Friendly Planet Blog

Posts Tagged ‘JFK airport’

Friendly Planet travelers in Egypt are en route to the US

This post has been updated here.

Early this morning, every Friendly Planet traveler in Egypt arrived at the Cairo Airport and boarded a nonstop EgyptAir flight to JFK International Airport in New York.

Walaa, a Friendly Planet Travel tour guide who has been with the travelers since the protests in Egypt erupted, accompanied them to the airport.

He called me at 2:30 a.m. to tell me that everyone was on the flight and en route to New York. The flight is expected to land at 3:51 p.m. I can’t thank Walaa enough for staying with our travelers throughout this entire situation.

We’re really glad to be at this point, but we’re going to wait until the plane touches down before we exhale. Stay tuned to the blog, Twitter, and Facebook. I’ll update you as soon as our travelers arrive home.

Egypt protests intensify; Friendly Planet travelers in Egypt to depart on Feb. 3

This post has been updated here.

The protests in Egypt intensified with the news that President Hosni Mubarak will step down from power, but not until the end of his term in September. Supporters of Mubarak and anti-government protesters clashed in Tahrir Square Wednesday over the announcement.

But amid this bad news, I have good news to share. Friendly Planet travelers in Egypt will be leaving Cairo on a nonstop, EgyptAir flight for JFK International Airport on Feb. 3. Until then, Friendly Planet travelers will continue to stay in at Fairmont Towers, Heliopolis.

Below is the e-mail I sent to their emergency contacts last night detailing the decision to book the EgyptAir flight and how they will be accommodated until they depart. We worked 24/7 to make these arrangements for our travelers, and I’m so happy that they’ll be back in U.S. within the next day.

I’ll share more updates with you on the situation in Egypt as they unfold on the blog, Twitter, and Facebook. And stay tuned, I’ll tell you what to do about rescheduling or cancelling an upcoming trip to Egypt in my next blog post.


We would like to update you regarding your family and friends still in Egypt. At present, our group remains at the Fairmont Heliopolis. Early this morning (Cairo time) the group was offered three options for leaving Egypt. The options were:

1. A Viking Cruises-organized charter flight from Cairo to Frankfurt.
2. US Government-organized evacuation flights to Malta, Cyprus, Athens and other European locations.
3. Confirmed space on Thursday, Feb. 3 via EgyptAir non-stop service to JFK.

The group unanimously voted to remain in Cairo until Feb. 3, when they could depart via EgyptAir direct to the USA. The other two options were less attractive to the group due to the unknown costs associated with getting from Europe to the USA. The cost of the Viking charter was $600 per person plus the cost of getting from Frankfurt to the USA, plus hotel and meal expenses if overnight accommodations in Frankfurt were necessary. The cost of the US Government flights is unknown, and as with Frankfurt, the cost of getting from the European cities to the USA plus potential hotel expenses also should be considered.

The EgyptAir appeared to be the best option, as the ticket is already covered by the original EgyptAir ticket from our tour, and the extra nights at the Fairmont hotel are being covered from the refund of services our travelers are due. Thus, if all goes well, you will be seeing your loved ones very soon. And in the meantime, our travelers are comfortable at the Fairmont Hotel, with two provided meals daily as well as their hotel accommodations.

Telephone service remains difficult, although the land lines seem to work better than cell phone service. The internet remains a huge problem. We have not been able to communicate via the internet since it was cut last Thursday.

Our Egypt representatives remain with the group at all times, so they have local assistance if needed.

Please don’t hesitate to contact us if we can be of any assistance to you. In the meantime, we will continue to update you as we receive more information.

Cordially,

Peggy M. Goldman
President
Friendly Planet Travel

Morocco: What you should know before you go

STUNNING: Koutoubia mosque, Marrakesh

When I heard from Peggy that Friendly Planet was introducing a nine-day Treasures of Morocco tour, it brought back a flood of images from my trip to this exotic country.

I’ve never been anywhere quite as bizarre, exotic, and diverse as this North African country, the world’s oldest surviving monarchy, dating to AD 788. Here African, Arab, Berber, and French influences have produced a culture as ancient as Fez’s medieval walled city and as cosmopolitan as Casablanca’s Hyatt Hotel, where bar staff dress in costume from the classic film “Casablanca.”

This predominately Muslim country was a French protectorate from 1900-1956. The two cultures, and some 270 different ethnic groups, raise interesting contrasts.

One day I sunbathed at a Casablanca hotel pool with bikini-clad Europeans. On another, I explored Old Town Fez, a walled medieval maze where mules carry goods, and veiled Muslim women sweep through narrow passageways.

One magical night I found myself in a nomad’s tent in the desert, sitting on carpets around a huge, low table, eating aromatic lamb stew and being entertained by belly dancers and horseback riders.

A few days later I was shopping trendy boutiques in Casablanca. The namesake of the famous Humphrey Bogart film is also home of Hassan II Mosque, one of only a few that is open to Westerners.

To me, the excitement of Morocco culminates in Marrakesh’s market square, Djemaa el Fna. In its “Court of Marvels,” snake charmers compete with acrobats and musicians. A turbaned man threw a small chattering monkey on my shoulder for a photo op. A few coins were expected in return, a small price to pay for entering this enchanting world where so many cultures mingle.

Unlike visiting a homogeneous country with one language and one set of traditions, visitors to Morocco will need a few tips for navigating this complex culture. It might feel like a movie set, but there are some things to keep watch for.

Shopping
Bargaining is standard practice. Offer half the price and work from there.
Shops close at noon and re-open around 2 p.m.
Stick close to your guide in Old Town Fez to avoid getting lost in the intricate maze of passageways.
Reserve the word “imshee” (Arabic for “take a hike”) for overly aggressive vendors and unofficial guides.
Keep your bag or wallet secure and consider a money belt.

Dining
Eating is one of the great adventures in Morocco, where you can dine on elegant French or Mediterranean fare accompanied by fine wines in European restaurants, but I recommend trying the flavorful Moroccan dishes.
Try my favorite dish, the traditional lamb stew of raisins, garlic, ginger, cumin, and curry atop a bed of couscous.
Order the sweet tea as your drink. It’s served hot in a glass stuffed with fresh mint leaves.

Manners
Never eat with your left hand; it’s taboo. The left hand is the “toilet” hand in many African and Muslim cultures. Never pat a person on the head or take a photograph without permission. Be discreet drinking alcohol in public.

Hygiene
Bring some toilet paper in your purse. It’s optional in Arabic bathrooms, and you might be required to pay for a few squares.

Language
French is widely spoken, and so is Arabic.
Practice these helpful Arabic phrases:
Hello: salaam wa laykoom
Goodbye: ma’salaama
Please: afak Thank you: shukran
Where is the bathroom?: Ayna Al Hammam?
How much?: bish-hal?
That’s too much: ghalee
Take a walk/leave me alone: imshee

I had a great time traveling through this country, and I can assure you that it’s an experience you won’t forget.

The new Taj Mahal Express for 2010: The best group tour of India just got better

The Taj Mahal Express has been one of our most popular tours, and for good reason. We were the first tour operator to introduce an affordable tour of India in 2005. It cost just $999 then, and that was five years ago.

The response was huge. Over 900 travelers signed up for the first Taj Mahal Express tour! Since then, its popularity has only grown. And we have continued to add more perks and features, without raising the price.

As you might expect, I personally visit every destination. I inspect every hotel, talk to all the guides, travel the itineraries, see the sites our travelers see, and talk to people who represent us on the ground.

I do this for several reasons. Obviously I love these exotic destinations. But I visit these places also to ensure that our tours are consistently meeting or exceeding my standards, and to look for new ways to make our trips even more exquisite.

It’s funny. Our suppliers on the ground sometimes complain during my visits about the standards I expect for Friendly Planet travelers. Think about that for a moment. If they’re complaining, that suggests our competitors are pushing them only for lower prices, not better value for travelers. It’s easy to pressure suppliers on price. It’s not easy to negotiate better pricing for travelers while maintaining a high level of hotels, service, and programming.

That’s exactly what happened during my recent visit to India. I discovered several opportunities to make the best one week tour of India even better. Our Taj Mahal Express is now enhanced with an additional night (9 days total) and most optional tours now included in the price. And we’ve added an exclusive new tour of an authentic farming village to give our travelers a chance to interact with real people (outside the realm of tourism), meet the village elder, and get a real understanding of life in India.

Best of all, I’ve been able to hold the line on price. This brand new, nine-day Taj Mahal Express tour is just $1,099, including flights, great hotels, lots of touring to the Taj Mahal, Fatehpur Sikhri, and the Amber Fort with an ascent on an elephant or a Jeep.

Plus, a full-day tour in Delhi that will take you to its most important sites, such as the Laxmi Narayan Temple, Raj Ghat, the Red Fort, and more. You’ll conclude your day with a rickshaw tour through Old Delhi’s most popular street market, Chandni Chowk.

This is always one of the most memorable experiences I have of India. Our driver is a master at guiding the rickshaw through India’s winding, narrow lanes and alleys. They’re teeming with shoppers, street vendors, cows, cars, other rickshaws … the ride is simply an amazing adventure, and something you can’t experience anywhere else.

Here’s what else I’ve always included in the Taj Mahal Express tour for you: non-stop flights from JFK International airport on Air India, all transfers and ground transportation within India, deluxe and superior first-class hotels, daily breakfast buffet, an authentic Indian farewell dinner in Delhi, and more.

And now that you’re in the neighborhood, why not add a visit to Nepal. On our three-night extension, you’ll fly to Kathmandu and visit Durbar Square, the city of Bhadgaon, the famous five-story pagoda temple of Nyatapola, and local bazaars. On your last day you have an opportunity to take an optional air tour and fly over the Himalayas to see Mt. Everest. Talk about flying high, if you remember your high school geography, Everest is the highest peak on Earth. And you’ll be flying over it.

As I’ve shared with you before, India’s sights, sounds, and smells are among the most phenomenal in the world. I encourage you to read my previous posts about the Taj Mahal Express, and also see what our Taj Mahal Express travelers have said about it.

Book our new nine-day Taj Mahal Express tour for $1,099 by March 31st. You’ll be signing up for one of the most popular tours we’ve ever offered at Friendly Planet, and certainly one of the most amazing cultural experiences of your life.

For complete details about the tour and the Nepal extension, visit our Web site. Have any questions? Write to me directly.

Eight-day Taste of Vietnam for $999 featured on the Examiner.com

As you probably picked up from my series of posts about my own Vietnam experience, Vietnam today draws thousands of Americans eager to fully understand the country, its people, culture, and ways of life — despite its controversial past.
But this remarkable journey has traditionally come with a high price tag, with tour prices easily exceeding $2,000. Until now. Last week, we unveiled our ultra-low-cost Taste of Vietnam vacation deal. The examiner.com picked up the press release we sent out last week with the full details. You can also read on below for more information.
The package, starting at just $999, visits two of Vietnam’s most dynamic and culturally awe-inspiring cities: Ho Chi Minh City (Saigon) and Hanoi.
The trip includes round-trip airfare from Los Angeles (with JFK departures available at a surcharge of between $150 and $200, depending upon departure date); all ground transfers; all intra-Vietnam flights; six nights in superior hotel accommodations; daily buffet breakfast; and comprehensive sightseeing in each city with a local, English-speaking Vietnamese guide, including entrance fees.
Travelers can also choose from an array of discounted optional tours, such as Halong Bay, which can be done in one day or an overnight stay aboard a deluxe river boat, the Emeraude, as well as an optional extension to Bangkok, Thailand.
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There’s no doubt that Vietnam is spellbinding, and allures travelers for so many reasons. Its exotic location has shielded it from throngs of tourists and trampled habitat, fast food chains, and strip malls that often accompany those groups.
The country’s pivotal role in recent history also draws many U.S. veterans who want to return to Vietnam to find closure, see how the country has changed, find old haunts, and even rediscover old friends. There are also many Vietnamese people who settled in the U.S. in the years following the war who are longing to return for a visit, and whose children have never seen the homeland of their parents. Before now, maybe they couldn’t afford it. But now travelers can do it all for $999. That’s a deal that I’ve never seen in my 30 years of travel experience.
Among savvy travelers, Vietnam has emerged as one of Asia’s most popular new destinations. The fascination for Vietnam comes from its extraordinary beauty; simplicity of life; and warm, incredibly approachable people. The tour, conducted by English-speaking, Vietnamese licensed guides, immerses vacationers in the country’s intense beauty and rich culture, starting with Ho Chi Minh City (still called Saigon by many locals) and ends in Hanoi.
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Vacationers get a taste of life in modern day Vietnam, with the country’s floating markets, winding canals, sweeping rice paddies, and bustling cityscapes. They also take a step back to the country’s controversial past, including a trip to Hoa Lo Prison, also known as the “Hanoi Hilton,” and the Cu Chi Tunnels that were part of the underground highway of the Viet Cong.
For travelers with more time, Friendly Planet Travel also offers a 13-day Best of Vietnam trip for the low price of $2,399, with optional extensions to Angkor Wat in Cambodia and the Sapa Hill Tribes.
The 13-day fully escorted tour takes vacationers from south to north — with stops in Ho Chi Minh City, Hue, Da Nang, Hoi An, and Hanoi. For both vacations, on sale prices include savings of up to $800 per couple if reserved before Aug. 28.
If you’d like more information, or want to book, please visit our online booking agent, or contact us.

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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