The Travel Professor
Join me on a journey across the broad spectrum of interesting travel topics. We’ll discuss destinations domestic and abroad, some familiar and some off the beaten path. We take a look at suppliers like cruise lines, air carriers and tour operators and find their bargains and special offerings.
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Friday, October 31, 2008
History based travel & tours
Historian Stephen Ambrose has often said that the best way to understand history is to study the places where it was made. This sentiment is shared by myself plus thousands of history buffs worldwide who look forward to setting aside their books and stepping into the shadows of history while traveling. There are countless historical hot spots in the world and www. specialtytravel.com is a great place to start the hunt for the historical tour of a lifetime.
This website is a collection of many specialty trips offered by a wide range of travel companies. The easy to use drop down box will help you identify that perfect history or other themed excursion. After you have located the tour then I suggest that you contact your favorite travel agent for reservation assistance.
Two elegant ladies of the seas and inland waterways of the world have paid their last respects to the United States. The Queen Elizabeth 2 (QE) and Delta Queen recently made or are making their last American voyages.
Cunard’s QE2 sailed past the Statue of Liberty in New York’s harbor on her 710th and final call to the Big Apple. This queen completes her service with Cunard in November with a sailing to Dubai. She’ll remain there and eventually become a luxury hotel, maritime museum and entertainment destination.
Closer to home the paddle-wheeler Delta Queen is churning up the "Big Muddy" between Memphis and Baton Rouge before the national historic landmark ties up for the last time. The boat itself is the experience," said Franz Neumeier, who has organized a Save the Delta Queen group. "It's an experience of history; it feels so familiar, so like home. The smell of the old furniture, the little shortcomings of an old boat that give her character. On a modern cruise ship, well, I take a cruise because it's a comfortable, modern hotel that takes me from Miami to the Bahamas to do some sightseeing and shopping. I really don't care too much about the ship itself. This is the big difference - the big cruise ships are somewhat generic."
Tougher safety laws have grounded the Delta Queen while a sour economy and increased competition from modern mega-liners has reduced the demand for luxury products.
All aboard the Underground Railroad in Ripley Ohio
One of the components of Ohio University’s recent Freedom Festival was to focus on the Underground Railroad and in particular the role that the citizens of the Ohio River valley played. The mighty Ohio served as the boundary between free and slave territory and a rich history of the movement of fugitive slaves through this region along with the actions and activities of slave hunters tracking them still exists today.
A supplemental Education on Location trip attempted to retrace the footsteps of countless fleeing African slaves as we traveled from Ironton to the countryside of Mason County, one of Kentucky’s most notable historic routes to freedom along the path that became known as the Underground Railroad. This was the “railroad” that weaved through Old Washington and Maysville KY and led to freedom once across the Ohio River. In Old Washington we observed the court house lawn where Harriet Beecher Stowe observed slaves being sold and folk lore says that this was her inspiration to write “Uncle Tom’s Cabin”. Our tour guide described the path taken by Stowe’s character “Eliza” and her baby “George” to the Dover Landing in Maysville then how she crossed the Ohio River on ice floes to a beacon of light on the Ohio hillside known as the Rankin House.
Instead of ice floes or flatboats our coach crossed via the new Ohio River Bridge and motored to the John Rankin House in Ripley OH. This was a very an important stop on the Underground Railroad in southern Ohio a place through which many slaves escaped from the South to freedom. Mr. Rankin was a Presbyterian minister and educator who devoted much of his life to the antislavery movement. In 1826 he published his antislavery book, Letters on American Slavery. In 1834 he founded the Ohio Anti-Slavery Society in Zanesville. From 1825 to 1865 Rankin and his wife Jean, with their Brown County neighbors, sheltered more than 2,000 slaves escaping to freedom, with as many as 12 escapees being hidden in the Rankin home at one time.
John Rankin was a close associate of John Campbell, the founder of Ironton, and visited this area frequently. Legend has it he used the iron industry of the day to help move his passengers along the “ railroad”. He passed away here in 1886 at the Colonel George N. Gray house current location of the Lawrence County Museum.
Today the house is a National Historic Landmark and included in the National Underground Railroad to Freedom Network. Outside the home is a reconstruction of the “Freedom” stairway used by slaves to climb from the Ohio River to the Rankin House. Visitor information can be obtained by calling 937.392.1627 or at http://ohsweb.ohiohistory.org/places/sw14/.
I tried to make an on-line reservation today using my frequent flyer miles today and here was the airline's web site response:
"Your travel date is less than 14 days away. We will apply a $50 quick ticketing fee (per passenger) to award reservations made within 14 days of the travel date. If you are a Dividend Miles member with Chairman's or Platinum status, you are exempt from the fee. Just log in to your Dividend Miles account. If you change your travel dates to begin at least 14 days from today, we will waive the fee."
You have to love it-a $50.00 fee for a few clicks to reserve some unsold seats.
What is/was the cost to the airline for this transactions? Only a few cents I believe!
Recently I on commented on Disney Cruise Line’s European 2009 & 2010 itineraries and now I’m hearing some rumblings of upcoming Alaska sailings.
Reports indicate that they have applied for a permit to sail in Glacier Bay which leads me to speculate that Alaskan cruises are on the horizon. When they sail I’m not sure about but I’m fairly confident that we will the ‘Mouse & Company” sailing Alaskan cruise vacations in the future.
Also as the “Mouse” continues to roar I expect to see the Disney Cruise flag planted on other destinations like Hawaii and/or South-Central America.
One of the features of a major travel show that I really like is the new gadgets and gizmos on display. A recent show did not disappoint me and I’d like to share a few of these items with you.
The Asus Eee PC 900 laptop weighs in at 2 pounds and features a shock proof hard drive, easy to use keyboard and a simple Linux or Windows XP operating systems. This little devil comes preloaded with Skype software(a free computer to computer phone calling system) and a built in webcam with microphone.
A sun powered or hand cranked radio with an emergency charger for your phones and iPods is what all techies need. The Eton FR500 solar link radio provides tunes and backup power all for about $80.00.
There were plenty of smart cell phones, head phones, WiFi GPS systems and other gadgets but these two are the ones that caught my attention.
Costa Cruise Lines has a “Kids Sail Free” promotion on their 2008-2009 Caribbean sailings.
Costa originated in Italy and their sailings are "Amore" themed ! Amore is a state of a mind, a passion a zest for life and Costa attempts to bring this on board their vessels.
Last century, yes the 1990’s was last century; I sailed on Costa and found them to be different and a refreshing change of pace from the mass market lines of Carnival & Royal Caribbean. A hard crusty roll, prosciutto ham, espresso and a European ambiance were the norm.
There is some good news for those folks who enjoy the Disney product and have a yearning for Europe as Disney Cruise Line announced that it will be sailing in the Baltic and Mediterranean seas. In 2010 the Disney Magic will offer North Sea and Mediterranean cruises.
I’m off with 40 some Ohio University Southern students and community members visiting sites related to our 16th president Abraham Lincoln.
Our tour includes a stop at the Mary Todd Lincoln house in Lexington KY then we motor west to Hodgenville KY. Planning stops are Lincoln’s birthplace at Sinking Springs farm, his boyhood home at Knob Creek and the Lincoln Museum. They’ll be plenty of time to visit the shops in quaint downtown Hodgenville.
We’ll overnight in Elizabethtown KY and start fresh in the morning with visits to the Sarah Bush Johnson cabin and Lincoln Heritage house.
Then it’s a short journey over to Bardstown KY with stops at the Civil War in theWestern Theater and Women in the Civil War museums. After a few hours to browse the exhibits it back on the coach for a journey to Horse Cave, KY
We arrive in Horse Cave in time for lunch before attending a live performance entitled “Abraham Lincoln” at the Kentucky Repertory Theater.
The curtain closes so it’s time to board our Fellowship Tours coach and depart for the “River Cities”.
With the price of oil dropping as fast as the stock market it’s time for me to back pedal again on the fuel surcharge issue. Many major carriers just announced a reduction in the fuel surcharge amount that they have been charging.
This reduction has started in the started in the trans-Atlantic market but as fuel costs decrease it appears that the reductions of surcharges will occur in other markets.
There have even been some murmurings of refunding a portion of the fees paid to the customer but I have not seen any official notification of that act but I’ll keep you posted.
I mentioned in the past that recently added air and cruise line fuel surcharges were here to stay. I was wrong and also surprised by the recent action of Carnival Corporation. They announced that fuel surcharges would be dropped for 2010 sailings. Their 2010 cruise fares will be increased to reflect increased fuel costs.
For people sailing in 2008 and 2009 Carnival did spell out the possibility of relief from the fuel surcharges. Essentially if the price of light sweet crude oil stays below $70.00 a barrel for 30 consecutive trading days or more before your sailing date they will refund the surcharge as a ship board credit. These are steps in the right direction. Now all we need to have the cruise companies to do is to advertise a complete price. Bundling all the extra fees into one price, none of this cruise for $44.00 a day plus port taxes, fuel surcharges, non commissionable fee and so forth. An out the cabin door price please in all ads and promotions.
For those cruise guests who want the option of staying connected to the rest of the world most of the major cruise lines provide Internet access in their onboard Internet Cafés and wireless networks using the ships own satellite connection. These Internet Cafés are generally open 24 hours a day and features private terminals with the latest flat panel computer monitors. You will have the ability to send and receive e-mail, chat online and access the full Internet. You can also access your own e-mail account through major providers Yahoo, Hotmail, Gmail, AOL, etc. Cruises lines like Carnival and Royal Caribbean also provide their cruise passengers the option of creating their very own “vanity” temporary cruise e-mail account.
Wireless Internet access is available aboard many fleets. Depending on the vessel, you’ll have either limited wireless access in and around the shipboard Internet café and select public areas or a complete bow to stern wireless network. This bow to stern network allows cruisers to enjoy Internet access from literally anywhere on the boat, including all public areas, lounges, bars and pool decks, guest suites and cabins. To take full advantage of this feature, guests should bring their personal laptops along with them, as the number of laptops available for rent onboard is limited. In addition, this network provides supports the latest Wi-Fi enabled iPhones, Palm Pilots and BlackBerry’s.
The current Internet Café price options for Carnival Cruise Lines starts with an initial one-time activation fee of $3.95 for each user. Then you have several package options to select from. Please note that all the Internet pricing options are identical, whether you use an Internet Café terminal or your laptop.
The basic al la carte package has a pay as you go charge of $0.75 per minute available and minutes will be rounded up to the next full minute. Discounted bulk time plans are available and these average from $0.40 to $0.55 per minute. You do have to purchase these in a block program ranging from 30 minutes up to 250 minutes. Also note that there is no refund for unused minutes, upgrading of selected pricing options is not available and plans are subject to change.
Be sure to check with your cruise line, booking agent and cell service provider before you lug your electronic devices along. I would also check with the tourism offices in the destinations to be visited and see if they can provide any insight on local Internet cafés.
Can I keep in touch with family and friends on my cell when I'm at sea?
A viewer recently asked if they could use their cell phone when they cruised and honestly I was not sure. With all the updates in technology and cellular services I had not kept up with what my provider AT & T was offering. A quick browse of their web site indicated that yes I could be linked at sea if I had the proper type of equipment. Digging a little deeper into their information I discovered that AT&T offers wireless service on over 130 cruise ships worldwide with international roaming service. Sure you can use your same wireless number that you use in the U.S., with cruise ship roaming fees starting at only $2.49 per minute.
Be assured that at $2.49 a minute for personal communications this guy will keep his phone shut off while at sea. I’ll rely on those discounted phone cards that you can purchase just about anywhere these days and find a pay phone in port and make my calls. Or I’ll locate an “Internet” café and pay a reasonable fee to log on into cyber space. Another thought that comes to mind is why are you cruising? Are you sailing to relax and escape from stress and pressures of your everyday world?
If the answer is yes and this is a vacation then stay off of the phone or the net. How can you relax when you’re always searching for signal?
Better yet if you must be linked when you’re traveling the best tactic is to just stay home. You’ll avoid the vacation expenses and miss the interruption of your life on your portable communication device.
In response to your comments/questions on my multiple air departure gateways post:
Thanks for your response and yes I always do the math. I calculate travel time plus expenses to determine if it is cost effective. It costs me roughly a tank of gas roundtrip to get to the airports that I mentioned so that’s my yard stick. If it’s just me traveling then a savings of twenty or thirty bucks is probably not worth the road trip. But for a family of four or 2 couples it may be worthwhile to travel to distant gateway airport.
Another cost saving strategy of mine is to check out the stay-park and fly packages that many airport area hotels offer. I’ve discovered that many properties offer 5 to 7 days free parking plus complimentary airport shuttle service so this can be a major saving.
Using this tactic on a recent early morning departure out of Columbus I calculated that my hotel stay was basically free. Based on the daily rate of long term parking compared to my lodging costs (with free parking) I saved about $12.00. The difficult part of this plan was to explain the cost savings benefits to my accounting folks. I guess they’d rather pay $95.00 for parking instead of $83.00 for lodging and parking. Yes you can browse the corporate hotel or on line web sites but it has been my experience that when you contact the hotel directly and ask about their stay, park & fly packages you broker the best deal. The front desk agent at the hotel should have much more factual and up to date info than www.whatever .com.
I’ve mentioned the reduction in scheduled air service and how this decreased flight schedule should lead to increased fares. This has occurred across the country but it appears that some markets are not being impacted at all with rapidly rising fares. Select gateways continue to offer stable or even bargain fares especially when compared to surrounding departure points.
Why? The presence of a low cost no frills carrier appears to be the reason for this fare stabilization. Airlines like Air Tran, Jet Blue, Virgin American and Southwest have had a tempering effect on the legacy carriers and this has helped keep the fares from escalating out of control.
For example look at Columbus OH and the markets served by Southwest Airlines. Their ticket prices have not increased as rapidly as have the prices in the cities that they do not fly to. When Skybus and Jet Blue operated out of here the fares in the markets they service were kept low. Due to competition over passengers the other carriers have been forced to match low fares these companies offer. Once these firms disappeared from the radar screens thereby reducing competition the ticket prices rose quickly.
The opposite of this is found in Cincinnati OH. A fortress hub of Delta Airlines there is little competition between airlines so the prices remain high.
Air travelers from the Tri-State are fortunate in their air travel departure options. Within a 2 to 3 hour drive we can fly out of Huntington Tri-State, Charleston’s Yeager, Greater Columbus and Cincinnati. Lexington, Louisville and Dayton are some additional options. Search the different airports drive a little and save a lot.
What happened to my rental car's free unlimited mileage deal?
Hey Travel Professor I recently rented an automobile from a national firm and the rate was supposed to come with unlimited free miles. However when I returned it they charged for miles. What gives? What can I do?
First off read the fine print or ask questions of the rental agent. Your rental agreement does provide free mileage as long as the vehicle stays with the renting state or states that border that state. So when you picked your vehicle up in Ashland, KY that identified the states that qualified for the unlimited miles deal. Once you crossed out of those states the contract was modified back to the daily 100 free miles plus whatever for each extra mile. An inexpensive little electronic gadget like a GPS system was the culprit that told the story of your travel itinerary so there’s nothing much you can do in this instance.
So this is another example of the hidden fees that can chip away at your good deal!
It seems that every time I wear something with a travel related logo on it people want to share their travel experiences with me. For the past few years I have been hearing mostly horror stories about on-line booking problems and supplier issues. It is always a tale about a friend (a nice way to deflect the blame from themselves) that made their own reservations and was extremely disappointed (sorry I can’t use some of the other colorful and descriptive terms that were used) with the product or service.
Complaints about price have never really been mentioned other than in the same breath as having found a great deal.
Actually they found what they perceived as a great price and bought on that consideration alone. Quality or the lack of was never their major concern until they traveled then it became an important issue.
Their complaints really focus on quality and I recall the old saying “that you get what you pay for” and in travel that axiom really holds true.
I bit my tongue wanting dearly to remind them of this but I listen attentively to their conversation. Then I smile and add “Two amazing deals were found online. One is a dream come true. The other one is a nightmare. Do you know which one is which? Your friend sure didn’t but I’m sure that a professional travel agent does. Check with a travel agent next time!” (NOTE: Not all travel agents are created equal so you’ll need to conduct so research on that subject too.)
Years ago I discovered it was easier and cheaper for to have a professional work on my car or the house’s air conditioner. I believe that this approach applies to most if not all professions so I advocate working with someone who knows what they are doing or you’ll suffer the do-it yourselfer consequences.
Steve Call gets paid to tell people where to go as the director of the Travel, Tourism and Hotel Management associate degree program at Ohio University-Ironton. Professionally, he's a certified travel consultant and accredited cruise counselor and holds two college degrees. He has visited all the continents with the exception of Australia and Antarctica.