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Thursday, April 13, 2017

FEATURED ITINERARY: EL CORRIDOR DE LAS MONTANAS


Corredor Map.jpg
Corredor de las Montanas
Hidalgo, Mexico

Time Needed: 7 Days

Destinations:
  • Pachuca de Soto
  • Mineral del Chico
  • Real de Monte
  • Huasca de Ocampo

Highlights:
  • Mountain region with National Parks and breathtaking drives
  • One of the rock climbing Meccas in Mexico, great hiking too
  • Rich colonial Spanish history with Cornish and German connections
  • Silver mining region
  • Authentic Mexican food and artisan crafts
  • Basaltic prism formations
  • Haciendas
  • Soccer

More information (in Spanish):

Adventure level: Moderate
Rationale: Most activities require significant amount of walking, at time on hilly/rough roads. You will need at least a basic level of Spanish as most residents of this area of Mexico do not speak English. This is not a touristy area outside of Mexico (fellow Mexicans, however, frequently vacation here) so there are no multi-day tours. You will need to use public transportation and taxis to get around. You can also rent a car, but beware that Mexicans generally do not follow traffic laws and signals. If you are not accustomed to driving in here, you may experience a lot of horn-honking, near miss accidents (or worse) and corrupt police looking for bribes. Optional activities can increase the adventure level.

Day 1
Arrive in Mexico City by air
Transfer to Pachuca de Soto by first class bus
Transfer to hotel by taxi or “combi”

Recommended Hotel: Hotel Emily
Located in the Plaza de la Constitucion this hotel is small but beautiful with with its colonial architecture and brightly painted facade. Try to get a room facing the plaza. There are no balconies but these rooms have French doors that can be swung open to look out at the plaza below (an ornate iron guardrail prevents any “missteps”) with its Reloj Monumental - a neoclassical clock tower that is one of the centerpieces to Pachuca. Be forewarned, however, with those open doors. Pachuca is known as La Bella Airosa (The Windy Beauty) for good reason.  

Recommended Activities: Explore Area Around Hotel - Architecture, Shopping, Eating
If you stay in Hotel Emily you will be in “El Centro” or the center of Pachuca. From here you can walk to just about anywhere of historic/cultural significance as well as most shopping. There are plenty of shops to explore around the plaza, but one block up on Calle Guerrero is where the best shops and restaurants are to be found. Be sure to stop into “El Mercado” on Calle Guerrero. Pick up some fresh fruit or sit and order a bite at the food kiosk. If you want to ease your way into Mexican cuisine, however, there are a number of cafes along this street, all of which have great food. If you feel adventurous, stop at one of the street vendors and order “Esquites (fried corn kernels), Elotes (corn on the cob) or Papas (fresh potato chips).” They all come spicy and can vary in quality depending on how long they have have been sitting on the street. Mexico has a distinct mix of American and European style about it and you will notice this in the fashions at the stores where you will find athletic sneakers and American Eagle brand alongside stylish dress shoes, suits and other hip fashions.


Day 2
Tour Pachuca - Architecture, history, culture, sport

Pachuca is a sprawling city of about one million people. It’s seen it’s better days but recent efforts have been made to capitalize on its historic significance to the Republic. The mountains around Pachuca were once filled with silver and Pachuca sprung up as the major urban hub of activity for merchants, bankers, traders and the like.

Highlights include:
  • The Theater in Plaza Juarez (and the end of Calle Guerrero) - admiring its architectural beauty is free (note the current building is a reconstruction)
  • Ex-Convent San Francisco - Architecturally impressive and surrounded by plazas and gardens to explore
  • Museum of Mining and Photography (at San Francisco) - it doesn’t cost much to go in and provides a glimpse into the history of the region
  • Ninos Heroes - Just behind the cluster of shops at Plaza de la Constitucion (heading towards San Francisco and the bus terminal), this smaller plaza is a great place to find a Mariachi band willing to play a song or two for tips
  • Futbol - Soccer was brought to the Americas by the Cornish miners working in the silver mines in the mountains surrounding Pachuca. Consequently, this area is considered to be the cradle of soccer in the new world. Like most Latin Americans (and most everybody outside the U.S.), soccer is the central pastime of residents of Pachuca and the local team Los Tuzos play in a part of town, near the bus terminal, that is undergoing significant redevelopment and rebranding to capitalize on the sport. If you are visiting during the playing season, try to catch a game.


If you are looking for more modern activities, there is a modern shopping mall with a casino a short taxi or combi (a minivan-turned public transport) ride from the center of town. Near the mall you will also find Ben Guiron Park, a modern park that often features festivals and concerts. It is also home to the Museum of Modern Art.

For more information:



Day 3
Mineral del Chico

Mineral del Chico is a quaint little mining town nestled in a valley within the mountains surrounding Pachuca. It can be easily reached by combi from Pachuca (you can catch one near Plaza de la Constitucion). You may also want to consider staying the night in Hotel El Paraiso so you don’t feel rushed to catch the last combi back to Pachuca. You’ll enjoy the rooms, the restaurant and the grounds. There is easily a full day’s worth of activities here, especially for the more active.

Recommended Activities: Explore town and park - history, culture, religion, nature, sport
The town itself is small and can be explored in a matter of an hour or two. For lunch, look for the stairs near the convenient store that head up to several lunch counters (all owned by the same family) where you can get an authentic quesadilla with your choice of fillings - we recommend huitlacoche (corn fungus), flor de calabaza (zucchini flowers), hongos (mushroom) or gualumbo (maguey flowers, available seasonally). If you’d like a guide or want to support the local economy, look for one of the ecotour operators (there are several) to take you on a tour of the park. Some include ziplining, horseback riding or four wheeling. While the commercial operator behind the main plaza is the easiest to find, we recommend making the effort to track down one of the local ejido-owned and operated tours. Ejidos are regional councils that own and manage land taken away from the church at the turn of the 20th century and given back to the people. Supporting their businesses directly supports communities with limited means that would otherwise have to poach resource from the national park to survive.

Parque Nacional el Chico was the first national park in Latin America, created a few years after Yellowstone. This area is a Mecca for rock climbers. Whether experienced or interested in giving it a try, we recommend you contact Equipo Aventura (they have a store on Calle Guerrero in Pachuca). They will be able to set you up with a local guide. They also have connections for mountain biking and hiking guides. It’s very easy to spend a day or two just hiking the trails through the park, which is a great way to see some wildlife (be prepared to be buzzed by hummingbirds, watch for a variety of reptiles and tarantulas or if you are real lucky you may even sea a ring-tailed cat), get great views of majestic rock formations, find hidden waterfalls and walk among the hanging bromeliads. The visitors’ center for the park has an interactive, environmental education center where you can learn about the natural history of the park. Across the street from the center is an ejido that offers horseback riding, camping and camp food. You can also camp in the park at one of three well-equipped campgrounds. Don’t have a tent? They also rent out rustic cabins with wood-burning stoves (it can get chilly at night in the mountains).

Highlights include:
  • El Chico National Park
  • Central Plaza in Mineral del Chico
  • Quesadillas in the market
  • Rock climbing, hiking and/or biking
  • Wildlife
  • Rock formations
  • Ejidos


More information:



Day 4
Real de Monte

Real de Monte is also easily reached by combi from El Centro and makes for a great day trip. Combis run more frequently to this town so staying overnight probably isn’t necessary, but can be worth it if you’d like to explore as much as possible. Whereas Mineral del Chico is decidedly Spanish in influence, Real is very English.

Recommended Activities: Explore town - museums, food, shopping, history
Everything about this town revolves around the Acosta Mine, which you can explore on a guided tour just a short walk from the town center. The mine was run by the Cornish for many years, which explains the architectural influence on the town as well as their famous “pastes” - pastry filled with meat, beans, mushrooms, potatoes among several other options. While available throughout Hidalgo, Real de Monte is the place to get them. This is also one of only a handful of places to get cheap silver in Mexico. You will see the stands and stores everywhere near the principal plaza. It’s worth spending a few hours admiring the buildings, browsing the stores and trying the food. Real is a small town, but much larger than Mineral del Chico.

Highlights include:
  • The Acosta Mine tour
  • Shopping for silver
  • Visit the English Cemetery
  • Ask a local for the sight of the first soccer game played in the Americas


For more information: 


Day 5
Huasco de Ocampo

You can reach Huasco by combi and make a day trip of it, though plan for a long day as this town takes longer to get to, not so much because of distance but because the windy mountain roads are slow to drive. It’s worth it, though, so if you’re not up for a long day or want to extend your trip and spend a couple days up here consider a hotel in town. The main plaza, as is typical in Mexico, is surrounded by artisan shops and eateries. Unlike the other towns that largely feature more commercial goods, Huasco is great place to shop for those one of a kind, hand-made items. There are also several “must sees” in the general area that require a taxi. They include the ex-Haciendas of San Miguel Regla and Santa Maria Regla. Santa Maria is now a hotel but the public is welcome to come explore the grounds. You may recognize the property as The Mask of Zorro was filmed here. San Miguel largely operates a tourist destination these days. For a small entrance fee you can walk the “eco”-parks as well as visit the trout farm and dine onsite. San Miguel is widely recognized as one of the most romantic places in Mexico with it’s tree-lined walkways, flowers and lakes. Finally, it’s worth another taxi fare and entrance fee to visit Las Prismas Basalticas (Basaltic Prisms). A strange, formation of thousands of hexagonal columns made from basalt and highlighted by a beautiful waterfall.

Highlights include:
  • Prismas basalticas
  • Hacienda San Miguel Regla, most romantic place in Mexico
  • Hacienda Santa Maria Regla and The Mask of Zorro


For more information:


Day 6
Mexico City
Transfer to Mexico City by first class bus
Transfer to hotel by taxi or metro (light rail)

To say Mexico City is big and noisy is an understatement. Unless you are from New York, you probably can’t comprehend the level of organized chaos that is this city. Point in fact, this is actually the fourth most populated city in the world. As you can probably guess, numbers 1-3 are in Asia. Still, it’s actually pretty easy to get around thanks to a comprehensive light rail system, but the city is large so leave plenty of time to get from one end to the other. On the surface it may seem to be just another dirty, noisy and polluted urban center in a less developed country. Look deeper. Mexico City is a curious mix of international, modern metropolis, Spanish colonial history and Mayan culture.  It’s worth getting an early bus from Pachuca to maximize your day here or even extend your trip a day or two take in multiple sites. If you developed a love for Mexican food by now, you can find all your favorites in “El D.F.” (pronounced “day effay”) as Mexicans call it. If you are dying for something different, the city has immigrants and cuisines from around the world.

Recommended Activities: Explore city - religion, culture, history, food
As this is a city, your primary activity here is going to be walking and sightseeing. There is something for everyone though. Religious people will want to check out the Basilica of our Lady of Guadalupe where Saint Juan Diego is believed to have seen the Virgin Mary. The Zocalo (or more formally known as Plaza Constitucion) is a large central plaza where you can see the federal buildings and site of many public events, much like the National Mall in D.C. It’s the heart of the historic center, which is a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Be sure to also make a trip to the National Museum of Anthropology which is full of artifacts and displays highlighting the indigenous populations of Mexico. You may remember that long before Mexico City, this area of Mexico was Lake Texcoco until the Aztecs filled it in (a marvel of its time) and built the city of Tenochtitl├ín. Today, the canals of Xochimilco are that remain but the area is another UNESCO World Heritage Site. Buy passage on a shared gondola (called a Trajinera) and marvel and the brightly colored (from the boats and the floating gardens) network of waterways that led the conquistadors to give this place the moniker of Venice of the New World. Mariachis serenade boaters who come to celebrate birthdays, propose or just spend the day with the family. Food can be purchased from floating vendors as well.

Highlights include:
  • Anthropology Museum
  • Xochimilco
  • Zocalo
  • Basilica of our Lady of Guadalupe


Day trips worth extending your stay:
  • Taxco (silver mining city)
  • Cuernavaca (colonial town with a palace, public gardens)
  • Valle de Bravo (quaint European-style colonial town overlooking large lake)


More information:




Wednesday, February 8, 2017

Wait... Disney?!

I know what you are probably thinking, I can hear the cries of disbelief from adventure travelers everywhere at the mere mention of the idea that you should take your family to Disney for an immersive adventure. Those of us who love to travel off the beaten bath often come back from vacation telling stories of the locals we met, the hidden wonders we found and new experiences we had. What we forget, however, is that craving for a sense of magic, of experiencing something real special, does not happen naturally. It is nurtured from a very young age as a result of our life experiences.

With that in mind, what do most children love more than anything? Who are the "locals" with whom they want to meet and share a special moment? Which exotic, far-flung lands do they wish they could visit? What are the adventurous activities that they see on TV and movies in which they dream of taking part? Children fantasize about various realms of Disney and their inhabitants just as we fantasize about sitting around a ceremonial circle in an indigenous village in South America or diving the Great Barrier Reef.

Say what you will about the prefabricated world of Disney, but one thing that is undeniable is that for your children a trip to Disney is the entirety of their bucket list. The alpha and the omega of all that is holy in their world. Disney understands this better than most family destinations. They carefully craft and control the visitor experience to ensure that no child leaves Disney disappointed. Sure, they have a multi-billion dollar franchise built on the assurance that kids continue to patronize their resorts and watch their movies, but put the reasons aside for a moment and focus on the result (for your children).

A Disney vacation positively reenforces the desire your children have to be immersed in their travel experience. It has long been understood that positive reenforcement is the strongest motivator for learning. In the end, is that what we not want... to "teach" our children that immersive, experiential travel is better than sitting on a beach in some secluded resort that bares no resemblance to the communities in which they are located? Don't get me wrong, I get that Disney is too manicured and also does not accurately represent the communities in which they are found. However, they are immersive.

Children can interact with their favorite characters and they can relive exciting adventures from the movies. On Disney cruises, Aluani Resort and Adventures by Disney vacations they can even learn local crafts, learn about local cultures and participate in locally appropriate activities all under the direction of local guides. In a sense, Disney vacations is like experiential travel on training wheels. While there will always be some who feel the best way to learn to ride is to just jump on that bike and fall a few times, most of us opt to gradually build our children's comfort and confidence levels before taking those training wheels off.

I have no trouble reconciling my love of experiential travel with my love of Disney products for family vacations. Instead of getting all worked up on my moral pedestal, I chose to not take life so seriously and to see the world through my daughter's eyes when traveling with the family. We love to help our clients do the same.


Monday, January 2, 2017

Plea to fellow travel agents: Don't be used car salesmen!

This my second "beware" article. It's not my intent to create a series, and I certainly don't want to make a habit out of bad-mouthing my fellow travel agents. However, I can't help but feel a little disappointed in some of the company I keep. After all, it only makes it harder for the good advisers when they have to counteract all the less desirables.

With that,  I would just like to remind my fellow travelers that you are paying good money for the vacation of your dreams. Don't accept anything less. I've been to countless industry events that have left me disgusted at the other travel "consultants." In most cases, they are nothing more than glorified, middle-aged Mary Kay-like salesmen pushing you to the highest return-on-investment (for themselves) product with little regard to what's the right trip for YOU. Don't settle for this, demand your "Dream Vacation." If your agent is not listening to you and tries to talk you out of your opinion on a certain travel style... find a new agent, quickly!

To be fair, I totally get it. It's hard to remain competitive in this industry when discounters like Cosco and Groupon are willing to sacrifice commissions (and service) in favor of volume. Add to that the fact the, aside from cruises, commissions are generally low and many host agencies have high royalties. Given the option of getting a 7% commission on a hotel and air package or a 17% commission on a cruise, it's no wonder why many have attributed the comeback of the travel agent to the cruise industry. When doing my due diligence prior to purchasing my Dream Vacations franchise, I even had one agent tell me that I would not be suited for this line work because my travel experience is not with cruises and tour buses. How sad, and ultimately... how wrong! Since purchasing my franchise, I have noticed that much of the training we are encouraged to take from both internal and external sources, tend to include some component of how to change our clients' opinions of cruising or group tours.

Just today I was reviewing the comments on a professional social media post that I am now involuntarily subscribed to as a result of having posted a comment to the thread. The initial conversation started with a question: "have you ever cruised before?" It was posted by another travel agent and ended up getting some 35 comments ranging from "no, never will" to "hundreds." It also sparked a comment from a third agent who [rather blatantly] took the opportunity to promote his own agency. True, I admit that I commented as well, but I at least had the tact to recognize the original agent was trying to create some social media buzz for her business so I never explicitly mentioned I was an agent (I figured my profile description did that for me). Anyways, the original agent's response to the third agent made me cringe even more than the tackiness in the third agent's hijacking of the thread for his own personal gain.

The third agent made a general solicitation to help anyone with their next cruise booking, to which the original agent replied: "considering that I am a travel agent - and a master cruise counselor - I think I will pass. Thanks anyways." Clearly, she was offended at his post and wanted to lift her pedestal higher than his. Of course, I know that anyone willing to shovel out the bucks for the classes, sponsored by the Cruise Line International Association, can get that certification. The classes take about an hour or so each to complete and the tests are pretty short and pretty easy. That is to say, it's not that impressive of a certification. I can get for a highly reduced rate thanks to my affiliation but since cruises are not my bread and butter, I see no rush.

Still, I found those two posts to be comical at best. What really offended me, however, was her response to those that said they would never cruise for various reasons. She invariable responded to all such posts with a comment along the lines of 'I understand why you might feel that way. Cruising really isn't like that. You should give it a try. Of course, there's nothing wrong with resorts/tours/etc. Give me a call when you're ready.' I paraphrase, obviously, but you get the point. Sure she made some attempt to "hear" what these potential clients were saying about their travel preferences, but not before discounting their preferences and trying to steer them toward the higher profit margin, regardless of whether or not it's the best fit for them. Appalling!

Not too long ago I was in a meeting with a potential business partner. At the end of the meeting he felt it necessary to mention to met that I am not the first agent with whom he has spoken. He said they all come to excited to sell his dive trips, but then he never hears from them again. Once again, I found myself having to apologize for my fellow agents. While the scenarios are different, these cases exhibit a common thread of agents who want to focus on the low-hanging but highly rewarding fruit of cruises and, to a lesser extent, tour buses. If they have to do too much work for the client, they will either forfeit the sale or try to steer the client toward a profitable route.

Maybe I'll never be a million dollar agent who wins all the industry rewards. I'm fine with that. I didn't get into this business to make a million dollars. God knows there better businesses to buy into for that. I got into this business because I know how to travel, not tour, but travel.  And I have. And I want to help other people have some of the great, life changing experiences that I have. In some cases, that may mean a cruise or tour (to each their own). Call me crazy, but if my client tells me they hate the idea of cruising and prefer to stay in one place longer and see more stuff, then maybe my job is to help them make that possible and not encourage them to change their mind about cruising.

Wednesday, December 14, 2016

Don't Get Scammed by Fake Travel Agents

Travel is a billion dollar a year industry and this is resulting in rise in the number of travel agents you may run into around town. Since most are now home-based (to keep overhead expenses down and remain competitive with large discounters like Groupon and Cosco) it makes it harder than ever to determine who is running a legitment agency and who is trying to rope you into a pyramid scheme (ahem, sorry... multi-level marketing program). As a relatively new agent, I'll admit that I fell for the scam the first couple of times I met one of these "agents." After some confusion and research, I'll admit I became a little angry at the idea that an already struggling-to-come-back industry could potentially suffer from the unscrupulous marketing techniques of some industry pirates.

To be clear, I do not believe that those individuals selling travel under one of these companies are unscrupulous. I do, however, believe they are naive (sorry, but they are). I would like to think that in this information age that people would know better. Yet we never seem to learn and we continue to get duped by too-good-to-be-true deals. The unscrupulous ones are the organizational leaders who are intelligent and savvy enough to know that they are peddling false promises and taking people for their hard-earned money.

At this point I'll resist the temptation to name names and just let you figure out who they are for yourselves after I explain the general set up. This more out a fear of being sued than anything else (an unfortunate reality nowadays). As I mentioned before, I first started running into these agents at a local, monthly networking event. Having just purchased my travel agency franchise and done a fair amount of due diligence prior to deciding which brand to buy into, I was surprised to encounter not just one or two, but three agents working for a travel agency with which I was not familiar. I was really taken aback the following day when one of them called me up and proceeded to give me the third degree about my business, asking several questions that were not appropriate to discuss with potential competitors (such as royalty fee amounts, purchase pricing, commission percentages and the like). Even more unprofessional, she seemed genuinely agitated when I refused to give her the answers she sought.

I mentioned this to the event organizer, who graciously apologized even though she clearly is not responsible for the actions of attendees. It was eventually forgotten about until a few months later when I ran into another agent at the same event who mentioned in passing that he was "recruited" by the agent with whom I had the negative call. The word choice struck me as odd at the time, but again I brushed it off as I got the impression that he was more of a hobbyist agent and not really posing any significant competition. Then, one of my wife's coworkers started blasting Facebook with celebratory pictures of her as having completed her travel agent training and looking forward to her first travel party where she hoped to bring on-board some more agents. Again, odd. What new agent has the wherewithal to hire and train new agents while still learning the ropes his/herself and getting their business up and running?

More recently and again at the same networking event, I met four very young agents from yet another unknown agency. The conversations I had with them left me so confused as to how or why they were selling travel. Aside from the fact they looked like they were barely out of high school, they seemed to have no travel experience. One even went as far as to ask if Mount Rushmore was in Washington after I told her I took my family there last summer. Really!?

Perhaps the most suspicious, and the usually the biggest tell-tale sign of a scam, is secrecy around their business. All four agents described their business differently. Vaguely, but differently. It was like pulling teeth to get a straight answer. The most I got from one of them is that it was a "club" just like Sam's or Cosco.

Now I really had to investigate this, if for no other reason than to know my competition. That's when I discovered that both of these lesser-known agencies were lesser-known because they weren't really travel agencies. They were multi-level marketing programs (MLMs) similar to Mary Kay and Amway. Like those organizations, agents are able to sell products (in this case vacations) and can make a little bit of money doing so. However, you don't really start making money until you bring a team of people under you, who in turn bring a team of people under them and so on and so forth. Each team member pays a monthly membership fee, the amount of which (along with the size of your team) is what more than anything determines your agent level (not the amount of commissionable sales you make as an agent, which is the industry standard).

Agents are highly encouraged to recruit their friends, family and coworkers into the organization because most of their income comes from membership dues not travel commissions. These dues are analogous to the excessive inventory that agents are required to purchase in other MLMs. Members are usually allowed to earn points for time and money spent in the organization, which can be applied toward travel discounts under some stringent rules that, more likely than not, lead to more points being lost than redeemed (consequently leading to additional income for the agency). Agents are tempted to buy into this program under the typical MLM promise of pulling in hundreds of thousands of dollars per month with something as seemingly simple as having a specified number of affiliates working under you in the various levels.

One only has to work through the math to realize that number would be practically impossible for everyone to reach in a competitive market and the only people who are really making money in the agency are the owners and other staff in the highest echelons. As a legitimate agent - who owns a fully licensed and insured corporate entity which operates under a similarly licensed host agency that has won industry awards, enjoys exclusive partnership agreements with major cruise lines and land tour operators, and invests in the success of its agents through ongoing professional development geared toward product knowledge and not recruitment (all of which are the true test of legitimacy, not whether commissions are paid by airlines as one Internet source stated) - it infuriates me to no end to think that these other agencies are trying to lure unsuspecting travelers into their pyramid schemes (lets call a spade a spade here). Those travelers will inevitably learn the sad truth of their decisions and then be turned off all travel agencies forever... even the REAL ones. That's unfortunate because we really do provide a service to our clients in planning their perfect vacations, be it a boxed tour/cruise or completely customized adventure.

As a travel consultant, I feel a responsibility to assist all travelers in making the right decisions for themselves, regardless of whether or not they're my clients. That is why I wrote this and why I will gladly chat with anyone who calls me with questions about my agency or an agency they are questioning. No secrets here.


Tuesday, May 31, 2016

The Case for Cruising

I probably shouldn't say this given my chosen profession, but I am not into cruising. I don't hate cruising, I'm just not fanatical about it like many people are (you know you've met them). There was a once a time, however, when I thought I did hate cruising - mostly because of the environmental impacts. Think large ships dumping massive tonnage of waste into the oceans, tourists invading en masse areas that were not previously frequented by people, etc. etc. Then I got invited on a cruise. I did my research before accepting and discovered that the industry has done a lot to clean up its practices since the '70s and 80s. While there may still be room to improve, I do firmly believe that we have a responsibility as consumers to reward businesses who are making an effort. If we don't, then what incentive is there for them to do so?

Environmental impacts aside, cruising just isn't my preferred style of travel. I got my travel chops backpacking across the South Pacific, staying in youth hostels and seeking out-of-the-ordinary experiences. Heck, I've hitch-hiked in every country I've visited, sky-dived over deserts, hiked volcanoes, bungy-jumped in a canyon and shared a jungle treehouse with bats and bugs. Cruising is a little too safe and a lot too comfortable for a traveler with my tastes, even with my older age and considerably shortened vacation time. Right?

Well, not so fast. There is a place for cruising even for the adrenaline junky traveler, especially if you have found yourself all grown up and trying to get the most out of your one-week-a-year vacation. When you think about most of the places that people cruise - the Caribbean, the Mediterranean, Hawaii or even river cruising the classic cities of Europe - how else are you going to see so much with such little time?
In my younger years I always said I didn't want to go to Europe until I could spend months there backpacking around, going from country to country on my EuroRail pass. It just seemed like such a waste to spend twelve hours in a plane and only see one city. It's the same reason I never went to Hawaii. Then river cruising came along. They spend more time in port than their ocean-going cousins which means more time to explore those sites. The same is true for many Hawaiian cruises. Best of all, you get to see multiple cities/islands without having to constantly pack/unpack your luggage and you are guaranteed a locally-inspired, great meal every night!

Even with the shorter Caribbean cruises, you still have plenty of time to get out and explore some while in port. Modern shore excursion options are practically limitless and there's something for everyone. History buffs can take a guided tour, beach bums can usually save money and walk to the nearest plot of sand and adventure seekers can go diving, snorkeling, sailing, horseback riding and the list goes on. All things considered, the prices are pretty reasonable too and at the end of the day you don't have to wait your turn to take a shower in your flip-flops in some communal bathroom.

There are many places I wouldn't cruise to, but there are also many places where cruising just seems to make sense. Next time you are facing budget and time limitations, yet you still want to see and do as much as possible, consider taking a cruise. Even if you swore to yourself you never would. Your travel agent can help you find the perfect boat (it's cliche but true, there is a boat for everyone so don't just go for the cheapest option) whether that's the one for relaxing, luxury, partying, family or adventure. S/he will also help you get the best deal and navigate the first-time cruiser experience. In the end, you just may find yourself surprised by how much fun you had.

Wednesday, April 20, 2016

Instead of "Use it or Lose it" Vacation Time Policies, why not try Something Different?

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, despite vacation time being nearly 7% of an employee’s total benefits package,1 people on average are taking fewer and fewer vacation days each year. Over the past decade this number has risen to an estimated 5.7 unused vacation days per year, worth between $1898-$2609 per employee. This unused vacation time results in lost productivity and low morale as well as a very real financial burden. Private companies are reporting some $224 billion in liabilities from rolled-over vacation time according to the U.S. Travel Association.2   As a result, they are forced to implement creative - and at times stringent - policies to get employees to use their vacation time (such as use-it-or-lose-it policies). Instead of coming down with a heavy hammer, why not try some positive reinforcement?

By partnering with us, you will show your staff that you care about their mental well-being and come out looking like the good guy while we do all the work. We will set up a personalized Web portal, complete with your company’s logo, that you can like to your Intranet. Your employees will have direct access to us and all of our travel offers. Best of all, it won’t cost you anything. We’ll even waive our service fees for them, including our group fees if you decide to book a retreat or seminar at sea with us! What can you lose?

OK, it's probably true that carrots alone won't be enough to save your company from paying out all that unused vacation time when an employee leaves. Still, I don't think anyone would argue with an appropriate balance of carrot and stick. Chances are, if you have made it to the higher ranks of your organization, you've garnered a fair amount of negative sentiment just by the nature of your role and the decisions you make on a regular basis. Providing a travel resource to your staff is sure to help you recover some of that lost street cred with the people you lead. Show them what we already know is true, that you do care.

Tuesday, March 29, 2016

Have you always wanted to visit Cuba?

Picture by Carnival Corporation
First and foremost, given the current debate on things, I feel compelled to warn you that this article is not a treatise on the merits of thawing relations with Cuba no its track record of human rights violations and the injustices of the Castro regime. Likewise, this is not a commentary on the Obama presidency. Rather this is the musings of a traveler who delights in moving outside his comfort zone to experience new things, meet interesting people and learn a little something about the complex world we live in.

Not since the 'boomers has there been a generation of Americans able to visit Cuba, despite it being a mere 90 miles from our shores. The result has been several generations during which an air of mystery surrounded the island nation. With it's deep roots in Spanish colonialism, slave trading, conflict and revolutions - Cuba promises to deliver a profoundly educational experience for those open to the idea educational, immersive travel. Anyone who has traveled through Latin America understands the strength and resilience of the people in these countries who often straddle a thin line between the wealthy, western nations and the relatively impoverished (and often disadvantaged) native cultures. Add to that decades of isolation and socio-political tension you can cut with a knife and your trip to Cuba is sure to deliver a history and anthropology lessons around every corner and in every cafe.

If you are like me, the prospect is too good to pass up. Still, there is no denying that Americans may be viewed as persona non-grata by some, particularly Castro-loyalists. There in lies the conundrum.
Do you take advantage of a new opportunity to learn about a nation and people so similar yet so different than its Latin American neighbors or do you play it safe and wait for political temperatures to cool?

Starting May 1st, Carnival Corporations will present a great opportunity for those with a pioneering spirit and a sense of adventure. Travelers can sail on their newest brand of cruise ships, Fathom, on 7 night cruises to Cuba that visit 3 cities and tout an impressive 3.5 days of shore excursions that are designed to be fully immersive, educational and safe. In Carnival's own words:

"Our voyages to Cuba provide your clients an exclusive opportunity to relax by the pool, enjoy a leisurely dinner, or take advantage of Cuban cultural immersion activities on board in between ports. Your clients will only have to unpack once and will arrive in the next port fresh and ready to make the most of their time. Book your clients with confidence as they depart on what is sure to be an unforgettable experience and an opportunity to make history. 
So many great things to immerse yourself in. Learn how to salsa, and maybe even tango. Practice some elementary Spanish. Take a workshop on how to make great travel photos. Learn the art of the Cuban cocktail and make an authentic Mojito or Daiquiri. Join an orientation session in Cuban history and culture to help deepen your onshore experience. 
Or, if you'd rather, spend your time by the pool, in the spa, or just leaning over the deck rail enjoying the Caribbean breezes."

I for one cannot wait to be among the few who can tell their fellow travelers about this one-of-a-kind trip. Fathom's first ship, the MV Adonia, is already booking cabins and space is filling up. Even if you thought cruising was not for you, this promises to not be your typical cruise experience. A word of caution, however, for families - age restrictions apply to these sailings.

If you would like more information or to book a Fathom cruise, contact your Dream Vacation Specialist at D&H Travel Advisers by visiting our Website at www.dhtraveladvisers.com.