I thought it might be helpful to impart some travel industry news that may help you in planning travel in 2013. With the political season over and the economy slowly showing signs of recovery, 2013 is expected to be better than 2012, which, by the way, was quite successful for many travel companies.
Rail travel is coming back into popularity in the United States after many years of just trying to exist. In the last three years travelers began re-discovering the pleasures of seeing the country at ground level. AMTRAK is working with a company called Yankee Leisure Group, which operates AMTRAK Vacations. If you are not in any hurry, I personally believe train travel is the way to go. The equipment is generally in good condition and the attitude among the AMTRAK employees seems to get better with each year.
Flying is now a hassle with the lines at security points and the TSA people treating many like cattle, more than just a few are now driving to their destination or taking the train.
AMTRAK Vacations have made available tours that include both rail and land arrangements and some even have tour directors to assist with the travel arrangements. The National Parks are popular, as well as the East Coast and Mid-Atlantic areas, along with Florida including the thrills in Orlando. The West Coast is also very popular using the now famous Coast Starlight with stops in the San Francisco area for sightseeing along with Portland and Seattle. You can even continue north into Canada for visits to Vancouver, Victoria and the Canadian Rockies.
AMTRAK Vacations has tied in with Celebrity Cruises, allowing you to take the train to the ship’s departure point and return home the same comfortable way avoiding airports. My guess is other cruise lines will soon tie in with AMTRAK in the near future.
Alaska Airlines has opened reservations for flights from San Diego to Lihue, Kauai beginning June 7. Kauai is a beautiful Hawaiian island and you may choose to drive to San Diego, park the car and fly on to Kauai from there.
If you rent automobiles, you might like to know that Hertz has purchased the Dollar Thrifty brands.
The main provider of satellite communications to cruise ships is rolling out a product that it says will dramatically improve the slow speed of Internet service at sea. NTN Satellite Communications said it plans to make the improved service available in the second quarter of 2013,
Work on a nine-month, $20 million renovation at the 22-acre Sheraton Kona is finished and includes dramatic improvements to each of the hotel’s 509 rooms, its lobby, public areas and restaurants.
The Wayfarers tour company has expanded its 2013 offerings to include a Patagonia walk in southern Argentina. The eight-night remote Patagonia Walk includes hiking in Argentina’s Los Glacieres National Park, cruising alongside the Perito Moreno Glacier; riding horseback with a gaucho; and dining on regional specialties. The price begins at $5,795 double and includes accommodations, all meals, wine with dinner, admission fees and hotel and restaurant gratuities. Departures are set for Feb. 3, March 17 and Dec. 8. Remember the seasons are reversed from ours there.
You may call The Wayfarers at 1-800-249-4620 or go online to www.thewayfarers.com.
The latest travel warning for Mexico, issued by the U.S. State Department on Nov. 20, 2012 contained no essential changes or surprises from the last warning, issued on Feb. 8, 2012. While the new warning does not apply to most tourism destinations, it does continue to caution against nonessential travel to areas within 19 of Mexico’s states due to continued narcotics-related violence, particularly in the areas near the U.S.-Mexico border.
The State Department said there are no travel advisories for Mexico City, Cancun, Riviera Maya, Cozumel, Playa del Carmen, Merida, Tulum, Cichen Itza, Cabo San Lucas, La Paz, Guadalajara, Manzanillo, Puerto Vallarta, Riviera Nayarit, Oaxaca, Huatulco, Villahermosa, San Miguel de Allende and Leon. The State Department advised Mazatlan travelers to exercise caution, particularly late at night and in the early mornings and that U.S. citizens should defer nonessential travel to the rest of the state of Sinaloa and Nuevo Leon.
Cruise passengers using the Houston area for boarding now have two choices for departures. Galveston has been the popular point and now Bayport, which is in the outskirts of Houston, will be available soon.
Norwegian Cruise Lines (NCL) has decided to raise fares for their Hawaiian sailings. Travel to Hawaii is on the rebound and up almost 10 percent from the last couple years. The one NCL ship in the Hawaiian market is U.S. registered and crews and employees in the islands must be paid at a higher rate than the other NCL ships, which are foreign registered. Fares will be raised 10 percent.
The Pride of America provides seven-night cruises out of Honolulu with four ports and provides more than 100 hours of shore time for passengers. You can take conducted tours from the ship or rent cars in the various ports of call.
Delta Airlines has increased its flat-bed seats with direct aisle access in many of their aircraft cabins. This is the way to fly long distances if you have the coins.
If you are planning a few days in San Juan, Puerto Rico, look into staying at the Hotel el Convento in Old San Juan, a former Carmelite convent, which now offers 58 luxury rooms. It’s loaded with charm and character of the walled city.
If you desire something really different in cruise travel, look into Hurtigruten. This is a Norwegian company that can take you north into the breathtaking magical Aurora Borealis area and we hope that you get a chance to see the Northern Lights. Hurtigruten have smaller, very modern ships in the 300- to 500-passenger range. Phone 1-866-849-3416 for information and a brochure. www.hurtigruten.us/norway/ offers.
England, Ireland, Scotland and Wales have stepped up their advertising in the U.S. and want Americans to visit them. One of the major operating tour companies is CIE Tours International. They have been in the tour business 81 years and presently have more than 40 coach tour itineraries with programs from five to 15 days. Phone 1-800-243-8687 or visit cietours.com.
According to a recent survey by Travel Weekly Magazine, bookings to foreign destinations have improved in the last couple years and in 2013 the trend is expected to gain even more steam. London and all the U.K. seem to continue to be popular, along with Western Europe. French Polynesia is gaining popularity with Tahiti, Moorea and Bora Bora being the stars of that area.
Travel agents report more and more so-called exotic destinations are gaining bookings such as Central Europe, river cruising in general, Australia, India, Peru and Central America.
More and more round-the-world sailings are now available lasting in excess of 100 days with prices beginning in the $20,000 per person range. Not bad if you consider the cruise includes your room, all food onboard ship and transportation. If one of the ports does not interest you, no problem, you sail onward for more opportunities. Most round-the-world cruises depart in early January of each year. Most people do book early in order to get the accommodations they desire.
Another recent survey by CLIA (Cruise Lines International Association) finds that sampler cruises are proving popular. It gives travelers that have never experienced cruising a chance to sample the idea of ocean travel. Most like it!
Several new ships are in the making and all will have new ideas to better serve guests. They will be making their entrance into the cruise industry in the next several years.
I hear many travelers complaining about extra charges that are being imposed by airlines. Some carriers charge for even the first bag, others charge for a second and third bag and a few do not charge extra for up to two bags. And then there are extra charges for food purchased onboard flights. At least the peanuts and pretzels are still free.
New Orleans is gearing up for a big year in 2013. Riverwalk Marketplace will be revised and become more upscale, and city sightseeing Hop-On, Hop-Off tours will be available and the biggest event will be the Super Bowl.
If you have never visited New Orleans, put it in your travel plans. It’s really a special city!
Some of the information in this week’s article has been found in Travel Weekly Magazine and Travel Age West along with other newspapers and magazines.
Wherever you travel this New Year, may it be the best!