Liz Hutchins is a Reservation Agent at Friendly Planet Travel and an enthusiastic Downton Abbey fan. Liz took our Downton Abbey Christmas Ball with London tour in 2014 and absolutely loved it. We asked her to blog her thoughts about the tour, and here’s what she had to say:
Well, fellow Downton enthusiasts, it’s been a wild ride. With the close of the sixth and final season of Downton Abbey, we were left with a happy ending and a sad, but fond farewell to our favorite characters. It was wonderful to see the weddings, the birth of Mr. Bates and Anna’s son, and finally a triumph for Mr. Barrow. We all had so many things to appreciate, and now, with the series behind us, it is time to look ahead. What better event to look forward to, than our annual Downton Abbey Christmas Ball!!
Of course, when faced with the amazing opportunity to take this tour two Decembers ago, my thoughts went to the most important aspect of this special event…
What the heck was I going to wear?
Rail travel is the most sophisticated route to international adventure. Imagine sipping a cappuccino as you traverse the Tuscan countryside or enjoying a spot of afternoon tea while you await your arrival in Paris. It’s truly a relaxing, easy, and fast way to travel.
In fact, I believe rail travel is perhaps the best way to explore Europe. It quickly transports visitors between top destinations, without the hassle of road traffic or airport security. Plus, when taking a train from place to place, you depart from one city center and arrive in the next, completely eliminating the hassle and expense of those long transfers to the airport.
More than 713 million passengers traveled across the EU by rail between April and September of 2014, showing resurgence in popularity among locals and internationals alike. But can you guess what the top destinations to visit by rail were for the summer of 2014?
Halloween is an international holiday, but not every country celebrates it in the same way. Many nations put their own touches on some of our favorite traditions, and create unique and exciting All Hallows’ Eve experiences. If you love spooks and spirits (both the undead sort and the stiff drink kind), consider traveling abroad to cities that embrace this haunted holiday. Here’s my list of the top five international cities to visit on Halloween.
5. Transylvania, Romania: Travel to Eastern Europe to visit the home of one of the most famous Halloween figures of all time: Dracula. Travelers can take a tour of Bran Castle — sometimes called Dracula’s Castle — to see the fictional home of the undead Count. The castle is situated in the heart of Transylvania, and serves as the inspiration for the setting of Bram Stoker’s famous night walker novel. After a spooky evening tour of the massive fortress, visit the small village of Bram to cap off your traditional Transylvanian experience — just be sure to carry some garlic with you.
4. London, England: London is an elegant city with a macabre history. Visit London’s infamous prison, the Tower of London, which housed political figures like Elizabeth I and Lady Jane Grey. Keep an eye out for misty forms and floating orbs as you learn about the tower’s bloody past. For a more traditional Halloween scare, visit the London Dungeon — an underground haunted house — and meet some of England’s renowned villains: Jack the Ripper, Sweeney Todd, and Henry VIII. London at Halloween’s sure to frighten even the bravest of travelers.
Forget springtime in Paris and summer in Santorini. Off-season is the new hot time to visit your favorite European destinations. More and more travelers are ditching their summer vacations and opting to visit their favorite cities throughout the winter months.
From November to March, Europe takes on an entirely new persona. Gone are the large crowds, humid days, and high prices — leaving only the true cultures, histories, and sights of each destination for you to enjoy. If you’re interested in experiencing some hidden, off-season gems of Europe, here are just some of my reasons why the off-season is the perfect time to travel.
Sightsee at a fraction of the price. It’s no secret that off-season travel often means lower prices. Not only will travelers save on airfares, tours, and accommodations, but they’ll often find that restaurants, shops, and bars in high-tourist areas are also less expensive. This can help significantly pare down a tight travel budget. Also keep a lookout for bundled tours that take place during the off-season. Tour operators often make the most out of seasonal pricing and share the savings with travelers. By saving on the essentials, travelers can splurge on extra special events, like enjoying a Champagne dinner at the top of the Eiffel Tower or taking a dip in Iceland’s famous Blue Lagoon, making their trips even more memorable.
Imagine spending the holidays lounging on a gondola in Venice, spotting endangered sea turtles in Costa Rica, or salsa dancing with locals in Cuba, all at an affordable price. Well now’s your chance. Our team at Friendly Planet Travel is offering special deals on 38 travel packages to destinations across the globe, all with travel dates over the coming Thanksgiving and Christmas holidays.
Travelers can save up to an EXTRA $300 on select tours, but you have to book soon — these special offers end on Sept. 25, 2014. To help you picture that perfect getaway, I wanted to highlight just a few of the vacations that you could be booking for this holiday season.
Discover Havana: Through our people-to-people license, the Friendly Planet Travel team has helped more than 5,000 Americans visit Cuba legally. Cuba is a nation only 93 miles from the continental U.S., yet remains largely untouched by American influences. In fact, visitors often describe Cuba as a trip back in time. Our Discover Havana people-to-people program introduces travelers to the culture and daily life of the Cuban people. Travelers spend three eye-opening days in Havana, where activities include a visit with Cuban schoolchildren, a performance by a local dance group, and a meal at a paladar — a private restaurant run by a local family. In addition, they venture into the countryside to explore the coffee plantations of Las Terrazas and Hemingway’s Cuban retreat in Finca Vigia. This trip is a once-in-a-lifetime experience that truly unites two cultures through the magic of travel.
Few places are more beautiful than London at Christmas time. The city transforms from a bustling metropolitan hub to a winter wonderland: gentle snow falls on city streets, white lights illuminate store fronts, and children glide across popup ice skating rinks.
The atmosphere is alive with Christmas spirit, and for that reason, we’ve developed our newest, one-departure-only tour to introduce travelers to this regal destination.
The London with Downton Abbey Christmas Ball tour not only transports travelers to the heart of London for four nights, but as an added bonus, passengers will attend the exclusive Christmas Ball at Highclere Castle — the filming location for the hit PBS TV show Downton Abbey. Dress up in black tie, perhaps inspired by a favorite Downton Abbey character, and spend the evening touring the castle, sipping Champagne, dining on a decadent three-course meal, listening to Christmas carols around the tree, and reenacting life in the Victorian era.
The opening ceremony of the 2012 London Olympic Games kicks off in a few hours and that means London is bracing itself with an influx of millions of spectators. If you’re one of the lucky tourists flying in for the games, be aware that you’re not the only one. London airports are shuttling in loads of tourists and the crowds are sure to cause some airline mishaps.
That is why I wanted to lend some tips to all of the Americans traveling to London about how to manage the inevitable airline mayhem.
How to speed through security
U.S. airport security is sure to be backed up due to the increased number of people flying abroad. If you want to help keep the security line moving, here are my suggestions.
- Have your passport and boarding pass out and ready to give to security officers.
- Pre-pack your liquids in a quart sized bag and have them ready for inspection.
- Don’t wear metal to reduce your chances of being patted down.
- Wear easy-off and easy-on shoes.
- Place your electronic devices in the bins for easy scanning.
- Take your items away from the security line before putting them back on, in order to keep the line moving.
For more information on maneuvering airport security, flip to my blog post on how to navigate TSA security.
What to do if your flight is canceled
Cancellations are common, especially when there is a high volume of traffic going to one location. Know that this is a possibility, and be prepared to act if necessary. Here’s my advice for what to do if your flight is canceled.
- Immediately attempt to book a seat on another airline, either online or through the airline’s toll free numbers.
- Check in at the new airline’s counter with your new reservation number to ensure you’ll make it on the flight.
- If the new airline attempts to charge you extreme fees, try to negotiate with them and know that the associates behind the counter have more wiggle-room than they let on.
- If you can’t book a flight for that day, immediately book a hotel room and then start looking for flights leaving the next day.
- Remember to stay calm and be pleasant towards the airline employees who are trying to help you. They’re far more likely to help if you’re easy to work with.
For more information on how to handle a canceled flight, hop over to my blog post on what to do if you’re stranded in the airport.
How to fly through customs
With the influx of people in the country, assume passing through customs will not be easy. Here are my tips for maneuvering a customs traffic jam.
- Make sure to follow the green exit channel designated for non-E.U. citizens. The blue channel, although typically shorter, is designated for E.U. citizens only.
- Bring a good book or some other form of entertainment to keep you occupied while waiting in the customs line.
- Fill out your customs card before meeting with border control.
- Have your passport out and ready for inspection. Also, make sure to take off sunglasses or hats, so that border control can easily verify your passport picture.
- Know the name and address of the place you’re staying, how long you will be in London, and what you plan on doing while you’re there. Most of the time, the border staff will ask you these questions before letting you into the country.
By following these easy tips, you’ll be sure to make it through Olympic air traffic as quickly as possible. Although the mayhem might be frustrating, just remember to keep calm and carry on — you’ll be sure to have a fantastic Olympic experience.