Celebrations International Travel Blog

Archive for September 2009

As a culinary travel specialist, food is obviously very important to me.  So a tweet about this article on airline food caught my attention:

http://bit.ly/10ZAdg

Airline food (along with dorm food, in many cases) has long been the brunt of many jokes and sour faces.  As this article says, a number of airlines are now collaborating with chefs in an effort to improve the food offered in business and first-class cabins.  Unfortunately, I guess it means we economy travelers will continue to either bring our own food onboard or buy one of those often over-priced, generic meals offered in some version of a cardboard box.

Don’t get me wrong, I applaud the airlines for making an effort where their passengers in premium seats are concerned, but I am still not a fan of airline food, regardless.  Sorry, but vacuum-packed food that’s been through two ovens just doesn’t make the grade.  I’d prefer to save my money and just get to my destination so I can enjoy all the great food and wine that awaits me there!

What are your thoughts on airline food and beverage service?

For our international travelers, new words of advice:  Pack light and check the airline’s Web site for updates on checked baggage fees and policies.  I came across this link to a USA Today article on Twitter: http://goplanit.com/l/1dv

At my agency, Celebrations International Travel, we’ve found the surge of new baggage policies, weight limits, etc. all to be so confusing and ever-changing, we simply remind travelers to check the airline Web sites for their most up-to-date information before they pack their bags.

As much as airline travel costs these days, it’s a shame that your bags can’t travel free even overseas anymore.  But maybe a little creative packing and space-saving will help you avoid some of the cost of checking that extra bag.  Or maybe traveling with a partly-empty bag will give you room to bring home souvenirs!

Do you have packing or international travel tips you’d like to share?  Post them here, and I’ll also share them on Twitter.  (We’re on Twitter @CelebrationsInt.)

Celebrations International Travel offers air ticketing for most destinations around the world.  Contact us for more information.

A USA Today headline earlier today read: “Tourists Dropping Fewer Dollars in Hawaii”.  A brief scan of the article brought several thoughts to mind that I’d like to share.

While I won’t pretend to be an expert either on all things affecting Hawaiian tourism or all aspects of the travel industry, here are my thoughts as a travel professional:

Airfares to Hawaii have increased dramatically in the last couple of years.  Decreased capacity due to the closure of a few airlines that once serviced Hawaii, combined with fewer flights offered by other carriers means that travelers pay much more than they did before.  I see this as a major deterrent to potential visitors to Hawaii, which in turn hurts hotels and other land-based operations that depend on tourism dollars.

With the traditional “air-and-land” combination looking less attractive these days, my attention turns to another great way to see Hawaii:  cruising the Hawaiian Islands.  While it’s true that many Hawaiian cruises start in Honolulu, cruisers looking to save on airfare should consider departures out of Los Angeles, San Diego, or even San Francisco or Vancouver, depending on the cruise line’s current offerings.  If you live within driving distance of any of these port cities, you can save on airfare by parking at the cruise terminal, and if not, your flight out to the port city will likely still cost you much less than a flight to Honolulu would.

Another reason cruising to Hawaii is a better deal is the all-inclusive nature of a cruise.  Meals, transportation, and entertainment can be quite costly on a land-based vacation in Hawaii.  But on a cruise, all of that’s included in your cruise fare.

What better way to see the Hawaiian Islands than to wake up in a new port each morning and go exploring?  Of course shore excursions are at an additional cost, but you might decide to splurge on a special excursion one day and explore on your own the next, thereby keeping your costs in check.  And anything extra you spend onboard is always optional–you decide.

For more information on cruising to Hawaii or any other destination, visit our Oceanliner Cruises page.   Contact us with any questions!

Mahalo, cruisers!

A post on Twitter yesterday read: “101 Frightening Ice Cream Flavors From Around the World,” with this link: http://goplanit.com/l/1gu

Intrigued, I scrolled through the entire article. I found it quite interesting that although the title reads “….From Around the World,” all of the ice cream tubs have Japanese labels. So unfortunately, though I’m sure there are strange ice cream flavors from all over the world, this assortment doesn’t show it.

However, this article got me thinking about how foodies and travelers view other countries, their foods, and culinary traditions. As an American-born Chinese, and having lived in various parts of the U.S. and in Europe, and being married to an Indian man, I recognize the fact that my own perceptions of the world’s culinary scene is more than likely atypical.

I’m well aware that many strange-looking, unfamiliar delicacies in the world originate in Asia: 1000-year-old eggs, squid ink, and shark fin, just to name a few.  But I must say that reading this article made me realize that more often than not, Asia is the first place in the world many people would associate all that is unappealing, weird, maybe even downright yucky in regard to food.  Why that is, I’m not sure.   Unfortunately, I think this pop culture reputation sometimes causes Asia to be regarded as too different, exotic, and possibly less desirable to less adventuresome foodies and travelers.

I do know that my experiences in France as a teenager quickly turned some of my long-held notions about food and culture upside down. Up until then, I had never seen duck eaten any other way than roasted Chinese-style.

When a waiter presented me with my first Canard a l’Orange, I knew it was a traditional French preparation of duck, although I had never tasted it. My host, momentarily forgetting about my Chinese heritage, leaned over to explain, “C’est du canard.” (It’s duck.) For lack of a better response, I said “Oui, je sais.” (Yes, I know.) His eyebrows shot up, then realizing that I had, of course had duck before, he quickly says “J’ai rien dit.” (I have nothing to say.)

On a different occasion, I had lunch at Au Pied de Cochon, near the Centre Georges Pompidou Museum in Paris. Same experience, except this time it was pig’s feet. I didn’t even know people other than Asians even ate pig’s feet, let alone that there were different ways to prepare it. Too squeamish to try it, I watched in amazement as my host mother polished off the entire dish of baked pig’s feet.

What about foods largely uncommon in the U.S. that don’t have any “mainstream” connections to Asia? My host families served horse meat, rabbit, lamb, and mutton in stews and other dishes. Sometimes I wasn’t sure what I was eating until I was told; I just knew it was something different that sometimes tasted funny, although many times flavorful sauces helped to mask other less pleasant flavors.

I think it’s worth mentioning that although uncommon foods come from all around the world, it’s up to foodie travelers to discover each country’s authentic flavors.

Amongst some of the most common “unique” foods of the world, these come to mind: Roasted Guinea Pig (Ecuador & Peru), Haggis (Scotland), Dried Cuttlefish (Asia), Stinky Tofu (Taiwan), and Paneer (India).

Note that while I have listed these as foods that I view as “unique,” others who are more familiar with and who enjoy them would disagree with me.  In my mind, that’s the beauty of culinary diversity:  the fact that every traveler and every foodie can find culinary creations to enjoy no matter where your travels take you!



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I just came across an interesting article on chefs and street foods:

http://abcnews.go.com/Entertainment/wireStory?id=8611845

We always stress to our clients how important it is to be careful when eating from street vendors in what are often less-than-optimal environments for food preparation.

However, this article serves as a reminder that the influence of so-called “street foods” and other “on-the-go” meals is undeniable:   What today is $1.00 snack from a cart on a street corner halfway around the world may very well be a different version of something you order for dinner at a 5-star hotel next week, thanks to the many talented and creative chefs around the world.  Similarly, some of these same chefs are doing their best to “dress up” street foods.

From street foods to gourmet cuisine, all are great means of Celebrating Life Through Travel (even if you only travel around the corner to your favorite snack cart)!

For some tasty travel ideas, visit our Culinary Travel Homepage.

Check out these beautiful pictures of a small town in Tuscany (tweeted by Susan Pohlman this morning): http://bit.ly/EOEMb

Enjoy pristine vistas like these, along with superb food and wine on a Culinary Tour of Tuscany! Celebrations International Travel will customize an itinerary for you:  The sample itinerary is just there to inspire your travels.  You let us know when and where you want to travel.  We will custom design a tour to suit your particular interests, tastes, and budget.

tuscany

In a nutshell, our custom culinary tours allow you the flexibility to see, do, (and of course eat and drink) what you want, when you want.

Celebrations International Travel’s custom culinary tours are all about Celebrating Life Through Travel!

As a first-generation Chinese-American, I have always been in-tune to differences in English-language terminology and usage.  I think sometimes you could argue that the differences are merely stylistic, but sometimes they’re so drastic they can be difficult to understand if you’re not used to it.  Some are definite brain teasers!

Here’s a short list of terms, their country of origin, and their American English “translations”.

I’m sure someone out there can think of many more to add, so go for it!  Post any you can think of, so we can build this fun list.

Kitchen Roll (Scotland) = Roll of Paper Towels

Bush Lunch (Australia) = Australian Picnic

Pre-pone (India) = Moved Up; Opposite of Postpone

Shift (India) = Move, as in “to move to a new residence”

My One (India) = Mine

Your One (India) = Yours

Ice Lolly (India) = Popsicle

Stick Ice Cream (India) = Ice Cream Bar on a Stick, Not a Popsicle

First Nations (Canada) = Native American

Buggy (Ireland)/pram (England) = stroller

Weight Problems (India) = refers to challenges associated with packing/checking in suitcases over the airlines’ weight restrictions

Coach (most English-speaking countries except the U.S.) = A Tour Bus

What other English terms have you come across in your travels that aren’t common in American English?  Add them to my list!  I’d love to hear from you!

In the meantime, food for thought.  Americans say “eggplant”.  In some cases I know these are referred to as “aubergines,” which if I’m not mistaken, is actually French in orgin but also used in English,  and “bringalls”.  I don’t have that spelled right because I was typing it phonetically.  What country uses this term, and what is its language of origin?

Earlier this week, I answered a call that came in to our agency.  Here’s the conversation:

Me: Celebrations!

Caller: Is this the travel agency?

Me: Yes, may I help you?

Caller: How do I get my friend from Nairobi to here?

I have to admit this question actually rendered me speechless for a couple of seconds.  I didn’t know exactly how to respond.  Questions start swirling in my head:

– Is she asking for flight routing, as in how would we go about bringing someone here from a logistical standpoint?

– The passenger is in Nairobi–Is she asking how to bring this person here in terms of immigration and/or entry requirements?  I’m not an immigration expert, I’m just a travel agent!

In the mundane sense, I’m also thinking to myself:  Buy a ticket! But get your travel documents in order first!  I fought the urge to laugh at my own sarcastically humorous thoughts.

Not exactly sure what she wants to know, I give her overview answers from both perspectives, just in case.  Unfortunately for me, as I’m explaining the booking and ticketing process, she cuts in to verify the general information Web site address I gave her, then hung up.

I thought to myself:  Yes ma’am, that’s correct.  Glad I could be of service as your personal Web guide this morning.

As much as travel agents like myself are weary of having our brains picked, at least it gave me something rather amusing to talk about here!

In case you’re wondering, Celebrations International Travel offers international airfares to most destinations worldwide.  (Airfares to Africa are limited.)

Happy Travels!

Here is an excerpt from a  press release I received from Victoria Cruises, a river cruise line specializing in cruises on the Yangtze, yesterday morning.   I’ve added the green headings to make it easier to read.

(Click on the Victoria Cruises link to see pictures of the Victoria Jenna and other ships.)

ONE WEEK AFTER INAUGURAL VOYAGE ON CHINA ‘S YANGTZE,
VICTORIA JENNA IS NOW WORLD’S LARGEST RIVER CRUISE SHIP

Victoria Cruises Newest Ship Boasts More Suites Than Any Other Vessel On The Yangtze

NEW YORK , NY (Sept. 14, 2009) – On Sunday, Sept. 6, Victoria Cruises launched the Victoria Jenna the world’s largest and most technologically advanced luxury river cruise ship.  One week after its inaugural journey along China ‘s mist-shrouded, temple-lined Yangtze River , the Victoria Jenna shattered expectations and achieved several milestones.

About Stateroom Accommodations: The Victoria Jenna makes history as the first river cruise ship in the world to possess four elevators, two separate full-service kitchens and wireless CDMA Internet, as well as full bathtubs and high efficiency dual-flush toilets in each passenger stateroom.

With 200 staterooms and a passenger capacity of 400, the Victoria Jenna is the largest ship in the Victoria Cruises ‘ five-star fleet, which has now grown to eight vessels.  The room breakdown is as follows: 150 superior staterooms, 35 junior suites, three deluxe suites and two Shangri-La Suites.

“When we first conceptualized the Victoria Jenna, we envisioned a state-of-the-art river cruise ship above and beyond that which made our previous five-star vessels exceptional,” noted Larry Greenman, manager of public relations and customer service for Victoria Cruises .

“The Victoria Jenna marks a new standard for class, style and elegance, and Victoria Cruises is once again proud to pioneer a new era of luxury cruising on the Yangtze River ,” added Greenman.

Meeting & Dining Rooms: Two dedicated conference rooms (equipped with AV-ready equipment for presentations) with capacity to seat up to 40 guests each make the Victoria Jenna perfect for corporate meetings and retreats, while the Yangtze ClubDynasty Dining Room, also the Yangtze’s largest, boasts a capacity of 350 guests, while the upper deck VIP Club restaurant has a capacity of up to 150 guests.

About the Food: Two separate kitchens provide customized meal requests, such as Kosher Tours, Gluten-Free and Vegetarian cuisine.  The VIP Club offers á la carte dining, as well as omelet & egg stations for breakfast, noodle and sandwiching stations for lunch, and Carving and Peking Duck stations for lunch or dinner (varies by day).  All food on the ship is freshly-baked and freshly-made. Grass-fed and non-hormone meats are used, and all pastries, breads and desserts are handmade.

More on Stateroom Amenities: All staterooms feature a private balcony so guests can appreciate the magnificent views of the Yangtze River .  Marble-Top bathroom counters, in-room refrigerators and safety boxes, 26″ Phillips LCD flat screen televisions in each stateroom (suites feature 42″ Phillips LCD flat screen TVs with DVD player), international cable TV broadcasts of HBO and CNN, advanced-cooling air conditioning systems and a fully fit-out fitness center further add to the luxury look and feel of the Victoria Jenna.

Public Spaces & Activities: The Victoria Jenna also features a lecture room (for talks about the river’s history and lessons in Tai Chi, Mandarin language and mah jong), library/reading room, cocktail lounge, beauty parlor and mini-spa, gift shop, spacious observation deck, business center, health clinic and lavish atrium lobby.  The ship’s overall décor is highlighted by a rich tapestry of colors, gleaming woods, sparkling chandeliers, and American and European influences with Asian accents.

Green Cruising: The Victoria Jenna is poised to become the new leader in environmental conservation and “green” renewable technology with the best fuel-passenger ratio on the river due to improved navigational design and weight distribution.  To drastically eliminate paper usage, the Victoria Jenna employs a five-star hotel management software application to fully streamline ship operations from onboard shopping to passenger telecommunications.

The ship possesses advanced SONAR, GPS, Engine and Navigation systems to ensure maximum safety, as well as 24/7 video security surveillance system for passenger areas.

Entertainment & Shore Excursions: In addition to onboard activities such as Tai Chi lessons and a host of nightly entertainment options, the cruise features invigorating shore excursions such as the impressive Three Gorges Dam in Sandouping, an extraordinary feat of engineering. Visitors will also have the opportunity to board a smaller boat for a mind-blowing expedition down the Yangtze’s scenic Daning or Shennong River tributaries to the Small Gorges.

For more information or to book, call Celebrations International Travel at (480) 272-6020 or Contact Us.

I’ve had a number of my own “Calgon Moments” this week, as I’m sure most people out there can relate to:  Sometimes you just feel like you need to get away!

The last time I actually made good on my quest to get away from it all, I booked my family on a last-minute Disney cruise to the Western Caribbean (7 nights on the Disney Magic, round-trip from Port Canaveral, Florida).   No kidding, I got on the phone and told the booking agent “It’s for me; I really need to get out of here.  Can you help me?”  Less than two weeks later, we flew to Orlando and set sail on a much-needed vacation.

When I’m on vacation, I want to be completely relaxed, which can be hard when you have Internet connectivity (temptation to check e-mail, look up stuff, or get on Twitter), a cell phone that might ring, or any other “techno-gadget”.  While technology can be a great way to keep in touch, I’m amongst those who tend to find myself enslaved to it.

That’s why, when I’m looking for total relaxation, I prefer cruising over other types of vacations.   Shortly after the ship sets sail, I turn my cell off because I’m about to lose reception anyway (no satellite phone for me, thanks!), and if I really want to check email or surf the Web, I can, but I’m much less likely to do so when I have to pay for Internet access.  And calling home when we’re on a cruise?  There are a number of ways to do that while the ship is in port that are generally less expensive than calling from the ship if I really need to.

I can’t think of a better way to get away from it all–literally–than on a cruise.   Cruise ships can take you just about anywhere in the world, and the cruise lines are offering excellent deals these days.   When you take into account that everything is included in your cruise fare:  accommodations, meals, activities, entertainment, children’s programs, and transportation between destinations–it might even be a better deal than staying home!

For your next “Calgon Moment”:  Here’s to your cruise vacation getaway!

Visit the Celebrations International Travel Web site for more information on oceanliner cruises and river and specialty cruises.


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This is blog based on the experiences and interests of travel agency owners Adrienne and Agni Mitra. Through our blog entries, we will share our travel experience and expertise. We will also have other entries of interest to inspire your travels.

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