Off-season travel

Hello again! Sorry about no posts but it is kind of hard to write about travel when NO ONE is traveling. And it looks like it will be awhile until any of us do. Personally, our August Celebrity Flora cruise in the Galapagos was cancelled. We immediately rebooked for next year when we sail on the 4th of July. Our next chance for travel is our European Christmas Market river cruise in December. We shall see what happens but we are now thinking we may be taking that one in 2021 as well.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERASo let’s talk about off-season travel. I was posting on Instagram this morning and I added the photo at right and explained where it was and how I took it. Here’s what I said:

“Many people who have been in this hallway will recognize it but everyone I have ever shown it to is blown away—that it is empty. This is the hallway that leads from the Vatican Museums to the Sistine Chapel. People who see this shot are amazed that it is not PACKED with people. And it was completely packed about three minutes later. This is photographic testament to the idea of going off-season (it was mid-November) and getting up early (we were the first one in line when the museum opened). This also meant that for a few brief moments, we were ALONE in the Sistine Chapel (where they do not allow photos). It was an amazing experience. We had the same experience the next November in the Louvre while in Paris where we stood, all by ourselves, in front of the Mona Lisa for about three minutes when we were the only ones in the room.”

We love to travel off-season. We have had some of our best vacations when we go in the shoulder seasons in the spring and fall. The weather is usually OK for touring—we have been able to dodge bad weather. We were also lucky enough that Kathleen could take vacation-time when she wanted and owning my own business, I could schedule around times we wanted to go. And now that Kathleen is retired and I am headed that way, we try to never go when everyone else would be there.

One thing we would never do is go to Europe in the middle of summer. We will admit we have done European cruises in August but that was because that is the ONLY time you can see the Edinburgh Military Tattoo (which was totally worth it) but never on a land trip.  Not only is the weather a bit hot for our taste (it gets hot walking around) but there are so many people touring that you spend too much time standing in line. If you want to see the real Alaska on a cruise, go early in the season or late.

While we have enjoyed our June and July Alaska cruises we have truly loved our late August, early September Alaskan cruises when there are less people. And our BEST Alaska cruise ever was when we cruised there in late April. The weather was OK (especially the last day when we sailed through the Canadian Inside Passage) and we could walk everywhere in Skagway, Ketchikan and Juneau without feeling crammed. It was awesome. We were the only ship in port in some places while in July, there would have been three or four ships in port which means almost 12,000 people in a town of 1,500 (in the case of Skagway) which is crazy crowded.

Another thing we suggest is getting up early. Go out early, be first in lines. Then go back to your room, stateroom or wherever you are staying and take an afternoon nap and then you can go back out in the evening. You will see so much more. We did exactly the same thing when we went to Disneyland with our grandkids a few years ago. We got up early, hit the major rides, then went back to our rooms and took a nap (especially the kids) before going back for parades and fireworks.

So some advice for your future traveling…when you can, go off-season and get up early.

I am a family man, and I have to find my priorities. During the season, it is to race. During the off-season, it is to spend time with my family.  —Jens Voight

Take a trip with me…

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My first travel photo (that I show anyone). This was the view we had when we walked out of the train station in Venice on our first trip to Italy in 2002.

It’s been a while folks. How is everyone? Sorry I have been gone so long but I have been really busy…ha ha ha. But seriously, without travel it’s a little tough to really get excited about blogging about travel and this is supposed to be a travel blog.

But I thought I would offer you a possible fun way to travel…virtually. Back in November I took a photography class taught by the amazing Scott Kelby (he’s really big in photographic and Photoshop circles). He travels around the USA teaching photography and I was lucky enough to see him here in Seattle.

One of the things he said someone had to do to have their photos noticed was to post on Instagram. Now, I have not been a big fan of Instagram in the past. Mostly because for the first few years of its existence you could only post exactly square pics. They were just there for phone pictures. And it is still VERY difficult to post from a computer. It involves me going into a web testing mode in Chrome. It’s a real pain. If I need to make a change to a caption, I have to do it on my phone after I have posted it. Suffice it to say, it was hard to get used to and I am still not thrilled with it but I have found so many other great travel photographers that it has been worth it. Plus it gives me one thing I have to do every single day.

The day after Scott’s class I started posting my favorite travel photos. The ones I have shot since Kathleen and I started traveling internationally in 2002 (my first travel photo is above). They have attracted a little attention and I have found some great fellow travel shooters to follow as well. Looking at their photos is like traveling virtually. One thing I wish more of them would do is to caption their photos. Most of them just post a picture and you kind of have to guess where it is or what is happening. I write a good caption for every photo.

I bring all this up because I would like to invite you to check out my photos. If you look over to the right of this message you will see my Instagram feed. Today’s shot (top right) is from Bangkok, Thailand. Click on it and it should take you to my feed on Instagram. If you scroll down you will see all my pics. Click on one and it will open and you can read the caption and see where I took it and in most cases why I took it and why I love it. When a photo is open, you can click the arrows on the right and left to progress to the next picture.

I would love to have you follow me over there as I post my favorite travel photos. Or just check back here and click the top right photo as I post every morning around 8:00 am PST.

Actually another problem with Instagram…it doesn’t work the same in every browser. Best way to see ALL my pics is clicking here.

For me, I think my traveling is usually a lot of photographic memories, and I take a lot of photos. —Milo Ventimiglia

 

Now is the time…

close up of calendar and alarm clock on the green background, plThe other day while going down the rabbit hole that is YouTube,  I saw a video about cruising that had the title, “Seven reasons you should delay booking a 2021 cruise now.” Since I am kind of in the cruising industry and a total cruise lover, I decided I should watch it to see what those seven reasons were. So I did, and I was right, I disagreed with just about every one of them. The guy who does these videos is supposed to be a “cruise expert.” And granted, he is British, so he may have a slightly different set of circumstances but I had to respond in my own small way. So here are his seven reasons and my thoughts on each of them. If you are a cruiser (or even just a traveler), this might be of interest.

Reason 1: Who knows what cruise lines will survive into 2021

He thinks that some cruise lines may go under between now and next year. Possibly that is true. Hertz (I know, not a cruise line but a big travel company) declared bankruptcy yesterday and who knows what travel company will be next, but there is a cure for this particular situation—travel insurance. And not the cruise line’s travel insurance, but a policy from an independent travel insurance company like the one we do insurance with (TravelEx). If you purchase good travel insurance you will be insured if your travel provider experiences what is called “Financial Default.” That basically means, they go out of business or severely cut back service.

Reason 2: Itineraries will change

His point here is if you book for next year now, you may find that the cruise you booked for 2020, that got cancelled, may not have the same itinerary as it did when you originally booked it. I get this one but there is an easy solution. Before you make your final payment, look at the ports and if they don’t make you happy in 2021, move to 2022 or another cruise. Not a single cruise line that I know of is currently charging to move a cruise from one cruise to another. Yes, you may have a different set of perks or a higher or lower price but that’s just the way it goes. I rebooked a couple yesterday who had a 14-night New England cruise booked for next year on Celebrity. They were getting three free perks and $200 on board credit on their original 2020 cruise. We moved them to 2021 in the same stateroom on the same cruise and they lost one of their three free perks…but the price of the cruise was $1,000 per person less. So they lost an additional $300 OBC perk and picked up a very nice $2,000 off their cruise. I think that’s a great trade.

And let’s be honest, some cruises just will not change their itinerary. Alaska cruises for example. There are only so many ports in Alaska. If your cruise this year was supposed to go to Juneau, Skagway and Ketchikan, there is about a 90% chance they will go there again next year. Many others will be like that. Maybe more will change in Europe than here. Our next cruise should be taking us to the Galapagos this August but we feel we have about a 95% chance of being cancelled. If that happens, we can just about say with 100% certainty, that if we rebook for next year, we will have exactly the same itinerary.

Reason 3: Prices will fall

His assertion is that prices may fall between now and when you might sail in 2021. And maybe they will (but there are some GREAT bargains out there right now) but you can always rebook at the lower price. And to be honest, because so many cruisers can’t cruise right now but want to get back to cruising as soon as they can, ships are filling up as people rebook 2020 to 2021. So if you want to go next summer and not have to put off your next cruise to 2022, book now, hold your stateroom, rebook if you need to or if  better pricing comes along.

Reason 4: Onboard costs may rise

His reasoning here is that cruising may include a lot of social distancing onboard. And that means less people on a cruise, which means that gratuities will have to up. Great, want to make sure yours don’t—prepay your gratuities or get them as a booking perk. The same with beverage packages and specialty dining. If you like to do the things that cost money on a ship, plan now. All of the things you purchase in advance for a cruise are movable to another cruise. Just plan ahead if you think this may be something you will encounter. The same is true with shore excursions and private tours. Book them now with vendors that will refund them if you can’t go. Or book the cruise line shore excursions which are usually refundable up to 24 hours before the cruise.

He also points out that airfare to get you to the cruise might be much more expensive. While I have no clue if this will happen, there is an easy solution. Buy your air from the cruise line now. This week I booked three couples on a European Viking river cruise in September 21. They purchased their air to and from the cruise from Viking. The cost was $0.00. That’s right, on many of their 2021 cruises in Europe, Viking (and possibly others) are doing Free Air for a limited time. Given, that’s economy class air but it does get you a significant discount if you want to upgrade to business or first.

Reason 5: Cruising rules may change

Your temperature may be taken before you board, the buffet may be closed, if you are of a certain age, you may need a medical release or vaccination certificate from your doctor. All of these and more may happen but if you want to travel, you will do them. I have no problem bringing a medical release from my doctor or vaccination certificate. Probably won’t die if I have to have my temperature taken, not eat in a buffet (or be able to pick my own food up). Will you? Heck, if they develop a quick test for the virus before I get on, I am OK with taking test that as well. If it turns out I have a fever or test positive and they turn me away, that’s what travel insurance is for.

Reason 6: You run the risk of getting quarantined

This is true. His supposition is correct. But then, you could get quarantined or locked down at home…wait, I am locked down at home. But seriously, if ships are being locked down at the time you are scheduled to sail, don’t go. Rebook the cruise. Make that decision 90 days before you cruise when you have to make final payment, not now.

He also feels that you you should not book for 2021 because you might have to get the aforementioned pre-cruise certification from your personal doctor. So get one! If my doctor told me not to go, I wouldn’t go. Spending a few dollars and 20 minutes with my doctor is not that big a deal. I know that some people will say they don’t want to spend the extra money to see their doctor when they aren’t sick, but it always amazes me that people who will spend $10,000 on a cruise have a problem spending less than $100 for anything let alone a physician visit.

Reason 7: Your access to facilities and shows onboard might change

Of course they will. But why should that stop you from booking a cruise for next year. Again, book now, hold your spot. If you hear that you may not be able to do the things you want to do in 2021, then hold off and do them in 2022. But why stop yourself from booking in 2021 when you can make a change later on.

The bottom line as far as I am concerned, some final thoughts

Real cruisers, (people who cruise a lot and had or have cruises planned for 2020) are not going to stop cruising completely. In fact many of them (like us, our family and our friends) really can’t wait to go. Those people are cancelling their cruises and immediately rebooking them. Especially if they took the 125% Future Cruise Credit (FCC). This week the couples I rebooked on Viking for 2021 had their cruise and airfare completely paid for with their FCC and they have more than $1800 each left to spend. WOW! Prices were down that much, their airfare was free for next summer but wasn’t when they booked for this year and they have that extra twenty-five percent.

Another thing I am seeing is ships are filling up. We had clients who had a British Isles cruise cancelled in June and rebooked on a Panama Canal cruise with their FCC in 2021. They really wanted a particular stateroom category (aft spa stateroom) but they were already sold out. Many had been sold pre-Covid but still more were sold when 2020 was cancelled. They are hoping one of the others with that type of stateroom will cancel and they can get what they really want.

I guess the biggest take-away from this is: book your 2021 cruise now. Buy travel insurance. Have your travel agent (or do this yourself) monitor the pricing and rebook your cruise if it goes down. Prebook onboard expense items like gratuities, shore excursions, specialty dining, etc. Be prepared that things will be different. But above all, keep traveling, keep cruising. We already have a monster Mediterranean cruise booked for fall 2021 and we think we will have to move our Galapagos adventure to spring 2021. Who knows what will happen with our Christmas Market cruise in December…but if we miss that, we might move it to 2022…because we may be really busy in 2021…already.

Let our advance worrying become advance thinking and planning. —Winston Churchill

 

 

 

 

 

 

A big change and a great thought

Good evening all. Hope everyone is safe at home (or in the case of my son and sons-in-law staying safe at work). We are doing well here and have had only one of our close friends contract the  virus and get sick and that person is doing well now.

A newspaper on a wooden desk - Changes coming in 2020Now to the big change. After much thought, stress and now relief we have severed our relationship with Expedia CruiseShipCenters of Redmond and started anew with Expedia CruiseShipCenters of Bellevue. It had become apparent over the last few months that as much as we were not happy in Redmond, the owner was not happy with us. So we felt this was a good move. We are THRILLED with the owner we will be working with in Bellevue. And he is OK with us working remotely from home which is what we really want to do since 80% of our clients have been friends and family who do not live locally. That doesn’t mean we won’t ever be in the office but just that there won’t be the pressure to be there and stare at the walls.

We discussed quitting travel consulting all together but I just LOVE helping people travel so we decided to see if we could find another place to land. We discussed leaving Expedia CruiseShipCenters completely but decided since we knew the systems and didn’t want to have to reeducate ourselves if we could help it, we would try and find an owner who saw things more the way we do. Our new owner in Bellevue absolutely does. We have had two long phone calls with him and our Zoom discussion yesterday lasted more than two hours as we got to know each other.

So if you have travel needs, just e-mail me at jbellomo@cruiseshipcenters.com or call my cell at 206-399-0846 and I can set you up. More about this change in the weeks ahead.

Best travel quote for these Covid times

The other day while out for one of my walks I was listening to the podcast, “The Daily” from the New York Times. On the weekdays they pretty much run in-depth hard news but on the weekends they post human interest stuff. Last Saturday they interviewed travel guru Rick Steves. You can hear it by clicking here. If you don’t feel like listening for an hour, then here’s the best travel thing I have heard during this entire Covid period in our lives, when everyone is either cancelling their travel or having their travel cancelled. This is what Rick had to say about all those travel cancellations:

It’s OK to cancel your travel plans. Just don’t cancel your travel dreams. —Rick Steves

That about sums it up for us. We know in our hearts that our August Galapagos trip is going to be cancelled. In fact the airline we are flying from LAX to Quito cancelled us (only on one leg of the return flight 🤫 which is weird) and we are just waiting for Celebrity to cancel our Flora cruise. But we still want to go there and will rebook it for sometime next year. It’s one of our travel dreams. We won’t lose those. You shouldn’t either.

Cities I love–part 2

About 12 days ago we were talking about cities that I love here in North America. If you missed it, you can just click here. I thought I would come back to talk about cities I love internationally. There aren’t as many as in North America but there are a few. If you didn’t see the first list then I will tell you that these are cities that we love, cities that we have either been to more than once or want to go back to again. They aren’t all the places we love. We have other places we love but they aren’t cities. For instance, we LOVED New Zealand and can’t wait to go back but we weren’t as impressed by Auckland or any other city there as we were with the rest of the country. We really want to go back but that’s a really long flight 😀. Another good example might be the Yorkshire area of England. We loved visiting there and spending time with our friends but even though Leeds and York were lovely, they aren’t a city we yearn to go back to. Going back to Yorkshire is another story—we can’t wait.

Edinburgh Castle, Scotland

Edinburgh, Scotland

We have been to Edinburgh three times. The first time way back in 2003, again in 2016 and then again a year ago this month. Each time we have stayed longer. We just love Edinburgh. I like it so much, I could live there. It is a wonderful mix of history and modern. There are miles of places for me to walk. Great restaurants and just a super small city. I want to go back again and again. Maybe part of the reason we love it is that Kathleen is of Scottish descent. Or that we love Outlander so much. We have just had a great time every time we have visited Scotland.

Panorama from the city Amsterdam in the Netherlands at sunset

Amsterdam, The Netherlands

We have only been to Amsterdam once but WOW! We were there for almost a week before we sailed on our British Isles cruise in 2016 and we loved it. At least I know I did. A lot. Amsterdam is downright gorgeous to me. Walking the canals and really any part of the city is a great way to spend time. It is also a photographer’s dream. There are great photo opportunities in every direction. Good food, great people (who all speak fluent English) and we got to stay at the best hotel we have EVER stayed in, The Banks Mansion. I would go back in a minute and when we look at European trips, if the cruise or the trip takes us near Amsterdam, you can be sure we will.

Barcelona from Santa Maria del Pi church, Spain

Barcelona, Catalunya, Spain

Like Amsterdam we have only been in Barcelona once but we were there (pre-cruise) for almost a week and it truly made an impression on us. I always tell people that Barcelona is like a city at a party—24/7. Again, great food, great people (who treat you wonderfully), a lot to do and so much to photograph. From the crowds on Las Ramblas to the incredible market, La Boqueria, to the free concerts in front of the cathedral on Sunday it rocks. When we talk to friends and clients about traveling in Europe I tell them the perfect vacation would be to spend a week in Barcelona and then take a cruise to our next favorite city and spend a week there. You would have a week of partying followed by a cruise to lots of Mediterranean ports and a week of peace in…

Romantic gondola ride near Rialto Bridge in Venice, Italy

Venice, Italy

One of the people that most affected my life was my Uncle Jack. He traveled (not as much as we do) and he always told me that Venice was the least favorite city he had ever been to. So when we went to Italy for the first (and only) time in 2002 I was prepared to be unimpressed. But instead, I fell in love with this amazing place. When we returned I told him that I had loved it and he couldn’t understand why. Took me a few years (and talking to others who either loved or hated Venice) to figure out why so many people had this love/hate relationship with Venice. It all comes down to WHEN you visit this city. My uncle had gone in the middle of July, the HEIGHT of the tourist season. The place is jammed with people slammed together just about everywhere. Long waits at restaurants, higher prices, packed markets and the canals that smell from the summer heat.

We on the other hand, visited in early November. The weather was still great (they had gallons of rain the week after we left) and there were no crowds. None. We walked the Piazza San Marco almost alone. No lines to go to the top of the Campanille. It was a city totally at peace breathing a huge sigh of relief at the absence of visitors. But we were welcomed everywhere in restaurants and shops that were still hungry to serve visitors. We had an amazing time and would go back (at the right time of the year) at the drop of the hat. One reason I can’t wait to go back is that I had not gotten as involved with photography and early morning photo walks then and I really want to walk the streets of Venice with my Nikon. What pictures I could take!

Sydney Skyline Panorama 1

Sydney, Australia

This is the city I refer to as the most photogenic city in the world. Everywhere you look there is a something amazing to shoot. And the Opera House seems to be in all of them. It’s amazing how many of my shots of Sydney it is in. As you can see in the picture above,  the cruise ship we were on (not the one in the photo) docked right next to that Opera House so you get to start shooting it as soon as you get there. We were there for four days post cruise in 2012 and it is a fantastic place. Again, great food, incredibly welcoming people and just plain fun, not to mention the best zoo we have ever been to (yes, better than San Diego). We had flown to Auckland for three days pre-cruise, sailed all along the southern coast of New Zealand visiting small cities and towns and then crossed the Tasman Sea to Melbourne and finally Sydney. We would love to go back.

Hong Kong Skyline Panorama bei Nacht

Hong Kong, China

We spent three days here after our 2010 South East Asia cruise on the wonderful Azamara Quest (I think this was probably my favorite cruise of our more than 25 cruises). This is the only city I really loved that I probably will never get back to nor do I now have any desire to go. When we visited it was just following the transition from English rule to Chinese and the place was a wonderful, bustling, interesting, photographer friendly city. Nothing like the demonstrations you see from there today. We were able to get around and felt totally safe all the time. Stayed at the second best hotel we have ever stayed in, The Langham. Rode to the top of Victoria Peak (where the photo above was taken) and had lunch at a truly authentic Asian restaurant, Bubba Gump’s Shrimp 😜. Maybe someday it will be safe to go back to this amazing city. We hope so.

That’s about it for our favorite cities…so far. I have high hopes for the months ahead. Even if our Galapagos trip is cancelled in July/August we are still hopeful our Christmas Market cruise down the Danube will happen in December. Before the cruise we will (at least we plan to) visit Lisbon, Portugal and I really think from all reports from friends who travel, that we will love it. Then we go to Prague, Vienna and Budapest while on the river cruise. We won’t be staying long in Vienna but we do have three days in Prague before we sail and then three days after in Budapest. Might just have to go back. You never know.

I have never felt salvation in nature. I love cities above all. —Michaelanglo

Me on TV

Screen Shot 2020-04-26 at 7.13.41 PMIn a post last week I mentioned that I was going to be interviewed on one of our local TV stations about travel because I am an agent. Thought I would share the final interview with you: CLICK HERE  It is the second video down on the page.

I should mention that Kelly interviewed me for about 40 minutes total and if I am lucky, I was on the air for 40 seconds but they did use a few pics of Kathleen and I from our trips that they had asked me about as well as quoting me in the attached article on the page.

If you know me, you know that nothing embarrasses me. Anything could happen to me on live television, and I sincerely don’t care. —Giuliana Rancic

Back to travel—Cities I love-part one

We have been having amazing weather so I have been out walking a lot the last couple of weeks. On my walks I try to come up with something to write and since it has been so long since I posted something good, fun and non-virus related, let’s get back to travel.

I have been seeing a ton of list making on social media: best albums, best songs, favorite food, etc. To be honest, I love lists. If you look up at the top of this page, you will see four menu items. One of them is Lists. Check it out sometime. It’s all the lists I have posted since I started this blog in December 2018.

Cities I love in North America

So, when I was out walking yesterday I was thinking about my favorite cities. For my purposes today, I am going to just list our favorites in North America (I’ll be back soon with the rest of the world). We have been to many of America’s great cities, big and small. We have liked all of them but the ones on this list are ones we have either been to more than once or would like to go back to someday. I am going to list them, not in the order of how much we like the city but in distance from home which means we start with…

Seattle SkylineSeattle, Washington

Yes, I know we live here but it is a city we love. A little less than I did a few years back but I still love the place. We live about 15 miles east and before Kathleen retired she worked right downtown (for most of her career) about two blocks from the Space Needle. At that time, one of us was in the city almost daily. We did theater, concerts, spent the night at hotels after those concerts and above all went in for some amazing food. Seattle has so many incredible restaurants and we love trying them. I should point out (as I have posted here not long ago) the city is no longer as safe as it once was and we think twice about when and where we go in the city. That’s sad, but I still love Seattle. I even have a completely separate website (My Seattle) that I created for friends coming here.

Downtown VancouverVancouver, British Columbia

After Seattle, the city we have spent the most time in since we started traveling together is Vancouver, BC. We made our first trip back in 1998 when Kathleen took me there for a wonderful birthday weekend. Since that time we have been back more than 50 times. We have gone less since 2005 when we met our best friends Bob and Judy who live in Chilliwack, BC, about 120 km east of the city. Before we met them, we probably went to Vancouver three or four times a year, but since then, maybe only once a year. But every time we go, we love it. I LOVE taking photos there. Many of my favorite photos in the last few years were taken in YVR (the airport designation for Vancouver and a common nickname). We will go back many times in the future and I encourage you—if you have never been there—go! Stanley Park, Vancouver Theater Sports, Granville Island, Gastown, Robson Street are all things we love and that you should not miss. Oops! I almost missed our favorite Italian restaurant—CinCin. We went there for our 20th anniversary last August and have eaten there at least 10 times. A great restaurant.

Panoramic view of the downtown San Diego skyline, CaliforniaSan Diego, California

Growing up in Southern California I spent a lot of time in the LA area (heck, I was born there—in Lynwood–near Compton) and Kathleen is from the Bay Area, right across from San Francisco but for some reason it turned out that our favorite California city is San Diego. I think the first time we went there together was for a business meeting I had to attend. We loved it. It’s a big city that’s really a bunch of small towns. From the Gaslamp District to Old Town, from Coronado Island to downtown, we love the whole place. Even losing our friends who live there…we still love it and look forward to going back. Great restaurants, nice hotels (even though we got kicked out of our room the last time because the Secretary of Homeland Security wanted three whole floors) and we have had pretty good luck with AirBnBs as well. Of course there is the world famous zoo and wonderful Balboa Park that surrounds it. One of my favorite things about San Diego is its waterfront. We have sailed into and out of San Diego harbor a number of times and it’s a great place to start or end a cruise. Besides as everyone knows, the weather is always perfect.

Sunset in Santa FeSanta Fe (and Albuquerque), New Mexico

Once we leave the west coast, our next stop is New Mexico. Yes, we know we skipped Phoenix, Tucson and Las Vegas but even though we seem to visit them regularly, if you told me I could never go back, I would neither cry or die. If you ask me where I want to go between coasts in the USA, the first place that comes to mind is Santa Fe. We have only been to New Mexico twice but both trips were favorites. The last trip was the best! Besides Santa Fe, we also got to see the Albuquerque Balloon Fiesta (worth the entire trip) with good friends and then spend four days in Santa Fe. If you have followed my posts for awhile you know we love food and we have done food tours and cooking classes with the Santa Fe School of Cooking while there and loved them. Lastly, if you visit, DO NOT MISS Meow Wolf. It is a one-of-a-kind experience that’s beyond crazy and a lot of fun.

Toronto city skyline at night, Ontario, TorontoToronto, Ontario

One thing I pondered when I added Toronto to this list was this—do we really love the city or am I just listing it because we get to see our friends Tim & Perry when we are there? No, we love the city and Tim and Perry are just a big bonus. We have visited three times and loved all of them. I love walking in the Beaches area where Tim and Perry live (on the shores of Lake Ontario), they have amazing food all over the city (especially when you have two foodies to take you to find that food), a super art festival called Nuit Blanche that we got to attend and some beautiful places to see within a short distance (Niagara Falls, Port Hope, the Thousand Islands). We have even flown out of the coolest airport in the world (Billy Bishop International Airport) on the coolest airline in the world (Porter Airlines). You should try both. Billy Bishop is on an island right in downtown Toronto and Porter Air is a HUGE throwback to the 1960s and gold age of air travel. The flight attendants still wear pillbox hats and they serve you actual food.

Aerial panoramic sunset view of Charleston, South CarolinaCharleston, South Carolina (and Savannah, Georgia)

Even though these two cities are in different states, they is only about a two hour drive between them through some really cool country. And both of these cities exude Southern Charm. Why we even saw a performance by “the Southern Charmer” in Charleston. The entire area is known as the “Low Country” and when we visited we found that their reputation as amazing food towns was well deserved. There are also lots of things to see (old plantations, giant oak trees, Fort Sumter, Hilton Head beaches) and do besides eating…but I liked the eating best. That and the awesome photos I got on my early morning photowalks. I would go back to both cities in a minute but if I had to pick one thing to go back for, it would be the chicken and waffles at The Early Bird Diner just outside Charleston on the road to Savannah. They were absolutely amazing. I can still taste them in my mind. You can read about our trip to the Low Country on our website.

New York City skyline from roof top with urban skyscrapers before sunset.New York, New York

I debated about adding NYC but we have so many memories there and I would go back at the drop of a hat that I just couldn’t leave it out. We have been three times and I may be getting too old for the craziness but when last we were there in the fall of 2018 I did have some great experiences. New York is not a place I need to tell people about. Either you already know or you don’t care. I will mention some of my favorite spots and memories which include walking The Highline at dawn, taking an old yacht on an architectural tour around the island of Manhattan, doing a tour of the area around Ground Zero, taking a food tour of Greenwich Village and of course theater. We have seen so many great plays on Broadway that it is hard to remember them all. And the food…don’t get me started. Too much variety, if that’s possible. New York is not a city I can’t wait to go back to but I would be really sad if you told me I couldn’t go back there.

That concludes my list of North American cities I love…and would go back to. I would LOVE to hear from you about the cities you love in the comments below. Make your own list. Pass mine around. See what people think and where they would go if they could go to any city on the continent. In the next post (or the one after that) I will list my favorites from around the rest of the world. Watch for it.

When you tour as much as I do, you’re always on the road, and you tend to gravitate toward cities where you’re like, ‘Every time I’m in that city, the shows are fun.—Tom Segura

 

My TV interview

KK
Kelly Koopmans of KOMO-TV

As I mentioned in my post yesterday, I did an interview (on tape) with Kelly Koopmans of KOMO-TV. She tells me it will be shown next Friday so when it is available on the KOMO-TV website I will let you know.

Kelly is a pretty great interviewer and she made me feel like we were just having a pleasant conversation. We talked for almost 20 minutes and to be honest I didn’t even realize that we were doing the interview until about 5 minutes in. She also told me that out of that 20+ minutes of talking, she might end up using a minute or two on the air. That’s TV folks. You think you are the star and then you wind up on the cutting room floor.

One thing Kelly did, (a few days before we talked) was send me a set of questions/talking points she wanted to discuss. I did some research and added my opinions. Since I know she won’t put all of them in the report, I thought I would share them with you. The questions are in bold and my answers aren’t.

Can we expect a spike in prices once things reopen or will there be bargains to get people traveling again?

This will probably differ based on the kind of travel expense. My best guess based on what I am reading and seeing in future pricing is that we will see a lot of bargains as the travel industry tries to entice people to travel again. Even though the government may say it is OK to travel, many individuals may find have some trepidation about going out there again. It will definitely be slow to come back and hotels, airlines and cruise lines will have to really try hard to get it going again. 

How far out should you wait to cancel if you have a trip booked right now?

If you have a flight or a cruise booked that you don’t think will go, DO NOT cancel it. Let them cancel you. If you cancel, you may lose any deposit or payment you have made. Or you may only be able to get a credit that is good for a specific time. If they cancel you, you will either be able to get a refund or possibly a credit for future travel that exceeds what you would have paid for your current travel. For instance, if you cancel a cruise in June today, you may get your deposit back or pushed forward as a credit but if you wait until they cancel you, with most cruise lines, you could get a 125% Future Cruise Credit. 

Are summer and fall international trips off?

That’s one I can’t answer. As we all know, Europe was hit harder (for their relative size) than we were. Asia more so. And the CDC has banned cruises to and from the US until after July 24. Small countries (especially those in poorer areas of the world) may still have their doors closed because they were unable to deal with the virus as well as larger industrialized nations. A traveler’s best bet might be to think about in-state travel first, then inside the USA travel and finally international travel. We have a trip planned for August to Ecuador and the Galapagos Islands which we are pretty sure will be cancelled. But we also have a European Christmas Market river cruise in December that I think we should be able to take.

Tell me about travel insurance… are all these changes  covered?

The best way to think about travel insurance is this: If you don’t have what is called Cancel for Any Reason insurance (which most people don’t because it is VERY expensive), then if the flight/cruise/attraction is open and running, your insurance will not cover reimbursement if you decide not to go because you are worried you might get sick or quarantined far from home. If you are sick or get the virus, then yes, you would be covered. Or if you are traveling and get sick, your insurance would cover your medical costs as well as getting you home.

If your flight is canceled do you settle for a voucher or can you get cash back?

Decide what is best for you. If your flight is cancelled, they have to give you a choice. If you cancel your flight, you might not have that choice. If you need the $$$ now, take the refund.

What are your rights as a consumer when it comes to changing or canceled  flights?

For domestic flights, as well as international ones departing or arriving in the U.S., you’re covered by the rules of the Department of Transportation. As it says on the DOT’s website, if your flight is canceled — no matter the reason — you are entitled to a full refund back to your original form of payment for the unused portion of your itinerary.

When your flight is canceled, you are entitled to a refund — no questions asked — according to the DOT rules. However, some airlines have been trying their hardest to convince travelers to go with a voucher instead of a refund – despite the rules. The airlines are doing this to maintain as much positive cash flow as possible.

If you’re offered credit for a future trip and would prefer your money back, the best course of action is to call an airline’s customer service desk. Cite the DOT rules and contract of carriage you agreed to when you purchased your ticket. If you’re still out of luck, consider a credit card charge back.

But either way, knowing your rights is the first step in getting what you want.

How far ahead should you book?

Depends on what you are booking. If you have a cancelled cruise, book the next one as soon as you can. I have clients cancelled in May who have already rebooked for next May. And those cruises are filling up fast. People are going to want to travel and many already have reservations for next year and the year after. For instance, we have a cruise booked for September 2021 and October 2022. But when it comes to air and hotel, 11 months is about as far out as you can book, so you can’t book next summer now anyway. 

Have you ever seen a time like this in your industry?

Since I have only been a travel professional for a little more than two years, I can’t say. As a traveler, I have NEVER seen anything like this. And it’s killing us not to be able to go anywhere. 

Do you think this will forever change the travel industry?

I truly believe the biggest change is going to be paying more attention when something like this starts up in another part of the world. We got off our last cruise on March 2. We went to New Orleans for Mardi Gras. In hindsight, we should have skipped that one as the virus was a known factor in Asia (and Washington state) when we boarded. Other than that, I think things will be cleaner, more people will wear masks and wash hands…at least I hope we will have learned something from this. 

I have also heard that some cruise lines are also considering two huge changes. First, adding a walk-through fever checking station to their boarding procedure. Apparently this is quite common when boarding a cruise ship in Japan. As Kathleen just mentioned to me, this would NOT catch those that were asymptomatic but I believe it is a good step in protecting the rest of us. If you have a fever, you shouldn’t be cruising.

The other major change on cruise ships would (and should) be no one being able to serve themselves in a buffet. No more bread baskets (that will both kill me and save my waist line) on tables in the dining room, basically no more handling of food by passengers, only by crew with tongs and/or gloves.

So that’s what Kelly and I talked about. I just thought I would share. I would love to hear some of your comments in the space below.

Never make predictions, especially about the future.—Casey Stengel

When can we travel again?

JK333Want to know when we can travel again? Personally, I am not the one to ask, but I wanted to send you a very short post today (back later this week with a longer travel post) with a link to an article from the Seattle Times. We first saw it yesterday and it is all about “When can we travel again?” It is prognostications from a number of travel and virus experts including travel guru Rick Steves. You can find that article by clicking here. It’s a good read and might brighten your day if you (like us) can’t wait to travel again.

But apparently, I am the one to ask here in Seattle. This is the same topic that I will be discussing (via Skype) with Kelly Koopmans who is the morning anchor on KOMO-TV here in Seattle. Or at least I will be taping an interview with her this morning that will air sometime next week or the week after. I will post when I know the date. It will undoubtedly be on the web as well for those of you who aren’t local.

Kathleen wishes I could get a haircut before I do it, but we all know that won’t happen. Speaking of that, Kelly asked me to find one or two local clients of mine who had travel cancelled for this summer so she could get their reactions to that.. But my few local clients (most of my clients are friends and relatives who don’t live locally) said they didn’t want to talk on TV because “I am not going on TV. Not how I look after all this quarantine time!” Cracked me up but I know that for many people, it is the real thing.

So take a second and read the article and maybe it will give you some hope…because we all know we love to travel!

I love traveling. I hate jet lag, but I love, love, love, love traveling, to meet new people, to try different foods because I’m a big foodie. —Irina Shayk

Quarantine continues so let’s get Primed

As of 5:00 pm yesterday we here in Washington are officially quarantined. According to our governor that means that anyone other than about 300 occupations should stay home. And when we are staying home (like we know you are) we do lots of different things but we know we always end up watching television. In my last post I gave you my personal recommendations for the best on Netflix. Today—Amazon Prime.

First, a statement about Amazon Prime in general. I know a lot of people are either anti-Amazon or Amazon-ambivalent but we have been totally sucked into world of Amazon. Most weeks we will have at least four deliveries and many weeks more. So we would be nuts not to have Amazon Prime. That $119 we spend every year is probably the best value we know. Just the free shipping alone (for us) is worth the price of admission but when you throw in the rest of what you get (complete list here) it would be stupid for us not to have it. And that is before I even mention Amazon Prime video.

In doing these streaming lists it kind of surprised me that two of my absolute favorite shows are Amazon Prime originals. These are shows that we stream on the day they are available and when I say we stream them, I mean we totally binge(d) them. That d was in parentheses because one of them no longer has new episodes but it is still one of my absolute all-time favorites.

Our top three Amazon shows

If Amazon Prime was just a video streaming service, I would subscribe just to get these shows—I like them that much. I am sure you have heard of them, or you may have watched them but in case you haven’t, these three are worth having Prime for.

The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel: What can I say about this show that hasn’t already been said? If you haven’t seen it, get Prime just to watch it. The adventures of Midge, Susie and the rest of the characters is a pure delight and when a new season is released (there are three seasons with a fourth on the way) we will usually watch all eight episodes in one weekend. It’s funny, poignant and just plain great. I envy those who have never seen it. I would love to be able to binge those three seasons for the first time.

Bosch: This is a detective show. But what a detective. And because Kathleen and I have both read every book Michael Connelly has ever written, we think Harry is one of the most interesting characters in fiction. We have been reading the Harry Bosch books by Connelly since before we first met more than 20 years ago. When they announced they were making a TV series from the books we were both excited and worried. Harry is a character we both love in books and we were worried they (Hollywood) would screw it up. After all, they let Tom Cruise play Jack Reacher (WORST CASTING EVER). But we were  very pleasantly surprised (and then thrilled) when this series premiered. Because the author Michael Connelly is closely involved and loves his character as much as his readers do, this show is VERY close to his books. Probably the best adaptation of a book into a show or movie I have ever seen. And Titus Welliver IS Harry Bosch. When I read new Bosch books, I see him in my mind and it works. If you like detective shows, these (there are currently five seasons with two more to come) are the best. But I watch shows for the characters, and this show has some great ones (including the entire city of Los Angeles). Give it a try.

Mozart in the Jungle: This show is no longer in production, but if you haven’t seen it go back and watch it. Don’t be mislead by the title. It’s the closest thing to Mrs. Maizel that we know. There are four seasons and they are all available so make sure you start from the beginning. A quick synopsis would tell you that this is the story of a philharmonic orchestra in NYC but that would be too simplistic. This is a comedy, a drama, a romance and one of our favorite shows ever. Go immerse yourself (this one is a great binge) in the world of “Hilee” and the Maestro.

The rest of our Amazon list that we watch together

Fleabag: If you haven’t heard of Fleabag after the year that the creator of the show, Phoebe Waller-Bridge has had, you must not be into TV. This totally irreverent, adult’s only show is a Brit classic. Just two seasons but they are funny ones.

Tom Clancy’s Jack Ryan: One of the most filmed characters of modern fiction, Tom Clancy’s Jack Ryan is almost iconic (the character has been played by both Harrison Ford and Alec Baldwin before this). This version with John Krasinski is a pretty good action series. There are two seasons with a third on the way. Decent show.

Goliath: Neither of us are big Billy Bob Thornton fans. We did like him in the first season of Fargo but that was about it, until this show came along. He plays a disgraced attorney who fights for underdogs. You get the idea but this show is from David E. Kelley who has made some of the most offbeat series on network TV, from LA Law to Ally McBeal to Doogie Howser, MD. and always gives you something interesting to watch. Goliath is a solid series and if you like lawyer shows with quirky stuff, check it out.

Modern Love: One of my favorite things to read in the NY Times is the Modern Love column. There is even a podcast which I also listen to. These are stories of love. All kinds of love. About a year ago, Amazon put a short series of eight of these together. This is an anthology so each episode is a totally different story but there is some crossover. This is a great filler series. Something you can watch an hour of and then come back to a week later. No need to binge this one. Lots of different people in it and it is almost always sweet and touching.

Catastrophe: This is another great comedy like Mozart or Fleabag. An American visiting London has a one week fling with a British woman and she gets pregnant. The hilarity continues from there. For four seasons. This series is also out of production but that still leaves you plenty to watch (or binge if you like). Rob Delaney and Sharon Horgan are really good as the couple in question.

Hunters: We just started this new series about a group of people hunting Nazis who have infiltrated the US in the 1990s. It has a decent cast led by Al Pacino with an accent that often makes him hard to understand. And there is a fair bit of violence but so far we are intrigued. Be warned, it is a little intense. We can only take one show at a time.

Amazon shows I watch when I am working out

These are shows that Kathleen doesn’t watch. That doesn’t mean that they are not for the ladies, just that they aren’t something she likes. I, for instance, do not watch the PBS show Call the Midwife with her. It’s a great show, just doesn’t appeal to me.

Hannah: There is one season of this show about a girl who is brought up in the woods by the man who killed her mother. It goes from there. There is only one season but it is pretty good action.

The Boys: This show with one season out already and another coming could be called the Anti-Avengers. What happens if super heroes were evil? This show tells you with humor and interesting characters. Also, my feeling is that any series with Karl Urban in it, is a great series.

The Expanse: My son and Kathleen’s son-in-law have been after me for years to watch this series. I tried a few times to watch but it just started too slow for me. When I am riding a bike I need to be distracted from the pain of the ride so I need something with some action. Recently I learned I was wrong. Before we went on our last cruise I downloaded the entire first season onto my iPad (did you know you could do that with some Amazon and Netflix shows?) to watch while I rode a bike in the ship’s gym. I got hooked! I am currently almost done with season three (there are four with a fifth coming later this spring) and I almost look forward to working out just to watch it. Can’t wait to see where it goes. If you like science fiction adventure, this show is great. I think it may be the best sci-fi series I have seen since Battlestar Galactica (not the original but the outstanding remake).

That about covers Amazon for us. Next up will be the other streaming services we stream shows on including Hulu, Disney+, Apple Plus+, CBS All Access and The Paramount Channel.

I was like, Amazon Prime? Who has Amazon Prime? It turns out everybody.—Gaby Hoffman