Be careful who you ask for travel advice, or, There are doctors and DOCTORS, and travel experts and TRAVEL EXPERTS.
Travel Expert Stephanie Abrams with Tor Hagen, CEO and founder of Viking River ,on the Inaugural Cruise of Viking River Cruise’s Three River Gorge Cruise in China
I’m listening to a travel agent of many years answering travel questions on WAMC 90.3/New England Public Radio. I’m not entirely in sync with the answers to questions she’s being asked by callers and the more I listened the more frustrated I was that I couldn’t interject my voice into the conversation. I jotted down several of the caller’s questions and her answers and released my frustration by providing deeper insights below. I hope that some of the people who called that station in search of expert travel advice get to read the info herein!
Q1) The caller wanted advice on river cruising. He’d never been on a river cruise and wondered what the “travel expert” thought he should do.
A1) Go river cruising in Cambodia!
My answer: if you’ve never taken a river cruise, if you’ve never been to Asia, if you haven’t been outside of the US on long distance hauls, you probably don’t want to start with Cambodia! If you are dealing with a restricted budget, the airfare to Cambodia will break the bank and not leave much left for everything else you need to purchase related to this trip. This person .asking the question has never been on a river cruise, and while Cambodia may have some fabulous places to visit, if this is your FIRST river cruise, as this caller indicated, that’s not the place to start! If you’re on a European river cruise and you decide that river cruising is not for you, you could get off in the next port, step off the ship and be standing in the middle of a town or city with hotels, car rental places, public transportation to other cities and you wouldn’t be stranded in Cambodia! It would have been a good idea to find out how many countries and what countries outside of the US this caller had been too before recommending Cambodia as his first adventure. Knowing his budget would have been worth determining as well as the cost of airfare can be prohibitive especially because he was coming from the region around Albany, NY on the east coast!
Q2) Next week is Presidents Week? Any last minute deals?
A2) It’s too late for any deals!
My answer: Check out LastMinute.com or a really good travel agent. Resorts send agents deals directly and don’t advertise them as they don/’t want to mess up their marketing plan by advertising they have rooms left they’d give away cheaply. Also,l this is low-season Europe and there are great airfares that are the same or less than flying to an America’s warm weather destinations.
i) It is perpetual springtime in Madeira, flowers blooming year round and lovely weather to hang out by the pool or take a short boat trip or even shorter flight (25 minutes) to Porto Santo where the white sandy beaches will steal your heart!Madeira is a subtropical island and If you’re interested in culture and history, Madeira bubbles over with both. It was the wine from Madeira that was used by US founding fathers to toast the signing of the Declaration of Independence and the people of Madeira have a strong bond with the US for that reason. There are ancient sites to visit and fun traditions you can participate in like being pushed down from the top of the mountainous area where the cathedral is in handmade wicker baskets by men in costumes of the period when that was a popular sport. Being the chicken that I am, I preferred to watch!There are food-inclusive and all-inclusive hotels (check out Pestano Hotels and Resorts in Madeira and Porto Santo) and there are casinos on in prime locations. If you want a bit of stuffy elegance, stay at Reid’s Palace which has a special history of its own and is perched on a bluff overlooking the sea. One of the Pestano Casino Hotels is also right on the waterfront. They have a gorgeous pool and rooms on one side of the hotel face the sea but they consider the rooms on the other side that face the mountain as better views because at night you can’t see the sea but the mountainside is lit up with the lights of homes and hotels. I opted for the sea view and they thought we were crazy! Madeira is owned by Portugal but is closer to Morocco than Europe strategically placed in the ocean. If you’re a foodie, the town of Funchal, where all the action is, has a Restaurant Row with every, that’s EVERY ethnic food you could possibly crave and the ‘row’ must be close to a mile long. . . you just keep walking between rows of restaurants forever! I loved this place!!
You might also want to consider Gran Tenerife or Gran Canaria islands in the Canary Islands, owned by Spain. At this time of year, going there is a steal and you’ll have beaches and hotels and great food, all at a bargain! If you’re a group or family craving space, there are homes for rent in the Canary Island for as little as $16 a night! Check them out carefully to be sure you’re not a million miles away from the beach or staying in a dive but there are all-inclusive air/land packages and you’ll have a seriously enjoyable trip to a place steeped in culture in a beach destination.
(Note: If you only like white sandy beaches, check where you are going before you book! Some places have black beaches that are the results of disintegrated lava. if that turns you off look for a white sandy place. . .Santo Porto fits that category but the Canary Islands and some parts of the Balearic islands (also owned by Spain) have black sand beaches while Lanzerote in the Balearic Islands has both black and white beaches!
Q3) Hotel on the beach on Miami Beach in March”
A3) You need to go all the way uptown on Collins Avenue to be on the beach.
My Answer: NO, you can stay at one of the boutique hotels on Ocean Drive. If your room faces the ocean you are staring at the beach and the sad is across a little 2 lane road (Ocean Drive) if you want sand and ocean if you don’t want to hang out at the pool. HOWEVER, there is the Loews South Beach Resort and Spa which .is located where South Beach ends and just before Lincoln Road crosses Collins Avenue. They are in South Beach and they are RIGHT ON THE BEACH!
Q. 4) I want to go to the Amalfi Coast.
A. 4) You must go to Pompeii on your way. Drive your car to the top of Vesuvius. Then drive to Sorrento and drive along the Amalfi coast.
My Answer: Firstly, you can’t drive to the top of Vesuvius. You can drive part of the way up and park your car there. When you look up, the walking trail to get to the top of the volcano doesn’t look like much of a walk and not much of a challenge. Someone at the parking area will off you a walking stick which you will need so you don’t slide around on the gravelly path. Once you start walking you’re going to find that paths you could see from the parking area are the tip of an iceberg (or volcano) as it’s a LONG straight uphill and somewhat challenging walk. You’ll see octogenarian Europeans trotting by and passing most Americans no matter how fit they are. I walked to the top, because you CAN’T drive to the top or we would have done that, and I’d never do it again! Tell someone you don’t like to walk to the top. . . and tell them to go on the tour of the salt mine in Hallein, Austria. That’s a good way to get even with people you’d like to slap!
If you are going to drive along the Amalfi coast, the best way to do that is to drive from Pompeii, not to Sorrento but, to Salerno which is at the other end of the Amalfi Coast Road. If you drive from Salerno, you’ll be on the side of the road that hugs the mountain, not the cliff side. If you drive from Sorrento to Amalfi and in the direction of Sorrento, if you companion or you are driving, you won’t be able to take your eyes off the road! If you want to see people driving in the “wrong” direction, from Sorrento to Salerno, see the film, “Only You,” with Marissa Tomei and Robert Downey, Jr. The production company/director had them drive from Sorrento to Positano, about halfway between Sorrento and Amalfi or Salerno, because they could get clear shots of them from a helicopter to as they hugged the outside wall along the cliff. Watch that and it will convince you not to take the advice of the “travel expert” and her sage advice on WMCA’s show!
Q5) I want to go to Scotland to go hiking and we’re interested in Scotch.
A5) Oh, Scotch is everywhere.
My Answer: There is a area in the eastern region of Scotland not far from St. Andrews called the Single Malt Whiskey Trail. You can stop at any number of distilleries for their tour. Be sure to visit The Aberlour Distillery, terrific tour and then drive down the road to the The Highlander Inn, Craigellachie, Speyside, Banffshire, where you’ll find just about every brand of Scotch Whisky (note the spelling as compared to “Irish Whiskey”). When I was there, they has a bottle of 1964 Bowmore Scotch at their bar. When we visited the Highlander Inn, one shot of Bowmore Black was $590.Imagine this:
You buy some business associates or friends a round of drinks. One of your associates say, “The next round’s on me!” So you order Bowmore Black. . . a double . . .valued at $1180! Can you imagine the look on the face of the guy picking up that tab!
Yes you can get Scotch anywhere in Scotland but you can get Scotch anywhere in NYC, too. If you want to go someplace with amazing history and quaint Scottish charm, head for the Highlander Inn!
Q6) Caribbean in March for beach and culture?
A6) Curacao, Aruba. . . .
My Answer: Why does this woman choose the farthest away places? Aruba was a desert island . . . and a deserted island. There was nothing there. And then a big US oil company, Standard Oil of NJ, started producing crude oil off the coast of Aruba so now there was a big company there. When business associates, friends and family of those living on this desert island wanted to come and visit for business and family reasons, it was clear that the island needed a hotel to accommodate them and that was the beginning of the tourism industry in Aruba,which, like Curacao, sits just minutes off the coast of South America. It’s a long flight even from NYC and longer from other parts of the US as travelers often have to make connections and, from some parts of the US, it will take 2 days of travel with an overnight break somewhere like Houston, to get to Aruba and/or Curacao. Aruba is owned by Holland so it’s the (friendly) Dutch influence you’ll interface with. It’s a great island for beaches and casinos and that’s why people go to Aruba. Read the info at this site about the “culture” of Aruba and you’ll find it’s not at the same level as places I’ve indicated below (http://www.aruba.com/the-island/culture).
Now if you’re looking for an island with a rich cultural history, try Jamaica, Barbados, Sint Maarten (Dutch) and the other side of the island, St. Martin (French), or try St. Lucia and better still, Martinique and make sure you take a tour or rent a car and travel independently and visit Martinique’s Volcano Museum. You will receive an object lesson on why it pays to get drunk!
--Gotta Fly Now!sm
Your Personal Travel Expert
Nationally syndiated radio show host