road. That helps reduce stress for travelers and allows them to focus on the job at hand. The peace of mind that comes from knowing there’s someone to call 24/7 is indispensable, both for the employee and employer.

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

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