What Color is Your Cruise?

Is Your Cruise Ship Safe? How To Check Its COVID-19 Status

A real concern for people interested in booking a cruise is the risk of a Covid-19 outbreak once on board.  There have been some cruise ships with documented cases of the virus, despite the strict protocols and precautions in place.  There are ways to be informed about the specific cruise ship you are interested in booking.

Of the 24 ships currently sailing in U.S. waters, 15 have reported cases of the virus.

Because  COVID is so contagious, travel isn’t without risks. However, having current information can help travelers make better-informed decisions, while assessing their own risk by taking into account their own health status.

As I have written about before, there is a color-coded system developed by CDC which provides information about the COVID-19 status of cruise ships operating or planning to operate in U.S. waters. Each ship is assigned a color status—green, orange, yellow, red or gray.

The color-coding for each ship is based on data from the previous 7-day period as well as the findings of any CDC investigations. To recap: Green: No COVID-19 cases or COVID-19-like illnesses are reported onboard; Orange: Reported cases are below the CDC threshold for investigation; Yellow: The ship meets the threshold for investigation (for crew or passenger COVID-19 cases); Red: The ship is at or above the threshold for passenger and crew COVID-19 cases. Based on CDC investigation, the ship is subject to   immediate return to port or delay of the next voyage; Gray: The ship operator’s health and safety protocol hasn’t been reviewed or confirmed by the CDC; this only applies to ships arriving in, located within, or departing from a port in Florida that chose not to follow the CDC Conditional Sail Order (CSO) voluntarily.

You can find the status of ships sailing in U.S. waters here:

https://www.cdc.gov/quarantine/cruise/cruise-ship-color-status.html

Many cruisers feel very comfortable at sea.  As the Delta variant has emerged,  health and safety protocols have become even more stringent in terms of requirements for pre-cruise testing, vaccinations, and the use of masks. The safety measures and protocols in place on a cruises is much higher than for other modes of travel. The vaccination status of each passenger is known and tracked; each cruise ship has certain medical facilities and procedures for testing and dealing with COVID in place. However, anyone who is not fully vaccinated should avoid both river and ocean cruising worldwide for now.

Deciding to take a cruise during the pandemic is a very personal decision. For some, it may seem safe and worth the risk, but others with pre-existing health concerns or who really want to limit their exposure may want to postpone their departure. The CDC color code system offers information to aid in making this tough decision.

In my humble opinion, there are no gatherings of people that can be 100% safe and guarantee NO COVID.  I think that if a ship’s colors are good, a passenger’s health is good, canceling is not a guarantee that they won’t get Covid somewhere else (a party, to church, etc.) 

Enjoy life and create new memories!

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Bells Ringing to New Groups

Dear TA’s,

I am a true believer that when life throws you lemons you should make the best lemonade. If you want to be even more creative, mix up some dough and make a sweet lemon cake!

The COVID era is not done yet. Rules are still being implemented for travel and business in general, but one thing is definitely true, people are still falling in love and wanting to get married, despite this whole mess (and others are having kids as well!)

If you are trying to look for wedding venues in the US, the good ones are already sold out and the prices are much higher than they used to be. Also, the rules for large gatherings are different from state to state. Many grooms and brides are finding that having a destination wedding will be more affordable for them. By doing this, they are better able to select their guests and create a big party, combined with a nice vacation for the whole group.

Most destination weddings are taken in Mexico and The Caribbean. Both of these destinations are close enough for easy travel, but each follow different rules for Covid since they are different countries.

The Travel Agents/Advisors who are taking advantage of this market can work with the wedding destination to book the groups. Some travel agents prefer to work only on individual bookings (not groups) because sometimes groups can be overwhelming. Another idea is to work just with honeymooners which is still a very much up-and-coming market that needs lots of hands on attention, with great commission.

These suggestions are based on lots of research, and I hope you can use my ideas. If you need to pick my brain, feel free to do so!

To love and to travel!

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I left my Spark in San Francisco

Dear TA’s,

Sorry Tony Bennett, I really tried! After some beautiful days in Napa we drove to San Francisco to finish our well-deserved vacation. Actually, the trip started really well with a delicious lunch at Le Garage in Sausalito. Sausalito continues to have charm and it is beautiful to see San Francisco from there. But then we arrived in SFO, we drove to the Intercontinental Mark Hopkins, on the top of the hill next to The Fairmont. It is really a classic, it was bought by a Chinese company and because of Covid, nothing has been done to it and it looks neglected. Of three small elevators, only two were working. A long line forms to go up in the elevator, especially in the late afternoon with those who want to have a drink on the 19th floor at the scenic Top of the Mark.

Driving around the Fisherman’s Wharf is so sad, it reminds one of a deserted town, very few shops are open, the streets are so dirty and there are homeless everywhere.

Anywhere other than the Russian Hills and Lombard Street feel very unsafe for walking around. Even when going by car to any supermarket or drugstore, there are signs everywhere saying not to leave valuables inside the car to avoid theft and vandalism. Many of the cable cars have graffiti all over them.

The last time I enjoyed San Francisco was 15 years ago, and then the city was really beautiful. I still enjoy seeing Fisherman’s Wharf on a video program through my tread mill when I exercise, but the reality is much different.

I highly recommend using the airport SFO, renting a car, having a nice lunch in Sausalito and then driving to Napa or Sonoma for a few days, or even a couple of weeks, but definitely avoid the city for now.

Los Angeles and San Francisco were once beautiful. It’s not necessary to go into politics, but my suggestion is to avoid the cities as much as you can, despite the fact that I live in LA!

Cheers!

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Napa and Surroundings Part 2

Dear TA’s,

I mentioned last week that there would be a part two to the part one about Napa and its surroundings. The wineries deserve a whole blog about them! You don’t need to be a wine connoisseur to appreciate the wine from that area and for those who are not so much into wine, I am sure you will find at least one wine you like, there are so many varieties.

Honestly, if there is a silver lining from Covid for visiting and tasting at the wineries, it is that you can do it by appointment only and they have a limited number of tables and seats. Everything is mostly outside. In other words, for wine lovers like me, it is heaven going by appointment only, avoiding lines and a busy conglomeration of people, and being able to enjoy the delicious wine in peace. How could life be better? LOL!

Napa and its surroundings have so many wineries, you would need months to visit them all (doing 2 or 3 a day). We were there for 4 days and 1 day in SFO. We are already members of 2 wineries, so we decided to visit a couple of our favorites that we are not members of: Caymus, Peju and Bremmer, and some new ones to fall in love with (and we did,) Pine Ridge and Alpha Omega.

At Caymus we discovered Sea Sun, one of their brands of Pinot Noir. Even though I am not a Pinot drinker, this one is so smooth and delicious that we had to buy some.

We were one of three couples and maybe from getting older, I noticed that I can’t tolerate as many tastings, so I split my taste with my husband, which was fine with the winery. The price of the tasting is complimentary once you purchase wine. Between the 3 couples it was easy to purchase a case of 12 wines and delivery was free. Actually, it was so easy to buy cases of wine, we returned from the tastings almost empty handed, we just purchased some extra Sea Sun Pinot Noir for our dinners as great treat.

There is no way to go wrong experiencing the wineries in Napa and surroundings, especially now that you need to make appointments. Make sure to ask how much the tastings are, if the tasting can be split between 2 people, and if it becomes complimentary once you purchase the wine. Some of them are even complimentary to begin with.

Sure, you can find wineries for $150 a taste that cannot be split, and bottles of wine for over $300 each. The same way you can go to The French Laundry Restaurant and pay $350 per person for the meal plus drinks. It is a matter of money but, taste as well. The choice is ultimately yours!

Cheers!

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Napa and its Surroundings, Part 1

Dear TA’s

I love to talk about my favorite part of California, Napa Valley and its surroundings. When I come here my heart just relaxes. I feel like the world stops so I can enjoy every minute, and even Covid rules and worries don’t upset me. I feel like I’m in heaven.

Actually, every time I come to Napa I always stay at the same hotel (The Westin Verasa Napa). I tell my husband that one day I want to retire, live in Napa and work part-time at a winery. Then I go back home and forget my dream until the next time I visit.

Right now, I am sitting on the sofa in my room at the Westin Napa. The view from my room is so peaceful. I love going to Oxbow Market for my breakfast, but first we always stop at Model Bakery for some special treats. The biscuit is everyone’s favorite, and then we head to Ritual Coffee Roasters for the most delicious coffee (even though I drink Chai latte). Casa is an innovative kitchen with New Mexican Cuisine and 100% gluten free (my personal heaven, since I am gluten intolerant). 

I get my infused olive oils and Balsamic vinegars at Olive Press inside the Oxbow Market. I am completely hooked. When I get there, Ruth or Becky know me. It was funny how Becky even recognized me with my mask on from far away and started to walk towards me. Both of us were wearing masks, and we hugged (I honestly forgot we weren’t supposed to). 

For lunch we usually eat in St. Helena since it is between wineries (check Napa and Surroundings Part II). I highly recommend The Market restaurant. Even if you need to eat inside, they have invested a lot in air filters, and remodeled the whole restaurant, so you feel safe eating indoors. Although there are other restaurants in St. Helena, many times we prefer to come back to Napa and enjoy The Oxbow Market and Gott‘s Roadside before enjoying the pool a bit until around 3:30pm before heading to another winery. After all, these are the long days of summer, and we want to be sure to take advantage of the hotel’s swimming pool.

Evenings we enjoy dinner at one of the many restaurants Napa offers: La Toque, Cole’s Chop House and TORC. All need reservations and are within walking distance of the hotel (La Toque is next door to the Westin Vernasa Hotel with an entrance inside the hotel).

My experience in Napa and its surroundings was even better after Covid. I felt that even though many places are still short of staff (like all over the US) by making reservations everywhere or downloading their app and pre ordering meals where possible, my family and I never felt neglected or waited in lines (something that stresses me immensely).

This vacation was very soothing and relaxing and I can’t wait to go right back!

Cheers!

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Specialization in Business + Clientele



Dear TA’s,
 
Those who follow my blogs know that I love mentoring travel agents/advisors. Over 30 years of experience as a Tour Operator selling to travel agents taught me a lot about relationships and how to guide my new clients.
I am honored to pay it forward, and hope all of you can do the same, and spread kindness in this world in some capacity.

I always advise the benefit of specializing in an area of travel to my mentees; by areas, by activities or by interests. For example, singles groups, Latin America, safaris, scuba, etc. By focusing on an area, you, the travel agent, can become well-known for that specialization, and referrals will come practically ready to book without you having to work so hard against the “competition.”  The great advantage of this is the more you specialize, the less competition you will have. But if you make that specialization so exclusive, the number of prospective clients may be so small that business could be sporadic.

Let’s address clientele.  Over and over on social media, I see business people with strong opinions who have found this to be a platform to voice their thoughts. By doing this, they are limiting their clientele to those who share the same opinions as themselves. This is one way of defining their businesses model, but definitely doesn’t show tolerance. Tolerance is that despite having a strong opinion about a certain topic, (that should be shared only in private between personal friends and family) understanding that others may have opinions different than your own, and even so, continuing to do business with those people, regardless of your differences.

The choice is ultimately yours. You are in charge of your life and your business. You can choose if you want to sell travel to just a pool of people who think exclusively like you, or to anyone who wants to travel.
 
Cheers to you!

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Cruise is the Safest Option to Travel Internationally

Dear TA’s,

The cruise industry is making a strong comeback!  The cruise ship environment is now considered to be an advantage for travel, because unlike anywhere else, cruise lines are able to control their own environments and eliminate the risk of a big outbreak. They are doing this with greater testing capabilities, and of course, vaccines. The C.D.C. guidelines require 98 percent of crew and 95 percent of passengers to be fully vaccinated before a cruise ship can set sail.

After suffering billions of dollars in losses, cruise companies restarted operations in Europe and Asia late last year. After months of preparations to meet stringent health and safety guidelines set forth by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, cruise lines have started to welcome back passengers for U.S. sailings. Currently, demand is outweighing supply, with many itineraries fully booked throughout the summer. Royal Caribbean recently announced that all sailings from Florida in July and August are fully booked.

At first, it was difficult to imagine how cruise ships, which carry millions of passengers around the world each year, would be able to sail safely again. People still remember the terrible stories of major outbreaks of Coronavirus onboard cruise ships, where passengers were confined to their cabins as the virus traveled rapidly throughout the ships, infecting thousands of people, and killing more than 100. Now, if everyone on board is vaccinated and tested regularly, it’s probably one of the safer options for international travel!

Cruising still has some risk. Several coronavirus cases have been identified on cruise ships since U.S. operations restarted in June, testing the cruise lines’ new Covid-19 protocols, which include isolating, contact tracing and testing passengers to prevent the virus from spreading. One ship was forced to do the right thing and cut short an Alaskan sailing after three people tested positive for the virus.  Another threat is the highly contagious Delta variant, which is causing surges of the virus around the world.

All things considered, industry analysts are very optimistic about the cruise industry’s future and the potential for passenger numbers to recover to pre-pandemic levels, even as soon as next year. That optimism is boosted by what may be the industry’s best asset – unshakably loyal customers.

Cheers!

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Family/Kids Option CA South Coast

Dear TA’s,

I have spent years talking about travel to foreign countries and now I’d like to spend some time focusing on domestic travel in the US.

As we know, many people don’t have a current passport. With current demand, it will take at least 12 weeks to get or update one. Another factor in favor of domestic travel is that not all people are vaccinated, nor do they want to go through Covid testing before traveling. So, what is a travel agent supposed to do? Judging their reasons is definitely not the answer – but guiding them to a super vacation within the US is!

In my opinion, Florida is very hot and humid during the summertime, and can have lots of rain and the chance of hurricanes. I prefer the West Coast, and more specifically, the South Coast. (Those who read my blog last week know how I feel about Los Angeles and San Francisco – it’s dirty, with much graffiti, full of homeless people, and not as safe as used to be.)  

For those from out of state who want to fly to the South Coast, I recommend flying into Orange County airport; John Wayne SNA (airport code). For families with young kids I highly recommend the Renaissance ClubSport Aliso Viejo Laguna Beach Hotel. The theme park that the hotel offers is safe and monitored by a lifeguard (for most of the day). There is a kids’ camp for 3-12-year-olds, a restaurant, coffee shop, and a great space by the pool for coffee/booze and snacks for adults. 

The hotel offers:

Top of the line fitness club facility, full service spa, 3 outdoors pools, plus indoor Jacuzzis for men and women in their fitness facility, free water park (so much fun, I felt I was on a cruise), children’s pool, playground on site, babysitting or childcare (with a surcharge), children’s club (with a surcharge). 

Breakfast or dinner can be included in your rate. A nice shopping area with all kind of food and shops is one mile away. Clients can easily walk there or take an Uber or cab from the hotel. 

The experience here is a fun family, kid-friendly resort and I highly recommend it! 

For more details, feel free to reach out to me. I am happy to share more information and contacts. 

Enjoy the US and the beauty of our country!

Cheers!

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Traveling California’s South Coast

Orfila Vineyards Tasting Room and Kitchen

Dear TA’s,

If you are looking for good weather in the low 70s, good hotels for a reasonable price, beautiful beaches, great restaurants and darling towns, I highly recommend coming to Carlsbad, Encinitas and Oceanside California.

It is so different from the Los Angeles area, where graffiti and homeless people dominate the landscape. These adorable south coast cities offer a much more pleasant experience of what California is all about.

For those who enjoy theme parks, Carlsbad offers Lego Land. I stayed at the Westin in Carlsbad next to Lego Land and even though I did not go to the park, I enjoyed the resort at the hotel, and it was practically kid free.

At Oceanside I highly recommend going to Orfila Vineyards Tasting Room and Kitchen. Priced at only $20 per tasting they offered great wines, and delicious food. Since you are indulging, go next door for the most decadent doughnuts: Parlor Doughnuts (those who are gluten free or vegan will not feel neglected!)

Don’t miss the beach in Oceanside, just a couple of blocks from the Tasting Room and doughnut shop.

Breakfast and beach are the right combination for a fun day in Encinitas. There are many choices of restaurants and delis, for all tastes. Just take Highway 101, park somewhere and walk around. Find the place that looks most fun to you. Don’t forget to browse those cute knick-knack shops.

Come visit the South Coast of California, good wine is waiting for you!

Cheers!

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The Best Time to Buy Airline Tickets

Dear TAs,

You should advise your clients to book their future travel now.  If they (or you!) are planning a vacation, holiday travel, and even a business trip, consider reserving flights right now.

Increased demand for flights is a very positive sign for the travel industry, but there are several reasons why there may soon be a shortage of available flights, resulting in higher prices and seat shortages.

With the increase in vaccinations and the loosening of travel restrictions worldwide, airlines have suddenly been overwhelmed with large numbers of leisure passengers eager to escape it all. They’re headed to beaches, mountains, theme parks, and to visit family and friends they have missed seeing throughout the pandemic.

Even without the normal number of business travelers as in years past, U.S. airlines are finding themselves with load capacity on domestic flights comparable to those of 2019; pre-pandemic. 

Right now, business and international travel are still down around 70% from 2019 levels. This will be changing now that the list of countries welcoming Americans continues to grow. With increased demand, ticket prices are rising from their pandemic lows, but have not yet reached 2019 ticket prices. This too could change quickly.

Many airline employees were let go or took early retirement as a result of the pandemic. Airlines are dealing with a pilot shortage. Larger airlines that operate several types of aircraft and are coping with limited flight simulator time to retrain their pilots on different aircraft. The shortage of pilots who are up to date in their training may affect flight scheduling during the second half of this year. The demand for trained airline personnel such as pilots, mechanics and other technicians is expected to negatively impact ticket prices for several years.

Another factor that will affect ticket prices is rising fuel prices. Mid-June, the per-gallon price for jet fuel was more than four times higher than at its lowest point during the pandemic, late April 2020. Fuel and labor are airlines’ biggest expenses, and when they go up, higher fares often follow.

So, if you want to travel during the holidays, don’t wait a minute more. You and your clients should purchase your airline tickets now, otherwise you’ll be missing a great trip.

See you somewhere, soon!

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