Savvy Travel Decisions

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LATEST SAVVY TRAVEL NEWS: 

 

Don’t plan on checking in for your favorite room at the Waldorf Astoria anytime soon.  Alas, the iconic Waldorf Astoria in New York City, recently purchased by a Chinese investor group, closed on March 1, 2017 for a major three-year total re-do.  When re-opened in 2020, it will be a high-end, 1,200 plus room hotel/condominium property.  Meanwhile, the name is proliferating  elsewhere as a luxury brand under  the Hilton Hotel Corporation. 

 

 

(Now Open)  The world’s largest timber/frame structure is under construction in tiny Williamstown, northeastern Kentucky - just south of Cincinnati, Ohio.  The Ark Encounter, a full-sized replica of Noah’s Ark, 500 feet long, 80 feet tall, and 85 feet wide, opened the summer of 2016.  This is a first phase of a 800 acre biblical park built by the folks of the nearby Creation Museum.  When completed, it will include a walled city, The Tower of Babel,  a journey through biblical times including the parting of the Red Sea, a walk-through aviary, and a first century Middle Eastern village.  http://arkencounter.com.  855-284-3275. 

 

 

I DON’T GET AROUND MUCH ANYMORE:

Alas, The Palm Springs Follies in Palm Springs, California, a longtime favorite of the Geratol set, bit the dust.  The elaborate revue at Palm Spring’s historic Plaza Theatre featuring old codgers ages 55-83, became history May 18, 2014.  It lasted 23 seasons, far longer than many dearly departed past cast members. Perhaps nothing is infinite in time as the “hip” audience was becoming “bored to death” with the well-preserved, but creaky dancers.  Skin sells these days, but not when wrinkled and sagging. 

 

GATOR GAS FOR YOUR GAS TANK?

Fed up with the cost of gasoline at the pump?  Tried cooking oil, sun seed oil, natural gas, etc. all to no avail?

Relief may be on the way in the form of converting alligator fat into biodiesel fuel!  15 million pounds of alligator fat is now going to waste.  The University of Louisiana at Lafayette is conducting a feasibility study.  Just think:  The future slogan could be: “Instead of a tiger in your tank, try a gator!”

 

RIVER CRUISE LINE TO ALSO CRUISE THE OCEANS:

The well respected Viking Cruise Lines recently announced their intentions of sailing two cruise ships, launching the first new built - the Viking Star, in May, 2015.  Plans are to sail the new 928 passenger ships in Scandinavia, the Baltics and in the east and west Mediterranean.  The ships are intended for the upscale market to compete with Azarma Cruises, Oceania Cruises, Regent Seven Seas, and Crystal Cruises.

The second new built will sail beginning in 2016.

Viking’s announcement is novel move for river cruise lines, and is designed to allow them to cross-sell to their legion of loyal river cruise clientele.

 

 

ANOTHER BLOW TO JAMAICA’S IMAGE:

After years of unsuccessful attempts to sell, the 427 room Ritz Carlton in Montego Bay has thrown in the towel and closed its doors on May 20, 2013.  Stay tuned for a possible rebranding. 

2015 - The hotel is now open as The Hyatt Zilara Rose Hall.

 

 

A NEW CHOICE IN CRUISING:

Many a traveler marvel and praise the service on Virgin Atlantic Airlines.  Soon, and you’ll also be able to cruise on Richard Branson’s Virgin Cruises.  You’ll have to be patient, however, as the first of the 110,000 ton, 2,800 passenger ships won’t sail until 2020.  The ships are scheduled to sail out of Miami.  Not only will Virgin carry fewer passengers than today’s similar sized ships, but expect larger cabins and many first-time onboard cruise innovations. 

 

 

ADD-ON, AKA STICKER SURCHARGES, JUST CONTINUE TO GET WORSE AND WORSE!

 

 

Carnival Cruise Lines announced in September, 2016, that they will begin charging their passengers extra for speedier embarkation and disembarkation.

 

Want speedier security and check-in procedures?   Pay-up!

 

Want your luggage delivered faster to your cabin?   Then reach for your wallet.

 

Want priority tender access?   Wallet time!

 

Want first dibs at dinner reservations.  More money, please.

 

The added cost for what used to be free?   $55.95 - $79.95 per person depending on the length of the cruise.

 

What’s your alternative except to join the cattle lines and be treated like a second-class passenger?

 

?Another cruise line?

 

 

 

FREEDOM OF SPEECH ABOARD AIRCRAFT: 

 

 

The FAA has announced a revision of its rules for use of electronic devices on commercial airline flights. You will now be permitted to use Ipads, Kindles, laptops and other Wi-Fi-equipped devices for the duration of your flight.  Hurrah! This means simply that you will be able to read e-books, check e-mail (right along with NSA snooping) and browse the Web even during take-off and landing.  The prohibition never made sense, so kudos for finally relenting and relaxing the heretofore restrictions. 

 

 

Use of mobile phones during flight, meanwhile, remains taboo.

 

 

IQUEUE: (formerly FLO) $149.00 a year fee, is accepted by Indianapolis International Airport.

Previously stung passengers may think twice before forking over another hefty fee.

 

A MAJOR THEME PARK FOR THE MIDDLE EAST?:

Jordan’s King Abdullah has ambitious plans for a $1.5 billion, 184-acre Star Trek amusement park in the Red Sea coastal city of Aqaba.  CBS and Paramount are involved in the development stages.  The futuristic park will include a unique ride, “The Wonder!”, which will transport riders into simulated space as they view time capsules of ancient civilization.  The high-tech complex will include resort hotels, dining, shopping, and several shows in addition to other space-themed rides.

 

 

 

THE HOTELS GET BIGGER AND BIGGER!

 

Move over Las Vegas-you no longer can brag of having the world’s largest hotels. Mecca in Saudi Arabia is building Abraj Kudai, a $3.5 billion, 12 towers, 10,000 room hotel. Two of the towers will be super deluxe. The Saudi Royal Family will have a dedicated five floors. The 1.4 million square meter structure will include over 70 restaurants, ballrooms, meeting rooms, and shopping mall. Ten of the towers have helipads. The “newest” world’s largest resort is scheduled to open November-December, 2017. An estimated 15 million Muslims visit Mecca annually.

 

 

 

 

 

THE CHINESE ARE COMING!  THE CHINESE ARE COMING!:

Unless the United States defaults on its re-payment of loans to its banker, China, or China’s labor force is unionized, or a beehive of trial lawyers invades China and undermines their economy, hordes of Chinese middle-class are about to descend on the United States and Japan.  100 million Chinese middle-class travelers, that’s right 100,000,000 Chinese, are expected to travel abroad by 2015, there were 300,000 Chinese visitors to the U.S. in 2014!  The Chinese spend twice the amount of an average British traveler. 

 

 

 

POOR LITTLE DUCKIES - THEY HAVE LOST THEIR RED CARPETS, POSH DUCKIE PALACES AND LOBBY PONDS: 

 

The Peabody Hotel chain is retrenching to Memphis and henceforth will be a one pond operation.  Sadly, the huge 1,641 room Peabody Orlando is being rebranded as a Hyatt Regency Orlando Convention Center, and follows the fate of the Little Rock Peabody that became a Marriott hotel.  Wonder what lies ahead for the suddenly “excessive” evicted duckies?   Perhaps survival is on a seniority system with the others less tenured destined for the dinner table?

 

 

 

THE STEAMBOATS ARE BACK!:

The question is for how long?  The grand riverboats of America have shuffled from bankruptcy to bankruptcy and owner to owner over the past decade.  Once a flourishing entity, the steamboat’s future is perilous.  This once popular bygone mode of travel is plagued by labor costs and an aging fleet, whereas similar river boat travel flourishes in Europe.

 

The Great American Steamboat Line now operates the 436-passenger American Queen (1995), plying the upper Mississippi between St. Louis and St. Paul, Memphis to St. Louis.  A new150-passenger Queen of the Mississippi joins forces in August, 2012, on a New Orleans to Memphis itinerary.

 

Crack your wallets - it ain’t cheap when compared to ocean cruises: plan on spending at least $1,000.00 - $1,280.00 a couple per day.

 

The question is whether there is a sufficient core of loyal followers for the river program to remain viable.  A younger, adventure seeking passenger is apt to become easily bored.

 

FULL DISCLOSURE NOW REQUIRED ON QUOTED AIRFARES:

Truth in disclosure!  After all, isn’t your government always forthright and openly candid with you?  The Department of Transportation mandated effective January 28, 2012 that airlines be required to include taxes and fees upfront in airfare advertisements.  This should alleviate hidden unanticipated costs for travelers.  Baggage fees must also be disclosed.

 

An out - the endless optional add-on options are not listed! i.e.: burlap bag in lieu of normal seat cushion, per minute restroom fees, etc.

 

HOT DESTINATIONS FOR 2017 - 2018 - and we don’t necessarily mean temperature-wise:

Austria

Australia

Belize

Bora Bora

Burma/Myanmar

Cambodia

Chile

Croatia-Dubrovnik and the Balkan Peninsula

Cuba

Czech Republic

Ecuador

Fiji

Galapagos Islands

Grenada

Hawaii

Hong Kong

Iceland

India

Ireland

Japan

Korea

Malaysia

Myanmar (Burma)

New Zealand

Nicaragua

Panama

Peru 

Portugal

South Africa

Switzerland - Gstaad

Tahiti

 

 

Tanzania

Viet Nam

 

CITIES SUCCESSFUL SUING ONLINE SELLERS OF TRAVEL:

Some 46 cities have brought suit, many in class-action, against Expedia, Orbitz, Travelocity, Priceline, their subsidiaries and other lodging intermediaries, alleging that the online sellers have followed a practice of collecting consumer hotel/lodging or occupancy fees on the retail rate, but remitting taxes based on the net rate.  The difference between retail and net taxes has, in some cities, amounted to millions of tax dollars lost. Anaheim, California was awarded $21.3 million against the internet on-line sellers.  Stay tuned. 

 

 

 

INTERNET TRAVEL INFORMATION/BOOKING WEBSITES MERGE:

 

Alas, the choices become fewer:  Expedia purchased Travelocity, Orbitz, and HomeAway in 2015.

 

THE BIG HAVE BECOME BIGGER IN THE LODGING INDUSTRY:

 

In case you missed it while in a deep slumber or lacked access to the news while in a remote jungle:  Marriott International Hotels (Marriott, J.W. Marriott, Ritz Carlton, Bvgari, Renaissance, Edition, Autograph Collection Hotels, Gaylord Hotels, Courtyard by Mariott, Marriott Edition, Fairfield Inns, Springhill Suites, Residence Inn, Towne Place Suites, Protea Hotels, Moxy Hotels, Delta Executive Apartments, Marriott Vacation Club, and AC Hotels), purchased Starwood Hotels & Resorts Worldwide (Westin, St. Regis, Le Mederian, Luxury Brands, Sheraton, W Hotels, Loft, Design, Element, Starwood Vacation Ownership, Tribute, Four Point Hotels in 2015.

 

Marriott will now operate under 30 brand names, 5,500 locations, and over 11 million rooms - that’s a lot of beds for the maids to make up!

A little known fact:  Most hotel structures and the land on which they were built, are independently owned by individuals and/or corporations, and the large hotel chains merely manage the property for the property owners.  When hotel bookings begin to sag and co-sharing of profits diminish, and the management contract nears expiration, often times the property owners search for another more profitable hotel chain operator.

 

If you are a hotel operator, your choices of “re-flaging” are rapidly diminishing:  Hyatt Hotels Corporation, Hilton Worldwide, Inc. (owned by Blackstone), IHG (InterContinental Hotel Group), Trump Hotels, Omni Hotels, Wyndham Hotel Group, Four Seasons, Radisson, Best Western Hotels & Resorts, Carlson Redizor Hotel Group, La Quinta Inns & Suites, Motel 6, and several European (Melia:  (Palma de Mallorca based), Chinese, South Korean (Lotte Hotels & Resorts), and Brazilian hotel chains, being the most prominent and recognizable alternatives.

 

RESURGENCE OF THE U.S. DOLLAR:

It’s up.  It’s down!  The good news is that the dollar, at times, has shown more value of late in worldwide currency exchanges.  The bad news, however, is the uncertain volatility of the world’s economy, and the fact that few Americans have available discretionary income and/or a willingness to spend on travel.  Now, perhaps more than ever, it behooves Savvy travelers to search for value-based travel experiences.  It’s time to panic when the hotel clerk and/or restaurant demands payment in Euros or Chinese currency rather than Yankee greenbacks!

 

EAT HEALTHY AND STAND IN LINE - CITY TO BAN DRIVE-THRU PICK UP WINDOWS AT RESTAURANTS!

Baldwin Park, California, the birthplace of the popular concept of drive-thru restaurants over sixty years ago, has done an about face and now is prohibiting drive thrus, in an attempt to stem obesity.  The “Fat-Cat Bureaucrats,” after all, know what’s best for your health!  Some diners say that having to stand in line only intensifies their appetite, causing them to eat more, not less.  Look for your government leaders to next re-write the restaurant menus.