Lake Como 3
Monastero Santa Rosa AXXX Beautiful and large
Spain White Villages Heritage Tours AX


On this consumer travel site, created by the team at Churchill & Turen Ltd.
You will find
No Ads – No Hype – No Promotional Funds – And No Free Trips exchanged For Kind Words


Please note that all of your questions are color-coded for easy access (latest questions appear at top)



Please note: We created this site for intelligent, sophisticated travelers who are tired of self-proclaimed “critics” and mass marketing drivel. We accept no funding and we seriously believe that you are entitled to access to the “Traveltruth” provided by some of the nation’s most respected travel advisors and consumer travel journalists.


    Q – Really fascinating site – but I fear we are not your type! My girlfriend and I have wonderful jobs in the private equity field and we are devoted to taking two weeks out of every year to travel. We prefer one destination in depth and then we like to set up a program ourselves involving tours geared toward our interests in art, hiking, and cuisine. We are in our thirties and, I suppose, more adventurous than many of your site followers. We would never go on a cruise ship or a fully escorted tour. We tried that kind of travel with our parents and we will wait another thirty years or so to try it again. As two women traveling together, we have to be aware of our surroundings and we tend to use upper four or five-star hotels.

    Here is our question: We have successfully used a company called Tours By Locals. We have thoroughly enjoyed all seven of our experiences with this organization yet we don’t see it mentioned anywhere on Traveltruth. Could it be that they do not pay travel agents a commission and that is the reason no one ever mentions it?  One of the reasons we do not use a travel agent. You seem honest – were we just lucky seven times? We did our research on each guide and their ratings so that may have helped. Really interested in your take on this company.

    A – Thank you for an intriguing question. When we were in our thirties we would never even consider having a travel agent plan our initial journeys to Europe. Let us respond by saying that Tours By Locals is a tour guide company – not a tour operator. They are based in Vancouver and guests can work with them directly on their website to book privately guided tours all over the world. The company has grown substantially and cruise passengers are now able to book their guides in worldwide ports at pricing that tends to be less than similar private touring arranged by a travel advisor or directly by the cruise line. We are pleased you raised the question as we think that ToursByLocals is a viable itinerary for many travelers who just prefer to do make their own travel arrangements.  Here are some observations we trust you might find helpful:

    • Several couples can book the same guide at substantial savings. Reviews of the guides appear on the web sites and some of the reviews might actually not be purchased.
    • There is an important matter of liability. You are in a foreign country – who is responsible for your health and welfare during your touring? Suppose you fall? Suppose you get back to the pier after your ship has sailed?
    • Can you properly insure services by a local guide with whom you have a private contract? 
    • ToursByLocals is not a member of the major travel agent consortiums so that kind of financial protection is not available. But you can book their tours through your travel agent. In fact, they do pay commission to travel agents. Their lowest commission is 5% and they pay 10% what an agencies business exceeds $7,500 annually. Most agencies will request that you work with the company directly.
    • We think that one of the great values of Tours By Locals is that you can, with the guide’s willingness, adjust the sightseeing plan to meet your needs. You will have access to your guide’s reviews and background online. 
    • We do think that ToursByLocals is a credible touring option for those independent travelers who prefer to make their own private tour arrangements while saving money in the process.

    Q – We are planning a trip through portions of Portugal with a touch of Spain. We are planning our self-drive route using Michelin reviews so we can dine at two and three-star Michelin restaurants. (We are in our forties – from LA – and fairly well traveled) Our question really concerns Michelin. Are their ratings till dependable? Also wondering if you have any driving recommendations as in “precautions”. 

    A – Yes, try not to ever pick up a hitchhiker with an M-15 strapped to his back. We would also  urge you to be extra cautious about leaving anything of value on the seats of the car when you stop somewhere. Break-ins of rental car are fairly common in Spain and Portugal while crimes against persons are quite rare. Always scan the car when parking to make sure nothing at all is in plain sight.

    As to Michelin:  Yes, still the gold standard in terms of honesty and the requirement of several visits. Some industry insiders might argue that two-stars is actually a wiser choice than strictly three-star as the standards of perfection associated with a three-star rating may be both uncomfortable and overbearing. But these days, there are some notable newspapers that do excellent reviews of restaurants in their travel sections. You have to look at publications that don’t accept free anything – and they are few and far between. You might want to Google the New York Times, The Guardian, and the Times of London for a start. Any review published in a book is likely to be out-of-date. 


    Q – 12.4.23 – The wife wants to see Egypt and, as a Philly girl, she has little fear of wandering virtually anywhere on God’s green earth. So we are booked on a tour in January of 2025 with Kensington that includes a four-day Nile cruise. We just found this travel Q&A site (thank you) and were wondering if you feel this program is at all likely to operate? What is happening with the current crop of Egypt tours with wives even crazier than mine? Have they all been cancelled? 

    A – As of this morning, the situation in Gaza worsens, talks have broken down, and virtually no tours within Egypt have been cancelled. Egypt is a sort of ally of the United States and it has a rather serious interest in maintaining the safety of tourists as well as the country’s tourism infrastructure. All tours are currently operating.

    No one can predict where this is all headed. The Chief Political Officer of Hamas actually resides in Qatar and now discussions with Qatar as a mediator have broken down. But there is hope. The answer to your question is a strong “probably”. 

  • Regent’s Touring Options Not At All Perfect in Japan

    Q – 12.1.23 We just returned from an in-depth cruise in Japan aboard the Regent Explorer. Overall we had a lovely time.  However, we were disappointed (as were many fellow cruisers) with Regent’s “Pre-Vibrant Tokyo Tours”.  Essentially, the tours were drop off bus rides to sites with superficial brief commentary by “Guides” who simply told passengers to “walk around on your own and return to the meeting sites within 30 – 45 minutes–or less”. Quite frankly, it is a waste of time to spend 15- 20 minutes strolling around unescorted in Tokyo’s wonderful National Museum. My husband and I ended up hiring our own private Guides who gave us outstanding, comprehensive and unique tours in Tokyo.

    We met a travel agent aboard the ship who was a host (Free trip perhaps) for the Virtuoso organization.  Interestingly, she told us that she also books private tours avoiding the Ship’s tours. Per her insights and our own experience we question whether the current quality of Regent’s “All Inclusive Tours” outweighs the cost/benefit of cruising with Regent? 

    Although there were some artwork changes from the last time we had cruised The Explorer, we have to say that dining in the Pacific Rim remains outstanding–and seems to be a favorite venue among a lot of our fellow cruisers.

    All in all, a wonderful experience but we are concerned about our new perceptions about Regent touring. Why should tours we arranged on our own be better than the ones carefully selected by the cruise line? And what’s with the “Fleeting glimpses of Tokyo” tour that was included?

    Q – We are going to try to give your question the space it deserves:

    After air, the segment of the cruise experience that produces the largest number of complaints is touring. Let’s use Venice, Italy as an example. On a typical day in-season, Venice can have between 12 and 22 ships calling. About half of these ships are designated “Mega-Liners” meaning that they are carrying several thousand guests. There are also hundreds of crew members who have the day off in port and they often need to sign up for tour experiences.

    Add to the number of cruise passengers requiring touring, the fact that Venice is a city that is trying to keep cruise ships away from the central Canal area, and you have the makings of a monumental logistics operation. And then you have to ask ………….

    Where are the tour buses coming from and who owns them? The reality is that in most worldwide ports you only have one or two companies that have the equipment to move that many cruise passengers. That means you are sailing into a virtual monopoly. The bus companies can offer the tours they wish to offer and the cruise lines can discuss options and offer suggestions etc. but they do not control the process. In fact, finalization of cruise ship tours is done by the ship’s Purser staff working with their on-shore representatives. But touring is always under local control. 

    Then there is the question of the guides. Where do they come from and are enough certified guides available? In Venice, for example, one must ask where the guides live. A home in central Venice is extremely expensive. Often, guides must travel great distances to reach their work. 

    And then there is the stark reality that about half of all cruise passengers want to see the major sites while the other half wants to meet locals, explore the dining scene, and get a sense of real life in modern times with little interest in history. or the “Ancients”.

    So cruise lines have to deal with that as well. That is why no cruise line is currently earning A+ scores for its land programs. Planning touring for several thousand people each of whom has paid several thousand dollars fore the experience is an operational challenge of the highest magnitude. Regent’s tour programs are similar to but not better than those offered by other five-star competitors. They are all drinking out of the same tour trough. And often there are fewer options than we would like.

    Private touring is always an option and there are some good companies starting to make a dent in this market. But given that Regent includes free shore excursions, few of the lines guests feel any need to spend more money to purchase tours when the same essential tours offered by other lines are included in Regent’s fares.

    As to the three-night Tokyo package included with your sailing as a comp pre-cruise package: Tokyo may be the world’s most expensive tourist city. Were Regent to include the kind of detailed, longer, and personally guided sightseeing you would have preferred, there would have to be a significant cost increase. You did have the option of not taking the Tokyo introductory package. We do agree with you that Regent’s wording of the tour was not as clear as it should have been regarding the manner in which guests would be dropped off to explore on their own.                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                        



    Q – 11.18.23 – Dear, dear Traveltruthers. We recently learned that our son and daughter-in-law are going to give birth to our first grandchild. In their wisdom, they live in Silicon Valley while we happily reside  in Rhode Island. This, for us, means that we are going to start flying out to the west coast several times per year. Our question has to do with domestic airline planning. When should we be looking at flights/costs and is there one web site you would recommend that we can play with to learn the ropes. From everything of yours that we have read, it seems that for flights within the US you recommend searching online but doing the actual booking directly with the airline? True?

    A –  For domestic flights, we recommend getting serious about 100 days prior to departure date. After that point, fares begin to rise. We would use the much improved Google Flights website. This site will give you the fare history of your selected flights and it will tell you what it things is a fair price for your ticket. You can set a price alert when you your ticket hits the recommend price range. You can easily set up the site to notify you via e-mail when the prices are about top change.

    Congratulations. Wishing you many more and a regular commute out west.


    Q –  11.18.23 – We have been using a “cash-back” credit card for years. Now that we are retired and we are starting to see a bit of the world, we would like to start out with the better of the travel reward cards in the “under $100 Per Year” price range. Not sure if you really want to get involved in this sort of advice but thought I would ask. We love the site.

    A – This is a subjective question. Virtually every travel website offers credit card advice and there is almost always a statement which essentially says they may receive renumeration in kind for their recommendations. You can assume that any website about travel that seems to have a good deal of credit card advice, ads, deals etc. is enjoying payback from the various credit cards they are hawking.

    Unfortunately, we have no escape clause and we receive nothing from any travel product we might recommend. We are business fools.

    That said, the current consensus seems to be that the best of the cards for those planning on traveling a few times per year is the Chase Sapphire Preferred Card. We won’t do an ad for the card but it does give you better than usual travel rewards together with painless redemption procedures. You get some excellent benefits for $95 per year. You get points for dining, shopping etc. and, unlike an airline-branded card, you can redeem miles at a good rate on most of the world’s leading airlines.

    We will now await the dozens of notes of disagreement from other credit card issuers and their users.


    Q – 11.18.23  We are wondering what the status might be of our scheduled tour with Globus in February. We have called twice and all they are saying is there are no refunds being given and the tour will operate based on current information. Is there anywhere we can get more definitive information? We would love to postpone this trip by a year just to see if things calm down in Israel and along the Gaza Strip. We are not getting any information about safety from the company and we have paid in full. Any specifics you can provide would be really appreciated – our phone calls have not produced anything of value except that we are being told a credit to use another time is out. For what it is worth, we are in our seventies, we are Jewish, and we certainly don’t need the uncertainty or the stress. I am sure you understand.

    A – What we don’t understand is why you are making these calls. Why isn’t this being handled by your travel advisor? Someone is earning a nice commission on your booking so it would seem appropriate that they do a little work to earn it. Our concern is that you may have booked this directly with the company. If that is the case, please make certain that the travel agent commission portion of the price you paid is returned to you. If, in this situation, you paid the full rate inclusive of the agent commission, but you never used an agent, someone is making a double profit. We hope that is not the case.

    The specifics, for now, are these:

    The war is in Israel and in Gaza. It has not extended to Egypt so tours are not being canceled and booked guests are, across-the-board, being denied future credited unless they specifically were booked on a canceled Israel departure. 

    There is a travel “advisory” issued for American travelers going to Egypt. That means “take extra precautions”. It does not mean “don’t go”. Many American cities are under travel “advisories” and foreign visitors are warned about taking precautions to remain out of harms way. If our State Department, for whatever reason, changes the “Advisory” to a “Warning” your tour will, we are certain, be canceled and you will either be offered a total refund of all but your travel insurance fees or an attractive future credit.

    If you are truly nervous about going and you booked with Globus without the advocacy of a travel professional, we would pout together a carefully crafter letter to the director of Customer Services at Globus laying out the reasons why you need to postpone this journey. You might want to include a letter from your physician as well. No guarantees, but that would take it out of the hands of the reservation agents at a call center who have been taking your calls. 


    Q – 11.3.23 – Hello. You are now communicating with the person who has done more wine touring on the  west coast of the United States than any Californian alive. We’ve done it all over a 30 year span from Napa to Mendocino – even venturing into Washington State for some memorable Pinot tastings. Sad to say, my blood cell count has created the need to cut down on wine consumption so I am looking to find some upscale food touring that might best be accompanied by a single glass of wine. We don’t know who else to ask but we sense you understand. We don’t want to learn to cook pasta like someone’s grandmother and we have no interest in cupcakes or cheese. Something wonderful best accompanied by wine with a clear focus and beautiful scenery. Don’t feel the need to respond right away – if you could ponder it and respond I would raise a single glass in your honor. 

    A – Yes, we try to ponder all questions for months before responding. We are not the best source for this question but we do have one rather strong recommendation assuming it clears your medical team: The latest trend in food tasting centers around Oyster events. Like wine, there are major geographical distinctions and the scenery from the California central coast, to the Gulf, on to Maine is often truly spectacular. You might start the search by checking out the tours offered by Hog Island Oysters outside San Francisco. 


    Q – Well we made it to India yesterday. Arrived at the hotel at 4 AM. Begin our tour today with a half day of sightseeing in Mumbai and then tomorrow off to Udapur. 

    The hotel (Taj Palace) is off course lovely, historic and well maintained. I pointed out to my wife that they repaired all the bullet holes from the 2008 terrorist attack. She of course felt much better.

    What can I say about Mumbai? It’s called the City of Dreams. I am dreaming of getting out of here.

    Just one question. We are, in the first 24 hours, seeing people we pass on the street who have, we would guess, not had a healthy meal for a long time. Is it a good idea to purchase gift cards from a local chain restaurant and give them out when we see someone who might really need it. I am not entirely comfortable carrying cash and handing it out. I have budgeted about $1,000 for this purpose but I don’t want to be just another ugly American. How do I know it won’t be used for drugs?

    A – That is so kind of you. Don’t worry about any money being used for drugs by the homeless on the streets. Crime is not a major issue but carrying a wad of cash is always a bad idea. The restaurant gift card is not a bad idea but we would suggest you discuss this with your local guide. You would need to know that the recipient can read and understands how to properly utilize such a gift. Our recommendation would be to do your giving in a different way. You may want to make a brief visit to an orphanage and bring them something they need – like a computer. You will also see versions of the soup kitchens we have in our own inner cities that are always in need of support. That would be a way to address the truly hungry without giving them cash on the street. Your local guide should be more than willing to help you achieve your goal of giving money to those who most desperately need it.  Thank you so much for the question. 


    Q – 10.22.23 – So here is my dilemma: I am 64, my husband is 69. Next summer he has a big birthday and he deserves a great travel gift. But like so many of our friends, we are getting a bit concerned about the War in Israel and all of the demonstrations we are seeing.  I had planned to surprise him with a trip overseas but now, I feel restricted. He loves exotic locales, snow rather than beachy, and he loves to wander quaint streets without a lot of tourists and speaking with the locals.

    I want to surprise him with a trip in a place I know he will feel safe yet a place that is really different enough to allow him to do some wandering and take some memorable shots of the two of us. We are not foodies and, while not on a budget of any kind, we certainly don’t expect five-star hotels wherever we end up going. Oh, one other rather important thing – he does not enjoy flying. A one-stop would work but nothing more than that. A city of several million is something he would hate. We live in Cincinnati and that is as much city as he ever wants to see. I know this is a tough one but just wondering if you might have a suggestion. Thanks so much for a really different website. It makes me feel like I have a friend in the “business”. 

    A – First, thank you. And let us say “you do”.

    We have put ourselves in your place and we can only respond with a location we would personally love to explore. Why not surprise him with a trip to the World’s Largest Island”, Greenland. There is the capital Nuuk, but we are thinking that he almost might prefer Ilusissat, a truly picturesque outpost that sits on a fjord surrounded by icebergs. Of course, getting to Greenland’s second city is no easy task but there is some good news regarding transportation to Greenland.

    Starting in 2024, Icelandair will begin new service through its hub in Iceland’s capital Reykjavik. Currently, you would have to get off in Reykjavik and get to a second, smaller airport for the lift into Greenland. Now, you will have a simple stop and then proceed non-stop from Reykjavik to either Nuck or Ilusissat Airport. They are working on airport improvements and a slow growth in tourism as we speak. But you will be ahead of the herd if you plan something for this coming summer and your husband’s 70th. Hope this is helpful. 


    Q – 10.22.23  – We were really excited about our planned program in Egypt with Kensington Tours. But then my husband started getting cold feet and coming around to my point of view that we ought to cancel. I found  the questions about this situation on this site extremely helpful but I am wondering about one specific issue. How exactly does the new Advisory by our State Department influence cancellation policy? Does this give everyone the right to get their money back? It sounds like our government is telling us not to go so why would any company make us go if we don’t want to? 

    A – The specific answer to your question is that an “Advisory” is in no way binding on a tour operators decision to operate a profitable tour where guests are paid in full. If the situation were to become truly dangerous the State Department would issue a “Warning” and cite specifics reasons it was issuing the declaration. Any tour company that operated a tour in a country where American citizens were being specifically told by our government “Do Not Travel to ______” could, it seems clear, face potential legal ramifications from booked guests. 

    The specific wording of a State Department announcement regarding travel to Egypt will also have an impact on the point at which your cancellation insurance will kick in. 

    Travel advisors are prohibited from discussing insurance policies and practices. We would recommend that you call your carrier directly to fully understand at what point of cancellation you might be covered.

    We would add two briefs bits of advice:

    01 – If you are really worried about a trip to the point that you are no longer looking forward to it, we would advise you to cancel it if possible.

    02 – Do note that when you are traveling with a top grade tour operator, guides are trained to keep you far away from street demonstrations and any activity that could be unpleasant. If that could not be assured, the tour will always be cancelled by the operator. 


    Q – 10.19.23 –  My wife and I are booked on a major five-star line whose name begins with the letter “S”. We worked with them directly so there would be no fully business. Our cruise was calling in Egypt and Israel after sailing to Greece and other ports. The cruise departs in a month and a half and I called them this morning after consulting with my wife. I was told that the stops in Egypt are still on but that Israel ports are going to be replaced with time in Cyprus and Turkey. The cruise will now end in Turkey and I am responsible for changing my air return from Tel Aviv.

    They were nice about it but they will not consider giving me a refund or even allowing me to let them keep my money and allow me to go on a different cruise some time nest year.

    This is really lousy customer service and I am surprised the media is not calling them out about it. I did everything they asked me to do but they were non-responsive. Is there some strategy you can recommend to get me my money back or a future credit? 

    A –  Thank you and truly sorry about this situation. We have heard from dozens of cruisers in much the same position. Let us make just a few specific observations that may be too late for you to have a satisfactory outcome but hopefully will help others avoid the same travel trauma.

    • The rules are, as stated to you by “S”. The only way they will cancel your cruise and offer any form of refund is if there is a government order that Americans not travel to Europe as well as the Middle East.
    • It sounds as though you did not use a travel advisor but, instead, booked this cruise yourself in the expectation that the approximately 15% travel agent commission would be refunded to you in cash. Our guess is that you never asked for it.
    • You likely spoke to someone in the “S” call center. You are representing one booking, one revenue source – yours. The call should have been made by a trusted travel advisor familiar with the line’s management team. You could have been working with a travel advisor who gives upward of $1,000,000 in annual revenue to the line. Instead, you decided to give up the advocacy a talented advisor represents while representing yourself and your single booking. And, sadly, you never knew to demand the refund of the built-in commission for services you never received.
    • The cruise line does have the right to change itineraries when they feel it is in the best interests of the guests to do so. That language appears in every cruise line contract. So we would suggest you persist, be firm, but be kind as they are only doing what every one of their competitors is doing.

    As to what to do now?

    We would suggest that you start writing every day to executives  using their Facebook and other social media accounts. Try calling again and try to speak to the head of the line’s Customer Service division The reservation team does not have the authority to change policy but the Customer Service Desk does. 

    You will not be put in harm’s way – not when you are traveling aboard one of the company’s prized assets.  At this point we would think you might want to start thinking about how you can maximize your enjoyment of this cruise. And do take our advice – never book directly again unless you  have the cruise line’s or the tour operators assurances in writing that you will be refunded the 10-17% of the total cost represented by the build-in travel agent commission. 


    Q – 10.9.23 Please get back to us as soon as possible as we are booked on a December scheduled tour to Israel with the tour firm Abercrombie & Kent. There were 14 others, I believe in our group on the Crossroads of History Tour. I had tried to call and they were really busy. My wife and I would love to do the tour but we don’t understand our options. Can you tell us who to call or, perhaps, you could find out about this tour. We are in our mid-seventies and this was something we have always wanted to do. We’re a little adventurous so there is a chance we will still go. Do you know when we can find out about this program. We made final payment two weeks ago by calling in our credit card to their 800 number. Nothing since.

    A – As you provided your names we were able to trace your booking. You did call it in to the right 800 number but please be careful about doing it again as there are thousands of travel-related “ghost sites” that will take your credit card information and sell it. You think you are calling the travel company but you are calling a fake number. Sadly, your tour is being cancelled. You will receive a full refund. Give the company a few weeks to get the credit back on the credit card you used for payment. You had not received information as this decision to cancel was just made this afternoon. For the near term, the State Department is advising American citizens to avoid travel to Israel. That has triggered your “no questions asked” refund. Hopefully, in a year or two your trip can be re-scheduled. You should not have had to contact A&K yourself. Unless you receive a refund of the travel agent commission you should use a travel consultant next time. You are always paying for one – it is baked into the price of your tour or cruise.   

    Q – 10.8.23  Our bucket list number 1 is Israel. We are extremely well-traveled and have been saving the Holy Land for a one or two-month sojourn done in style and privately in the next four months. We are looking at Jordan, Israel, followed by a top-end Nile River Cruise in one of the better staterooms. A cruise to Indonesia might be the alternative.  We are in our early seventies and rather fit.  I suppose our question boils down to what, if any, of the trips I have described do you think is bookable and doable next winter or early spring? The news is awful and I hope you will not shy away from taking on questions such as ours.

    A – You are writing to us at a time when the comprehensive devastation of this new type of terrorism is only starting to come into focus given the horrors of yesterday’s events. We have been involved in numerous policy and “what if” scenario discussions but it is far too early for anything like a credible response to your question.

    The fact is that all day today, tomorrow and in the days and weeks following, travel industry executives, tour operators, cruise line operations teams etc. will be in meetings trying to determine current policies and procedures as Israel prepares to be on a war footing. This is our current best guess – a rather hopeful assessment that could, should others join this fight to the finish, be outdated by the time you read it:

    Israel tours throughout the remainder of 2023 will be canceled and guests will/should receive full refunds. We do think that planning travel to Jordan followed by time in Egypt on a Nile cruise is not only possible but also a bit of a challenge. The better staterooms on most Nile river cruises for the first half of next year are going to be fully booked so it is best to get on this as soon as possible.


    Q –  This came up in conversation last night with friends: They are saying that they read that the best hotels in Los Angeles, a city I often visit on business, will now be forced to allocate available rooms for assignment to the homeless currently living on LA streets. Can this be true and is it being discussed in the travel industry? I can’t imagine what hotel owners are thinking and could this spread to other states? How do I book a room for April and know for sure that the homeless will not be sharing my floor? Nothing against the homeless – I hope they get the support they need. But come on, I usually stay at the Beverly Wilshire. I can’t believe this isn’t all over the news.

    Union's Proposed Homeless Policy Will Deter 72% of Americans from Booking LA Hotel Rooms

      A – Well it is not as big a story as Taylor Swift’s sudden interest in the NFL but the story is gaining traction in the LA region. It is a tad early to see where this is all headed but here is what we know at this time (10.4.23).

    First, don’t assume that LA or any other major city is going to try intentionally to destroy the reputation and the service levels provided guests at First Class hotels. That would have such a negative impact on the upscale tourism and meeting sectors that it is hard to imagine it happening. But we are less sure that the proposed policy changes will not affect hotels geared toward budget-conscious locals who cannot afford LA’s increasing rent structure. 

    You are referring to something known as The Responsible Hotel Ordinance. It was created by a union representing about 11,000 hospitality workers throughout southern California and Arizona. It is scheduled to be voted on in an election to be held in LA next March. The union has already secured the required 100,000 signatures. 

    It appears that the proposed new legislation would force LA hotels top fill vacant rooms with people who lack any other housing options. There are an estimated 46,000 homeless resident sin Los Angeles, with Oakland and San Francisco not too far behind.

    As presently worded, and please understand this can change at any time, LA Hotels would be required to notify the city of their available room inventory. A city agency would then direct/assign homeless individuals to specific properties and provide payment in the form of vouchers representing what is being referred to as “fair market Rate”. 

    You can imagine the controversay this plan is already generating. Hotel executives are saying that the implementation could spell the end of the city’s business meeting economy. Other critics talk about the potential for crime and the obvious lowering of room rates to attract regular guests. Proponents argue that many of the homeless being accommodated would, ironically, be hotel employees who can no longer work downtown while finding affordable housing.

    It is hard to imagine that this will come to pass without major modifications. Most in the travel industry see it as a radical proposal that would have a massive negative impact on domestic tourism. But for now, the proposal has the signatures and it will be on the ballot. Our take on it is that, for the most part, we are talking about motels and older hotels in areas where homelessness is a real issue. We don’t see homeless guests in the hallways of the better properties in Beverly Hills – just yet. But this is fast becoming a “cause” and celebrities can and do embrace causes quickly enough to make a real difference in the outcome. 



    Q – I am sorry – but your industry seems to lack any ethical foundations when it comes to marketing cruises and other types of vacation offerings. We are AARP Members, belong to one of the nicer golf clubs in Ohio, and we donate our time to numerous charities. As a result, we are inundated with mail and e-mails offers the vast majority of which really insult our intelligence. Sometimes I wonder if it is deliberate. But the one that brings about my question is the offer received from two different cruise lines that indicated that if I would only call them, I could get two-for-one pricing – meaning my wife can join me for free. As a former CFO, I smell a rat. What should I be thinking when I receive a two-for-one cruise offer? 

    A – You should be thinking that your intelligence is being insulted. The assumption of most travel advertising is that the travel consumer is a dimwit who can be told virtually anything about pricing. The industry is built on a foundation of misinformation and manipulation. You are not supposed to understand cruise pricing. 

    Before a pricing brochure is finalized, cruise executives determine the actual price they need to put on each stateroom category to realize the kinds of profits they need to generate. They take that price and double it. They then advertise 2-1 pricing.  The Top Ten Cruise lines, the real ones, tend to raise their pricing every 90 days while creating new offers designed to make the consumer feel good about paying more – they may raise prices and then throw in one or two free shore excursions or gratuities.

    The secret for the consumer is to fully understand the real price formula every potential cruiser needs to know. We have mentioned this before in one of our responses – but here is the secret to understanding cruise pricing:

    Use the same mathematical formula each time you consider a cruise: Take the minimum unobstructed outside stateroom and remove the port charges and the air from the total cost. Then, take the total cost and divide it by the number of nights you will spend on the ship.

    This will give you a per diem price with the “applesauce” removed. Use this formula each time you look at a cruise to determine the real cost of your cruise. You can decide if the air is a good deal separately. We actually have a client who has used this formula for years and, based on the outcome,  he decided to book  a 72-Day Grand Voyage based on the low per diem costs. 


    Q – We have some wonderful friends who have indicated they will join us on something like a ten-day Nile cruise/tour in Egypt. We are well-traveled, as our friends, but they like to travel independently and a group tour may be a tough sell. I have heard from returning friends that Cairo and the Pyramids, along with Luxor were packed with tourist buses. We will want to avoid some of that by going in the off-season. Is there a time when tourism in Egypt really slows down? Do you recommend we try to convince our friends not to do Egypt on our own? 

    A – The “off-season” in Egypt is May-September, their summer. Summer in Egypt is no picnic and we do not suggest you visit during days of physically challenging  heat. Prime Season is November through March. A good compromise might be shoulder months of April, September, or October. 

    Since there will be four of you, we would normally urge you to consider a private journey. The price when you are joined by one or two additional couples makes private travel somewhat more affordable. But in this case, you will want to be on a Nile River Cruise with other people and you will want to go to the most popular tourist sites. So “getting away from the crowds” is far more challenging. 

    It seems to us that your best option is going to be a small group journey with fewer than 20 fellow guests. We think that Abercrombie & Kent, a company with a strong presence in Egypt, is the first company to consider. But there are several other good Egypt operators including Tauck and National Geographic. 

    Egypt is one of the “UIP” countries (Upgrade If Possible). You really want to avoid three and four-star hotels. Egypt is also known for having a surplus of non-certified guides. 

    Finally, we would suggest that your friends try to understand that independent touring is not what it once was – independent travelers often believe what they are being told on internet travel sites and apps. The fact is that the independent traveler receives few of the price breaks enjoyed by upscale travelers on group programs. “Independent Travel” now carries a real additional cost on virtually every component of a trip. Given security issues, we think that you need to travel with a company that has on-the-ground staff in-country when traveling to Egypt. 


  • Headed to Athens from Omaha: But Where to Connect?
    Newark Liberty International Airport [EWR] Terminal Guide [2020]



    Q – So pleased that our pediatrician told us about this site. But the lack of ads is scaring us. Won’t you go broke soon? 

    So here is my question: We are going on a wonderful Explora 1 Cruise  next summer that begins in Athens and ends in Barcelona. I don’t worry about the return but my schedule is such that I will only have one day in Athens before we board. I don’t want anything to go wrong. Should we connect through Newark, JFK, or Boston Logan? Do you feel strongly that our chances for a hassle-free flight connection over are going to be better from one or the other? We would be looking at American or United most likely. 

    A – In this case, don’t worry about the airport. Ideally, we want you to have a two and a half hour connection and we would prefer if you left before midnight. You might also consider the type of aircraft on the East Coast to Athens segment. If you are flying Business you will want lie-flat seats. If possible, avoid flying the 767 as there are now roomier options. Consider adding Philadelphia to your list of options as American is turning it into a major international hub. If you want to go crazy, you might want to look up back-up flights – as in what can you fly if you miss your connection. 

    There is also arrival time. If you arrive in Athens at 7:00 am and get to your hotel by, say, 9:30, it is highly unlikely that your room will be ready.

    As to our consumer-oriented, ad-free approach: No worries. We all have day jobs.  We do this work out of a sincere desire to provide at least one source of truthful information for the intelligent traveler. It helps us sleep at night.

    Just to cross our t’s on our response: Do consider shipping your luggage from home to your hotel. And please seriously consider using a reputable flight monitoring service so if there is a hiccup they will be by your side via app. to re-book you on the best available option. These are two specific things savvy travelers do when there are questionable connections on the horizon. 

    Please let us know how this all turns out including your time aboard Explora, the new, upscale division of MSC Cruises. 


    Discover Gordes, Provence | What to Do, Where to Stay

    Q – We have been going up and back with two travel agents, one online, to plan a one week stay somewhere in France in a wonderful village setting. There are some great hotels but then we would need to drive or be driven to the local village. We are both educators, I am a High School Principal. Our time is somewhat limited as we plan for our 25th Wedding Anniversary. We’ve been saving for this trip and price is not a huge consideration. If possible we want to avoid Paris and other cities and just stay in a great hotel smack in the middle of a lovely village. But we also want great service and food that we will never forget. 

    So far, we are being given names in Provence and along the French Riviera. We just started reading this web site and we feel that your backgrounds may point us in the right direction. We do have a relationship with one of the agents who we have met with twice but you can convince us to work with you on this truly important trip. Thank you in advance and know that we appreciate the total lack of insulting travel drivel.

    A – This is, of course, an opinion question and we are at a disadvantage as we have never spoken and we would want to know more about you before making a final recommendation. But, based on what you have told us, we strongly urge you to consider the Hotel Bastide de Gordes. Gordes is a commune in the Vaucluse département in the Provence-Alpes-Côte d’Azur region in southeastern France. The residents are known as Gordiens. The nearest big city is Avignon; smaller cities nearby include Cavaillon, L’Isle-sur-la-Sorgue and Apt . 

    The hotel is among the finest we have ever experienced and the village has been named France’s “Prettiest”. The hotel is on the main street with terraces out back that overlook a magnificent scene of hills and old stone villages. The extraordinary staff all speak English and the food is Michelin + quality. 

    We appreciate your kind offer of possibly working with us but we would urge you to be loyal to the agent who you met with two times. We have been in business for 38 years with a following in 46 states and 6 countries – there is no need for us to use this consumer site to solicit or even seek new business. 

    Whatever you do in France, thank you both for your service to our kids and have a memorable second honeymoon. 


    Q – Love that you are including some food and restaurant information on traveltruth. We hope you will feature more.  My wife and I are head off to London in mid-August. We will be staying at the Lanesborough, a hotel I would think you would recommend. We have booked it directly with the hotel and so we will be expecting the refund for booking direct when we check out. 

    But our questions concerns sushi. My wife and I love sushi restaurants – I would say that Nobu is our favorite restaurant group in all our travels and, of course, they have one and many like them in London. But here in Boca, most of us are smart enough to stay away from raw fish in mid-summer when the temperatures are so high and food handling of fresh fish becomes problematical. Would you be afraid to order sushi at Nobu in August in London or any other high quality restaurant in London? We are recommending this site to all our friends. Keep it up – but more food Q&A.

    A – Interesting question. We feel that you can trust the food handling at Nobu worldwide. When it comes to other London sushi restaurants we would urge caution about dining on raw fish mid-summer when real temps may be above 100 degrees. That requires a lot of faith not only in the sushi chef but in the the system of receiving and storing newly arrived fresh fish supplies during a heat wave. Sushi is a gastronomic leap of faith at the best of times. We think your question is relevant and we would urge some level of caution. One rule of thumb recommended by some experts is always avoid eating raw fish between May and September while traveling in a heat zone. 

    But allow us to also suggest that you should also consider that fresh fish standards in Great Britain, are  higher than they are in the United States as a result of stricter government regulation and, of course, proximity to the sea. We would not, personally, hesitate to order sushi at a top-grade Japanese restaurant in London mid-summer. You might want to request a selection from “your last fresh fish delivery”. 


    Q – My friend and I have decided to take our three weeks off each year and do some traveling together within the United States. We are both in our forties – my friend is divorced and I am single. Unfortunately, we’re both OK looking so there are some concerns about traveling independently. Having spent some time on this site, we think you’re the right folks to ask although we understand this is out of your wheelhouse. 

    As we start our long-range planning, we are wondering if there is any research that might indicate which State in the country, or area, is going to be the safest for two women traveling together?  For our first trip or two we would like to head to an area of the country where we feel secure and then we’ll ease into other trips as we gain confidence.

    A –  There is some research that measures the major factors you would want to consider. But we think that any conclusion is really stretching it. For the record, Vermont is considered the safest state for women traveling on their own. We would put little faith in that conclusion but we do think that New England generally may be a good place to start your journeys. We would offer one caution – in your situation, there might be a tendency to avoid big cities and to consider rural drives and sightseeing well off the beaten path. That is fine, but do also look for places that have a well-educated demographic, higher income, and a well-regarded police force. You might also want to be unusually cautious about your accommodations.  As you have concerns, we would suggest going up a “star” and try to stay in hotels that have evening security. The vast majority of hotels in the United States have absolutely no on-duty security during evening hours. In fact, the vast majority of hotels in the United States operate with only one staff member on the late-night shift. 

    We do want to end by suggesting that you not read our comments as serious concern. Doing a driving trip within the United States with a friend is a relatively safe pursuit by any standard. 


    Q – (9.14.23)  Would like to see if you can address a preference I am sure many people share. We just can’t seem to pinpoint specifics and we are getting frustrated. We are frequent, and growing more frequent, cruisers. My wife and I  are not easy sleepers and we find that we sleep much better when we are facing the bow of the ship. In other words, we want a bed that allows our legs to face forward toward the front of the ship. 

    We sail Oceania often and Regent sometimes. We have had our vacations severely disrupted more than once when the cabin layout was not as promised. Our Travel Agent was told that the staterooms were forward facing and , when we arrived, we discovered they weren’t. In one case, the ship was sold out so no changes were possible. Our agent knows what she is doing but I still called reservations directly and quickly realized that they don’t really have a clue as to how beds are aligned in each cabin. The company deck plan is worthless on this issue. All of this boils down to one simple question I am sure would interest many of your followers: How exactly do we ascertain the direction faced of the bed in our stateroom? 

    A – You have put your toes on a real issue at most of the lines. When researching this for you, one of our editors was told “we will have to try to get in touch with the yard that built the ship to find out”. Deck plans are useless in terms of finding forward facing bedding in specific stateroom numbers. The information is not readily available because many ships make layout changes to ships when they are in their annual drydock. The real thing that is going on here is that, from a sellers point of view, the cruise lines do not want to offer still another choice in cabin selection that could eliminate 50% of the available staterooms.

    The best tactic at this point is to have your agent speak to Special Services or a Reservations supervisor. Ask that the fact that yours is a forward-facing stateroom be put in writing by Oceania. That way, if you booked a forward facing stateroom and it turns out not to be on arrival, you would find onboard management sympathetic to a complimentary upgrade. 

    Finally, a more extreme approach would  be to secure a note from your physician explaining that you require a forward-facing bed. That note can be presented to the cruise line’s Medical Officer at the timer of booking and that may help you achieve what you want. 

    It is interesting that flyers raise hell when they find themselves in rear-facing  seats on an aircraft but cruisers who may be spending more than a week in their stateroom are expected to never question the direction of the bedding. British Airways, for one, has installed rotating front and rear facing seats in the Business Class sections on some of their long distance aircraft. The rear-facing seats are less popular than Mike Pence. 


    Q –  Really enjoying this new site and the opportunity to ask honest questions without pop-up ads and someone trying to sell me something. We travel for pleasure several times a year now, after retiring two years ago. We’ve done a tour program with National Geographic and we’ve cruised with the French line Ponant (loved it). We have a dedicated  travel advisor and I think we are getting some good advice. But her agency only sells one insurance company and I just don’t know if something as important as insurance coverage should just be automatic.

    We are staying away, largely based on your advice, from the supplier travel insurance policies. But how does the consumer pick the best vacation option for their specific trip? Can you please boil it down to the bottom line – what should we be looking for in a travel insurance policy. I am also curious about commission. If I buy a policy from ABC Tours who is taking me to Peru, does that mean that my travel agent is not getting a commission? Do travel agents earn anything when they sell you a travel policy. Love to know how that works and how it influences which policy is being recommended. I don’t  know why you would spend the time maintaining this site – but please don’t stop until we have completed our RTC (retirement travel cycle)

    A – Thank you. This is our 38th year. We will be here for your entire RTC! 

    There are three things you need to look for when selecting travel insurance. The first two three obvious – the third is not:

    Choose an insurance provider that:

    01 – Has the strongest demonstrated financial strength. The firm that we recommend most often is owned by Warren Buffet’s Berkshire Hathaway. No “going out of business” concerns.

    02 – Never choose a policy that provides less than $500,000 in medical evacuation. Given costs associated with medical evacuations abroad, we consider this the minimum coverage required.

    03 – Ask your agent to demonstrate their ability to offer insurance “advocacy”. Can they intervene with the insurer on your behalf if needed? (This tends to eliminate all online sellers) This is the tie-breaker because in the insurance industry, as you may have heard, the inclination is to encourage adjusters to turn down claims whenever they can. You should only purchase insurance from a seller who can demonstrate the ability to be your advocate with the insurance company to request that they re-examine your claim when it is appropriate. 

    Anyone, from the cruise line, to the insurance agent, to the travel agent, to the tour operator who ever sells you travel insurance is earning a commission. Be sure of it. That is why the three requirements above are critical in the selection process. If you purchase your travel insurance directly from the insurance provider it works exactly the same as it does when you book a hotel directly, or a cruise etc. They simply charge you the commission anyway and simply pocket it as extra income. 

    We hope this helps. Enjoy that RTC!

    Q – (9.9.23) We have been taking European vacations on and off for the past ten years after we retired in our early and late sixties. I really want to return this coming summer to do one of those Globus Tours that allows you to see five or six European capitals in about two weeks. But my husband is now adamant that he will not get into any political discussions about our American way of life while traveling overseas. He is a Trump Republican, more than I am, and  he feels that at this stage of his life he doesn’t want a bunch of Europeans in his face firing questions at him about our politics in the States. Is that a realistic view in any way? I mean we have traveled to Europe four times and I can only recall one political discussion with a front desk clerk in our Budapest hotel. 

    A – There is little evidence, at this point on the indictment scale, that Europeans are starting to pepper American tourists with questions about their politics. You know this from your past visits. In fact, based on our experiences in this area, there is a greater likelihood that one or two fellow tour members from the States could be a greater irritant on your husband’s tender feelings than the locals. We sometimes forget that the European have their own issues.

    Italy has a Far Right Prime Minister who has expressed complimentary words for Mussolini, the Far Right has made some impressive gains in France’s government, an area of Spain, including Barcelona, has been trying to secede from the rest of the country, and Great Britain and London are experiencing waves of gang-related store looting that rivals anything we have here in the States. They also had Boris Johnson. Europeans are not really in a position, for the most part, to lecture us about the imperfections of our Democracy. Not yet.

    But this is a a seven-continent kind of place. Your husband is in his seventies and, it is our opinion, that he should avoid any destination he can’t visit with full measures of joy and anticipation. Take him to Japan. They are too polite to ever discuss American politics with a guest in their country. 

    We are seeing your question being raised in one form or another fairly often. But we are not hearing anything to indicate that concerns about political confrontation abroad between locals and American visitors are justified.


    Gorilla Trekking in Rwanda -Luxury Safari Extension-Micato SafarisQ – We have decided, based largely on your advice, to do our first trip to East Africa through Micato Safaris. We are leaning heavily toward trying to see the mountain Gorillas at the end of our safari. Is it worth it and is it more than a “chance encounter”? Don’t want to spend the extra nights and travel time, as well as cost, if actually seeing the Gorillas and knowing them on a first-name basis is not going to happen.

    A – This will, almost always, work. You will start out in Kigali, Rwanda’s capital. You will then head northwest into Volcanoes National Park . The park lodgings are quite luxurious and by day you should encounter one of the park’s current ten families of mountain gorillas. This kind of touring is carefully controlled to avoid crowds and to avoid interaction with the gorillas while they are watching Fox news. 


    Q – We have pretty much decided that we are going to do the Paul Gauguin next winter on a sailing from seven to 11-days. We are looking at three different itineraries, the seven-night “Tahiti and Society Islands”, the Society Islands and the Tuamotus, (10 nights) or the Cook Islands and the Society Islands (11 days). All things being equal, is one of these a superior choice? We are flexible in terms of dates and expense. Appreciate your efforts. Just starting to read the entire site.

    A –  We think you may be most impressed by the Cook Islands which, on this itinerary, is added to the essential seven-night Tahiti program plus a visit to a private island Motu. And if you really like the Cook Islands and have millions of dollars you would like to place in an offshore bank, you might become a frequent visitor to the islands. . As one of the major banks advises,

    “The Cook Islands, a sovereign nation based on the Westminster style of government is a group of 15 islands in the South Pacific Ocean south west of Tahiti and due south of and on the same time zone as Hawaii. Our geographic location allows the Cook Islands to have a strategic advantage in dealing with both the Asian and US markets”

    Add the Aitutaki Day Tour to your Cook Islands Holiday | Cook Islands


    Q – We have enough miles to use for a 32-Day, three-segment cruise from Singapore to  Hong Kong.  What is the best way to go about using them? Any strategies for this sort of thing? We are not going to be using the cruise lines air but I have never cashed in any of my approximately 750,000 miles on United. 

     A – If you are going to purchase a coach ticket and use miles to upgrade to Business or First Class, you should deal directly with the mileage desk at your airline. They will likely offer you more than one option requiring some instant decisions.

    If, on the other hand, you are going to use your miles to get Business or First Class tickets, we highly recommend that you speak to the leading expert in this field, Gary Leff. He charges fees (approx. $350) but his expertise in this field is well worth it. Gary has been hailed as “The World’s Best Mileage Expert” (source: Conde Nast Traveler) and he assists many Churchill & Turen guests. Contact him initially at  (Note: We do not have a business relationship with Mr. Leff). We do not accept payment in any form from those firms we recommend to our readers)



    Q – I know we are early, but we are planning our first trip to the Orient in the winter of 2025. We will likely be using one of the top ranked tour operators like Red Savannah, Abercrombie & Kent or, perhaps, Tauck. We will be flying out of Cleveland. I am a tad anxious about the air and I will obsess about it until I have the schedule in my hand.  I am not sure, since I will know exactly what I want, if I will need a travel agent or if I should book this directly.

    I will not accept flights that are “assigned to us”. There are some excellent carriers that operate in Asia and we will want the best possible routing. Who do I speak to at the tour company to make this happen as “it must”. 

    Would really appreciate your addressing the “use an agent” question as I am receiving contradictory advise from friends who are well-traveled. Don’t be afraid to tell it to me straight. Love the site.

    A –  You do not get to “choose” your flights when using supplier-provided air. What they can offer is, as we have discussed elsewhere on TT, limited by their contractual obligations. But there is nothing wrong with letting the air department know your preferences. If you don’t get them, and the air schedule is unacceptable to you, simply reject it and do your own thing. This will, almost always, increase your total costs by several thousand dollars and, should something go wrong, you are on your own. Another down side is that air, as quoted by a tour operator or a cruise line, is almost always a package – not a simple ticket quote. It usually includes taxes, which can run as high as 18%, baggage handling, and round trip transfers. You will end up paying for each of those items if you do your own air. 

    The “should I use an agent” question is one that comes to us, in one form or another, on an almost daily basis. You want it straight – only a fool books direct. When you do, you are supporting one of the travel industry’s major “scams”. Virtually all suppliers will charge you the travel agency commission even when you book directly with the company. By all rights, it would seem to be unethical, and perhaps illegal under certain provisions of existing consumer protection laws, to charge a consumer the agent commission  when they book directly and have not used an agent. But the agent commission is always built in and you might  be surprised at the number of folks who pay it without asking for a refund. This is how travel suppliers can easily double their profits on any booking. They get the consumer to pay the same price the agent would charge even though the agent’s services are not included. This is why savvy travel observers will notice that every possible effort is made to get you to go to the supplier’s site to book online. You are paying for services you never received and they are simply pocketing the difference. 

    Was that “straight” enough?



    Q (9.4.23)  Your help would be appreciated. How do I know if my hotel pricing from Expedia is the best available? We are looking to book a two-week vacation in Poland and Hungary with a planned visit, if time permits, in Austria. But my husband has no interest in going so I will be traveling with our two teenage daughters. We are looking online but, quite frankly, we don’t know where to begin. Should we be looking under Poland tour operators or “tours to Eastern Europe”.  Obviously, there are budget concerns, but we are willing to go as high as $300 per night if necessary. The trip will be scheduled in September and, as you might imagine, the girls are primarily interested in Instagram moments while I want to do some serious sightseeing with good guides.  If we were sitting across the desk from you – what would you advise? My oldest daughter is quite good at internet research. 

    A – There is a lot to unfurl here so please understand our need to be brief.  Do all the research you want on the internet and Expedia – but no travel consumer should ever book with a stranger at the other end of the phone who could be living anywhere and who is generally unreachable should there be any problem. When it comes to travel planning, you want to always avoid providing personal information and your credit card details to anyone you found on a search engine.

    Never book any hotel room online because that is an automatic signal to the hotel that you are buying on price and you will never be a loyal, return customer. You will likely  get one of the worst rooms reserved for “online bookings”.

    All hotel reservations should always be booked with an actual human who is working at the hotel “on-property”. This can be challenging because a large proportion of online hotel booking sites have been revealed to be “ghost sites” with no business relationship with the property. 

    Your budget is unreasonable unless you are seriously looking at three-star hotels. Do you really want to put your daughters in that position? By the way, September has become the single most popular travel month in western Europe given the heat issues of the past decade. Prices are much higher than you might imagine.

    Our suggestion is that you consider this a potential trip filled with moving parts and complexities. You should make an appointment with an experienced travel agent close to home, someone who will be available to you before and during your travels. Your agent will be able to give you a realistic cost estimate. 

    It strikes us that you might want to inquire about a land tour that gives you most of what you want. Having a tour guide to attend to all details might actually enable you to enjoy this vacation with your girls. Try to understand that “Europe on $5 A Day” is now closer to “Europe on $1500 A Day”. And you are a “Triple”!

    Finally, we would strongly urge you to consider a river cruise along the Danube. Sightseeing would be included as would all meals and accommodations. Much less to worry about.


    Q – All right – just love the no bs approach of this  site – hope you can help. We have cruised Cunard twice, Azamara once, and we are now looking at Alaska on Regent which our travel agent says is the top-ranked cruise line in the world! So, first, is that correct? But my real question has to do with the Free Air offers to Alaska. I notice that when you book Regent Cruises to Europe you get free round-trip air and they fly you in business class. But our travel agent is saying that if we book Regent to Alaska, she will get us free first-class air – not business.  She has been around and is well-regarded in the Pittsburgh area. Is she getting us something special. Sure feels like it – and she did put it in writing.

    A – Regent is not the Top-Rated cruise line in our latest rankings. But they are among the top three and they are rated at the very top when it comes to “Best Overall Value for A True Luxury Cruise Product.”

    The answer to your question is not exactly what you may have concluded. Regent does include “Free” Business Air on every sailing outside our continent. It is automatic. But you can always turn it down and take an air credit. For instance, a typical air credit for a sailing in Europe would be $2700 per person. So if you chose not to use the cruise line’s air, your travel agent would be able to take $2700 x 2 off your total invoice. 

    What is confusing you is that Business Class seats rarely exist on flights within North America. So when you are traveling between Alaska and your home your only choices are normally flying First Class or that other class that begs for food from the folks in front. So, yes, Regent always offers First Class rather than Business Class air on flights within North America and you always have the option of choosing the air credit instead. Morgan & Morgan might argue that the air credit voids the legal concept of free. Your travel agent is doing a fine job but all of your fellow travelers on Regent are getting the same offer.

    It is, by the way, worth repeating, that Regent is still, after more than a decade, the only major luxury line to offer the “Free Air” option on every sailing. No one else seems to have figured out how to do this. Instead, lines use “Free” air promotions sparingly on sailings that need financial or marketing stimulation. What Regent knows that the others haven’t figured out, is that travel agents will always sell the thing they know. And rather than look up the date or wait on hold with a competitor to see if free air is available, they will turn to Regent where they know it is.

    Worthy of some discussion at the Harvard Business School. 


    Q – (9.3.23) – We have never cruised on a riverboat – my husband thinks he will be unhappy if he is limited to one major lounge onboard any ship. We’ve cruised three times on NCL on advice of friends and we were happy with our experiences. But as we approach retirement (we are in our early sixties) we are starting to see other options. My hubby is not a mathematician but I think I have him understanding that a 3,000-4,000 guest Norwegian Cruise ship will not, in his lifetime, be sailing down the Danube. I feel that I need to “sell this” to him based on quality, making sure he is on the very top line. I am reading some nice write-ups about Uniworld. Are they the best? 

    A – Tricky question – and one we get asked all the time. (See below)  It is really hard for the consumer to gauge relative quality when considering two or three hotels that manage to float from place to place. Obviously, each one has its strengths – but also its weaknesses. The truth is that when Crystal, the old Crystal, declared bankruptcy, the best overall product on Europe’s rivers was no more. Now, we have several contenders and Uniworld is surely one of them. Given your concerns, we would limit your search to AMA, Tauck, Scenic, and, yes, Uniworld. Our media group does include a site totally devoted to river cruising. ( Currently, as of this morning, our overall rankings of Europe’s best riverboats is the order listed above. We do think that Uniworld is worth a serious look. They are strong in terms of shore excursions and onboard dining. The boats have more traditional decor – more palatial than modern. The line tends to attract an older crowd than appreciates the classic touches. 


    Q – Your industry is not very good at helping consumers identify the various pros and cons of competing products. we’re not cruisers, but we are excited about the casual on-board life and ‘below 200″ fellow guests on Europe’s waterways. We are ready to begin a five-year plan to start sailing Europe’s rivers in style. So, after reading much of this site and carefully checking your credentials, we have just one question: “Right now, which river cruise line is considered the very best at what it does overall”?

    A – It is a fair question and your assumption about our industry’s attempts to keep qualitative differences away from the prying eyes of the consumer is absolutely correct. Look at all the magazine awards – they all go to different lines. Confusing and we sincerely wish we could answer you in a sentence – but we can’t. We do hope you can spend time with our full reviews on our www.riverboatratings” website (it is not a public access site) 

    Here is the bottom line: Before their parent company, Genting in Hong Kong, declared bankruptcy, Crystal Riverboats were clearly the benchmark brand in the industry. Now, with Crystal gone, several lines are fighting for dominance. Here are the best brands currently on Europe’s rivers and just a few comments to help guide you in your decision:

    AMA Waterways – This family brand wins the most awards for excellence on the rivers although we think the gap between it and its competitors is sufficiently narrow to blur distinctions. AMA shines in terms of its hand-picked crew. It has also formed some interesting partnerships with Disney and companies like Backroads for bicycle touring. The line does a series of wine-centric cruises. We think that AMA is generally the safest choice for first-timers seeking the highest available quality experience. 

    Scenic – On any sunny day along the river nothing is better than the Scenic experience. This is an Australian-owned company and they are fairly notorious for some poor communication between headquarters and their crews when it comes to reacting to water level issues and some of the other issues that can crop up from time to time. But in terms of food and service as well as a nice international mix of guests, Scenic is a player.

    Tauck – Unlike the others at the top end of the market, Tauck, the renowned tour operator, does not own their boats nor do they employ the crews. This is a rental product overseen by Tauck on-board guides and management. Like everything Tauck does, it is extremely well-organized and caters to an affluent American market. Food gets good reviews but Tauck also has the edge when it comes to some creative touring options. 

    We will stop there to avoid confusing you further. Uniworld is a top-tier line and Viking is, by far, the largest operator in Europe’s rivers with more than 70 boats featuring progressive Scandinavian design. Avalon does some lovely programs as well. But we think, if you are limiting yourselves to the very top of the current options, you might want to start with one of the three we have profiled. 


    Q – We will be doing more and more traveling since I won the mega-billion lottery. No, actually, I am still working and I just won a $400 scratch-off here in Providence. But we are going to be stepping up our domestic traveling. I have a fairly short fuse when it comes to canceled flights. Can you name the airlines that currently have the worst domestic record in this regard I am wondering if there is a real connection between the cost of the ticket and the rate of flights being canceled. Thanks and wonderful site. 

    A – The short answer is yes. If you look at all of 2022, Allegiant led the industry by canceling 4.43% of all flights while Delta had the best record of the majors with just 1.94%. Jetblue, Southwest, and Spirit held the next three spots in terms of their flight cancellation rate. 

    Yes, there is a connection between overall airline rating and the percentage of cancelled flights. But we should remind you that the respected Skytrax organization does the industry’s most respected annual rankings of the world’s airlines. Five Star + is the highest ranking. All three US major carriers, United, American, and Delta are currently ranked as three-star airlines. Turkish Airlines, by contrast, is a 4-star rated airline. 


    Q – We booked a Silversea cruise from Athens to Venice and just learned, sixty-thirty days before we leave, that our air schedules have been changed because Delta canceled one of our flights. Our travel agent says she cannot speak to Delta to help us but they are trying to work this out directly with Silversea. I see Delta as the one who canceled the flight and I think they are the ones who ought to make this up to us by offering us a better connection – not a worse one. Should we go around the agent and call Delta directly? If so, what department? I don’t quite understand why I used a travel agent to book this if they can’t help me with Delta.

    A – We will infer from your note that you are booked on an air program that is part of your Silversea booking. Your travel agent is exactly correct. Your ticket was purchased by Silversea as part of a group contractual arrangement with Delta. This gives Silversea access to tickets at special pricing but they must adhere to the terms of the contract. Delta will not, legally, be able to speak to your travel advisor because your travel advisor is not the official “ticketing agent”. That would be Silversea’s Air Department. 

    Your agent can contract Silversea on your behalf because the agency acts as your “advocate” in situations like this. This, by the way, is one primary reason why you should always use a travel advisor. That, and the fact that, even if you don’t use one,  you will end up paying their commission anyway because it is always built into the cruise line’s price matrix.

    It is highly likely that calling Delta will be a waste of your time. The cruise lines go through special group departments and you will likely not be put through to that office as they do not work with passengers directly. 

    There is one essential point here we want to be certain we make clear. Let’s imagine that your Business Class ticket actually cost Silversea $2800 based on their negotiated confidential contract with Delta. If your original flight is canceled, Delta must, working with Silversea’s air department, find you an alternative way to get to your destination. But what they will not do is put you on a flight where the Business class tickets are currently priced at $4500 Per Person. They must operate on their agreed-upon price of $2800. They are not going to east the difference – neither is Silversea. So what you will be getting on a cruise line-supplied air offer is alternative routing within the same general price range. There could be a non-stop available – but you won’t get a $4500 ticket. 

    So what to do about it? You can always decide to take the available air credit and do your own air every time you take a cruise abroad. But studies show that 90% of the time you will be spending more, often thousands of dollars more, to do your ticketing independently. And, always remember that when do do not use the cruise line’s air program your transfers from and back to the airport are not included. In most European capitals that can easily amount to additional charges of several hundred dollars.


    Q –  (8.20.23)We have been going to Hawaii, on and off, for the past eighteen years. Instead of a busy itinerary, we like to devote our time to one island per vacation, staying a week at the best hotel and a week at the best condo. We always do the condo first so we can be “served” the second week. Four years, ago we stayed on Lanai and absolutely loved the small-town vibe and the beauty. Now, we want to return but with all of the restoration work after the devastation that hit the Lahaina area, we are having second thoughts. We don’t want to be in the way but we must assume that tourism is going to be sorely missed. Any thoughts would be appreciated.   

    A – We think your heart is in exactly the right place. Hawaii is still cleaning up and it will be for years in portions of Lahaina and Maui. But the islands will need the support of all of those who love the places and the people. We would encourage you to plan a vacation back to the islands just as soon as you can. Be prepared for some work crews to be using accommodations wherever you stay and dining options may be a bit limited. We think that waiting a month or two might be wise. But real travelers who have felt the Aloha spirit should, in our view, be planning a return to the islands to help spur the essential revival of the tourism economy. And please bring as many friends and family members as you can.

    Just two weeks before the fires struck, we had a call from a very prominent Hawaii hotelier who wanted to discuss any clear reasons we could see why tourism to the islands had slowed down dramatically in terms of fall and winter bookings. Hawaii, as well as Mexico and the Caribbean, have all been impacted by a surge of American passport holders who, post-Covid were ready to head for points in Europe. 

    So Hawaii has felt the power of a natural disaster coupled with a trending away from the North American continent. All of us have always seemed to take Hawaii for granted. But Paradise was always there and, for the most part, it still is populated by a people with fierce determination. We want to thank you for asking this question. For all of the exquisite moments we have spent on these magical islands – it is now payback time. 


    Q – We seem to be getting more and more cruise offers at home which would indicate that the cruise lines are in trouble. Yet, for the most part, you have indicated they are not. Why this flurry of deals and special offers from the top cruise like the ones Churchill & Turen represents and do you, quite frankly, have the same offers?

    A – Love this question. Your perception is correct. There are more offers and part of the reason is that marketing folks have to earn their keep. Many years ago, we advised guests to always use the “Cruisetruth Mathematical Model” to determine the true price of your cruise.

    Take the least expensive, outside balcony stateroom and determine the total cost including port charges but leaving off air and insurance. Then divide by two. Then, divide that number by the number of nights you will spend aboard the ship. That will give you the true “per diem” cost per person and you can then compare that pricing with other cruises you might be thinking about taking.

    The cruise industry is not “in trouble”. There is considerable Pandemic-related debt to be paid down, but as of yesterday, for instance, Royal Caribbean stock was up 114% for the year. (They own Celebrity and Silversea)/ Several major lines are operating currently at occupancy rates above 100%. 

    As to the deals. We can use Regent Seven Seas as an example. They currently have an offer on a wide range of sailings that includes a three-night land program at the beginning or end. Sounds great. And, like virtually all cruise advertising, it assumes that the consumer is totally deal-focused and will believe anything. So what is missing in these deals? The worst thing that can happen on a Seabourn cruise, or a Tauck Tour, for that matter, is a discussion where a large number of loyal guests realized that if they had just waited until the last minute to book they would have received a better offer. And you know what? That does happen on Carnival, on Norwegian, and on Royal Caribbean. Last-minute deals happen all the time on a four and five thousand guest ships.

    But the world’s top ten ranked cruise lines, which are the focus of our firm,  do not generally do that because they realize that those who book earliest are their most reliable core clients. And they have absolutely no interest in alienating their most loyal guests. We know many of these top executives. They are highly intelligent and aware men and women who have no interest in trying to train high-income, sophisticated cruisers to wait until the last minute to score a price deal that can be bragged about over cocktails on the ship. 

    The cruise industry’s goal is not to simplify pricing so every consumer understands it clearly. Just the opposite. Their commissioned call center personnel are trained to try to get you to spend the most you can when you call.

    The luxury lines fully understand that people talk aboard ships and it could cause major problems if those who booked last-minute received better pricing than those first 25% of guests putting down deposits – often more than a year in advance.

    There is a major cruise myth perpetrated by the media that would make it seem that every cruise line goes out and negotiates different pricing with every travel agency group – with each price negotiated separately so there are hundreds of pricing models in the cruise line’s computer system. And, you have to believe that the cruise line management is so stupid that they put out pricing to the public that undercuts the pricing they are offering in-house. 

    What many of our guests do not realize is that the top lines have a regular schedule of rising prices as each ship fills. On one of the very top-ranked lines, for example, the prices generally are raised every 90 days. So while they may offer a land program, in the example you used, when you book it you are being charged a fare that has been raised several times which helps defray the cost of the package. You are not getting a better deal than those who booked earliest.

    With tour operators that meet our stringent requirements, there is no discounting at all. The worst thing Tauck could ever do to a long-time tour guide is to have twenty-four guests on the bus who have paid a wide variety of prices for the same program. Guests would be unhappy and the company might well lose one of its best guides.

    Finally, you asked about our firm. Since we have held executive positions in the industry and fully understand pricing models, we take a different approach. Instead of playing foolish and misleading pricing games, we state, in writing, that we will seek out the best current legitimate offer and we will refund 100% of that offer to the guests. We have not, in 38 years, ever retained any portion of the discounts due to any guest of our firm. We’re sure there are other luxury travel firms that share this policy but we feel better presenting it in a legal format.

    Apologies for the long response. You hit a nerve. Every travel supplier wants its guests to take action to book. The best way to do that, they feel, is to make every guest feel that they are receiving a very special offer. That is why you keep getting mailing offers at home. Use our Cruisetruth Pricing Model and you will always know exactly how good an offer you have received. Define your own “Per Diem” comfort level and don’t be shy about advising your advisor about the figure you have in mind. 

    Thank you for your important question.


    Q – I thought you had written something a while back that indicated that an airline can give your seat away even after it is confirmed and you have it in writing. Can that be true?

    A – Yes. The fine print on every ticket indicates that you have been assigned seats that can change. This does happen more than you might imagine for two primary reasons: The first is when there is a change of equipment. When that happens, airline computers will arbitrarily assign new seats based on the newly assigned aircraft’s seating plan. The other scenario when seats are changed without your knowledge has to do with the needs of one of the airline’s elite fliers. Airlines can and do give booked seats to their most frequent, million-mile fliers. This is one reason we always advise flyers to download the airline’s app to check from time to time that their assigned seats have not been changed.


    Q – We are now fully retired, although I do some consulting in the field of Environmental Law, and my wife and I are ready to start living some of our dreams – most of which center around eating some incredible, best available, meals. We want to start planning two or three major trips a year where we can find, quite literally, the top-rated restaurants on the planet. I guess you can call us Obsessive Foodies with an emphasis on “obsessive”. 

    Obviously, we would try to knock out several of the world’s best on each trip. But how to find out where the best restaurants are and what to say when we call them up for a reservation? And where to begin? Does any such list that is actually respected in the Restaurant Industry actually exist? And where would you start if we want to begin at the very top of the list and then work our way down? As you can see, this is all in the beginning planning stages but we really want to take off next summer on the first of two or three journeys next year in search of “The Planet’s Best Meals”.

    There may be a book or a blog involved in this project but that is really secondary to amazing dining memories and, let’s be honest, some bragging rights. Are you aware of anyone who has done this before and actually worked their way down the line from 1-10? Can’t wait for your response and kudos for an intriguing site that allows open questions like this with no apparent financial motive.

    A – OK. Let’s see if we can help you organize this. It has been done before and, yes, there is an “officially” recognized and respected list each year of the World’s Best Restaurants. There are clients of ours who have tried to include the very top-tier restaurants but, if you want to “do the list” be aware that it refers to the “Best Fifty Restaurants in the World” so you will need to plan carefully.  

    The most respected list in the industry is called “The World’s Best Restaurants” and it was launched by an impressive group of chefs, food editors, and writers in 2002. It has, since it was launched, gained a great deal of respect within the international dining community. Last year’s winners were Noma and Geranium, both located in Copenhagen which quickly became a gourmet food destination to those in the know. 

    The group has a strong rule that no restaurant can gain the top spot more than once so everyone in the restaurant industry worldwide was quite interested in which restaurant would get the top spot in 2023 and where it might be located. Given the number of Michelin restaurants on the list, Japan was thought to be a serious contender.  

    You will first be headed to Peru on your life journey. Lima’s Central has been inching up the list since 2013 but it got a boost when one of the owners,Virgilio Martinez, was featured on Netflix “Chef’s Table” series.

    The restaurant is in the coastal Barranco neighborhood. You will be served a 12 or 14-course tasting menu at a cost per person of just under $300. We thought you might like to see where the rest of your travels will be taking you if you literally decide to do the full list of the World’s Best Restaurants. Lima, by the way, has an amazing four restaurants on the list making it the world’s premier Foodie destination.

    In terms of travel planning, no restaurants in India or on the African Continent made the list. Here are the 2023 Restaurants named the Best in the World:

    The Complete List of The World’s 50 Best Restaurants 2023

    1. Central (Lima, Peru) – Best Restaurant in South America
    2. Disfrutar(Barcelona, Spain) – Best Restaurant in Europe
    3. Diverxo(Madrid, Spain)
    4. Asador Etxebarri(Atxondo, Spain)
    5. Alchemist(Copenhagen, Denmark)
    6. Maido(Lima, Peru)
    7. Lido 84(Gardone Riviera, Italy)
    8. Atomix(New York City) – Highest Climber, Best Restaurant in North America
    9. Quintonil(Mexico City, Mexico)
    10. New: Table by Bruno Verjus(Paris, France) – Highest New Entry
    11. New: Trèsind Studio(Dubai, UAE) – Best Restaurant in the Middle East and Africa
    12. A Casa do Porco(São Paulo, Brazil)
    13. Pujol(Mexico City, Mexico)
    14. Odette(Singapore) – Best Restaurant in Asia and Chef’s Choice: Julien Royer
    15. New: Le Du(Bangkok, Thailand)
    16. Reale(Castel di Sangro, Italy)
    17. New: Gaggan Anand(Bangkok, Thailand)
    18. Steirereck(Vienna, Austria)
    19. Don Julio(Buenos Aires, Argentina)
    20. Quique Dacosta(Dénia, Spain)
    21. Den(Tokyo, Japan)
    22. Elkano(Getaria, Spain)
    23. New: Kol (London, England)
    24. Septime(Paris, France)
    25. Belcanto(Lisbon, Portugal)
    26. Schloss Schauenstein(Fürstenau, Switzerland)
    27. Florilège(Tokyo, Japan)
    28. New: Kjolle(Lima, Peru)
    29. Boragó(Santiago, Chile)
    30. Frantzén (Stockholm, Sweden)
    31. Mugaritz(San Sebastian, Spain)
    32. Hiša Franko(Kobarid, Slovenia)
    33. New: El Chato(Bogotá, Colombia)
    34. Uliassi(Senigallia, Italy)
    35. Ikoyi (London, England)
    36. New: Plénitude(Paris, France)
    37. New: Sézanne(Tokyo, Japan)
    38. The Clove Club(London, England)
    39. The Jane(Antwerp, Belgium)
    40. Restaurant Tim Raue(Berlin, Germany)
    41. Le Calandre (Rubano, Italy)
    42. Piazza Duomo(Alba, Italy)
    43. Leo(Bogotá, Colombia)
    44. Le Bernardin(New York City)
    45. Nobelhart & Schmutzig(Berlin, Germany)
    46. New: Orfali Bros(Dubai, United Arab Emirates)
    47. Mayta(Lima, Peru)
    48. New: La Grenouillère(La Madelaine-sous-Montreuil, France)
    49. New: Rosetta(Mexico City)
    50. The Chairman(Hong Kong)

    Finally, in terms of getting reservations: Do not try calling them on your own. Instead, work with a travel advisor well-versed in food and fine dining. Your advisor should be part of a consortium that has offices in the countries where you will be headed. You will want reservations requested by a local who will have the inside track on securing often, impossible to get, reservations.

    We have clients who just returned from dinners at both Noma and Geranium during a one-week visit to Denmark. They booked the best hotel in the city and got to know the lead Concierge. They arrived at the hotel with a carefully thought-out gift for the Concierge. They reported that each dining experience was well worth the effort and the price.

    For the record, we don’t feel that anything about your plan is obsessive. You are focused and we suspect that your focus will result in a suitcase full of truly memorable journeys. And you may become more in demand as a cocktail party guest. Enjoy it all and don’t fill up on the bread. 


    Q – Really interesting site – just stumbled across you via some algorithm hidden in the bowels of Google’s basement. Two weeks ago, on business in DC, I was checking in at the JW Marriott. I had checked and I knew, for a fact, that the next category up, a junior suite was available. I asked the front desk, and then the front desk manager, if they would consider an upgrade. They politely refused even though I am every kind of Marriott frequent stayer there is. As a security consultant (you can read anything into that you want) I could not believe they would refuse to upgrade me when I was checking in at 8:30 PM. 

    One of my co-workers had almost the same scenario occur at the Grand Hyatt in LA. He is an off-the-charts Hyatt frequent traveler. I know you weren’t there – but wondering if you can think of any explanation that is making it harder and harder to secure hotel upgrades?

    A – In other words you are a part-time security guard  who wants a free upgrade? No worries – you are asking a serious question and the tend you have noticed is, we think, very real. There are several possible reasons applicable to specific properties but you may very well be looking at a change in upgrade procedures that is a result of pandemic financial losses and a severe shortage of housekeeping staff. There are wage increaese pressures, threats of unionization, and a failing attempt by four and five star hotels to get guests to willingly forego housekeeping services.

    Some of this is, we suspect, mathematical. The time spent cleaning a suite is greater than the time spenmt cleaning a standard-size room. The amenities and in-room cleaning requirements are greater.

    One of the not so public issues that has arisen as hotels emerge from the pandemic with higher, much higher, average occupancy rates is the amount of time maids can spenmd cleaning rooms. In many larger cities like Los Angeles, hotels are addressing their increasing costs for housekeeping services by placing limits on the actual number of square feet a maid can clean. The number we are hearing is 3,500 square feet per day. After that the maid, or “room attendant” has completed their work and must be paid for a full day or, perhaps, be compensated at “overtime” wages. 

    So upgrading you to any kind of suite would have increased the maid’s square foot coverage, would take more time, and would, if done frequently enough, more additional housekeeping staff.

    The maid’s unions are in a stronger position then they have ever been and room cleaning services are increasingly going to be viewed by hotels as services for which the guest must sign-up and expect to pay for the “extra” services. 

    In this environment, comp room upgrades are going to become less frequent.
    Q – What is the biggest mistake you think clients make when planning their vacations? Is it where they travel or more, how they travel?

    A – Many upscale travelers reject the notion of traveling with other like-minded people out of hand. Many of our guests are unaware that there are several, not many, tour firms that appeal specifically to intelligent and relatively sophisticated travelers. It is also true that many of our guests will not even consider a cruise vacation because of the many stereotypes regarding mega-ships at sea. The fact is, that when you did down deep enough, there really is a ship for everyone. You just have to be open to the discussion. 

    Other “mistakes” might include a reluctance to do off-season travel when recommended to do so. In a general sense, we would argue that the consumer’s tendency to believe social media posts by so-called “influencers” and very part-time travel writers and agents, has created a dung heap of phony and purchased reviews designed to spread product quality misinformation. In public forums and on talk radio we use this example: If you loaded up a bus filled with friends and headed out to the largest indoor mall in your area and then stopped the first 500 people you saw to ask them if they could name the world’s top-rated cruise line – we believe not more than one or two would know. And that is being optimistic. 

    Our industry, the nation’s third largest, is so filled with deceit and misrepresentation, that a majority of consumers cannot describe how their travel agent is compensated.


    Q – Will the hotel rates we are seeing, many over $2000 per night at five-star properties, stay steady in 2024?

    A – No – nothing in this current environment will be steady. Hotels will be charging as much as they can given the losses still being felt during the pandemic. The new Aman Hotel in Venice, for example, has starting prices that are approaching $3000 per night. Hotel rates, much like cruise pricing, are not normally controlled by humans. There are algorithms that control pricing increases once a certain occupancy rate is achieved. Price increases are slow and steady and the one rule of thumb is that the first 25% of guests to book a property tend to get the best rate. Occupancy in Europe is now running 37% ahead of its peak in 2019 in terms of American visitors. But that is also true of Indian visitors, visitors from all over Europe and the South Pacific. Records are being broken and that is slowing down getting firm rates for better properties in 2024 and 2025. Many of the hotels we work with along the Amalfi Coast, for instance, are delaying price quotes because truth be told, they just don’t know how much they can charge and operate at 100%.

    Given current demand, no one is predicting a rapid decrease in room pricing. The industry still has to compensate for two years of closed properties and staff depletion. 


    Q – Any guesses as to what impact the 2024 election will have on international travel? Is there any evidence that travel will slow down in the months up to and after the election because people will want to stick around to see if we still have a democracy in place? Will this result in more availability and lower pricing? We will be doing a highly anticipated Rhine River Cruise on Scenic and we are wondering if we will see far fewer Americans traveling abroad in the weeks leading up to our so-called election?

    A – The election cycle theory holds that the number of Americans traveling overseas declines by 15-20% in the months preceding and following a national election. But we’ve seen very little empirical evidence of a slowdown during the Presidential election cycle. Yes, there are folks who will want to stick close to their TVs and computer screens, but there may be an equal number that just wants to get away from the “noise” for a while. It is good to remember that the average high school student in Italy has been to far more countries abroad than the average adult American. Our election travel trends will not have a major impact on pricing or availability overseas. The topic might be brought up more often but we don’t foresee any major impact on your travel plans.   
    Q – My husband and I are soooo tired of reading online reviews. We don’t know how people in your profession do it. We want to spend about a week in Venice next year, staying at the very best property in a junior suite. We realize from our readings that Venice doesn’t require a week but we’ll use it as a base and take some day trips to Verona and elsewhere. Our questions just boils down to which is the best hotel. And if we didn’t know about you, how would we go about getting the answer from a travel agent here in Austin? 

    A – A really good consultant has access to certified hotel inspection reports written by industry professionals after a series of undercover visits. This is not available. Generally speaking, when you look at three or four of these reviews, ad-free and hype-free, you will know which hotel seems right for you.

    That said, there are two properties that now dominate the upper echelon of Venetian hotels.

    Occupying its own out-island, about 20 minutes from San Marco Square, the Cipriani has always been regarded as the very best place to stay in Venice.  The food and service are exquisite. This is a Belmond property and insiders love the wooden terrace at Cip’s Club that faces the Doge’s Palace.  For Michilin-starred dining, you would want to try the Oro Restaurant. There is an Olympic-size pool and the highly-regarded Casanova Wellness Center.

    Then there is the newcomer – arriving with sparkling credentials belonging to the Traveltruth top-ranked hotel group in the world. The Aman Venice has just opened and it features 24 rooms and suites. You will feel that you are staying in a museum in this centrally-located 16th-century palazzo. 

    If you want the best in Venice, we would suggest you have just completed your search.


    Q – Discovered you about eight hours ago while looking for a travel site that had anything at all to do with the word “truth”. I work in financial planning here in Santa Monica and I am, fortunately, in a position where I can take off with my wife any month to go virtually anywhere. I am wondering how you are now advising your clients when it comes to 2024/2025 and beyond travel planning to Europe and the Orient given the likely scenarios of declining windows of satisfactory touring weather and conditions. When we are on vacation we try not to pass out en route to major sites and getting dizzy from the heat and not knowing where I am only makes sense to me if I am near my home in the parking lot of an In-N-Out Burger. Thanks. Short answer is fine, we’ll talk soon.

    A – Good question – one that we are being asked often in a variety of ways. Let’s start with the Orient. Japan and South Korea have longer seasons but we are now recommending that destinations including Vietnam and Cambodia are best visited in the winter months from November through the first week in March, And even then, the humidity and the heat will require careful pacing. 

    June through August has always been the prime season in Europe. Then word started seeking out that the French, followed closely by the Italians like to take off almost the entire month of August. Many store owners and restaurateurs own summer getaways and despite the potential for significant lost income, they are still willing to close their shutters to fully utilize scheduled vacation time. 

    Given the decline of many services due to labor shortfalls in August, September has become the best month to enjoy southern Europe. But given the last two summers, September splendor is giving way to more heat, humidity, and growing crowds including large numbers of visitors from India, Russia, and Scandinavia. So we now have some key weeks that look best for travelers with the kinds of options you enjoy. For travel within southern Europe this is what we are currently recommending for those whose schedules have flexibility without the need to adhere to school schedules:

    • April 20 – May 20
    • September 20 – October 20
    We stopped predicting the weather as though we knew what we are talking about several years ago. But our best guess is that, given current weather patterns, these are the premier times to plan future travels within southern Europe. Thanks for finding us. We’ll try not to let you down.  

    Q – My long-time travel agent in Alexandria, Va. is, unfortunately, retiring. In a recent conversation, she mentioned something about our being her “favorite FIT Lovers”. She seemed to think we knew what that meant – but we didn’t. Did not want to show our ignorance but as we have been traveling with her counsel for more than fifteen years, I wonder if you might know what she meant. 

    A – The term stands for “Foreign Independent Tour” and it is shorthand in the industry for travelers who prefer a personally-curated private journey instead of a set group tour. Travel agents who do FIT’s well are fairly rare. It involves utilizing hundreds of contacts abroad and designing complete itineraries on a custom basis. Agents who do FIT’s sometimes charge by the hour, but many do FIT’s on a flat-rate basis. Once a program is completed and the final itinerary is presented to the guests the final price reflects a mark-up of from 15-30% depending on complexity. These days, many FIT specialists charge a flat rate of $500-$1000 per person. 

    To put the charges in perspective, when a major group tour supplier sets out to design a new group tour it takes a team working two to three years to complete the project. When you ask a travel advisor to create the same thing just for you the process can truly be time-consuming. 

    Your agent was complimenting you. She was saying that you prefer to go your own way rather than going along with a set group program. Nothing wrong with being a FIT “Lover” but it can, over the course of several years, get expensive. 


    Q – (8.6.23) – We took a Sea Dream Cruise last year and thoroughly enjoyed it. We live in Seattle and we try to take advantage of the local dining scene, particularly seafood, at every opportunity. Sea Dream was wonderful. Only 68 guests on a 100-Guest ship. And the food was quite good. We particularly liked the fact that we could dine outdoors while cruising the Greek Islands. But now, we are ready for something more immersive with a choice of excellent restaurants. I know that your firm created an impressive list of cruise industry awards for excellence in specific areas a few years ago. I would really appreciate knowing which cruise line is currently at the top of your rankings for overall food quality. I understand you may not wish to address this as it might not go over well with the many cruise lines you support and who support you. 

    A  –  No worries at all. Please know that our Media Group is operated independently of our travel consultancy and we do not accept any financial aid or supplier input connected to our consumer online sites. Your timing is good because we are in the process of finalizing our 2023-2024 Cruise Industry Awards. They will be sent to all media representatives in the next 30 days and they will then appear on our newest consumer website under development. This new site will be totally devoted to unbiased ratings and ranking of travel products across-the-board so you can easily look up the kind of information you are seeking. It will also appear on our website, the home of our comprehensive reviews and rankings of the World’s Top Cruise Lines. 

    But the data is completed for this year’s award categories and we are pleased to respond to you with specifics. 

    We really hope this is helpful. Please note:
    • Hapag-Lloyd appeals to a German-speaking clientele.
    • If you are sailing Silversea try to book one of their vessels where the S.A.L.T. Program is operating.

    Q – One question that I don’t recall seeing addressed: The little lady and I are starting to do some nice trips now that the kids are grown and one of them is attending law school. (He’s been cut off). We enjoy escorted tours led by knowledgeable guides that use some of the better hotels around the world. We have booked a program to Morocco using a US-based company and a tour of Portugal planned by a Lisbon-based firm. We couldn’t see many real quality differences. But from a consumer view, shall we, going forward, stick with US-based firms for the protections offered to American travelers abroad? In reading your site I realize that, in travel, assumptions are not always correct. Love the site – don’t stop what you’re doing.

    A – Actually, this is one of those times where assumptions are incorrect. We will only discuss Europe for now, because travel within Europe would be the exception to the rule you are trying to establish. Respected travel attorney Mark Peskroink recently addressed this topic in response to a question from a travel agent in Travel Weekly. He pointed out that European nations tend to have much stricter consumer protection laws when it comes to travel. In the States, for example, we often see that suppliers have surety bonds, or trust accounts as “protection” against default. But these protections are filled with exceptions and, most importantly, US laws allow Tour Operators to avoid liability when their suppliers are guilty of non-performance.

    Under European laws, the tour operator is basically liable to the client for anything that goes wrong during a trip. This, importantly, includes subcontractor performance if the tour operator chose them. Every major European tourist nation has a government-sponsored insolvency plan that makes good on defaults by a supplier who goes out of business.

    It is very important to note that these consumer travel protection laws in Europe apply to private travel arrangements as well as group tours. Stranded passengers who had air arranged as part of a tour also receive a remedy in the form of accommodations and new flights.

    The bottom line, sadly, is that the average American traveling to Europe has better legal protection if they use a European-based company than they would if they worked exclusively with American firms.

    By the way – are you cutting your son off because he is financially independent – or because he decided to become a lawyer?


    Q – (8.4.23) –  As you are aware, my wife and I always purchase comprehensive travel insurance when we travel overseas. Last week, however, we had dinner with friends who are really well-traveled and who will soon be using your travel services. They mentioned that they depend on their Chase Sapphire Reserve card in lieu of separate or independent insurance. I’ve since looked over the coverage and it looks pretty good including 100K in emergency evacuation coverage.

    We’re considering upgrading our credit card portfolio but wanted to get your thoughts before we do, Apologies if you have already covered this topic and warmest regards.

    A – Thanks so much for your question, one that is on the minds of many travelers. And please no worry about the question possibly being asked previously. Insurance can be a confusing game and it is always good to have the opportunity to update information. Unfortunately, the consumer travel media does not cover this subject in great detail because of the travel advertising clout of credit card companies, banks, and insurance companies.        

    No need to mince words – we never suggest that travelers rely on a credit card company for coverage. They outsource coverage and there is no one in the transaction to seriously represent your interests.

    Our Senior Editor, for instance, carries the Chase Preferred Sapphire card. It is a lovely little card but we think the coverage is inadequate although it does improve with the highest levels of upgraded cards. These days, we think that $100,000 is an inadequate amount for emergency evacuation, the most critical component of any credit card used for travel purposes. An emergency helicopter evacuation can cost close to the maximum amount covered and that would not cover hospitalization or medical care. We are now recommending a minimum of $500,000 in emergency evacuation coverage.

    Here is the problem: When the media tries to analyze the cost/benefits of several policies, they rarely speak to those who sell those policies on a regular basis. That means that the two most critical questions are rarely if ever, asked:

    01 – How do you determine the financial standing of the insurance provider?

    02 – When you purchase a travel insurance policy for a trip from a travel advisor, to what degree have they and will they become your advocates should a claim initially be denied?

    Suppose, for instance, you have what seems to be a valid claim. But, for whatever technical reasons, your claim is denied by the insurance company’s underwriters. Is your consultant in a position to personally intervene with the possibility of getting your insurer to reopen the case? Will your travel advisor be your advocate?

    This is the real secret of purchasing travel insurance and, for some rather obvious reasons, travel insurers never bring it up. Sorry for the long answer but hope this is helpful.



    Q –  This is all great information but, as a frequent business and soon-to-be-retired leisure traveler, I’d love to have access to some of the industry materials that you are featuring on this site. I hope you will consider making a suggestion or two to a wanna-be travel nerd”. I would love to be able to discuss your industry intelligently with friends.

    A –  There are any number of excellent consumer mileage and air-centric sites such as “View from the Wing” and “The Points Guy”. You might also want to follow travel via the Wall Street Journal, CNBC, The Washington Post, and, for the most truthful expertise, the New York Times. But to follow true industry stories that consumer sources usually overlook we would suggest a subscription to Travel Weekly (note that our Editor is the Senior Contributing Editor at TW) and Travel Pulse which offers a good news digest on a weekly basis. But put your quest in perspective. 99% of all articles about our industry are written by writers who have never worked in travel. Always be skeptical about what you read in a travel-advertising-heavy consumer publication. If you want to test this theory, Google back articles that explain why consumers who book hotels and other services directly are entitled to a refund of the built-in travel agent commission. See how many articles you can find that even touch on this subject. Crickets.  

    And always remember “traveltruth law # 17”: Anything you ever read in any consumer or industry publication has likely (over 90-% of the time) been written by a travel writer who owes payback for a complimentary or reduced-rate trip. There is only one publication we are aware of that does not accept comp travel for its journalists and you can probably figure out who it is. 


    Q – We are thinking about a Danube River Cruise on Uniworld that will sail from Budapest this August. In sort of preparing for this journey I see that Hungary is ruled by Victor Orban, a rather right-wing, authoritarian ruler. We are in our late sixties and not all that much traveled. Not sure I want to go anywhere where there could be dangerous street demonstrations. If Orbin caused some commotions would I be able to get my money back? Is this a trip you would do? Is August the right time to do it?

    A –  If you don’t wish to travel in Europe in countries led by, more or less, authoritarian leaders, you might try skipping Italy as well. If the idea of very strong right-wing opposition parties frightens you, add France and Spain to the list. We have spoken to Victor and he assures us that Budapest and the waters of the beautiful Danube will be safe to cruise when you are there.

    You would not get a refund for civil disturbances unless Uniworld determined that it was not safe to cruise there. That would be their decision – not yours.

    Sadly, you have chosen a month to cruise the Danube that we are encouraging travelers from the States to avoid. The heat issues and the crowds do not bode well for a stress-free journey. Add the heat to the possibility of Orbin’s friends tossing rocks at you as you sail by their villages, makes us think that you should re-schedule your plans. For the Danube, the ideal months are May, September and the first three weeks in October.


    Q – (8.4.23) –  As you are aware, my wife and I always purchase comprehensive travel insurance when we travel overseas. Last week, however, we had dinner with friends who are really well-traveled and who will soon be using your travel services. They mentioned that they depend on their Chase Sapphire Reserve card in lieu of separate or independent insurance. I’ve since looked over the coverage and it looks pretty good including 100K in emergency evacuation coverage.

    We’re considering upgrading our credit card portfolio but wanted to get your thoughts before we do, Apologies if you have already covered this topic and warmest regards.

    A – Thanks so much for your question, one that is on the minds of many travelers. And please no worry about the question possibly being asked previously. Insurance can be a confusing game and it is always good to have the opportunity to update information. Unfortunately, the consumer travel media does not cover this subject in great detail because of the travel advertising clout of credit card companies, banks, and insurance companies.        

    No need to mince words – we never suggest that travelers rely on a credit card company for coverage. They outsource coverage and there is no one in the transaction to seriously represent your interests.

    Our Senior Editor, for instance, carries the Chase Preferred Sapphire card. It is a lovely little card but we think the coverage is inadequate although it does improve with the highest levels of upgraded cards. These days, we think that $100,000 is an inadequate amount for emergency evacuation, the most critical component of any credit card used for travel purposes. An emergency helicopter evacuation can cost close to the maximum amount covered and that would not cover hospitalization or medical care. We are now recommending a minimum of $500,000 in emergency evacuation coverage.

    Here is the problem: When the media tries to analyze the cost/benefits of several policies, they rarely speak to those who sell those policies on a regular basis. That means that the two most critical questions are rarely if ever, asked:

    01 – How do you determine the financial standing of the insurance provider?

    02 – When you purchase a travel insurance policy for a trip from a travel advisor, to what degree have they and will they become your advocates should a claim initially be denied?

    Suppose, for instance, you have what seems to be a valid claim. But, for whatever technical reasons, your claim is denied by the insurance company’s underwriters. Is your consultant in a position to personally intervene with the possibility of getting your insurer to reopen the case? Will your travel advisor be your advocate?

    This is the real secret of purchasing travel insurance and, for some rather obvious reasons, travel insurers never bring it up. Sorry for the long answer but hope this is helpful.


    Q – 4.18.23 – Perhaps someday, my husband and I can convince you to do a Q&A site totally dedicated to air-related advice. Meanwhile, we are headed to Europe on September 9th of this year to meet friends in Budapest where we will be going on an Avalon Danube Cruise. We are definitely going to have to change planes somewhere in Europe and I am wondering which cities I should concentrate on and which ones you think we should definitely avoid. We picked September because we don’t like crowds and very warm weather. We booked with Avalon based on the ship, which we thought was lovely, and the great offer they gave us.  We are hoping to see some great air pricing since we are flexible as to where we would change planes. Any advice would be really appreciated. This is our first “cruise” of any sort. 

    A – You might want to deal with a knowledgeable travel agent who specializes in international air arrangements. You are very late to begin this search and you should assume that 60-70% of available seats on the best routings into Budapest are already fully booked. As you have not indicated where you will be flying from, it is hard to suggest specific flights. Do note, however, that there are non-stop flights into Budapest on both United and American among others. JFK and O’Hare will have the best options. 

    If you have to connect through an airport in Europe, these would be our top recommendations based on current data and anticip[ated crowds when you will be traveling. Do note that “September is the new June and July” but your assumptions about fewer crowds and more comfortable weather are largely inaccurate. Pack for temperatures ranging from 85-92 on the Danube in early September. Expect high occupancy and crowds during several portions of your journey. This summer we do not expect to see anything like a tourism slowdown much before the last week in September running into October. Our current rule is that we want you coming home from a major river journey no later than the 20th of October. 

    The Current Best “Change of Plane” Connecting Airports in Europe for Budapest are:
    • Vienna
    • Zurich
    • Munich
    • Copenhagen

    Q –  OK, we are now “fans” but one or two of your revelations about the travel industry seem to be so “first time I have ever heard that” off-the-charts. I just read a piece you had published suggesting that because I fly to Europe and Australia on business, I should be smearing my face with protective suntan lotion for up to fifteen hours at a time in the air. I do always prefer a window seat whether I am flying Economy Plus or Business. But I have never, ever seen a fellow passenger lather up. Not asking for a scientific treatise but wondering what led you to suggest this strategy. Wouldn’t I scare my fellow passengers if I get up covered with lotion, to use the restroom?  

    A – You might – but on a long flight with the sun streaming in through the windows mid-day, sun exposure is a credible risk that has been affecting pilots for years. The New York Times has reported on some of the abnormally high cancer rates  pilots on longer routes have experienced.

    We know that airplane windows are typically made of polycarbonate plastic or layered composite glass.While there is negligible transmission of UVB rays through plastic and glass windshields, UVA transmission through these windows is significant.”

    It is thought that the heavy amount of light transmitting through airplane windows contain potentially-harmful UVA rays.

    Why should you care? Well, though you won’t necessarily get a sunburn since that’s caused primarily by UVB radiation, UVA rays penetrate the deeper layers of skin and are known to cause photoaging (sun spots and wrinkling).

    When you are flying at 33,000 feet one of the most remarkable characteristics of your flight is that you are, quite literally, flying above the atmosphere. But you are closer to the ozone layer by about six miles. You are that much closer to the sun so we can hopefully agree that the sun’s rays are, at that altitude, considerably more powerful. Added to that, is the fact thatyou are flying above weather- above clouds, that serve to filter some of the harmful rays from the sun .

    The bottom line appears to be that flying long distances, particularly in an aisle seat with the shades left open, your exposure to UVA rays can contribute to the development of skin cancer. 

    And since you’re closer to the ozone layer — almost six miles closer to be more exact — the sun’s rays are simply more powerful. Plus, extended exposure to UVA rays can contribute to the development of skin cancers.

    The Journal of the American Medical Association reported that the plane’s windows stopped about 99% of UVB rays, but only about half of UVA rays. That means about an hour of exposure on a plane is the equivalent of 20 minutes in a tanning bed. And, according to, there is no safe amount of time you should spend in a tanning bed.

    We will continue to suggest that clients flying in a window seat on any flight of three hours or longer, apply protective amounts of high-quality suinscreen while keeping the window shades down as much as possible. It just makes sense. Family and friends in adjoining seats may want to do the same as UVA rays penetrate the aircraft’s structure. 

    We are not suggesting a full face two-inch lather of protective cream – just the same amount you might apply for a few hours At the beach. If you ever run into any professional pilots you may want to see what they have to say on the subject and the steps they take,m with so much window exposure, to protect themselves. 

    We will know we are making progress when Business and First Class Amenity Kits start containing small tubes of sunscreen.


    Q – As you know, we want to return to Africa. As we ponder other travel possibilities – East Africa specifically – we are wondering what your thoughts are about the current drought conditions.  Multiple news stories portray conditions that are dire in Kenya & Tanzania – people and animals dying from lack of food and water, etc.  We know that you always filter through the hype – is it hype? Or is this not the ideal time to go to East Africa? Would we experience less-than-ideal conditions that would provide a very different experience for us?

    Thank you for your valued opinions. And, thank you for all of your assistance to ensure the best travel experiences. We value our relationship.

    A – Thanks so much for your thoughtful and considerate question regarding East Africa. Please allow us to respond with just a few observations:

    01 – You can see as many animals and experience higher-end camp accommodations in South Africa and Botswana. If that is an option you might want to consider it.

    02 – Yes, the drought is real. And its effects in East Africa are demonstrable. It is not exaggerated. But we have had similar conditions in some of the western areas of the United States. It is interesting that if you draw a line down the middle of the United States landing in, say, Austin, Texas, you would find that 80% of the US population lives to the east of that dividing line. That is partially due to dry conditions out west.

    03 – When you go on safari you are rarely, if ever, in view of local villages suffering malnutrition. Yes, they are out there, and often not a very long distance from the camps where the tourists are staying, but a safari is one of life’s most fulfilling and upscale experiences. These are not poverty tours.

    04 – If one is sensitive to the suffering in, for example, certain drier portions of Kenya, you could decide not to go. But we think there is another important side to that question. If all the safari tourism dried up in East Africa would the children and the adults in the country suffer even more? I believe the answer is a clear yes.

    If, for example, we book you on a highly recommended tour with Micato Safaris, your support of Micato would result in a local child being able to attend a good school for an entire year. Many of the other African travel suppliers operate similar programs and, in some cases, they sponsor schools and local development projects. We can state for sure that your presence in Africa will make a major impact on a child’s life. That is why we support these companies and that is how we can justify tourism in an area where many are suffering the immediate results of climate change.

    There are all sorts of ethical issues involved in your question and each guest has to decide where they come out on this issue. Our experience tells us that tourism in both East and Southern Africa achieves far more good for the local economy than the alternative of avoiding travel to the area.


    Q – We are taking the family to see family in Denver for Thanksgiving, including a particular branch of the family that buys into every conspiracy theory on God’s earth. They actually believe that high Holiday airfares are controlled by a cabal designed to keep families from connecting with one another. I won’t bore you with some of the other stuff they believe today. But here’s my point: I am going to be paying $723 Per Person for the four of us to fly out to see them. That’s a coach fare. Unfortunately, due to the fact that I truly love my wife, I am doomed to repeat the trip again next year. How can I save on these fares next year? 

    A – We’re not at all conspiratorial but a “cabal” managing extraordinarily high airfares over the Holidays when families need to travel, is really not anything we would rhetorically rule out. This is a case where you want to be among the first 20% to book your seats. Book them at 12:20 am. on the morning eleven months prior to the date of your planned return flight. The flights for that day will be loaded at midnight so do what the air nerds do and set the alarm. On average, it takes about 20 minutes for the servers to load the new flights. This may save you some money but it is a procedure most often used by frequent flyers who will be planning to use miles and who are guessing that two or three mileage seats will be available on any Holiday flight. Good luck. 


    Q – 11.19.22  – As a true Southerner, I do share the belief of most of my neighbors that when we pass we will have to go through a Delta security gate to enter the promised land. That said, the hold times lately have been driving me crazy, especially when I have last-minute questions, changes, or confirmations. The prompt e-mail responses just don’t seem to be arriving. I could care less about UA or AA, they barely know where the South is. But is there any way to get through to Delta that might be a back-door secret? These hold times are turning my beard grey. 

    A – It is a growing problem but we would have thought that a grey beard might be a plus in your neighborhood. Delta does have a number that should get you right through but it only works within 48 hours of your departure time. Dial 1-855-548-2505. And don’t worry – we won’t let any other Delta fliers know about this trick. 


    Q – We have become addicted, if I can use that word, to Aman Resorts, We have thoroughly enjoyed their properties throughout Asia believing that there really is nothing better on this planet in terms of accommodations and service. Last Tuesday, we came home from a stay at the new Aman property in Manhattan. Our entry-level suite was $3200 a night, which was more, but not that much more than we have paid for past stays. There was something so special about this property – my wife and I loved that it was a true oasis of calm. Looking out the windows to the crowded streets below, we heard no traffic, no sirens, and no honking horns. 

    So two quick questions: Do you have any idea if Aman is planning on opening any more properties in urban areas of the US? Also noticed a lovely corner suite. Can you give us a rough idea of what that would cost us if we decide to upgrade next time? Thanks very much. Keep up the good work. 

    A – The corner suite is running $15,000 per night this week. The news about Aman’s plans to open additional city properties based on their “urban oasis” long-term goals is good. There is currently a four-year plan to open new Aman properties in central Bangkok, Miami Beach, and, need you ask, Beverly Hills. On the day it opens its doors, the Aman property will become the chicest of all Hollywood haunt. The “influencers” will be falling over one another at the front entrance.


    Q -We are leaving on an Avalon River Cruise on the Rhine. Given what we are reading about the airline situation in Europe, we are confused about how to arrange our air. Our agent has come up with an hour connection through Toronto or an hour-and-a-half connecting time in Zurich. Do we go with the Canadians? Zurich is one of several “secret” airports that have unusually high “connections made” statistics. The others include Vienna and Munich. 

    A – No. One hour is just cutting it too close and you might not have clean clothes until the fourth day of your cruise. Toronto’s airport is understaffed. In this scenario, Zurich is the safer bet. In fact, Swiss nonstops from the States into Zurich with onward connections is a secret used by many air pros. And even if you miss your connection – you will be in Switzerland. We trust that your agent has built in at least one hotel night on arrival prior to your joining the Avalon riverboat. It is not widely known that the major Canadian airports have been encountering serious operational problems that have resulted in delay issues that are among the worst of major airports worldwide. Staffing shortages are the primary reason for the chaos that is particularly bad in  Toronto and Montreal 


    Q – I am thinking of joining the travel industry. Are there college classes I will need to take to get certified to offer travel counseling and handle people’s vacations?

    A- The short answer is that the only requirement is that you must have spent an hour in an International House of Pancakes at least once in your life. The vast majority of travel agents are unlicensed and not, in any way certified. The more professional agents will take courses and seek product certification as they spend time in the industry.

    The best path to a worthy entry into travel is to decide what kind of agency might come closest to meeting your interests and then find the very best one. See if the owner will hire you as an intern in your area of interest. Don’t expect to handle clients for six months. Oh, one other thing. Please don’t even consider entering this industry unless you have lived and traveled abroad for at least six months. That’s how you get a “Real Life License”. 


    Q – This is one of those annoying questions about cost issues. We want to plan a trip to Spain and Portugal in the next few months but we are reading that hotel rates and airfares are going up significantly compared to where they were pre-Covid. Should we cancel the trip for a year or two in the hope that prices will come down?

    A – No not at all. Your average air and hotel costs are going to rise in the range of 25-40%. That is likely a permanent change with prices likely going even higher based on projected demand in 2025-26. The side of the price story often missed is that the dollar has almost achieved parity with the value of the Euro. This means that your dollar gets you more Euros than it has at any time since Spain and other European countries adopted the Euro as their common currency. Food and shopping costs have never been better for Americans traveling to Euro nations. This will more than compensate for initial, air, hotel, and tour costs. We would not recommend delaying your trip for reasons related to pricing. The dollar is stronger against the Euro than it has been in many years and prices are only going up given the debt loads of many companies that had to shut down for two years due to Covid. It would be a mistake to delay this trip. 


    Q – We are thinking of bringing our family of fourteen on a cruise or land tour. The group would have five kids between the ages of five and seventeen. We have looked at a Globus tour as well as a cruise on Royal Caribbean – both in Europe. We will travel in the summer when schools are out. Love to have any advice you might offer in terms of our options. We are concerned that Royal Caribbean does not appear in your ratings at all.

    A – Given the major age differences in the family, we feel strongly that Royal Caribbean, with its wide assortment of kids’ activities and facilities, would be the best option in this case. It would also provide the adults with some time away from the kids. On the right itinerary, the kids can get a wonderful European overview.

    We don’t know what your travel style is so please note that Royal Caribbean is not among the world’s top-ten rated cruise lines. (Source But not a single one of the cruise lines that cater to kids/families would be on that list nor would any line with several thousand passengers and low per-guest space ratios. The kids, any kids, will love Royal Caribbean. And if they are happy – we suspect you will be as well.


    Q – What do you think of the idea of bringing our 18-and-a-half-year-old extraordinary daughter on a Tauck Family Bridges Tour to Italy this coming August before she is off to Boston to start college?

    A – Strong opinion on this one – we would not book the family on a Tauck Bridges tour because you could have twenty or more younger children in the group. You should take your college-bound daughter on one of the excellent Italy tour programs operated by Tauck for adults. We think your daughter will appreciate the adult conversations along the way.


    Q – Thanks so much for the best travel site we’ve ever found. The missing ads are not missed at all. My husband and I are off on a twice-delayed trip to Paris and the French Riviera. We’ve had lots of time to prepare and we’ve read everything we can about Paris, particularly the pieces written by your idol, Mr. Bourdain. My husband suggested that I write in with one simple question – what is the first bit of advice you give your clients headed off to France?

    A – Use “ Bonjour” before ever addressing anyone in France. You walk into a bar and the waiter comes up – says “Bonjour”. It is more than a greeting in France. It is an acknowledgment that, unlike your predecessors, you are a polite American who understands that this word or the lack of it, makes an immediate impression on any French citizen. When you first meet a waiter or pass the check-in desk always say Bonjour. It means far more than “hello”. It means that you still value human interaction and polite greetings. It is the start of all human contact in France. Have a memorable journey and thank you for your kind words.


    Q – My wife and I try to keep up with travel and we keep seeing articles in the press that make us think that travel to Italy anywhere near June – July – August is looking for trouble. The heat waves seem to be truly worrisome and we keep reading about long lines. That brings us to a long-delayed driving trip we want to do in Sicily (we are in our mid-seventies and in fairly decent shape). We are thinking about going around the 15th of October and we are wondering if you think that is a good idea? Is Sicily safe? How would we go about booking such a trip?  

    A – It isn’t a good idea – it is actually rather brilliant. There is this thing called “Climate Change” and it has made the southern extremities of Italy heat hazardous in the mid-summer months. About 75% of the tourists will be gone and the heat should be a non-issue in October. But here’s the thing – the Sicilians do not, as a rule, have a summer place in Boca Raton. They will be there and the cafes will be busy. The restaurants will be open but you may be able to snag a preferred outdoor table. 

    Sicily has seen some attacks on tourists but your primary worry will be world-class pickpockets in crowded areas. But as much as the country enjoys a reputation for mibbed-up residents, Sicily is considerably safer than most US cities and their concept of “Freedom” does not include arming every member of the population. You will need to be cautious about where you stay and where you park. 

    The big decision will likely be whether or not to use Palermo or Catania as a base. We vote for Catania, a Baroque town, Sicily’s second largest city, welll-located on the eastern coast of the island. How you book depends on your budget. Many luxury advisors will not handle self-driving trips as there are just too many non-commissionable variables. If you belong to AAA in your state you may find their services for such a trip on your own to be useful. They do offer extensive mapping services and they can make all hotel arrangements. 

    If you want priovate guides, good ones, and some of the best hotels available, use the services of an advisor who belongs to one of the top Travel advisor consortiums. Contact us if you need recommendations for one of the better firms near your place of domicile. Learn some Italian before the trip. Traveling on your own requires this extra step. One final thought – learn how to play a decent game of Bocce before you depart. It will come in handy. 

    • Q- How can Viking Cruises claim it has consistently been voted the world’s best cruise line when, based on Cruisetruth information, it clearly isn’t? Are there any laws in travel related to the claims made by various cruise lines or tour operators as to the quality of the product and whether or not they are actually five-star or something different? I mean they can’t all be “The World’s Best” – can they?
    • A – If you read the wording on the awards they will usually read Reader’s Choice” or words to that effect. That means the readers of the various publications have sent in votes for their favorites in assorted categories. Publications are motivated to list as many awards as possible so the various cruise lines can use them in their advertising. As Viking continues to grow, the sheer number of past guests will grow to provide a nice reserve of potential “Best”  voters. Look for them to win many more “Reader Choice” type awards. There is so much more we can say on this topic but, for today, let’s allow Viking to make their claim. In fact, there are other lines that make far more outrageous claims in their brochures and advertising. For the most part, Viking lists the awards it has won but makes no claims of five-star status that we have detected.  It is sadly true that “Truth in Advertising” statutes have rarely, if ever, been applied to the travel industry. These firms are essentially allowed to use words like “five-star”, “deluxe”, and “top-rated” with impunity. That, by the way, is one reason that we launched Cruisetruth almost two decades ago. 


    Q –  7.28.22 –  I really need some help with this one. In five weeks I am scheduled to do a 12-Day cruise on Regent Seven Seas to the British Isles. Well, as it happens, I am 82 and rather susceptible to Covid. In addition, the temperatures in London and other parts of the UK are in record territory with hardly any air conditioning.I just don’t want to risk my health for this cruise and would like a refund but Regent is refusing. I would switch to another sailing and I don’t see why they are being unreasonable. I did not take out any travel insurance for this trip. I have little interest in being forced to endure England’s heat wave. Had I known that Regent treated its customers in this manner I would not have booked with them. This cruise cost me $29,000 so this is no small thing. How do they get away with this?

    A – Let’s try to unwind this piece by piece:

    You are 82, have medical conditions, and you never bothered to take out travel insurance?  Poor judgment call.

    The major cruise lines were forced into financial hibernation by Covid. The ships were tied up or anchored with no place to go. What we are trying to say is that they made no money!

    As a result, as the cruise lines started sailing again they have all rather rigorously enforced their cancellation policies. You would be in 100% cancellation with virtually any of the leading luxury lines this close to sailing. This is current industry policy and it is by no means limited to Regent.

    Your reference to weather issues when canceling a cruise is irrelevant. No travel supplier is responsible for the fact that 91% of the population of England lives without air conditioning. They will also have to live without Boris Johnson but neither the weather or  Boris are reasons for a refund.

    Given your health concerns, we suggest that you have your travel consultant send a strong note on your behalf to the Guest Services Department. If you booked direct, try to get Guest Services to take your call.

    Since you feel this cruise would now be a “health risk” we suggest you remain at home and take the loss.




    Q – We are scheduled to join friends on our first river cruise with Scenic. We are scheduled to sail out of Passau and “float” down to Budapest. We found that all of the river cruise lines smelled like cinnamon until we came to your site. You have some very nice things to say about Scenic but they are ranked below several other lines. We’re committed to this cruise and if we have to “sail along” on a 40-passenger bus I am sure it will be an adventure and we’re up for it. (we live in Northern California and we tend to roll with the punches) But just wondering what we’ve stepped into as river levels decrease and we’re booked on a river line you identify as having customer service issues? 

    A –  Good to hear from you and congratulations on your low unemployment and a record-breaking budget surplus. You’ve asked a fairly complex question. Here are one or two observations we hope will be useful:

    Scenic is based in Australia. It has, in the past, taken a fair amount of time to make decisions regarding water levels so guests can “be in the know”. Everything had to go through the home office.

    The Scenic product is currently under review and we believe they will be rising in the ratings. They have beautiful ships, a rare contemporary feel, and some of the best cuisine on the rivers. They also hire and train their own crews.

    It is true that Scenic has enjoyed a reputation for screwing up last-minute bus touring when water levels prevented sailing. We do not, at this time, feel that they handle last-minute planning any worse than anyone else and they may have one advantage. You see they recently lost a class action suit brought by a large number of Aussies who felt that their bus touring was not at all what they had paid for. The court in Australia agreed. Now, Scenic has that legacy to live down so we believe they may strive a bit harder than the next bloke to make things right when the rivers go amiss.

    You should also be aware that Scenic has been more proactive than its competitors in canceling cruises on the Rhine when the river became clearly unnavigable. 

    Stay chill and keep the attitude.

    Q – We are desperately trying to get information about our Danube Cruise on Scenic that begins in Budapest in two weeks. Nothing from Scenic yet and the news reports we have been reading seem to specify the Rhine. Can you help us understand the situation in Budapest? Great site!!! 

    A – The Danube is challenging to describe for one primary reason – the river flow in Austria is well-managed with a number of dam projects in place to assure smooth river cruise passage. This is not the case in Hungary where major projects to deal with low or high water issues have just not been in Orbin’s “front of mind”. (We realize there is an interesting assumption in that statement).

    Right now, on stretches of the Danube in Hungary, 1600 ton vessels can only make it along the low water if they are not carrying cargo. Just north of Budapest, some stations located between Szentendre and Visegard, where the Danube takes a major loop, have been closed for two weeks. There are current reports that some Danube river passengers have discovered that their ship could not make it to Budapest. Instead, guests have been bused to Komarno to board their ship. This port is an hour outside Budapest in Slovakia. They will tour Budapest by bus and then be bussed back to their ship in Slovakia.


    Q – Our travel agent told us that mid-October was a great time to do the Rhine because the tourists have left and the temperatures are cooling off. So here we are, scheduled to leave on October 13th on Viking with no recourse until they, on their own, decide to cancel our cruise – which of course they won’t, given how much money is at stake. So we are, according to our agent, facing some likely changing of boats or, worse, ending up on a bus tour from hell. We are going with another couple and they are having tee shirts made that will read “I paid $16,400 and all I got was a lousy bus ride”. We will wear them when/if appropriate. Comments? Should we change travel agents – perhaps working with you instead?

    A –  We would not suggest changing travel agents yet. Our clientele does not wear tee shirts in public so we may not be a good fit. Actually, your agent tried to have you avoid the drought – although October is often a time of high water levels as the rains come to northern and central Europe. You were given factual information about Viking’s policy – full cancellation is charged unless they cancel your sailing. So, yes, a bus tour is totally possible, at least for a part of your journey. Going forward, and looking at current weather patterns, we prefer to have our riverboat guests back home no later than October 20th. But that is an arbitrary figure and very subject to environmental change.


    Q – My family and I have been really upset by the article we read from CNN Travel which came out quite recently. It seems to say that river cruising is, for all practical purposes, over with. This article makes us think that our planned family cruise next August along the Seine River may be inoperable. Wondering if you have seen the article and wondering if you agree with its premise.  Really enjoy your websites. 

    A – This article has gone “mature people viral”. The title of the piece, “Europe’s Drought Could Signal the Death of River Cruising” is, we think, based on fact, along with some opinions by a professor of tourism. The conclusion seems to us to be rather dark.

    The first paragraph states that “Europe is having another cataclysmic summer”. Given that 63% of the land mass across the EU, as well as Great Britain, is operating under drought warnings or the more serious “alerts” we think this is quite literally true. Add in the record-breaking heat waves and we have to wonder what river cruising in the seasons to come will look like.

    This is a big topic and we don’t want to spend a lot of time responding to a piece on CNN written by someone who does not, as far as we know, work in the industry. But at its heart, the article correctly points out that the management of these river cruise lines has nothing but the ravages of climate change to work around. Next summer may be much better. And even the summer after that. But sometime in the near future, this will happen again and with more severity and riverboat companies on Europe’s rivers will have to re-examine their business models. 

    From our perspective, this will not mean the end of an industry. It will, we think, mean a reallocation of seasons. October may become the most desirable month to cruise the Rhine or the Danube, or perhaps April before the drought has typically begun. 

    The Seine is still standing at the moment. France always survives and there are many harder-hit localities. Continue planning what we are certain will be a really enjoyable family vacation. 



    Q –  In four weeks we are supposed to be off to Budapest to begin a Danube Cruise. The little I have read about this on some of the “boards” has me really scared and my husband and I want to cancel for a refund. Some of the “boarders” seem to suggest that Uniworld will allow us to either get a refund or switch to a similar sailing next year. If we have those options – great. But can you verify this information?

    A – We would love to – but we can’t! The information is totally bogus. The policy at Uniworld, and most of their competitors, is that they will cancel any sailing where passage and the delivery of a satisfactory experience is in peril. If they cancel, they will move you to another date in the future and they will price protect – this represents significant savings. 

    Unless Uniworld specifically announces cancellation, their stated cancellation policies will remain in effect. Going forward, the vast majority of guests booked on European rivers have made full payment and so are in full cancellation. 

    Sorry about the posted misinformation on the site you were looking at. One reason we do not open our rivertruth site to unknown posters is that there is absolutely no way to verify the information presented. Much of the travel chatter originates overseas where some folks are simply thrilled to see their thoughts posted on a well-read American site. 


    Q – Really enjoy this ad-free site. Congratulations. I am a Minister in Michigan who is slowly retiring. I’ve long thought about how much I would enjoy performing Sunday services aboard a cruise ship in exchange for free or reduced-rate passage. The problem is that I don’t know who to contact to set up, this kind of position. Can you help me or recommend how I might best pursue this? I think I am good with people and I could add a lot to life at sea. (Trust you will not use my name without authorization)

    A -Clergy are sometimes offered reduced rate passage in exchange for officiating at weekly services. You would be considered a part of the entertainment component aboard the ship and normally the hiring of clergy is handled by the line’s Director of Entertainment. You will need to present videos of some recent sermons as they like to keep it light on vacation ships. 


    Q – Is it literally true, and legal, that if we go ahead and take a Great Lakes cruise on Viking Cruises that they will not allow our teenage kids to go with us? I am thinking this could be a great family vacation but if Viking really hates kids, I don’t want anything to do with them. I am sure your readers will be interested in your response.

    A – Perhaps less than you think. Viking will soon become the world’s largest upscale cruise brand. Their demographic skews older than many of their competitors. Their Scandinavian-style ships are sleek filled with sharp lines and glass walls and furnishings fitted with  Nordic products. Yet, despite the modern feel of their vessels, Viking knows its consumer base and feels it wants:

    • No casinos
    • No kids
    • Few, if any, days at sea
    • More intellectual lectures versus light entertainment.

    Retirees make up a large portion of Viking’s client base and every industry study seems to support the fact that retirees simply don’t want to sail with young kids. Your choices are not at all limited. Norwegian Cruise Line, Royal Caribbean, and Carnival brands comprise 84% of all berths in the US market and each of their ships caters to children. Then there is, of course, the entire Disney fleet, a line designed around serving children. You might think about dropping a line to Florida’s Governor asking him which of the Disney ships is his favorite.


    Q – 8.3.22 -We are planning on taking our three children on a cruise to South America. We are deluxe cruisers but for this trip we will be traveling with our seven-year-old son and our nine and eighteen-year-old daughters (it’s a long story). Just how high-end do you think we can go? We’re desperately trying to find a product that can make all of us happy. Toys, games, and caviar!

    A –  Sorry – but this is a bit of an impossible dream. The issue is likely your 18-year-old who may not want true luxury or programs designed for younger kids. Some of the luxury lines will sail with demographics that could result in stares greeting the young ones. Many guests feel that luxury should mean “no kids under 35”.

    There needs to be a compromise – it is named Celebrity Cruises.
    Q –  8.2.22  -We are “foodies” in the sense that all of our prior vacations in Europe have been food oriented. We love  Michelin’s and we love eating a sandwich in Barcelona’s La Boqueria food market. We’ve done many trips including three or four cooking schools in France and two memorable weeks exploring Moroccan cuisine in Fez and the Atlas Mountains.

    The point is that we have never cruised. We are looking at doing Scandinavia in the summer of 2024 so the natural question is, no matter the cost, which cruise line currently has the best onboard dining?

    A –  The summer trade in Scandinavia attracts several of the leading lines and our response will be rather subjective. But that has never stopped us before. Your experience may well depend on your selection of specialty restaurants aboard your ship.

    For main dining room excellence, the current leaders are Silversea and Seabourn. For specialty dining, we give a slight edge to Regent Seven Seas. The overall best formal cuisine/service will be found on Hapag Lloyd.

    Foodies love discovering excellent cruise food on so-called “tweens” ships that operate with food and service levels between four and five-star levels at a lower price point than the five-star sexy ladies of the seas. Currently, the best food/price value is found on Oceania.




    Q – what do you think of the idea of bringing our 18-and-a-half-year-old extraordinary daughter on a Tauck Family Bridges Tour to Italy this coming August before she is off to Boston to start college?

    A – Strong opinion on this one – we would not book the family on a Tauck Bridges tour because you could have twenty or more younger children in the group. You should take your college-bound daughter on one of the excellent Italy tour programs operated by Tauck for adults. We think your daughter will appreciate the adult conversations along the way.


    Q – I am thinking of joining the travel industry. Are there college classes I will need to take to get certified to offer travel counseling and handle people’s vacations?

    A- The short answer is that the only requirement is that you must have spent an hour in an International House of Pancakes at least once in your life. The vast majority of travel agents are unlicensed and not, in any way certified. The more professional agents will take courses and seek product certification as they spend time in the industry.

    The best path to a worthy entry into travel is to decide what kind of agency might come closest to meeting your interests and then find the very best one. See if the owner will hire you on as an intern in your area of interest. Don’t expect to handle clients for at least six months. 

    Understand that over 90% of the travel agents in the United States do not receive any salary at all. Their income is based on the commission earned on what they bring to the agency. You might think about starting out by putting your own groups together so you end up with a “following”.   All things considered, we would urge you to choose a more lucrative career and then do travel as a hobby with growth potential.              



    Q – 7.17.22 – We are leaving on an Avalon River Cruise on the Rhine in early  September. Given what we are reading about the airline situation in Europe, we are confused about how to arrange our air. Our agent has come up with an hour connection through Toronto or an hour-and-a-half connecting time in Zurich. Do we go with the Canadians?

    A – No. One hour is just cutting it too close and you might not have clean clothes until the fourth day of your cruise. Toronto’s airport is understaffed. In this scenario, Zurich is the safer bet. In fact, Swiss nonstops from the States into Zurich with onward connections is a secret used by many air pros. And even if you miss your connection – you will be in Switzerland. We trust that your agent has built in at least one hotel night on arrival prior to your joining the Avalon riverboat.


    Q – Just back from a stay at one of the better resorts in San Juan. As recommended, when checking out I asked that the built-in travel agent commission be taken off our bill since I had booked this personally on the phone with no travel agent involved. They refused and mumbled something about “they always charge the full price”.  We had stayed for a week and at 10% I figure that we were overcharged by more than $1000. What is the next step? Do I contact our Attorney General’s office, contact the credit card company, etc?

    A – if you want to get action on this you should contact  Guest Services at the hotel. If they are not immediately responsive, you might also post this on Twitter and Facebook on the hotel’s guest services site. If you want some government help to recover the travel agent commission we would suggest that you reach out to the Office of Tourism in San Juan.

    You should be aware that many hotels limit their commission payments to travel agents to 8%. But it is often higher.

    We doubt that your credit card company will be of much help. This consumer revolt against travel companies charging guests the travel agent commission when no travel agent was involved is starting to garner attention – but not from the travel press. No one wants to upset this extremely profitable travel apple cart. We are guessing that the impetus for change will come from people like you who are fed up with being secretly charged for travel agent services they never received. In the meantime, if you have an attorney in the family, you might try to secure a bill for the refund you are owed on legal stationery.




    Q – Thanks so much for the best travel site we’ve ever found. The missing ads are not missed at all. My husband and I are off on a twice-delayed trip to Paris and the French Riviera. We’ve had lots of time to prepare and we’ve read everything we can about Paris, particularly the pieces written by  Mr. Bourdain. My husband suggested that I write in with one simple question – what is the first bit of advice you give your clients headed off to France?

    A – Use “ Bonjour” before ever addressing anyone in France. You walk into a bar and the waiter comes up – say “Bonjour”. It is more than a greeting in France. It is an acknowledgment that, unlike your predecessors, you are a polite American who understands that this word or the lack of it, makes an immediate impression on any French citizen. Have a memorable journey and, if you find a lovely one-bedroom apartment for under $500,000 USD – buy it immediately. You will never regret the decision.



    Q – This is one of those annoying questions about cost issues. We want to plan a trip to Spain and Portugal in the next few months but we are reading that hotel rates and airfares are going up significantly compared to where they were pre-Covid. Should we cancel the trip for a year or two in the hope that prices will come down?

    A – No not at all. Your average air and hotel costs are going to rise in the range of 25-40%. That is likely a permanent change with prices likely going even higher based on projected demand in 2025-26. The side of the price story often missed is that the dollar has almost achieved parity with the value of the Euro. This means that your dollar gets you more Euros than it has at any time since Spain and other European countries adopted the Euro as their common currency. Food and shopping costs have never been better for Americans traveling to Euro nations. This will more than compensate for initial, air, hotel, and tour costs. We would not recommend delaying your trip for reasons related to pricing.


    Q – We are thinking of bringing our family of fourteen on a cruise or land tour. The group would have five kids between the ages of five and seventeen. We have looked at a Globus tour as well as a cruise on Royal Caribbean – both in Europe. We will travel in the summer when schools are out. Love to have any advice you might offer in terms of our options.

    A – Given the major age differences in the family, we feel strongly that Royal Caribbean, with its wide assortment of kid’s activities and facilities, would be the best option in this case. It would also provide the adults with some time away from the kids. On the right itinerary, the kids can get a wonderful European overview.

    We don’t know what your travel style is so please note that Royal Caribbean is not among the world top-rated cruise lines. (Source

  • Lots of Great Hotel Stays in Our Future – But How Best to Proceed?

    Q – I am pleased to share that we have, like many of your followers, achieved critical mass for retirement. We can pretty much afford to travel anywhere and any way we choose. But our dilemma, I suppose, is that we believe top resort or top tier hotel stays provide everything we need. We will judge our future vacations by how many books we read and how many on-property meals exceed our standards. We just see total relaxation as our goal for the foreseeable future. So, I guess this is a two-part question?  

    Are there really advantages to using a travel advisor to make just hotel reservations or should we pursue the 8-10% direct booking discounts?

    Secondly, which website do you feel is most reliable in terms of reading accurate reviews from users? Really appreciate your efforts:

    A – Congratulations on “critical mass” attainment and what that will mean for your retirement:

    If your travel consultant is a member of one of the leading industry consortium groups, you may well get preferred rates, an automatic upgrade if it is available, as well as on-site amenities such as included breakfast. You would have to make a judgment call as to whether those amenities are worth the money you might possibly save if the hotel is reimbursed, you’re the travel agent commission built into all pricing. It’s a tough call but since most hotels will fight you on the commission refund you are, in our mind, legally due, it is likely better not to worry about the booking and work with an agent who has connections at that particular resort or hotel. Just ask.

    In terms of “reviews” from website users – we would suggest that you ignore them as a source of anything like real information. Good reviews can be purchased by hotels in bulk, and often are. So-called “review farms” are big business and any kind of reviews in any number are available to anyone willing to pay the price. This leaves the consumer as a hapless victim – it is nearly impossible to know if you are reading a “farm” produced review. Our recommendation is to ask your travel consultant to secure a copy of the ABC Report, professional, confidential hotel evaluations written for the top players in the industry by hotel executives and inspectors who are always undercover. Any agent should have access to these reports. They are not available online and can only be purchased by industry professionals.


    Q – We’re flying to Cabo San Lucas in October with our kids. Any recommendations on the best masks to wear on the aircraft? Kind of concerned as we are flying coach. Can my daughter get away with wearing her Taylor Swift cloth mask?

    A – Those washable fabric masks might not be enough by the time you are ready to depart. Several airlines are now banning cloth masks, insisting that travelers wear surgical masks, FFP2 masks, or KN95 or N95 masks without a valve.

    Finnish airline Finnair is the most recent to change its mask policy, saying fabric masks will not be permitted. Several other carriers, mostly those that service Europe, are giving cloth the boot, too. German carrier Lufthansa hasn’t allowed them on flights to and from Germany since Feb. 1. Switzerland’s Swissair has a similar policy.

    Air France and Croatia Airlines also require surgical masks.

    To date, no U.S. carrier has required passengers to forgo fabric masks. But as the Delta variant continues to spread and other mutated variants raise concerns, policies could change.

    Cloth masks have been hot sellers during the pandemic, giving people a way to express themselves through fashion while complying with local and federal mask mandates. They were also easier to find when surgical masks were supply-constrained and being prioritized for medical personnel. Cloth is generally not as effective as other filters.

    “The filtration effectiveness of cloth masks is generally lower than that of medical masks and respirators; however, cloth masks may provide some protection if well designed and used correctly,” the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said last year.

    U.S. carriers do have some fabric limitations in place. Virtually all prohibit bandannas and scarves to be used as masks. Ski masks and balaclavas are also not accepted. Currently, masks are required in airports, airplanes, and other forms of public transportation until at least January 2022.

    Our advice – order a 20 pack of KN95 masks from Amazon for this trip.


    Q – Has Churchill & Turen planned trips to Iran or Afghanistan for clients in recent years? I would guess not but some people like to taker chances.

    A – We have sent several Churchill & Turen guests to Iran in recent years and the escorted tours went extremely well. The Iranians they encountered seemed quite pleased to see a small group of American tourists. We have never sent Churchill & Turen guests to Afghanistan although some of our clients have spent time there as “contractors”. You may be surprised to learn that we do not have any Virtuoso properties in Kabul at the moment.

    But here is a brief historical note on the question you pose. Richard had just moved to San Francisco from Italy when he got his first job in travel working for a large travel club out of offices above a restaurant on Union Street. The very first trip he ever booked was to Afghanistan and Iran. Two of the waitresses at the restaurant downstairs asked him to book them on an overland tour by truck (a camping truck that carried tents) to the two countries.


    Q – We are planning on flying into London next April. Schedule-wise it seems to boil down to either American or British Airways. The BA res. people are telling us they offer the best service to Europe because they have new seats and improved menus aboard their aircraft. We will be flying Business and paying cash so we would really appreciate knowing which of these you recommend. We intend to complete our booking as soon as you respond.

    A – This is a tricky question which is why we refer our clients to the best air specialists on the planet. Covid has made it all an even more complicated process as the odds of your flight arrangements changing hover somewhere around 30%. BA flies some Boeing 787-10’s and Airbus 350’s from the States to London Heathrow. They have the new seats and they are relatively comfortable – not Singapore or Emirates, but nice enough. Some of BA’s 777’s have the new seats but many don’t. The 767’s that fly the route do not have the new seats. Generally speaking, flights out of JFK have some of the best equipment because of how competitive that route tends to be. And, yes, the food quality has been ungraded but BA’s Transatlantic food offerings had no place to go but up. Simply stated, neither American or British Airways are not top-tier airlines. They currently rank 3 points out of a possible 5. We are happy to send Club Members a copy of the latest rankings of the world’s airlines. They do exist and you may see some surprising outcomes. For instance, Turkish Airways ranks considerably above every major US airline in most categories.


    Q – Does Medjet, which I know you recommend, include coverage if you test positive for Covid while traveling and need to be medically evacuated back to the States? Can you get us any idea as to what it would cost to fly home if we test positive before our return flight?

    A – No. There is, however, a company called Covac Global that provides that kind of coverage.  For a party of two traveling abroad for 15 days or less, the basic Covid Coverage policy with Covid Global is going to cost $1282.50 total.

     Here is the direct link to our dedicated Covac Global web site:

    Churchill & Turen Ltd – Covac Global


    Q – We know that Churchill & Turen is different, but how do you describe the difference to potential new clients?

    A – The travel agency system in the United States is based on the real estate model. Every agent is a salesperson and normally there are no salaries involved. Agents get paid commission based on what they sell. Travel agents are bombarded with sales seminars – teaching them how to sell more and more; how to get that deposit and, especially, how to sell “up”.

    If you felt that your physician, financial advisor, or attorney was a salesperson trying to sell you more stuff you would likely look somewhere else.  Our owners and our entire team believe in a radical concept – “Travel Should Never be Sold”. We see ourselves as travel “truthtellers”. We provide the best possible information and our guests make the decisions that are best for them. “Selling” or “Selling Up” is prohibited at our firm. Our model is not the real estate industry – our business model is the trusted physician with a knowledgeable, salaried support team. It is a team approach. To our knowledge, no one in the industry has ever tried to copy it. But that may be because few seem to understand it. It just runs contrary to the way the vacation booking process works in the United States.



    Q – One of the things we’ve noticed about working with your company is that we seem to never get into price or discount discussions. We’ve been happy with everything but wonder if we’re unusual in that we never feel the need to raise the topic?

    A – Interesting question. The consumer is overwhelmed with cruise and tour offerings that always stress deals and discounts. For instance, mainstream cruise lines like Carnival and Royal Caribbean are constantly changing their pricing as are the mass market escorted tour companies to encourage early as well as late bookings. It is assumed that everyone on a 4,000 passenger ship or flying in coach overseas realizes that everyone around them got a different price. That is the norm. But the top-end deluxe products in cruising and touring realize that pricing discrepancies can ruin a travel experience for upscale travelers. So the discounting they do is upfront and generally transparent. Most of the discounts are related to early bookings. Last-minute bookings are normally higher because no one at Tauck, A&K, Seabourn, or Ritz Carlton Yachts, wants the subject to come up at dinner with disastrous results.

    So here is the thing – if your cruise stateroom is discounted by $1300, some travel agents will offer you a $1000 discount and pocket the rest. This often happens at online travel agency call centers because you are relying on what someone in Miami, Manilla, or Mumbai is telling you on the phone.

    Our guests know that we certify in writing that we will obtain, document, and then return 100% of all applicable discounts on every travel product we represent. Nothing is kept “for the house” – never. So, because of that strategy, we know that we are obtaining and returning all discounts. That is why we never worry or really discuss very much, issues related to pricing.

    You might well ask “all good – but how do we know that your pricing is the best legitimate pricing available”? Look at it this way: Virtuoso is the largest seller of luxury travel in the world. We are larger than American Express. In 2019 we did over $27 Billion in annual sales and were the top sellers of nearly every top-tier tour company and five-star cruise line. Add to that the fact that Churchill & Turen has been named Virtuoso’s Top-Producing Consultants for four of the past five years. Add to that our journalistic credentials and the audience for our media group. When we call – the suppliers know who we are and they do not give us anything but the best pricing available. It won’t be pricing that is exclusive to us – but it will almost always be the best pricing available. Our guests have come to trust that this is true.

    But please read the above carefully. We never said that we have the “best prices”.  We specifically said, “it won’t be pricing that is exclusive to us”. All of the top travel firms receive exactly the same pricing from their leading suppliers. If that were not the case, we would stop representing them. Anytime any travel business claims to have “exclusive” of “best pricing offers” it is flat-out lying. Don’t be a naive consumer. Anyone who makes outrageous pricing claims is insulting your intelligence. 


    Q – We are considering travel to Brazil and/or Peru or the safari we have always wanted to do to Kenya and Tanzania. We would be doing this next year, summer, or early fall. Based on current information, do you have a strong preference for one of these destinations?

    A – East Africa would be a strong recommendation because safaris are set up in such a way that you would be avoiding population centers and crowds while still experiencing the very best of each destination. We have had a number of guests on safari this summer and everyone’s experience, without exception, has been deemed “5 stars”.


    Q – My wife and I are fairly new to Churchill & Turen and we have been avidly reading your websites from front to back. Before discovering your services we did a fair amount of cruising and took a number of land tours with companies like Backroads and National Geographic. I read what you said about companies that charge those who do not use a travel advisor the travel advisor fees. You said that this could possibly be illegal in a number of states including the one where we live! So I suppose my question is “Does this practice still go on and how can I get the commissions back for our almost twenty years of direct bookings”? One particular line owes me a small fortune after I sailed with them about 15 times.

    A – The practice still goes on and is the industry “norm”. It will be an uphill battle but sometimes companies do things to maintain goodwill. If you wish to try, and you really have some time on your hands, you might want to try to collect copies of all of your past receipts for trips taken with the same company where you were charged the agency commission when you did not book through an agency. If you can collect the receipts or put together a record of exactly what you paid, along, if possible, with your reservation numbers. It would need to be a clearly designed multi-trip copy of the money you paid in inclusive of the commission. You may want to have a lawyer assist although this is the kind of thing easily done on your own. It should be addressed to the Director of Customer Services. They should have the authority to reimburse you if they see fit to do so. Again – this will be an uphill battle – you know, like Everest.



    Q – We have been using Travelex insurance for our cruises on Silversea and AMA Waterways. Do they still have insurance available that lets you cancel for any reason? Seems like it might be a good idea given all that has happened.

    A – Yes. Travelex is still offering an upgraded Cancel for Any Reason option. Be certain that you understand that it includes a future credit, not a cash refund. Please read the terms carefully. Here is the online link to review the details. We think it is overpriced.

    Q – We will be traveling to the Greek Islands this October, thanks to you. We are not all that digitally proficient and we are wondering if there is anything like a flight app that will work while we travel to monitor gate changes, flight delays etc. It would be great to have that with us.

    A – Download The Flight Tracker. It gives you all the real-time basics you will need as well as reminders when you need them. But the real reason to download this app is that it works offline so you can take advantage of it while you are en route aboard your aircraft.

    The pro’s app is Flight Aware Flight Tracker which you can use on your desktop. Some say that flight changes appear here before they are posted on the airline’s own site. Learn to use the “Misery Map” which instantly shows you which airports have been hit with the longest delays and cancellations.


    Q – 9.7.21 – It all seems rather confusing at the moment – can’t imagine how you are keeping up with where one can/should go on vacation these days. Like everyone else in the D.C. area, we need to get away for a while. Are there general areas of the world we should be considering, avoiding, if we want to travel before the New Year?

    A – For 2021, the luxury playing field is narrowing but there are still many good options – although you may have to do a bit of 72-hour pre-testing. Let’s start with those portions of the world that we think might be best avoided for the rest of this year and into the first quarter of next year followed by destinations where current conditions make vacation planning in the next 100 days feasible:


    • Central America
    • South America
    • Asia with the exception of Japan
    • Mexico
    • Hawaii
    • Caribbean Mega-ship Cruise Ports
    • India and Nepal
    • Tahiti
    • Antarctica Cruising
    • Christmas Market River Cruises
    • The Maldives
    • The United Arab Emirates
    • Eastern and Southern Africa
    • Iceland
    • Ireland and Scotland
    • Egypt and Nile Cruises
    • European Cruises on ships with no Covid history on the Cruisetruth Top Ten List
    • Italy and Greece
    • Seychelles (Cruise)
    • The Galapagos Islands (Cruise)
    • Private Jet Touring
    • Scandinavia and Russia

    Q – We are people travelers – we could care less about sterile historical buildings and silly church buildings with their excessive costs. For us, we like to be around locals where they gather – seeing neighborhoods that are developing but are off the beaten tourist track. It seems that we invariably stumble into some fine local dining by experiencing places this way. This fall, we’ll be heading to Prague for the first time and we are wondering if you can identify a few neighborhoods worthy of our time. They don’t need to be deluxe – just authentic and where the locals really tend to hang out because they can’t afford the rents in the city center. Realize you are into high-end vacation planning so hope this question is appropriate.

    A – Candidly, we are in complete agreement with your approach, or we would be if you included some of the major sites of interest. Many years ago we designed an approach to touring we call “Contemporary Lifestyle Touring” (CLT) which involves tour planning that utilizes a “where do the locals gather” approach along with guides who are trained to offer a sense of modern life in the city. So your question is entirely appropriate and we think your approach ought to be incorporated by the major tour operators, many of whom are offering essentially the same “Main Sites” itineraries they have been selling for two decades.

    The wilder part of Prague is Vrsovice which has an incredible main street called Krymska that features some great local food, thousands of football fans, and a pub or beer garden every twenty feet or so. You have not really seen Prague unless you have walked the Krymska.

    The floods of 2012 left the old town neighborhood of Karlin in ruins. This is now the hippest part of Prague and a great place to go during the lunch hour. Try Eska for really excellent classic Czech cuisine. One of the current dining stars is “Avocado Gang” which features shared tables. Carnivores swear by the Presto Meat Market, essentially a butcher shop with a few tables. If the tables are full – no worries. There is a dining tent out in the back.


    Q – 5.14.21  Thank you for all of this – extraordinary info. We are planning a tour to Egypt that will include a cruise along the Nile for four nights. This is a bucket list item and I am an advance planner. The dates and pricing for our planned travel about two years from today are not out yet but I am told I can have our names placed on a wait-list with a deposit. We will then be contacted when things are set. We are working with a local agent in our town who is encouraging us, naturally, to deposit.  Are there risks involved? Is 24 months in advance rushing things? 

    A – Egypt touring with Nile components is among the five top worldwide destinations that are selling out far in advance of reservations elsewhere. The demand is high with visitors from North America, Asia, India, and Europe. For one of the better, most reliable tour operators the idea of placing your deposit down far in advance of pricing is a sound one as some departure dates could sell out within days of being announced. The deposit will serve to hold your place – space will be offered to your agent before the departure is opened to the general public. We want to be certain, however, that you have something in writing certifying that if you are unhappy with the pricing presented you can drop out and receive a full refund. You should receive a confirmation in writing from the supplier care of your advisor showing the wait-list confirmation.

    Travel to Egypt is challenging, worthwhile, and dependent on the quality of the operator, the hotels, the guides, and the boat used along the Nile. This is an example of a destination where budgeting is unwise. Take security into account as well. Stay at one of Cairo’s top-grade hotels. Standards decrease rapidly. Be prepared for Cairo’s pollution. 


    Q – Thanks to your efforts, we are looking forward to a cruise from Copenhagen to Stockholm next summer. We have decided to arrive in Copenhagen two nights prior to our sailing on the Regent Splendor. We would love to stay at a well-located, reasonably-priced hotel and go out to a nice dinner before boarding the next day. Any recommendations for an interesting hotel experience along with a Vegan-centered restaurant recommendation? We have been assured by your Team that Vegan dining aboard ship is not an issue.  Just wondering if you are coming across many Vegan travelers in your work? 

    A – We’d suggest a stay at the new Villa Copenhagen, a four-year project to convert the post office next to Tivoli Gardens into a $215 Million 390-Room property with a striking rooftop pool. Rates will co9me in at under $300 for a standard room and you’re perfectly close to the action. You can walk the streets and watch some of the world’s “happiest” residents frowning their way through the city.

    For the best Vegan food in a city renowned for its creative cuisine head to Restaurant Ark which is very close to the worth visiting Torvhallerne food halls. Try to order a dish made with produce from the staff’s private mushroom farm (no not that kind). 

    The facts regarding vegetarian dining in America are quite surprising. Forty-six percent of the U.S. adult population always or sometimes eats vegetarian meals when eating out. Twenty percent of U.S. adults always or sometimes eat vegan meals when eating out. Four percent of American adults are vegetarian (including vegans) all the time, and half of the vegetarians are also vegan (two percent).

    Enjoy the schrooms and don’t forget to board the Splendor the next day. 


    Q – 5.14.21  I had a trip planned with Tauck Tours in 2020 and was offered an incentive to keep money in-house with an incentive that was placed in something they call a “travel wallet”. Now, it looks like we are being cancelled again and I was wondering if we should expect a doubling of the incentive if we travel in 2022? Is there an industrry rule that they have to keep increasing the offer with each cancellation (by them – not me)?

    A – There is no such rule and these companies, which have been hit hard by the pandemic, are not generally doubling up on re-booking incentives once they have been applied. This is not a bank account that earns compound interest. Some companiues like Tauck will take your insurance payment and move it into an account for a future booking where it can be applied. That saves you the considerable cost of re-purchasing insurance. 

    We would need to know the specifics of your case but it appears that you have had two tours cancelled because it was deemed that to operate them might place your health in jeopardy. Normally, incentives would be carried over once and then again if necessary. But they would not be duplicated


    Q – As we start planning our travels again, and I don’t want to bother you with long weekends and domestic hotel stays, I wonder if you are feeling that handing over credit card info to a hotel website or online booker is reliable these days? In the past, I’ve done it without thinking, but something you once posted made me think that this had once been a problem. Just how secure is online booking? 

    A – Actually, glad that you raised this question. Fake hotel sites are a major problem and most consumers cannot identify the real sites from the fake ones. In 2019, the last year for which reliable pre-Covid data exists, there were an estimated 15 million bogus hotel bookings at an estimated value of $1.3 billion. Most “ghost” hotel sites look identical to the real thing. The goal of the ghost sites is collecting your credit card information and it is estimated that the number of credit card numbers harvested by online hotel bookings now exceeds $100 Billion. Many of the online sites are pretending to be located in the States but they are often overseas ventures that sell your personal information to anyone willing to pay. 

    There is no reason that you should use a travel agency to book domestic hotels unless you are seeking high-end comp. amenities at a five-star property. But if you do book directly always phone the hotel directly and make certain you are actually talking to hotel reservations and not a ghost service. Tell them you are recording the call and ask specifically if they are “on property”. 

    Thank you for raising this important question as most travel consumers are naive about the dangers of online travel purchasing. 


    Q – We are restarting our travel buttons with planned stays at hotels in LA as well as Manhattan for Fashion Week events. As we emerge from this Covid crisis, cleanliness is even more important than godliness. To be specific, how do we choose a hotel that will not be reusing the same sheets from a previous guest? According to your site, this happens often. Any suggestions would be appreciated. I mean suppose a Kardashian has just occupied the room?

    A –  It does happen far more than most hotel guests would imagine. In 2019, the average room rate paid for a hotel room in the United States was $97.50. At that rate, housekeeping is going to be minimal and sheets will likely not be changed if there are no visible stains. In June 2020, Inside Edition found “used sheets” gracing beds in the middle of Manhattan at Hyatt Place Times Square, the Hampton Inn Times Square Central, and Trump International. 

    There are a few ways to avoid this issue. First, make up your mind that budget or even mid-range hotels are far more germ-laden than you might imagine. Avoid them and book upscale properties that come personally recommended by your consultant. If you can’t afford to stay at a Four Seasons call the hotel front desk shortly before arrival and insist that the beds be made up with fresh linens and ask that all room bedspreads, duvets, and cushions be removed. It is likely that they are covered in fecal matter and have not be properly cleaned for months.