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TRAVEL DO’S, TRAVEL DON’TS

By Rosanne Coloccia  |  Preferred Travel Services  |  July 16th, 2018  |  www.facebook.com/rosaysgo/​​​​​​

This happens to even the most experienced travelers…

Or so I kept telling myself when one of my trusty travel gadgets bit the dust in Barcelona.  

I’ve been a travel professional for almost 20 years now, and have been lucky enough to experience many interesting and exotic destinations, but even the most seasoned among us can get caught up in some exasperating or confusing situations.

And while there have lots of changes in the industry since my last international trip, many lessons learned over the years still remain true. Before pack your bags for your next big vacation, take a look at my Top 10 Travel Do’s and Travel Don’ts.

RO SAYS GO TRAVEL DO’S

  • Keep your smart phone in “airplane mode” - and unless you have an international data plan, leave it that way. You can still connect to wifi in this mode, so don’t let unexpected roaming charges mean an ugly end to your wonderful vacation!
  • Complete you pre-cruise paperwork (and attach your luggage tags) before arriving at the pier - our recent experience with Royal Caribbean’s online check in was wonderful - and highly encouraged by the cruise line - but we still saw folks who waited until they got to the ship to complete the process, greatly delaying the boarding process. I’d probably been to my cabin, started to unpack, and gone to grab a late lunch before some of those folks got on board!
  • Notify your band and credit card companies of your plans - sure there’s always that one credit card company who “doesn’t get the memo,” but fortunately, our bank was on the ball, and so was our “back up” card. It may seem like a pain, but it’s well worth the time, and knowing your credit card company is trying to prevent fraud kept my irritation in check.
  • Pack a nightlight or small flashlight - they come in super-handy in strange hotel rooms, and let’s face it - those cruise cabins can be dark (particularly Inside Staterooms)! Neither of these takes up much space and will prevent stubbed toes and dented shins!
  • Bring your own wine, champagne, and water on-board your cruise - the policy varies from cruise line to cruise line, but most lines allow you to bring two bottles per stateroom on board when you start your cruise. We embarked with two inexpensive, but delicious, Spanish wines, and enjoyed spending the evenings on our balcony sipping and talking. It was one of the highlights of the trip.

RO SAYS GO TRAVEL DON’TS

  • Don’t bother with “skip the line” tickets in Rome - as we found out the hard way at the Colosseum! Unless your ticket has an arrival time stamped on it, or you’re with a guide or group, the “skip the line” line is the longest one of all! I heard from other travelers the situation was similar at the Vatican Museums.
  • Don’t have your credit card transactions converted to dollars - have them charged in the local currency. This may sound like a great idea - if your charge is made in dollars, no foreign transaction fee, right? Wrong. Because you’re outside the US, the transaction is “foreign,” and while I firmly believe the friendly server offering this option legitimately thinks he or she is helping, that restaurant or shop won’t be able to give you the bank-to-bank exchange rate.
  • Don’t be afraid to wing it in port - my husband and I did that in two ports (Palma de Mallorca and Naples) and thoroughly enjoyed it. While we enjoyed our organized excursions, there’s something to be said for exploring on your own or just wandering at your own pace, taking in the beauty of these famous cities.
  • Don’t forget to use local ATMs instead of “change bureaus” - even with your bank’s “out of network ATM” fee, you’ll still get a far better exchange rate - and no commission.
  • Don’t forget to check your convertors and adaptors - this goes for all your travel gadgets, really. Look them over to make sure they’re in good working order. Fortunately, the only thing that suffered in Barcelona, when I realized my converter was dead (no curling iron!), was my hair. Fortunately for me, our cruise ship had American plugs - hair crisis averted!

There are others, of course, like make at least two photocopies of your passport and stash them in your carry on and suitcase, along with don’t fly Condor Airlines out of Sky Harbor if you’re going any farther than Frankfurt (long story), but those above have helped me many a time while on the road. I hope they help you, too!

And before I say sayonara for this blog, I’ve posted two AMAZING travel deals over on my Agency Page. Check out my upcoming Irish Pub Tour, May 7 - May 18, 2019, along with a fantastic “fly free to Jamaica” deal with one of Montego Bay’s prettiest resorts. Then give me call at 602-603-9300, or drop me a line at Rosanne@preferredtravelservices.com. I look forward to hearing from you!

 

 

BEAUTIFUL BARCELONA

By Rosanne Coloccia  |  Preferred Travel Services  |  July 2nd, 2018  |  www.facebook.com/rosaysgo/​​​​​​

 

It’s one of those places you can leave, but not forget. By turns relaxing and vibrant, modern and ancient, sophisticated and quaint, the Catalan capital of Barcelona is a truly a feast for the senses.

Highlighted by both fanciful and classic architecture, and home to architect Antoni Gaudi’s most imaginative and recognizable works, his colorful and fanciful visions enhance religious, public (Parc Guell), and private (or formerly so, including Casa Mila and Casa Batllo) structures. His unfinished masterpiece, La Sagrada Familia, dominates the numerous church and cathedral spires here, in his inimitable style.

Barcelona is also a food lover’s delight. As a bustling Mediterranean sea port city, you can find the finest Italian cuisine next to a tiny tapas bar, with a delicious Moroccan bakery right next door.

And don’t even get me started on the delicious - and readily available - sangria. A Spanish classic, I conducted my own in-depth study of this fruity, wine-based concoction, sampling from a variety of Las Ramblas cafes. I declare it all delicious!

People watching is a fascinating activity here. With a variety of public spaces, ranging from beautiful Placa d’Espanya to the serene squares of the Gothic Quarter, my favorite venue was La Rambla, the mostly pedestrianized street running from the Placa de Catalunya to the monument to Christopher Columbus at the harbor. Home to shops, restaurants, hotels, sidewalk cafes, and street performers, there was always someone interesting to catch my eye in this charming section of this beautiful city.

Barcelona is a major jumping off point for Mediterranean cruises, and while it’s tempting to fly in the morning of departure and get right on your ship, do yourself a favor and come in a few days early. There’s so much to see and do here, you wouldn’t do it justice with a simple half-day city tour on your way to the ship, or seeing snippets of the city before you catch your flight home. You won’t be sorry!

What shouldn’t you miss when you visit this amazing city? Here are the highlights of my personal “must see” list:

  • La Sagrada Familia - Gaudi’s most famous structure, and one of Spain’s most popular tourist destinations, don’t forget to buy your tickets to tour the inside of the cathedral before you leave the United States. The tours book up days in advance, and you’ll want something with a firm entrance time.
  • Parc Guell - this hillside park offers beautiful views of the entire city, along with Gaudi’s fanciful buildings - I called it “grown up Candy Land.”
  • La Boqueria - one of the city’s oldest markets, it’s colorful booths and stalls make it popular with locals and tourists alike.
  • Las Ramblas - the area around La Rambla, this area features the bustling pedestrian walkway, along with churches, beautiful squares, an entrance to La Boqueria, and some of the best people watching in Barcelona.
  • Gothic Quarter - encompassing the oldest part of the city, the Gothic Quarter is home to Roman walls and ruins, along with several medieval buildings, this area is filled with narrow walkways and charming little squares. A wonderful place to wander.

And finally, who should put Barcelona at the top of their “dream destination” list? Families, foodies, honeymooners, beach lovers, and “culture vultures.” You’ll find activities, museums, monuments, parks, placas, music, sun, sand, and architecture to fascinate and entertain everyone in your traveling party!

To chat about Barcelona, or the rest of my “Mediterranean Adventure” on Royal Caribbean’s Symphony of the Seas, drop me a line at Rosanne@preferredtravelservices.com, or call 602-603-9300. I look forward to hearing from you!

 

 

 

 

SHIP REVIEW: SYMPHONY OF THE SEAS

By Rosanne Coloccia  |  Preferred Travel Services  |  June 15th, 2018  |  www.facebook.com/rosaysgo/​​​​​​

Traveling with a large group of clients is rarely a straightforward proposition - coordinating flights and arrivals, arranging transportation for various numbers of passengers, etc. - but add a very large, and very new, ship to the mix and we’re all in for an adventure!

Months of planning and anticipation led up to sailing on the May 27th departure of Royal Caribbean’s newest Oasis Class ship, “Symphony of the Seas.” Overall, I have to say it was a terrific experience. There are some genuinely innovative features onboard (new online pre-cruise check in procedures, the Royal Caribbean app, Fuel teen center, children’s pool area), along with the comfortable (great pools, the newish layout in the Windjammer Marketplace), the fun (two FlowRiders, the Bionic Bar, musical stairs near the Windjammer), and the familiar (the cruise line’s now-ubiquitous rock climbing walls, along with traditional shipboard lounges and entertainment venues).

There’s a lot to like about the Symphony of the Seas. I loved the color scheme, both in the main areas of the ship and the staterooms. Shades of gray and blue blended beautifully for a very relaxing feel - and on a ship this size and with this many people (6300 passengers on our sailing), that’s no mean feat! The public art is also beautiful (except for the Volkwagen Bus rolled into a ball found on the Promenade. It engendered a nearly unanimous “huh?” among the folks looking at it) and I felt like a kid going up and down the musical stairs near the Windjammer Marketplace - so cool and unexpected! We also enjoyed the pretty three-deck-high Main Dining Room and, as with all the Royal Caribbean cruises I’ve experienced, the food was excellent.  

That said, I don’t think I’d sail on the Symphony of the Seas again. For my family, and the way we like to enjoy a cruise vacation, this ship is simply too big. And although Royal Caribbean does an excellent job disguising the size of this mega ship while you’re onboard - strategically placed curves in long hallways, public areas spread throughout the ship - when you’re walking from the forward cabins to the Main Dining Room, located in the aft part of the ship, there’s no getting around it, it’s a hike.

Who would enjoy sailing on the Symphony of the Seas? Plenty of people, particularly young adults and families. There is SO much to do! The children’s pool, with a play structure right in the water, was very popular with the little ones. It was also great to see at least three lifeguards on duty at all times.

The Boardwalk area, with the carousel, was also a popular choice for the kids. Fuel, the teen center, was also well-attended. There were lots digital media toys here, along with a big selection of video games. And located between the kids pool and the teen center - the new to the cruise line “fresh Mex” casual dining El Loco Fresh and free soft service ice cream. Perfect for the kids and teens frequenting that part of the ship! Two “flo-rider” surfing machines, water slides, and the zip-line had a steady stream of passengers enjoying them. On the Symphony of the Seas, Royal Caribbean seems to have found a combination of activities everyone can enjoy.

Additional observations:

  • If you have time before a cruise home porting in Barcelona, I HIGHLY recommend coming in a few days early. There’s so much to see and do here, to say nothing of the yummy sangria!
  • Thanks to the highly encouraged (practically required) online pre-cruise check in process, once we arrived at the pier, we hardly had to stop before we reached our stateroom. I’ve never had such a smooth boarding experience on any line.
  • The bathroom configuration on the newer Royal Caribbean ships is excellent - who knew a rectangular sink would mean so much more space in that little room?
  • A large ship means large numbers of passengers trying to disembark and embark when in port. Not all the port facilities had personnel on hand to make this a smooth venture.

And one final, unhappy observation…

Typically, when a cruise line launches a new ship, they do so with experienced personnel on board, to make sure the process goes smoothly. This makes perfect sense - you’ve got staff used to the size of this mega ship and who will hopefully know where any wrinkles will pop up. And for the most part, on our sailing, we found that to be true, particularly with the cabin staff.

However, much of the dining room staff - the shining exception being our assistant waiter - made it clear they’d much rather be back on their previous (and smaller) ships. Even the head waiter for our section kept talking about how glad he was to be leaving in October, when his current contract is completed.

With an attitude like that, buddy, it’s going to be a long, long summer!

The Guest Services Desk wasn’t much better, with inexperienced and a few downright unfriendly staffers behind the counter handling passenger issues. This is hardly the image Royal Caribbean wants to project to a ship carrying 6300 passengers and is a poor reflection on the cruise line overall.

Does this make me rethink my taking another cruise vacation? Heck no! I’ll just choose a different, more moderately-sized ship next time.

In fact, I’m already planning for that happy day, although it won’t be until October 2019. I’ve just secured group space on Royal Caribbean’s lovely (and smaller) Jewel of the Seas, sailing out of Rome (well, Civitavecchia, the nearby port town), doing a nine day Greek Isles cruise. The itinerary is awesome - Crete, Mykonos, Santorini, Rhodes, Messina (Sicily), Naples, and a few seas days, plus I’ll definitely come in a few days early. There’s no way to do justice to the magnificent Rome in just one day. I hope you’ll come with me!

Questions about cruise lines and ships of all sizes? Give us a call at Preferred Travel Services, 602-603-9300, or e-mail me directly at Rosanne@preferredtravelservices.com. You can also look for me on Facebook, at www.facebook.com/RoSaysGo.

 

 

 

UNIQUE IS THE WORD: CHECK OUT THESE HOTELS!

By Rosanne Coloccia  |  Preferred Travel Services  |  May 18th, 2018  |  www.facebook.com/rosaysgo/​​​​​​

Have you seen the latest in exotic hotel suite, the underwater one getting all the buzz? Located at the Conrad Maldives, it may be the latest unique place to lay your head, but it’s far from the only one.

Did you know you can sleep in a glass igloo? Hang over Peru’s Sacred Valley in a glass pod? How about a luxurious tent in the treetops of Thailand’s Golden Triangle?

Let’s take a look at some truly exotic - and downright unique - accommodations, and why you might want to add them to your travel bucket list!

Kakslauttanen Arctic Resort, Finland - Admire the northern lights and snow-laden wilderness while you’re snuggled in downy comfort in your very own glass igloo! While you’re there, go dog sledding or a reindeer-drawn sleigh! Truly a magical, winter wonderland experience!

Getting there: Fly into Helsinki’s international airport, then take a connecting flight to Ivalo. From there, you’ll arrange a transfer to your igloo through the hotel.

Skylodge Adventure Suites, Peru - To sleep at Skylodge, people must climb 400 metres of Via Ferrata - and conquer a zipline course! And while sleeping in these luxurious glass capsules, hanging from a mountain top in the Sacred Valley of Peru, may personally give ME the willies, you can’t deny it’s a unique and exotic experience!

Getting there: Fly into Cusco’s international airport. The Skylodge folks will take you from there.

Four Seasons Tented Camp Golden Triangle, Thailand - Imagine waking up in the treetops, while elephants wander across the open meadow in the distance. If this sounds like paradise, add a trip to Northern Thailand to your destination list! Located near the border of Burma and Laos, this luxury tented camp is located in an elephant sanctuary and surrounded by jungle. Take day trips to local markets or hike to ancient temples and pagodas, then return to your luxurious accommodations in the trees!

Getting there: Chiang Rai is a 75-minute flight from the Bangkok International Airport. Four Seasons will provide transportation from the airport to the property.

Jumeirah Vittaveli, Maldives - Overwater Bungalows have dotted French Polynesia for years, but Overwater Villas are new players in the unique and luxury game - and the overwater villas at the beautiful Jumeirah Vittaveli put everyone else in the shade. Built over the Indian Ocean, each villa features its own infinity pool, indoor-outdoor living, and breathtaking views. The only way to get to all this luxury? By private boat.

Getting there: It’s not easy getting to the Male, Maldives airport, but it can be done through either Shanghai or Doha, Qatar.

Kokopelli’s Cave, New Mexico - This unique location is close to home! Built into cliffs overlooking the La Plata river valley, this 1700 square foot cave, featuring a bedroom, living room, replica Native American kiva, dining room, full kitchen, and bathroom, is 70 feet below the the top of the valley. As you walk down the steps carved into the sandstone, from the rim to the door of the Cave, you’ll have magnificent views of the Four Corners area, as well as the river. This is my kind of cave dwelling!

Getting there: Farmington is a six and a half hour drive from Phoenix.

A few things to keep in mind when looking for the exotic and unique:

  • Unique properties book up far - sometimes years - in advance. Plan accordingly.
  • This counts for unique experiences, too. For example, tours including the “every ten years” production of the Passion Play in Oberammergau, Germany, in 2020, are selling well. So well, in fact, about three quarters of the scheduled departures are already sold out. If you’re yearning for the unique, book early!!
  • “Unique” is a term also used for “custom” itineraries, often featuring hotels and experiences you won’t find anywhere else. The “exclusive” factor may raise the price a bit, but when you consider there’s no other tour or itinerary like yours, in my opinion, it’s well worth it.

Two such itineraries I’ve been working with for 2019: a stunning tour of Moscow and St. Petersburg, Russia and my hand-crafted Ireland itinerary for St. Patrick’s Day 2019.

Russia - check out this incredible itinerary for Moscow and St. Petersburg!!

http://www.preferredtravelservices.com/travel-with-us.aspx

Because this tour is limited to 18 people, it’s bound to sell out quickly!

Ireland - I’m putting the finishing touches on this St. Patrick’s Day 2019 itinerary. Currently scheduled to depart Phoenix on March 12, returning March 22, I’ve hand-crafted this tour to include all my favorite hotels, along with excursions and experiences I’ve personally enjoyed over my nine previous visits. This exclusive itinerary is truly a labor of Irish love! As soon as it’s finished, I’ll add it to Ro Says Go, along with Preferred Travel Services.

For vacations and adventures featuring the unique and exotic - or the favorite and familiar - give us a call at Preferred Travel Services, 602-603-9300, or email me directly at Rosanne@preferredtravelservices.com. I look forward to hearing from you!

 

 

EXPERIENCE YOUR NEXT VACATION

By Rosanne Coloccia  |  Preferred Travel Services  |  April 16th, 2018  |  www.facebook.com/rosaysgo/

 

Have you heard the term “experiential” travel? How about “voluntourism?”

Catchy buzzwords for a new kind of vacation? Well...yes. And no. While not a completely new trend in the world of travel, this kind of travel is now among the hottest.

Once the purview primarily of church and charitable mission trips, “voluntourism” moved into the mainstream of the leisure travel industry after the devastating 2010 earthquake in Haiti - and really picked up steam after 2017’s catastrophic sister hurricanes, Irma and Maria, demolished some of the Caribbean’s most scenic and popular islands. Some of the large cruise lines and commercial tour operators started offering shore excursions and stop overs where passengers and tour members could help rebuild houses, paint schools, or work in a soup kitchen. These opportunities to do good while on vacation have proven so popular, some companies are building them into their regularly scheduled itineraries.

What we call “experiential travel” may have been around longer, but this style of vacationing continues to evolve. Where you once might have had a few chances to “meet the people” over the course of a nine- or ten-day tour, stopping by a farmhouse for tea and scones, or visiting a winery or two, you often now have many opportunities to develop a deeper connection to your destination and its people, be it staying with families in small villages, or navigating your way through a town’s open air market, gathering the ingredients for a class taught by a local chef.

So how can you dive into this type of travel? Opportunities abound:

People-to-People tours in Cuba - still the best, and, well, the only legal way for Americans to see Cuba. Even with the changes in travel restrictions, people-to-people tours, presented as educational and cultural exchange activities, are offered as shore excursions for all cruise lines with port calls in Cuba, and offer an authentic glimpse of life in this politically isolated country.

“Impact” and “Explorations” - Collette Vacations, a popular and well-established tour operator, has really run with this type of travel. Offering two “Impact” tours each year, under the auspices of the Collette Foundation, these incredibly popular tours (these often sell out within days of being announced) incorporate opportunities like decorating a classroom with children in South Africa or working with community leaders to beautify a park or playground for the children of a small town in Costa Rica. Their “Explorations” itineraries offer you the opportunity to “learn, discover, and experience a slice of everyday life that somehow feels extraordinary.” Immersing their tour members in off the beaten path destinations, their hope is you’ll come away with a greater understanding of the people and culture. For more information, go to http://www.gocollette.com/en/collette-gives-you-more/explorations.

Enchanting Germany and Austria - I’m particularly excited about this opportunity, as my agency is working hand-in-hand with the couple who have painstakingly put together the itinerary - and will, in fact, escort it! Encompassing a variety of tours, excursions, and one-of-a-kind experiences, this September 18 to October 2 tour will take you to historic cities and towns, charming castles, waterfalls, and even one of the main tents in Munich’s world-famous Oktoberfest celebrations! A highlight of the trip - a homestay with local families for four days of your trip, where you’ll experience town and family life. For more information, go to http://www.preferredtravelservices.com/our-story/travel-with-us.aspx

Oberammergau - One of the oldest and most established examples of experiential travel, a visit to this tiny town is also an example of immersion travel! From a town of 5200 people, approximately 2600 residents participate in this once-in-a-decade presentation of The Passion Play. First performed in by townspeople in 1634, as a sign of devotion for those surviving Bubonic Plague, it has been performed continuously since then in years ending in 0. The five months of performances of this famous play is woven into the fabric of community life. In fact, for travelers staying in the local hotels, you’ll see the performers go about their daily lives and jobs. One 2010 visitor related a story to me of having the apostle Peter as her waiter for lunch! All major tour operators offer escorted vacations for this event - and several departures are already sold out for the 2020 performances!

And there are opportunities for trips like this all over the world! Want to discuss philosophy with a Hindu scholar? Or have lunch with a Moroccan family, followed by dinner at a nearby palace? You’ll find a vacation to suit your sense of adventure!

For more information on experiential travel and voluntourism, send me an e-mail - Rosanne@preferredtravelservices.com - or contact Preferred Travel Services, at  602-603-9300


 

MONEY ON THE GO

By Rosanne Coloccia  |  Preferred Travel Services  |  March 30th, 2018  |  www.facebook.com/rosaysgo/

I field lots of questions in a typical day - and in my line of work, that's to be expected - but among the most common are questions about cold, hard cash. "I'm going abroad - should I take travelers' checks or just use my credit cards?"  "Will my ATM card work overseas?" "What about exchanging foreign currency before I go?" All good questions - so let's talk answers:

Should I use my credit card when I travel?

You bet. Credit cards offer some of the most competitive exchange rates going when you're traveling overseas - often much better than what you could exchange for yourself at a local Bureau de Change or hotel money exchange desk. They often offer purchase protection beyond what you'll get from the store - although you'll need to check with your card company directly to see what is and isn't covered. You also won't have to risk your personal safety by carrying large amounts of cash. And if by chance your card is lost or stolen, your personal liability is minimal if you report it right away.

A word to the wise traveler: some credit card companies (like Bank of America) are now charging a separate "currency conversion" fee per foreign transaction. If you have more than one credit card company, check with them ahead of time to see if you have an account that does not charge this fee. Personally, I will never use my Bank of America card on an overseas trip again.

Which cards should I bring with me?

Visa, Mastercard and American Express are widely accepted all over the world. Sorry Discover Card holders - few places outside the U.S. will take it. Also, do yourself a favor and lighten the load in your wallet before your trip - you won't be using your Kohl's or Macy's cards on that Danube River cruise, so leave them at home for safekeeping. Carry with you only those cards you'll use.

And another helpful tip - call your bank and your credit card company before you leave town to tell them where you're going and when. Some banks may freeze your account if they see charges from a foreign country and you haven't let them know you're going to be traveling, so take the time to makes those calls!

Can I use the ATM machines?

The answer is yes - most of the time. You'll want to check with your bank to make sure your card is linked to one of the big services like Star, Plus or Cirrus that allow you to gain access to your account while you're out of the country. Even if you're charged an "out of network ATM" fee by your branch and/or the ATM you're using, it's still better than paying commission when you obtain cash at your hotel or a "change” office - and the exchange rate is better as you'll get the bank-to-bank rate.

When you use an ATM outside the U.S., it will dispense the local currency - pounds in England, Euros in Ireland, French Polynesian francs in Tahiti, etc. And a few more things to keep in mind - some are only available for use during business hours, a strange concept for those of us used to 24 hour access. In some cities and towns, the machines are literally located inside the branch. When the branch is closed, you're out of luck. You'll also want to keep in mind that much of the rest of the world still keeps true "bankers hours" closing their banks on Saturdays and Sundays. It's not unheard of for ATM's to run out of money by Sunday night, so don't let your cash run too low.

What about Travelers’ Checks?

I know there are some people that still swear by them, but these days they may be more trouble than they're worth. Some places charge a fee to cash them - or force you to make a large "minimum purchase." Still others won't take them at all. In these days of ATM's on most corners - even overseas - and widely accepted credit cards, I personally don't see much of a use for them.

Should I exchange money before I go overseas?

Yes! We've all heard the phrase "your money is no good here" when someone else is picking up the tab, but in the case of foreign travel - it's really true. Outside of some border cities and popular tourist destinations in Canada and Mexico, you won't be able to use American money - at least not easily. A pub owner in a small town may take your dollars when you pay for your bowl of soup, but consider what that means for him or her - they'll have to get it converted to the local currency on their end, which usually takes time and costs them in the exchange. Be fair and plan ahead - you don't want to be the quintessential Ugly American!

When preparing for a trip, I usually suggest you buy enough foreign currency to get you through the first few days of tips, meals, snacks and other incidental expenses. After that, use your ATM to get whatever cash you'll need for the rest of your stay. To get the foreign currency before you leave, you can order it through your bank. Most bank branches won't have the currency there - and it takes up to a week to get it - so you'll want to arrange the purchase well before you go.

What kind of money should I get?

Figuring out your foreign currency is much easier these days, what with the advent of the Euro, but always check! England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland still use their own currency, along with a few smaller countries in Europe, particularly central Europe. Asia, the South Pacific, Africa and the rest of the world still operate on their own systems. If you're going to several countries using different currencies, you might want to purchase a small amount of each type - again, enough to give you "walking around money" for the first day or two. If you need more, use the local ATM.

If you have any questions, please don't hesitate to give me a call at Preferred Travel Services, 602-603-9300, or drop me a line at Rosanne@preferredtravelservices.com. We’ll get you there!

 

 

 

BACK TO THE BEACH

By Rosanne Coloccia  |   Preferred Travel Services  |  March 9th, 2018  |  Facebook.com/RoSaysGo

Beach goers have spoken!

The 2018 Travelers’ Choice “best beaches in the world” rankings have been announced - and eight of “Top 10 World’s Best Beaches” are just a nonstop or connecting flight away!

Based on the “quantity and quality of traveler reviews and ratings for beaches on TripAdvisor” over a 12-month period, the Caribbean is well-represented. All the better for Arizona travelers! “Soft sand, clear waters and balmy temperatures are common threads among these Travelers’ Choice award-winning beaches,” said Brooke Ferencsik, senior director of communications for TripAdvisor.

And even better - great rates are available for the rest of the year!

So what stretches of sand are on the latest list? Let’s take a look at their locations, and how you can get there from here:

Travelers’ Choice Top 10 World’s Best Beaches

Grace Bay, Turks and Caicos - overnight and very early morning connecting flights

Baia do Sancho, Brazil - currently, no airline offers flights to this destination from Sky Harbor

Varadero Beach, Cuba - no flights to Cuba due to travel restrictions

Eagle Beach, Aruba - overnight connecting flights via east coast

Seven Mile Beach, Cayman Islands - early morning connecting flights through Houston

La Concha Beach, Spain - overnight double connection to San Sebastian

Clearwater Beach, Florida - nonstop and connecting flights to the Tampa, St. Petersburg, Clearwater area

Seven Mile Beach, Negril, Jamaica - overnight connecting flights

Bavaro Beach, Dominican Republic - early morning and overnight connecting flights through New York, Atlanta, and various Florida cities

Playa Norte, Isla Mujeres, Mexico - nonstop flight to Cancun Airport

 

Off the top of my head, I’d add a couple of Hawaii beaches - Poipu on Kauai and Ka’anapali on Maui specifically - along with additional Cancun area beaches to this list of the world’s best, and I’m sure you have your favorites, too. Have you made your summer vacation or Fall Break plans yet? Think about adding one or two of these to your list!

 

For getaways to beach destinations - or any destinations - give me a call at Preferred Travel Services, 602-603-9300, or drop me a line at Rosanne@preferredtravelservices.com. We’ll get you there!


 

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ROLLIN’ ON THE RIVER

By Rosanne Coloccia  |   Preferred Travel Services  |  February 25th, 2018  |  Facebook.com/RoSaysGo

 

I got the idea for this blog from happening upon an episode of “The Bachelor”...is that wrong?

And it wasn’t the handsome guy or handful of beautiful women - it was the setting. A river cruise!

Once considered the vacation choice of older travelers, or experienced cruisers, the most popular river lines have done an exceptional job of opening the market wide, from adventure travelers and families, to singles - and The Bachelor!

Want to do yoga while cruising down the Danube? Take a Wellness cruise! Want to sample local wines while cruising on the Rhine or Moselle? How about a Wine cruise? I myself have done a “Tulip cruise,” sailing the waterways of Holland and Belgium - one of the best, most relaxing vacations I’ve ever experienced - and am looking forward to experiencing the glittering charm of a Christmas Market cruise this December (and you can come with me)!

In addition to the Rhine, Danube, and Moselle, you can also cruise Seine, Soane, Main, Rhone, Portugal’s Douro, Russia’s Volga, the Mekong, the Yangtze - and in 2019, even the Ganges! Southeast Asia cruises have proven extremely popular, often selling out a year in advance!

Another point in favor of river cruising - you are often docked overnight right in the heart of some of the world’s most famous cities! Unlike an ocean cruise, where you’ll often have to dock about an hour or so away from your chosen destination, a river cruise puts you right in the heart of the action, so to speak.

And for those who think river cruising only offers low key city tours or pretty scenery excursions, popular river line AmaWaterways has had bicycles on board since their inception, offering passengers the ability to ride from town to town, or simply explore the charming ports on two wheels. They also offer Wellness cruises, featuring top deck yoga while cruising down the river, and a variety of fitness classes and presentations by a variety of health and wellness experts.

Avalon Waterways is also offering “Active Discovery” cruises, which will offer excursions such as a jogging tour of Amsterdam, or a canoe trip on the Danube. They’ll also offer their travelers memorable excursions where they taste locally produced cheese and beer at an ancient abbey, or take an early-morning stroll through Vienna, to a quaint cafe.

On the surface, a river cruise is not an inexpensive proposition, but when you factor in all it includes - comfortable accommodations, all meals, onboard entertainment, wine with lunch and dinner, shore excursions in each destination - it is a highly cost-effective one. Your travel agent also has access to a wide variety of special rates, including Viking River Cruises’ famous 2-for-1 offers! In addition, many river cruise lines off deep air discounts from time to time throughout the year. Keep your eyes open, your calendar handy, and you’ll be ready to take advantage of the terrific values!

If you want to learn more about river cruising in general, and the specifics on the Christmas Market cruise on the Danube I’m putting together for mid-December, contact me at Rosanne@preferredtravelservices.com and I’ll put you on the list for our March 21st event, with AmaWaterways, at the 16th Street and Camelback location of Total Wine & More. River cruising can be as relaxing or adventurous as you make it and is a fantastic way to see the heart of country. Hope to see you there!

 

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GO HERE, NOT THERE

By Rosanne Coloccia | Preferred Travel Services | February 6th, 2018 | www.facebook.com/rosaysgo

 

You may still be saying Happy New Year to your nearest and dearest, and we’re not even done handing out valentines, but believe me, “spring” is here - Spring Break that is - and if you've been entertaining thoughts of fun in the sun, the time to book is now.

"Spring Break Week" is a term I hear all the time but in truth, it's a bit of a misnomer. With the wide variety of school calendars - traditional versus year-around schools, high schools versus colleges - Spring Break is more like a month. And that month would be March.

Although "Spring Break" may conjure up visions of partying college students, there are plenty of great destinations where families and couples won't feel out of place. The trick is knowing where the party folks will be - so you're not!

Cancun - This is a gorgeous destination, but stay far away from the "Hotel Zone" during the month of March. Check out some of the resorts on the Riviera Maya. Most of the "adults only" properties don't allow Spring Breakers and many of the resorts are too far away from a large town to attract any attention from the pub-crawling crowd. Check out Puerto Morelos, Puerto Aventuras or even Tulum.

Hawaii - Because of less expensive prices, Waikiki can be party central. This would be a great time to check out some of the other islands. For example, over on the Big Island, the town of Kona has lots of kids, but in the Keauhou Beach area, just a few miles away from town, you're much less likely to find them. On Maui, you'll find Spring Breakers in the condos of Kihei, so try Kahana or Napili instead. They're both beautiful and still close to Lahaina, but far enough away to be peaceful.

Jamaica - Thanks to the Hip Strip, the kids are primarily in Montego Bay, but the beauties of Negril's Seven Mile Beach draw them as well. Why not check out Runaway Bay or some of the gorgeous "couples only" or family-oriented resorts in and around Ocho Rios?

Los Cabos - The sister towns of San Jose del Cabo and Cabo San Lucas are a quick flight from Phoenix, making the area ever more popular as a Spring Break destination. With the "party hearty" crowd staying in and around the nightlife of Cabo San Lucas, check out the pretty and peaceful resorts of the Corridor, the 20 mile stretch of coast between the two towns. You'll also find some lovely resorts near the low-key town of San Jose.

Flexibility is also a key part of planning your Spring Break getaway. Many of the inexpensive weekend flights for March are getting hard to find. If you can work it into your schedule, traveling Friday to Friday or Monday to Monday may offer much better options. If you can travel in early March or even in April, well after Easter, you'll find better rates as well.

And believe it or not, the Summer "high season" is just around the corner. I'm already booking Hawaii and Mexico packages, as well as cruises, for June and July. If you're working around school holidays or have a very specific time window in which to travel, you'll want to start making plans now. 

Contact me at here at Preferred Travel Services, 602-603-9300, or Rosanne@preferredtravelservices.com. You can also contact me through my Facebook page, Ro Says Go - www.facebook.com/rosaysgo/.

 

 

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MAKING THE GRADE - WHAT THE NEW TRAVEL ADVISORY SYSTEM MEANS FOR YOU

By Rosanne Coloccia | Preferred Travel Services | January 19th, 2018

 

Pop quiz: Under the previous State Department travel advisory system, a “travel warning” meant the same thing as a “travel alert.”

That’s a big ol’ no. In fact, they’re not even close, but try telling that to travelers left wondering if they should cancel that long-planned vacation when one was issued for their destination.
 

Recently, the State Department decided a little clarification was in order. Michelle Bernier-Toth, acting deputy assistant secretary for overseas citizen services, brought up a great point while discussing the differences between the two. “We shouldn’t need to spend more time explaining the difference than we do explaining what the threat actually is.”

Agreed. And it’s been a long time coming. Too long, if you ask travelers. And travel advisors. And tourist boards. Essentially, anyone who relies on tourism, and tourist dollars.
 

So how does this system work and why has it been such a homerun in the travel industry?

Instead of the nuances between warning and alert, you can go to the State Department website (www.state.gov) and see from the get go where you can safely travel as opposed to the places you might want to keep off your vacation itinerary. Like way off.
 

Under the new system, every country in the world has a travel advisory ranking from 1 (“exercise increased caution”) to 4 (“do not travel.”).

Popular destinations for Arizona travelers, such as Mexico, Italy, France, and the U.K., have been graded a 2 (“exercise increased caution”, yellow on the map), while destinations such as Russia and Turkey have graded out at a 3 (“reconsider travel”, orange on the map). Those countries ranked 4 (“do not travel”, red on the map) are few, but include North Korea, Iran, Libya, and Syria.
 

The helpful interactive map color-codes each country according to their ranking. Countries ranked a 1 - Canada is one such country - aren’t color-coded.

As a travel advisor and writer, I appreciate the more in-depth information provided when you go to a specific country. Rather than expecting you to know why it was under an alert and not a warning, the new system lists the reasons for their current status right at the top of the page.
 

There’s lots of other great information on the site, too. The location of embassies and consulates, for example.

Take a look and see where your favorite destinations rate. This new system is a terrific tool for planning your next great vacation!
 

For questions on the new system and vacation planning, give us a call at Preferred Travel Services, 602-603-9300, or e-mail me directly at Rosanne@preferredtravelservices.com.

 

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RO SAYS GO: TOP 10 MOST ROMANTIC CITIES

01/12/2018 | Rosanne Coloccia | Preferred Travel Services

 

No pressure...you have a month. Almost to the day.

 

Yep, we’re a month out from Valentine’s Day, that time of year when, to paraphrase Alfred, Lord Tennyson, a romantic’s fancy lightly turns to thoughts of love.

 

Or flowers, maybe. And chocolate…definitely chocolate…
 

So how about travel?

 

If your ideas of a romantic gift go beyond the same old same old, consider planning a romantic getaway for two!

 

But where?

 

Courtesy of a Ro Says Go survey of travel experts, experienced travelers, and recently returned honeymooners, here is their list of the top 10 most romantic cities:

 

10) Prague - Magical castles and fairytale architecture dominate the landscape here - and the rates are still reasonable!

 

9) London - Of course I'm going to totally agree - I spent MY honeymoon here! With so much to see and do, London is a lovely place to spend time with the one you love.

 

8) Vienna - Enchanting is the word I'll use to describe this truly lovely city! Breathtaking architecture, huge palaces and of course, Mozart's romantic music!  

 

7) San Francisco - Everyone wants to leave their heart here!

 

6) Barcelona - Lively and colorful, this Spanish gem has everything you want for romance!

 

5) Honolulu - Oahu is more than Waikiki, although you can find plenty of romance on that glorious strand of beach!

 

4) New York City - Strolling through Central Park or taking in a Broadway show, New York City is a romance classic!

 

3) Rome/Florence - It's a tie for these stunning Italian cities! Trevi Fountain and the Spanish Steps vie with Signoria Square and the Pontevecchio. Both of these cities are romantic by day or by night!

 

2) Venice - You've always got the classic romance of a gondola ride for two, but even a simple stroll along the canals and over the bridges of Venice are simply magic.

 

And the number one Most Romantic City is…

 

1) Paris - And who's going to argue with the Eiffel Tower, Mona Lisa and Left Bank cafes? Nobody, that's who.

 

There are a few other cities I'd add to the list, including Dublin, Amsterdam and Budapest, among others. I'm lucky - I've been to 8 of the top 10, with and without my valentine, and I look forward to exploring the rest!

 

For getaways to these and other romantic destinations, contact those fools for love at Preferred Travel Services, 602-603-9300, or Rosanne@preferredtravelservices.com. We’ll make your Valentine’s Day memorable!

 

 

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WHERE TO NEXT? WHERE TO GO IN 2018 

12/28/2017 | Rosanne Coloccia | Preferred Travel Services

If you’re like me, you’ve been seeing lots of 2018 “Must” lists, and for all manner of things, ranging from things to wear, things to buy - or not buy - and, my personal favorite, places to go. I devour lists like this, if only to see what people in my industry think are the up-and-coming destinations, the tried-and-true classics, or something for the bucket list. And, in the interest of full disclosure, when I see a favorite destination on someone else’s list, I sometimes smile a “ha - I was there before anyone knew it was cool” kind of smile before moving down the list.  

And then I saw National Geographic Traveler magazine’s “Best of the World - Where to go in 2018.” Wow.

Seriously. Wow. Each destination more interesting than the one before!

What went into determining this year’s list? According to George Stone, National Geographic Traveler editor in chief, “We looked for cities that bustle with new energy and intrigue; parklands that percolate with vitality and ecological protection; and communities rich in local character that offer opportunities for cultural engagement.”

A+ for effort, Mr. Stone!

National Geographic Traveler has broken out the 21 destinations into three lists, covering Cities, Culture, and Nature. Yes, I smiled when I saw several places I’ve experienced on the list, but there are many more I now want to see for myself!

I’ve listed the destinations below, along with a brief sketch of why it’s on the list, but you’ll definitely want to check it out for yourself: https://www.nationalgeographic.com/travel/features/best-trips-destinations-2018/#cover

CITIES

Dublin, Ireland - couldn’t agree more. Dublin is a young and lively city.                                                                                               

Malmo, Sweden - a “U.N. of food,” where 180 nationalities operate 450 restaurants                                                                                 

Phnom Penh, Cambodia - active as a movie backdrop and new museums                                                                                           

San Antonio, Texas - happy 300th birthday, San Antonio!                                                                                                                 

Santiago, Chile - outdoor “urban art galleries”                                                                                                                                   

Sydney, Australia - the massive refurbishment of the famous Opera House is finished!                                                                           

Tbilisi, Georgia - this small city is filled with “authentic charm,” but booming development may change that

 

CULTURE

Cleveland, Ohio - the downtown theatre and music scene is fueling this previously industrial city’s revival

Friesland, Netherlands - among other things - it’s the 2018 European Cultural Capital

Harar, Ethiopia - features the country’s best beer - and nighttime visits with hyenas

Labrador, Canada - the new Canadian National Park found here is larger than the country of Jamaica!

Oaxaca, Mexico - discover the art of dyeing

Tetouan, Morocco - heart of Morocco’s art scene

Vienna, Austria - celebrating the Secessionist Art Movement of Klimpt, Moser, and Wagner

 

NATURE

Albania - dive unexplored waters - literally. Albania outlawed diving to keep citizens from leaving the country

Jordan Trail, Jordan - hike this 400 mile trail, believed to have been walked by Jesus, Moses, and Mohammed

Jujuy Province, Argentina - the Painted Desert of Argentina

Madagascar - see the endangered lemur in the wild

Oahu, Hawaii - agritourism is...well...growing here

Ruaha NP, Tanzania - sustainable tourism helps support wildlife preservation

Seoraksan National Park, South Korea - embrace the Olympic spirit

 

If any of these sound as amazing to you as they do to me, contact me at Preferred Travel Services - Rosanne@preferredtravelservices.com. I’ll get you there!

And from all of us at the agency, have a safe and very Happy New Year!

 

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Ho Ho Ho For Those On The Go Go Go

12/07/2017 | Rosanne Coloccia | Preferred Travel Services

Don’t you love this time of year? Making lists. Checking them twice. Trying to find that perfect combination of “fun” and “useful” in gifts for all your favorite people, be them naughty or - hopefully - nice. Over the years, I’ve been fortunate to receive interesting and useful travel-related items from clients, family, and friends - many of which have come in VERY handy! From making your favorite traveler comfortable on a flight to keeping their valuables safe, here are some of my favorite items you may want to add to your shopping list. Since some of my items have been well-used (make that very well used!), and may no longer be available, I’ve broken the list into two parts - items I recommend and their suggested current counterpart. Happy shopping!  

Rosanne recommends: A Shoulder Bag - I call mine my “Mike Watkiss bag,” after the long-time KTVK 3TV reporter, since, like his famous “in the field vest”, it has so many pocket for carrying necessary items. I may not be an award-winning investigative reporter like he is, but I’m an intrepid traveler who likes to know where her gadgets are at all times.               

Suggests: Vault Pro Gateway Bag, available through Magellan’s Travel Suppliers here: VAULT PRO GATEWAY BAG

Rosanne recommends: Anti-theft hip pack - hey...isn’t this a fancy way of saying fanny pack? Pretty much, but I can’t say enough great things about mine. Made of slash-resistant nylon, and with the wire used to tie down airplanes on the decks of aircraft carriers threaded through the waistband, my “stash safe” by PacSafe has seen me through many a tour and vacation. Talk about “don’t leave home without it” - I won’t.                                                                                                                                                                                           

Suggests: PacSafe Metrosafe LS120 anti-theft hip pack, available through PacSafe here: PACSAFE METROSAFE ANTI-THEFT HIP PACK

Rosanne recommends: Luggage scale - with overweight bag fees still in the stratosphere for the airlines, I can’t recommend this highly enough. It’s saved me a pretty penny, both coming and going, on both business and vacation travel.                                                                                                                                                                                         

Suggests: Digital Luggage Scale, available through Magellan’s Travel Suppliers here: DIGITAL LUGGAGE SCALE

Rosanne recommends: Packing cubes - available in all shapes, sizes, and colors, you can’t go wrong with these! Want to pack an entire day’s outfit for your little one? There’s a size for that. Want to fill it with cords and cables - like I have for my recording equipment - there’s a size for that, too. Your traveler will LOVE these!                                                      

Suggests: Eagle Creek Packing Cubes, available through Amazon here: EAGLE CREEK PACKING CUBES

Rosanne recommends: Inflatable neck pillow - love mine! Another Eagle Creek favorite, mine has a soft cover and a terrific inflate/deflate valve, allowing you to make it as squishy or firm as you’d like - and this thing deflates in seconds, allowing you to put it away just before landing.                                                                                                                   

Suggests: Eagle Creek Exhale Neck Travel Pillow here: EAGLE CREEK EXHALE NECK TRAVEL PILLOW

And now - drumroll please - my NUMBER ONE SUGGESTION for a holiday present? How about giving your favorite people the gift of YOU? The gift of your time, the gift of making shared memories - let’s call it the Gift of Travel! I’ve got plenty of great suggestions for fun and memorable vacations for 2018 - just give me a call at 602-603-9300, or drop me a line at Rosanne@preferredtravelservices.com. 

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Easing Your Way Through The Airport

11/17/2017 | Rosanne Coloccia | Preferred Travel Services

Tighter security - it’s everywhere these days, but nowhere is this more apparent than at the airport - particularly during the week of Thanksgiving, the busiest travel time of the year. 

While we may be used to most of the rigamarole by now, the folks at Phoenix Sky Harbor International Airport remind us it’s not just one of the busiest weeks of the year inside the terminals, but on the roads outside the airport, too. 

So how can you go over the river and through the woods without losing your cool? Two words - be prepared:

Be the Early Bird!
You’ll do more than catch the worm, you’ll beat the crowds. Typically, the TSA recommends arriving 90 minutes before a domestic departure and two hours prior to an international departure. For this busy time, give yourself at least two hours before a domestic departure and three hours for international. If you happen to breeze through an shorter than anticipated security line, so much the better. Grab a cup of coffee, or delicious meal, at one of the great restaurants in the terminals and relax before your sure to be crowded flight.

Plan Ahead for Parking
Did you know you can pre-book and pre-pay for your on-airport parking? It’s true! Just go to skyharbor.com/prepaidparking and book your space! Another terrific option to avoid on-airport parking altogether? Try the 44th Street PHX Sky Train station. Located on the southwest corner of 44th St. and Washington, it’s easily accessible for pick ups and drop offs. Add in the fact you can print your boarding pass and/or check your bags right from the Sky Train station (Southwest, American, and United Airlines only), and you’ve got a great alternative to long term parking! 

3-1-1 Still In Effect
Yep, for our carry on bags we’re still limited to liquids in three ounce (or less) bottles, to fit into one 1-quart bag per person (3-1-1). Anything larger will need to be in your checked baggage. But a relatively new wrinkle is also in effect - liquid medications (prescription only) and “child nutrition” in “reasonable” quantities can be carried in your carry on bags without being a part of those liquids fitting in your 1-quart bag. Juice, formula, and breast milk are considered to be child nutrition, but if you have specific questions about other liquids, you can check the www.tsa.gov website.

Shoes
Make it easy on yourself! Unless you have TSA Precheck, you’ll need to remove your shoes at the airport. As chic as they are, you’ll have a tough time making a fashion statement when you’re struggling to remove those tall, tight boots, let alone the time it takes on the other side to get them on again. Slip-ons, or shoes with velcro closures, usually work best - and remember to wear fun socks so you don’t have to walk on that cold floor! 

Bling 
Personal opinion, leave your heirloom jewelry at home, but if you must bring your baubles, be prepared to spend a few extra minutes at security. If you wear them through the scanner - which these days you can do - you’ll likely be pulled aside to be wanded. If you pack them in your carry on, you may be asked to open your bag for additional inspection. And “bling” doesn’t just apply to ladies jewelry. Men with fancy belt buckles, or some bola ties, may leave themselves open for additional screening, too. 

Pack your patience and get ready to enjoy the kick off of the holiday season! Don’t forget to reconfirm your flight times before you leave for the airport, and just know going in the airport terminals are going to be packed. Prior planning is key and will go a long way toward making your next flight a pleasant one!

For the latest information from Phoenix Sky Harbor International, go to www.phxskyharbor.com.  For travel updates from the TSA, check www.tsa.gov. For international travel updates, go to www.state.gov. 

Have a safe and Happy Thanksgiving from all of us at Preferred Travel Services, www.preferredtravelservices.com! 
 

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Fast 5: Don't Miss Activities In Mexico's Fabulous Riviera Maya

11/01/2017 | Rosanne Coloccia | Preferred Travel Services

Turquoise Caribbean water and sugar-white sand coupled with warm breezes and gorgeous resorts - and all just a four hour and 15 minute nonstop flight from Sky Harbor! Do your travel plans include the Riviera Maya?

Stretching south of the Cancun Airport, you’ll find more than 75 miles of pristine beaches, and fun, funky little towns, known as the Riviera Maya. Traditionally, this string of resort areas ran from the bustling town of Playa del Carmen to the ruins at Tulum, but now also includes the laid-back Puerto Morelos area, running down to the preserve areas of Sian Ka’an, with resorts set to open here in December 2017.

Want to kick back and enjoy the warm water and gorgeous scenery? You’ll find that in abundance here. Want to explore ancient Mayan ruins or snorkel an underground river? Yep. You can do that, too. 

Here’s my list of “don’t-miss” activities for the Riviera Maya:

Chichen Itza - On UNESCO’s list of World Heritage Sites, this impressive collection of ruins includes pyramids, temples, cenotes, ball courts, and an observatory. Although you can no longer climb El Castillo, the central pyramid also known as the Temple of Kukulcan, the structures themselves are a fascinating monument to the Mayan civilization. Be sure to bring along sunscreen, a hat, and lots of water. The heritage site is very large - you’ll be doing lots of walking. Located approximately three hours from the Riviera Maya -depending on the location of your hotel or resort - it’s well worth the drive! 

Tulum - Perched on a bluff overlooking the Caribbean, Tulum is equally as famous as Chichen Itza, albeit much smaller and easier to navigate. As it is located just off the main highway running the length of the Riviera Maya, it’s easy to get here. Many visitors also bring along a swimsuit and towel, as there’s a pretty stretch of beach just below the ruins. Make sure you have lots of room on your camera or memory on your phone - the views are spectacular!

Cenote Swim - There’s something very cool about walking down into a cenote - or exposed access point to a system of underground rivers and wells - then diving into the water. Often, you can’t even see the bottom, but the cenotes offer snorkeling, swimming, or just floating and relaxing in a beautiful and peaceful setting. Some offer access to caves, while some are considered sacred spots. It’s a one of the Riviera Maya’s signature experiences.

Snorkeling the Planacar Reef - or any of the smaller reefs along the coast. All part of the second largest barrier reef in the world, the 560-mile Mesoamerican Barrier Reef System, you’ll find a large variety of snorkel and diving spots, including towering coral formations and caves, teeming with a large variety of fish. If open water snorkeling isn’t your thing, you can also snorkel along the coast, with island of Cozumel’s Chankanaab among the most popular spots, along with Xpu-Ha, located on the mainland. 

Eco-Parks - Want to snorkel in an underground river? Explore a huge butterfly garden? Float through lush foliage? Swim with dolphins? You can do any - or all - of these things at Xcaret (ESH-ka-ret) or Xel-Ha (SHELL-ha), two large ecological preserves and, let’s face it, theme parks. Hugely popular with families and adventurers alike, these beautiful areas make the most of their locations, incorporating access to above and below ground rivers, cenotes, and natural terrain to offer a wide variety of activities. This isn’t an inexpensive option - admission to Xcaret starts at $89.00, but can go way up from there, depending on what you want to do. Xel-Ha starts similarly at $80.00 for basic admission, with many attractions and food packages available for an additional fee. You’ll also want to check into the cost of renting snorkel gear versus bringing your own, and biodegradable sun block is required. 

GETTING THERE
American Airlines offers daily non-stops to Cancun from Sky Harbor, while Southwest, Frontier, and Spirit offer connecting service from Sky Harbor or Phoenix Mesa Gateway Airport on selected days of the week. Fares range from the high $200’s to more than $500 round trip, depending on the season. 

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Choose Your Cruise

10/23/2017 | Rosanne Coloccia | Preferred Travel Services


It’s among the most popular ways to vacation these days - and I totally get it. There’s something so relaxing about a cruise!

Once the domain of the wealthy, marked by strictly observed classes of service, a cruise vacation now offers something for just about everyone. Looking for a traditional Caribbean itinerary experience, with a formal night and midnight buffet? There’s a cruise line for that. Several, actually. Looking for a more active shipboard experience, with state of the art workout facilities and lots of active shore excursions for your days in port? There’s a cruise line for that, too.  

According to CLIA (Cruise Lines International Association), the popularity of a cruise vacation isn’t a new phenomenon, with high double-digit growth over the past seven years, from 17.8 million cruisers in 2009 to an estimated 25.8 million departures for 2017.    

I mean, 25.8 million people can’t be wrong...right? 

So, now it’s official - you’re going on a cruise. But which cruise line is the one for you? Popular cruise website, “Cruise Critic,” likens choosing your cruise to speed dating: “you can’t take all day getting to know someone, but you need to figure out whether your personalities match.” 

An excellent observation, CruiseCritic. I couldn’t agree more.

With that in mind, here is my take on six of the most popular “mass market” cruise lines - meaning they have lots of ships and go lots of places - and some things to consider when planning your cruise vacation:

Carnival - glitzy and glamorous, these ships aren’t known as “Vegas on the water” for nothing. Carnival’s staterooms tend to be larger on average than the other major cruise lines, and while the “Fun Ships” aren’t as upscale as some lines, they are indeed “fun,” with larger than industry average casinos, lots of bars and clubs, along with elaborate pools and areas for kids and teens. One thing that has always struck me about Carnival - they treat teenagers like gold. And, if you think about it, why not? They look at them as their next generation of Fun Ship cruisers. 

Celebrity - sleek and sophisticated, Celebrity’s ships and service style appeal to experienced cruisers. Although you’ll find families onboard, with their emphasis on fine dining and a low-key style of entertainment, Celebrity primarily caters to adults looking for a premium cruise experience. 

Holland America - consistency is the hallmark of this upscale cruise line, featuring ships of similar size and design. You know what you’re going to get with this line - excellent service, good food, and a traditional cruise experience. Passengers for this line tend to skew a bit older, but that may be a factor of their itineraries (they are one of the most recommended lines for Alaska) as much as anything else. Lots of brand loyalty here. A terrific line for multi-generational trips such as family reunions.

Norwegian - the originator of “freestyle” cruising, Norwegian Cruise Line has long been an innovator in the industry. With one of the newest fleets in the industry, NCL pretty much lets you design your own cruise experience from beginning to end. Don’t want to dress up? The time-honored cruise tradition of a “formal night” is totally optional here. Stylish ships appeal to cruisers of all ages and the onboard entertainment is top-notch. 

Princess - the original Love Boat cruise line, Princess maintains its reputation as an traditional, upscale line with a variety of ship styles and sizes. Terrific service pairs nicely with creative dining options, adding to the appeal of a line catering to singles, couples and families. Another line inspiring devotion among their passengers, Princess is also a go-to cruiseline for family reunions or groups with a wide variety of ages. 

Royal Caribbean - the rare line that attempts - and succeeds - to be all things to all people. With a fleet of ships ranging from what is considered small these days (2000 passengers) to the new floating resorts of their trend-setting Oasis Class ships, serving upwards of 6000 passengers, Royal Caribbean handles both well. Home to the largest fitness facilities afloat, and featuring a wide variety of shore excursions, from relaxing to high octane. Not relegated to the traditional cruising style of “if it’s Tuesday, it must be time for the midnight buffet” - although, it’s offered, if you want it - on a Royal Caribbean ship you’ll find ice skating rinks, laser tag, surfing, zip lining, Broadway shows, and much more. 

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Cabin Fever

09/28/2017 | Rosanne Coloccia | Preferred Travel Services

From balmy Mediterranean breezes, the azure blue of the Aegean or Caribbean,  to the chill of an Alaskan glacier, I’ve long been a big fan of cruise travel. Heck, who wouldn’t be a fan of a vacation where you unpack once and your “hotel” takes you from place to place? 

With the wide variety of cruise lines appealing to all different kinds of travelers, and ships of sizes ranging from small and intimate to floating resort, it’s a style of vacation still in major growth mode. 

According to industry organization Cruise Lines International Association, the number of cruisers was expected to increase 8.5% in 2017 compared to 2016. And if you look at the ten year trend, from 2007 to 2017, the increase is far more dramatic at 62%!  

So you’ve decided a cruise vacation is for you. You’ve selected your cruise line and chosen your itinerary. But how do you decide what kind of onboard accommodation is right for you?

In "days of cruising past," it used to be rather simple - inside or outside, port or starboard. Now your cabin will come in various shapes and sizes, many offering balconies - and if you're on one of the largest of Royal Caribbean Cruise Line’s ships, you can get an “inside” cabin with a window, or a courtyard view with a balcony! It's easier than ever to find something that works for you.

So where's the best place to be on a ship? Well...define best. 

The laws of physics say the “best” place to be is an inside cabin, centered directly mid-ship from front to back and top to bottom. This is where you’ll feel the least amount of side-to-side rolling and forward to aft rocking. 

But let's be honest - not everyone wants to be here. Sometimes even the sickest of sea dogs would put their desire for natural light ahead of their fears of a queasy stomach, so before you set sail on your next much deserved vacation, let's go over a few terms you’ll see on any cruise line website or brochure, so you can choose the type of accommodation that will be right for you.

CRUISE GLOSSARY

Inside - A cabin located on the interior of the ship. While in most cases this cabin will be identical in size and amenities to an outside stateroom, this type of accommodation does not have a window. If you're the kind of traveler who uses your stateroom to sleep and change clothes, an inside cabin offers your most economical option.    

Outside - A cabin located with one wall on the exterior of the ship. Traditional portholes are pretty much a thing of the past, but you will find the windows come in a big variety of sizes and shapes. Most are large, allowing for lots of natural light in the cabin. While not the least expensive option, you'll often find these accommodations aren't much more than inside cabins.

Balcony - This category covers a wide variety of staterooms! While stateroom sizes are pretty consistent, the balconies differ in size - even on the same ship. Balcony staterooms are most often located on the decks in the center of the ship from top to bottom, making them a comfortable option. Rates vary from pricey to outrageous, but some people swear they won't sail without one. You'll see these cabins called by lots of names, too - Verandah, Suite, Mini-suite. This will differ from cruise line to cruise line.

Port and Starboard - This is easy! Left and right. Here's the trick I use to remember one from the other - "port" and "left" both have four letters. Some experienced cruisers will always sail on the port side as they say you get a better view. While this may be true in some itineraries, it's not true for all. You'd be amazed at how maneuverable the ships are these days, offering all sides of the ship terrific views, even in tight quarters. And personally, I'd rather have a nicer cabin on the Starboard side than a minimum one on the Port.

Fore and Aft - Another easy one! These terms refer to the front and back of the ship. Something to think about: be careful of being too far forward - you may hear the anchors being hoisted early in the morning and late at night. By the same token, you don't want to be too far back either, as you'll feel lots of motion. Again, the best place to be here is in the diplomatic middle.

And last but not least, look carefully at your deck plan. If at all possible, you won't want to be over or under a busy public deck. I don't care how good the insulation is, you don't want to hear the bing bing bing of the casino when you're trying to sleep, nor do you want to hear the deck stewards rearranging the chairs each morning. We all work too hard these days to have our vacation marred by pesky interruptions!

A cruise vacation ranks very high on my list of great ways to travel. The convenience and comfort of today's glittering and modern ships will make your vacation a memorable one!

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Island Updates

9/21/2017 | Rosanne Coloccia | Preferred Travel Services

Their names have been on our screens for weeks: Harvey. Irma. Maria. Powerful storms, each leaving damage and destruction, in his or her wake. 

With the storm season in full swing - and three major hurricanes in four weeks definitely counts as full swing - the situation on the ground on some of the islands of the Caribbean is changing hour by hour, day by day. And yet…

Many islands haven’t been affected at all, but, hey, let’s be honest, it’s only natural to paint with a broad brush sometimes, thinking the entire region has been damaged.

Fortunately, that’s not the case. Many islands are open for business and welcoming guests, but are having a difficult time making that known when our attention is obviously - and rightly - focused elsewhere. 

So should you cancel that long awaited beach getaway or holiday cruise? Hopefully, no. For the vast majority of the Caribbean, tourism is their main - or only - “industry,” so the island nations most affected are all scrambling to get hotels, restaurants, and tour operations back online as quickly as they’re able. 

For those of you with vacations and cruises planned to this region in the next few months, and into 2018, let’s take a look at the latest reports from the Caribbean Hotel and Tourism Association, as of September 22nd, 2017:

Business as Usual - all airports and resorts open
The Bahamas 
Dominican Republic
Martinique
St. Kitts
Aruba
Bonaire
Curacao

Heavily Affected - resorts damaged, some closed
Puerto Rico - power grid destroyed for this popular vacation and cruise destination. Airport open on back-up power, for military and emergency flights only.
British Virgin Islands - some resorts already closed for the season will remain closed until November. Others will open in mid-October or November.
St. Thomas, USVI - most major resorts closed until at least mid-October, likely much longer.
St. John, USVI - hotels closed until further notice.
Dominica - heavily damaged by Maria.
St. Martin/St. Maarten - heavy damage. May take up to a year for hotels to reopen.

Somewhere in Between

Anguilla - airport open, most resorts open before the end of October.
Antigua and Barbuda - In this two-island nation, Antigua was barely touched, while Barbuda was heavily damaged. The vast majority of the hotels are on Antigua, so you should be able to go.
St. Barthelemy - airport open, most hotels to reopen by late October.
Turks and Caicos - most all hotels will be reopen in October, with others reopening by mid-December for the very popular holiday season. 

For the most up-to-date information, the Caribbean Hotel and Tourism Association is a terrific resource: http://www.caribbeanhotelandtourism.com/knowledge-center/hurricane-center/


Something else to keep in mind - cruise lines have been modifying their itineraries, particularly Eastern Caribbean sailings. If you’re traveling before the end of November, you’ll want to check in with your travel agent, or with the cruise line directly, to see if your itinerary has been modified to accommodate the port facilities on some of the harder hit islands. 

And let’s not forget our friends closer to home - the resorts and beaches of Florida. Despite Irma, a vast majority of resorts on both coasts were only slightly damaged by the storm and have already reopened. 

The storm season is technically June 1 - November 30, while the most active time historically is the last half of August, the month of September, and into October. Fingers crossed we’ve seen the worst of it, but we’re not quite out of the woods yet.

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Room With A View

09/13/2017 | Rosanne Coloccia | Preferred Travel Services


“Partial” versus “Full,” “Run of House” versus “Standard.” When you deal with hotels and tour operators as much as I do, you tend to throw around terms like “Golf/Mountain” without a second thought. But what does that mean for you? 

When planning your next vacation, look carefully at the type of room you’re booking in with your package - you just might see some terms that won’t mean much to you, but could affect what you’ll see out your picture window. For some folks, their view is critical - if they’ve flown hours to a beach destination, they want to see water! For others, a garden view will work just as well - they’re just glad to be there! 

Room category names will vary from hotel chain to hotel chain, which can be a bit of a challenge - one hotels’ “ocean view” will be another’s “partial ocean” - while other terms are pretty self-explanatory. “Golf,” “tennis” or “pool” views are usually just that. Let’s go over some of the most common room category names so you’ll know what you can expect.

City View - this could come under the “self-explanatory” section, but not always. Usually means something above the first few floors of a city hotel, where you’ll have an unobstructed view of buildings – and not just the one across the alley or street from your hotel. This will vary, depending on the location of, and height of, your hotel.

Garden View - this is really a catch-all name for most resort hotels. Depending on the property, this can mean a view of the landscaped grounds or a view of the parking lot. Among the least expensive of the room categories.

Partial Ocean View - again, this one will vary widely. For most chains, this view means you can see the ocean when you’re standing on your balcony or terrace and when you’re just inside your window.

Ocean View - this one is more straight-forward. If you have an ocean view room, you should be able to stand in the middle of your room, look out your window and see water. Hotels will often offer more than one ocean view category – perhaps deluxe or premium ocean view - relating to where you are in the resort. Many times you’ll have the grounds of the hotel as part of your view in the standard ocean view category, while deluxe or premium will be closer to the water.

Ocean Front - you should be able to step in your room, close the door behind you, look out your window and see water. Depending on how the resort is situated, you may have the beach right outside, or you could be on a bluff overlooking the sea. Either way, water – and only water – should be your view.

Run of House - this category is found often in the Caribbean and Mexico. It means no guaranteed view. You could be looking at the ocean, you could be looking at the pool or the garden. For most the hotels using this category, it means they’ll give you the nicest view available when you check in. 

Bottom line? The closer you get to the water, the more expensive the room. Make sure you check out your property with your travel consultant or go to the hotel web site and look for a “resort map.” They will usually have a color-coded key to help you determine the location of the various room types. Keep in mind that most “sale” or “special” packages will include a garden view room, but not always. You’ll want to ask before you buy.
 

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Hurricane Warning: What's in a Name?

09/07/2017 | Rosanne Coloccia | Preferred Travel Services


“What’s in a name?” - William Shakespeare
“A lot, if you happen to be a hurricane” - Travel Insurance Industry

As the fallout continues from Harvey, and Florida braces for Irma, our agency has been fielding calls and e-mails from clients wondering about their upcoming trips. Thankfully, for the most part, the news has been good. Either their particular destination hasn’t been, or won’t be, affected, or, they have trip cancellation and interruption insurance.

But, as important as having a trip cancellation policy can be - and it is - a travel insurance industry expert points out there’s a critical timing element to making your trip insurance pay for your delayed or interrupted vacation. 

Which brings us back to Shakespeare.

Once a storm is officially named by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, the insurance industry deems it a “foreseeable event,” meaning if you don’t already have insurance coverage, you will not be covered if the storm disrupts your travel plans. 

According to InsureMyTrip’s hurricane travel insurance expert, Lynne Peters, “If your client purchased the insurance before the storm was named, they’re covered. Anyone purchasing today, for a destination in Irma’s path, isn’t.”

Good to know, Ms. Peters. Good. To. Know. 

Most folks who purchase insurance do so at or around the time of booking their trip, or within a few days of their deposit. Doing so sets the ground rules, so to speak, of the whys and what fors of the various policies, along with their benefits. Is your destination under a hurricane warning 24-36 hours before you’re supposed to jump on the plane? For most insurance policies, you’re covered if you decide to cancel your pre-paid, non-refundable vacation. 

Something else to keep in mind - many hotels, resorts, and tour operators may not reimburse your vacation expenses unless the storm makes it impossible for them to provide their services - if the airport closes, say, or there’s wind or water damage to their property. If you’ve got trip cancellation coverage, you can work with the insurance company to reimburse what the others won’t. 

Finally, if you haven’t considered trip insurance as part of the overall cost of your next vacation, please reconsider, regardless of the season. Between covering you medically when you’re out of the country (most health insurance policies won’t cover you outside the US), or cancellation protection when facing down a storm, it’s a small price to pay for your peace of mind.

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Set Sail San Diego

08/31/2017 | Rosanne Coloccia | Preferred Travel Services


As if we needed one more reason to love San Diego!

Good news for those cruise lovers among us - especially those who would rather drive to their port of embarkation rather than fly - the final buildout of the huge Port of San Diego renovation, in downtown’s North Embarcadero area, will soon be complete! 

The biggest phase of the project, including the construction of a widened public esplanade, new trees and gardens, public art, and easier access to the waterfront via new roads and the public plaza, was completed in 2014, but the surrounding areas have been catching up ever since. 

Across the street from the project you’ll find a brand new Marriott Residence Inn/Springhill Suites dual-use property, with a luxury property under construction right next door. You’ll also find scores more hotels, along with shopping and restaurants, within walking distance of the cruise port complex.

So why is this that one more reason to love San Diego? 

Because this project is thriving, bringing in 10% more passengers via scheduled port calls year over year, 2016 to 2017, set to increase again in 2018.With the uptick in popularity of 7-day Mexican Riviera cruises, San Diego looks to make a renewed splash as a homeport - which means more competitive prices for you!

Homeports - the point where cruises begin and end - are a big business in the Port of Los Angeles, in San Pedro (Princess) and Long Beach (Carnival) respectively. Currently a homeport to some of Holland America’s beautiful ships (periodic Mexican Riviera sailings, round trip Hawaii sailings, Panama Canal, and a variety of longer voyage itineraries - some up to 55 days!), and seasonal 3-, 4-, and 7-day sailings for Disney Cruises, San Diego is now in a position to woo more cruise lines to make their home in this beautiful city. 

With three port options an easy drive from the Valley, I have to give an edge to San Diego. The facilities in San Pedro and Long Beach aren’t quite as user-friendly, shall we say, as the new facilities in downtown San Diego, and you can’t beat the location for easy access. Right in the heart of this exciting city, with family-friendly activities like Balboa Park and the San Diego Zoo literally minutes away, San Diego is also home to great nightlife, sports, and cultural activities. 

So if a cruise vacation is in your future (and I can give you many reasons why it should be), take a look at what essentially becomes “Arizona West” every summer, and consider setting sail from San Diego. 

San Diego is a 5.5 hour drive from the Valley.

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Cancun and Cabo - Beyond the Headlines

08/25/2017 | Rosanne Coloccia | Preferred Travel Services

Two of the most popular destinations for travelers from Arizona - and across the country - have been in the news quite a bit recently.

And, well, let’s be honest - not for the most flattering of reasons. 

You may have seen last week’s splashy headline, touting seizures of “10,000 gallons of tainted alcohol” from a large distributor’s warehouse in Cancun, followed by a “raid” of the beach mecca’s most popular bars and nightclubs. And new this week, we’ve been bombarded with headlines about an update to the US State Department Travel Warning regarding Cancun and the uber popular Los Cabos area. 

So what does this mean for you while you plan your next vacation? In all sincerity...not much. 

Look past the “10,000 gallon” headlines and you’ll see the alcohol was confiscated from a warehouse due to incomplete “chain of custody” paperwork, meaning the possibility existed, however small, the cases of liquor could be untested as to the strength of the product or past the “best if served by” date. Several - far from all - of the “raided” bars were closed down for sanitary reasons - leaks from coolers, trash containers not being covered, etc. - rather than nefarious ones, and a few more had out of date alcohol on their shelves which could indeed have possibly made someone sick.

Tales of tourists getting sick or blacking out after drinking in Mexico are not new - or even uncommon. I speak from first hand experience when I say the sun in the Yucatan is unlike anything I’ve experienced, even with growing up in Arizona. “Strong” is too mild a word for it, and adding in the Caribbean humidity ramps up the effects even more. If you’re not careful, it doesn’t take long before you’re possibly feeling dizzy or sleepy. 

Does this mean you should take Cancun and the Riviera Maya off your list of possible destinations? Absolutely not! Be aware of your alcohol consumption, i.e. everything in moderation. You’ll also want to focus on staying hydrated, be it juices or bottled water, put on sunblock, and consider wearing a hat.The turquoise water, white sand, and stunning Mayan ruins are worth it!

As for the updated State Department travel warning, read it - even after the publicized incidents involving organized crime, the warning doesn’t say “stay home” or “don’t go.” It says be careful, and be aware of your surroundings. Just like you would be if you were going to San Diego for the weekend.

Something not readily apparent when discussing these two popular resort areas is just how spread out they really are. Let’s take Los Cabos, the sister resort towns of San Jose del Cabo, home to the airport, and Cabo San Lucas, home to the glitzy nightlife and truly beautiful rock formations. 

Separating these two towns is a 22 mile stretch of beach and rocky coastline known as The Corridor. The recent incident took place near San Jose del Cabo, at least a 30 minute drive from Cabo San Lucas. I don’t know about you, but I wouldn’t let a police incident in Long Beach dissuade me from heading to Anaheim for a Disney weekend. 

The distances in the Cancun area, also scene of some fairly recent police incidents, are even greater. From Cancun’s famed Hotel Zone to the resorts near the ruins of Tulum, the southern most point of the Riviera Maya, is 83 miles - almost a two hour drive. From the Hotel Zone to the charming town of Playa del Carmen is 46 miles - a similar distance from Peoria to Apache Junction. 

Again - I’m not saying ignore the U.S. State Department. Use the travel warnings as just that - one factor among many you’ll consider when choosing your vacation destination. A savvy traveler always does their research and will plan accordingly. 
 

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ABOUT ROSANNE

 

You may remember Rosanne Coloccia as "the travel lady" on KTVK's top-rated Good Morning Arizona, where she brought you travel tips and destination information for more than 14 years. She is delighted to once again be part of the travel industry that she loves, and Preferred Travel Services is more than delighted to have her on our team.

 

 

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