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Posts Tagged ‘Cruise’

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Experience the mystery of Egypt on Friendly Planet’s 12-day Treasures of Egypt tour

As the third part of this week’s Africa series, I’d like to take you north. Egypt is the land of fascinating culture, mesmerizing history, and sweeping natural beauty. And there are perhaps few places in the world more revered for its mystery and majesty.

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Once again, Friendly Planet is defying skyrocketing travel prices to bring you a fantastic, truly first-class Egypt vacation deal fit for a pharaoh. On our Treasures of Egypt tour, you’ll spend 12 days exploring the famous Sphinx and pyramids at Giza, the temples at Luxor and Edfu, King Tut’s tomb, Old Cairo, and so much more, for only $2,299.

For the second leg of the journey, travelers will be treated to seven nights aboard a luxury cruise on the Nile aboard the 5-star M/S Tulip cruise ship. As always, roundtrip flights, transfers, touring, and many meals are also part of this vacation package.

Have a look at the Friendly Planet Travel Web site for more information, departure dates, booking, and a full itinerary.

Four steps to choosing the travel package that’s right for you

You know how everyone always writes in their travel ads to book now, because space is limited? Well, sometimes it’s actually the truth, especially when the space is for an awesome holiday travel deal that features gorgeous destinations and incredibly low prices. Even though we released our two December holiday deals just last week, they are already sold out.

To be perfectly truthful, there were some in the office who said it was too late to offer our special December holiday cruises in October. After all, that would leave only about four weeks to fill our allotments before having to release our blocked space. How wrong they were.

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We released our Mediterranean Highlights and Iberian Coasts cruises on Wednesday, Oct. 7, and as of this morning, both the Dec. 18 Mediterranean Highlights cruise and the Dec. 26 Iberian Coasts cruise are sold out. It isn’t really surprising to me, though.

So, while the December space is no longer available, departures later in 2010 still have plenty of space, including a Feb. 11-22, 2010 sailing of Iberian Coasts, which starts at just $1,399 including airfare, transfers, an eight-night cruise, and two bonus nights in Rome. Dare we say, book now, because space is limited?

But what if you can’t decide which cruise is right for you? They both sail through the Mediterranean Sea. They both stop at ports of call in some of the most beautiful coastal towns. And they both pamper vacationers with all the luxuries of the M/V Louis Majesty. How do you compare vacation packages that seem similar but have different prices?

People always ask me how to best make price comparisons of various vacation offerings. Sometimes, the trips seem identical, and yet the prices are vastly different. What can a traveler do to properly compare two or more trips, and determine which one offers the best value for the money?

Too often, I see travelers simply comparing the number of days of travel and the selling price. But these two details – while important – are very far from telling the real story of how one trip differs from another, and which is the one you should book for yourself.

I’ve put together four surefire steps that guarantee you’ll always be able to tell which package is the best deal.

1. Make a list of package features and line the list up feature by feature. Check items such as included flights, transfers, hotel nights, included meals, included touring, and hotels. Typically, the price differential has to do with any one, or a combination of these features. For example, Friendly Planet Travel usually includes all transfers if possible, while our competitors frequently do not. Sometimes, companies include no transfers at all, which could easily add a hefty sum of money to your trip’s bottom line.

Hotels can also make a big difference in the price of a tour, so be sure check the hotels by name. If the hotels listed for each tour differ, visit a site like TripAdvisor.com to see if you can ascertain differences in the service. Our hotels are always well-located. Hotels that are situated far from the action are typically less expensive than those with better locations, for obvious reasons. FP_vacancy.jpg

On TripAdvisor, you can see rates of hotels, and while you might not be paying those precise rates as part of your tour, you’ll certainly be able to figure out that one tour, using Hotel A, costs less than another tour, using Hotel B. If you see that Hotel A is selling on TripAdvisor for $50 per night, and Hotel B is selling for $200 per night, you can conclude that the cheaper tour is using cheaper hotels. And if those cheaper hotels are upgradable for a price, don’t forget to calculate the cost of the upgrade into your comparison. A tour that starts out hundreds less than the competition can end up being hundreds more, just by upgrading to an acceptable hotel.

Tours included in the vacation package can also make a big difference in a tour price. For example, a typical "trick" in pricing for tours with river cruises, such as the Nile or Yangtze River, is to sell the shore excursions as optionals. So, while the basic tour price includes the cabin and meals, the tours — the reason you are taking the cruise in the first place — are excluded from the price. These excluded shore excursions can add hundreds of dollars to the tour price, too. Be sure that the tours in your comparison group all have the same amount of included tours and shore excursions, and add the cost of these excursions where needed to get a realistic price comparison.

2. Call the company selling each tour and ask questions. How many people typically are included on a departure? If the group fails to reach the minimum number required for the tour to operate, when will the company advise those already booked, and what options does the tour company offer the travelers? If you find that the agents who man the phones are too busy to talk to you, look elsewhere. If you’re planning a tour, you’ll need to ask questions and service provided is the No. 1 value-added component. No service, no sale, is how you should view it.

3. Are you being charged extra for credit card payments? This is different from getting a reduction for cash payments or early bookings. Some companies advertise extra-low prices and then add fees for using a credit card. Your credit card payment provides a layer of protection to you as a consumer. You can decide later if you wish to take advantage of a cash discount if the agent is someone you know and trust, but if the advertised price requires you to pay by check or else pay a surcharge for your credit card payment, look elsewhere.

4. Ask for references. Any good company that operates ethically will have plenty of previous travelers who are willing to provide references and talk to (or e-mail) prospective passengers about the tours. If you are greeted with an incredulous "we don’t provide references" reply, look elsewhere. It’s your right to know that others who have worked with the company can attest to their service and the quality of their tours. And any company in business to sell travel should be delighted to share those references with potential future travelers. It’s actually part of the service you deserve to receive.

Special pricing alert for Mediterranean and Iberian Coasts cruises

As I mentioned already, we have some pretty special deals for travelers for our Mediterranean Highlights by the Sea and Iberian Coasts cruises, and I wanted to go into a little bit more detail on what those savings entail.

FP_kids.jpgOn both cruises, children up to age 18 (maximum two children per cabin) can share with two adults for free. The only additional costs are the already discounted airfare and airport taxes, as well as port fees. That’s the lowest price ever available for children on a Mediterranean cruise.

If you’re considering booking a family trip, call the Friendly Planet Travel office at 800-555-5765 or send an e-mail to mailto:questions@friendlyplanet.com with the departure date and ages of the children on the cruise of your choice to determine the exact price of child passengers.

We’ve also struck a deal for our single travelers, who often get slammed with hefty supplemental fees when cruising alone. We’ve negotiated discount rates for them, so the supplements will be lower than cruises usually charge.

And finally, the basic tour price includes a free upgrade to a superior inside cabin aboard the M/V Louis Majesty, rather than the usual standard inside cabin. Further upgrades to higher categories with windows and balconies are also highly discounted, if you choose to upgrade.

Hot new holiday tour: Cruise the Iberian Coasts!

If the idea of icy roads, frigid temperatures, and chapped lips doesn’t appeal to you for the holiday season, take heart. Along with our Mediterranean Highlights by the Sea cruise, we’re also christening an Iberian Coasts Cruise this upcoming holiday season!

FP_France.jpgOn the Iberian Coasts Cruise, travelers will visit fascinating ports of call in France, Gibraltar, Morocco, Spain, and Italy, while enjoying superior accommodations aboard the cruise ship M/V Louis Majesty.

Let’s get the nitty gritties out of the way first, shall we? The package includes roundtrip flights from New York, an eight-night Iberian Coast cruise, a two-night bonus stay in Rome, all meals aboard the cruise, and daily breakfast in Rome. Vacationers can explore the ports-of-call on their own, or take inexpensive optional shore excursions. For all of this? $1,399.

FP_Barcelona.jpgNow for some of the juicy details. After arriving in Genoa, Italy from New York, travelers board the M/V Louis Majesty and head for Marseilles, France. Vacationers can enjoy all the splendor of Marseilles by visiting independently its must-see sites, including the Old Port, the Basilica of Notre Dame de la Garde, Phare de Sainte Marie lighthouse, the Centre Bourse, and the adjacent rue St Ferreol district (the main shopping district in central Marseilles), just to name a few.

After a day at sea, the M/V Louis Majesty will then dock at the British colony, Gibraltar, and then continue on to Tangier, Morocco. Outside Tangier’s bustling port, vacationers can take in the city’s stunning environs: hills surrounding a broad bay with a long stretch of beach.

For travelers interested in learning more about Morocco’s diverse cultural heritage as the closest major African city to Europe, a visit to Tangier’s Museum of Moroccan Arts and Antiquities would be a fascinating stop. Another not-to-be-missed experience is a visit to the Grand Souk, where  bargaining skills are put to the test while shopping for treasures such as brass, leather, rugs, and silver.

The next morning, the ship docks at Casablanca, Morocco, the largest city and main port of Morocco. And a city that I have a feeling travelers might feel to be the beginning of a beautiful friendship. ;)

After Casablanca, it’s back to the European side of things with Málaga, Spain. Málaga is one of the liveliest cities on the Costa del Sol, a 100-mile stretch of gorgeous Mediterranean coastline which boasts some of the best beaches in Spain.

FP_Barc2.jpgMálaga is also the birthplace of Pablo Picasso and home to the renowned Picasso Museum. There’s time to explore independently, as well as an array of optional shore excursions. But of course, travelers must be sure to sample some of Málaga’s sweet wine and tasty tapas.

The cruise continues along Spain’s coast with two more stops at ports of call at Alicante and Barcelona, before finally arriving back in Genoa on the tenth day of the journey. From there, vacationers will be treated to two more bonus nights in Rome at absolutely no cost to them.

The season’s first Iberian Coasts cruise takes place Dec. 25 to Jan. 5, and promises to be a culturally rich, historically fascinating, and scenically beautiful holiday trip. There are four other departure dates throughout 2010, running from February to December.

All aboard the Emeraude: a Vietnam trip to remember forever

This summer, I told you all about my own experiences traveling throughout Vietnam. Well, one of my favorite parts of the trip was our stay aboard the Emeraude, in the beautiful waters of Halong Bay.

Anyone who visits Vietnam will no doubt want to visit Halong Bay. This amazing bay, a UNESCO World Heritage site is dotted with thousands of limestone karsts and isles. Local legend has it that long ago, when the Vietnamese were fighting Chinese invaders, the gods sent dragons to help defend the land. The dragons spit out jewels and jade, which turned into the islands and islets of Halong, forming a great wall against the invaders.

Most tourists take a short cruise, half a day usually, to admire the beautiful waterway, but for those with a little more time and a flair for a romantic journey back in time, we recommend a night aboard the Emeraude, a replica, one-of-a-kind steamer from the French Indochina days.

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During the day, you cruise around one of the most gorgeous waterways in Asia. While you cruise, you can enjoy a terrific massage aboard or relax on the deck and admire the views. High tea is served in the late afternoon, and dinner aboard the cruise is excellent continental and Vietnamese cuisine.

Each of the Emeraude’s cabins exudes warmth and character with high standards of workmanship, distinguished style, and impeccable service. With its polished wooden floors and brass fixtures and fittings, the Emeraude’s charming rooms offer timeless elegance. All cabins have a picture window. Balconies and sitting areas are located outside each cabin on the walkway. Each cabin has a private bathroom stocked with toiletries. Hair dryers are available at the reception

The Emeraude’s restaurant offers delicious, freshly caught local seafood and other specialties. While taking in breathtaking views of the bay, passengers can enjoy the delicious flavors of the local cuisine.

From the sun deck, passengers can treat themselves to a soothing massage while sipping a refreshing cocktail and gazing at the rock formations reflected in the crystal clear water of the bay.

The Emeraude’s swimming deck offers passengers the opportunity to swim in the cool waters of the bay surrounded by the majestic scenery. At dawn as the sun rises, passengers can participate in T’ai Chi class while taking in the calming silence of the bay. Cooking classes are also available on board, which I can tell you from experience is a wonderful and educational time!

The decks invite sitting and enjoying the magnificent sunsets, and then, when it’s dark after dinner, guests can watch the film "Indochine" under the stars. The entire experience is very romantic and a true step back to another time. And (perhaps best of all) the cost for this wonderful experience is about $120 per person, including meals and accommodations.

Christmas in September: Mediterranean Highlights by the Sea

It might be September, but it certainly feels like Christmas here at the Friendly Planet Travel office. That’s because I’m thrilled to announce the release of two new cruises: Mediterranean Highlights by the Sea and the Iberian Coasts Cruise. Not only are the prices on these trips incredible for the outstanding quality of travel, but they both have departure dates over the upcoming holiday season.

Want to do something with your family during the holidays that no one will ever forget? Leave the details to us. Today, I’m going to tell you all about the seven-day Mediterranean Highlights cruise for only $1,299 (and stay tuned for all the details on the Iberian Coasts Cruise).

How about spending Christmas Day exploring the ancient coastal town of Trapani, Sicily? Although most of the city has been modernized, much of Trapani’s architecture still reflects its medieval past and ancient heritage. Some of Trapani’s best preserved structures include the Annunciation Sanctuary, the Pepoli Museum, the Spedaletto Palace, and the Church of Saint Augustine. In additional to its rich history, Trapani’s westward position on the Sicilian coast affords some of the most spectacular views of the beautiful Mediterranean sunsets.

FP_Spain.jpgBut that’s just one day. Our Mediterranean Highlights cruise is a fantastic celebration of the cultural riches and natural beauty of the Western Mediterranean aboard the M/V Louis Majesty cruise ship, Louis Cruise Lines’ newest, completely refurbished addition.

Our journey is an exotic living mosaic, where every port recalls another magnificent era of castles and fortresses, ancient cultures, exotic art, and architectural treasures and grandeur. We’ll visit fascinating ports of call in Spain, France, Italy, Tunisia, and Malta while enjoying superior accommodations every night aboard our cruise ship.

Travelers are free to explore themselves throughout the day in destinations such as Marseilles, France; Sicily, Italy; and Port Mahon, Spain (to name a few). Or, take advantage of some of the inexpensive tours we’ll be providing.

This is one of those Friendly Planet Travel packages that not even everyone at Friendly Planet can believe. I’ve told you about how our good relationships with our suppliers often translate into savings for us, which we of course pass on to you! Well this is the perfect example of that practice at work.

The $1,299 price includes roundtrip flights from New York, a six-night Mediterranean cruise, all meals aboard the cruise, and group transfers. Not only have we been given very special rates for Friendly Planet travelers, but we’ve gotten a free one-level upgrade in our pricing from our cruise supplier. That means when a passenger pays the lowest price (for an inside cabin), they’re getting an upgrade to the next level of inside cabin for free. This same upgrade policy applies when booking the already heavily-discounted outside cabins. If you’ve ever been on a cruise before, you know what a great deal this is!

FP_Italy.jpgAnd it’s affordable for the whole family. Children up to age 18 (maximum two children per cabin) can share with two adults for free. The only additional costs are the taxes on the cruise and their cost at the hotel in Rome.

We’ve also struck a deal for our single travelers, who often get slammed with hefty supplemental fees when cruising alone. We’ve negotiated discount rates for them, so the supplements will be lower than cruises usually charge. Stay tuned for more information about both the singles and children deals.

FP_Rome.jpgAnd finally, after the cruise docks at its final port-of-call in Genoa, we’ve included an optional, free two-night extension in Rome. The flight to Rome is, of course, also included, as well as all transfers. While in Rome, travelers will stay at the centrally located, 4-star Hotel Genova.

This year’s Mediterranean Highlights cruise takes place Dec. 19 to Dec. 28, with six additional departures throughout 2010. As I said, the perfect holiday trip for you and your family! And keep in mind that December in the southern Mediterranean is gloriously temperate; perfect for taking in the view from the ship’s deck, enjoying the full spa, and spending days touring.
 

Friendly Planet Travel in the news

Instead of ringing a bell here every time Friendly Planet Travel makes headlines, I thought it would be easier to provide a wrap up post every week or so that highlights some of the recent press coverage we’ve gotten. Way to go, FPT team!

Thumbnail image for New Picture (1).jpgAugust 20

USAToday.com: Athens & Greek Isles Cruise package

MSNBC.com: Athens & Greek Isles Cruise package

Diva in a Carry On: Friendly Planet Travel and Kiva partnership

August 24

MSNBC.com: Morocco package

Budget Travel Real Deals: Morocco package

August 25

Treehugger.com: Morocco package

August 26

Topix.com: Morocco package

Friendly Planet Travel’s eight-day Athens and Greek cruise hits USA Today

USA Today’s expert travel advice column, ShermansTravel, featured our eight-day Athens and Greek Isle cruise for $999 in its Editor’s Travel Deal Review.

Yes, I DID say eight days in Athens and Greek Isles cruise for $999. Have a look at the article and our original blog post for the full scoop.

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Tips from the Practical Traveler: How to avoid the snarls of a cancelled trip

Obviously, a lot of planning goes into putting together a vacation package. Operators set dates and prices more than a year ahead of the departure date so they can be printed in brochures. Today, planning that far ahead comes with a risk.

A few years ago, travelers were smart to book trips as early as possible. Vacations such as cruises and group tours filled up quickly. But that was before the economy took a nose dive. There are far less people with the extra financial cushion to spend on vacations today, and tour operators are worried about finding enough paying customers to cover costs.

As Michelle Higgins says in today’s Practical Traveler, vacationers that are making moves are holding out for last-minute deals. This is forcing tour operators to revise their budgets and cancel more trips.
And as tour operators cancel trips, travelers who have already booked are stuck with airline cancellation fees, botched vacation plans, and other unexpected fees. In her article, Michelle lets readers in on some of the system’s tips and tricks to avoid getting slammed, and called on me for my two cents. Have a look at the article, and keep it in mind when booking your next vacation!

My journey through Vietnam (part 4)

In the fourth part of My Journey through Vietnam series, I’m going to take you to the Halong Bay. If you want to catch up on my Vietnam travels so far — from the streets of Saigon to the waters of the Mekong Delta — you can have a look.
After our wonderful visit to the Mekong Delta, we drove from Hanoi to Halong Bay, where a dense cluster of about 3,000 limestone islands and islets rise spectacularly from the sea. The islands are topped with dense vegetation, and a few have huge caves with gorgeous stalactites and stalagmites, one of which we visited later that day. Without a doubt, Halong Bay is among Vietnam’s most beloved and visited tourist attractions, and definitely deserving of its appointment a World Heritage Site.
En route to Halong to board our cruise, we stopped at a special embroidery and handicrafts factory and showroom. Aside from being the best restroom stop of the trip, it was a chance to purchase souvenirs made by young handicapped Vietnamese artisans. The embroidered wall hangings and table linens were particularly beautiful, and — like everything else in Vietnam — very inexpensive.
I bought a wall hanging was able to have my picture taken with the artist. He is deaf, and this job is one of the few, apart from rice farming, that he can do to earn money to support himself.
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We arrived at Halong Bay around midday, and settled into our cabins aboard the cruise ship Emeraude, then joined others in the ship’s dining room for lunch. I think I discovered my dream menu there in Vietnam. I couldn’t seem to get enough of pho, a light, delicious Vietnamese soup made with a lovely, delicate beef stock, rice noodles and aromatic herbs.
The lunch buffet also had spring rolls, which are artistically wrapped with bits of shrimp, sprouts, green onion, basil, and cilantro, along with several types of sauces for dipping. There are other choices as well, but who cares, when I can enjoy pho and spring rolls?
After lunch, we headed for the Hang Sung Sot Cave. This cave, whose name in English means Cave of Surprises, was named by a French explorer who was amazed by the size and beauty of the cave’s interior rooms. It is probably the most beautiful of all the caves found in this region of Vietnam, with amazing stalagmites and stalagtites.
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When you exit the cave, you find yourself high above Halong Bay, peering at a gorgeous panoramic view of the water, the mist, the limestone karsts, and the women paddling boats laden with all sorts of things for sale — from conical hats to Ritz crackers and Oreo cookies. It was truly an amazing site.
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We returned to the Emeraude full of awe at the cave’s spectacular interior chambers, and I was again left wondering how I could be in such a beautiful place with such a painfully inadequate camera. But the images of the cave and the incredible views of the Bay from high atop the water are very clear in my mind.
That afternoon, while I took a cooking class conducted by the Emeraude’s chef to teach the art of making a spring roll, others in our group took advantage of a kayaking adventure offered aboard the ship.
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Many of those aboard the Emeraude enjoyed the rest of the afternoon and evening in the experienced hands of a Vietnamese masseuse. People were lined up for a treatment (more like a treat), and the women were booked up right through dinner. It wasn’t until after dinner, when everyone assembled at the ship’s bar and took their seats for the movie, Indochine, that the woman giving massages left the boat, hopefully having earned lots of money in well deserved tips.
Finally, I settled into my seat for an evening of Indochine under the stars on Halong Bay. There was a gauzy fog draped haphazardly over the limestone karsts. But that didn’t obscure them or dim their beauty. As the movie progressed, the familiar karsts of Halong Bay appeared, as lovely and mysterious on the screen as they are in real life.
The next morning, we reluctantly disembarked and returned to Hanoi to continue our tour. We were already regretting the moment we’d have to leave Vietnam, and we still had some days to go. That, my friends, is the test of a truly wonderful destination. Not ever wanting the day of departure to arrive!

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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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