Wednesday, March 18, 2015

Top Up & Coming Destinations in the South Pacific

Dotted with island nations of varying size, language and culture, the South Pacific is ready for discovery by adventurous travelers. But with so many excellent options, deciding on where to go in this vast region can prove to be a difficult task.

Each year as part of its authoritative Travel Trends Survey, Travel Leaders Group agents weigh in on the up-and-coming vacation spots around the world they’re already booking. For 2015, the 1,226 travel agents put New Zealand (30.4 percent) at the top of their list in the South Pacific, followed by Bora Bora (11.3 percent), Tahiti (11.3 percent), Fiji (9.8 percent) and Bali (7.2 percent).

New Zealand’s popularity isn’t surprising. Its spectacular landscape has become familiar to Americans from “The Lord of the Rings” and “The Hobbit” films and there are many “Middle-earth” locations for fans to scout out including Mount Victoria, within walking distance of the city center in Wellington, the country’s vibrant capital. From June to August, winter comes to the Southern Hemisphere and in New Zealand, it’s a time for festivals, including the Maori New Year, a celebration of native culture marked nationwide.

As the largest island in French Polynesia, Tahiti conjures up romance. But as an economic and cultural center, it offers visitors a wide variety of activities, from shopping for local crafts in a bustling marketplace to browsing in museums to participating in outdoor recreation such as golfing, hiking and diving. For sailing fans, the Tahiti Pearl Regatta takes place in late April and early May, featuring competition during the day and entertainment each night.

The smaller French Polynesian island of Bora Bora is surrounded by a lagoon of turquoise water teeming with marine life that can be viewed by snorkeling or from a glass-bottom boat. The island boasts a number of luxury resorts and spas, including thatched-roof overwater bungalows. For a taste of Polynesian history and culture, Heiva, an annual event that includes traditional music, dance, crafts and sports, will be held this year from June 19 to July 26.

An archipelago of some 300 islands, Fiji has a sunny climate, miles of white sand beaches and soft coral reefs that are perfect for scuba diving. Accommodations range from luxury resorts to backpacker hostels to resorts that feature ecological tours. Wherever you go, you’ll hear “Bula!” the country’s universal greeting. It’s also the name of a festival featuring food, music and dancing from July 31 to Aug. 7 in Nadi, the hub for international travelers.

Bali is an island and province of Indonesia that has something for everyone whether it’s mountains and waterfalls, surf and sand or history and culture. A primarily Hindu region in a mostly Muslim country, a visit to one of Bali’s temples should be on every traveler’s list. Pura Besakih, on a slope of Mount Agung in East Bali, dates from the 11th century and is the largest. Among the island’s more unusual celebrations, the BaliSpirit Festival, featuring yoga, dance and music, will be held from March 31 to April 5.

For help planning a trip to the South Pacific, contact The Travel Exchange (248)269-9721

Wednesday, June 5, 2013

America's Cup Comes to San Francisco Bay

The oldest active trophy in international sport, the America’s Cup, was named after a yacht called America, which first won the silver trophy in an 1851 race around the Isle of Wight. In the cup’s long history, it has been won by only five yacht clubs, most recently the Golden Gate Yacht Club of San Francisco.

As the current holder of the cup, the Golden Gate Yacht Club will host the Royal Swedish Yacht Club in an America’s Cup challenge this summer. Preliminary events begin July 4 on San Francisco Bay, leading up to a final in mid-September. There will be as many as 17 match races between 72-foot wing-sail catamarans.

Free public viewing of the races will be available at America’s Cup Park at Pier 27/29, where you’ll
also find big-screen race coverage with live commentary; mouthwatering food and beverages; America’s Cup exhibits and merchandise; and autograph opportunities with the athletes. In addition, live music, family shows and comedy acts will keep the crowd entertained between races. You can also watch the races from Marina Green – to ensure a good view, purchase tickets for reserved bleacher seating.

If you can pull yourself away from the thrill of America’s Cup yacht racing, there is much more to see along San Francisco’s waterfront. The Exploratorium just re-opened at Pier 15 in the historic Embarcadero District after moving from the Palace of Fine Arts. This interactive museum entices visitors to explore and experiment with all five senses.

The Aquarium of the Bay at the edge of Pier 39, lets you experience life under the water of San Francisco Bay, which is home to fantastic creatures like moon jellies, sevengill sharks and colorful moray eels.

At dusk, look toward the mighty Bay Bridge to see the world’s largest LED light sculpture. The sculpture’s 25,000 lights shine each night along 1.8 miles of the bridge’s western span. The lights, which will help celebrate the opening of the new eastern span of the bridge this fall, will be on display until 2015.

And, don’t forget to visit that other famous bridge, the Golden Gate Bridge, which spans the strait that connects the bay to the Pacific Ocean.

For more information about visiting San Francisco during the America’s Cup races, talk with your travel professional.

Friday, May 10, 2013

Emerging Destinations in Europe

Europe and its great capitals – including London, Rome and Paris – attract the most visitors during the summer months. If you feel Europe calling to you but would like to go somewhere a little off the usual tourist map, consider one of the places selected as Europe’s finest “up and coming” destinations by the professionals at Travel Leaders/The Travel Exchange: Croatia, Turkey, the Czech Republic, Portugal and Iceland.
 For the second year in a row, Travel Leaders owners and front-line agents identified Croatia as Europe’s top up-and coming destination. There’s a lot to see in this country just across the Adriatic Sea from Italy, including enchanting coastal islands, the historic walled city of Dubrovnik, Roman antiquities at Split, and the mountains, lakes and parks around the inland city of Zagreb. Cruise lines have also discovered just how up-and-coming Croatia is by including stops in Dubrovnik and Split on many eastern Mediterranean itineraries.

Much of Turkey’s unique flavor comes from its geographic position as a bridge between Europe and Asia. Top sights include the exotic city of Istanbul, with outdoor bazaars, mix of historic architectural styles, fragrant kebab restaurants and lively arts district. Turkey’s Cappadocia region is visually stunning, with slim outcroppings of rock called “fairy chimneys” and luxurious hotels built inside caves. But ancient sites like Ephesus offer you the opportunity to see some of best preserved Roman ruins.

The Czech Republic has beautiful landscapes of mountains, forests and gently rolling hills. There is no shoreline in this landlocked country, but the Elbe, Vltava and other rivers flow through. The capital of Prague has historic and cultural attractions that include stately Prague Castle, more than ten major museums and a historic Old Town. Visitors also enjoy the mineral springs and treatments at famous spa towns the western part of the country.

Fought over and ruled at times by Romans, Visigoths, Moors and Christians, Portugal has also been the center of a vast colonial empire. Visitors enjoy the vineyards of the Douro Valley, the center of port wine production; the capital city of Lisbon, which is full of parks, monuments, museums and architectural treasures; and the picturesque beaches of the Algarve region.

Iceland is a much more attractive destination than its name suggests. Warmed by the Gulf Stream, the island has a temperate climate and is a hotbed of geological activity, with active volcanoes, leaping geysers and therapeutic hot springs. There are lots of outdoor pursuits to enjoy, including hiking, kayaking in fjords and sheltered inlets, and even golf – there are more than 50 courses, usually open May through September.

For more information about destinations that are off the usual tourist track, talk with your travel professional.

Wednesday, April 10, 2013

Music and More in Malmo

The fabled Eurovision Song Contest is a delight for music lovers – and for travelers. Held each year since 1956, the contest accepts one song from each European nation, broadcasts them on television and radio, then lets the public and professional judges cast votes for the best. The contest is one of the world’s longest-running television shows, and some of the featured singers – like ABBA, Julio Iglesias and Céline Dion – have gone on to international fame. The winning country enjoys a year of bragging rights and gets to host the next contest.

This year’s host is the city of Malmö, located on the southernmost tip of Sweden. Most of the events will take place at Malmö Arena, which has already hosted the Swedish Idol contest and many concerts. While tickets for the final show are sold out, they are still available for the first and second semi-final rehearsals and live shows, held May 13-16.

In addition to special events surrounding the contest, visitors will find lots of other things to do and see in Malmö, a Scandinavian delight. A five-minute train ride through the City Tunnel will take you from Malmö Arena to the heart of the city. You can explore the surprisingly international restaurant scene, from classic Swedish fare (in addition to meatballs, think rhubarb soup, grilled rack of wild boar, or cod with lobster sauce), as well as French, Thai, Vietnamese and Persian specialties. After dinner, pub-hop at the Slagthuset entertainment complex.

Malmö has wonderful historic buildings, including Malmö Castle, a fortress built in the 1530s, and Saint Peter’s Church, built in early 14th century Gothic style. But you’ll also find plenty of more contemporary Scandinavian designs, along with Sweden’s tallest building, the HSB Turning Torso created by renowned architect Santiago Calatrava, who based this marvel on a sculpture called Twisting Torso. If the weather is fine, visit Malmo’s beaches – try Ribersborg beach, which offers 2.5 miles of sand and saunas for men and women. Bathing suits, while perfectly acceptable, are not required.

Malmö is also very well-connected: Copenhagen, Denmark, is easily accessible in less than a half hour via a train that runs across the impressive, five-mile long Öresund Bridge. Sweden’s motorways or short flights from the Malmö airport provide easy access to the Gothenburg, Stockholm and other Swedish cities.

To made plans for your visit to Malmö during the Eurovision contest or at any time, talk with your travel professional.

Wednesday, November 21, 2012

Holiday Travel: How to Pack Lighter

During the past few years, most airlines have changed their baggage policies. It’s now very common to pay a fee for every checked bag, even the first. And, there are additional fees for overweight or oversized bags.

This can make packing for a holiday season vacation a particular challenge. You want to minimize the number of bags you take, but winter’s cold calls for thicker clothing, which takes more space to pack, which means more bags, which means more fees. Because you’d surely rather spend your money on holiday gifts and fun than on baggage fees, here are some strategic packing tips for winter travel:
Don’t pack anything without asking yourself this important question: “Do I really need this?” It may help to make a list of the days you’ll be away and what you’ll do and wear each day. You may discover opportunities to wear the same items more than once – especially if you’ll have access to a laundry.

Select clothes that you can layer. Packing a t-shirt that can be layered with a button-down shirt and/or a light sweater may be better than packing one heavier (and bulkier) sweater.

Shoes are notorious for taking up luggage space. Think about the shoes you’ll really need on your trip and leave any others behind. It may be worth investing in a pair of comfortable shoes that look good with both casual and dressy attire. Another idea is to wear your heaviest pair of shoes on the plane.

If you simply must pack some bigger items (perhaps you’re going on a ski vacation and really do need that fleece jacket, down vest, wool socks and other cold-weather gear), consider shipping some items – including your holiday gifts – ahead to your destination. Ship early enough that the package will arrive before you do.


As always, check the Transportation Safety Administration’s list of prohibited items for carry-on and/or checked bags, available at Remember that some sporting goods (such as ski poles) are OK in checked bags, but can’t be in a carry-on bag. Some festive items, such as the fireworks you’d like to set off at midnight on New Year’s Eve, are never allowed in either carry on or checked bags.
For more tips on what to bring on your holiday trip, talk with your travel professional – then, start packing!

Monday, November 12, 2012

Holiday Travel: What to do at the airport

An airport full of cheery holiday travelers can be a festive scene, but check-in and security lines can often get long. Travel professionals have lots of advice for staying merry while dealing with airport crowds and delays, and the most important advice is to arrive early and have patience.

In general, arrive two hours before flight time for a domestic flight, and three hours ahead for an international flight. If you know your airport well, you may decide that you don’t need that much time – but, take care. Don’t run the risk of arriving too late to park, check in, check your bags, pass through security, and make it to your gate before the plane door closes.

If you didn’t check in and print your boarding pass at home or have it on your smartphone, use a self-service check-in kiosk at the airport. Then, have any luggage that you need to check weighed and tagged – or pack lightly enough that you can carry-on your bag with the understanding that you can often gate check it if those bins become full. Remember that most airlines limit passengers to one small carry-on bag and just one other carry-on item, such as a tote bag, purse or laptop computer case.

As you approach the security checkpoint, keep your boarding pass and identification handy. If you have a quart-size bag of toiletries in your carry-on, make sure it’s easy to reach and ready to place in a security tray. Put anything in your pockets or on your person that might set off a metal detector – cell phone, loose change, a belt with a metal buckle, a watch, etc., along with your laptop computer – in the security trays, too. In consideration of others around you, begin the process of having each of these items out of your bag as you approach security.

After you’re cleared by security, be sure to gather all of your belongings before you leave the area.
If you have time, sit down to enjoy a snack or purchase some food to take on your flight. Remember that most domestic flights now have a very limited selection of snacks on board.

Finally, call up reserves of patience when you need them. Children traveling by plane for the first time may be overexcited, passengers who aren’t familiar with security procedures may hold up the line, and busy servers may get your sandwich order wrong. Keep your sense of humor and remember that the reason you’re traveling is to enjoy the holidays. With a little patience, you’ll arrive in the right frame of mind for a joyous holiday celebration.

Wednesday, November 7, 2012

Holiday Travel: What to do before you leave for the airport

Spending time with family and friends during the winter holidays is wonderful, but the travel required to be with the ones you love can often be challenging. From Thanksgiving through­­­­­ New Year’s Day, the holidays are one of the year’s busiest times for travel. You can’t control the crowds, but you can take steps that will help you move as smoothly as possible through the airport. And, preparation begins at home.

A week or two before you leave, think about the routine around your home and make arrangements accordingly. For example, do you need to stop mail delivery, or can a trusted neighbor collect it for you? Think about plants that may need water, snow that may need shoveling, and putting a light or two on a timer switch so that your home looks occupied.

Inspect your luggage and make sure it’s in good condition for travel. Any seams should be fully closed, latches and buckles should work properly, and zippers and wheels should move smoothly. If not, repair or replace it.

Pack as lightly as possible. Leave some room in your luggage for things you may pick up during your travels. Don’t wrap gifts that you’re bringing with you, as security personnel may open the packages. You may even consider shipping those gifts ahead of time so your bags remain as light as possible.
Follow the Transportation Security Administration’s guidance on liquids, gels and powders: most are OK in checked baggage, but if they are in your carry-on bag they cannot be more than three ounces each and must all fit in a quart-size, transparent plastic bag.

Check in online within 24 hours of your departure and print your boarding pass at home. This will re-confirm your seat (remember that many planes are overbooked during the holidays). Some airlines have mobile applications that will let you store your boarding pass on your mobile phone.

On the day you leave, dress simply – you don’t want to deal with layers of sweaters and jackets, lots of jewelry or complicated shoes at the airport security checkpoint.

Just before you leave home, check your flight’s status to confirm that it’s on time.

Finally, if you’re taking your own car to the airport, investigate parking options. Consider using an off site lot where you can make a reservation so you won’t have to waste time looking for an open parking space.

Knowing that you’ve prepared well, get excited about your trip!
For more pre-flight travel tips, talk with your travel professional.