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Archive for March, 2010

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Chris Gray Faust: Great travel places you’re not thinking of

Chris Gray Faust

Traveling and writing are two of my favorite things. Put them together and you have what I think is one of the best jobs. And Chris Gray Faust has it. She’s the former travel editor of USA Today and creator of the travel Web site, Chris Around the World.

I caught up with Chris the other day to talk about her career and her favorite travel destinations — many of which are off the beaten path. She shared how she discovered them and why you should put them on your list as your next travel destination.

Chris also talked about her travel advice and the inside scoop on her upcoming iPhone app, and much more. You can listen to our conversation in the podcast below.

Chris has been a journalist for over 20 years. She started at the York Daily Record in Pennsylvania and went on to the New Orleans Times-Picayune, The Philadelphia Inquirer, and finally to USA Today. In between reporting on the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina, covering urban education, and focusing on numerous other beats, Chris discovered her passion for traveling.

Her latest venture, Chris Around the World, is an outgrowth from her work at USA Today. It’s a helpful Web site offering travel tips, books, gear, news, photos, and more from Chris’s experiences around the globe.

So pop in your headphones or turn your speakers up, here’s another Friendly Planet Travel podcast with Chris Gray Faust.

A look inside Friendly Planet Travel’s Iberian Coasts Cruise (part 5)

Our fifth day aboard the Louis Majesty got off to a little bit of a rocky start. Literally. The waves were churning rougher than anyone had expected, and the crew decided that it wouldn’t be possible to make our scheduled stop in Gibraltar.

With massive winter waves hitting the boat at high speeds, it would have been unlikely the ship could have been maneuvered into the narrow port. So while we sailed on to our afternoon in Tangier, Morocco, I decided to take advantage of my time on ship to get to know the Louis Majesty a bit more intimately.

The Majesty can hold up to 1,790 passengers in its 731 staterooms and suites. All rooms are appointed with an array of modern comforts, including climate control, telephone, TV, and private bathroom. Most of the 481 outside cabins offer large picture windows with views of the Mediterranean.

The Majesty isn’t enormous by cruise ship standards, but that doesn’t mean that there is ever a lack of something to do. In fact, there was so much to do on board, it was almost impossible to see it all.

There’s the formal dining room, six restaurants, nine bars and lounges, a disco, two swimming pools, two hot tubs, a sun deck, an Internet cafe, beauty salon, fitness center, spa, sauna, theater, casino, game room, children’s pool, kid’s corner, and the duty free shop. PHEW!

Thankfully, a copy of the “Louis News” was delivered to my cabin every evening, which kept me in the loop on everything happening on board the next day. Information such as daily activities, meeting points for shore excursions, show times, meal times, weather predictions, and sunrise and sunset times were all included.

You could also find the next day’s dress code. While it’s hard to find a cruise without a dress code, I found the Majesty’s to be generally casual. While passengers typically dressed for comfort during the day, the evenings brought out a bit more sophistication.

DRESS TO IMPRESS: Passengers brought out their finer outfits for places like the Seven Seas Restaurant

By late morning, we were out of the Strait of Gibraltar and on our way to Africa! And as land came into view, I had forgotten all about Gibraltar as my head filled with images of bustling marketplaces; towering mosques; and all the exotic sites, smells, and sounds of Morocco

After Peru mudslide, Machu Picchu reopens today

I wanted to start the week off with some good news. But before I tell you, let me bring you up to speed on what was happening in Peru. A massive mudslide occurred on Jan. 26 that closed cities, suspended all transportation, shut down tourist attractions, and more.

Since then, the country has been working hard to repair the damage. On the top of the list was reopening Machu Picchu, which is among the most important and popular tourist destinations in this hemisphere. I’m happy to report that PeruRail will resume service to Machu Picchu starting today!

I’m looking forward to bringing travel back to Peru’s most spectacular site. When we first heard about the mudslide, we got very busy. Two of our tours, Amazing Peru and Peru, Ecuador and Galapagos were directly affected.

If you’re wondering how Friendly Planet handled this force majeure, let me tell you what we did to accommodate our travelers. First, we immediately contacted our suppliers and made sure that there were no penalties associated with any of the options we were giving our travelers. Then we gave everyone four options to choose from.

Travelers could go on the same tour, but with an adjusted itinerary. The next option was to schedule a later departure date and receive a $100 credit to help with costs associated with changing domestic flights. Lastly, if travelers didn’t like either of those options, they could book any other Friendly Planet tour or, if travelers found none of the options appealing, they could get a full refund.

When situations such as these occur, we do everything possible for our travelers so they avoid incurring extra costs and experience as little inconvenience as possible. I put myself in their shoes. Telling them their tour is canceled because something happened that was beyond their control, and then letting them cope with the consequences themselves, is simply not an option for Friendly Planet.

In the case of Peru, I think we did a terrific job accommodating our travelers. Now that tours to one of the most stunning sites in the world is back in business, take a trip to see Machu Picchu. It’s one location everyone should see. If you want to experience it, book our 12-day Amazing Peru tour or the 15-day Peru, Ecuador and Galapagos tour.

Transcript of my podcast on Dazzling Dubai and Kenya Wildlife Safari

If you prefer to read my interview with Randy Jones to copy down some of his tips about Dubai and Kenya, go for it. Here’s the transcript.

Friday’s Friendly Funny

Dishing on Dazzling Dubai and Kenya Wildlife Safari

Randy and Carolyn on the desert safari tour

Every time I read new feedback from our customer surveys, the travel bug in me grows a little bigger. When I hear from our customers about what a great time they had on a Friendly Planet tour, I immediately want to know more.

What was their favorite part? What did they learn from the tour guides? What did they have for dinner? A million questions run through my mind.

Some of the latest feedback I’ve read has come from Randy Jones. He sent me an e-mail with some amazing photos from the Dazzling Dubai tour and the Kenya Wildlife Safari extension that he and his wife Carolyn took. I already wanted to hop on the next plane to Dubai!

I gave Randy a call to learn more about his trip. From the lavish hotels in Dubai to the beautiful tents in Kenya, Randy recounted the fantastic time he and Carolyn had.

If you’re considering booking this six-day tour for $1,499, I suggest listening to my podcast with Randy. He offers some unique perspectives on the country, his most memorable moments, and gives advice for those thinking about traveling to Dubai. Enjoy!

A look inside Friendly Planet Travel’s Iberian Coasts Cruise (part 4)

Lying on the eastern coast of Spain, Alicante is steeped in history, rich in culture, awash with every kind of shop, and bursting with European beach life. The city of 320,000 residents enjoys a privileged year-round climate with an average temperature of 66.2 degrees and 2,500 sunny hours each year. For a sun-dog like me, that’s all I needed to hear.

As the Louis Majesty pulled into port at Alicante, I was looking forward to some slightly warmer weather in the palm-lined coastal town. Unfortunately for us, in February “slightly warmer” meant rain. But that wasn’t going to stop us from enjoying our morning in port.

STEEPED IN HISTORY: Alicante, Spain

As we stepped off the shuttle that took us from port to the city’s bustling downtown, it wasn’t hard to imagine why Alicante has become one of the most popular tourist destinations in Spain, even in a drizzle. The marina area is one of the most prosperous areas of the city, an open space facing the sea replete with bars, restaurants, and outdoor squares.

Our first glimpse of the city from the boat revealed an ancient castle towering above the city center, which, when we arrived in town, was our first destination.

ON THE MOUNT: Castle Santa Barbara

The Castle Santa Barbara sits 166 meters above sea level on Mount Benacantil. Positioned for its enormous strategic value, it’s possible to see the entire Bay of Alicante and surrounding stretch of land from the mountain’s summit.

On the hillside leading up to the castle, different archaeological remains have been found dating back to the Bronze Age, as well as from the Roman and Iberian civilizations. The origins of the actual fortress however, date from the late 9th Century, when the Moors ruled Spain.

My husband and I took an elevator to the top of the castle to spend some time exploring the grounds on our own. Tracing my fingers along the castle walls, it was incredible to imagine how astonishing the Castle Santa Barbara must have seemed as it emerged from the hilltop over 12 centuries ago.

A VIEW FROM THE TOP: Bay of Alicante

After spending a few hours walking through the castle’s three precincts, we spent the rest of the morning ambling through Alicante’s streets, popping in to quiet churches along the way.

The sea was a beautiful turquoise green, which seemed to bleed into the tropical feel of the city itself. The streets were busy for a Monday morning, but the people seemed to have a bit more of a somber feel to them than those in Barcelona.

This could have been due to the rain on a city that wasn’t quite used to breaking out umbrellas, or the fact that Sundays are simply happier days than Mondays, no matter which country you live in. Or perhaps, everyone was simply biding their time until summer weather, when the true splendor of the city would truly emerge.

Weekly wrap up: Friendly Planet featured on MSNBC, USA Today, and more

Per our usual end of the week wrap up, I wanted to share with you where Friendly Planet tours (and me!) have been featured around the media world.


MSNBC.COM: Exotic 8-night Ecuador tour on sale


USA TODAY: Exotic 8-Night Ecuador Tour w/Air from $1,299


Peter Greenberg Worldwide: Friendly Planet Taste of Vietnam Tour Now Only $1,199


TRAVEL BLOG SITES: Peggy Goldman writes Friendly Planet’s blog

Friday’s Friendly Funny

AOL’s Asylum picks Friendly Planet Travel’s Exotic Ecuador as a spring break destination

It’s been gorgeous here the last few days. Spring is right around the corner and I know a lot of people are looking forward to their spring break.

Friendly Planet was just featured in “Asylum’s Picks for Spring Break 2010” on AOL. Our eight-day, $1,199 Exotic Ecuador tour won the distinction of Best Long International Trip. I want to say THANK YOU to the editors for recognizing our tour. And while you’re at Asylum’s site, see who else made the cut.

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About Peggy

Peggy Goldman is a specialty tour operator and travel expert, who owns and operates Friendly Planet Travel, a full-service company that specializes in tour packages to exotic worldwide destinations at affordable prices.   More about Peggy

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