Bye Bye WordPress

This is my last blog post on WordPress. I’ve enjoyed the service WordPress has provided, but I’m moving the blog to the service offered by our website host. I’m a simple person, and hosting the blog through our travel website keeps things simple for me.

If you’ve followed my ramblings and want to continue to do so, go to this link and click on the Log in/Sign up button.


Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Dancing On The Tides

26 Feb: It is 5AM and Allure of the Seas is creeping toward the pier in Galveston, Texas. There is a dense fog over the harbor as our ship makes inches along to her berth at Pier 10, her foghorn announcing our presence to other ships in the harbor channel. Our 2023 dance cruise is over, and as sorry as I am about that, I’m already looking forward to 2024.

As is their custom, Janet and Michael revealed the details for our next cruise at the final lesson of the 2023 cruise, and now I’m sharing that news with you. The theme for our 2024 cruise is “Dancing On The Tides” and you are all invited to join us. Janet has once again teamed up with Michael Sims of Lite On Your Feet Dance Studio to offer great group rates and a fabulous dance program that promises to be our best yet. We’ll be sailing out of Bayonne, N.J. aboard Royal Caribbean’s Liberty of the Seas on a 9-night Canada/New England itinerary, departing September 12th, 2024.

Join us for stunning views of the fall colors as we cruise along the New England and Canada coastlines and make calls at some of the most interesting ports along North America’s northeast coast. This cruise offers an exciting addition to the traditional Canada/New England itinerary…Sydney, Nova Scotia. Located on Cape Breton Island, Sydney is one of North America’s gems, but don’t take my word for it:

“I have seen the Canadian and American Rockies, the Andes, the Alps and the Highlands of Scotland, but for simple beauty, Cape Breton outrivals them all.” – Alexander Graham Bell

And of course, there will be dancing. The cruise offers dance lessons and multiple opportunities for social dancing each night as our group members take over the dance floors throughout the ship. Whether you participate in the dance program or opt to watch as I try to keep up, this is a cruise you won’t soon forget. For details you can go to our website, or give Janet a call. A refundable deposit of just $500 is all you need to lock in your spot, but we have a limited allocation of cabins at our low group rate so sign up now!

If you are a dancer new to our cruises, rest assured all dance skill levels are welcome. The lessons move quickly so you should know the basic steps and patterns, but Michael customizes his dance instruction program to meet the needs of each group. He offers lessons for beginners as well as separate sessions for more advanced dancers seeking to refine their technique. You can even arrange private lessons with Michael if you want more personalized attention. We are a welcoming, inclusive group that embraces everyone who joins us. Hey…if I can get something out of the lessons, as rhythmically challenged as I am, you can as well. You can even invite non-dancing family and friends to come along and take advantage of these low group rates.

I’ll be posting videos from our recently completed 2023 cruise as well as previous cruises so you can see how much fun this dance cruise offers. It’s not too soon to sign up for Dancing On The Tides, so go to the best site or better yet…give Janet a call!

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Buying A Plane Ticket Shouldn’t Be So Difficult!

Buying plane tickets used to be easy. Go to the airline’s website, search for flights based on where you are departing from and where you wish to fly to, select your flight, enter your credit card info and BAM! One plane ticket. Thank you very much. Oh, how I wish it were that easy today.

I’ve purchased a number of plane tickets for clients recently, and although each airline offers a slightly different consumer experience, they’ve all gone to great lengths to monetize the process. And they use the most aggressive digital marketing techniques available to get you to part with as much of your money as they can, which is usually more than you want to pay. If you are planning to purchase a plane ticket anytime soon, here is just a sample of the decision points you face as you run through the gauntlet making your purchase:

1. Where are you going?
2. Are you flying one-way, roundtrip, or multi-city?
3. How many stops can you live with?
4. Do you want all flight segments on the same ticket (yes!)?
5. Is 39 minutes too short for a connection in a major international airport (yes!)?
6. What class of ticket do you want…basic economy, standard economy, premium economy, business class, or first class?
7. Do you want a refundable or non-refundable ticket?
8. Do you want the airline to provide cancellation insurance for your ticket?

Once you get through those questions, you face another round of monetizing questions. And if you answer “yes” to any of those questions, it will likely cost you more…in some cases much more, and the “value” of the enhancements is highly questionable….at least it is to me. Here are just some of the monetizing questions you may face:

1. Do you want to upgrade the economy ticket you just purchase to the premium economy or business class ticket you just said no to?
2. Do you want to choose your seat in advance?
3. Do you want to upgrade your seat selection to premium seating, aisle or window, front of the economy cabin?
4. Are you checking any bags?
5. Do you want priority boarding?
6. Do you want access to the airline’s lounge before and between your flights?
7. Do you want to purchase a value bundle of some combination of several the above (offered even if you want to purchase a ticket that already include those “enhancements”)?

If you pass on paying more for any of the above service “upgrades” you’ll be asked one or several more times if you are sure you don’t want to “upgrade” your experience. Hopefully the price didn’t go up as you were running the gauntlet of options to “enhance” your flying experience. Only after all of that will you have actually purchased your plane ticket. At that point you are at the mercy of the airline to get you where they promise on time. And your luggage.

Buying a plane ticket shouldn’t be so difficult!

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Test Kitchen Surprise: Mike Rowe Was Right!

Things just got spicy in my test kitchen. Mike Rowe took on Old Bay in a recent episode of Dirty Jobs, and even though Mike is from Overlea and ought to know better, he was flirting with the third rail. But was he right? I opened up my test kitchen to find out for myself, with a spice taste test.

Like most Marylanders, Old Bay runs in my veins. It is a spice that was first sold in 1939 by the Baltimore Spice Company and quickly gained a loyal following. The McCormick Spice Company bought the rights to the Old Bay brand and recipe in 1990 and they’ve since begun shamelessly marketing it in many forms, but you still can’t go wrong with the basic tin of Old Bay. When I buy Old Bay, I don’t get the dainty little 1 or 2 oz containers most of my spices come in. You know, the bottles and tins that you use once or twice that then sit nearly full in your spice cabinet for years until you eventually get around to tossing them out, only to buy more the next time a recipe calls for it. I have many spices in my cabinet that fall into that category, but Old Bay isn’t one of them. I buy Old Bay by the pound, and as a native Marylander, I put it on everything. And even buying it by the pound, Old Bay never lasts long enough in my kitchen to expire.

Leave it to Mike Rowe to bust my bubble. On a recent episode of his Dirty Jobs show, Mike informed me and a good many other Marylanders that the crabs we grew up with and love to pick every summer aren’t spiced with Old Bay. Most crab houses, according to Mike’s show, use J.O. Spice Company’s No. 2 blend when they steam their crabs and not Old Bay. My first reaction was that this was spice heresy, but something told me Mike just might be right.

I did a little poking around on the internet and found that the J.O. Spice Company’s No. 2 blend is almost as old as Old Bay, hitting the Baltimore marketplace in 1945. It was quickly adopted by most crab shacks as their go to spice for steamed crabs. I didn’t know that. Learning that the crabs I’ve loved every summer, less often these days as they have gotten so expensive, are smothered in something other than Old Bay was a shock.

I like Mike Rowe and the working-class life he champions, and I have no reason to doubt him. But as a culinary snob, I had to prove to myself that the crabs I love aren’t spiced with Old Bay. I went to the J.O. Spice Company’s web site and found that I could order their J.O. Spice No. 2 and, for a modest shipping charge, have it delivered to my house. Even though they sell it in boxes weighing tens of pounds, I limited myself to a modest 12 oz. bottle. I also picked up some of their J.O. Spice No. 1 which they market as an all-purpose seafood and snack spice blend…I was already paying for shipping so why not?

When my spices arrived, I did my taste test. First off, let me just say I didn’t need a taste test to tell me these two spice blends were different…they look different. The Old Bay has that bright reddish orange color that I associate with crabs, with a uniform consistency in texture. The J.O. blend is paler with large flakes of salt. It also looked an awful lot like the spice that covers the crabs I get from my favorite crab shack. The J.O. No. 1 blend was closer to the Old Bay in consistency of texture, but still more pale in color. It was time to put the blends to the test…the taste test.

I put a pinch of J.O. No. 2 on my tongue, let it melt in my mouth and mentally processed, analyzed, and sorted the flavors. I tried a pinch of McCormick’s Old Bay and lastly, I sampled the J.O. No. 1 blend. And then I repeated it, though I didn’t need to. I knew as soon as the first pinch of J.O. No. 2 dissolved in my mouth that Mike Rowe was right. J.O. No. 2 has a very distinctive, and VERY salty, flavor profile that is 100% what I love about steamed Chesapeake Bay blues. The Old Bay flavors are similar, but only to a point.

I use Old Bay in everything, but J.O. No. 2 has one use and one use only…steamed crabs. My shipment came with an information leaflet that said as much, but so did my palate. The large flake salt it contains is designed to adhere to the crab shell throughout the steaming process and then rub off on your fingers as you pick the crabs. The spice gets into your mouth from your fingers as you shove those jumbo lumps of backfin meat into your mouth. The blend is way too harsh to be incorporated into any recipe, but that’s where J.O. No. 1 comes in.

There really is no comparison between Old Bay and J.O. No. 2. The real similarity comes between Old Bay and J.O. No. 1, both of which are intended to be used in a recipe to enhance the natural flavors of other ingredients. To my palate, McCormick’s Old Bay carries more paprika and cumin notes as well as celery, probably more chili as well. It tastes like a salty version of the spice blend I make up for my chili. The J.O. No. 1 is a more complex blend with a better balance of what I’ll call soft notes. Once you get past the red and black pepper, the chili, mustard, cumin and celery seed all of which hit you up front, you start to get more nuanced flavors like cinnamon, clove, nutmeg and crushed bay leaf. I don’t know which, if any, of those spices are actually in either Old Bay or J.O. No. 1, but that’s what I tasted.

I’ll reserve my J.O. No. 2 for crabs, but I have big plans for my J.O. No. 1. I’ll start with steamed shrimp, and then I’ll use it the next time I make my crab cake recipe, and from there I might even add it to my pork spice rub. And of course, when Maryland sweet corn season comes around, I’ll be using it on my corn and probably a few other fresh, locally grown veggies as well. One caution…though it isn’t as heavy on the salt as J.O. No. 2, it is still saltier than Old Bay. And I’m OK with that.

I don’t think I’ll be tossing my big can of Old Bay anytime soon. Hey…I’m from Maryland. We put Old Bay on everything. Even ice cream! But my Old Bay just might find its place as the centerpiece of my spice cabinet supplanted by something with a J.O. Spice Company label on it.

I have to say a heartfelt Thank You to Mike Rowe for all he does to help educate us in so many ways, and in particular for setting the record straight about Maryland crabs and J.O. No 2.

And that’s all I have to say about that.

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Leave The Cat…Take The Sunscreen

With airlines charging a fee for every checked bag, overpacking can get downright expensive. As we packed to come home from our last Caribbean trip, Janet decided to make a list. Not a packing list, a “what not to pack” list. She compiled the list from the things she packed for that trip but didn’t use, and that’s what I want to share with you. Maybe you’ll find some ideas to help you avoid overpacking for your next trip.

1. The Pharmacy. When we traveled with our kids, Janet felt compelled to pack remedies for the many maladies kids experience. We used to pack an entire suitcase just for the Tylenol, cold medicine, stomach medicine, band aids, first aid cream…you name it, and we called that bag the pharmacy. When it is just the two of us, she’s found she can leave the pharmacy home.
2. The Glam Bag. Do you really need a separate suitcase for makeup and a home hair salon? Bring the minimum. If you want to get glammed up one night, treat yourself to a spa day that includes a make-up and hair session.
3. Athletic wear. I’m as guilty of this as Janet…we always pack something to wear to the gym, and then we never manage to make it to the gym. You’re on vacation…unless you are an elite athlete in training, skip the gym and leave the athletic attire home.
4. Formal evening wear. When we first started cruising we dressed up…tuxedo and ball gown with all the trimmings. Vacation dress codes have gotten considerably more casual in recent years which is fine by me, and country club casual takes up much less space in the luggage. Two or three outfits with accessories to make them look different can keep you looking your best for a week long vacation.
5. Shoes. Do you really need a suitcase just for your shoes? Nobody will be looking at your feet. You don’t need a different pair of shoes every time you hit the beach, or shoes to match every outfit. One pair of beach shoes or flip flops, something comfortable to walk around in, and one or two pairs of shoes versatile enough to complement your evening wear.
6. Purses. Janet loves her purses, and vacation used to be the time to show them off, so she packed them. Now, for most trips she brings two…the all-purpose purse she takes on the plane and a clutch for evenings.

These are just a few suggestions to consider the next time you pack for vacation. Take them, don’t take them…that’s up to you. Vacation is the time to indulge yourself…pack what you must to have a worry-free vacation. And if you end up not using half of what you packed, who am I to judge? Janet will probably always over pack and I’m OK with schlepping the bags through the airport. I do draw the line at the cat though. As we have found on our travels, there’s always a cat around when you need one. Leave the cat, take the sunscreen.

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

I Resolve to Travel in 2023

Whether or not you are a fan of making News Year’s resolutions, chances are you plan to travel in 2023. Travel is always a great goal, and though the travel environment continues to offer challenges, the outlook for 2023 is good and improving.

I’ve written that travel bargains are a thing of the past. That won’t change for 2023, but that doesn’t mean you have to sacrifice value. Here are a few tips to help you make the most of the travel dollars you spend in 2023.

1. Book early. The days of last minute travel bargains are over…booking early is the best way to maximize value from your travel dollars. It usually gets you the best price and it always gets you the best choice of itinerary and accommodations. You may find also more add-ons included in your trip price, and you’ll get the best choice of dates. The most popular destinations and cruises are already booking up for 2023 so if you wait, you may be disappointed.

2. Not every trip worth taking is a bucket list trip. Know the difference and where you are willing to make trade-offs in your travel that can save you money. Premium economy air is great, business class air is even better, but is either worth spending more than the cost of the rest of your trip when you only get to enjoy the benefit for a few hours? Maybe for a bucket list trip, not so much for a weekend getaway to Miami. Know where you are willing to make cost trade-offs and put your money where you’ll get the greatest return.

3. Once you book a trip, don’t look back. The time to price shop is before you book, not after. Once you’ve booked your trip, think about the value you are getting out of the travel dollars you spend and don’t dwell on whether you could have saved a few bucks. Cheap travel is just that…cheap travel, and it is almost never the best value. When a client we’ve booked finds a lower price for their trip, we check into it for them. Invariably we find that getting that lower price involves tradeoffs they aren’t willing to make. Once you’ve booked a trip, don’t look back…look forward to making the most of the trip you booked.

4. Buy trip insurance. I wish I could say air travel will improve in 2023. It won’t. Air remains one of the few downsides of travel…United Airlines CEO Scott Kirby recently said as much to industry analysts and travel reporters. Kirby commented, “The system simply can’t handle the volume today, much less the anticipated growth. There are a number of airlines who cannot fly their schedules. The customers are paying the price.” Purchasing trip insurance gives you peace of mind if your flights get bolluxed up and it protects you against more costly expenses should you encounter medical problems like illness or injury. Nobody likes to think about all the things that could go wrong when they plan their vacation, but trip insurance can protect you financially if the unthinkable happens.

5. Avoid peak travel times. Easy to say, harder to do but it is worth considering how much flexibility you have in your schedule. If you can’t avoid the peak travel season, and many people can’t, perhaps you can go early or late enough in the season to avoid paying the highest prices.

6. Stay longer. Airfare continues to be one of most expensive components of travel. Planning for a longer trip won’t necessarily save you on airfare, but it can help you make the most of the money you do spend, and that’s what value is all about.

7. Avoid changing plans. There is almost no aspect of travel that doesn’t end up costing you more when you make changes after you’ve booked. Spend more time planning before you book so you are less likely to need changes once you’ve committed money to a trip.

8. Make sure the trip you are taking is the trip YOU want to take. Too often people choose destinations, tours, or cruises because family members or friends made the same trip last year and had an amazing experience. That’s great for them…but does it work for you? Make 2023 the year you are the trend setter.

9. Ignore supplier marketing. I get dozens of marketing e-mails every day. Some suppliers send me multiple “deals” each day…every day. Is their really value in all those specials? No, of course not. All of those deals you see in your e-mails or in ads aren’t real. They are marketing ploys intended to get you emotionally hooked on a trip so you’ll pay more than you plan to, or to convince you to take a trip the supplier wants to sell you rather than the trip you want to take.

10. Use a competent travel advisor. Whether that is Tidewater Cruise and Travel or another advisor you have a relationship with, a travel advisor is the best way to get the most value out of your hard-earned money.

The cost of travel is not going down, but that doesn’t mean travel isn’t a good investment. Plan early, know what you want to get out of each trip you take, buy trip insurance, and use a travel advisor to help you get the best value for the money you spend.

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Destination Revisited: Cuba…It’s Complicated but Getting Easier

Janet and I have enjoyed many unique travel experiences, but I have to say one of the most memorable was our trip to Cuba four years ago. We enjoyed seeing the country and we loved the opportunity it gave us to interact with the Cuban people. That trip highlighted the core principle of one of our suppliers…a principle we embrace through our travel business, “Change the World Simply by Meeting Its People.” We didn’t realize at the time of our Cuba trip how difficult it would soon become to make a return visit, but getting back to Cuba remains on our list of travel goals and it just got a bit easier.

Travel to Cuba has been a bit of a roller coaster, starting with President Obama’s relaxation of travel restrictions, followed by President Trump’s rollback of those more permissive rules, ending with President Biden’s pledge to revisit relations with Cuba. The anticipated return to more relaxed travel rules has been slow and was interrupted by COVID, but I’m happy to report there has been some recent progress. Tourist travel to Cuba is still not allowed, which means you can’t decide to take a weekend hop to Havana and spend your time on the beach. But commercial flights have resumed and there are once again opportunities to visit Cuba legally on State Department approved People-to-People cultural exchange tours.

We work with several suppliers licensed to operate legal and compliant tours to Cuba, and I’ve looked at their itineraries…they are similar to the land portion of the tour Janet and I took when we cruised to Cuba. The People-to-People compliance is built into the tour itinerary and the supplier does all the paperwork to make sure it is legal, so you don’t feel constrained…in most respects it is no different than traveling with any organized tour group.

For now you’ll have to settle for land tours in Cuba…cruise lines are still prohibited from sailing to Cuba from the U.S. Even after they are permitted to return, I don’t see cruise lines quick to resume sailing. The cruise lines have become mired in a civil suit brought in Florida courts by descendants of the owners of Havana Docks, a company located in Florida that claims ownership of the Havana port facilities that were nationalized following the revolution. The suit claims that the cruise lines illegally benefited from the uncompensated use of the Havana Docks facilities in Cuba under the more relaxed travel policies of the Obama administration. I don’t see any cruise line sailing to Cuba from the U.S. until the Cuban government completes construction of a new cruise pier and terminal unencumbered by claims of past ownership, a project that was just getting started when we visited in 2019.

One aspect of our tour that impressed me was the open access we had to the Cuban people. The People-to-People program provides structure for tour activities, but it doesn’t restrict you from interacting with anybody you encounter, and we did. Some chose not to talk with us, but most openly and willingly discussed life in Cuba. And they didn’t pull their punches…they gave us an unvarnished view of their lives.

The older generation of folk we talked with were still supportive of their government, even as they acknowledged its shortcomings. Younger Cubans who have only known life in today’s Cuba were far more critical and expressed impatience toward gaining greater freedom. They were quick to point out the failings of the Cuban government, divorce and alcoholism are both widespread in Cuba and food staples are rationed. It can take several months of saving rations to collect the ingredients necessary just to make a simple birthday cake. One fellow I spoke with said something that struck me as memorable, both because of the sadness and longing in his voice and the simple truth of what he said. He told me, “We don’t make anything anymore. We rely on others.” Most of the Cubans we spoke with, including the older generation, are tired of being beholden to others…the former Soviet Union, Venezuela, and increasingly their own government’s control. They openly expressed a desire for change.

Tourism remains one of the few bright spots for Cuba’s economy. We are one of the few countries that still prohibit tourist travel…even Canada allows their citizens to visit Cuba, requiring nothing more than a passport and a visa. Before COVID travel restrictions hit, tourism was a growing industry in Cuba. COVID restrictions have since been lifted and Cuba’s slowly  recovering tourism industry is fueling a growing partnership between the government and private citizens. Private business ownership which was tightly controlled before COVID has been expanded since. The Cuban government recently extended legalized ownership of private businesses to include small and medium sized operations that can employ up to 100 people. Most private businesses in the tourist sector involve families using their homes as restaurants or B&B type lodgings known as Casa Particulares. Money brought in by private businesses though tourism is taxed…at a rate of about 8% from what we were told, which the Cubans involved gladly paid. It brings in money from foreign tourists that they use to buy food and necessities that are otherwise rationed or in short supply from government stores, both to support their business and their families.

Cuba is a far cry from its pre-Castro heydays. Much of the once beautiful architecture has sadly deteriorated. A visit to today’s Cuba is a sobering experience, but one well worth making. I won’t forget the time we spent on our trip, nor will I forget the many conversations we had with the people who are eager for change and a better life. Our visits help fuel their dreams of a better Cuba, with the ability to one day live and work in freedom. I won’t pretend to understand all of the complexities involved in our government’s position on Cuba, or the pain of people who escaped the revolution with nothing but the clothes on their backs. But I have to think tourism is one way we can improve things.

Let me say again that I highly recommend visiting Cuba. Even with the constraints of the People-to-People program, or perhaps because of them, you’ll come away with experiences that challenge what you thought you knew about Cuba, and with a better appreciation for the plight of the Cuban people. Seeing Cuba for yourself is truly the best example of how you can “Change the World Simply by Meeting Its People.” Give us a call and we’ll set you up on a legal, compliant tour that you won’t soon forget.

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

A Plane Ticket Is Not A Sweater

Like most people in my generation, I grew up with the belief that there is no such thing as a free lunch. So why do I find myself getting suckered into reading social media posts and travel articles that offer to reveal the latest hack that will get me cheap travel? What is a hack if not social media’s version of a free lunch? Most recently I ran across an article titled, “The secret to cheap flights? Stalk after booking.” The words “secret” “cheap” and “stalk” are click bait red flags that I usually skip right past, but against my better judgement I found myself reading the article. In my defense, it was published in the Washington Post which gave it at least a modicum of legitimacy. Or so I thought. Silly me.

My gripe with the WAPO article, and others like it, is that they leave travelers with unrealistic expectations. The hacks, or cheat code as the WAPO author called it, rarely work. The few occasions when they might actually be useful generally involve restrictions that are impractical for anyone to benefit from, except maybe a travel writer. Hmm…

The WAPO article’s premise is straightforward…purchase a plane ticket and then watch the price like a hawk. If the cost of your flight goes down just cancel your ticket and repurchase at the lower price, putting the savings, which will be in the form of a future flight credit, toward your next trip. There’s so much wrong with that approach to booking air that I hardly know where to begin, so let me start with this….it doesn’t work.

Treating a plane ticket like a department store sweater purchase might have worked for a few minutes, at the height of the pandemic when airplanes were flying nearly empty and airlines were practically giving away tickets along with waiving their change and cancellation fee policies, but those days are gone. And with planes back to flying full, even with those ridiculously high prices, non-refundable fares are once again non-refundable. Which means the WAPO hack doesn’t work. Even if you fly Southwest where you can still cancel without penalty the hack doesn’t work…Southwest’s prices are lowest when they are first released and only go up from there.

When I purchase air I stalk prices before I buy, which is the opposite of the WAPO article’s strategy. My golden window to purchase a plane ticket is between 2-8 months in advance, and sooner rather than later if I’m traveling over a holiday or during the peak summer vacation travel season. I track the price of flights I’m interested in for several weeks and when I’m satisfied the price is stable, and that my trip is a go…very important detail since I always buy non-refundable tickets, I buy. Once I buy a plane ticket, I don’t look back. Even if I could cancel a ticket without penalty, I’ve got a much better shot at winning the lottery than I do rebooking air at a lower price. The one thing I don’t do is wait too long, hoping prices will come down. They might, but they are much more likely to go up.

Some people swear by apps that track air ticket prices and send an alert when the price of the flight being tracked goes below whatever threshold you set. I’ve tried using those and found them to be pretty worthless. They give the illusion of being helpful without actually being helpful. The times I’ve gotten a price reduction alert using one of those apps, I found the price had gone back up before I could make a purchase. It has happened often enough that I wonder if the price ever really went down.

When it comes to air travel there’s no such thing as a free lunch. You can’t even buy lunch on most domestic flights these days…you have to hit the food court before you board! All you can do is balance ticket cost and schedule risk against your risk tolerance, and once you’ve made the decision to buy, don’t look back.

And that’s all I have to say about that.

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

A Peek Behind the Curtain

One of the comments Janet and I see most often on our social media posts are people telling us how much they wished they had our jobs. I understand where that comes from, and we take it as a compliment. We travel a lot, and we post lots of pictures. We do that to inspire each of you to travel, even when it means going outside your comfort zone. Travel is an investment in yourself…in experiences, other cultures, and above all, in memories.

That’s the fun side of travel. As travel advisors, we also have to deal with the sausage making side. We try to keep all that messiness hidden behind a curtain, but I thought I would pull that curtain back, just a bit, to let you see some of what we do to help you get the most out of your travels.

Let me start by sharing that when you are a travel advisor, you never get a vacation. No really…you don’t. My fitbit challenge group always knows when I’m traveling…my daily step count goes from under 3,000 steps per day when I’m home…it’s a long commute between my desk and the coffee pot…to over 10,000 and often 20,000 steps per day when I travel. Most of the steps I take when I travel aren’t getting me to the fun; they take me to all corners of the resorts, destinations, and cruise ships we visit so I can check out the things I think YOU might enjoy. These trips aren’t devoid of fun for us, but usually the fun is in learning so we can share with our clients.

We made the decision early on to reinvest the bulk of our profits back into our business, and most of that is in the form of travel. It is a myth that travel agents get lots of free travel. Maybe at one time that was true…many years ago, and long before we got into the business. Occasionally we get to take advantage of some discounts available only to travel agents, and we get invited to participate in cruise ship inaugurals or supplier familiarization trips, but those opportunities aren’t free. They allow us to stretch our travel dollars further than we otherwise could, but we have yet to enjoy any “free” travel. Most of the time when we travel, we pay what you pay.

Anytime we travel we make the most of it, arranging inspections of as many properties as we can. We post pictures of Janet’s neatly pedicured feet relaxing on the beach because we want you to see the experience you’ll have. We keep the pictures of her swollen and sweaty feet tired after a long day of inspecting properties hidden behind the curtain. You’re welcome!

We firmly believe you can’t be a travel advisor, a good travel advisor, if you don’t travel often, so we do. We also believe in continuing education. There is no formal certification or licensing requirement to be a travel advisor, which is probably why there are so many bad travel agents. Janet has gone through the most prestigious and demanding voluntary certification programs the industry offers, and we’ve both attained specialty certifications for the areas of travel we sell.

In addition to traveling and staying current on our certifications, each year we spend many hours in supplier training and at conferences to keep up to date with changes to brands, destinations, and properties, as well as travel trends. During the height of the COVID pandemic Janet spent a ridiculous amount of time keeping up with the constantly changing travel restrictions, testing, and vaccination requirements. We heard far too many horror stories from colleagues who had travelers show up for a flight or a cruise only to be denied boarding because their COVID documentation wasn’t adequate. We didn’t want that to happen to our clients.

It only takes about 20-30 minutes to book a trip…it’s the least time-consuming thing we do, but being a good travel advisor involves much more than navigating a booking engine. Before we ever get to booking a trip we’ve spent hours researching and sharing the options, customizing each trip to fit our clients’ needs. We don’t follow a one size fits all approach like some travel agents, where your vacation dreams are shoehorned into a set of options constrained by the agent’s limited experience, or those that make them the highest commission.

We are travel advisors, not booking agents, and we work hard to find the travel opportunities that best fit your needs and your budget. Sure, you might be able to find trips that cost less money than what we plan for you, but that usually involves making compromises and taking risks than rarely turn out well.  Remember…when we travel we usually pay what you pay…we’ve gotten very good at finding the best value for our travel dollars and we share that expertise with all of our clients. We don’t play games with pricing. We take the time to give you a real price quote from the beginning and update it as we customize the trip to your needs. And if a better price becomes available after we’ve booked you, we’ll do everything we can to get it for you, or to explain why the “deal” isn’t available for your booking and let you decide if the trade-offs required to get the “deal” are worth making. They almost never are.

Once we’ve booked a trip for a client, we service their booking until they return home and even beyond that if there are any lingering issues to be worked through. You won’t get that when you book direct from a supplier’s consumer website, or from a discount online booking service, which is why the internet is full of travel horror stories. We share a wealth of information with our clients to ensure you make the most of your time. I won’t get into all that we do to service our clients’ bookings…that’s part of the messiness better left behind the curtain along with Janet’s sweaty toes. I’ll just say it generally means multiple phone calls and long hours on hold, often educating suppliers who know less about their products than we do. We don’t mind…we’d rather be the ones making calls to suppliers and spending time on hold than our clients.

Travel comes with risk, but a big part of the value we bring to our clients is minimizing the risks, and then giving you a resource to turn to if something unexpected comes up. We can’t completely avoid things like flight delays and cancellations, or changes in cruise itineraries, but we can minimize the risks and put you in a position to recover quickly if something does happen. We spend a considerable amount of time planning for all the things you wouldn’t think of, so you don’t have to. If it has happened to someone sometime, we do whatever we can to try to prevent it from happening to you.

Travel is still fun for us, but it is a different kind of fun. Just as many of you enjoy our travel vicariously through our social media posts, we enjoy your travel when you come back and share some of the amazing memories you’ve made. And the greatest compliment you can give us is when you refer us to your friends and family. It means we’ve succeeded in keeping all the messiness that goes into planning travel hidden behind the curtain, so you can enjoy creating lifelong vacation memories. That’s more than a tag line for us…it is our passion.

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Black Friday…The Day After

You can’t trust anything you read or hear from the “news” these days. I offer two examples to prove my point: headlines back in October warning of a turkey shortage just in time to ruin Thanksgiving, and headlines earlier this week reporting a worldwide strike at Amazon just in time to ruin Black Friday. Here is my take on both stories as I sit on my patio this day after Black Friday, enjoying the birds, the sun, and the unseasonably comfortable weather.

The Turkey Shortage That Wasn’t

The turkey shortage headline cited a combination of ongoing supply chain issues, complicated by an avian flu outbreak that decimated the supply of turkeys. It all sounds reasonable until you actually think about it. Frozen turkeys are produced year-round…the supply is well protected from seasonal pressures like avian flu and supply chain problems, and even from a spike in demand around the holidays. Big Agra actually reported a glut in their supply of frozen turkeys earlier this fall, with on hand stocks 10% higher this year over the past two years. Demand was up this year for sure…large family gatherings reached pre-COVID levels for the first time since the pandemic. But there was no shortage. Frozen turkeys are bred and processed year-round and the supply is well insulated from seasonal pressures.

To be fair, there was an outbreak of avian flu this summer, but that only affects the supply of fresh turkeys, and there is an outbreak of avian flu every summer. This year’s outbreak may have been worse than in the past, but it is something big Agra plans for. What made this year different, at least a far as fresh turkey goes, is that big Agra intentionally reduced their breeding program for fresh turkeys by 20%. They wanted to reduce the supply of fresh turkeys this Thanksgiving so they could create a real sense of urgency, and then jack up prices. Which they did.

Even though the predicted turkey shortage didn’t materialize, the high prices certainly did. But as with every year the price of fresh turkeys tanked the day after Thanksgiving. Fresh birds that Wegmans sold for $2.69 per pound the day before Thanksgiving were put on sale for just $1.29 per pound the day after. That’s less than frozen turkey, which is holding steady at $1.69 per pound. Those frozen turkeys can sit in the display case for up to a year, but grocery stores only have a few weeks to sell out the fresh turkeys they buy in anticipation of Thanksgiving.

Black Friday Mirage

Is Black Friday even real anymore? I’ve never been one to set the alarm clock the day after Thanksgiving and go bat shit crazy at retail stores in search of bargains. My idea of Black Friday shopping is to check Amazon while I sip my third cup of coffee, which was the extent of my Black Friday shopping this year.  Do you want to know how much money I saved by shopping on Black Friday? ZERO.

I was a little concerned as I scanned the news headlines before moving on to my shopping list. I saw headlines reporting a worldwide Amazon strike. I don’t do much retail shopping for the holidays so anything impacting Amazon would be a problem for me. But I was ready. I had created my holiday shopping list on Amazon back in September in anticipation of all those Black Friday specials I was going to cash in on. As long as the strikes didn’t impact Amazon’s website, I would be OK.

I hit the Amazon website much earlier than I planned. For some reason my body was wide awake at 5AM, so there I was just a little before 6 shopping on Amazon eager to see how much money I was going to save. Turns out I didn’t save a penny. Oh sure, every item on my list was tagged with a “Black Friday Special” label, and the sale prices reflected a 35-45% markdown from what the site listed as the regular price. But the actual purchase price, the “Black Friday Sale” price, was the same on Black Friday as it had been when I put the items on my shopping list back in September.

Amazon had jacked up the “regular” price overnight just so they could present the illusion of a great bargain sale price. That’s marketing, something we often encounter often in our travel business. And it works. Only in my case it didn’t. I only bought one item, something I planned to buy anyway, and I paid what I would have paid the day before Black Friday, which is the same I would have paid the day after Black Friday.

What about that worldwide Amazon strike? Well I don’t know. What I do know is the one item I purchased off my Amazon shopping list at 6AM on Black Friday morning was delivered that same day, to my porch, at 10AM. Black Friday prices aren’t what gets me to buy from Amazon…it is their quick delivery. That and the fact that I can shop in my PJs while I sip coffee with Christmas music playing in the background. Holiday shopping sure has come a long way!

And now if you’ll excuse me, I have some turkeys to buy.

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment