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Group Travel

It used to be that group travel meant being stuck in a big bus for a week with 60 other passengers that you don’t know. Not anymore! The face of group travel has changed drastically in the past few years and has become more customizable than ever.

Does your church or synagogue run group trips (or would they like to)? What about a volunteer group for an organization? Or perhaps your book club wants to visit in person the places you’ve read about? Maybe you want to trace your routes on a ancestral journey? Whatever your group or interest, there are plenty of travel opportunities. We can even help you get together a group or travelers with similar hobbies or interests. Some potential groups you might consider include:

  • Literary travel: whether you’re part of an official book club or just a big fan or a certain author, genre, or time period, literary travel is becoming increasingly popular. Visit the homes, workshops, and watering holes of your favorite writers, or take a tour of destinations featured in some of your most prized works. These types of tours are particularly popular in places like England, Scotland, Ireland, and Paris, but a customized trip to could be created to just about any destination for your group.
  • Historical tours: historical societies, history buffs, and even school groups can create a tour around a particular event or time period in history. Perhaps it’s World War II sites, or Tudor England you wish to see exprience, for instance. Whatever the historical interest, there’s no better way to learn about or honor it than visiting the destinations first hand.
  • Volunteer tours: The possibilities here are vast. Volunteer groups can do everything from help towns rebuild after a natural disaster to get involved at wildlife preserves in Africa.  You could be part of a larger project – for instance Habitat For Humanity – or create your own volunteer project for something that has special meaning to you. These may be done in coordination with another organization, for such as a church or synagogue, or could be a self-created group. We can even help you gather volunteers by creating and promoting a program.
  • Gastronomy and culinary tours: Food and drink has long been associated with travel and cultural experiences. Be it cooking classes, wine tasting, a whiskey-themed tour, or another type of gastronomical delight, it’s often difficult to ignore the roll that food and drink plays in travel, and the pull it gives different destinations. Groups from culinary schools to dinner clubs to people who simply share the love of a good glass of wine or pint of beer are traveling around the world to experience the way other cultures do food and drink.
  • Genealogy tours: These can be great for heritage societies, family groups, or just those from a certain region that want to explore their past. Some tour companies focus exclusively on this type of travel, and if a tour to your chosen destination(s) does not already exist, we can help create one for you.
  • Garden tours: While tulip tours (and river cruises) are the most famous garden type tour, these are growing in popularity throughout Europe and the world.
  • Music and art tours: visit the homes of your favorite musicians and artists, attend the symphony or enjoy a private tour through your favorite museums. Trips can be created for everyone from professionals in the fields to school or university groups, to those who simply have a love of art or music.

These are just a few examples of group tour options. We can help your group create a trip around your particular shared interest or activity. If you have a group that would like to travel, but you aren’t sure which type of trip you’d like, that’s  fine too – we’ll work with you to determine the destination(s) and activities that best fit the needs and interests of your group.

 

All In The Family

Multigenerational travel is becoming more popular than ever. Hotels, tour companies, and cruise ships are gearing up their focus on families, offering amenities and activities that cater to every age range, from great grand parents to young children and everyone in between. With all of these options, why not hold your next family celebration or reunion in a favorite or dream destination?  Here are some of our top suggestions for multigenerational getaways.

  • Villa rentals: Villa rentals can be found everywhere from the Caribbean to Hawaii to Tuscany. They provide the perfect place to gather family members of all ages, and give you the freedom to cater to everyone’s sleeping and dining preferences. They also may be more affordable than booking numerous hotel rooms.
  • Dude ranch: These can range from rustic to luxurious and are ideal for families. They offer activities for people of all ages, and certainly offer a different experience from the average vacation. They’re best for those who like a bit of activity, but you certainly don’t have to be an elite athletes. Some even offer spa services for those who prefer relaxation and a bit of pampering. Many of the packages include meals and some activities, so they offer a good value for your group.
  • Safari: Safaris come in all shapes and sizes these days – everything from tented safaris to luxury camps to five-star lodges. They can be experienced on foot, by off-road vehicle, by boat, or even by hot air balloon. While I wouldn’t suggest this for families with very young children – infants or toddlers – it truly can be a multigenerational experience. Some safaris will have age requirements or activity level suggestions so it’s important to check these before booking your trip.
  • Cruises: Cruises have become increasingly focused on the family. They offer options from fine dining to rock climbing to dance classes and everything in between. They allow everyone to stay in one place while each having a day to day experience that meets their interests. Cruises are not for everyone, and it’s important to find the cruise ship and itinerary that best fits your family, but for the right group, they can be the perfect family vacation.
  • Genealogy trips: What a better way to celebrate the family then to explore your heritage? While some may think of trips to discover ones ancestry as something for the older generations, they can offer a great opportunity for the whole family. Kids have the chance to not only learn about their family, but experience the places of their history first hand – from big cities to small villages where their ancestors worked and lived. After all, these children will be the ones to carry on the family history, so why not let them immerse themselves in it from an early age?
  • National Parks: If you’re looking for a domestic location, the US national parks offer a great variety of sites and activities that appeal to virtually. You can make a particular park the center point of your vacation, or take a road trip between several parks.

The key to a family vacation is finding a destination that offers options both interesting and feasible for all family members going. This includes knowing the age limits for entrance to various sites and attractions (if any) as well as the activity level required. If there are family members who have trouble getting around, you want to chose a destination whose activities and sites don’t all involve walking for hours a day. The same is true of young children. Choosing the perfect destination for your family can take a bit of time and some careful consideration, but we will work with your group to make sure that the vacation you choose has something for everyone.

Do You Travel For Business?

When people think of planning travel, it probably conjures up images of foreign cities or white sand beaches with their friends or loved ones. But not all travel is for fun and leisure.

Many jobs require travel for client meetings, seminars, conferences, events and more. We’d love to help you with those too! Here are some of the travel options that we can arrange for you and your company:

  • Flights, hotels, rental cars, and airport transfers (group and private) for employees.
  • Pre and post travel for meetings, conferences, and events. This can include either business travel – for instance a team meeting or team-building for employees – or  individual leisure travel at the destination before or after the event.  This could include everything from theater tickets or a night tour on an evening when you don’t have event obligations, to day trips or a week long exploration in your destination.
  • Inbound travel for a meeting your company is hosting. If you have clients or off-site employees coming into town for an event, we can arrange their flights, accommodations, transportation, and anything else you need.
  • Off site meetings for your team. We can help you arrange the entire meeting at your destination – everything from securing the meeting space to setting up group dinners 0r networking event, plus all of the travel and accommodations required for your trip.
  • Inbound travel for presenters and vendors coming into town for a meeting or event that you are hosting.

These are just a few of the examples of how we can help your company with travel. We work with each company individually to cater to their specific needs for each trip or event.  Have a business travel need not on the list? Contact us by phone at 856-266-8898 or email us at maya@chimera-travel.com to learn more about how we can work with you and your company.

The Tudor Facts

In my last post, I offered a quiz on Tudor History. Below are the answers, with enough detail to provide some insight to the life and times of this famous royal family.

1. How many wives did Henry VIII divorce?
While the traditional “rhyme” used to remember Henry VIIIs wives is “divorced, beheaded, died, divorced, beheaded, survived”, technically Henry never divorced any of his wives. He annulled marriages to Catherine of Aragon and Anne of Cleves, and also annulled the marriages to Anne Boleyn and Catherine Howard before they were beheaded. Since the marriages were considered to never have been valid, he never had to divorce any of them.

2. Which wife of Henry VIII narrowly escaped arrest and possible execution?
While given the label “survived” in the above rhyme, Katherine Parr may have had a narrow escape. The warrant for her arrest was dropped, and the person who found it brought it directly to her. She hid it from Henry, pleaded her case to him as a loyal and loving wife who in no way subscribed to heresy, and they reconciled.

3. Which wife of Henry VIII supposedly still haunts Hampton Court Palace?
Catherine Howard. When she was arrested for adultery, it was said that she was dragged to her rooms at Hampton Court Palace screaming “her head off”. Visitors to Hampton Court have reported hearing her still shrieking in the hallways.

4. Which wife of Henry VIII was added to a famous family portrait posthumously?
In a famous picture of the Royal Family depicting Henry, Jane Seymour, and young Edward, Jane Seymour was added posthumously. She’d been dead for several years when it was painted, but Henry requested that she be included. He is also buried next to her, causing some to claim that she was his most beloved wife.

5. Despite his apparent hatred for her, Henry allowed Anne Boleyn one small “allowance” for her execution. What was it?
Henry allowed Anne to be executed by sword, instead of axe (sword being the “better” way to go, if that can be said of decapitation). This also meant she was allowed to choose her executioner.

6. How did Lady Jane Grey rise to the throne?
Even though Mary and Elizabeth had been placed back into the line of succession, they had not been legitimized. As he was dying, Edward amended the succession document, writing out Mary and Elizabeth. Mary Queen of Scots, the next legitimate heir, had been written out by Henry VIII. Therefore, the succession passed to the family of Henry’s younger sister, Mary. Francis Grey, Henry VIII’s niece would have been next in line, but (for reasons only speculated about) she was passed over for her daughter Lady Jane Grey, who never really wanted to be queen.

7. How long did Mary Tudor (once Queen) wait before executing Lady Jane Grey? How old was Lady Jane when she was beheaded?
Queen Mary waited 7 months before executing Lady Jane Grey for treason, hoping to find a way to spare her life. She provided her with a priest, saying that if Lady Jane converted to Catholicism her life would be spared. Lady Jane held steadfast to her faith, and was executed at just 16 years old.

8. Which wife of Henry’s was later named as his sister?
While Henry has been reported as saying “I like her not!” upon first meeting Anne of Cleves, she agreed to be called his sister after the marriage was annulled and the two remained friends. She frequented court often to visit, play cards, and even serve as a trusted confidant of the King.

9. Why was Henry VIII so desperate to have a son?
Henry VIII’s father (Henry VII) won the crown in battle, and his claim was a bit nebulous. Henry VII was the grandson of Catherine of Voilas, who married Owen Tudor, her Master of Closet, after the death of Henry V. Rumor was that they’d had an affair, and some speculated they never actually married – which would have made Henry VII, and therefore Henry VIII, an illegitimate heir to the throne.

10. Before marriage to Henry, Lady Anne Boleyn was bestowed which title on her that was historically only given to men.
Marquess of Pembroke. She was the first woman in England to ever be given this title.

11. Why was Elizabeth I not legally a suitable Queen for either Protestants or Catholics?
Catholics believed her parent’s marriage was invalid, and therefore she was not a legitimate heir. The marriage had been annulled under Protestant Law, which also made her an illegitimate heir. Therefore, she technically should not have been queen according to either faith.

12. The Tudor dynasty produced how many Monarchs?
Five: Henry VII, Henry VIII, Edward, Mary, and Elizabeth. Technically, you could also count Lady Jane Grey, as she is a decedent of Mary Tudor, Henry’s younger sister. But she was not a direct descendent, was taken off the throne after reigning for only 9 days, and later executed for treason. James I of England (also presided as James V of Scotland) was descended from Henry VIII older sister Margaret, but his mother, Mary Queen of Scots, had long been written out of the line of succession. Therefore the Tudor dynasty is said to have produced three kings and two queens, ending with Henry’s last direct decedent, Elizabeth I.

7 Things To Consider When Booking Your Flight

Most people consider airfare an easy purchase (except perhaps on their wallet these days). Ironically, airfare can be one of the trickiest and most confusing travel buys, but often, this is only discovered when something goes amiss. Here are seven things to consider when choosing your flight.

1. Even within each class of service, there are different “classes” of seats. They are denoted by letters, such as Y, J, B, C. and they come with different price tags. So when you look at a flight and the price has jumped dramatically since the day before, this may well be the culprit. The lower class sold out, and you’re now paying for a more expensive class.

2. You can only upgrade with loyalty/flyer miles if in certain seat classes. So if you want to do so, you need to know – and let your travel planner know – ahead of time, so we can determine which class of seat on that flight will allow you do that (hint: it’s often the more expensive ones). The airline needs to be consulted directly each time, in case the rules have changed, which as you may have figured with air travel, happens rather frequently. There’s no guarantee you can upgrade even if in the “right” class, but if you don’t choose your fare accordingly, you’ll have no chance at all.

3. Unless you book a flexible fare (always more expensive), once your tickets is purchased, you generally cannot change it or cancel it without a stiff penalty. There are airlines that avoid this rule, such as Southwest, but for the most part, be sure it’s the flight you want or you’ll pay handsomely. The penalties are generally around $150 plus the any increase in price for domestic flights, and $250 plus any increase in cost for international flights, per person.

4. A direct flight is technically a flight that has a stop, but you don’t change planes (perhaps a fuel stop or to pick up other passengers in route). A non-stop, is, as it sounds, actually a flight that doesn’t stop between your point of take off and your point of landing. Direct flights are rare, especially domestically, but if a flight is indicated as “direct”, confirm whether it has a stop of any sorts.

5. In the US, you must go through customs and immigration upon your first entry back into the country, as opposed to your final destination. Therefore, if you have a connecting flight upon returning to the US, make sure that you give yourself enough time to grab your luggage, go through customs/immigration, and get to your next gate for boarding.

6. Some cities in close proximity are now combining flight/train tickets into a “connection”. For instance, if your Philadelphia-bound flight has a connection in Newark, NJ (considered a NYC international airport, so a popular point of entry for international flights), you may actually be landing in Newark and then taking the train from the station within the airport down to Philadelphia.

7. Similar to the above point, some cities with multiple airports will have you landing in one airport, and your connecting flight taking off from an airport across town. I’ve seen this between London’s Heathrow and Gatwick airports, as well as New York’s La Guardia and JFK airports, as two examples. Carefully inspect the airport codes before purchasing the ticket. While there should be some “warning” on the flight listing, you never know!

The Travel Planner Difference – From a Fast Food Commercial

This morning, I heard a radio commercial for a fast food restaurant – McDonald’s I believe – that perfectly defined the difference between using a professional travel planner (consultant, advisor) as compared to an online travel agency. In the commercial, a man calls the front desk of a hotel where he’s staying and tries to order a breakfast meal from said food place- breakfast sandwich, coffee, something like that. The remaining conversation goes as such, and I’m paraphrasing here:

Front desk agent: “um sir, we don’t have that restaurant here in the hotel.”

Hotel patron: “But there’s a McDonald’s(?) right across the street, and the front desk said ‘anything we can do to make your stay more pleasant.'”

The front desk agent: “Well, we did say that.”

Hotel patron: “Great, can you throw in some hash browns too?”

The front desk agent then presumably goes across the street get the meal, since it is after all a commercial for the fast food place, and it wouldn’t be very good marketing if he didn’t.

The point is, though, that the front desk agent promised “whatever we can do to make your stay better” and truly meant it – including running across the street to get this man’s breakfast sandwich. That, right there, is the difference between working with an unknown online travel agency and a professional planner with whom you develop a personal relationship. When you need something customized, when something goes wrong, when you have a detailed question, you call a mass online travel agency and you get a call center rep. It’s so impersonal at times that they aren’t even allowed to give you their last name or a personal extension to call them back. The reps often times aren’t in the travel industry at all, except the fact that they’re answering phones for an online company. They haven’t had destination training, the individual reps don’t have personal connections with local suppliers on the ground in your destination, hotels don’t recognize that rep personally as an industry professional. This isn’t to say that the companies aren’t known – they’re practically household names thanks to mass market and lots of advertising – but their employees with whom the clients work don’t develop those personal relationships.

When you work with a professional travel planner, though, you do benefit from this customization, this industry knowledge and experience, these personal relationships with suppliers. I know my clients’ travel preferences, favorite airlines and hotel brands, must haves and can’t stands. I have exclusive access to suppliers and ground operators because of my industry partnerships. I can reach out to a hotel contact or tour representative provided specifically to travel professionals in my region only, many of whom I have a established personal relationships with. Finally, I have a very personal interest in each and every client. My business isn’t run on high volume, one and done sales. A happy client is a client who returns, who refers others, and who I am truly helping live out their travel dreams. I work with every client individually, often over the period of several months, and when you get to know someone like this, you want to ensure that they have their ideal trip – it makes you happy to see them happy, as cheesy as that sounds. They’re not just a number going to a call center, they’re someone I now know personally. I think this can be said of many of today’s professional travel planners – certainly many that I know.

This doesn’t mean that a travel planner can fix absolutely any problem at any time. If the flight gets cancelled and the airline you “must” fly on because you want to earn miles does not operate any other flights that day, I cannot get them to schedule one. We are only human and even the most influential of us have occasionally run into a situation that we cannot control – i.e a volcano erupting in Iceland and all airports across Western Europe being shut down. However, in situations like this we can work with our trusted suppliers to find the best and quickest solution, and we can get to these solutions much quicker because of our personal relationships.

This, in a rather large nutshell, is the difference. And, while we as professionals we’d prefer you and not ask us to run across the street and fetch your bagel sandwich for you, I do offer new clients a complimentary consultation, and often we meet at a coffee shop, where I’m happy to buy them a coffee to enjoy while we discuss their future travel plans.

Choosing Your Travel Partner

I love to travel alone. I also love to travel with my family, and I’ve been lucky enough that basically all of my significant others over the years have been very good travelers – perhaps I subconsciously analyze this when meeting someone new! However, I know a lot of people who strongly dislike traveling with their family, or many others, for that matter.

I think the key is knowing yourself, and being very honest with both yourself and others, when choosing your travel companions. What attributes do you require, or strongly hope for, in a travel partner? What are your quirks that someone has to put up with for days or weeks on end if they’re going to travel with you? Here are a few questions that might help you to consider when choosing your travel partners, and especially, your travel roommates.

1. Are you an early riser or a late nighter? No one wants to feel like they’re missing half their vacation waiting for their roommate to wake up. Similarly, no one wants to feel like they can’t enjoy the nightlife becuase they’re travel partner likes to be in bed earlier. This can be one of the trickiest parts of traveling together, and it’s important to know these dynamics up front.

2. What’s your travel style? Do you like to plan things out, go with the flow, or some combination? Planners will go nuts with people who don’t even like to have a place to stay lined up on their trip. Similarly, people who like to go with the flow 100 percent can feel stifled by a planner. Similarly, do you prefer to go nonstop on your trip for the fear of missing something, or take a slower pace and just see what you see?

3. Luxury or low maintenance? Some people consider camping and hostels a fun adventure. Others consider it cruel and unusual punishment and prefer high end hotels.

4. Dining habits. How adventurous are you when it comes to food? Sounds silly, but if you’re looking to try every local street food vendor as you go along and they want three square meals in a nice restaurant, a compromise in one form or another will be necessary.

These are just a few ideas to get you started. Probably every trip and every set of travel companions will require looking at different dynamics. Still, you want to have some frame of reference when you begin planning. You most likely won’t see eye to eye on every one of the above. So it’s important to know what’s really important to you, and what you can compromise on. If there’s someone you really want to travel with (i.e. a significant other) but their travel patterns and styles are greatly different than your own, sit down and discuss these and any other concerns you have about traveling with them, and see what agreements you can come to.

Do you have other travel partner “musts” and “no ways”? Would love to hear them!

Test Your World Knowledge

As an inquisitive person, and a person that loves to learn, I enjoy taking various quizes to test my knowledge. I thought it might be fun to post a quiz (or several?) on my blog to see how my readers do – and maybe provide a little travel inspiration as well. I’ll post the questions in this blog, and the answers in a following blog. Let’s see how you fare – and no googling, wikipedia research, or using any other internet tool!

1. Name three structures that were originally built for a World’s Fair, but then became permanent fixtures. (There are several that have either been moved or were destroyed by disaster later, which are acceptable answers).

2. As of the date of this blog post, which country has the most UNESCO World Heritage Sites?
a. Spain
b. Italy
c. France
d. China
e. India

3. Which Natural Wonder of the World spans across the border of Zimbabwe and Zambia?

4. Which is the only one of the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World still standing?

5. Which Big 5 animal is considered to be the most dangerous to humans?

6. The Bridge of Sighs is located in which European city?

7. In which country is Bibimbap a popular dish?

8. If you land in Schipol airport, you are in what country? (There are two names acceptable here – they’re both the same country. I’ll take the official or unofficial).

9. Which two countries are the only two in the world to span two continents?

9b. Which city is the only city in the world to span two continents?

10. As of the time of this blog post (Sept. 20, 2012), what is the world’s newest official country?

Bonus Question: What is the capital of that country?

Flying Virgin America

This past weekend I took my first flight on Virgin America, from Philadelphia to L.A. It was my first time on any Virgin airline, in fact. I’d heard good things about it, and was excited to give it a try. Philadelphia being a US Airways hub, I’m always always flying them and am getting a bit tired of it – though often I have no choice. Plus, I always like to test out products in case my clients ask me about them.

On the way out, I flew in the main cabin – basically, coach class. The seats were comfortable and my seat mates quite pleasant, though I can’t really attribute the latter to the airline, as much as I’d like to (unlike KLM, there’s no “pick your flying” companions programs here). I also love that there the outlets between the bottom of each seat, which allow me to charge electronic devices. Sadly, I only discovered this on the return flight. While I can’t say I was “wowed” by my departing flight, it was an overall good experience and if flying the Philadelphia to LAX or San Francisco route again, I’d most likely choose them. I should mention that the price was quite competitive as well. I think my round trip Main Cabin ticket cost around $350.

On the way back, I decided to treat myself to a Main Cabin Select upgrade. For around $130 (one way), I was able to upgrade to the next level of service. This means I got 6 more inches of leg room – I chose the bulkhead seat – which is a big selling feature. It may not sound like a lot, but given the compactness of most airline seating these days, it is. I also got free food, which I could order from the touch screen tv at my seat. You just put your order in and they bring it right to your seat! It’s tough to get a free mini bag of peanuts on most domestic flights these days, so this was quite a welcomed feature. Another advantage was that I got to board right after First Class, something that always 1.) makes someone feel a bit special and 2.) basically ensures that you’ll have plenty of room in the overhead bin for your bag. Main Cabin Select also allows your to check my first bag for free, though I wasn’t checking any luggage on this trip.

If I had wanted to upgrade to First Class from Main Cabin Select, it would have been an additional $130-$150 each way (this may vary depending on your flight). In the days of $1000 first class seats on many flights, this really isn’t terrible. Had it been a red eye, I may have been tempted. I was lucky with my choice though, as I had the whole row to myself and could spread out plenty.

Overall, I give Virgin America my stamp of approval, as far as domestic airlines go. While I guess you could argue that it’s not technically an American airline, since the company is part of the Virgin group, it operates domestic flights and in comparison to many other airlines that do so, it’s a step up. Currently, the airline flies between select U.S. departures cities and Los Angeles or San Francisco. For those on the west coast, it does operate flights between San Francisco an several major airports in Mexico. (Obviously it’s not limited to those on the West coast, but it wouldn’t make sense for most of us flying from the East Coast). Whether or not they will expand service, only time will tell. For now though, if you have to head to LAX or SFO, I highly suggest looking into Virgin America.

Blog Challenge Finale

A month ago, or a little over that by now, I decided to do a blog challenge with my friends and myself to blog every day in the month of August. I have two blogs, this and a personal one, so that was a daunting task of 62 blogs. I’ll admit that at times, due to travel and other circumstances, I had to write ahead of time and post on the day of. But still, 62 blogs!

August 31st is the last day of the blog challenge. I have written a blog for every day of the month. Some days I didn’t get to post them to social media for one reason or another (ie I was posting from my phone and it was being temperamental) but I did write a blog for every day.

This challenge was exciting, and honestly a bit grueling. Towards the end of last, I knew I was having company in town the following week, so went on a blogging marathon to make sure I had a blog to post every day. Whew! Let me tell you how much I loved coffee that day.

This challenge taught me a lot. I had to be creative, to think in different terms and challenge my brain quite a bit. I learned that I know more about the travel industry and travel in general than I even thought. I enjoyed sharing my thoughts, insights, pictures, and more. I also learned that no matter how much you know about travel and the world, there’s always so much more to learn!

I plan to continue to blog a couple of times a week after this challenge, but not every day, at least not for now. It was very time consuming, and after a while even the most avid travel and most knowledgeable travel professional would run out of things to say. I hope you enjoyed sharing this challenge with me, and thank you for reading! I hope you continue to enjoy my blog in the future.