Let it Snow in Florida

Let it Snow in Florida

Snow in Florida

Snow is a rarity in Florida, but in St. Augustine, they are letting it snow every night during Winter Wonderland. This is the 4th winter that the St. Augustine Amphitheatre has hosted this magical event that runs from now until January 2, 2011. The snow falls every evening at 7pm and 9pm over the outdoor ice skating rink.

There are lots of activities for the young and young at heart and many of them are free.
* Visit the Elf House.
* Give your wish list to Santa Claus today through Dec. 24.
* Walk through the Candy Cane Forest.
* Watch the ice skaters and the ice sliders.
* Visit the Igloo Ski Lodge adjacent to the ice rink for a close up view of the skaters.
* Warm up by the lodge’s fire.
* Enjoy the nightly snow showers at 7 p.m. and 9 p.m.

For a minimal fee, you can also try:
* Ice skating.
* Ice sliding.
* Bounce House
* Train rides
* Sleigh rides
* Smores’ kits to build your own, an old winter treat for toasting.
* Hamburgers, hot dogs, treats and sodas and hot beverages.

Winter Wonderland times through Dec. 17 are:
Monday through Friday, 4 p.m. to 10 p.m.
Saturday, noon to 11 p.m.
Sunday, noon to 10 p.m.

From Dec. 18 until Jan. 2, it is open Sunday through Thursday, noon to 10 p.m. and Friday and Saturday, noon to 11 p.m.

Admission and parking is free. All parking is in the amphitheatre lot.

While you are in St. Augustine, be sure to check out the Nights of Lights downtown. There are more than 2 million lights on view making the city sparkle and shine with Christmas cheer. This will continue through January 31, 2011. For more information on either event you can visit, www.winterwonderlandflorida.com or www.nightsoflights.com.

National Opt Out Day

The Scan is already unconstitutional in itself, so where is the end

The National Opt Out Day scheduled for November 24 is more directed against TSA than the Airlines’ ability to change the security rules. But America is slowly waking up to TSA’s hugely disrespectful choice between “getting an intimate fondling” or “getting processed by the full body scanner”.

I wrote about the infamous full body scanner on May 8 of this year http://www.searchamelia.com/no-wonder-the-tsa-has-no-top-cop and again on the growing number of controversies around it on Sept 3rd. http://www.searchamelia.com/tsa-is-brewing-its-latest-disaster and it seems that finally America is waking up to the threat of losing all of its constitutional freedoms when it comes to “Homeland Security Issues”.

As a matter of fact, there is a growing exodus of affluent and ordinary Americans, who are seeking residence and even citizenship in other areas of the world as a result of the fact that Freedom has become an endangered species. Highly in favor are Australia and New Zealand, Argentina, Brazil, Chile, Ecuador, Panama, Costa Rica, the Caribbean Islands, Spain, Mediterranean countries, the list continues. It turns out that History Repeats Itself for many reasons. Americans who once left the countries of origin for the freedom and wide open spaces of America are starting to move on and emigrate to more freedom loving destinations.

The latest TSA scanner has created movements in the US like “we won’t fly” , which organizes the National Opt Out Day, on Wednesday November 24, the day before Thanksgiving, in protest of is called the option between the TSA porno scanner, genital grope security experience or….simply not flying.
Their Plan is Simple says the website:
1. If you absolutely, positively must fly, opt out of the scanners. Do it to protect your health and privacy.
2. If you can avoid flying, don’t fly. Hit the airlines in the pocketbook until the scanners and gropers are gone. Make the airlines work for us.
3. Raise holy hell. Register your disapproval of the scanners and gropers to your airline, your hotel and all government officials who claim to work for you. Educate your community.

Then there was a rape story earlier this year involving a TSA employee charged with pat downs at Boston’s Logan Airport, that is getting renewed attention and now airline pilots and crews are increasingly getting fed up by the practice of Scanning and Groping, even though their dismay is more of a “we should be excluded” nature, or as Hudson River Hero Pilot Sully Sullenberger says: “Airline pilots are already the last line of defense for anyone who poses a threat to the airplane; we are — and would like to be considered — trusted partners in that important security mission.”

Of course this begs the question, what about the rest of the crew, or a terrorist in a Pilot’s uniform or an airline exec or former airline employee with travel benefits? It also brings back the question of biometrics scanners that scan airline employees’ finger prints or iris. The plan was introduced after 911 but airlines and government have been quarreling ever since who will pick up the tab.  Also a small share of the total number of U.S. pilots are enrolled in a program called: the Federal Flight Deck Officer Program, which trains pilots in the use of firearms and defensive tactics. They are permitted to carry weapons on board and pilots enrolled in the program don’t have to go through scanners and pat-downs.

Federal officials of course call the procedures safe and necessary to ward off terror attacks, while Homeland Securities Top Dog Janet Napolitano states that: “It’s all about security, it’s all about everybody recognizing everyone’s role in this.”

If it were only that simple Ms. Napolitano!

One of the problems is that incidents like the one with John Tyner, earlier this week in San Diego will inevitably escalate into violence and domestic terror from people who are just fed up. People who are cranky because of lack of sleep, long travel delays, afraid of flying, you name it. People who would never think of committing an act of terror under normal circumstances, but who’s elastic band snaps because of just another unnecessary harassment or rude individual at a scanner.

Tyner, a San Diego software engineer, made a valid point when his cell phone recorded a TSA supervisor telling him: “This is not considered a sexual assault.” Tyner’s answer: “It would be if you were not the government.”

How far will the pendulum of freedom swing?

The growing objection against TSA’s airport security procedures is not confined to the US alone. In Germany, a country always willing to take an issue to the extreme, people protested last week against the US scanners by completely undressing in the airport and several years ago they already had an airline in business for naked travelers.

It will be interesting to see where the notion of Freedom will be taken to in this country where founding father Benjamin Franklin once said: “They who can give up essential liberty to obtain a little temporary safety, deserve neither liberty nor safety” , which squarely opposes San Diego passenger Mark Spritzler who said: “It makes me feel safer flying. “I don’t think they intrude on my privacy, the images are seen behind closed doors and unfortunately this is what has to be done to make things more secure.”

The controversy will become more intense and infinitely more personal as traditional holiday season travel will start peaking next week.

The Saint Augustine Pirate Gathering 2010

The Saint Augustine Pirate Gathering 2010Avast, me Hearties! A pirate festival is to be held in the historic city, that first saw pirates walking their streets two hundred years before the founding of our country. On November 12, 13 and 14th, pirates will once again occupy the nation’s oldest city. This time, the pirates will be in a much more festive mood. It will be a “Gathering” of pirates from around the country, coming together to celebrate the Golden Age of Piracy, and to share their pride and knowledge with the citizens and visitors of Saint Augustine. So… don ye pirate garb and join us for a weekend of mischief, skullduggery, and merrymaking as St. Augustine celebrates the gathering of pirate.

Friday November 12th, 2010, 7pm – Come join the pirates as we walk through historic downtown St. Augustine visiting several local pubs. All who wish to join will meet at the “Drop Anchor Tavern” on St. Francis field in the main tent.

Saturday November 13th 2009, 10:30am – 5pm at Saint Francis field will be improvisational actors, sword fights, cannon firings, black powder demonstrations and pirates, pirates, pirates. There will be vendors in our “Thieves Market” selling a variety of plundered. Located in the main tent will be the “Drop Anchor Tavern” where you can quench your thirst and toast your shipmates. For the kids there will be games, pirate magic, pictures and storytelling that will include tales of real St. Augustine pirates.

Saturday at 12:30pm the Pirate Gathering will feature a Pirate Parade along the Castillo, bayfront, Cathedral and Cordova back to St. Francis Field on Saturday at 11:00am. Then at 12:30pm a Pirate Battle will ensue at the Redoubt along St. George with cannon fire and sword play.

Saturday night is the world infamous “Buccaneer Bash.” This is a time to lay down your arms and enjoy some great music, fine food and drinks. As the St. Francis Field will be closed to the public at 5pm. This is a ticket only gala and is only open to pirates over the age of 21. Ticket information is available at www.pirategathering.com.

Sunday November 14th at 10:30 am is Pirate Court. Grievances are heard, disagreements are settled, and sentences are handed down in this comical court of Captains. It’s going to be a great weekend of swashing and buckling fun for the whole family.

For more information or tickets… log on to our website: www.pirategathering.com.

The St. Augustine Pirate Gathering is presented by Crew of the Black Heart, the Brothers of the Coasts, and the St. Augustine Pirates.

Faith has Aunties at the Travel Agency

Faith in Nairobi, Kenya

While being in Las Vegas for the annual Virtuoso Travel Mart in August I introduced the initiative of Kenyan Safari Operator Micato with a nonprofit arm in its organization called America Share (www.americashare.org). This organization matches sponsors with children in Kenya to provide these children with the opportunity to attend a boarding school and receive a good educational experience and potentially a real job and a chance in life. With the story of Justus, a 15 year old Kenyan boy, we at the Agency rooted the desire to adopt a child as well.

Today I would like to introduce our newest student  Faith, who was born Aug 18, 2000.  She is the youngest of 6 children and lives with her mother and two siblings.  Her father and 3 siblings are deceased. Faith’s mother sells vegetables on the side of one of the Mukuru village foot paths.  Her earnings are barely enough to support her family’s needs. Micato’s America Share has found Faith to be a disciplined student whose academic performance is above average, but her school attendance is irregular due to lack of money for school fees.

Faith is living in Mukuru, a large slum outside of Nairobi, Kenya where poverty is a tragic reality for its residents.  It is estimated that families of five members are living on $1.30 per day.  Mukuru is estimated to have a population of 500,000+ of which sixty percent or 300,000 are under the age of 18.  There is an estimated HIV prevalence rate of 15 percent, and approximately 30-40 percent of the children have been orphaned by HIV/AIDS in Mukuru. With the help of Micato’s America Share program the Travel Agency has “adopted” Faith as its newest student.

The travel advisers at the Travel Agency can write as often as they wish knowing that Faith will write the Agency at least 3 times a year. America Share encourages sending family pictures and letters as often as possible to encourage Faith and build a relationship with her as her supporters.  Faith has now a support group called “Aunties at The Travel Agency”.

The “aunties” will help Faith to ultimately become someone who will make a difference in her homeland!

Delta Airlines Expands Africa Presence

Luanda, Angola's Capital at Sunset on the Bay

Late September Delta Air Lines added an eighth ‘direct’ destination to their African expansion with the first-ever scheduled direct service between the US and Luanda, Angola, underscoring its commitment to expanding its presence in fast-growing African markets, especially for a rapidly growing global business travel market.

Luanda was already serviced from its West African hub in Dakar for travel from New York, but this new direct service between Atlanta and Luanda will shave hours off of business travelers’ itineraries as Dakar from Atlanta now becomes an intermediate stop instead of a stopover. The port city of Luanda is one of beautiful historical Portuguese heritage.

The equipment for the Angola flights will be a 243-seat Airbus A330-200 aircraft that will operate three times per week between Delta’s hub at Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport and Luanda.
Angola, two countries to the north of the country of South Africa on the Southwest Coast is one of Africa’s fastest growing business travel destinations on the continent and has seen double-digit growth in annual travelers for the past several years, a trend which is expected to grow at similar rates for the foreseeable future, according to Delta.

The new Luanda service marks a return of nonstop service between Atlanta and Dakar, adding to existing year-round service between the Senegalese capital and New York’s John F. Kennedy International Airport.
Other African hubs serviced by Delta are Cairo in Egypt, Dakar in Senegal and Accra in Ghana, as we could recently witness in an episode of The Amazing Race on CBS-TV.

From Atlanta, Delta flies directly to Johannesburg in South Africa, the Port City of Lagos in Nigeria, Accra in Ghana, via Accra into Abuja in Nigeria and Monrovia in Liberia and via Dakar to Nairobi in Kenya on the African East Coast and Malabo, Equatorial Guinea, an island off the coast of Cameroon.

Delta's Africa Connection

In a conversation I had last week during the 2nd Travel Agency organized travel show at the Ritz Carlton, it became rapidly clear that Africa is in the process of being discovered by both travel and business. One exhibitor, Micato Safaris in Kenya, reported numbers to be up as did Wilderness Safaris from South Africa.

A quick look at Delta’s Africa map reveals already the next planned hub expansions as the Dark Continent opens its beauty and secrets to the world.
Just imagine a trip to Johannesburg and the wine country of South Africa from Amelia Island ‘only’ takes a trip to Jacksonville Airport, a connector  flight to Atlanta and a straight flight to Jo’burg, South Africa. That’s different than the flight I did in 1984 from Atlanta to Amsterdam, to Paris, to Dakar to Johannesburg or this one in 1980 from Amsterdam to Rome to Bahrain to Bangkok to Singapore to Djakarta Indonesia arriving 36 hours after departure from Amsterdam.

Things are changing even more rapidly since we first published “53 Reasons to visit Africa” a couple of years ago on youTube in a story that underlined the Dark Continent as the new U.S.A – United States of Africa. By the way has anyone consciously noticed that out of the 6 presumed continents on earth, 5 could qualify for the same abbreviation U.S.A. Interesting.


The Lasting Value of a Pet

Can't say no to this, can you!

This morning, like most mornings I walked our little snorkie Scootertje on the beach and even though the sun was already edging higher on the eastern horizon, it was still brisk. Especially with the tide up to the dunes, the incoming breeze was invigorating in my case, but apparently quite cold for a women who was sitting a bit up the dunes with a camera and a thermos can of coffee and dressed warmly.

Since our snorkie (a 50/50 mix between a mini Schnauzer and a Yorkie) is completely ignorant of danger and everyone is his friend when the excitement catches his morning walks on the beach, I often get entangled in unintended conversations, while I’m really trying to keep up the pace and pay dues to my caloric intake of the previous day .

The woman this morning said with regret that she traveled constantly, but wished she could have a dog, while loving on our pup.
Even though I do understand her dilemma, reason why we waited until 3 years ago when traveling became an occasional instead of a weekly thing, I also remember our old neighbor Debbie with her beautiful lab Alex. Deb travels every week for work, often 3 or 4 days out of town. She values Alex so much however that she hired another neighbor to walk and feed Alex and even spend time with her. It is the price she pays for loyal companionship when she finally relaxes at home, she says.

This reminded me of an email my older brother sent me from Holland a couple of days ago that I would like to share with you.
– If you’re looking for someone who eats everything you serve him and never complains that Mom was a better cook..


..adopt a dog!

– If you’re looking for someone who will do anything with you, no matter the time of day ( or night), no matter when or where it takes him…

..adopt a dog!

– If you’re looking for someone who will never take the remote control, no matter if you’re watching football or a romantic movie…

..adopt a dog!

– If you’re looking for someone who will warm your feet in bed and who you can kick off the bed when the snoring gets too loud…

..adopt a dog!

– If you’re looking for someone who will never criticize your tone of voice and who won’t care whether you’re beautiful, handsome or homely…

..adopt a dog!

– but

when you’re looking for someone who will not hear you when you call, completely ignore you when you come home, leave hair all over the house, go out for most of the night and only come home to sleep and eat, and act as if their happiness should be the sole purpose of your life…

Now who is in charge here?

..than get yourself a cat!

Honestly, you didn’t think I was going to say get married, were you?

Florida Resident Passes to Disney World

Florida Resident Passes to Disney World

Disney World

The annual passes to Disney World in Orlando for Florida residents are now available with a new monthly payment program!

Your Magic Kingdom awaits! From Adventureland to Tomorrowland, where else can you see Cinderella’s Castle, take a wild voyage through secret pirate caverns and see all of the Presidents of the United States… all in one place?

Holding a Walt Disney World Annual Pass gives you the opportunity to create a lifetime of memories no matter your age! Taking an entire year to pay just makes it a little easier. You will also be entitled to exclusive Passholder discounts on Resort stays, dining and merchandise.

Visit disneyworld.com/monthly or any Theme Park ticket window to pick the Pass that’s right for you, and to find out how your family can experience year-round magic.

Proof of Florida residency is required and some blackout dates apply. Visit the website for more information.

Cruise to Jekyll Island with Amelia River Cruises

Cruise to Jekyll Island

Amelia River Cruises

Fernandina Beach, FL – Something new is happening on Amelia Island. Kevin McCarthy, Amelia River Cruises has launched Discovery Tours, a series of river cruises that will explore the waterways of Northern Florida and Southern Georgia.

“There is so much to see and explore, we are eager to share the incredible experience of touring on the water. We now have the boats that can take us up and down the coast. In addition to our day trips we are envisioning trips that will offer overnight opportunities”, shares McCarthy.

Jekyll Island and its elegant hotel is the perfect destination for the first in a series of tours. Once the playground of millionaires, the Jekyll Island Club is a Victorian treasure preserved on one of Georgia’s most beautiful barrier islands. Recognized as a National Historic Landmark in 1978, it has been designated a Historic Hotel of America by the National Trust for Historic Preservation. It once offered a retreat for the nation’s elite in the late 1800s and now offers visitors an escape to the gentle elegance of the Victorian age.

The Jekyll Island Discovery Tour is the first in a series of river trips planned. A trip traveling south with stops at Ribault Club, Kingsley Plantation and Ft. Caroline is under development. McCarthy is considering additional river trips that will travel to White Oak and as far south as St. Augustine.

The Jekyll Island tour will leave Thursday, November 4 at 8AM. The cruise includes lunch at the elegant Jekyll Island Club, and a tour of the hotel or the charming historic “cottages”. A bus will return to Amelia Island at 5:00PM. The $100 or $110 price includes lunch and tour. There are bathrooms on board.

For more information contact Dickie Anderson at dickie.anderson (at) gmail.com. To purchase tickets or be added to Discovery Tours mailing list call 904-262-9972.

Come Test Drive the World Today

The Travel Agency has a color mix of travel under the hood

Some of the most outstanding travel companies in the world are going to be represented at The Travel Agency’s Annual Travel Show at the Ritz Carlton today (Thursday October 14th from 4-7pm).  To be exact some 25 suppliers plus our own Amelia Island Ritz Carlton and Red Otter Outfitters make up an impressive line up.
Some of these suppliers have in recent years made the shift from pure leisure offerings to travel with a purpose others have been doing this for more than 40 years.

It is said that it has been a rapidly growing trend since the movie “The Bucket List” premiered on the big screen.

Especially women have shown a deep interest in traveling with a purpose. Learning or improving a skill, go on a life altering (changing) expedition, contribute, get fit and active, do a humanitarian tour and lend a hand while doing something exotic. The women at the Travel Agency have been frontrunners in this trend which is reflected in the tour suppliers they have invited for this year’s Travel Show entitled : Come Test Drive the World.


There are 10 cruise lines in the line up of exhibitors, yet none of them are the giants of the industry. “It’s not that we don’t book people on those fun trips,” says Ange Wallace, “it’s just that we decided to focus on the extraordinary. The niche markets, the once in a lifetime experience like Crystal Cruises new 94 day cruise around the world or one of the National Geographic Explorer trips to exotic tropical destinations or adventurous Antarctica.”
Regent , Holland America , Oceania , Silversea, Seabourn, Seadream, Orion, Azamara and AMA look for the extra special experience of discovery, history and education.

Tour Companies

The same goes for the Tour Companies that are displaying. Award Winning Micato Safaris is world reknown for its Africa Tours, Abercrombie and Kent has been involved in authentic luxury travel since 1962. I wrote a whole story about Tauck World Discovery’s new venture with award winning documentary film maker Ken Burns and the re-discovery of America’s park and historic sites, while Rockymountaineer will be presenting exciting ways to criss cross the Rockies by train.

In the current economy there is a heightened interest in discovering America and these are the trips you may want to experience and enjoy. CORK & TEE launched a Unique Upscale Group Travel Business in 2007 in which the Boutique Travel provider pairs Golf with Experiential Wine & Culinary holidays in Ireland, Scotland, California and Oregon.
Lindblad Expeditions is one of my personal favorites, rough and refined, adventurous within the confines of safety, their National Geographic Explorers take you the world’s exquisite remote spots and make you feel like an explorer of old.

Resorts and Services

A show of this caliber would not do well without a selection of Top Resorts to display luxury and leisure as well as the bounties of nature, whether it’s 7,000 acre resort Casa de Campo in the Dominican Republic or Six Senses Resorts and Spas , a resort and spa management and development company with properties in 6 countries including the Maldives, Thailand, Vietnam, Oman, Jordan, and Spain. I have noticed that the name alone produces dreamy stares in the distance by women who know.

Other spa resorts such as Canyon Ranch, with the claim to be the #1 healthy-living company in the world or the fascinating combination of luxury resorts, trains, restaurants, river boats, safaris and travel experiences offered by Orient Express Hotels and Resorts , the show will wet your appetite to plan a trip.

Last but not least, the Travel Agency enthusiastically welcomes some local and regional partners and friends such as the delightful luxury boutique Ocean Lodge on St.Simons and the exquisite Bed and Breakfast Lodge at little St.Simons, which is only accessible by boat.
And rounding of the show are Travelex , Red Otter Outfitters , Amelia Island’s premier outdoor gear boutique, Medjet Assist , a very worthwhile safety net and of course our own pride and joy: The Ritz Carlton Amelia Island.

Make sure to be there this afternoon from 4 to 7 and line your pocket with a $10 bill, as a “mandatory” donation to the Nassau County Boys and Girls Club. Today’s travel industry recognizes the footprint we make and accepts the joy to learn and give back.

Impressions of an Arctic Expedition

A Lindblad Expeditions/Nat'l Geographic Trip is a learning experience, never to be forgotten.

In preparation for our annual travel show this Thursday October 14th  from 4-7pm at the Ritz Carlton, Search Amelia asked us to write some stories about the type of travel we love to arrange for our friends and clients. The following is a personal reflection on a Lindblad Expeditions trip I did with National Geographic two years ago.
For me this trip was a defining moment in life.

When I booked my trip to Antarctica with Lindblad Expeditions, I was so excited!  Then as I shared this excitement I learned that not everyone dreamed of going to the White Continent, including my husband!!  A balanced 50/50 were the responses to my excited announcement that I was going to Antarctica. The reactions were either: “Oh you lucky person you!!” or just an incredulous, “WHY?”
So, off I went without hubby, for the adventure of a lifetime!  I will tell you my why’s but you should explore your own, before committing to this 14-21 day exploration that will awaken parts of your soul you hadn’t even found yet!

First of all, having sent friends and clients on similar trips, I had heard of the dreaded Drake Passage! Watch this video on youTube for a true reflection. The experience did not disappoint!   The trip started off with pitching and rolling far better than any Disney ride, a condition that made moving around a challenge at first.  Meals were fairly exciting and understandably not well attended as the dining area was in the bow!  Luckily all the lectures could be heard in the cabins or much great information would have been missed!

The next day dawned to calmer seas as we approached the Southern Shetland Islands. The morning was spent educating us to the process of loading and landing the zodiacs and the protocol to follow on land as determined by IAATO, International Antarctic Treaty Organization .  Understanding the fragility of this wonderland and the efforts being made to preserve it going forward becomes one of the real reasons for making the trip.

So, off we went to Half Moon Island!  This was a beautiful little crescent beach with a fresh snowfall and hundreds of chinstrap penguins in the early stages of nest building, mate calling, mating (right under our watchful eyes and cameras!) and just generally moving back and forth to the beach.  There were a very few gentoo penguins in the area also.   As we “post holed” through about 2 feet of snow, it brought chill bumps to realize we were the first to land here this season. We all giggled a bit as we got used to our awkwardness, swarthed in long underwear, heavy wool socks stuffed into arctic muck boots, fleece pants covered by waterproof pants, layered tops, ending in our soon to be beloved parkas, gloves, hats, sunglasses, binoculars, life jackets, cameras and backpacks!  Talk about the Pillsbury Doughboy!!   We learned quickly that there is no bad weather, only improper gear!

A geographic impression of where in the world is....?

Our evening ended anchored off the beach for the Captain’s reception and dinner. By now we are beginning to discover our fellow travelers!  Aged from 6 to 88, coming from the US, Ireland, Iran, South America there was a common bond-the excitement of realizing our dream of Antarctica.  It was interesting to learn how many of us had left spouses at home!  The people attracted to this harsh land make wonderfully interesting travel companions!

Our expedition leader was Tim Soper.  Tim was raised on the Devon coast of southwest England.  Qualified by the Professional Association of Diving Instructors and the Royal Yachting Association, he worked above and below the sea surface teaching scuba, sailing, and power boating.  Tim also earned an Honors Degree in Ocean Sciences at the University of Wales, where his work ranged from tropical ecology to management of the Polar Regions.  Tim has worked in the world of expedition travel since 1994, as expedition staff, leader, and dive master.  He has explored every continent and crossed every ocean, including high latitude exploration of both the Arctic and Antarctic. Nothing but the best for us!

I mention this only to give you an idea of the quality of the staff entrusted with our education and safety.  Antarctica is an untamed part of the world.  It can be visited safely but it requires experience, careful planning, flexibility, trust, education, communication, and reliable equipment.  When you are ready to visit, choose your expedition company carefully!  Lindblad has been bringing expeditions to Antarctica since 1966.  The National Geographic Explorer was built specifically to standards necessary to ensure maximum safety, comfort, and enjoyment of this environment!

The rest of our days were filled with landings where we experienced penguins (gentoos, chinstraps, and adelies, sea birds, sea lions, leopard seals, remnants of whaling stations, Palmer Station – the US scientific station on the Antarctic Peninsula, and Port Lockroy Station.  Interspersed with the landings were great zodiac explorations among the immense and beautiful icebergs and kayak adventures where possible!  We hiked up peaks for amazing vistas and watched glaciers calving nearby.

While we explored, our underwater photographer was diving in frigid waters bringing amazing footage of the wealth of undersea life to us at our cozy evening debriefings.  One dive produced an amazing, hair-raising encounter with a young leopard seal- a most dangerous predator but graceful and curious in front of the camera!

All too soon our enchanted encounter came to an end and we returned via the even more raucous Drake Passage with gorgeous views of this powerful body of water from the 24 hour open bridge.  Then back in the Beagle Channel we wake up to the view of quaint Ushuaia.   Our heads spinning with all we have learned of flora, fauna, ice, climactic change, stewardship, history, and ourselves, and we are truly overwhelmed as we disembark.  We will forever view the world with different eyes, as we try, often to no avail however, to share the stories we have lived in those short two weeks!

See America First

Film Maker Ken Burns makes deal with Tauck Tours

In anticipation of the big Travel Expo this coming Thursday the 14th at the Ritz, The Travel Agency is bringing some exciting exhibitor updates as well as intermediate announcements of Show Specials and Discounts.

One of the exhibitors, Tauck Tour Company, made a major announcement last week when award-winning documentary filmmaker Ken Burns and his longtime collaborator Dayton Duncan agreed on a partnership deal with the Tauck Tour Company  in Connecticut. With this move Tauck has not only “monopolized” the marketing of next year’s 150th anniversary of the start of the Civil War, it has also entered into a growing market of national interest by bringing the stories from their films and books to life in first-hand travel experiences.
Tauck’s new Ken Burns American Journeys will initially focus on three areas: One– design new U.S. itineraries inspired by their films, covering trips to national parks, Civil War sites and other destinations related to Burns’ fascinating film documentaries.
Two– Tauck is creating special signature events featuring appearances by Burns and /or Duncan and Three– Tauck’s guests on a variety of tours such as the U.S. Tauck World Discovery, Culturious and Tauck Bridges trips, will enjoy a series of short, exclusive films on tour in which the filmmakers will share their perspectives and convey the true history, cultural significance and personal stories of the people who shaped the places  guests will visit during their trip.
For 2011 the partnership will focus on two Tauck itineraries, one for national parks in the Southwest and other for Civil War sites in Washington D.C., Virginia, Maryland and Pennsylvania.
Burns and Duncan will make set appearances at scheduled Tauck events, including a Civil War-related trip in May 2011 and a tour on the roots of jazz in New Orleans in October 2011.
Tauck announced that pricing and exact dates will begin to be listed at the Tauck.com website in the next 30 days, but here on Amelia Island we may get a preview when Tauck representatives will be here this week for the Travel Agency’s Annual Travel Show.
Burns’ 2009 documentary, “The National Parks: America’s Best Idea,” is majorly credited with helping to increase visitation at the parks by 10 million over the previous year. His series on “The Civil War” originally aired in 1990 but is scheduled to be brought back next year as the US marks the 150th anniversary of the start of the Civil War.
Burns is famous for his filming approach that includes places where history is “not just excavating dry dates and facts … but also listening to ghosts and echoes.” He is also quoted as saying that “choosing a favorite park has as much to do with “who was holding your hand” when you visited as what you saw or did”. The beauty is obvious, but you also need to “explore their intimate secrets.” And for anyone who ever edited a home or professional movie, clip or commercial, the Ken Burns Effect is a well known editing capability.

Travel Agency Brings World to the Ritz

The world in our hands

Last year October Amelia Island’s premier travel agency, appropriately named The Travel Agency organized its first Supplier Show at the Ritz Carlton with a fabulous response. Next week Thursday the 8 women that make up the agency are doing it again…and yes, it’s going to be bigger and better. No less than 27 major suppliers of travel opportunities are going to be exhibiting at the Deluxe Travel Show which is promoted as “Come Test Drive the World”.

Looking at the representations it reads like a Who is Who of places I want to see and experience, from Micato Safaris and Lindblad Expeditions to Tauck World Discoveries and 10 of the world’s most amazing cruise lines, you’re bound to learn a lot of interesting new travel trends that will wet your appetite for a fabulous trip to ad to life’s experiences.

When several years back the Travel Agency embarked on becoming travel advisors, rather than pre-internet order takers, travel as a means of education became a big ticket. The agency’s successive association with Luxury Travel Promoter Virtuoso and a handpicked selection of upscale suppliers, has resulted in a well balanced travel clientele locally, regionally, nationally and yes…even internationally. The Travel Agency has very well adjusted to the means and opportunities offered by the internet and turned them into unique travel offers.

Of course we hear people say these days of prolonged economic distress that they can’t afford to travel, but really, that is a bit like sending Pollyana home with the message that in this world there is no place for positive optimism. We will still go on vacation, we will still select honeymoons and cruises and take our kids on that binding family vacation that will stay with us for a lifetime, we will still want to explore the outer limits and the unknown, but we will match our desires with a satisfaction guaranteed experience; an experience that can only successfully be delivered by professionals like the Travel Agency where the relationship with handpicked top-of-the-line suppliers assures personal attention.

The Travel Show is only from 4-7 pm next week Thursday, October 14th at the Amelia Island Ritz Carlton and limited to 500 attendees only and it takes a $10 donation for the Nassau County Boys and Girls Club to gain access, as the Women at the Travel Agency are also big in giving back to Boys and Girls and Animals.

Check out the poster and call or email angela@thetvlagency.com . If you love to travel, this is one show you don’t want to miss.

Come meet the dream specialists

Tuesdays are for Travel Updates

Beach Club and Hotels are coming back

It seems that all my travel information subscriptions hit my inboxes on Tuesday. Travel Weekly, Travel Mole, Travel Zone and even Travel Market Report, which today treated me to an interesting story that originates here at the Travel Agency on Amelia Island. The story was headlined: Travel Seller Profile – Putting a Price on Value.

Ever since airlines started cutting out commissions to the travel agent, who was essentially not much more than an order taker, the question has been: are travel agents a dying breed when cruise companies are going to do the same? Ange Wallace and her group of Travel Sellers were not going to go away laying down and as this article states are one of the industry leaders in putting proper value to their services with a full fee menu.
The article is linked under http://www.travelmarketreport.com/retail?articleID=4274&LP=1 and is entrepreneurial and gutsy in its approach, as it is always a risk to be the first one to come with answers to the realities of the future. What Virgin Chief Richard Branson once stated about change and economy is what Ange and Angela Wallace and her staff of Ya Ya Sisterhood women put into practice: It’s important to keep innovating and renewing yourself.

Branson said. “Businesses can’t sit and wait. They can’t keep doing nothing or the same thing or they won’t last. When they sit and wait because they’re afraid the unthinkable will happen, that hastens the unthinkable to happen. The best always survive. The best clubs, the best hotels, the best restaurants, the best airlines, the best travel sellers. Never cut back on quality and people will seek you out and you will flourish.”

Visiting the US
If you’re planning a trip to the US, you will have to pay a new travel fee that started September 8.
 Travelers from 36 nations in the Visa Waiver program will be required to pay US$14 to register through the Electronic System for Travel Authorization, or ESTA, required for travelers using the Visa Waiver Program. Here comes the “beauty” as four of the $14 will cover ESTA operating costs and $10 will go toward promoting the United States as a tourist destination, according to insiders.
 Steve Lott, a spokesperson for IATA compares it to not only charging friends at the door a fee for dinner access, but also the nuisance of having to fill out an acceptance form prior to coming to your house.” Let’s see how many friends we would have left after that exercise of disrespect.
I agree that if the idea would have been to to increase tourism to the United States, raising the entry fee would be the last thing we would expect. A bit more effort should be made to improve the cumbersome  and downright frightening entry process instead.
But Obama signed the Travel Promotion Act in March and now we can expect another drop in arrivals.
The United States welcomed 633,000 fewer overseas visitors in 2008 than in 2000, despite strong global growth in long-haul international travel during that period, according to figures from the U.S. Department of Commerce.
Yet, the US Travel Association doesn’t expect the fee to have a negative effect on visitation?! Economic consulting firm Oxford Economics even estimates that a well-executed promotional program would draw 1.6 million new international visitors annually. Anyone who can explain this logic to me deserves the presidency and sit at the horn of plenty.

Social media make growing sales impact in Travel

No matter what type of travel you’re booking, you can expect to see more implications of social media.
Airlines are maintaining a presence on YouTube and offering deals through social-mapping networks. Hotels are promoting their properties through bloggers and they’re using social-networking sites to gather feedback, monitor trends and provide concierge services. Does this mean a permanent change in how people travel?
Industry experts are of the opinion that social media are about to change the way we do things entirely. Corporations use it to admit it if they’ve made a mistake and airlines if there’s a weather delay. Communicating faster and more effectively is what gets
social media incorporated at a rapid rate into every part of a journey. That can range from where to eat to finding and buying airline tickets.
An important goal of the business model is staking a claim in the social-media space to build a base of loyal followers who will keep coming back.

In another hi-tech turn it has now been confirmed that what hotel guests want most, is free Wi-Fi.
A comfortable room and a hot breakfast are fine but what most hotel guests want is much more technology-oriented: free Wi-Fi, so says J. D. Power & Associates in a survey of 53,000 travelers.
 And guess what? That preference was shared by both luxury and budget travelers. The survey also found that the most expensive hotels were the least likely to offer free Wi-Fi, or even offer it. The survey claimed that of guests staying at mid-scale hotels, 96 percent said they got free Wi-Fi, as did 64 percent of guests at budget hotels. Hotels are definitely beginning to feel more pressure to offer the service free of charge, as do many coffee shops and restaurants including Starbucks and McDonald’s. Most interesting is actually that not having Wi-Fi at all, is a quick way out of business these days.
And then there is of course the trend towards boutique hotels.

Lifestyle Hotels

The future of hotels is in boutique hotels as was confirmed by Marriott International Inc. now that the largest US hotelier by value has joined nearly all top hotel companies in saying that boutique or lifestyle brands are where visitors are expected to stay.
 Marriott plans to open its first Edition hotel in Waikiki Beach this October and is interested in getting into the market as fast as and with as many as we can, according to Marriott Chief Executive J.W. “Bill” Marriott.
Nearly all top hotel companies including Starwood, Hyatt and Intercontinental are unveiling or expanding boutique concepts, which allows as much as 12% surcharge over other hotels of similar quality.
So just what is the charm of the “boutique” hotel? It’s the heightened experience and individuality, according to trend watchers, it’s really about how it feels to the individual, adding that it is difficult to duplicate or even define it. Such hotels can range from around 100 rooms to 1,000 and from two-star to five.
 To get an idea of the numbers, as of the first quarter of 2010, there were 390 lifestyle hotels run by lodging companies in the US, while about 100 boutique hotels have opened or are set to open in 2010 and 2011.

The Recovery of Meetings and the trend towards Pubs
Our local EABC (European American Business Club) is not alone in its selection of Pubs as a meeting place. Tonight’s meeting is at o’Kane’s on Center Street, starting at 6pm. The Amelia Island Business Club meets in a Pub/Restaurant as well. Will your next meeting be in a pub too? Cost-conscious event planners are increasingly looking for money-saving venues that include ordinary-looking pubs and this could mean that the traditional hotels and their conference centers are threatened in one way or the other.
More and more hotels are now booking smart pub-type venues for meetings because they are seen as a viable ‘no-frills’ option and
the overriding reason is that pubs can offer the same services as hotels at a lower price. Often free back rooms can substitute for more expensive hotel meeting venues.
There is clearly a move away from the top end of the four star [hotel] market. People will avoid residential meetings if they can, and found that a hotel is suddenly not the only option available.

On the other hand however there is SMERF to the rescue.

This acronym for Social, Military, Educational, Religious and Fraternal, indicates a growing market segment for the sales of banqueting rooms and meeting facilities and industry experts says that the Beach is Back in favor.
Meeting business at ocean side properties, in common with upscale resorts sometimes associated with lavish spending in tough times, are getting out of the deep freeze for a gradual warming up and one outcome of the improved market is that coastal properties are again investing in facilities for groups, hence Omni’s interest in expanding the Ball Room facilities at Amelia Island Plantation with 16,000 square feet.
 And incentives are also being added for groups with hotels offering the group market a variety of incentives like credits on food and beverage, special spa services and packaging deals.
Some resorts are seeing more association and SMERF business since lowering their rates and positioning themselves as bargains compared to other destinations, while corporate is still holding back cautiously.
Even though the longer term outlook for coastal resorts looks good, it may take up to 18 months or so for the market to absorb supply.

Now that you can get Senior Discounts…

Cruise Discounts for Seniors

I already told you that my wife and I went to see Hot Lips Loretta Swit at the Alhambra in Jacksonville. What I didn’t tell you is how I learned that I’m now a senior, actually for quite some time really. Almost everything in my household is purchased online. We have as many Paypal accounts as we have bank accounts and appreciate the ease with which we can initiate dozens of transactions daily. So when time came to print out the tickets to the Alhambra I noticed that there was a $2.50 deduction on the print out with the note “senior”. Now there was a time not so long ago that I would have ripped someone’s head off for this ‘insult’, but today I realize that the alternative to getting older is not really an alternative at all.
So I decided to look at it as an accomplishment and learned that one of the great perks of reaching age 55 is the benefit of senior discount and saving up to 75 percent on cruises.

So far cruises have not really impressed me as something I would want to spend my time on. Cruising is for older people is the impression etched into my brain. I’m with my wife’s dad who on his 79th birthday was repairing an air conditioning unit for “some old folks” who were suffering from the heat wave. I’d be surprised if they were not younger than he is.

My wife, who is heartless in the pursuit of savings when it comes to senior discounts, (favors I will be looking forward to return one day) now sent me an email that Carnival is senior discounting its Bahamas/Key West trip out of Jacksonville to $129 p/p. From my years in the Caribbean I know the incredible discounts you can get on trips between now and mid November as cruise operations are struggling to fill their “huts”.  September and October are back to school months with no vacations and the threat of hurricanes to boot and consequently most destinations and operators in the travel and tourism business are either prepping for the next season, repairing and doing necessary upkeep and maintenance or drop prices to the bare minimum needed to run a skeleton crew and hope that guests will still spend their money on food, shopping, liquor and extras.

So when you have the time and don’t mind admitting that you are now a senior, you may want to check into it and find a growing number of major cruise lines now offering special discounts of up to 75 percent for passengers age 55 and older.
How do you find out about these deals? Well, you can call your travel agent or search the internet. A good source for cruise discounts in particular is Vacations To Go whose website offers:

Age 55+ Discounts
A special section of the site is dedicated to these discounts. You can search by cruise line, region or month to find incredible savings. Only one passenger per cabin must be at least 55 in order to gain the discount for everyone in the room.

90-Day Ticker
This section of the site is a complete listing of last-minute cruises. The section is easy to use and you can view last-minute deals with information on destination stops, port city, ship type and more. It’s not uncommon for users to save more than half what they would normally pay, which equates to hundreds if not thousands in savings.

Find a Bargain
If you prefer to book further in advance, or if you have a specific cruise line in mind, you can still find discounted prices in the “Find a Bargain” section. There you’ll find a treasure trove of early-bird discounts, two-for-ones and other cut-rate promotions on every cruise line in the world. Remember to always tell your Vacations To Go cruise counselor if any member of your party is 55 or older.

Cruise Specials
Cruise lines develop trips and itineraries to appeal to all types of people, and there are more than a thousand cruise destinations around the world. Cruises are perfect for singles, grandparents with grandchildren, people who have special needs, and more.
All you have to do to find this information is sign up for Vacations To Go’s free weekly newsletter at www.VacationsToGo.com. Now you have a secret source for finding the best cruise deals.

The Future for Solo Travel is Bright

Epic Studio on the Norwegian Epic for solo travelers

If you have ever been or are currently a solo traveler, you know that there are no more annoying words in travel pricing than “based on double occupancy.” Even though in the past 20-30 years a significant trend has been moving towards satisfying the needs of singles, many industries are still penalizing people for being single in a couples world.

Newly launched cruise ship sensation the “Norwegian Epic” dealt with the problem head on and included in its floor plans a significant number of single studios. Their motivation was the recognition that we’re living in a world in which singles are a growing entity, whether couples have become so professionally entangled that they prefer separate vacations or the plain truth that these day not everyone considers being part of a couple as the answer to life’s ups and downs. Fact is that there are many more traveling singles these days, as a matter of fact a full one quarter of Americans traveling domestically or abroad these day travel single.

Even though hotels still harbor the reputation, it is primarily in the cruise industry that solo travelers are still considered second hand passengers. Until the Norwegian Epic, which sails out of the port of Miami with weekly Caribbean itineraries announced, that it would be offering single studios. Yet, the dreaded single supplement remains the norm on cruise ships, with solos paying as much as double the fare for one person if they don’t share a stateroom,” reported the LA Times recently.
Those who specialize in singles travel say solo travelers are treated like second-class citizens.

And by far the most-voiced complaint is about the single supplements on cruise lines. Norwegian’s move “may have awakened the industry to demand,” insiders say but they don’t expect other lines rushing to follow suit, if only because staterooms on most ships currently being built, are prefabricated as doubles.
For the cruise lines, it’s understandably all about the bottom line: If a ship is filled to capacity, more people are spending in the bars, the casino, the premier restaurants and for shore excursions.
Norwegian Cruise Lines admits that it is taking a bit of a financial hit, but they’re betting on attracting a whole new demographic. The numbers are there to proof it; one in five Americans has taken one of more cruises, yet only one of twenty singles has, because they balk at paying for two, says Norwegian, adding that they are sold out on a lot of their sailings.

Each Epic studio stateroom is 100-square-feet and has a full size bed plus a flat-screen TV and private bath. There’s a common area reserved for those occupying a studio stateroom that’s called the Studio Lounge that offers coffee, cocktails, snacks as well as a large-screen television and concierge service. Each cabin also has color-changing lighting options that allows a passenger to change the lighting depending on the time of day or his or her mood.  There’s even a “love” setting for romantic nights at sea. No idea what love lighting looks like, but if it works, it could mean the next time you book a cruise, you’ll have to go back to a cabin or stateroom for two. Fair warning!

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