Friday, February 20, 2009

$1,000 onboard credits

I joined a new Indianapolis-based travel industry association recently and attended my first meeting last night at the Hillcrest Country Club on the northeast side of Indianapolis.

The main presentation was by the area sales rep from Crystal Cruises. For those of you unfamiliar with Crystal, they are one of three or four cruise lines considered to be in the "luxury" category - and consistently voted top cruise line by the readers of Conde Nast magazine. The line has only two ships, both accommodating about 1,000 passengers and include numerous "extras" that you have to pay extra for on other mass cruise lines.

On about a dozen 2009 sailings, Crystal has recently introduced $1,000 onboard credits per person. This means that a couple traveling on one of these itineraries will have $2,000 to spend on their onboard account (spa treatments, gift shop, shore excursions, etc.).

If you're a fairly experienced traveler, this is the perfect time to step up from some of the "premium" cruise lines and experience the luxury of Crystal.

Indy-Salt Lake nonstop

Delta will add nonstop flights between Indianapolis and Salt Lake City beginning June 4. This is great news for travelers who want to stay closer to home this year and travel within the United States. Not only is Salt Lake a fantastic destination on its own, it's a gateway to many of the fabulous national parks in the west.

Des Moines, Milwaukee and Nashville are other Midwest cities that will gain nonstop flights to Salt Lake on Delta in June.

Tuesday, February 17, 2009

That was quick

Government efficiency. The phrase is typically an oxymoron. But, I was surprised - no make that shocked - today when my kids' passports arrived in the mail. It was only 10 days since we went to the Post Office to submit the application, and that included a Saturday, two Sundays and a federal holiday in between.

Suffice it to say, the turn around time for new passport applications is very good. I still recommend planning ahead as the State Dept. is sure to get busier as summer nears.

Friday, February 13, 2009

First time in Israel

The following is an article I came across today by a fellow travel agent, David Cogswell, who is experiencing Israel for the first time - as I myself did just three months ago. My own reports of some of the things he writes about can be found in entries from November 2008.

"I’m crossing a major threshold on this trip, transforming from someone who has never been to Israel into one who has experienced it first hand. There is a huge gulf between having no direct experience of a place and being there even for a short time. In his book “L’imaginaire,” Jean Paul Sartre wrote of the fundamental difference between an event in imagination and an event in reality. Even if what you imagine is correct in practically every detail, having an actual experience of a place is fundamentally different from hearing about it, reading about it or seeing it in movies on TV. Mental images, Sartre said, are constantly breaking up and dissolving when they collide with real events.

That is exactly what is happening to me in Israel. After being here for 24 hours, most of what I previously thought I knew has dropped away or has been transformed to accommodate the real experience. There is no place where this contrast could be more striking than Israel, because it looms so largely in the imagination of humankind. The Judeo Christian tradition is one of the most powerful elements in Western Civilization.

From our earliest childhood we have heard stories and songs of David and Goliath, Samson and Delilah, Cain and Abel. Judaism, Christianity and Islam all look to the Holy Land for their origins. Beyond those formative experiences, we are all exposed to the news, and though not much larger than New Jersey, Israel is always in the news.

I will be spending the next 10 days traveling around Israel to see it for myself. I’ve joined 40 travel agents in a Seminar at the Source sponsored by IsramWorld. The trip began for me at New York’s JFK airport with an 11:50 p.m. flight to Tel Aviv on El Al airlines. Ten hours later I was in Israel. With the seven-hour time difference it was around 5 p.m. when we arrived at Ben Gurion International Airport. It was rainy, and by the time we got through customs and baggage claim, it was dark. Isram’s ground operation met us at the airport and took us to the famous King David hotel in Jerusalem, about a 35-minute drive.

The King David hotel ( lives up to its reputation as an elegant, comfortable hotel, reassuring in its durability and imperturbability since 1931. Like most buildings in Jerusalem, it is built of Jerusalem Stone, a pinkish beige limestone. The King David, of course, has a colorful history. It is known for housing royalty, being a headquarters for governments in exile, and for being located at the center of many of the turbulent events of the 20th century.

On our first evening, we did a hotel inspection with our Isram seminar group and were treated to a fine feast at the David Citadel Hotel, the former Hyatt, not far from the King David. We started our tour of Israel in earnest on Wednesday morning with a trip to the Israel Museum, where we saw pieces of the Dead Sea Scrolls and learned about their history. We also saw a model of Jerusalem in 66 A.D. before it was destroyed by the Romans. The model, about the size of a tennis court, is so detailed and amazingly intricate that you have to make a special note on your photographs to be clear you are looking at a model and not an actual city.

The most memorable experience of the day -- and really one of the most compelling museum experiences of my life -- was our visit to the Holocaust History Museum ( The complex includes several distinct buildings and monuments, including the Hall of Names, which pays tribute to many of the victims of The Holocaust, and The Children’s Monument, which is a dark chamber with a glass case housing five candles reflected with a complex construction glass and mirrors to multiply into thousands of sparks of light like stars. The most powerful part of the complex is the museum’s main exhibit, a vast collection of documents, films, photographs and grisly memorabilia tracing the horrific history of the Nazi’s attempted extermination of the Jewish people.

In a 4,200-square-meter building, the exhibition leads you through a zigzagged trail that depicts the most hideous chapter of history, presented with painstaking detail and graphic force from its earliest glimmers in the early 1930s, through the final destruction of the Nazi regime in 1945. Countless exhibits are on display, presented vividly with imagination and sensitivity. Early in the exhibit, for example, is footage of Nazi Propaganda Minister Josef Goebbels addressing the mob at a 1933 book burning proclaiming, “The age of exorbitant Jewish intellectualism has come to an end. And the German revolution has cleared the way for the German nature in the world once more.” Posted on the exhibit is an ominously prophetic quote written in 1821 by German-Jewish poet Heinrich Heine: “Where books are burned, human beings are destined to be burned.”

The exhibit leads the viewer through the gradual tightening of the screws through Nazi legislation, beginning in April 1933 with the Law for Restoration of the Professional Civil Service, which dismissed all Jews from civil service jobs. It shows portraits of some of the chief Nazi perpetrators, filmed interviews with many of the survivors, and gives maps and descriptions of the Nazi system of death camps in excruciating detail. It would take days to go through the entire museum reading and listening to each piece. It was an exhausting, shocking experience, but one that should be a requirement for every educated person.

We ended the day with a trip to Bethlehem and a visit to the Church of the Nativity, which was said to be built over the stable and manger where Jesus was born. It was a long day’s journey and we had been in Israel for only a day."

Thursday, February 12, 2009

First-time passport

While my wife and I have had passports for years, an upcoming summer vacation to Canada (Yes, Canada) has required us to get passports for our two young sons.

The first thing to realize is that new Homeland Security measures introduced over the past couple of years require a passport for basically every type of international travel these days. The days of driving into Canada or Mexico with a driver's license are gone. The State Department has introduced a new passport card, which is a bit cheaper, but its use is limited to only a couple of countries.

Since a passport is good for 10 years (5 for kids), you might as well get the full-blown passport and be ready to travel anywhere you want.

To get a passport for the first time, you'll have to apply in person at a Passport Acceptance Office - most U.S. Post Offices. There are a couple keys to save some time:
1. Pick up and fill out an application in advance. You can pick them up at a Post Office or download the form at
2. Make sure you have the necessary documents. For us, that meant original birth certificates for both boys and our driver's licences.
3. Get official passport photos taken in advance. You can wait and do it at the Post Office, but it will cost you more money. We had ours taken at Walgreen's.
4. Go in the middle of the week, or go early on a Saturday. With children, both parents have to go to apply in person, so for us that meant going on a Saturday when everyone else goes. We got to our Post Office about five minutes before the application office opened and were second in line. The people ahead of us weren't nearly as prepared as we were. They needed to get photos taken and fill out the forms, so it took them more than 30 minutes with the Post Office official. Once we went in with our photos and documents, we were done within 10 minutes.

The fee for new passports for kids is $60 plus a $25 execution fee payable to the Post Office. Adults pay $75 for a passport.

If you're an adult renewing a passport, you can fill out the form and send it in with your old passport without appearing in person. No waiting in line!

Final tip - think ahead. Passport processing normally takes 2-3 weeks, and once summer approaches the turn around time can increase. If you wait until the last minute, you'll pay a hefty amount to expedite your application and you risk the chance of missing your trip.

Wednesday, February 04, 2009

Delta and Northwest link frequent flyer programs

Delta SkyMiles and Northwest WorldPerks members now have the ability to link frequent-flyer accounts and transfer miles between both accounts at no charge. Members who link their accounts before March 15 will earn 500 bonus miles. This new feature allows members who have SkyMiles and WorldPerks accounts to visit or, link their accounts and transfer any amount of miles into either account on an unlimited basis. Both accounts will remain open and functioning until late 2009 when Delta plans to merge the two programs to deliver one best-in-class loyalty program for members in 2010.