Monday, April 30, 2018

Planning a travel surprise

I stumbled across this blog post on Smart Women Travelers today, and thought it might come in handy for someone plotting a surprise...

Creative Commons image Ted McGrath (time-to-look on Flickr)
"Most people like surprises. Well, the good kind anyway. Longtime readers may remember when I planned a surprise trip with my husband a couple years ago. He had no idea where we were going except for the daily clues. Each day in December, I posted another clue to where we were traveling. It was fun to plan, fun to read all the comments where we were going, and so much fun to give away the prizes at the end.

So what’s involved if you want to plan a surprise trip for someone? It all begins with a destination. This might be something specific like Disney World, a cruise, a trip to the beach, or a larger geographical area like southern California. The next important ingredient is..." [read more on Smart Women Travelers].

Planning a Surprise Trip for Someone – What You Need to Know - Smart Women Travelers
How to Plan a Surprise Trip - Headed Anywhere
How to Plan the Ultimate Surprise Trip - Trip Advisor
Surprising My Dad with His Dream Vacation to Alaska - Princess Cruises Blog
How to Surprise Your Family with the Gift of a Disney Cruise - Disney Blog
Surprising the Kids with a Carnival Vista 5-Night Sailing with the Family - Smarty Pants Mama
Planning a surprise trip? Give her eight days' notice - Telegraph

Feel free to contact me if I can help you plan a surprise trip for a loved one!

Sponsored content (mine!)
Cruises - my cruise website

Saturday, April 28, 2018

South Pacific - without the flights

Here's my latest pick for an incredible itinerary.

How would you like to sail the South Pacific for 51 nights, yet only need to roundtrip flights to San Diego?

October 28, 2019: 51-night South Pacific cruise sailing roundtrip from San Diego on Holland America's ms Amsterdam

Can you identify this Coat of Arms from
one of the nations you will visit?
Itinerary: San Diego, California - At Sea - At Sea - At Sea - At Sea - At Sea - Honolulu, Hawaii - Lahaina, Hawaii - Nawiliwili, Hawaii - Hilo, Hawaii - Kilauea Volcano, Hawaii - Kailua Kona, Hawaii - At Sea - International Dateline - At Sea - The Equator - Fanning Island, Kiribati - International Dateline - At Sea - At Sea - At Sea - Pago Pago, American Samoa - International Dateline - Apia, Samoa - At Sea - Savusavu, Fiji - Suva, Fiji - Dravuni Island - Lautoka, Fiji - At Sea - Luganville, Vanuatu - Port Vila, Vanuatu - Mystery Island, Vanuatu - At Sea - At Sea - Nuku`alofa, Tonga - Vava'u, Tonga - International Dateline - At Sea - Alofi, New Zealand - At Sea - Rarotonga, Cook Islands - At Sea - Bora Bora, French Polynesia - Raiatea, French Polynesia - Papeete, French Polynesia - Papeete, French Polynesia - Moorea, French Polynesia - Rangiroa, French Polynesia - Fakarava, French Polynesia - At Sea - Nuku Hiva, French Polynesia - At Sea - The Equator - At Sea - At Sea - At Sea - At Sea - At Sea - San Diego, California

Pretty nice, eh? I thought so too.

If you're interested, please get in touch. We have group space on this sailing with very attractibe fares.

Monday, April 16, 2018

Parikkala Sculpture Park

Creative Commons image mikeancient on Flickr 
Just 3 hours east of Helsinki, tucked next to the Russian border, lies the town of Parikkala.

Creative Commons image
1030333033@N08 on Flickr 
While relatively isolated, the tiny town receives more than its share of visitors, drawn to incredible sculptures created by Veijo Rönkkönen.

Officially known as the Parikkala Sculpture Park, the Veijo Rönkkönen Sculpture Garden is one of Finland's most important examples of contemporary folk art.

"Rönkkönen is more than an installation or a sculpture park; it’s a community, and although some of the artwork is disturbing, the forest is unquestionably quite magical, an amalgamation of many different worlds coming together all in one place." (The Culture Trip)

Creative Commons image 1030333033@N08 on Flickr 
What causes the sometimes 'creepy' reaction is the facial expressions of the concrete statues. Some even have human teeth. The uniqueness of each statue is also what makes the whole collection so special.

"Veijo Rönkkönen was only 16 years old when he started working on his park. Veijo had recently got a job as a press worker in a paper mill in his hometown Parikkala, a job he held for 41 years. With his first pay check, he purchased ten apple tree seedlings and a bag of concrete to create a garden around his family home. For the next fifty years, until his death in 2010, he dedicated all his spare time and money planting flowers and trees and creating hundreds of caricature-like sculptures, mostly of full scale human figures." (Amusing Planet)

Creative Commons image
1030333033@N08 on Flickr 
A recluse who enjoyed his own company and practiced yoga, Veijo continued to live in the family home, adding to his works.

"Veijo Rönkkönen's yard, and the path leading to it, are filled with over 450 statues, 200 of which are self portraits of the artist in Yoga positions he has mastered. The statues have loudspeakers hidden inside them, and the sound effects add to the eeriness of this place." (Oddity Central)

Creative Commons image 1030333033@N08 on Flickr 
While Rönkkönen was happy to share his sculptures, leaving his park open to the public, he never wanted to meet his admirers. Instead, visitors left impressions and notes to him in a guestbook.

Veijo Rönkkönen was recognized with the Finlandia prize in 2007, but sent his brother to collect the prize on his behalf.

Following his death in 2010, Rönkkönen's family sold the site, hoping it would be preserved. The ITE Association is partnering with the new owner, an art lover named Reino Uusitalo, to repair the sculptures and provide guided tours.


Satisfy your curiosity with this view of the park entrance (on Google Street View).

Creative Commons image mikeancient on Flickr
If you go, why not stay a few days? There is plenty to see and do, including ample birdwatching, Ateljee-Koti Seppo Saukkonen (250 works by the artist), Honkakylä Merchant’s Museum, Museum of Horse-Drawn Vehicles & Agricultural Implements, Parikkala Dairy Museum and the Papinniemi Archaeological Site. (Visit Parikkala)

Parikkala Sculpture Park - Official Website
The strange Park of Veijo Rönkkönen - Big in Finland
Veijo Rönkkönen Sculpture Garden - Atlas Obscura
The Sculpture Park of Veijo Rönkkönen Is the Weirdest Place in Finland - Oddity Central
Veijo Rönkkönen’s Sculpture Park - Amusing Planet
Recluse Dies, Leaves Behind Hundreds of Secret Sculptures in Finland - The Culture Trip
The Parikkala Sculpture Park Reviews - Trip Advisor (rating 4.5/5)
How to get from Helsinki to Parikkala - Rome2Rio
Cottages and Vacation Rentals nearby - Go Finland
Parikkala Sights and Attractions - Visit Parikkala

Patsaspuisto 10
Creative Commons image mikeancient on Flickr

Friday, April 6, 2018

All-Inclusive Resort Booking Tips

"There are no beds for the kids," announces my client, calling my cell phone late Sunday.
"What do you mean, there are no beds for the kids? I booked you into a room with bedding for 4."
"Well, we upgraded our room upon arrival to the Club class to get the better view, and it just has a king bed."
"Did the room you gave up have 2 double beds?"
"Yes, but we can't sleep in a double bed."

Oh, it would have been good to know that. She says she told me last time I booked her at a resort, but despite several cruise bookings, it's her first resort booking with me. So, there they are, a young couple at a higher end resort in Cancun (thanks to a friend planning her wedding there), with just a king bed to share with their young children (3 and 5), having given up their double double room. In the end, the resort went above and beyond, hauling sofa beds into the king room, and all is well. But it could have turned out differently.

This recent scenario brings me to mind a few things I have learned about booking clients into all-inclusive resorts, so thought I would take a few minutes to share a few:

The price went up - yes, the quote I gave you yesterday was based on the rates at the moment I quoted you. Tomorrow, it could be more, it could be less, or it could be gone. I don't know. But if I do tell you it's selling fast and there are only a few rooms left at a rate, it's because the live inventory tells me that. I want you to be happy. I don't want you to be unhappy tomorrow when it's more. If you find the property you like, at a price that fits your budget, book it. And stop looking (there's no sense depressing or second guessing yourself).

I saw it less online - of course you did. And you probably did. I actually believe you. If you wanted the red eye flights, a 12 hour layover, a crappier room type, or a with a carrier that doesn't seat selection. Or baggage. Or transfers. Or the resort as 'room only', rather than 'all-inclusive'. The choices you make impact your experience and your price. When I work with clients, my goal is to help them find the best value for their vacation, balancing out all factors. When you have to sleep overnight in a connecting airport, or have to check-out of your room at noon for a 3:00 am departure the next morning, you might not find it was worth saving a couple hundred dollars.

I want a king bed - if the room description says "1 King Bed or 2 Double Beds", it means just that, you'll get a king bed, or 2 double beds, period. No guarantees. You can request a king, or you can request 2 doubles, but if a room type includes both possibilities, you could end up with either. If you absolutely must have a king bed, book a room type that only features a king bed. The lesson here is to be clear on what is "nice to have" and what is "must have".

I want a room away from the ice machine - yes, you can request a quiet room, spare cots for the kids, a ground floor room, rooms near each other, etc... but they are just that: requests. While these are nearly always reasonable requests, and the resort will do their best to accommodate your request, they cannot guarantee you'll get it. Nor can I. Granted, as a travel agent I may have tools that will increase your chances of getting your request, but it's still a request. You can't turn up and be mad that the resort didn't have room that was shaded by the pineapple tree. Keep your expectations low and be delighted if you get what you want.

I want to be sure they aren't renovating my resort - renovations do happen (how else do you expect that beautiful resort to have the best features and stay beautiful?), but there are things you can do to avoid them. Booking with a travel agent is probably your best bet, but you can also read the resort's website and read recent reviews. Renovations are one of the things I watch for when I help clients book a getaway (agents get warnings during the booking process), but people often miss if they are booking themselves online (this is 1 of 13 things on a recent list of things resorts won't tell you).

I have to go to Jamaica for a wedding - you may be delighted for your sister, cousin or friend to be getting married, and you may even look forward to the ceremony, but depending on your travel plans and budget, you may very well have mixed feelings when you get an invitation for the lovebirds to tie the knot on the beach. Can you book it yourself for less than the travel agent the bride is using? Perhaps. But know that booking 1 room and 2 airline seats is different than booking 12 rooms and 24 seats, the happy couple will be getting perks based on how many people book as part of their group, and if you don't book with the group, you may have to pay a fee to attend the ceremony and reception. Definitely expect this if you book at the competing resort down the road for less. It's your prerogative, of course, but be aware that sometimes it's in your best interest to just go with the flow.

Related Resources
New Club Med Openings: Sicily, the Great Wall, and More - Frommer's
All-Inclusive Vacations: The 7 Essential Questions Every Traveler Must Ask - Budget Travel
13 Things All-Inclusive Resorts Won’t Tell You (But Should) - Reader's Digest
The Hidden Fee That Could Make Your Next Vacation More Expensive - Travel + Leisure
23 Europe All-inclusive resort destinations - Price of Travel

Monday, April 2, 2018

Cruise Gear: Waterproof cellphone case

Welcome to my new series about cruise-friendly travel gear...

"This is a great option purchase for casual
users looking for a cheap way to keep
their phone dry." - Cruzely
So, you're going on a cruise and have some great beach excursions planned. Great!

Now I have a question for you: what are going to do with your beloved smartphone while you at the beach?

One of the client gifts I tuck into client's travel documents are waterproof phone cases (other times it's a pocket size map of a city they are visiting, a small book or a travel gadget).

With a waterproof phone case, you can do this ...
Crearive Commons image gelatobaby on Flickr
In Waterproof Phone Case Review : JOTO Cellphone Dry Bag, cruise blog Cruzely offers a complete review of one such product, the JOTO bag.

It’s listed as “#1 Best Seller” on Amazon for waterproof cell phone cases. And for good reason. For under $10, the JOTO Cellphone Dry Bag claims to offer an inexpensive waterproof casing for your phone, allowing you to take it with you to wet locations like the beach, the pool, or the river. Best of all, it claims you can also still use your phone’s touchscreen, allowing you to send texts and take photos.

... or this ...
Creative Commons image seafan on Flickr
But does it really work to protect your phone the way it claims? We recently purchased the phone case and put it through testing to see how it performed and if it’s worth the money... [continue reading].

As they say, the proof is in the pudding ~ or in the silt and sludge ~ as demonstrated in this amazing JOTO recovery video:
Underwater Metal Detecting a WATERFALL - I Found an iPhone! (YouTube) - Man + River

Granted, this is just one brand, and it's a good one, but it does speak to why it's worth reading reviews and buying quality!

.....or this!
Creative Commons image jsmjr on Flickr
More on waterproof phone gear
Waterproof Phone Case Review : JOTO Cellphone Dry Bag - Cruzely
ugowear Waterproof Phone Case & Wallet - The Boat Galley
10 Tips for Using Your Smartphone on a Cruise Ship

Cruise gear resources
39 Useful Things to Pack For Your Cruise (Including 17 You’d Never Think Of) - Cruzely
14 Cruise Accessories for Ridiculously Hardcore Cruisers - ShipMate App
17 Top Caribbean Cruise Packing List Items + What NOT to Bring (2018) - Asher & Lyric
Gifts for Travelers - Just Wander and Cruise

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