Friendly Planet Blog

Archive for April, 2011

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Friday’s Friendly Funny

Now you can design your own trip with Friendly Planet Travel

We’ve built our reputation on my personal design of Friendly Planet Travel’s exotic group tours, and that’s not going away. You can still have, what I consider to be, the perfect experiences.

However, over the years we’ve had people say to us, “We’re very experienced travelers and we’d like to design our own trip, but take advantage of your insane prices.” Well, now you can.

The face of Friendly Planet Travel’s website has recently changed to make room for our new travel search engine.

It lets you search all of our package tours and cruise tours, plus thousands of great deals on flights, hotels, and rental cars!

Our travel search engine lets you create the experience you want, to a destination you’re interested in, and at a price that’s perfect for your budget.

We’re especially excited about our new cruise engine that features negotiated special rates on over 10,000 cruise departures offered by Royal Caribbean, Norwegian, Carnival, Azamara, and Celebrity. You can search by date, ship, cruise line, and itinerary to find your dream cruise.

Besides huge savings, when you book through the new travel search engine you’ll get special savings coupons and free onboard credits on select cruises, travel insurance at no additional cost on all cruises five nights or longer, and extra discounts for groups of eight or more cabins.

You can also search flights to almost any destination on earth, or reserve a hotel or rental car in thousands of cities. Buy separately, or put it all together to build your own dream vacation! Our travel search engine is an easy way to arrange your next vacation, while enjoying Friendly Planet’s great savings and award-winning service.

Head over to the website now and start planning your vacation today!

Earn $100 when you refer a friend to Friendly Planet Travel

Starting today, friendliness is paying dividends because we’re introducing our new Refer-a-Friend program.

Here’s how it works. If you’ve traveled with us in the past, every time you refer a new traveler to Friendly Planet Travel, we’ll send you a $100 credit to use on any tour or tour and cruise packages.

Refer two friends, and you’ll earn $200. And so on. Even better, there’s no limit to the number of credits you can earn, as long as you refer travelers who have never traveled with us before.

And your friends will earn great benefits too. Every referred traveler who books a tour or tour and cruise package will enjoy an instant $100 discount off his or her first booking.

So why are we introducing this new program now? When we set up shop in 1981, we never imagined we would be sending thousands of people to so many exotic destinations throughout the world. Back then, our travelers couldn’t search for us on Google nor could we post deals to our Facebook wall. But that didn’t stop us from growing.

We kept growing because a significant percentage of our new business did and still does come from your referrals. And in celebration of our 30 years in business this year, we want to say thank you with this new referral program. It’s a big milestone for us, and we couldn’t have reached it without you.

Jump over to the Refer-a-Friend page to get all the nitty-gritty details. Then start earning your travel credits by telling your family and friends about Friendly Planet’s affordable deals to the world’s most desirable destinations. Together, we hope that 2011 will be our best year ever!

Drum roll please! The winner of the autographed copy of ‘1,000 Places To See Before You Die’ is …

Patricia Schultz’s signature

Our contest to win a signed copy of “1,000 Places To See Before You Die” by Patricia Schultz has come to an end. That means it’s time to pick a winner!

We asked you to leave a comment on the original blog post telling me what places you want to see before you die, and why, to be entered to win.

It was a joy reading the destinations people wanted to visit. I wish I could give every one of you who entered a signed copy of the book, but I only have one. So let’s get to the winner.

The winner of the autographed copy of “1,000 Places To See Before You Die” by Patricia Schultz is SerenityLife! Congrats! We’ll be e-mailing you shortly to confirm your address to ship you your book. Thank you to everyone who entered!

Friday’s Friendly Funny

New Friendly Planet Travel destination #2: Magical Madagascar

It wasn’t magic that made our newest tour to Madagascar happen — it was you! In a survey from 2009, we asked folks who visited the Friendly Planet Travel website: “Where on Earth do you want to go next?” A whopping 6,780 people voted on 12 proposed exotic locations.

The locale that came out on top was Madagascar, with 941 votes. And after doing some additional research, it hit me why Madagascar won.

There are very few tour operators who offer guided tours of Madagascar. And the ones that do offer them at an exorbitant price. That is, until today.

After two years of planning, we’re unveiling Friendly Planet Travel’s Magical Madagascar tour. You spend 12 days touring the world’s fourth largest island, visiting Antananarivo, Toliara, Fianarantsoa, and Ambohitra. Plus, there’s an optional extension to Nosy Be Island.

Sitting off the coast of Africa in the Indian Ocean, Madagascar’s baobab forests, virgin coastlines, misty highlands, coral islands, and its famous lemurs offer incredible sightseeing opportunities for travelers who love exploring exotic, unspoiled destinations.

You start your 12-day journey in Antananarivo, the capital city of Madagascar. After spending a night at the Relais des Plateaux Hotel you depart for Ifaty, a fishermen’s village located near Toliara. Spend the afternoon exploring the Reniala spiny forest. This unique ecosystem is home to more than 2000 types of plants and 65 bird species.

The following day you continue to Ranohira, northeast of Toliara. Soak in the wonders of this landscape typical to the southern part of this island, which in this area are mostly savanna and bush. Pass by several sapphire mining villages, and along the way, you notice the painted tombs of the island’s southern tribe.

Next you tour Isalo National Park for the day. This park is known for its wide variety of terrain, including massive sandstone formations, deep canyons, palm-lined oases, and grasslands. Walk to the “Piscine Naturelle,” a natural oasis consisting of a stone cave overlooking a beautiful waterfall and crystal-clear pool. Meanwhile, keep an eye out for ring-tailed lemurs, brown lemurs, and sifaka lemurs.

Afterwards, embark on a city tour of the capital of the Haute Matsiatra region, Fianarantsoa, and the cultural and intellectual center for the entire island. Home to the Betsileo tribe, some of the oldest Protestant cathedrals in Madagascar are found here.

On the heels of that tour is a city tour of Antsirabe, which is well known for its rickshaws, gemstones, and hot spring waters. Then jump on a flight to Ambohitra. Enjoy a walk through the Amber Mountain National Park, which features tropical forest, waterfalls, and volcanic lakes.

Spend your remaining day enjoying Madagascar at your own leisure, that is, unless you opt for the three-day Nosy Be Island extension. There your tour continues by boat to the marine reserve of Nosy Tanikely. Enjoy a picnic lunch and some beach time for swimming. Optional snorkeling and diving excursions are available on your own at an additional cost, and much more.

This is only a taste of the full Magical Madagascar itinerary. For the complete itinerary, visit our website. Madagascar is place a travelers told us they wanted to go and now we’re making it possible for you.

We created this tour for very small groups, so space and departure dates are limited. Our 2011 departure dates include: Sept. 14, Oct. 19, Nov. 16, and Dec. 7.

The 12-day tour of Madagascar starts at $5,699. Included in the price are roundtrip flights from New York via South African Airways (flights from other cities available on request for a little more); ground transportation and all transfers; accommodations in tourist and superior class hotels; 10 breakfasts, eight lunches, and nine dinners; professional English-speaking tour guides; comprehensive touring program including entrance fees; an optional 4-day extension to gorgeous Nosy Be Island; and more.

To kick off this new tour, we’re giving you $100 off the cost of the 12-day Magical Madagascar tour if you book before May 3. Use the coupon code 041911-100 when booking online or mention the code to your phone agent. Book the Magical Madagascar today online or call us at 1-800-555-5765 and speak to our reservations team before space runs out!

Ambushed for travel advice: Part two

When I showed you the first video in a new series where we asked travelers at The Philadelphia Inquirer Travel Show for travel advice, I told you that more video was on its way. It’s here! On day two of the show we ambushed a whole new set of travelers with new questions.

We asked travelers if they thought the TSA is making air travel safer, if airlines are ripping passengers off with their extra fees, the most adventurous thing they’ve ever eaten while traveling, and more.

And when you hit play, make sure you try to answer our final travel trivia question. Were you able to get it right? Let me know in a comment. Thanks to everyone who participated! Stay tuned, we take our ambush to The New York Times Travel Show next.

Friendly Planet Travel is 30 years old thanks to you

One of the things I’m often asked is how did Friendly Planet Travel start. And I’m being asked this even more today because I’ve been telling everyone that we reached our 30th year in business.

That’s quite an accomplishment in the world of travel, so I thought I would share that story here on the blog. But before I do, I want to thank you.

Without you booking our tours for the past three decades, we wouldn’t have been able to come this far. For that, I couldn’t be more grateful.

So let’s get to the story. Thirty years ago I was a single mother of two searching for a full-time position teaching English to support my family. I took a job as a travel agent in the interim just to pay the bills.

It was at that job that I first heard about the World Gathering of Jewish Holocaust Survivors that was going to be taking place in Israel. It was the first time that survivors of the Holocaust would meet in Jerusalem.

I seized the opportunity to create my first group tour. It consisted of 200 local Holocaust survivors and their families who I would help take part in this historic gathering. Little did I know that at that moment, my teaching career was over.

Organizing and then participating in that first group tour to Israel was one of the most rewarding things I have ever done in my life. We witnessed Israel’s Prime Minister Menachem Begin stand on the Western Wall in Jerusalem saying “never again” in many different languages. It was extraordinary.

That first group tour unleashed a passion — maybe even an obsession — that needed to be satisfied by doing it again and again. And that’s how Friendly Planet Travel was established.

From there I kept selling group tours to Israel, and I soon extended them to Christian organizations. I spoke in churches all across America about why, from the perspective of a child of Holocaust survivors, it was important for Christians to be supportive of Israel. It was a great personal and professional experience, and the groups evolved and grew in number.

Eventually business expanded outside of religious groups, and I started adding new, exotic destinations. Today we have over 54 tours to exotic points around the globe to choose from — from the Middle East, to Africa, to Asia, to Europe, to the Mediterranean, to Central American, to South America.

Throughout our growth, we’ve also seen the travel industry change dramatically. The Internet’s ability to let you book your own trip put a lot of travel agencies out of business. But we stayed a step ahead to keep giving you new ways to experience more exotic parts of the world. In fact, Friendly Planet Travel was one of the first tour operators to develop an escorted touring program exclusively for the Web.

It’s embarrassing to admit this now, but I didn’t know what the Internet was when people first started talking about it! But someone suggested that it would be good for business, so I decided to check it out. We launched Friendly Planet Travel’s website in 2001 and anxiously waited for the phones to start ringing — and they did!

Happily, they are still ringing today, all those years later. Later, we added the ability to book a tour online. And just this year, you might have noticed our new booking engine that lets you personalize your vacations using our build-your-own-cruise engine.

As incredible as it was to have launched an Internet travel business so long ago, it was inconceivable that we would become pioneers of the social media revolution. I never considered that at my age, I would find myself in the midst of so much new and exciting social media activity.

We launched our travel blog in 2009, and it has become a key component of our customer communications. In fact, you might remember it being featured by FOXNews Live for the way we use it to update travelers on breaking travel news, new travel trends, share expert travel advice, media coverage, videos, interviews, and more.

Back in 1981, I never thought about where I would end up in 30 years. Now, three decades later, I’m still here. I feel so lucky to have what to me feels like the best job in the world. Thank you for booking our tours to make it all possible. 🙂

New travel regulations will better protect the Galapagos Islands and improve touring

You might have heard about the new regulations going into effect in 2012 to better protect the Galapagos Islands. If you haven’t, Gadling covered them in the recent blog post, “New Galapagos Islands regulations will change 2012 tours.”

The new regulations will make it possible to limit the number of people on a given island at a given time. No vessel will be permitted to visit the same island more than once in a 14-day period.

When Friendly Planet Travel was advised of these changes, we applauded them! The Galapagos Islands are precious and fragile, and we want to be sure the islands are protected in the future.

Some travelers might assume that these new regulations will affect the tours we offer to the Galapagos Islands. There will some minor changes to the itineraries, but it’s only for the better.

Since we have several tour programs, both cruise and island-hopper types, and are heavily involved in tourism to the Galapagos, we expect to be able to provide excellent programs at affordable prices, just as we do today.

In fact, we plan to continue to grow our programs to the Galapagos in the coming years. And just as we’ve done in the past, we will do it fully respecting the fragile environment so that these precious islands continue to be a source of wonder and discovery for generations to come.

When we make changes to the itineraries of the Galapagos Island Hopper, Galapagos Island Explorer, Ecuador and Galapagos Cruise, and Peru, Ecuador and Galapagos Cruise, we’ll let you know right here on our blog.

Why we need to help Japan recover

A month has passed since the devastating earthquake and tsunami struck Japan. And as you know, Japan is being rocked with aftershocks and the nuclear crisis continues to threaten the country.

You would think that the Japanese people would be in a state of mayhem and disorder, but it’s quite the opposite. What we’re seeing in Japan is how evolved, calm, and reasoned people behave during a crisis.

There’s no looting nor protests, and everyone is trying to help one other. It is the dignity and grace of the Japanese people that make their country so wonderful.

For example, right now the cherry blossoms are in bloom in Japan. Their blossoming sparks celebration. People go outside and enjoy picnics, parties, music, and the beauty of the trees. But this is not the case this year.

In the southern part of Japan, the damage was minimal compared to the north. But the people in the south who aren’t dealing with the aftermath of the disasters feel that it’s not appropriate to celebrate while their countrymen are suffering so much.

Instead, everyone is cutting back on everything. From cherry blossom celebrations to ordinary things, such as electricity and water to conserve resources. They’re doing this to stand in solidarity with their countrymen and women, and essentially, to do whatever they can to help one other out.

There’s a strong sense of responsibility in the Japanese culture and psyche. Their consideration of one another is remarkable and worth appreciating. It’s also one of the many reasons why we want to resume tours to Japan as soon as possible. However, we won’t go back until we feel it’s safe for our travelers.

Unfortunately I don’t see us resuming our Japan Panorama tours this year. The touring season is very short in Japan, and so we’ll have to wait until 2012 to go back. But until then, we can help Japan recover through donations.

We’re always looking for ways to get money directly to those who need it the most, and right now we’re asking you to make donation to Doctors Without Borders and the International Red Cross. Thank you for your help. I know the people in Japan truly appreciate it.

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