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PRESENTING THE WORLD’S MOST COMPREHENSIVE TRAVEL Q&A

Please note that all of your questions are color-coded for easy access (latest questions appear at top)
All travel questions not related to cruises or riverboats appear in Red.
All cruise related questions appear in Blue
All riverboat related questions appear in Green

  • GETTING A RESERVATION AT ONE OF THE TOP FIFTY RESTAURANTS WORLDWIDE

    Q – As my wife and I work, almost continuously, on our Five-Year Travel Planning, we find ourselves drawn to the list you published several months ago of the World’s Top Fifty restaurants. Fine dining seems as good a reason to visit a country as anything else, so we are trying to use two or three in-country firm reservations to guide us in our planning. The question is how to best secure a reservation at one of the restaurants on the list.  Do you recommend that we call or, perhaps, put our request in an e-mail? Should it be addressed to the Head Chef or the owner? We would love to lock several places in Brazil and Japan in for 2026. Is there anything we should tell the restauant about ourselves to make this all go smoothly?

    A –  Good idea but, perhaps, wrong approach. The last thing a world-class restauant wants to do is try to figure out what a US caller is talking about. You have no clout with a foreeign restaurant unless you get screamed ast easch evening by someone named “Gordon”.

    The last thing the really top restauants overseas  want is a reputation for catering to tourists from the USA. It would help kill their local business. We would leave the restaurant reservation portion of your trip-planning to the overseas office used by your travel advisor to do the rest of the tyrip. The owners of your on-site offices live in-country and if the restaurant is on the “Top-Fifty” List it ios likely they have a relationship with management. Leave it to your local contact to fill the restauant in on juist how very important you are. Unless you are a blood relative of Anthony Bourdain  however, they may remain unimpressed. They hear from true VRVIP’s each and every afternoon seeking tables. 

    The rule here is that any reservation needs to be made by a local, fluent speaker of the language or, in the case of the British Isles, by someone with the proper pronounciation.

    There is one exception – if you are a return VIP Guest at one of the very best hotels in town, it is likely that the Lead Concierge at your hotel would also be a good source to score a hard-to-get reservation. 

    May we say that being led on your travels by a desire to dine really well is an idea with a great deal of merit. But beware that that approach may keep you isolated int he more affluent, sophisticated portions of your destination. We would suggest a fifty-fifty mix of fine-dining and dining “a la local” in the countryside.

  • WE ARE BOOKING THE GORING HOTEL IN LONDON BUT HOW DO WE KNOW IF WE ARE GETTING THE BEST RATE AVAILABLE?

    Q – It would appear that The Goring in London meets with your approval. We work with a TA and she is a member of one of the major consortium groups. However, I was able to call the hotel directly and get an extremely competitive rate with no hassles. We are collecting countries, 73 to date, and there will be many hotel nights to book as we are in our early fifties. So I suppose I want to ask, on behalf of others who visit this insider site, how do we eally know when we are getting the very best hotel rate?  Do I book through my agent, the hotel directly, one of the mega-online agencies, or do I spend my time on Expedia and Priceline? Is there clear advice you can share. It really isn’t the money. It’s more about the principle – if we are spending, on average, in excess of $1,000 per night, how can we be certain that we have been given the best price?

    A – This is, as you realize, a somewhat complex question. But you raise several excellent points and we feel that we want to try to achieve some clarity in our response. So allow us to address your questions with bullet points:

    • The best hotel rates are normally going to be offered by the hotel property, not by some third-party 800-number online entity. One would have to assume that Hotel Owners are idiots were they to allow internet-based sites to beat the pricing they have in their own hotel database. We know what the ads say – but booking anything with a 1-800 Call Center is just a sucker move – yet – seven of the ten largest travel agencies sell online strangers. They are there to sell you a hotel room but, as importantly, they are there to gather your identity and your credit card information which can then be sold several times. The proceeds from the sale of your private information is generally greater than the profit on a hotel room booking – even one at a deluxe property.
    • But you only represent a single booking. your agent may book the Goring several times a year and her consortium may do six figures or more in total annual bookings. So normally, (and beliueve us the phrase “there are always exceptions” was created by the hotel gods for their profession, the best consortium members receive similar pricing plus a package of amenities. This may include complimentary breakfast, airport transfers, a dinner voucher for the hotel restaurant etc. In other words you agent woult not be undercutting the hotel’s direct price but they may have negotiated volume amenities and upgrade offers that are not available to thje general public or those who book their accommodations directly. 
    • So – the bottom line:
      • Only book a hotel with an advisor who has a consortium certified contract arrangement with your hotel. That is how you get the best rate – ask if the hotel “Is a Preferred Supplier of your consortium”?
      • If not, your second best option is to book directly with the hotel – not a service desk or a rep firm – the hotel itself
  • IS SUNDAY STILL THE BEST DAY OF THE WEEK TO BOOK A DOMESTIC AIRLINE TICKET TO SECURE THE BEST FARE?

    Q—I have a guidebook that says Sunday is the best day of the week to book a flight within the USA. Prices seem to go up on Monday. This sort of makes sense but it also seems too simple to be true.

    Is there a time of day when the average air ticket is lower? We are now at the point where we will be doing more domestic travel to visit kids and grandkids and I am trying to figure out a simple strategy. Thanks very much.

    A – Airline strategies are fun to write about but much of what is written is old by the time it reaches print. You want to book domestic flights between 30-60 days before departure. But there is no one day when rates are lower. The new breed of computer algorithms is changing fares constantly based on availability and sales data streaming in by the millions. There is no way a human can try to predict or even keep up with those changes.

    Wednesday and Thursday may be the best days but that is really hard to certify. We do know that flights that leave between 6:00 and 8:00 am and flights that depart in the evening between 10 PM-1:00 AM tend to have better pricing and better on-time records than mid-day departures. 

     
  • IS STOCKHOLM STILL THE COOLEST CITY IN SCANDINAVIA WORTH A ONE WEEK WINTER VISIT?

    Q – We are three friends – all in our thirties, all financially comfortable, and all working for West Coast architectural firms. We ski and take lots of photos, but we travel primarily to be stimulated by new ideas in urban planning, architectural design, and lifestyle planning. We like to go where the world’s happiest people live to try to gain an understanding of how buildings and design can make city living fun again.

    We are now planning a November getaway – possibly to Stockholm. We have already traveled to Copenhagen. We are wondering if you would agree that Stockholm is the obvious choice? Love the site and the lack of ads. 

    A – We would make a strong base for Oslo at the moment. A surplus of  Norwegian oil money has allowed the city mothers and fathers to devote considerable energy to take stodgy Oslo and turn it into a cultural colassus that admirably competes with Stockholm. You will actually see locals enjoy winter sports as you walk downtown in November.Walk to the top floor of the Oslo Opera House where you can climb promenades that slope toward the roof. The public library is not to be believed – they have craft stations with 3-D Printers and home-made crafting, high quality music studios, and movie theaters that are, of course, complimentary. The National Museum is spectacular and is larger than any other museum in Scandinavia.

    Then there’s the Bjorvika District and the new performance center, SALT. But to see the locals enjoying one another’s compnay, you might want to book a short sailon a small Sauna boat that will drop you off in a relatively isolated portion of the fjord. You jump into the frigid water and then soon come back aboard warming up on the boat’s large sauna.

    Sorry Stockholm – the newest hot major Scandinavian city of the moment is Oslo. But not literally “hot” in November. 

     

  • IS THERE A SHORTCUT TO FGURE OUT WHAT US AIRPORTS HAVE NON-STOPS TO A CERTAIN DESTINATION?

    Q – I travel for business and my husband and I travel as much as possible overseas for pleasure. Inb our early forties, we are somewhere in the world about 60% of any year. But trying to really figure out flight schedules is terribly frustrating. Just wondering if there is a website or specific source you would recommend to help us figure out which airports have non-stop flights to cities where we need to go overseas. I have, of course, fooled around with the Expedia and Kayaks of the world. Simplicity of use is not one of their attributes. Sorry for the bother, buit we just feel we are missing something.

    A – You are certainly not alone. Flight search sites are predicated on the belief that price rather than non-stop flights is the major motivation for visitors. Fortunately, there is “work-arouind” for this problem. Virtually every major airport in the United States now has a page on Wikipedia. Go on the site and scroll down to the section called “Airlines and Destinations.” Under this subject you will find clear listings of which routes from the airport have non-stop service and which airline(s) provide it.  This is a simple fix but it works.

           
  • WHAT IS THE DEAL WITH AN OCTOBER CRUISE TO JAPAN? ANY SECRETS TO CLEARING A WAIT-LIST?

    Q – This is a rather fascinating site. As a resident of  Manchester U.K. I must admit that some of the cryings about travel displeasure seem uniquely American in nature. I have been planning my own travels with few issues for about twenty-five years. But I have just recently run into a stone wall trying to get confirmed on a Silversea sailing from Tokyo. I wrote a letter to management indicating that I take at least one major trip a year etc. but that has done little for my status. Do you have any suggestions to get the space cleared? Do they work these wait-lists conscientously. Any tips would be appreciated. We Brits do like to mind our manners and keep our place in line – but not necessarily in Manchester. Keep it up.

    A – Let’s look at it this way. You represent a potential booking. One small piece of the cruis line’s annual revenue. Our firm belongs to a consortium group of top-producing agents. It is a “By Invitation Only” organization. In 2023 we did a total of $23 Billion in luxury sales and we are the top-producing group for most of the major luxury brands. Then, drill down a bit to who we are and what specific revenue we might product for a top-ranked cruise line. By failing to take advantage of advocacy and oversite you have placed yourself in a position to lose this soccer match. A bit of advice for getting space cleared:

    • Work with a top-producing travel advisor well known in executive circles at the line. It will cost you nothing and may well get you cleared.
    • Have your advisor help you design a brief bio that highlights your unique ability to generate word-of-mouth bookings for the line. That bio should be submitted with a special request to the travel advisor’s personal sales manager at the line. That won’t clear the space but it very well may move you up on the waiting list.
    • Put it all in perspective: Japan and Iceland along with Grand Voiyages of more than 24 Days are currently booking up faster than the vast majorioty of cruise itineraries in the luxury sector. They should be booked 14-16 months in advance to assure that you will get what you are seeking.

    Good Luck with Liverpool.

  • DON’T LIKE SURPRISES? MUST I GO TO DINNER DRESSED AS A PENGUIN?

    Q – We are planning on doing a 14-night Regent Seven Seas Cruise to Australia and New Zealand next winter. I was wondering if you could tell us how many formal nights there will likely be so we can plan on packing.

    A – There will be zero formal nights. Sorry if this is disappointing. Regent does not have formal nights for any sailing of less than 16 nights. But on other competitive lines like Seabourn, Crystal, or Silversea, formal nights are less of an issue than many first-time guests imagine. Every Luxury line offers alternative dining venues on formal nights that do require that male guests try to look as much as possible like members of a Falkland Islands Penguin colony.

  • HOW DO I KNOW IF MY FAMILY IS SAFE AS WE WALK OUT OUR HOTEL FRONT DOOR AT NIGHT IN WARSAW, PRAGUE, AND BUDAPEST?

    Q – We are planning a visit to Europe in the Fall that will include Warsaw, Prague, and Budapest. We are not budget travelers at all, so quality hotels are not an issue. But we wonder about making certain that the areas around a hotel we might choose in these cities are safe at night. How do we make certain we are not venturing into unsafe areas? Is this something a travel consultant can help with? Do you advise your clients on such things, or is it up to us to do all of the research? Although we have done many driving trips in the US, as you might be able to tell – we are not well-traveled outside the country.

    A – This is not a silly question. You need to feel safe when you travel. When you work with a professional advisor you should be shown hotel inspection reports that are not available online. These reports will cover any concerns such as unsafe areas around the hotel.

    The truth is that five-star hotels are normally not open in anything like a dangerous area. Part of any hotel stay for visiting tourists is wandering out and finding dining choices that look enticing. The Concierge Desk at your hotel is the overall best source for the most up-to-date safety information. Always feel free to ask questions such as “is there a direction where you would advise we avoid walking”?

    In general, when walking around a strange city, we recommend leaving most of your cash and some of your credit cards, along with your best jewelry, in the hotel safe. And remember, again, that 131 countries in the world are safer to walk around than almost any of America’s largest cities. (Source: 2024 Global Safety Index)

  • JUST FOR THE RECORD – IN 2024 WHICH CRUISE LINE RANKS # 1?

    Q – (1-26-24) I just received my issue of Travel & Leisure, and I counted eight cruise lines that were touting the fact that they had won “World’s Best” Awards. Viking claims they have won top line in several categories including Riverboats and Cruises. As we are in the New Year, I wonder if there is any consensus as to which cruise line, based on objective factors, is really the top-rated line in the world. We have only done a four-day cruise to the Bahamas many years ago but are now ready to commit the money to sail the best line at sea. 

    A  – No answer to your question is truly “objective”. We look at many criteria, several of which involve sources  based abroad. We also maintain our own program of CSI Inspectors who sail all of the top ships at full tariff and undercover. We have achieved this by training sophisticated world travelers who have luxury cruise experience. They use the same evaluations and tests that we use when comparing cruise products.

    There are two things to note that are important:

    • Numerous companies sell full sets or partial sets of A!-produced online reviews. For that reason, they are virtually meaningless. 
    • Print Media believes, and studies do show, that “Lists” or “Ratings” increase circulation. The major consumer magazines try to create as many categories as possible so that every potential cruise advertiser has an award to reference. This is all big business and the consumer is supposed to believe that the line they want to sail, or the one their travel agent recommends, is really top-of-the-line. In most cases that is false.

    In 2024, the top-ranked cruise line is Hapag-Lloyd. The top-ranked ship is the Europa 2. Following Hapag-Lloyd there is a close bunching of excellence as Silversea, Regent Seven Seas, and Seabourn battle for second place. 

    Hapag-Lloyd is a German Line and guests who do not speak German may be at a conviviality disadvantage. Silversea is a more formal alternative to Regent Seven Seas. Seabourn does more creative itineraries and Regent is, by a significant margin, the better value as they include round-trip Business Class Air and shore excursions on all sailings.

    When you ask this question next year, we think you will see some major shits in the Cruisetruth Rankings as smaller luxury lines like Four Seasons and Aman begin to launch their products. This will squeeze out non-inclusive higher density lines like Viking from Top Ten consideration. Our team is busy updating our www.cruisetruth.com website where you will soon see the updated rankings. 

  • THIS MAY SEEM LIKE A WEAK EXCUSE TO VIST PARIS – STILL AGAIN!

    Q – (1.26.24) – Just so you know ……….there’s Fodor’s, AFAR, TripAdvisor, Travel + Leisure and 10,000 blogs that deal with Parisian Bakeries. But, in good faith, we are coming to you in the hopes that you will take our question sort of seriously. My wife, Marie, is of French background. I have childhood memories of ordering French onion soup on Queens  Boulevard in a borough of that name – when we could afford it.

    Now, I write an occasional screenplay and we jet off to Paris whenever we can come up with anything that remotely resembles a valid excuse. OK – this Fall we are going to spend a week in Paris for the primary purpose of finding out and, just for our friends, documenting, where one might go to uncover the best baguettes in the city. We imagine this will take us into any number of colorful neighborhoods, some away from the tourist hordes. And we will visit the best bakeries with a small cooler filled with local provisions purchased that morning so we can quickly find a park bench and immediately begin the tasting/filming process. We don’t want to waste time and we truly feel this is the place to turn. Really enjoy this ad-free site. Hope you  can monetize it in some way. 

    A – We enjoyed your question and, particularly your premise. Having some sort of good-tasting reason to walk around a city gives one purpose and, best of all, takes you into neighborhoods that one might just never visit on any kind of a touring program. We have a list that we think might be a good start. Please enjoy and, if you have a moment, please share your photos with us at documents@traveltruth.com  Have a memorable visit.

    Maison Landemaine Jules Joffrin With over a dozen locations in Paris, plus one in Lille and a few in Tokyo, Maison Landemaine might not seem like the authentic expression of the artisanal boulangerie, but the hits still hit. The baguette tradition is crusty and chewy in all the right ways, especially paired with cheeses from the nearby Laiterie cheese shop on Rue des Poissonniers. 4 Rue du Poteau, 75018 Paris, France Shinya Pain Montmartre Shinya Inagaki has made bread for some of the most beloved sourdough bakeries in Paris (think Fermentation Générale and the Terroirs d’Avenir boulangerie). At his own operation in Montmartre, Inagaki is making sourdough breads his own way. Olive focaccia, brioches, multigrain breads, and scones are just some of the specials Inagaki scrawls on butcher paper at his tiny storefront on Rue des Trois Frères. 41 Rue des Trois Frères, 75018 Paris, France Maison Julien Les Saveurs de Pierre Demours The 2020 winner of Le Grand Prix de la Baguette de Traditional Française de la Ville de Paris, a coveted award recognizing the city’s best baguette, Taieb Sahal makes a standard-bearer for traditional Parisian baguettes. Crusty, airy, and with a warm yeasty smell, the baguettes at Maison Julien in the 17th represent French bread at its finest. Mamiche You’ll likely encounter a line when visiting the original bakery outpost of Cécile Khayat and Victoria Effantin’s wildly popular Mamiche bakery, but the wait is worth it. Using natural leaven, Mamiche’s breads are excellent, from the hearty pain de campagne to the lightweight pain de mie, as well as a traditional “miche Mamiche.” Don’t miss the babkas and viennoiserie, too. You can’t go wrong with any of it. 45 Rue Condorcet, 75009 Paris, France The French Bastards – St Ferdinand With three locations across Paris and a name that’s fun to say, the French Bastards’ bakery could get by on novelty alone. Thankfully that’s not the case: Breads with honey and figs, hazelnuts, plentiful seeds, rye flour, and more comprise the menu at the three French Bastards locations, and they’re all delicious. Take a hearty loaf to go, and eat a caramel eclair on the way home. 35 Pl. Saint-Ferdinand, 75017 Paris, France The Rue des Martyrs location of Farine&O frequently has a line around lunchtime, with working Parisians picking up sandwiches, pastries, and sodas to go. The line moves fast and the wait pays off: Baguettes, brioche, and rotating daily offerings will satisfy even the most discerning of bread-heads. Don’t forget to pick up a croissant — they’re flaky beyond human understanding. 10 Rue des Martyrs, 75009 Paris, France Levain, Le Vin The concept — and cheeky play on words — at Christophe Fertillet’s Levain, Le Vin is all about pairing great naturally leavened breads with great natural wines. Sit for a planche of breads crafted in-house by Fertillet and charcuterie to match, or take loaves of bread to go along with one of the carefully curated bottles of wine that line the shop’s shelves. 83 Rue du Faubourg Saint-Martin, 75010 Paris, France Boulangerie-Pâtisserie Terroirs d’Avenir Part of the strip of shops on Rue du Nil that make up the sustainable agriculture organization Terroirs d’Avenir (or, terroirs of the future), the boulangerie has sourdough breads that are inspired by the organization’s mission. All manner of breads are on offer, from focaccia to multigrain tin loaves, and since the boulangerie is only a stone’s throw from the primeur (or fresh market), fish shop, and butcher, you can have dinner sorted out before you reach the end of the block. 3 Rue du Nil, 75002 Paris, France Boulangerie Utopie While many boulangeries around Paris will sell bread, pastries, and viennoiserie (think anything laminated), most excel at one area or another. At Utopie in the 11th, it’s safe to pick between any of the sourdough croissants, elegant pastries, brioche, and inventive breads made with ingredients like sesame and curry powder; kalamata olives; and guava and cranberry. 20 Rue Jean-Pierre Timbaud, 75011 Paris, France Tout Autour du Pain A baguette at Tout Autour du Pain is a classic option for picnics, parties, or just midday snacks. Perfectly golden and crisp, they’re the platonic ideal of a baguette. Buy one for later and one to eat immediately in the petite plaza directly across from the shop. 134 Rue de Turenne, 75003 Paris, France General Fermentation As the name implies, the M.O. at Fermentation Générale in the 11th is everything fermented. From kefir and kombucha to natural wines, ciders, and pickles, the menu is a dream for anyone who loves sour flavors. Sourdough fits perfectly in that mix. Every bread is tangy and tart, with a depth of flavor reminiscent of San Francisco sourdoughs. 37 Rue de la Folie Méricourt, 75011 Paris, France Ten Belles Bread Alice Quillet and Anna Trattles’s sourdough bread bakery Ten Belles Bread was initially confusing to some Parisians, as they didn’t sell baguettes and they used the word “bread” instead of “boulangerie” in the name. The bakery won almost the whole city over with their bread loaves, though. They offer just the right amount of sour, with a custardy inside and crusty outside. Ten Belles sells great coffee, pastries, and lunch specials, too, so you’ll absolutely want to come with an appetite. 17-19 Rue Breguet, 75011 Paris, France Le Bricheton In a tiny storefront in the 20th, Le Bricheton is the choice for the truly devoted bread lover. It has limited hours, and the bread sells fast, but if you happen to be in the neighborhood, this tiny bakery is an essential visit. Breads are made from organic flour, sourced in France, often with ancient grains like 50 Rue de la Réunion, 75020 Paris, France Boulangerie Poilâne You’d be hard-pressed to find a visitor to Paris who isn’t heading to Poilâne at some point during their trip. That’s because the bakery has been making delicious sourdough wheat loaves for almost 100 years. You’ll recognize a Poilâne miche by the signature swoopy “P” scored into the bread before baking, as well as its brown color imparted by the proportion of stone-ground whole wheat in the dough. Looking to make sandwiches with jambon de Paris? The loaves can be sliced to order. 8 Rue du Cherche-Midi, 75006 Paris, France Le Boulanger de la Tour While not every visitor to Paris has the time or money to visit the historic Tour d’Argent restaurant, Le Boulanger de la Tour is more than sufficient as a backup. A rotating menu of breads is available from the famed restaurant’s bakers. They’re so good, you can close your eyes and almost imagine you’ve nabbed a seat in the restaurant’s historic waterfront dining room. 2 Rue du Cardinal Lemoine, 75005 Paris, France  These bakeries are listed by the highly recommended “Eater” Web group.   
  • WE ARE WONDERING WHICH DESTINATIONS SEEM TO BE BENEFITTING FROM WEATHER CHANGES DUE TO GLOBAL WARMING?

    Q – (1.12.24) We are, as we write this, sitting at a table piled with travel brochures we’ve been collecting. We are trying to figure out where we should be headed this coming summer in Europe? This led to some discussion and we are wondering what trends you are seeing at traveltruth? Have people changed their travel destination choices in the past year and do you have any sense as to the better options for summer heat travels in 2024 and 2025.  We live in Rancho Mirage so summer getaways are now an important consideration. Thank you for sharing your thoughts.

    A – The data is actually rather startling. The demand for cooler overseas destinations has increased dramatically this past year. Mindset Consulting claims that demand for “cooler destinations” is up 186% at the end of 2023. The search for colder destinations is strongest, according to the research, among residnets of California, Florida, and Georgia.

    So where are they headed? The Netherlands had a 174% growth last year – Ireland was up 154% – and Finland 133%. These examples are being repeated all around northern Europe.  If we were launching a new travel firm today, we might call it “Cooler Climes”.

  • SHOULD WE BE BOOKING OUR FUTURE TRAVELS ONLINE?

    Q – (1.12.24) My husband’s Dad passed away a few months ago and we have inherited enough money to do some serious travel going forward. We live in Colorado and we are skiers so we have not felt the need to travel overseas more than once. But as we get older, we want to see Europe, Antarctica, the Maldives, and portions of South America.

    Some of this will, I suppose, be escorted tour travel, some will be cruises (which we have never done) and I still think we have it in us to do a few totally independent journeys to places like Rome and Paris. We still won’t shake our desire to save money while enjoying upscale travel opportunities so my questions is should we be looking at booking our travels online or should we make contact with a travel agent? 

    A –  If you have confidence in your planning skills, it might be fun to do some of your independent travels on your own using trusted internet sites. Currently, Statistica Consumer Insights reports that 53% of travel bookings are made this way because users feel it more convenient and faster than using a traditional travel agent. Online sites can sometimes make it easier to compare pricing.

    Be aware, however, that when you book things online independently you are still charged the built-in travel agency commission which runs from 10-15% on average.

    For your longer, more complex travels, we think you would be most satisfied with the services of a caring travel advisor. Try to choose one that is associated with one of the three or four most trusted consortium groups – their membership requirements are normally quite strict. 

    There are many excellent agencies in major areas of Colorado. You may want to create a face-to-face relationship if you live in an area with an excellent agency. Do let us know if we can ever be helpful. 

  • LIKE THE QUESTION ANONYMITY BUT WONDERING WHO IS MINITORING CRUISE OFFERS?

    Q – (1.12.24) – Have enjoyed discovering this one-of-a-kind site. Kudos for forcing all questions to be on subject and anonymous. It surely helps eliminate 90% of the BS encountered on other travel platforms. 

    We cruise at least three times a year since my retirement. We have, I must confess, done Royal Caribbean with the grandkids and we just returned from a stint on the Ritz Carlton Yacht. I have noticed that we keep mailings and e-mail messages telling us about special offers etc. on some of the better lines, including Seabourn which we will be sailing in four months. My question is this: Who is monitoring these new offers and promotions? Is it the travel agent I use, the cruise line, or is it all on me and my own initiative?  Thanking you in advance. I can’t figure out how you make money from this site but I hope it continues while I can still travel. 

    A – Appreciate your observations and your important question:
    • Our entire Media Group, each of our sites, is set up to serve the consumer on a not-for-profit basis. We do not accept online bookings. We do not have amateur or off-subject commentary. Anyone can anonymously ask a question but we want our sites to be honest and informational and we can’t achieve that if we allow amateur “critics” to rant about experiences they may or may not have had. We are also very aware of the likelihood that some of the most-popular sites purchase reviews and AI-generated comments.
    • The bottom line answer to your question is “hopefully your travel advisor is monitoring your pricing – but ultimately, it is the consumer’s responsibility to inquire about new promotions.” Cruise lines will, as a rule, not closely monitor pricing so they can lower the cost of a booked cruise and, therefore, lower their percentage of profit. They have little motivation to do that.
    • Please understand that this has not been a major issue when dealing with four or  five-star rated lines. New promotions tend to be offered in tandem with scheduled price increases which normally occur every 90-120 days. When a booked guest tries to take advantage of an upgrade offer or a new discount, in the vast majority of cases they must pay the cruise fare in effect at the time. In most, but not all, cases the new deal is not as good as the earlier pricing booked. No highly-rated cruise line wishes to offend those top suite guests who booked their cruise earlier than most. Many of the computer programs that control pricing are set up so pricing increases when a ship reaches a certain occupancy level. This is often set at 20-30%. 
  • 13 CRUISES LATER – LOOKING FOR SOMETHING REALLY DIFFERENT

    Q – While we would enjoy boring you with the details, you are well aware of the cruises we have booked over the course of our eleven-year relationship. We are ready to commit to something new and exciting for 2024 but we are looking for something completely different – a destination of true exploration where ships rarely go. Unfortunately, we have been spoiled and we find that five-star cruising has absolutely nothing in common with adventure cruises where you spend your days trying to get in or out of zodiacs or larger ships that seem to appeal to aging “funsters”. Is there one, off the charts, truly unusual itinerary we should look at that takes in portions of the world in about two weeks on a ship that might meet our quality requirements. Or to put it another way, a destination where my uppity next-door neighbor has never been.

    A – Thanks for your rather challenging question which, perhaps, could have been shortened to just your last sentence.  We do think you should strongly consider one of two sailings in May or August on the Seabourn Pursuit that operates between Sydney and Guam on a superb fifteen-day itinerary called The Isles of Papua New Guinea. The Pursuit is technically an Exploration vessel – but it is oh so five stars we don’t really think that will be an issue for you. And the chances are your neighbor has not yet been to Vonavona, the Russell Islands, Ifalik Island or the ever-popular Woodlark Island among others. 

  • ROME VERSUS BOCA – BEST NIGHT FOR DINNER?

    Q –   We are going to be headed to Rome and points south for two weeks in early October. (I know you are aware of this). May I suggest that you try to include more coverage of questions related to food and dining both in the US and abroad? Here is an example: My sweet Mrs. has gone fishatarian, or what ever you call it. No meat but lots of fish. We are wondering in Italy or back home in Boca, if there are specific nights of the week when restaurants  have the freshest food. I tried to research this online and got a bag of nonsense. Fully understand there may not be an answer. Thanks for everything.

    A – That is an interesting question and we do believe that there is one best answer. It applies to both Italy and Boco – something the two towns have in common.

    The answer is never discussed publicly because it would serve to possibly discourage dining out on other nights not recommended. But chefs and upscale restaurant insiders know the following to be true:

    Due to warehouse rules and driver union contracts, weekend food deliveries of fresh fish and meat rarely takes place on the weekend. Weekend diners are eating food that was likely delivered to the restaurant several days earlier. 

    Most top tier restaurants receive their fresh fish and meat deliveries on Tuesday mornings (many restaurants are closed on Monday). Industry pros prefer to dine out on Tuesdays when the food is most likely to have “arrived that day”.

  • GOING TO CUBA – WITH OR WITHOUT CASH?

    Q – We have just been approved to visit Cuba with a small group. This has been a rather long dream of ours. They are suggesting we bring lots of cash but my wife and I would much rather rely on our credit cards. Do you know if Mastercard or American Express would be more widely accepted? We have just started researching this but that is our major question at this point. Although we will be in a group, do you feel we will be safe in Cuba?

    A – Switzerland or the Vatican might have been safer choices but the dancing is much better in Cuba. We do want you to do a fair bit of research before you set off on this “cultural” journey. For now, we would advise:

    • Credit cards are generally not accepted from US banks in Cuba. You will likely pay most of your expenses to the tour organizer upfront. Bring enough cash to cover several days of emergency expenses. Do not attempt to hide it. Declare it when you go through customs.
    • Leave all expensive jewelry and country club insignia clothing at home. No one needs to know you are Americans – although it is highly likely they will figure it out about ten feet outside the airport. 
    • Be open to the food but be cautious about drinking non-bottled water. 
  • DOES A TRAVEL AGENT WORK AS AN EMPLOYEE OF A FIRM OR ARE THEY ALL OUT ON THEIR OWN?

    Q – I am in the process of talking with two or three travel agents in our part of Florida. They each have business cards showing the name of an agency but I am getting the impression that they really work independently. When I asked about it they said they were IC’s. Should I be concerned in any way? I must say that your profession seems rather vague about who works for whom and how they are compensated. Would you agree?

    A – Yes. Travel professionals are lousy communicators when it comes to explaining ourselves to the general public. Many bright consumers cannot explain the compensation model when they use a travel agent. Many, perhaps most, believe that they are paying more to use an agent’s services. Let’s try to summarize a few responses to your question:

    • Most travel is no longer booked by brick and mortar travel agents working out of a business office. Currently, an estimated 71% of travel agents are technically independent contractors – not employees.
    • They are usually affiliated with a travel firm and increasingly with a Host Agency. The Host provides office back-up, financial reporting and a variety of other services. But the owner of the agency cannot dictate what an IC does. 
    • The travel industry, for the most part, operates very much like the real estate industry. Individuals do their own marketing and go after their own clients. But the “House” provides certain basic services so they can maximize their “sell time”.
    • Currently, IC’s split commission with their affiliated agency. The normal split these days is 80-20. IC’s are free to form their own business identity with their own corporate name. 
    • It is perfectly OK to interview a potential travel advisor. Ask tough questions and make certain you have a clear understanding of their personal insurance coverage. Do they carry, for instance, errors and omission coverage?
    • Pricing is confusing because the industry wants it to be. If you are a five-star hotel owner are you really going to contact ten different online travel agencies and give them each a different price?  Do you really believe that any cruise line would risk alienating all of the travel agents nationally that sell its products by giving someone in India working a 1-800 call center better prices? It just doesn’t happen. Cruises and tours must have fixed pricing nationally so passengers don’t feel slighted when they socialize on tour or aboard their ship.
    • Cruise pricing tends to change every 90 days or so based on marketing trends and computer-generated algorithms connected to current occupancy rates. On the other hand, escorted tour pricing is generally fixed as changing rates could cause major problems for the group tour guide.

    We hope this brief summary is helpful. Your basic assumption is correct – the travel internet is dominated by misleading, price-centered, deal and discount features that, in truth, are always available to anyone.

     

     
  • IS ALULA WORTH A TRIP FOR HISTORY BUFFS?

    Q – 12.127.23 – Wondering if you know anything about Alula and if you feel planning a trip around these sites is a good idea?

    A – In the northwest of Saudi Arabia, and 200km from the Red Sea, Alula is located on the old ‘Incense Road’. This was a trade route that linked Arabia with the Mediterranean region. For centuries it was a geographical and cultural crossroads, a place of meetings and exchange. It attracted travelers from all over the world, and since 2020 has been doing so again. An ambitious regeneration plan aims to attract two million visitors by 2035 and make this the world’s largest living museum – a unique and global destination for arts, culture, heritage and nature tourism.

    But, sadly, you have come to a biased source. We are among a growing number of travel industry professionals that will not recommend or book guests on behalf of the murderous Saudi Regime. We just cannot condone travel to a country that has exhibited such consistent levels of disrespect for women, members of the LGBT community, and Jewish travelers. The Saudis fund any number of anti-American schools worldwide. 

    Yes, they now envy  the model of the United Arab Emirates as they have slowly moved from an oil-based to a more tourism-based economy. The Saudis have unlimited funds to do the same and we have little doubt that travel to the Kingdom, with the support of its government, will become extremely popular in the years to come. Arriving guests will stay in five-star+ hotels after flying over on a heavily subsidized Saudi airline. You will soon be seeing full color-spreads in consumer magazines and travel agents will be bombarded with free travel offers to personally experience all that the Kingdom offers. 

    But it is wise to remember who the Saudis are and what point of view they represent. We do not believe that spending tourist dollars in the country is morally justifiable and we will not support it. 

    In fairness, we strongly believe that Alula is a striking, truly memorable World Heritage site. The Saudis are going to try building a world-class tourism network in empty deserts. They have plans to build an entire city in a single straight line – a brand new engineering concept. We’d love to go there – but we won’t. We would love to help you plan this journey – but we won’t. 

    Too many in the travel industry believe that the growth of tourism will somehow create a kinder, gentler society based on acceptance of all people. We find little evidence of that in the real world. What tourism does is further line the pockets of those who promote tourism in places where prejudice and hate are the rule rather than the exception. 

    We do think you should visit Saudi Arabia. But we think you should do it via YouTube. 

  • IS THERE A TRICK TO FINDING OUT WHICH AIRLINES FLY WHERE?

    Q – As a very recent retiree I have been trying to relax – and read your various sites. Wish you had more on airline strategies. Given my former corporate role, I spent two and a half decades flying three or four days per week. Now, I get physically ill when I see a bag of peanuts. But in the process, I have earned several million miles that I know want to start using for our bucket list.

    I am wondering if there is anything like an online shortcut or “hack” that will allow me to see non-stop flights from various airports in the upper Midwest? I am sure we will have many more questions as we get closer to planning.

    A – There is a hack for what you want to view online. Although it is not widely known, Wikipedia lists every major airport in the country. You airport page has a tab for “Airlines and Destinations”. Click on it and you will find a listing of all direct flights and which airline flies them. It is a great timesaver.

  • WHICH COMPANIES HAVE THE VERY BEST TOUR GUIDES IN SPAIN AND PORTUGAL?

    Q – We are trying to decide which tour company we should go with next summer for approximately two weeks in Spain and Portugal. Having a hard time choosing which tour operator to use based on our strong desire to have the best possible guide. Do we look for a “Certified Guide” as you have mentioned, or do we consider what the online reviews might say about a particular guide? Do we try to do this independently to hand-select the best guides? Will tour companies tell us in advance who the guide will be before booking so we can check references? We don’t want to come across as “escort fanatics” but we really believe that, given our limited overseas travel experience, the guide is 90% of the trip outcome. Really appreciate your time and this incredible site. 

    A – There is a lot in your question. Let us try to address each portion  with some bullet point responses:

    • You should assume that all full-time guides for the major tour firms are certified by local tourism authorities.
    • Note that approximately 40% of the experienced tour guides in Europe had no work during Covid and sought employment in other professions. There is, currently, a serious tour guide shortage.
    • Tour guides who work independently, out of their homes, rely on online reviews to attract new clients. These positive reviews can easily be purchased or even composed using an AI Chatbot by someone with computer skills. 
    • The upscale major tour operators tend to attract the best guides because they appeal to an affluent rather than a mass-market clientele. This means, on average, that the guide for a company in the upper price range will likely secure higher average tips from the tour group. 
    • A company like Tauck attracts many of the very best guides because Tauck has one of the lowest percentages of cancelled tours due to lack of participation. For many of the mass market firms this is an ongoing problem. Guides don’t know which tours will actually operate among the hundreds of departure dates listed. A Tauck or Abercrombie & Kent guide can pretty much plan their summer schedule far in advance. 
    • Given the fact that there can always be heath issues or scheduling conflicts, the majority of tour departures do not list the name of the assigned guide. 
    • Often, the absolute best guides are affiliated with the best of the on-site in-country offices that work with the large luxury consortiums and their agents. They know the guides personally and use them for VIP Guests. Many of the better guides will not do bus tours. They prefer to work with sophisticated travelers who will generally show their appreciation for good service. You would, for example, find excellent guides affiliated with a company called “Made for Spain & Portugal”. They are based in Madrid and have won numerous industry awards. Your travel advisor can set up touring with them directly and specify your interests and the type of guide you are seeking. But, of course, private touring is far more expensive than touring incorporated as part of a group tour. 
  • WE’RE NOT YOUR TYPE – WE PREFER DOING IT OURSELVES

    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. Seven positive experiences speaks for itself. 
       
  • IF A RESTAURANT HAS TWO MICHELIN STARS IS IT WORTH VISITING?

    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. 

  • DOING EGYPT IN EIGHT MONTHS – OR ARE WE?

    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.                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                        

     

  • A NOTE FROM A SOON TO BECOME GRANDPARENTS AND FREQUENT FLYERS

    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.