Traveling Abroad: Avoiding Pickpockets

In a few short months, I will be taking my first trip across the pond for a Mediterranean cruise. As excited as I am, horror stories about the pervasiveness of pickpockets and thieves in our ports of call – Rome, specifically- has me a little on edge.

I am active in our Cruise “Roll Call” on Cruise Critic, and one of the fellow posters shared some valuable safety tips that I felt compelled to pass along (with her permission, of course). Naturally, these tips would apply to you no matter where you’re traveling, but since Rome has one of the highest rates of pickpocketing in the world, I’m paying extra close attention to this information.
Before leaving for the cruise make copies of the back of your credit cards and passport. Leave a copy at home with somebody you trust and take 2 copies with you. If lost/stolen you will have handy the 1-800 to call for CCs as well as the CC info. The person at home could make the calls for you.

When abroad, leave passport in the cruise safe and bring the copy, unless required to have with you; i.e. Egypt where they clip/stamp the Visa to the passport and you HAVE TO have in your posession, specially if in an overnight (hotel check-in security process requires you present your official passport and Visa).

CONCEAL, CONCEAL, CONCEAL you valuables inside your clothing, even in an inner chest level pocket in front of your coat/jacket. Handbags and fanny packs are a horrendous idea. A sturdy shoulder bag with the strap worn across your chest and an inner money belt are somewhat safer.

I usually take 2 credit cards and place them in different pockets/places. This saved my 2010 cruise from Barcelona. The pickpocketers stole my wallet from my purse. I had place a second CC in another pocket in the purse. Same with passport; only saved because it was in a separate pocket (an American passport in the Black Market is worth $20K !)

Call your credit card company and tell them you will be using your credit card overseas. This could save you a horrendous headache when the CC calls you AT HOME to notify you they are shutting down your CC because of an overseas transaction. True story.

If you need to use an ATM while abroad, try to use the ones that are inside banks. Latest scam (Venice!) is a devide placed in ATMs that captures your card numbers and pins. The crooks use the captured information to access your bank at home.

If you wear glasses, pack an extra pair. Pack them and any medicines you need in your carry-on luggage.

The advice to pack light is critical to follow. Busy hands, unattended bags, and overpreoccupied minds are windows of golden opportunities for crooks. Times are tough and traveling American cruisers have zero simpathy from thieves.

Advertisements

A Guide to Cruising: Choosing Your Cruise

So it’s time to plan your next vacation and someone suggests the option of a cruise. If your cruising knowledge doesn’t go beyond the three hours you sat watching Titanic, don’t worry! There is a valid reason why this style of vacationing is so popular, and I plan to spend the next several minutes providing you with some basic information that will alleviate some of the concerns you may have as you plan your cruise vacation.

Choose Your Destination. For many first-time cruisers, the primary motivation behind planning a cruise is based on where the ship is going. Do you want to visit Jamaica? The Mediterranean? Alaska? Your itinerary will most likely guide your decision making process. Some first-time cruisers opt for shorter trips (3- or 4-day sailings) to make sure that cruising is right for them. These trips will typically take you to the Bahamas (from the East Coast of Florida) or Cozumel, Mexico (from the Gulf Coast). Or, if you are feeling confident, you can explore some of the longer itineraries that will take you to several different islands in one sailing. There are a wide variety of itineraries with different durations that might work for you!

Choose Your Cruise Line. Likely the secondary factor in choosing a cruise (especially for first-timers) is the cruise line. There are a number of companies out there, many of whom sail to many of the same destinations: how do you choose?

Each cruise line has its own personality, and its own price point. You want to ensure that you match your personality – and your budget – to the appropriate company. This will ensure that you not only enjoy yourself on the ship, but you have a vacation that you can afford (and possibly repeat, if you wish). Some examples:

First Tier/Commercial:

Second Tier/Upscale:

Third Tier/Luxury:

Pick a date. Now that you know where you’re going and which company you’ll be using, it may be time to figure out WHEN to go (if you haven’t done this already). Although most of the cruise lines travel year-round in the Caribbean, you should know that hurricane season runs from June 1 until November 1. Cruise prices may be lower at this time, but you may also run the risk of being diverted due to a nasty little storm. (Buy travel insurance). On another note, many Alaska cruises only operate during between May and November. These are factors you’ll certainly want to consider when planning your vacation!

Choose Your Cabin. So many decisions; so many cabins…how ever will you choose? The cruise line will help narrow this down for you. First things first; the price you see advertised (“7 DAY CARIBBEAN CRUISE FOR $499!”) is typically quoting you the price of an inside cabin. What’s that? Never thought you’d ask.

Inside Cabin: Located on the interior of the ship from the lowest deck to (sometimes) the highest deck. Price varies based on the location of the cabin. These cabins can sleep up to 4 people and are completely enclosed – no windows, porthole, or balcony.

Oceanview Cabin: Located throughout the ship, these cabins have a porthole or window to allow passengers a glimpse of what’s happening outside of the ship. Sleeps up to 4 people

Balcony Cabin: Each of these cabins comes with a private balcony, complete with deck chairs and a table. Allows passengers to enjoy the ocean from the privacy of their cabin. Can sleep up to 4 people.

The Suite Life

Suite: Typically located on the upper decks of the ship, these cabins are larger in size and have an included private balcony. Suites also include additional amenities to make passengers feel like VIPS, including express check-in, butler service, private breakfast, private courtyards and even a grand piano in the suite. Suites can sleep up to 8 people. (Amenities and occupancy vary, depending on the cruise line.)
You may also wish to consider the location of the cabin on the ship, when making your selection. Cabins located on the Forward of the ship tend to feel the “motion of the ocean” a little more and may not be advisable for those prone to seasickness. Passengers in Mid-ship and Aft cabins are less likely to feel the movement of the ship.

There! All of the pieces of the puzzle are together! Once you are ready to book, you will need to make an initial deposit to hold your cabin. For a standard cabin, this amount is usually $250 per person or 20% of the total cost of the cruise. If you’re booking a suite, the deposit will be more. You will typically have until 3 months before your departure date to make final payment.

My hope is that you will be working with a travel expert to assist you with this planning process. There are many pieces to consider and it can be overwhelming at times…but it doesn’t have to be. Planning  a vacation is supposed to be FUN and it can be, if you’re linked up to the right person!

Happy Travels!

C

Must-Have Travel Apps

As a travel aficionado and a budding business woman, I am learning to appreciate the amazing technological advantages of the 21st century through my beloved app store. As I prepare for my first overseas trip (whoot whoot!), I am learning more about what our smartphones and tablets can offer and, I must say, there’s some pretty cool stuff out there.

However, since I am on a “saving for my next vacation” budget, here are a few of my favorite FREE travel apps:

 

Google Translate: This app is the bomb. You can translate between 64 different languages, either by typing or speaking your phrase into the phone. The app will provide you with instantaneous results, either written or verbal. Might come in real handy if you’re ever trying to figure out how to say “Where’s the bathroom” in Japanese and your fingers aren’t working as fast as they should. Just sayin….

 

Skype: This is a great tool for international travel! Simply download the free app, add a few dollars to your Skype account, and call home using the (typically) generous free wi-fi that is offered abroad. Why pay those crazy international roaming fees when you have this as an option?

 

Trip Advisor: Oh how I love Trip Advisor, let me count the ways…. This website is just everything to me, and the app offers its content at your fingertips. You can obtain user reviews of hotels, resorts, organized tours, restaurants, flights….it’s all right here. For those who like to do their research, this app was made for you.

 

TripIt: This is the place where you can put all of the details together for your next trip, helping to remove the shuffling of papers and itineraries for the organized and semi-organized traveler. By sending your travel details to TripIt, you’ll have all of your confirmation numbers in one place. Nice!

 

Kayak: Shopping for a flight? Why not compare multiple airlines at your fingertips? Kayak also lets you look for hotels and rental cars, as well as tracking fares via push notifications.

 

 

In addition to these apps, many travel vendors have their own brand-specific applications that can be downloaded for free.

Do you have any travel apps that you rely on? I’m always open to suggestions! 🙂

Travel Tuesday: The Best Shore Excursion EVER

In honor of this week’s #Travel Tuesday , I decided to highlight one of the most AHH-MAZING cruise shore excursions I have taken to date: The Extreme Canopy Adventure in Puerto Vallarta, Mexico. I purchased this excursion during my 2006 Mexican Riviera cruise on the Carnival Pride. The experience is also offered on Norwegian Cruise Line under the same name, although the actual vendor (Vallarta Adventures) calls the excursion the “Outdoor Adventure“.

Let me start with a disclaimer: Despite my love for travel, I am not overly adventurous (read: scaredy-cat). I didn’t ride my first roller coaster until I was 16 (and now I love them), and the thought of bungee-jumping or skydiving makes me tremble to this day. I’ve had a habit of doing things conventionally, a tendency I am slowly trying to break.

I’m saying that to say, booking this particular excursion was a big deal for me. I was on a family cruise with three other family members, and when I pitched the idea of a “Canopy Adventure” to them, they looked at me like I had just slapped them all in the mouth. Open-handed. So I knew I was on my own.

I found myself, alone, at the Shore Excursion desk on the Pride getting ready to book the Canopy Adventure for $89.99. Reviewing the excursion brochure and speaking with the employee behind the desk, I realized that I could upgrade to the EXTREME Canopy Adventure for $50 more. The word EXTREME scared me, but I was already about to be flying through the rainforest on zip lines, so why not?

That decision to upgrade was one of the best I’ve ever made.

The morning of the excursion I was nervous. I followed instructions and packed an extra pair of clothes for after the tour. I kissed my family good-bye (I think; they may have been at breakfast) and headed to the pier where I met the tour group. I was the only person who was alone. (cue sad violin music)

We set off from the pier in the fastest boat I’ve ever ridden, bouncing over waves for 20 minutes until we arrived to our destination. My knuckles were white after that boat ride, but it was exhilarating!

Once we arrived to dry land, we all jumped in Unimogs and rode 15 minutes up the mountain to the tour site. We had to use grips on the roof to stabilize ourselves – bumpy roads and no seat belts! That was a very UNIQUE transportation experience, to say the least.

Unimog by Mercedes-Benz

We arrived to the “base camp”, as I’ll call it, where we were debriefed on everything we needed to know to survive the next three hours: how to use the zip lines, BRAKING (some people should’ve recieved extra time with this step), the logistics of riding a mule and how NOT to get kicked. (I should’ve received extra time with this step).

Yes, mules. I didn’t mention this part. After our Unimog ride, we then rode mules further up the mountain until we had to dismount them to hike to the first zip line. The only four-legged animal I’d ever ridden to that point was a carousel horse, so this was a BRAND new experience. Rule #1 that the staff members gave during our briefing was “do NOT walk behind the mule – they kick”. Rule #1. So the first thing I did? Walked behind the mule. Various Vallarta Adventures employees started fussing at me and I quickly realized my mistake. My bad. My mule showed mercy to me and did not kick me, so I think it was a successful day in all.

We dismounted our mule and continued the trek up the mountain. It was a tallll mountain, and I’m pretty sure we lost one or two companions along the way – this was a pretty strenuous and tiring hike. But once we got there…wow. The view was incredible. We were up high. Naturally, I couldn’t take my camera on this adventure so my personal photos from this adventure are quite limited.

Anyway, the first zip line was…intimidating. Long. High. I did not go first. But once I stepped off of that ledge? Wooooooooooooooooooooooooow. The whoosh of wind in my ears, the feeling of flying, the view: it was all incredible. And the excitement of knowing that we had 13 more zip lines to tackle. This experience was just GREAT.

One by one, we flew across zip lines, crossed a rope bridge and even rappelled down a waterfall. Things I’d NEVER thought I’d do, I was doing. And having a blast! The tour guides were complete professionals. One woman didn’t retain her braking instructions and flew right into one of the guides at full speed. Like it was nothing, he popped his dislocated shoulder back into place and kept it moving. O_O. (This must happen a lot. )

At the end of it all, we changed out of our soaking wet clothes, had a snack and reviewed the photos snapped by the professional photographers along the way. We jumped back in the Unimog, back to the speedboat, and re-boarded the ship.

;

…Where I collapsed into a heap of nap.

I shared all of this because I wanted to show how much FUN you can have by simply stepping out of your comfort zone and trying something new. This excursion positively affected my perception of Puerto Vallarta and not knowing if/when I’ll ever return, I’m thankful to have this memory to retain for the rest of my life.

It’s easy to go into sticker shock at times when pricing the cost of the shore excursions on your cruise sailing, but if you take the experience into account, it’s more than worth it. Those $139 are gone, but 6 years later I’m still talking about this excursion. That means something.

Join “Bon Voyage by Barbour” aboard the Norwegian Dawn!

Yay it’s a giveaway!

“Let’s Do Lunch” with Norwegian Cruise Lines, aboard the Norwegian Dawn!

 

The winner and one guest will have the opportunity to tour the ship and will be provided lunch in one of the ship’s many dining venues!! You will be taken on a guided tour of the ship’s many different staterooms, as well as the public areas that you would be able to utilize aboard the Norwegian Dawn. This afternoon will offer you the opportunity to preview a ship before you decide to sail; a very rare experience!

Event Details:

 “Let’s Do Lunch” on the Norwegian Dawn

Sunday, November 18

10:30 am – 3:00 pm

Tampa Port Authority
On the Ybor Channel
815 Channelside Drive
Downtown Tampa
Tampa, FL 33602 USA

 
 
 

All you need to do to enter is tell me Why YOU Need a Vacation? Best Answer Wins!

Click the LINK to enter!

Contest ends on Sunday, September 23rd. Winner will be emailed shortly thereafter.

Good Luck!!

**please note, the contest prize provides admission for the winner and one guest to NCL’s “Let’s Do Lunch” program. Additional costs, such as transportation, parking, and lodging are not included. Winners must provide one form of government ID (Drivers License or Passport number) to Carla at Bon Voyage by Barbour in order to complete registration. The same form of ID must be shown in order to be granted admittance to the ship.**

Travel Tuesday: Visiting Indianapolis, Indiana

This past weekend I had the opportunity to travel to Indianapolis for a family gathering. Although the circumstances of our visit were somber, it gave me the opportunity to spend time in a city that I’d only previously seen blanketed in snow and sub-freezing temperatures. And I do NOT do well with cold weather!

I must say, I was thoroughly impressed with all that Indianapolis (a/k/a “Naptown”) has to offer, especially in their downtown area. I’ve always been attracted to the “downtown” areas of cities; even as a kid in Cleveland, if my parents told me that we needed to take a trip Downtown, I would get extremely excited. And as a fully-grown adult, I felt giddy inside when I was informed that we would be spending the day in downtown Indianapolis. Some things never change.

And let me tell you: their downtown did NOT disappoint. One of the most important factors to me when I’m assessing a new city is the “walkability” of their metropolitan area. (I know that “walkability” isn’t really a word, bear with me here!). Some cities, such as New York City,  are known for being pedestrian-friendly while others are much more spread out – Miami comes to mind. Indianapolis has everything you need for a lovely downtown experience right within reach, which is a major plus for city dwellers and visitors alike.

Lucas Oil Stadium in downtown Indianapolis

During our visit, we easily found parking at the garage at Circle City Center Mall, although there was street parking available as well. Parking garage rates were cheap to moderate: $1.50 for 3 hours or less, $15 for the entire day. Not too bad at all. I noticed later that much of the street parking was free on Saturday and Sundays; NICE! From that garage we would have been able to walk to Lucas Oil Stadium to watch the Colts play, the basketball arena, indoor ice-skating rink, shops, restaurants – wherever we wanted to go, we could get there on foot.

There is an abundance of shopping in the city, but we were focused on FOOD. We saw a few interesting-looking restaurants: Weber Grill (based on the Weber brand of barbeque grills), Palomino Restaurant and Bar and Tastings Wine Bar. We chose Rock Bottom Brewery, which is a chain restaurant that has no locations in the southern US (where we live). The menu was so enticing that it took me quite awhile to decide on my meal, but settled upon the Bourbon-Glazed Salmon:

SO. GOOD.

This food disappeared off of my plate. It was delicious. They also offered a sampler of their six specialty beers, all for $6. I’m not much a beer drinker so I didn’t order that, but I think that’s a pretty awesome deal.

The next day, we returned downtown to visit the Canal Walk, which I can’t say enough about. The portion of the Canal we visited is a 3 mile loop segment that starts downtown and heads South. We only walked about 1/2 mile before turning around, but had we kept going, we would’ve encountered the NCAA Hall of Champions (which we definitely need to visit, next time) and the Indiana State Museum. You can even access the Indianapolis Zoo, once the Canal connects with the White River. We saw people jogging, biking, walking their dogs and simply strolling on this beautiful September afternoon. We also saw people in paddleboats and gondolas – which could be a nice, romantic way to spend the day.

The portion we toured was the residential segment of the Canal, and I was very impressed with the real estate down there. There’s something about trendy, downtown living that speaks to me! We saw condos, apartments and single-family homes with some pretty cool Canal views; some with balconies overlooking the Canal. And the cost of living isn’t bad at ALL!

In all, this was a REALLY nice weekend in a VERY nice city. Many times when people are planning their next getaway, they look to the extravagance of the Mexican Riviera or the warm breezes of the Caribbean. Although there is absolutely nothing wrong with planning that big vacation, they take time to plan. In the meantime, there are usually hidden treasures located just a short drive away from where you live, and I feel that Indianapolis would fall into that category. Sports nuts, art lovers and history buffs would all have something to gain from a visit to this Midwestern City.  Just go while it’s warm! (lol)

Your Day In Paradise: Is a Destination Wedding Right for You?

Weddings are big business. Anyone who has planned a wedding or been close to anyone planning a wedding will testify to the thousands of dollars spent on the various factors that make a wedding “successful”;  venue, flowers, attire, food, alcohol, photography…the list goes on and on and onnnn.  According to this recent article in Reuters, the average cost of an American wedding is now $27, 021. Holy crap! It’s no wonder that Destination Weddings are becoming increasingly popular for couples looking to tie the knot without going broke!

If you are unfamiliar with the concept, please allow me to explain: in the purest sense of the term, a “Destination Wedding” is a marriage ceremony that occurs outside of the bride and/or groom’s current city or hometown. Las Vegas and Disney weddings are technically considered Destination Weddings, however for the purpose of this article, I will be referring to weddings held in the extraordinarily popular All-Inclusive resorts of the Caribbean and Mexico.

So what exactly is an All-Inclusive Resort? It’s a vacation concept that seems almost too good to be true!! Its name speaks for itself; packages include round-trip airfare, airport transfers, lodging, meals, snacks, drinks (including alcoholic beverages), non-motorized water activities, and resort activities. Some packages even include tips! Once you pay for your vacation package in full, you will only be responsible for your spending money while on vacation, as well as any spa services or tours you may choose to purchase. Everything else is covered!

Below the photo, I’ve listed some pros and cons to Destination Weddings at an All-Inclusive Resort. I can speak from personal experience on this, having decided to exercise this option for my own wedding. You will definitely need to consider these factors before deciding whether this is right for you.

Image

1. PRO: Cost, Cost, Cost and COST.

As I previously mentioned, the average stateside wedding in 2012 costs almost $28,000. Most All-Inclusive resorts have specialized wedding packages; many offer a FREE wedding ceremony if the bride and groom meet certain criteria (i.e. staying a certain number of nights at the resort, a certain number of guests). Additional packages vary based on various factors (number of guests, cocktail hour, indoor or outdoor reception, etc). The beauty of these packages are this: since the resorts are all-inclusive, you will not pay the exorbitant cost of food and alcohol that “European Plan” (ex. Marriott) hotels tend to charge. And many of the wedding packages start at $1,500 – yes…for the ceremony, reception AND flowers. Of course, you can add more details to your package which will increase the price, but the fact that the package can be customized truly speaks volumes to the flexibility of this wedding option.

All-Inclusive vacations, whether for a wedding or just general travel, offer a payment plan option. This feature may also be helpful in your planning. Once you decide where you wish to get married, expect to put down an initial deposit to hold your flights, lodging accommodations and wedding package. You will have anywhere between 30-75 days before your trip to make final payment.

Note: In most cases, wedding guests pay for their own travel and hotel accommodations. The bride and groom are not expected to finance their guests’ trips.

2. PRO and CON: The Guest List

A Destination Wedding will have an impact on your guest list; for some this is a motivating factor to choose this option, for others, a deterrent. People will not be able or willing to fly outside of the country to watch you tie the knot. Some have safety concerns about your destination. Others do not have a passport. Some simply cannot afford it.

On the other hand, there will be guests who have been in desperate need of a vacation and will use your wedding as an excuse. The people who do end up attending are the ones who REALLY want to be there. Either way it goes, in most cases all 200+ guests who would’ve attended your hometown wedding will not fly to Jamaica for your Destination Wedding. (There are always exceptions to this, of course). A smaller guest list is much more budget friendly. Conversely, Grandma may not be physically able to travel and may potentially miss your wedding. This is certainly something to consider in your planning process.

3. PRO: More Time to Spend with Guests

Think about the last stateside wedding you attended. How much time did you really get to spend with the bride/groom? Perhaps you gave them a hug in the receiving line, and they swung by your table at the reception to thank you for coming. It’s proper etiquette and nice gesture, but the interaction tends to be brief.

Not so much with a Destination Wedding. With everyone traveling and vacationing together as a group, you will have an ample amount of time to spend with your guests. You can plan a group tour to a local landmark or attraction, arrange group dinners, hang out at the bar or at the pool. It can truly be a bonding experience for you and your guests, plus relationships can be forged among people who would have never crossed paths in your daily lives.

3. CON: Legalities

Just as marriage laws and requirements vary from state, the same is true for foreign countries. Make sure you do your research before choosing the location of your Destination Wedding. In most countries where Spanish is the primary language, you are required to your citizenship documents into Spanish before applying for a marriage license; this is not free. Mexico requires a blood test before you can marry. Many Caribbean countries do not perform same-sex marriages. You will need to consider all of these factors in your planning process.

Some couples choose to get “legally hitched” in their home state before traveling to their Destination Wedding, therefore making the ceremony at the resort a “symbolic ceremony”. This removes many of the headaches involved with marrying abroad, but feels disingenuous to some couples.

4. PRO: Built-in Honeymoon

If you’re already in paradise, is there a need to take a separate honeymoon? Well, it depends on the couple (we did!); but it’s completely unnecessary! You can extend your stay at the resort, allowing you additional time with your loved ones, or transfer to another resort in the same area for a unique and private experience. This can prevent the cost of an additional flight, another way to save a few dollars and still have an amazing honeymoon experience.

5. PRO: Wedding Coordinator

Due to the distance of the bride and groom from the resort, plus the typical anxiety involved with wedding planning, most All-Inclusive Resorts offer an on-site Wedding Coordinator once you book a package. I can’t speak highly enough of Claudia, my wedding coordinator at the Barcelo Maya Palace in Riviera Maya, Mexico. E-mail was our best friend, and once we arrived to the resort, every minor detail we discussed via e-mail was in her file. The day was executed beautifully. It would be very difficult to plan such an important event without an on-site coordinator.

Now that you are armed with this information, what’s next?

Simple – contact me for a quote! Even if you know you want to have a Destination Wedding and are not sure where you’d like to get married, we can narrow it down together. If you’d like to conduct some independent research, an amazing resource is Best Destination Wedding. By using a travel agent, you can remove the hassle of managing your guests’ travel arrangements and simply focus on creating an amazing wedding day!

Image

 

 

Happy Travels!

Carla