Cruising in Exotic Waters

I have always wanted to go on a cruise, so I was very excited to see a Celebrity Cruises booth at the LA Travel Conference.  Ryan has never really been interested, but he’s (almost) changed his tune after we took a closer look at some of the more exotic cruises that Celebrity has to offer.  

And while cruise ships are notorious for small rooms, the Celebrity ships look very nice and some of the rooms even look, dare I say, luxurious!  Sure, you may pay a bit for a room with a view, but all things considered, cruises can be very cost effective. 

Veranda Stateroom, Celebrity CruisesThe veranda stateroom, picture from the Celebrity Cruises website

However, it wasn’t the rooms that we were so impressed with – it was the wide variety of options.  We were particularly captivated by the South American, Panama Canal, and Asian cruises (which included stops in China, Singapore, Malaysia, Thailand, Indonesia, Vietnam, South Korea, and Japan).  I’ve always associated cruising with some place tropical – namely Mexico or the Caribbean, since those seem to be the popular choices from LA and Florida.  The idea of exploring a new place, but not committing to one or two cities, is an especially attractive characteristic of cruises.  It’s hard to imagine only 8-10 hours in my favorite cities, but if I think about a cruise as a way to “scout” locations for future trips, it doesn’t seem so bad!

Below is the route for one of the cruises that was really tempting – a South American cruise with stops in Antarctica!  This particular cruise is 14 nights and starts in Argentina (Buenos Aires) before making two stops and then continuing on to Antarctica.  

Antarctic Cruise, Celebrity Cruises

The only catch is that there are no actual stops in Antarctica; instead the ship “cruises” by Schollart Channel, Paradise Bay, Gerlache Strait, and Elephant Island on days 7 and 8. However, the views of Antarctica are breathtaking, even without stepping foot off of the boat.  The picture below is of Elephant Bay (from here), and the real thing has to be much more amazing.

Paradise Bay, AntarcticaI don’t know when I’ll be able to convince Ryan to go on a cruise, but this South American cruise is high on my list!



Act Like A Local: Rent an Apartment in Paris

I was not surprised when Arthur Frommer included “renting an apartment” in his talk about travel trends.  It’s becoming easier and easier with websites dedicated to just that (many of them were mentioned in Frommer’s talk).

Renting apartments while on a trip is becoming more and more popular.  In many cases, regular hotels or B&Bs work perfectly for us, but when we were planning our September 2009 trip, Ryan and I were having a difficult time finding a place to stay in Paris.  It was a combination of the location, the price, and the feel of the hotel.

SuitcaseJournal: Act Like a Local - Rent an Apartment in Paris!

The key to our apartment was sent to use prior to our departure from the United States.

After looking through the possibilities, we stumbled upon a couple of sites on which you could rent an apartment for your stay in Paris.

Paris Perfect has a beautiful site with a lot of information.  The company is based in Paris, which means someone will meet you at the apartment, open the door for you, show you around, provide recommendations for places to eat and things to do, and help you with anything else you need like Health & Safety services Wilmslow. However, the minimum stay is 7 nights, and we were only staying 3, so Paris Perfect was out for us. (Note: There is also an Italy Perfect and a London Perfect)

Vacation in Paris is the second website we started looking through.  We focused on the studios and one bedroom apartments, and quickly found a long list of apartments that allowed a 3 night stay (note: many required an additional cleaning fee for shorter stays) and were in neighborhoods that interested us.  This company is based in the United States, which worked well for us – I called to make a reservation and was sent a key in the mail prior to our departure.  The apartment we rented is no longer available to rent, but here are a few pictures (taken from the Vacation in Paris site – the apartment looked exactly like the pictures):

SuitcaseJournal: Act Like a Local - Rent an Apartment in Paris!

What are some of the advantages of staying in an apartment instead of a hotel?  For us, it was more of a novelty, but for a traveler staying for a longer period of time and/or with a family, an apartment can be a huge money-saver.  Many hotel rooms in Europe are made for two guests.  Adding additional guests, booking larger rooms, or booking several rooms will definitely increase the cost.  However, when booking an apartment, there are different sizes to choose from, and some are very reasonable!

For our 3 day stay, we went out to restaurants for most meals.  However, had we decided to stay for longer, it would have been tempting to cook our own meals.  Apartments are great for this!  Buy fresh ingredients at one of the local markets, use the kitchen in your apartment to prepare the food, and enjoy the results with a bottle of wine in your very own private dining area.

Of course there are so many different companies and website that offer apartment rentals.  Try vrbo, which will allow you to contact the owner directly. Staying for longer? Paristay has several apartments available if you plan on staying for over 3 months (there are also some available for weekly rentals).


Travel Trends from Frommer

As I mentioned in my last post, Arthur Frommer gave one of the talks at the LA Travel Conference last weekend. The topic was travel trends and hot destinations, which are two topics that often change year after year, so we were excited to see what he had to say. Some things came as a surprise or were new to us, while others were expected but nonetheless interesting to hear about.

 Travel Trends:

  • Substitution of apartments and homes for hotel rooms.  Not only can you save some money, but often apartments and homes will be more spacious (with extra amenities such as kitchens) and you might be able to score a great location.  Some sites to check out include vrbo, airbnb, and Endless Vacation Rentals.  While we have yet to use one of those sites, we did choose to rent an apartment in Paris, and loved the experience!
  • Nickel-and-diming of airline passengers.  While this isn’t necessarily new information, it does serve as a reminder to check for hidden fees when booking flights.  
  • Rise in operation of cheap intercity buses.  BoltBus (operates in the northeastern US) and Megabus (operates in US and Canada, as well the UK) offer an alternative to driving, taking the train and flying between big cities.  The best part – prices are very competitive and as low as $1 for a trip!
  • Rise in popularity of European river cruises.  They stop right in the heart of each city, but can be a bit pricey.  Frommer has been on several and noted that the majority of travelers were older (and those that were young appeared to be bored).  I’ve always wanted to try out a river cruise, so I’ll keep this in mind before booking.
  • Walking tours.  But not just any walking tour – book a tour by specialists or someone in academics to ensure accurate information.  Some of the recommended sites: Vayable, Urban Adventures, and Context Travel.  Many of the walking tours guarantee small groups, which usually means a much more enjoyable experience.
  • Rise in popularity of “learning vacations.”  For a different type of vacation, check out summer programs at top universities that are open to more than just the students.  Not only can you take classes with interesting subject matter, but the packages include accommodations and dining – both at the college.  Frommer mentioned courses at the following universities:  Oxford, Cambridge, and St. John’s College.  
  • Increase in free accommodations.  Stay for free on someone’s couch!  Couchsurfing,   Global Freeloaders, and US Servas offer similar services – connect online through the site and find a host in the desired city.  This isn’t for everyone, and not something I would try on my own, but for some people in certain situations, this is a great way to cut down on travel costs. 

Hottest Destinations:

  • China.  Frommer revealed the unbelievably low prices for week-long tours of China through China Spree – as low as $899, all inclusive (flights, too!), during the winter months – and we were shocked!  Asia, and specifically China, has officially been added to our list of places to visit in the near future.  (We looked through the China Spree site, and while we couldn’t find any of the rock-bottom pricing mentioned by Frommer, there were several different tour options with very attractive pricing.)
  • Ireland.  Cheap airfares and even vouchers for transportation and accommodations through Aer Lingus make Ireland a hot destination this year. 
  • India.  The currency conversion between the US dollar and the rupee is advantageous at this time.  While the flight there may be expensive, staying in India will be cheap!
  • Dubai.  This is the perfect location for luxury, but possibly not much else.  Frommer brought up the lack of culture, so this may not be the top destination for all travelers. 
  • Miami and Miami Beach.  Always a hot destination, with plenty of authentic South American restaurants without leaving the country!
  • Colorado and Washington.  In all honesty, I’m not sure if these two actually made the list, or if Frommer was making a joke.  The reason they made the list is the recent legalization of marijuana in the two states.

So there is it – the list of trends and hot destinations straight from Arthur Frommer.  My favorite bits of information from the talk include the learning vacations and China as a cheap destination.  Frommer was very lively and clearly enjoys travel – it gives me hope for when we are older and still want to travel the world!