Cruising: How to Choose the Best Cabin

If you’re going to spend thousands of dollars on a cruise, help yourself to have an optimal on-board experience by spending some time strategizing where you want your cabin to be. Pick up the floor plan of the ship you’ll be sailing on (which can be found in cruise line brochures at a travel agency) and study it carefully. Having worked on over 30 cruises off the shores of Mexico, Europe, Hawaii and Alaska as well as in the Caribbean, I’d like to share with you where you should request a cabin depending on your needs.

 
If You Want Peace & Quiet
Throughout a ship, there are a number of noisy areas you should avoid if you want to get a good night’s sleep. Steer clear of cabins near the anchor, engines, bridge (the cockpit of the ship where the Captain makes announcements and blows the ship’s horn), promenade deck (where people often jog), elevators, stairwells, sports areas (i.e. basketball courts, fitness centre), swimming pools, children’s/teen centres (which are often open past midnight), laundry rooms, bars, lounges, theatres, casinos, shops, purser’s desk, atrium, restaurants, coffee shops, spas, etc.  So you’re probably wondering, “Well, where should I stay?” Despite this loooonnnnnngggggggg list of no-stay zones, there are still plenty of cabins to be had. Look at the floor plan for rooms that have cabins directly above and below them as that will ensure you’re not located near any public areas.

If You’re Prone to Seasickness
Sensitive to the ocean’s motion?  You’ll want to stay away from the front, back and upper parts of the ship where there can be considerable rocking and pitching. In other words, choose a centrally-located cabin that is close to the water. The larger the ship, the less motion you’ll feel. In a future post, I’m going to provide tips on the best remedies for seasickness.

If Limited Mobility Is a Concern
Due to the nature of cruising, those with limited mobility are attracted to this form of travel. If this is the case for you or someone you’re travelling with, you’ll want to be situated close to an elevator (but not too close or you won’t catch too many zzz’s as mentioned above). Since many ships are gi-normous, being centrally-located vertically and horizontally is advantageous. You may want to find out where passengers disembark at each of the ports and request a room near one of them.

If You Want Convenience
If you plan to spend most of your time in one area of the ship, such as the fitness area, pool deck or buffet(!), pick a cabin that’s within that vicinity. If travelling with kids who’ll be participating in the children’s program and you’re needing to pick them up and drop them off after each session (which can be up to six trips/day), perhaps you’ll want to be near that part of the ship.                            

You’ll be glad you took the time to strategize which part of the ship is best suited for you and requested a cabin based on your needs as you’ll significantly increase the likelihood of having the cruise of a lifetime! But be sure to book several months in advance as you’ll have a greater selection of of cabins to choose from.

Travel Humor: Rapping Flight Attendant a YouTube Sensation

How’s this for a unique take on the onboard announcement??!!

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Vegas Hotel Recommendations

When you think of an “over the top” destination, Vegas likely makes it the top of the list due, in no small part, to its spectacular hotels. If you’re heading to LV, you have a dizzying array of lodging choices so here are my top picks for hotels.   

Stay Central
When I visited this desert oasis two years ago, I opted for the mammoth MGM Grand Hotel, one of the world’s largest. It was fine and the price was right  as I found a great flight + hotel package through  Expedia.ca. But, because it’s on the south end of the Strip, it meant logging more miles walking than if we’d been more centrally located. Unless you prefer to stay in Old Vegas, stick to the Strip hotels and lay your head on a bed between the Encore at Wynn (north end of the Strip) and the Bellagio (south end).       

Bello Bellagio
After visiting oyster.com (an exceptional hotel reviews site with “undoctored photography”), tripadvisor.com, Conde Naste Traveler’s Readers’ Choice Awards Travel, Leisure’s World’s Best Hotels and Lonely Planet’s Las Vegas City Guide, I decided on the chic Bellagio. I highly recommend it not only for its central location but also for its dreamy beds, excellent customer service, beautifully decorated rooms, spacious bathrooms, lovely pool area, classy ambience…You’ll love this resort! And the free fountain show taking place several times daily/nightly in the man-made lake bordering the Strip is not to be missed. For the best view, get a central spot on the Las Vegas Boulevard side. Ask for a room overlooking the lake! 

Bellagio Hotel

Other Luxe Picks
Other top luxury picks are the Italian-inspired Venetian and its newer sister property, the Palazzo. Wander the Grand Canal Shoppes at the Venetian – gondolas included!There are also two masterpieces by Steve Wynn, who put Vegas on the map. His Wynn and the recently opened Encore at Wynn hotels receive top marks. The only disadvantage to these “Wynners” is that they’re located at the north end of the Strip but you’re closer to Fremont Street in vintage Vegas and about a 15 minute walk to the Las Vegas Convention Center.

Venetian Hotel

Marvellous Mid-Range Megaresorts
If you’re working with a smaller budget, you’ll still get a lot of bang for your buck at two other behemoths. Choose the Mirage, one of Wynn’s earlier creations, and don’t miss their free volcano show “erupting nightly” out front. Caesar’s Palace has been a long-time hit as well and its Forum Shops is something else. Go see it!       

Caesar's Palace

         Hope you have an “over the top” experience during your visit to Vegas!       

Foot Notes: 8 Steps to Get More Mileage When You Travel

Who wants to be slowed down by achy feet and legs when they’re in Paris, Rome or London?  By prepping your legs and feet with these 8 steps, you’ll be able to get more mileage AND have a more enjoyable time on the road.

(1) Hit the Comfort Jackpot
Do your legs a favor and pick up a pair of compression stockings from a pharmacy or travel accessories store. A nurse who used to work 12 hour shifts got me on to these gems which look similar to thick trouser socks and are made of strong elastic fabrics that create compression on the legs and feet. As arterial pressure increases, it forces more blood back to the heart instead of pooling in the legs and feet. The result? Improved blood circulation and a reduction in the effects of tired, swollen legs. Compression socks are great to wear on the plane as they can help prevent that nasty Deep Vein Thrombosis (DVT).

(2) Sock It To ‘Em
While you’re exploring, wear comfortable socks which are padded, quick-drying, odor and shrink-resistant as well as moisture-wicking. You’ll likely need to spend a bit more but they’re well worth it. Check out a sporting goods or travel accessories store for road-ready socks.

(3) Be Shoe Savvy
Invest in a sturdy, uber comfy pair of walking shoes that you’ve broken in and have good support. Spend a little bit extra if need be – your feet will thank you for it. I’ve logged many a comfortable mile in my Rockport and Clark’s shoes. Mephisto and Ecco are two other brands you may want to try out. And if you’re able to get water-resistant ones, all the better!

(4) Have Some Sole(s)!
For extra padding in my shoes, I picked up a pair of black terry cloth insoles from an Aldo outlet for $7 or $8 and I luv, luv, luv ‘em! Try out a variety and see which ones your tootsies co-habitate best with.

(5) Do Some Laps
If you usually don’t get much exercise, when you’re abroad, your legs and feet will be in for a shocker that they’re suddenly logging loads of miles several days in a row. To ease your body into this, start exercising a few times a week beginning at least a couple of months before your trip.

(6) S-T-R-E-T-C-H
While you’re globetrotting, be sure to stretch your legs (and the rest of your body while you’re at it) in the morning and again before you hit the sack. Don’t forget to do some stretches on the plane both at your seat and standing up. Unless you have a preference for the window, choose the aisle seat so that you can get up and walk around every hour (unless you’re able to snooze!). Take full advantage of airport stopovers by going for a walk and loosening up those joints so that you don’t feel as fatigued when you arrive at your destination.

(7) Massage ‘Em!
Before you go out exploring for the day, get your feet in mint condition by taking a few minutes to massage them and your legs with peppermint foot lotion. Before you retire for the night, if possible, soak your feet for a few minutes and give them another fresh and tingly rub down with the lotion.

(8) Bring Back Ups
By using the above tips, your chances of getting blisters and other owwies are greatly reduced but do pack bandages and moleskin in case you run into problems.

Taking these eight key steps will give you a real leg up not only while you’re gallivanting the globe but also in your day-to-day life. And that’s no small feat.

5 Ways to Up Your Chances of Getting Upgraded on Flights

One of the most common questions I’m asked at my workshops and presentations is, “How can I get upgraded for free on a flight?”  Compared to hotels and car rental agencies, bagging an upgrade through an airline is more challenging in recent years because more flights are flying at capacity. If you’re not up for paying extra or using frequent flyer points, here are five key ways to improve your chances of getting to the front of the bus:

(1) Dress Well
Dress comfortably but business-like.  When I was a flight attendant, I once was standing beside a gate agent and  a man wearing a nice, pressed long-sleeved shirt and jeans  approached her asking if an upgrade was possible. She quickly responded with a no. After he walked away, she turned to me and whispered, “I would have given him an upgrade if he wasn’t wearing jeans.” Don’t wear sweatpants, t-shirts, tank tops, revealing tops, shorts, baseball caps, sneakers, open-toed shoes, torn or dirty clothes, mini-skirts, etc. And nix the backpack. Peter Greenberg, travel editor of NBC’s Today Show and author of numerous informative books including The Travel Detective series mentions this tip and other helpful advice in this video:

(2) Fly Off-Peak
As Greenberg mentions in his video, fly during quiet times of the day, week and year and the agents will have more leeway to move you from steerage.  When are the off-peak times? Figure out when businesspeople are flying (particularly on domestic flights) and don’t fly then. The quietest times of the day are 9 am – 3 pm and 7 pm – 11 pm. During the week, travelling on Tuesdays and Wednesdays can help you score a premium seat. And, booking a flight when it’s not spring or summer break, holiday or other major event will help.

(3) Travel Alone
If there’s only one person looking for an upgrade, it’s easier for agents to change seats of solo travellers than those of couples or families.  A frequent flyer I once worked told me that every so often, she gets bumped up to  business class by mentioning to gate agents that if they needed to move her to accommodate a family or group travelling together that she’d be happy to switch seats. You could also offer to be bumped to another flight if it’s oversold. I’ll talk more about getting bumped off a flight in a future post.

(4) Have Special Notes on Your File
Something that sets you apart from other passengers may just help too. If you’ve made a reservation on line, call the airline and ask that they note on your file that you’re 6’5” or travelling to your wedding, 70th birthday or 40th wedding anniversary (if you are, of course!).  Pleasantly remind them when you check in just in case the note wasn’t added.

(5Pay Full Fare
If you’ve had to purchase an airline ticket at the last minute, chances are you’ve paid big bucks for it. Airlines realize this and may reward you by moving you up. When checking in, pleasantly inquire if there is a possibility of an upgrade due to the cost of your ticket. Keep in mind that there’s a hierarchy of who receives upgrades with frequent flyers, VIPs and passengers with special circumstances being at the top. Full fare-paying passengers  are close behind.

Although employing these strategies won’t guarantee you an upgrade, you may as well try!  Happy flying!!

Vegas Travel Pointers

Just back from a travel goods trade show in Vegas.  I’m a nut for interior decor and can (and did!) spend hours scoping out chic hotels along Las Vegas Boulevard (AKA The Strip). In a future post, I’m going to share my best bets for hotels but today, I`m going to provide some pointers to help you make the most of your stay in this desert oasis.

Time It Right - Keep money in your wallet and avoid the masses by going during the slower season which is  December and January (except during Christmas and New Year`s holidays). But steer clear of the city in early January when the annual Consumer Electronics Show draws over 100,000 attendees. Also, plan not to go during holidays and when big sporting or other mega conventions are in town because hotels jack up their prices. Contact the Las Vegas Convention and Visitors Authority to find out when major events will be taking place. If you don`t whither easily in 40 degree weather, July and August are good bets too.

Think:  Package Deal - The last two times I’ve been to Vegas, I’d scoured the net for deals and both times it was a flight + hotel package through Expedia that won out. Expedia isn’t always the lowest for other destinations but it’s a good place to begin your Vegas search. If you’re Canadian and live near the US border, flying out of an American airport could save you some greenbacks. Here are budget airlines to consider: Allegiant Airlines, Southwest Airlines, JetBlue and AirTran. And take a look at hotelscombined.com.

Getting to the Strip - Since McCarran International Airport is situated a 10-15 min. drive from the south end of the Strip, if you`re travelling with others, it may be more cost-effective to take a taxi. If not, the going rate  for a shuttle is $6.50 one way or $12 return per person. I used Bell Transportation which was good and there`s Gray Line as well as several other companies. Both shuttle drivers I had were great sources of info so be sure to ask them for any insider tips.

Cruising the Strip - Car rentals aren`t necessary, especially when you factor in the cost for parking, gas and the rental itself. The Deuce double decker bus operates 24/7 and stops at “virtually every hotel and casino along the Strip”. On the bus, you must pay in cash and drivers don`t provide change. For more info about fares, please visit this link. Both times I visited, I often saw line-ups of tourists vying for room on crowded buses as often the drivers needed to leave people behind. There`s also the monorail but at $14 for a one-day pass ($5 per ride), it`s pricey, not as extensive as the bus route and, as author Sara Benson wrote in the Lonely Planet`s Las Vegas City Guide (which I recommend as it`s thorough, lightweight, reader-friendly and witty), some stations can be challenging to find.

In future posts, I`m going to share with you fun (and free) things to see and do and where the best buffets are. You`ll also find out a Vegas secret…where one of the best (free!) views of the Strip is.

Best Time to Visit Japan

Cherry blossoms are much like time machines for me. Seeing those exquisite pink petals peeking out around every corner here in Vancouver transports me back to when I studied and worked in Japan. The beloved national flower of this island nation, the cherry blossom rightfully takes centre stage each spring.

Planning a trip to Japan? If so, be sure to visit this fascinating country in late March or early April (depending on which area you’ll be visiting) when it’s “o-hanami” (cherry blossom viewing). Check out the Japan National Tourism Organization’s cherry blooming forecast map to time your trip right.

But, if you can’t make it in spring, it’s also picturesque in late October and early November with autumn foliage putting on its own spectacle. Visit this link for best places to visit to take in fall’s colourful delights.

Kinkakuji (Golden Pavillion) in Kyoto

No matter what time of year you visit, an absolute must-see city is Kyoto. The former cultural and political centre for 1100 years and once a national capital, spared of air raids during World War II, this national treasure is bejewelled with hundreds of temples and shrines. Fly into Osaka and make a bee-line to Kyoto. Other top picks for cities to visit would be Nara, Hiroshima, Nikko and Tokyo.

For a truly Japanese experience, stay in a ryokan, a traditional inn.

Their public transportation system is outstanding. Look into the Japan Rail Pass as it could save you a lot of yen.

Recommended guidebooks are the Lonely Planet, Frommer’s and Rough Guide. And, drop into a forum such as the Lonely Planet’s Thorn Tree for budget tips and advice from travellers who’ve been there recently. To enrich your experience, learn about Japan’s history, customs, art, music, food, sports, etc.

After a spring trip to Japan, you’ll never look at a cherry blossom tree again without thinking back in time to your voyage to the Land of the Rising Sun.