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A good question lately!  Once there was a rather large dust-up when it was disclosed that a major cruise line had given away some free cruises to a core group of its fans who posted regularly on a large cruise community site.  There were many cries of “foul” and “reverse censorship”.  While this may have been blown a bit out of proportion, it does open the door to a question lots of novice cruisers ask.  And the question is “Should I trust the reviews I read on sites like Cruise Critic?”  The answer is Yes and No.

Why the ambiguity?  Because the most important thing to remember that what you are reading is just one person (or couple’s) opinion about a particular ship, cruise line or service amenity.  Have you ever gone to a shore side restaurant that a friend raves about and found it to be very disappointing?  I think we all have.  And what about that fabulous plumber who was recommended strongly?  The one who broke the pipe and flooded your new carpet?  Oops.

So, it is best to consider these reviews with a note of caution.  They are good for general trends and recommendations and certainly provide some insider tips.  Generally, if there are a large number of reviews and all or most of them are negative on a topic, there is likely to be some underlying cause. 

The fact that 80% of all people who cruise indicate they will sail again points out that if you work with a knowledgeable travel agent and he or she matches your needs with the most suitable ship, it is almost inevitable that you will have a great vacation!

How relevant to you find cruise reviews to be?

Happy Travels!

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I was thinking of these tips just the other day as I was planning a last-minute trip for a family of five including three teenagers!  

The family summer vacation has been planned, hotels picked out or maybe a family cruise, bags are being packed and anticipation of the travel is escalating.   But traveling as a teen in today’s world presents more challenges in years past.    Yet with the right guidelines in place, a fabulous vacation can still be a reality.

So here is my travel advice for teens:

  • Program into your cell phone an “In Case of Emergency” or “ICE” entry.  The entry can be your parent’s phone number or the person you are traveling with.  Apparently emergency workers such as the police are trained to check cell-phone address books for an ICE entry to find a person to contact.
  • There’s safety in numbers and no exploring should be done without a buddy. Before you take off on adventure though, also program the hotel’s number in your cell phone and make sure you have a hotel card or stationery with the address on it.
     
  • This is common sense but bears repeating.  Do not accept rides, drinks or food from strangers.
  • Don’t walk around listening to your iPod or chatting on your cell phone. In new surroundings, you need to be aware of what’s going on around you at all times.  Besides this way you can take in all the beautiful scenery around you as well as the local culture.
  • Be aware of the lack of privacy on most of the Wi-Fi free systems, whether in a coffee shop or in an airport.  Gmail uses a secure login page by default, which means that the username and password are encrypted. But the actual mail can easily be read by an eavesdropper. Yahoo Mail and Hotmail offer secure login as options.
  • Finally, set a protocol for the requirement of a password should a stranger say your parents have sent him or her to fetch you in an emergency.  The password remains the same for every trip and outing.

Keep these safety tips in mind, always keep the communication open with your parents, and most of all have a fun vacation.   Before long you will be off to college and these trips will be memories!

Happy Travels!

Do you have some travel tips for teens?

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A guest post from Blythe Lipman is the president of Baby Instructions

Summer is here and many of you will be traveling with your babies and toddlers. Thought you would enjoy this article.

15 Tips for Traveling with Your Little Ones

If you are planning a summer trip with your baby or toddler, make sure to plan ahead. Here are fifteen sure-fire ways to make traveling easy and fun.

  1. Before your trip, visit the dollar store and stock up on coloring books, paint with water books, and age appropriate toys for your toddler. And save them for a trip.  There is nothing better than something new!
  2. If you have a small video player, stock up on age appropriate movies for your little one. Baby Einstein has some great videos for a younger baby.
  3. If you can plan your plane schedule around your child’s nap-time, your trip will be a breeze.
  4. When traveling on a plane, feed the baby while the plane is taking off and landing. This keeps the Eustachian tubes open so the baby’s ears won’t hurt.
  5. When traveling on a plane with a toddler, it’s sometimes difficult to sit still during take-off and landing. Give him a sippy cup and some goldfish crackers and play a counting game with the crackers. It will be fifteen minutes of fun, instead of fifteen minutes of tantrums.
  6. Always take a change of clothes, extra diapers, wipes and socks for your baby or toddler. Spills happen in the blink of an eye.
  7. Remember to take a change of clothes for yourself on the plane. There is nothing worse than meeting the family smelling like formula.
  8. Bring lots of healthy snacks for your toddler whether you are traveling by car or plane. Buying them at convenience stores can get very costly.
  9. Bring extra formula for your baby when traveling. One spill could result in lots of tears.
  10.  When staying in a hotel, bring along the lullaby CD that you play at home. Most hotels have CD players or you can request one. There is nothing more comforting than the sounds of home.
  11.  And don’t forget to bring your toddler’s favorite lovey and bedtime book along.
  12. Try and stick to your bedtime rituals while away the best you can. Consistency makes everything easier.
  13. If your toddler has a difficult time falling asleep in a different crib or bed, let him listen to your Ipod. He will be snoring away before you can count to ten.
  14. If you are staying in a hotel and are going to hire a sitter for the evening, ask that she come and meet your children a few hours before you leave. It is worth it not to have that dreaded phone call to come back.
  15. Don’t forget to bring along extra batteries, photo card for your camera and protein bars for you.

Most of all have fun and happy travels!

Blythe Lipman is the president of Baby Instructions. She is passionate about babies, toddlers and their parents. After working in the field for over twenty-five years, she wrote her third award-winning book, HELP! MY BABY CAME WITHOUT INSTRUCTIONS which is available at  www.babyinstructions.com  and all major bookstores . You can hear Blythe’s weekly radio show on Mondays, 11am EST @ www.toginet.com  Blythe is available for in-home, video and telephone consultations. ©Blythe Lipman 2010

I was pixie dusted at an early age and grew up near Walt Disney World.   When I was a junior in college I was accepted into the Walt Disney World College Program and my dream of becoming a Cast Member was realized.   I worked as a lifeguard during that summer and loved every minute of it!  When I graduated from college I packed my belongings and dreams and headed back to the magical place in hopes of becoming the next marketing guru for Disney.   Though I didn’t become the next guru, I had the most wonderful time working for Disney and love to share my experiences with others. 

As a Cast Member we see so many different sides of Disney and the parks than the regular guests.  I have many stories to tell but here are just a few insider tips:

  • Nothing cools a hot summer evening than eating an ice cream cookie sandwich on Main Street U.S.A. at the Main Street Bakery while watching the fireworks at the Magic Kingdom!  Fun fact – the windows on Main Street U.S.A. contain names of people who have contributed to Walt Disney’s dream.   Walt Disney’s name is above the Ice Cream Parlor.

 

  • Take naps!  I saw so many guests in the middle of a hot summer day with their children in tow who were obviously beyond tired.  Tickets are expensive and we all try to maximize our time.   However, take a break in the heat of the afternoon and take a nap – even adults too!  You will feel revitalized and ready for the evening parades and fireworks and a much a happier family.

 

  • Don’t forget Downtown Disney.  This is where I worked (at the time called Disney Village Marketplace).  It is home to Disney Quest as well as Cirque du Soleil but also shops, gardens and yummy eateries.  It is a great place to visit the first night you arrive in Orlando before you head to the parks for the rest of the week.  If you are staying at Port Orleans Riverside or French Quarter you can take a free water taxi to the complex too.

 

  •  Look for Mickey!   I don’t mean just the actual Mouse but hidden Mickeys in the rides and attractions. It has been told that there is a Mickey silhouette in many of Disney the attractions.  For example, on Splash Mountain he can be found near the steamboat as an outline in the clouds.
     
  • When you want to meet Mickey without fighting a crowd?  A must-visit place is the Judge’s Tent at the Magic Kingdom – a designated location at Mickey’s Toontown Fair where Guests of all ages can meet the famous mouse for autographs and pictures.

 

  • A bit of Disney trivia.  According to legend, Walt Disney first came up with the idea of Mickey Mouse while travelling on a train from New York back to California.  He had just lost his rights to Oswald the Rabbit and he came up with the idea for the mouse.  He originally named him Mortimer but his wife Lillian convinced him to change it to Mickey Mouse because it sounded cuter.

Most importantly, I so often saw families and individuals just enjoying time together. During the holidays, it made me miss my family more!  It’s not about the souvenirs, what rides you ride or where you stay, it is the time spent together that makes the memories! At a Disney destination, those memories are certainly more magical!

I will always fondly remember my years when I worked for the Mouse.  I look forward to sharing new experiences with my family as I hope you do too! 

Happy travels!

What are your favorite Disney vacation memories?

 

I just wanted to post a quick message today to say “Happy 4th of July”!  I feel so lucky to live in a country where I am free to pursue my dreams without persecution and free to live my life to the fullest.

I am truly blessed in this life and feel privileged to do what I do (and what I love!).

May God Bless everyone today and my prayers are with those who fight for our freedom everyday!

I am proud to be an American!

Happy Travels!

It feels like summer just started but the summer will be winding down before you know it!  As you look at the calendar you wish you could get away just for one last hoorah before the school year starts.  It is not too late to plan a last-minute summer getaway.  There are so many great deals out there but here are a few general ideas to get you motivated!

Take a short road trip.    I know as a kid I loved the swimming pool at whatever hotel we were staying at.  Take in some local scenery near where you live whether that is the beaches, plains or mountains.   Call the hotel directly for any last-minute inventory pricing. Order pizza and enjoy time at the pool with the kids.

A visit with the Mouse.  Walt Disney World has extended its Free Dining Plan promotion to include Quick Service Meal Plan with many packages through October.   This can be an additional savings of 30%.  Also, Orlando offers some wonderful discounts at local attractions through the visitor’s center as well at http://www.orlandoinfo.com/.

Explore the outdoors.     Cabin rentals towards the end of summer are at great rates.   Save money by cooking many of your meals and pack a picnic lunch for day hike.   Go fishing or rent a boat for the day for some family fun.   Many national parks and state parks are offering free weekends for visitors as well.  Maybe make it a family camping adventure!

Find your park here http://www.nps.gov/findapark/feefreeparksbystate.htm.   

Set sail.   There are over 45 US ports that cruise ships leave from and the deals can be found even this time of year.  Royal Caribbean for example is running a family deal with savings of over $100 per person!  Take a short weekend cruise or take the family on a 7-night cruise to the Caribbean, Bermuda, Alaska or Canada/New England.

Take a vacation in your own backyard.    Does your city have several major attractions such as an aquarium, museums, and sport venues?   Get a great weekend rate at a downtown hotel and play tourist in your own city!   Check out http://www.citypass.com/ for great savings on local attractions in your city or a city near you.  Ask for resident specials too!

It is truly not about the destination itself but the journey you take as a family that matters the most.  Try to get away even if for a long weekend and take some time before the rush of the school year to enjoy some time together.  Before you know it next summer will be here!

Happy Travels!

Do you have a favorite family getaway to share?

This post seems fitting on a HOT summer day here in Atlanta!   Although I have traveled all over the world, sometimes the adventures I have found were right in my backyard.   What better place to play this summer than Atlanta!  The capital of Georgia is known for its sports, recreation and entertainment (and yes the traffic!). 

Many know of the most popular and wonderful attractions such as The Georgia Aquarium, World of Coca-Cola, Zoo Atlanta, Stone Mountain Park and the Atlanta Botanical Garden.  Here are some hidden treasures I’ve found as well in Atlanta and its many suburbs that have earned accolades by their own right.  Many of these attractions are offering summer discounts and packages as well.

Here are just a few of these treasures:

Atlanta History Center in Buckhead features 32 acres of gardens, wildlife trails and woodland areas and includes a wing dedicated to the 1996 Centennial Olympic Games.

Fernbank Museum of Natural History is a museum treasure!  Guests can explore the development of life on Earth through the landscapes of present-day Georgia, connect with cultures from around the globe, engage in a variety of hands-on exhibits and enjoy the incredible 5-story experience of an IMAX® film.  Fun for the whole family!

Yellow River Game Ranch is set on a naturally 24-acre wooded preserve along the banks of the Yellow River and is located near Stone Mountain. It features more than 600 native Georgia animals, such as deer, buffalo, bears and the famous weather predicting groundhog, General Beauregard Lee.

Margaret Mitchell House is the three-story Tudor Revival mansion in Midtown where author Margaret Mitchell lived from 1925 to 1932 and wrote her Pulitzer Prize-winning novel, Gone With The Wind.

Compliment these attractions with amazing food from an array of cultures for a perfect weekend getaway.  There are too many great restaurants in Atlanta and the surrounding areas to mention in this post!

For more details on these attractions and many others, I love referring to the Atlanta Convention and Visitors Bureau’s recommendations.

Just a side note too, if you are looking beyond Metro Atlanta, take an hour drive up Georgia 400 to the North Georgia mountains to visit Dahlonega or Amicalola Falls for a peaceful and relaxing day as well.

Whatever the attractions you choose, a long weekend in Atlanta this summer might just be the ticket to some fun and without breaking the bank!  Be daring this summer and explore!

Do you have a favorite city that is fun during the summer that you want me to highlight?  Drop me a note!

Happy Travels!