Thursday, September 25, 2014

AN A-Z of CHILDREN'S CRUISE SHIP ACTIVITIES

By Ana Franca
TRO Travelgram, September 25, 2014

Young pizza makers aboard an MSC cruise (Photo: MSC Rights)

From cooking classes to dizzyingly fast water slides, here is a fun compilation of what's available for children of all ages on board ship
A is for Animation: Cartoon-loving children have the opportunity to learn how to draw and create their own animations. Disney Cruise Line does this better than most with professional artists at hand to help children create (possibly) the next Disney character.
B is for Basketball: Families and children alike can enjoy a game of basketball on the upper decks of many ships. Most Norwegian Cruise Line ships offer a fitness center. The basketball courts are often on the top-most deck, so it feels as if you're playing in mid-air, with only the sea below you.
C is for Cooking: Junior master chefs can join the professionals in learning learn the art of pizza and biscuit making and even sushi preparation. Apart from travelling for free children will get plenty of attention on board an MSC ship where crew - including chefs - will help them create dishes.
C is also for crow's nest - which you can climb the rigging to, on the much smaller Star Clipper ships.
D is for Dance: From theatrical performances to contemporary dance there are endless opportunities for youngsters to hit the dance floor. Princess Cruises' newest ship Royal Princess has an outdoor dancing area for teenagers as well as with a DJ booth and lounge area with foosball, hip-hop dance classes, Skee-ball and video games.
E is for Excursions: from bobsledding in Jamaica to camel riding in Lanzarote and submarine trips in the Caribbean almost all family-friendly cruises will have shore excursions designed to keep the whole family busy and entertained. This could be a rare opportunity for family time - on board the children may well be enjoying the kids' clubs or spending all their time with other children their age.
Many cruise lines have snorkelling gear and offer guided sessions for children (photo: Alamy)
F is for Fashion: Budding fashionistas can showcase their talents at on-board fashion shows, often using their own creations. For the 12 to 14 year-olds Carnival has devised a space called Circle C, in which teenagers can decorate their own T-shirts. And on Royal Caribbean's Barbie-themed cruises there's a catwalk show.
G is for ship's Galley: Go behind the scenes and take a tour of the galley (the kitchen to landlubbers!). Princess Cruises usually offers a couple of ship tours each day on sea days. Families can visit the engine control room, medical centre, print shop, laundry, photo lab, bridge, and other areas typically seen only by the ship's crew.
H is for Hip Hop: Learn from the professionals at hip-hop classes. With Royal Caribbean you could dance 24/7 if you want. On Freedom and Oasis-class ships you have Bebop with DreamWorks, penguins and pandas and salsa in the Latin club, Boleros. There are family disco nights, pre-dinner fox-trotting, dancing-under-the-stars pool parties and DJs on the decks in specially designed teenager-only clubs.
I is for Ice skating: Children and parents alike can learn the ropes on the ice or show off their skills as well as watching the professionals in some spectacular ice shows. Royal Caribbean offers has ice rinks and ice-skating classes tailored to age and level of expertise.
J is for Jukeboxes: Budding DJs can tailor the evening's tunes according to their taste. The teenager's lounge on Norwegian Epic resembles a night-club and the music selection is left up to discerning youngsters.
The Norwegian Epic Teens Lounge (photo: Norwegian Cruise Line)
K is for kids' clubs: these come in every shape and size, from toddlers to teens - all are catered for.
L is for Late nights: The fun continues with late night movies, pool parties and sports activities. Apart from its Ocean and Pacific ships, Princess Cruises offers late-night movies and teens-only dinner parties. A great way for young adults to let down their hair in the safe confines of the ship.
M is for Movies on deck: Royal Princess, Carnival Dream, some Royal Caribbean ships and most MSC cruise ships screen films out on deck. M is also for Mocktail Mixology: Princess (teens program), Carnival and Royal Caribbean all offer place where children can learn how to make their own mocktails with professional bartenders showing how it’s done.
N is for Nature: there are countless opportunities on board and ashore for children of all ages to learn about local and ocean wildlife with fun and insightful talks. Many ships offer guided excursions ashore. Be sure to sign up early.
Children can enjoy expert talks about marine life with Celebrity (photo: Celebrity)
O is for Open Mic: Superstars in the wings can showcase their talents with open-mic karaoke nights. On Allure and Oasis of the Seas, Royal Caribbean offers "open-mic" and karaoke competitions as part of its 12 to 14-year-old children's program.
P is for Pirates: There’s no better environment than a cruise ship to really feel like a pirate, whether dressing like one or joining the pirate parties. Disney Cruise Line offers the ultimate Pirate Party - crew dress in pirate outfits and pirate-themed songs blast through the decks. Captain Hook makes an appearance and when, naturally, Mickey saves the day there are celebratory fireworks.
P is also for Plank - which extends over the sea from the top deck and can be walked on board Norwegian's newest ships.
Q is for Quizzes: For all the family, there’s a wide array of quizzes and game shows throughout the voyage - especially on sea days. The Teen Zone on Cunard's ships includes table tennis tournaments, team games, quizzes and bingo during the evenings.
R is for Rock climbing: Dare-devil youngsters can scale to the top of a rock-climbing wall. Norwegian Breakaway - and most of Norwegian's fleet - is known for its adventure programmes. The climbing wall is one of the main features.
Climbing wall on Norwegian Breakaway (photo: Norwegian Cruise Line)
S is for Surfing: Ride the waves on the upper deck with surf simulators (called the FlowRider) aboard Royal Caribbean's Oasis of the Seas.
T is for Table Tennis: For those budding Olympic champions... Thomson Cruises' Sports Deck is kitted out for basketball, tennis, volleyball, and five-a-side football.
U is for Underwater: Children will need their goggles for the games and competitions that take place underwater.
V is for Volleyball: The perennial beach favorite can more often than not be enjoyed on an upper-deck court. At Sports Square, an expansive outdoor recreation area aboard Carnival's Magic and Breeze ships, you can play basketball, volleyball or soccer on a multi-purpose court.
W is for Water parks: An absolute must for any family cruising with children. Norwegian Breakaway has a massive water park with loops, fast slides, mini rivers and a small pool for the very young ones.
The water park on Norwegian Breakaway (photo: Norwegian Cruise Line)
X is for X Box: For computer games lovers there are large scale X-Box tournaments which will keep children entertained for hours. Celebrity's family-friendly cruises have a Wi-Fi connected X-Box room featuring all the games you could possibly want. Make sure they get some sun.
Y is for yawning:  There'll be no need to concern yourself with sleepless nights on board a cruise ship. The little mites will be exhausted.
It's also for Youth Clubs: With dedicated age groups from toddlers to teens.
Z is for Zip Line: Fly above the atrium on deck nine of Oasis of the Seas. If you're brave enough.

(Edited: Spelling & punctuation corrections made from original article by LeAnne Rigsby, Cricket Cruise & Travel, LLC, September 25, 2014)

Sunday, September 21, 2014

arrival duty free: When, where, how, why and exactly what is Duty Free?

arrival duty free: When, where, how, why and exactly what is Duty Free?


In April 2014 on Carnival Magic, my husband purchased an expensive necklace for me for our 40th anniversary in the ship's jewelry shop. When we asked the store staff about duty were told there wouldn't be any. 


However, on debarkation morning (Galveston, TX) his Fun Pass ship card was flagged to not allow him to disembark the ship. I was told to proceed with disembarking and go through Customs & Immigration. I was not allowed back onto the ship -- even though I had both our U.S. passports and the Customs & Immigration Declaration form. They (Carnival) wouldn't even let me give his to him. 

I did as I was told, went through Customs just fine, but they would not allow me to stay in the terminal near their "territory" to wait for him. 

I eventually had a cell phone call from my husband telling me he needed his passport and the Customs form. I told him where I was waiting, and a Carnival staff-greeter showed up & got these from me. About 10 minutes later, I had another phone call telling me he needed several hundred dollars in either CASH OR CHECK to pay the duty on the necklace!

*** Customs ONLY takes cash or check -- there is an ATM machine available by their office but we only had a credit card and the interest rate on ATM cash withdrawals is 22%!!  And we don't take checks with us when traveling out of the country! 


What had transpired on the ship unbeknownst to me, was my husband was made to stand in an area away from the other debarking passengers. No one with Carnival or U.S. Customs would tell him what the detainment was about -- although the only thing it could be for was the necklace purchase. About 15 minutes later, he was escorted up 5 decks and questioned about "any purchases made while onboard." When he told them he'd bought a necklace for his wife, they STILL would not confirm if this situation & treatment was because of that -- he said they barely spoke at all). He was then escorted off the ship to Customs by an agent. When the Customs desk agent discovered he didn't have his passport and declaration form, he was again escorted to a private office (with his luggage in tow) where he was allowed to call me. After the Carnival staff member brought those 2 items to them, the agent calculated the duty at just over 5% tax. A U.S. Customs agent came out to where I was sitting and retrieved the cash payment from me, and afterwards my husband was allowed to leave. 


The entire situation was handled inappropriately and was embarrassing. He felt like he was being treated as a thief and was already pronounced guilty. We had filled out the Declaration form with the purchase price of the necklace -- we never intended not to show our purchase, even though we were told there would be no duty. 


As a travel agent & agency owner, both my husband and I attended the Carnival Conversations (for travel agents) in Austin two weeks later, & discussed the situation with the Carnival staff. They apologized for the way he was treated and how it was handled. However, U.S. Customs is in control of the ship once it docks and the ship has no control over how Customs handles any situation. But more to the point, we told Carnival to please tell their onboard shop employees NEVER to tell guests there's no duty on purchases. 


As we later found out after many phone calls to U.S. Customs, each person within a family traveling together (on the same Customs & Immigration form) is allowed $800 duty free in purchases. They did tell us that had we purchased the necklace OFF the ship in one of the ports, Customs would never have known about it and would have a hard time proving we owed duty. 


Once a ship arrives back into the U.S. and Customs boards the ship, it is "THEIR" ship; the cruise line has no control. Customs goes over ALL onboard purchases and red flags large ones which would require duty tax to be paid. Those people who've made these large purchases are not allowed to leave the ship. They go through exactly what my husband did.

As I waited in the approved area of the terminal, I watched as unsuspecting guests were herded over to a bank of teller windows to pay the duty on all cigarettes and alcohol purchased whether onboard the ship or in a port.
I heard "I NEED SOME MONEY!" constantly,

In May this year, I had a fellow alumnus tell me about having to pay duty on his wife's carton of cigarettes that were bought in Houston prior to their cruise.  He even showed the Customs agent the Texas tax stamp on them.  He was told to either pay the duty or go to jail.  He paid.  And he's still pi$$ed about it.

Friday, September 12, 2014

EXPERT TO AGENTS: KEY TO SUCCESS IS ‘AUTHENTIC’ CUSTOMER SERVICE


Joy Karp believes customer service is more important to the success of a business than anything else. That’s especially true for travel agencies in the age of the Internet, she says.

In her book The Power of Service: Service Through the Eyes of Customers(2014), Karp offers what she calls a “new approach” to customer service, one that focuses on “authentic service that comes from the heart.” 

Authentic service is provided by staff whose employers recognize that “customer satisfaction and employee satisfaction go hand in hand,” according to Karp.

A businesswoman, author and educator, Karp created a hands-on business training program for McDonald’s, which changed the way the fast-food giant trains and promotes its staff worldwide.
Joy Karp
hand
Travel Market Report spoke with Karp about authentic service and what it means to the travel agency business.

What’s your ‘new approach’ to customer service?
Karp: Customer satisfaction and employee satisfaction go together; they have to work hand in hand. Employers have to take an interest in their employees and care about them the same way they care about their customers. Involve employees, ask for their advice, provide incentives, treat them ethically.

Customer service is more important than anything else. It has to be established as the most critical factor in bringing back clients. Employers have to work with employees to create authentic service. That’s going to come from the top.

How do you define authenticity when it comes to customer service?
Karp: Authenticity comes from the heart. You believe that service really matters as opposed to memorizing this is what I’m supposed to say or do. 

What the customer really wants from service is to feel good. We all have triggers and a lot going on in our daily lives. If you can have a trigger of an experience that makes you feel good, you’ll want to replicate that experience.

The old service was to stand up there and be bubbly. I was so darn bubbly, I scared people! I was trying hard, but I wasn’t listening to people. I was so into staging that presence, that I wasn’t real.

Is every employee capable of providing to provide great customer service?
Karp: There’s no personality profile. Some people have surprised us. They are quiet, keep their heads down, show a lack of confidence; they don’t turn customers on or off. But in six months [of customer service training], their confidence is up and they provide great service. You have to teach what it means for customer service to come  from the heart.

Anyone who has a bad attitude, however, should be replaced or put in another position where he or she doesn’t deal with people. A bad attitude cannot be fixed. It’s as contagious as the plague. But outstanding service can also be contagious. It spreads from one employee to another.

What form should customer service provided by travel agents take?
Karp: Travel agents should make the customer feel that what they want is the most important thing in the world to you, their agent. And they want you to mean it. Also, travel these days is not as pleasant as it used to be. The job of the agent is to make the experience as good as the customer wants it to be.

Agents have special contacts. That’s nice, but that won’t bring customers back if [those products] are not what they wanted. You have to show customers you’ve turned over every stone to give them what they want. By doing the extra work, you’re building a relationship and you’re building loyalty. You become the go-to agency. That’s the key to repeat business.

How can agents build loyalty?
Karp: Build an emotional bond with the customer. That’s crucial. Learn as much as you can about that customer. Then they become your customer and your friend. Becoming involved like that used to be a no-no. But there’s nothing wrong with it.

What else can agents do to cement that bond with clients?
Karp:  Agents need to find their own brand of service, something special to them. It’s a personal thing, something that nobody else does.

It could be a personality trait -- for instance being very gracious in a particular way. Be known for something positive that touches people. 

You’ve said customer service was better 30 years ago. Why do you think so?
Karp: Thirty years ago when you went into a store, they knew your name and what you liked. They were automatically into building relationships. Back then there was no voicemail. People called and someone actually answered the phone. It was phone or mail, no computers. You were looked after by a real person.

People haven’t changed, just their lives have. I embrace technology but because of it we need more humanity in our service than ever. Instead of customer service, call it ‘customer happiness.’ That’s a little corny, but I like it.

We once again have to make service the No. 1 priority. It will benefit every aspect of a business in terms of morale, sales and profitability. Some industry is going to have to step up. Let the travel agency business be the one to set an example of what complete and authentic service is.


                              Credit:  

Thursday, September 11, 2014

Many clients have asked us "what is 'resort casual' clothing?"

Here's another travel agent's thorough explanation:

Here is a suggestion of "Resort Casual" clothes from Sandals Resorts --  
1. 
Resort casual normally refers to polo style shirts, sundresses, linen pants, skorts, skirts, button up tops, nice shorts, and dresses. Nothing fancy, but not just t-shirts and jeans either. Do not wear
cutoffs and tank tops for sure!

2. Resort casual attire is exactly as it sounds - clothing you would be wearing at a resort. This clothing should usually include something such as a nice khaki pant or shorts with a crisp, clean top.

3. Women's Clothing
Women have several options when dressing to fit the resort casual dress code. A clean and pressed blouse can be paired with a nice pair of pants or a skirt. Neutrals such as black, gray, navy, brown and khaki are the most acceptable colors for pants. Skirts should be no higher than knee-length. Bold colors and prints are fine as long as they coordinate nicely with the rest of the ensemble. A casual dress or sundress is also a popular choice, as long as the dress is tasteful--not too short or low-cut.

Men's Clothing
Men should wear a clean and pressed button-down shirt or a nice polo shirt. Paired with khakis or other quality pants, this creates a classic resort casual look. Light- and bold-colored shirts are acceptable as are subtle patterns. Jackets and sport coats are not needed.

Invitations with the term "resort" indicate attire that is a cut above very casual clothes. So, avoid jeans, flip flops, camisoles, t-shirts, and short shorts or very short skirts.

Resort wear appropriate for men and women are "country club" type clothing. Since the invitation is for dinner, then evening resort attire for men would be nice slacks, polo shirts, button down shirts, nice shoes or sandals, with the option of wearing a sport coat. For women: nice pants, skorts, skirts, nice top, casual dress, sundress,
nice sandals or casual shoes. The length of the skirt or dress is knee length or longer.

Daytime resort attire includes the same clothing suggestions as evening resort plus nice shorts can be worn as well.

U.S. Passports & International Travel
(http://1.usa.gov/1nWnymg)

Israel, The West Bank and Gaza Travel Warning


LAST UPDATED: SEPTEMBER 10, 2014


The U.S. Department of State warns U.S. citizens of the risks of traveling to Israel, the West Bank and Gaza due to the complex security environment there and the potential for violence and renewed hostilities. This Travel Warning replaces the Travel Warning issued on July 21, 2014.  
The Department of State continues its longstanding strong warning to U.S. citizens against travel to the Gaza Strip; the U.S. government does not permit employees to conduct official or personal travel there. Please see the section below on the situation in the Gaza Strip.  Additionally, U.S government officials may only travel to designated parts of the West Bank for personal travel.  Please see the section below on the West Bank. 
During the recent conflict between Israel and terrorist organizations in Gaza, long-range rockets launched from Gaza reached many locations in Israel and the West Bank – including Tel Aviv, Jerusalem, and other cities in the north and south. A ceasefire was announced on August 26 and, as of the date of this Travel Warning, is holding. The Government of Israel’s Iron Dome missile defense system has successfully intercepted many rockets. However, in some cases missile impacts caused damage and injuries. U.S. citizen visitors to and U.S. citizen residents of Israel and the West Bank should familiarize themselves with the location of the nearest bomb shelter or other hardened site.  Consult municipality websites, such as those for Jerusalemand Tel Aviv, for lists of public bomb shelters and other emergency preparedness information. Visitors should seek information on shelters from hotel staff or building managers. We advise all U.S. citizens to follow the instructions of the Home Front Command on proper procedures in the event of rocket attacks or other crisis events.
Ben Gurion Airport is open and commercial flights are operating normally, although delays and cancellations can occur. Travelers should check with their airline prior to their planned travel to verify the flight schedule. Other border crossings are generally operating as normal; however, travelers should check the status of crossings before embarking on trips. Seeinformation on the status of the airport and other crossings. 
U.S. citizens seeking to depart Israel, the West Bank, or Gaza are responsible for making their own travel arrangements. U.S. government-facilitated evacuations occur only when no viable commercial alternatives exist. The lack of a valid U.S. passport may hinder U.S. citizens' ability to depart the country and may slow the U.S. Embassy or Consulate General's ability to provide assistance. 
U.S. citizens who do travel to or remain in Israel, the West Bank, and Gaza should take into consideration the rules governing travel by U.S. government employees: 
  • U.S. government personnel are not permitted to conduct official or personal travel to the Gaza Strip; 
  • U.S. government personnel are restricted from conducting personal travel to most parts of the West Bank (see below for details); travel for official business is done with special security arrangements coordinated by the U.S. Consulate General in Jerusalem;
  • Because of the security situation, travel restrictions remain in effect for southern Israel, including Be’er Sheeva and areas south of Be’er Sheeva.  
  • All travel south of Ashdod remains prohibited for embassy employees and their families.
  • U.S. government personnel are not permitted to travel east of Route 90 without advance approval;
  • U.S. government personnel are not permitted to travel east of the Jordan River or east of Route 92 in the Golan area (although Route 92 itself is permitted if approved in advance);
  • U.S. government personnel are not permitted to use public buses anywhere in Israel or the West Bank due to past attacks on public transportation. 
View a map of the Golan area.
Major Metropolitan Areas in Israel
Personal safety conditions in major metropolitan areas, including Tel Aviv and Haifa and their surrounding regions, are comparable to or better than those in other major global cities. Please see below for specific information regarding Jerusalem. Visitors should observe appropriate personal security practices to reduce their vulnerability to crime, particularly late at night or in isolated or economically depressed areas, including in the countryside. Visitors are advised to avoid large gatherings or demonstrations and keep current with local news, which is available through numerous English language sources. 
The Government of Israel has had a long-standing policy of issuing gas masks to its citizens and, starting in 2010, it began issuing replacement masks. It stopped this distribution process in early 2014 in response to regional events. Visitors and foreign residents in Israel are not issued masks and must individually procure them, if desired. The U.S. Embassy and Consulate General do not provide gas masks for persons who are not U.S. government employees or their dependents. For further emergency preparedness guidance, please visit the website of the Government of Israel'sHome Front Command, which provides information on how to choose a secure space in a home or apartment, as well as a list of the types of protective kits (gas masks) issued by the Government of Israel to its citizens. 
Gaza Vicinity
The Department of State recommends against travel to areas of Israel in the vicinity of the Gaza Strip.  Travelers should be aware of the risks presented by the potential for military conflict between Hamas and Israel. In July 2014, Israel conducted ground operations in Gaza. Travelers in the regions immediately bordering Gaza may encounter small arms fire, anti-tank weapons, rockets, and mortars launched from inside Gaza toward Israeli cities and towns. These attacks can come with little or no warning. Visitors to these areas should remain aware of their surroundings and of the location of bomb shelters and should take note of announcements and guidance provided by the Home Front Command.   
Both Embassy and Consulate General personnel are currently not permitted to travel south of Ashdod, and travel to and south of Be’er Sheeva requires approval from the Regional Security Officer at the U.S. Embassy in Tel Aviv. Visitors to these areas should remain aware of their surroundings and should take note of announcements and guidance provided by the Israeli Home Front Command.
Travelers should also be aware of the heightened state of alert maintained by Israeli authorities along Israel's border with Egypt. There have been cross-border incidents from Egypt, including rocket attacks and ground incursions, such as an attack that took place in August 2013 and one on January 20, 2014. Rockets were fired from Sinai in the direction of Eilat on July 15, 2014.   
Northern Israel 
Rocket attacks into Israel from Lebanon have occurred without warning along the Israeli-Lebanese border. Tensions have increased along portions of the Disengagement Zone with Syria in the Golan Heights as a result of the internal conflict occurring in Syria. Sporadic gunfire has occurred along the border region. There have been several incidents of mortar shells and light arms fire impacting on the Israeli-controlled side of the zone as a result of spillover from the fighting in Syria. Travelers should be aware that cross-border gunfire can occur without warning. Furthermore, there are active land mines in areas of the Golan Heights, so visitors should walk only on established roads or trails. The Syrian conflict is sporadic and unpredictable. U.S. government personnel who wish to travel east of Route 90 require advance approval. In addition, personal travel for U.S. government officials is not permitted east of the Jordan River or east of Route 92 in the Golan area, although Route 92 itself is permitted with advance approval.
Jerusalem 
U.S. citizens visiting and living in Jerusalem should be aware of the numerous political, cultural, and religious tensions that permeate the city. These sensitivities have the potential to fuel protest-related activities, clashes, and civil unrest. Protest activities have occurred within the Old City and areas around Salah Ed-Din Street, Damascus Gate, Silwan, and the Sheikh Jarrah neighborhoods. Recently, demonstrations and clashes have occurred in several East Jerusalem areas, such as Shufat, Beit Hanina, Mt. of Olives, As Suwaneh, Abu Deis, Silwan, Shuafat Refugee Camp, inside the Old City (near Lions Gate), Issawiyeh, and Tsur Baher. Such events have recently resulted in violence between protesters and Israeli National Police (INP). The intensity of these violent clashes appears to have diminished, although the possibility of renewed clashes remains, mainly during evening hours. The INP continues to deploy a heavy presence in many of the neighborhoods that have seen clashes and may restrict vehicular traffic to some of these neighborhoods without notice. The clashes and demonstrations have not been anti-American in nature to date, but U.S. citizens are advised not to enter any neighborhoods restricted by the INP and to avoid any locations with active clashes. Since June 2014, Jerusalem has seen a marked increase in random violent activities. These random acts of violence have not been anti-American in nature, yet underscore the sometimes volatile nature of the current local security environment.    
Travelers are reminded to exercise caution at Muslim religious sites on Fridays and on holy days, particularly during the holy month of Ramadan. There has recently been an increased police presence near the Damascus Gate, particularly on Fridays. The INP often imposes restrictions on visitors to the Old City’s Temple Mount/ Haram al-Sharif. Travelers should be aware that the Temple Mount/Haram al-Sharif is often closed without warning by the INP. Additionally, sporadic demonstrations can lead to violent clashes. U.S. government employees are prohibited from entering the Old City on Fridays during Ramadan due to congestion and security-related access restrictions.
U.S. citizens are advised to avoid open air public parks after dark as they are poorly lit and policed. There have been numerous reports received of after dark criminal activity associated with these parks. 
While U.S. government employees are authorized to use the light rail system in Jerusalem, there has been an increase in individuals throwing stones at light rail trains, particularly near Shufat and along the northern end of the route. 
The West Bank
The Department of State urges U.S. citizens to exercise caution when traveling to the West Bank. In June 2014, three Israeli teenagers, including a dual U.S. citizen, were kidnapped and murdered after attempting to hitchhike near Hebron. Demonstrations and violent incidents can occur without warning, and vehicles are regularly targeted by rocks, Molotov cocktails, and gunfire on West Bank roads. U.S citizens have been killed in such attacks. There have also been an increasing number of violent incidents involving Israeli settlers and Palestinian villagers in the corridor stretching from Ramallah to Nablus, including attacks by Israeli settlers on Palestinian villages in which U.S. citizens have suffered injury or property damage, and attacks by Palestinians on settlements. U.S. citizens can be caught in the middle of potentially dangerous situations, and some U.S. citizens involved in political demonstrations in the West Bank have sustained serious injuries. The Department of State recommends that U.S. citizens avoid all demonstrations for their own safety. During periods of unrest, the Israeli Government may restrict access to the West Bank, and some areas may be placed under curfew. All persons in areas under curfew should remain indoors to avoid arrest or injury. Security conditions in the West Bank may hinder the ability of consular staff to offer timely assistance to U.S. citizens. 
Personal travel in the West Bank by U.S. government personnel and their families is permitted to the towns of Bethlehem and Jericho and on Routes 1, 443, and 90. The Rachel’s Tomb checkpoint between Jerusalem and Bethlehem has recently seen an increase in public demonstrations, which have the potential to become violent. U.S. government officials may also engage in personal travel to Qumran off Route 90 by the Dead Sea and to the Allenby Bridge crossing to Jordan, as well as stops at roadside facilities along Routes 1 and 90. All other personal travel by U.S. government personnel in the West Bank is prohibited. U.S. government personnel routinely travel to the West Bank for official business, but do so with special security arrangements.
The Gaza Strip
The Department of State strongly urges U.S. citizens to avoid all travel to the Gaza Strip, which is under the control of Hamas, a foreign terrorist organization. U.S. citizens in Gaza are advised to depart immediately. The security environment within Gaza, including its border with Egypt and its seacoast, is dangerous and volatile. Exchanges of fire between the Israel Defense Forces and militant groups in Gaza take place regularly, and civilians have been caught in the crossfire in the past. Although the Rafah crossing between Gaza and Egypt normally allows for some passenger travel, prior coordination with local authorities - which could take days or weeks to process - may be required, and crossing points may be closed for days or weeks. Travelers who enter the Gaza Strip through the Rafah crossing must also exit through the Rafah crossing, and those entering the Gaza Strip may not be able to depart at a time of their choosing. Many U.S. citizens have been unable to exit Gaza or faced lengthy delays in doing so. Furthermore, the schedule and requirements for exiting through the Rafah crossing are unpredictable and can involve significant expense. Because U.S. citizen employees of the U.S. government are not allowed to enter the Gaza Strip or have contact with Hamas, the ability of consular staff to offer timely assistance to U.S. citizens, including assistance departing Gaza, is extremely limited. The Consulate General and Embassy do not generally assist U.S. citizens to exit Gaza via the Erez crossing to Israel. U.S. citizens who choose to travel to Gaza cannot rely on the U.S. government to assist them in departing Gaza. 
Entry/Exit Difficulties
Some U.S. citizens holding Israeli nationality, possessing a Palestinian identity card, or who are of Arab or Muslim origin have experienced significant difficulties in entering or exiting Israel or the West Bank. U.S. citizens planning to travel to Israel, the West Bank, or Gaza should consult the detailed information concerning entry and exit difficulties in the Country Specific Information.  
Contact the Consular Section of the U.S. Embassy for information and assistance in Israel, the Golan Heights, and ports of entry at Ben Gurion Airport, Haifa Port, the northern (Jordan River/Sheikh Hussein) and southern (Arava) border crossings connecting Israel and Jordan, and the border crossings between Israel and Egypt. An embassy officer can be contacted at (972) (3) 519-7575 from Monday through Friday during working hours. The after-hours emergency number is (972) (3) 519-7551.
Contact the Consular Section of the U.S. Consulate General in Jerusalem for information and assistance in Jerusalem, the West Bank, the Gaza Strip, and the Allenby/King Hussein Bridge crossing between the West Bank and Jordan, at (972) (2) 630-4000 from Monday through Friday during working hours. The after-hours emergency number is (972) (2) 622-7250.
For More Information 
The Department of State urges those U.S. citizens who live in or travel to Israel, the West Bank or Gaza to enroll in the Department of State’s Smart Traveler Enrollment Program (STEP) in order to obtain the most current information on travel and security within Israel, the West Bank and Gaza.  Enrollment in STEP makes it easier for the Embassy or Consulate General to contact U.S. citizens in case of emergency.  
For information on "What the Department of State Can and Can't Do in a Crisis," please visit the Bureau of Consular Affairs' Emergencies and Crisis link at www.travel.state.gov
For the latest security information, U.S. citizens traveling abroad should regularly monitor the Department of State’s Internet website where theWorldwide Caution,  Country Specific Information for Israel, the West Bank and GazaTravel Warnings, and Travel Alerts can be found, including the current Travel Warning for Israel, the West Bank and Gaza.  You can also follow the Bureau of Consular Affairs on Twitter and on Facebook.  Up-to-date information on security conditions can also be accessed at http://israel.usembassy.govhttp://jerusalem.usconsulate.gov or on theEmbassy and Consulate General Facebook pages. 
Up-to-date information on travel and security in Israel, the West Bank and Gaza can also be obtained by calling 1-888-407-4747 toll-free in the United States and Canada, or, for callers outside of the United States and Canada, on a regular toll-line at 1-202-501-4444.  These numbers are available from 8:00 a.m. to 8:00 p.m. Eastern Time, Monday through Friday (except U.S. federal holidays).   

Monday, August 5, 2013

 
This was officially issued August 2, 2013:
 
State Department Issues Worldwide Alert

 
The United States Department of State has issued a worldwide travel alert. You will likely see references to it in news media. We have set out the key text of the alert below. The alert does not mean that Americans should not travel during August. It does mean that everyone traveling should follow the advice in the alert. You may wish to counsel your clients accordingly. Here are the relevant parts of the alert:

‘The Department of State alerts U.S. citizens to the continued potential for terrorist attacks, particularly in the Middle East and North Africa, and possibly occurring in or emanating from the Arabian Peninsula. Current information suggests that al-Qa’ida and affiliated organizations continue to plan terrorist attacks both in the region and beyond, and that they may focus efforts to conduct attacks in the period between now and the end of August. This Travel Alert expires on August 31, 2013.

Terrorists may elect to use a variety of means and weapons and target both official and private interests. U.S. citizens are reminded of the potential for terrorists to attack public transportation systems and other tourist infrastructure. Terrorists have targeted and attacked subway and rail systems, as well as aviation and maritime services. U.S. citizens should take every precaution to be aware of their surroundings and to adopt appropriate safety measures to protect themselves when traveling…

We recommend U.S. citizens register their travel plans with the Consular Section of the U.S. Embassy through the State Department's travel registration website. We strongly recommend that U.S. citizens Traveling abroad enroll in the Department of State's Smart Traveler Enrollment Program (STEP). STEP enrollment gives you the latest security updates, and makes it easier for the U.S. embassy or nearest U.S. consulate to contact you in an emergency. If you don't have Internet access, enroll directly with the nearest U.S. embassy or consulate.

For the latest security information, U.S. citizens traveling abroad should regularly monitor the Department of State's Internet website attravel.state.gov where the Worldwide Caution, Country Specific Information, Travel Warnings, and Travel Alerts can be found. Follow us on Twitter and the Bureau of Consular Affairs page on Facebook as well. Download our free Smart Traveler app, available through iTunes or Google Play, to have travel information at your fingertips.

In addition to information on the internet, travelers may obtain up-to-date information on security conditions by calling 1-888-407-4747 toll-free in the United States and Canada or, from other countries, on a regular toll line at 1-202-501-4444. These numbers are available from 8:00 am to 8:00 pm Monday through Friday, Eastern Time (except U.S. federal holidays).
~~~~~~~~~~~
 
NOTE:  I have registered my upcoming trips out of the U.S. with the Department of State's STEP program.  ~~ LeAnne


 

Friday, August 2, 2013


Dreaming of Staying in Tuscany??
Join our 2014 escorted group tour sponsored by Burleson County Chamber of Commerce (Caldwell, TX), Collette Vacations, and Cricket Cruise & Travel, LLC:


"DISCOVER TUSCANY"
April 29 - May 8, 2014 (10 days)
After an overnight flight from Houston, TX to Rome, Italy, our tour begins in Rome with an overnight stay at the Crowne Plaza St. Peter's Rome Hotel.  The tour will meander north into the Tuscany region for 6 days staying at the Hotel Ercolini and Savi in Montecatini, Italy.

Once the tour departs Rome, we will travel north to the medieval walled city of Assisi, the birthplace of the patron saint of Italy, St. Francis.  You will tour the Basilica of St. Francis and the historic old city.  Later you will end the day in the famous spa resort town of Montecatini Terme -- your "home" for the next 6 days.


Montecatini Terme, Italy

The following day, the tour will head to the Gothic town of Siena, one of Italy's most beautiful cities with stunning palaces, mansions and the historic Piazza del Campo.  There's a breathtaking view of Siena and the Tuscan countryside at the top of the Torre Del Mangia.


Day 5 will be spent in the picturesque medieval hilltop village of San Gimignano.  It's famous for its 14 towers and magnificent vistas overlooking the vineyards of Tuscany. 
San Gimignano, Italy
 
Chianti (wine) region near Florence

Day 6 will have the group taking a cultural tour in the "Cradle of the Italian Renaissance" -- Florence.  The city has priceless Florentine treasures, such as the Academy Gallery which houses Michelangelo's statue of David.  The tour will take the group to the Piazza del Duomo (the center of religious life in medieval Florence), and the Cathedral of Santa Marie del Fiore and the impressive gilded bronze doors of the Baptistery dedicated to St. John.  There will be a Tuscan feast that night with traditional cuisine and wines while overlooking the Tuscan countryside. 

Ponte Vecchio (Florence, Italy)
((This is the ONLY bridge in Europe the Germans did NOT blow up during WWII.))

Day 7 is a day of leisure for the group.  You may choose optional tours at very reasonable prices such as an excursion to Pisa and Lucca.  In Pisa you'll find the Piazza dei Miracoli, the Cathedral or "Duomo", its historic Baptistery and the world-famous Leaning Tower of Pisa.  Another option is a journey to historic Lucca, one of the most charming old towns in Tuscany where you can explore gothic palaces and quaint shops.

Leaning Tower (Pisa, Italy)
 
Lucca, Italy
View of the entire tomb monument dedicated to Ilaria del Carretto, wife of the 15th century lord of Lucca, Paolo Guinigi. Ilaria died shortly after giving birth to her second child at the age of 26.
 
 
Lucca, Italy
View from the walls to the inside of the city onto the city's Botanical garden.


Day 8 the group will return to Florence.  There will be a traditional Italian leather making demonstration with a visit to the family-owned Pierotucci Leather Shop.  After that stop, we'll continue on to a special presentation on the history and workmanship of fine Florentine gold.  Afterwards, the group is at leisure to explore Florence:  visit a museum, have a Tuscan lunch, or shop for local crafts (Florence is VERY well known for its fine handcrafted leather goods).

On Day 9, the group will be leaving Montecatini to go back to Rome.  There will be an optional tour to Vatican City to visit the Vatican Museums and St. Peter's Basilica.  I highly, HIGHLY recommend this tour.  It's absolutely stunningly breathtaking -- you will NEVER forget the splendor and awe of it. 

Take a virtual tour of St. Peter's (click on the map's numbers):

There will be a farewell dinner that evening with Italian music to celebrate the end of a memorable trip to the unforgettable and beautiful region of Tuscany.
~~~~~~~~~~

 There will be a SPECIAL TRAVEL PRESENTATION at the Burleson County Chamber of Commerce:

August 22, 2013
5:30 PM
301 N. Main St. (Caldwell, TX)

Rates INCLUDE "Hometown Roundtrip Transfers" (from Caldwell, TX to Houston Bush Intercontinental Airport [IAH]), roundtrip airfare from Houston (IAH) to Rome (FCO), all hotels, all scheduled tours, ground transportation, and most meals (8 breakfasts, 5 dinners). Optional guided tours are available at reasonable prices.

BOOK NOW rates have a $250 per person discount and are valid until October 29, 2013.
Space is limited to 20 guests.


Call LeAnne for information, brochures and to reserve your space on the tour:
 979-836-6600 or 713-446-4990