Saturday, October 29, 2016

Pure Grenada

So many times I hear people say how the world is a scary place, especially outside the safe confines of our small bubble we call home.  As a travel consultant, it’s my job to not only find the best flight schedules and accommodations, but it’s also my job to make good recommendations on certain destinations based upon many other factors as well, including but not limited to: ease of getting to, quality of said accommodations, variety of food and activities and recommendations within these.  Another part of my job is to make sure I am recommending a safe destination.  How else do we know these recommendations to be true unless we experience it for ourselves?  Google & Trip Advisor are not the Holy Grail nor should they be revered as such.  Would you rather trust a computer whose sole purpose is to gather facts, a group of people whom you’ve never met to tell you their likes and dislikes or someone like myself who can tell you in great detail how things will work each step of the way, what to expect, make specific recommendations based upon your personal preferences and be there for you in the event you need me? That is why I travel; to be able to bring this first hand knowledge to you so that your precious vacation is about making memories, not mistakes.  

With that being said, this past week I had the privilege to travel to the far southeast Caribbean to a gem of an island called Grenada.  This is island is so small, from the air you can see the entire area inside my camera lens!

Despite it’s size, this destination offers just as much if not more than the other larger islands whom are a bit more popular.  First of all, this island is a bit of a challenge to get to.  From Duluth, it took me three flights and two airlines to get there.  However, as they say, if Paradise was easy to get to everyone would go.  

You know you are in somewhere fairly remote when you deplane outside and walk down the tarmac to enter the airport.  The warm Caribbean breeze tousling your hair instantly affirms your vacation choice!   From the airport, nothing is too terribly far, but I recommend an inexpensive American chain for your first night to sleep and the next day head over to your permanent home for the vacation.  Taxi service is abundant so getting where you need to go is simple, safe and convenient considering they do accept US dollars.  The island is quite hot, so a taxi with AC is a luxury.  I found one I highly recommend because of his cool car but also his cool vibe that will enhance your stay while here.  You won’t feel unsafe riding with Chris as he navigates the island on the left hand side or while climbing hills you thought only goats could.

In Grenada their currency is Easter Caribbean (EC).  And the exchange rate as of October 2016 is $1USD = $2.65EC.  

Not the simplest math to compute in your head so lucky for you, they do accept US dollars.  I’m not sure I would recommend converting your cash to EC unless you are not staying at an all inclusive and are the type of traveler who will be out and about daily.  For the resort dwellers, the all inclusive plan means you don’t need to carry cash at all; it’s all included.   If your resort isn’t all inclusive, you can charge your food and drink to your room and pay with your credit card at departure.  More on my stay at the gorgeous Mount Cinnamon here.

Grenada is known as the Spice Island, so something I noticed throughout my stay is the scent of spices, mostly nutmeg and cinnamon, in the air.  What a welcome change from the Pumpkin Spice Everything season in the US!  You can buy spices from street vendors, at tourist attractions, supermarket and even at the airport.  
One thing I noticed is how affordable they were regardless of where you got them.  Such a fun surprise, especially as we are entering into the holiday season where nutmeg, cinnamon and other wonderful spices are used for baking, cooking and of course our holiday cheer!  In fact, there is such an abundance of nutmeg here, when I completed a survey at the airport, they thanked me with two whole nutmeg balls!  For the chocolate lovers, here you will find some of the purest and delicious chocolate.  You can tour the factory or simply buy the finished product.  

I can’t give you a rundown of Grenada and not mention how friendly the people are here and how low the crime rate is.  Despite being the only white person on the streets for a majority of the time here, I can honestly say, I never once felt out of place or uneasy.  I always felt welcome, safe and accepted.
 Grenada is a very religious island, therefore, many of the laws and dos and don’ts come from the countries leaders who also hold high positions within their church.  Catholic is the main religion here.  You won’t find strip clubs here as they are illegal,  yet you have access to the some of the sexiest, laciest lingerie on the streets at the market.  Starbucks is not here (amen) however a cool Carib beer just about at every corner (hallelujah because it’s hot here!)  In Grenada it is punishable by law if you are caught cursing or swearing in public.  $3000EC is the minimum fine, possibly with a month in prison if the judge finds you to be rude as well.  Holy $#*!!  
I noticed a fair amount of police presence on the streets.  This didn’t make me feel any more or less safe but what I did find interesting is that they didn’t carry guns.  Yes, unarmed police and a crime rate that is the lowest in all the Caribbean islands.  

I’ve only been in the US for less than 24 hours now but my time in Grenada seems but a dream!  If you are looking for something new, exotic and unforgettable consider Grenada.  I’ve tasted and seen.  Grenada has given me more hope in the human race since God knows when.  Come here to vacation and you will leave refreshed, recharged and rejuvenated with hope, love and a new zest on life.  They say the ocean is therapeutic and can heal many things that ail you.  Why not try it for yourself?  It’s cheaper than therapy and is way more fun! Ready to see for yourself? I'd love to chat with you! Click here to get started and soon you will be off on your own Divine Destination!

Wednesday, October 19, 2016

Passport Book Vs. A Card, Is There A Difference?

This is one of those subjects that is a little sour for me to talk about.  Why? Because I believe in being a straight shooter.  Unfortunately, there isn’t much straight shooting going on when a person applies for their passport.  And whichever one you get will determine if your travels will allow you to go on your adventure or not.  If you purchase the wrong one, then you will be forced to pay even more monies for the correct passport and most likely incur huge expediting fees too.  Read on…

A Passport Card will allow you to travel to Mexico and Canada via a motor vehicle or train, but not via an aircraft.  This makes it a great option for the annual fishing trips to Canada, however, when that once in a lifetime trip to Europe presents itself or your daughter announces she will be having a Destination Wedding in Mexico, unless you plan to drive there, you are not going anywhere!  A passport card is also good for cruising, however, if you get delayed and miss your ship only to find yourself stuck in Honduras, you will find it more than difficult to return to US soil since a passport card will not allow you to fly with it.  

On the other hand, a Passport Book truly opens up the possibilities for you and the world is your oyster.  You will be able to travel the world via cruise, airplane or car without any worries or restrictions.  They are valid for 10 years and if you are under the age of 16, they will need to be renewed every 5 years.

How Do I Get One?
The process is exactly the same whether you want a card or a book.  Go to your local Post Office and some DMVs do this now too.  Simply prove you are a US citizen with your certified birth certificate and a picture ID along with your completed application.  It’s a good idea to bring in your own passport photo (purchased at Walgreens or via a new app called ------)or you can have it done for you when you apply.

What Does It Cost?
New, replacement or renewal of a passport book: $110 if age 16 and older; $80 if under the age of 16. New, replacement or renewal of a passport card: $30 if age 16 and older; $15 if under the age of 16.

So Why the Sour Attitude?
I feel like people will take the cheaper route when given a choice.  Unfortunately, this will ultimately lead to spending more money than necessary once they find out that they have the wrong passport.  I once had a client who was denied boarding because she had a passport card. She honestly didn’t even know there was a difference or an option.  So she then had to delay her trip by a day so she could drive to the local passport headquarters and apply in person for a same day passport BOOK.  This cost her $110 plus expediting fees, gas, food and lodging, not to mention a day lost at the resort.  
When in doubt, pull it out!  
When booking your trip, please please please pull out your passport to verify if it’s a card or a book.  The next step would be to make sure your name matches identically to your travel documents.  Chris, I’m talking to you.  I know your passport reads Mark Christopher, but we all call you Chris.  The TSA agent needs to know this too or you will not be going anywhere.  Yes indeed, you could be denied boarding if your name doesn’t match!  Finally, is it expired?  Some countries require you have at least 6 months until your passport expires in order to visit.  You won’t know the exact details unless you take the time to pull out your passport and take a good look.  

Sunday, October 9, 2016

Tips & Tricks For Traveling During Hurricane Season

As we all have been glued to the TV over the course of the past 2 weeks watching the tropical storm morph into Hurricane Matthew, I cannot not write a post on the importance of travel insurance and what to do if you are traveling during Hurricane Season. In this post I want to cover:

  • What to do if you're on your way to the Hurricane Zone
  • What to do if you are stuck in a Hurricane Zone
  • What if you're planning a trip in the future that happens to be during the Hurricane Season

If you are traveling to the Hurricane Zone and your flight has been cancelled you are entitled to a refund even if your ticket is nonrefundable. Sadly, cancelled flights generally don't happen until hours before departure. This means that you are stuck in limbo doing the dance of “do I stay or do I go”.  If you have travel insurance it's an easy decision because you can cancel or change your date without incurring any additional fees. However, if you don't have travel insurance you are at the airline's mercy of calling off the flight to avoid costly non-refundable fees. If you have a non-refundable hotel, travel insurance may cover your loss, however you cannot buy travel insurance once a storm is named.   As a side note, check your credit card coverage; some cards provide coverage even in cases of non-refundable travel losses including hotels and meal expenses.  One of my favorites is the Aadvantage American Airlines card which has excellent free coverage for trip Interruption and cancellation.

If you are stuck in a Hurricane Zone, again travel insurance or the coverage found on the credit card might help absorb some expenses you incur as a result of the storm. I had a couple of Honeymooners that were in St. Lucia while Hurricane Matthew was still a tropical storm. Although not a hurricane, it did certainly dampen (pun intended) their Honeymoon that week.  Tours were cancelled and because they were non-refundable the travel insurance allowed them to get a refund on the unused tours.  Thankfully, the St. Lucia airport opened so they were able to get out safely however some of my clients weren't as lucky.  In this situation, the hotels offered them one night stay for free and then after that a reduced rate for each additional night.  For the clients who did not have travel insurance they had to pay this out of pocket but for those (and there were many) who had travel insurance they could continue to eat drink and be merry and not worry about the extra expense of their impromptu extended vacation!

If you're planning a trip to the Caribbean during hurricane season, I cannot stress this enough, it's a great idea to consider travel insurance!  My own honeymoon was a debacle because I did not heed the advice of buying travel insurance.  I had non-refundable airline tickets to a destination that had just been hit by a hurricane and the resort I was to stay in looked like a pile of Pick Up Stix!  So save yourself the stress and agony and expensive change fees and non-refundable fees and by the damn insurance! It is a small price to pay for peace of mind.  There are a ton of reasons why traveling during Hurricane Season are enticing though.  Imagine less people, shorter lines at the airport, better service, complimentary upgrades not to mention reduced rates!!  Technically, Hurricane Season is from June 1 - December 1.  In fact, the bulk of my traveling is done during the Hurricane Season and I have yet to experience anything like Hurricane Matthew.  SO, the chances of a hurricane actually happening I realize are slim, and most everybody when booking a special trip always says, “I'm going no matter what”.   I think about the thousands of people who had it in their hearts that they were going ‘no matter what’ but when Mom has a stroke or the airline completely cancels every single flights going into Florida or even the one who said, “this is my honeymoon I am going!”  sadly these people's plans were affected big time by Hurricane Matthew.   Mother Nature is one hell of a force to be reckoned with always be prepared buy travel insurance!

Wednesday, October 5, 2016

Dress Codes Decoded - “What is the difference between Casual & Casual Elegance?

So you the countdown is on…..vacation is right around the corner and now it’s time to pack up your suitcase.  Here’s a short guide to ensuring you don’t get turned away by the maĆ®tre D because you didn’t pack accordingly.  

Casual versus Causal Elegance, what’s the difference?

Casual generally means that you will be dining nearby a pool, beach or tike bar enjoying your cheeseburger in Paradise.  With this casual environment, most dress codes are out the window with the exception of a few: no visible swimwear, no bare feet and no wet clothing. That’s about it!  Think: swimsuit cover up and flip flops.

Casual Elegance is generally referring to your attire for dinner.  Ladies, as long as you aren’t still wearing your swimsuit cover-up and flip flops, you are probably good to go.  Think sundress, strappy heels and don’t forget a light sweater as it tends to cool off in the evenings or if you are lucky enough to get a table by the sea, the ocean breeze can be soothing, yet cooling.  Guys, I’m sorry to say, your dress code is a little stricter.  For the most part, long pants (not shorts, not even dress shorts) are required along with a collared shirt and shoes (no flip flops).  Before you throw an adult temper tantrum, let me assure you that you will NOT need to bring a sport coat and tie unless you want to.  Think khakis, a polo or button down with shoes.  That’s not so bad is it?

If you absolutely don’t want to pack any clothes that resemble any sense of civilian ship, then you will need to keep in mind that there will be limitations as to where you can dine while on vacation.  I know this grates on most men’s nerves, but it is what it is.  It’s one thing to see it all hang out at the beach and something entirely different during the dinner hour.  TMI is not just a shortened slang, it’s a real threat when rules aren’t in place or enforced.  Your appetite will thank me later.

For any questions on this or any other travel topics please contact me.

Monday, October 3, 2016

Pack Up & Bug Off!

As the leaves begin to change to their warm kaleidoscope of colors, the wind gets a bit cooler and everywhere you look it's 'pumpkin spice' this or that, do you have the foresight to think about what's on your winter vacation packing list?  Before you stow away your sundresses, flip flops and swim suits be sure to leave out a weeks worth of outfits and throw them in your suitcase NOW so you are ready for an impromptu Divine Destination!  Have a few things in your closet you'd rather toss to Goodwill?  Why not pack those away in your suitcase to literally wear one last time and leave the clothes for the maids?  Guaranteed you'll bless them with these new 'exotic' clothes from America!  And as a bonus, you'll have an empty suitcase to fill with fun souvenirs and memories from your vacation.

With the buzz surrounding Zika, pun intended, what is your defense strategy?  Yes, most of the reputable resorts are spraying twice daily but what if they aren't?  Or worse, what if you find out you have the sweet blood the mosquitoes love?  The good news is, you can overcome!  I was recently perusing the garden section at my local big box looking for some clearance deals on flower pots and other seasonal items when I was stopped dead in my tracks when I saw these:

Last year when the kids and I went to Mystic Mountain to zip line and bobsled through the mosquito infested hills of Jamaica, guess who forgot repellent?  I shelled out $5 each for these yellow spiral bracelets.  Today, in the clearance aisle I can buy them for a mere 10 cents a piece! That's 98% off of retail!  They pack well and serve their purpose.  Not much of a fashion statement, but they do the job.  Prefer to not wear your repellent as part of your overall look?  Then these little gems are for you:

I never leave to the tropics without these handy wipes.  Although my days of carrying baby wet wipes are over, I now arm myself (and my ankles) with OFF! wet wipes.  They have become my staple and since I've discovered these I no longer am the 'girl with the polka dot legs' as one sweet man made up a song about me while rafting down the Martha Brae searching for aloe plants to calm my bit up legs!

So your bags are packed and you've armed yourself with some of the best products to keep the bugs away.  Now the only thing left is to book that Divine Destination!  We'd love to help you escape Old Man Winter this year, but as they say, the early bird gets the worm!  Don't wait too long - call us or click here to get started planning your vacation.  We'll do the work and all you have to do is pack your bags!