Category Archives: Miscellaneous News

Visiting Cuba

For decades, Cuba has been a forbidden fruit to many travelers, geographically close yet so far away. Now, thanks to restored diplomatic relations and lifted travel restrictions, the iconic island’s landscape, culture and economy is finally accessible. Keep in mind that at this time, most of the packages involving Cuba are “educational” tours which means traveling with a group. Before too long, I’m sure it will open up to more independent travel such as we have to Mexico and other parts of the Caribbean. And while there’s no way to fully prepare yourself for the enriching and multifaceted cultural experiences you’ll have while on the ground, these tips can help you plan ahead and navigate the country more easily.

You’ll be off the grid The best way to describe Wi-Fi access in Cuba? A novelty. Though there are places throughout larger cities that provide internet access, the signal will be sparse at best, and you’ll spend more time trying to connect than being connected. So just enjoy the freedom of being disconnected.

There are Other Options than Hotels Keep in mind, hotel rooms across the country – even in Havana – are limited. To broaden your options, talk to our agents about a vacation rental, a private home or a cruise. At this time, these choices are limited and restricted.

Driving can be time-consuming Many of the roads between cities are challenging to navigate. A drive between Cienfuegos and Santiago de Cuba could take as long as 14 hours, and driving at night is nearly impossible since no street lights exist. So plan your route carefully and give yourself plenty of time. We would recommend going with a group for your first time.

It’s key to learn some Spanish If you want to see lesser-visited cities like Varadero or Trinidad, it helps to have a basic understanding of Spanish, since English is not widely spoken among locals. Plus, it breaks down language barriers when you can speak a few key phrases.

Most places only take cash Many vendors, restaurants and cab drivers don’t accept credit cards. In addition, ATMs are few and far between, so stock up when you get a chance.

The Easiest Way to Explore is by Cruise On a cruise, you’ll not only get to experience the charms of Havana with a local guide during a shore excursion, you’ll also explore other highlights around the island, such as Cienfuegos and Santiago de Cuba. Plus, Cuba’s coastlines are stunning when viewed from your private balcony. And, rather than packing and unpacking with each city you visit – why not take your hotel with you?

Give us a call when you’re ready to visit Cuba at 618-687-2100 or send us an email at tbirdtvl@msn.com. You can also visit us at http://www.tbirdtvl.com.

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Filed under Bucket List Ideas, Caribbean, Cuba, Miscellaneous News

Cruise ship extras and how to keep money in your pockets

Avoiding cruise ship extra charges can be a bit tricky but can be done with due diligence. You’re not going to get out of tipping the maitre ‘d, your waiter and cabin steward. However, you can save some cash and even avoid some of these additional activities by planning and booking ahead of your arrival at the port. For cruise newbies, this is where a travel agent can really help you out. We help tell you about what’s coming and where you can save time and money.

One of the biggest ways the cruise lines help part you from your money is with drinks and especially, alcohol. At $5-7 per glass, a party on the Lido deck or some time to unwind and watch the sunset can rack up a pretty good bill at the end of a 7-day cruise for 2. You’re better off to buy a bottle of your favorite wine and enjoy it in your cabin. Or, bring along a 6-pack of your favorite soft drink. A word of caution – don’t advertise that you have it. If you must imbibe at the club while dancing or while enjoying some quiet time in the “adults only” area – keep your eyes peeled for “happy hour” or a special rate on the “drink-of-the-day”.

Another money drain can be the specialty restaurants. As delightful as the cuisine and atmosphere in these places are; stick to the main dining rooms or the self-service buffets unless you’re celebrating a very special occasion or just have money to throw away.

Shore excursions are probably the one area that you do want to spend some money on. Talk to your travel agent about what the ship offers and then plan and book ahead. If you wait until you’re at sea, most the of better ones are already sold out or the prices are higher than if you had made reservations online prior to sailing. Some people wait until they get off the ship and book excursions with a local company at the port of call. If you elect to do this, please make sure that there is plenty of time to get to/from your destination so you don’t miss the ship. The companies that the cruise lines work with are very aware of the arrival and departure times for each ship and make sure they get you there and back in time.

Check the ship’s daily program for offers, especially where spa treatments are concerned, as these are often reduced on port days. If you need to do laundry while on board, check into the self-service laundry mat instead of sending your stuff to the cleaners. You can save on staying in touch with folks at home via email by buying an internet package or wait until you get ashore and find an internet cafe.

Some cruise ship extra charges aren’t possible to get a way from but you can certainly reduce your losses by planning and booking ahead. Give us a call or book Royal Caribbean online at our website while keeping us as your local support.

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Filed under Action/Adventure Travel, Activities, Cruises, Family Travel, Holidays, Honeymoons, Miscellaneous News, Travel Trivia, Traveler Tips

Hide your passport in your underwear?

We get travel magazines in the office, of course, with ads for the latest in travel gear and I found an ad for travel underwear. Available as two-button-fly boxers for men and boy-style shorts for women; they have zippered pockets where you can hide your cash, credit cards or “government issued form of identification”. It would take a clever and agile pickpocket to lift those from your person. It struck me as interesting because I remembered a woman who hid her valuables in her bra. Better to be safe than sorry – right? And at $29.99 a pair (currently on sale for $27.90), these unmentionables could be the biggest thing in undies since Depends. Check out travel underwear at www.clevertravelcompanion.com.

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Filed under Holidays, Miscellaneous News, Safety Issues, Travel News, Travel Trivia, Traveler Tips

Reasons to use a travel agent

     In watching a show on Discovery last night regarding the embarkation of cruise passengers, I saw several reasons to use a travel agent. The most apparent one to me had to do with documentation. People were almost denied boarding because they did not have the proper identification papers to board the cruise.

The one that stood out the most was of a honeymoon couple where the bride was listed on the manifest with her new married name. Unfortunately, her documentation had her maiden name and she did not have a copy of her marriage license with her. If they had booked this through a travel agent (and I’m guessing they didn’t), the agent would have advised her to book it in her maiden name unless she had had ample time to get all her identification changed over to the new name prior to departure. Or, at the very least, have advised her to take a copy of their marriage license with her.

Another one, is where a family is traveling with a child (anyone under the age of 18) whose last name does not match that of the rest of the group. In this case, I would have advised that they needed a letter from her father stating that it was okay for her to travel internationally without him present. The cruise line could be held liable if that child is then reported abducted.

This is just one of the reasons to use a travel agent –  a lot of little snaffoos and stress that can be avoided.

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Filed under Action/Adventure Travel, Airfare, All-inclusives, Cruises, Europe, Family Travel, Holidays, Honeymoons, Miscellaneous News, Safety Issues, Travel News, Travel Trivia, Traveler Tips

Don’t Forget to Clear Your Cookies

According to Ed Hewitt at Independent Traveler, don’t forget to clear your cookies before looking for airfares. I have read so frequently that your browser history can lead to higher airfares and this information shows you how. In fact, even the type of computer you use can affect what fares and options booking engines show you; Orbitz CEO Barney Harford reveals how the site recommends different (usually pricier) hotels to Mac users that to PC users.
Many sites use cookies to identify you in various ways as you surf the Internet, most easily seen in “Welcome back, Ed” notices when I return to a shopping site, even while not logged in — and most obviously in ads for things I have recently researched in the same browser (our family recently visited Disney for a day, and after I bought some tickets, it was like my browser was taken over by mice and princesses). These cookies have real and useful applications that benefit the user — an obvious one is to track items you put into a shopping cart without requiring a log-in — as well as real and useful applications for the website you visit, such as serving up targeted ads and knowing your general preferences. In recent months, many travel experts have reported that airlines and booking engines are using cookies to show potentially higher airfares on routes that you have searched often. So if you are researching an upcoming trip from Cleveland to San Diego and have checked airfares on the route frequently in recent days or weeks, the site “knows” you really want these fares, and “guesses” that you might be willing to pay a bit more for them.

Some even think the airlines are tracking IP addresses, which is your unique address on the Internet that allows computers to find you. Beating this trend would entail changing not only browsers, not only computers, but also your location. You can give this a try if you are desperate — search at home, then again at work or a local coffee shop before booking (or vice versa) — but otherwise clearing cookies, using a different browser or even checking on your mobile device vs. your computer is a good place to start.  You can skirt the IP issue by using your phone as long as you make sure it’s not using your home Wi-Fi connection — connect through your phone provider and you’ll have a different IP. Amazing – isn’t it? So, don’t forget to clear your cookies and you can also call your local travel agent.

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Filed under Airfare, Airline/airport news, Family Travel, Holidays, Honeymoons, Miscellaneous News, Traveler Tips