July 31, 2009

What Families Need to Know about Travel Insurance

Before you dismiss the idea of purchasing travel insurance, think about the possible scenarios which could cause you to cancel, postpone, or return early from a trip. The obvious ones come to mind first: illness, accident, or a death in the family. But there are others that travelers least expect which can also put their hard earned vacation money at risk:

> Your home is burglarized or damaged in a fire.

> A work-related emergency comes up, or your business partner becomes seriously ill

> The friend or nanny who was going to watch your children while you are on an adults-only getaway falls ill

> Friends you were traveling with cancel due to an unexpected emergency

> You lose your job, or are required to relocate

> You are involved in a car accident on the way to the airport

> Your cruise line, airline, tour company, etc. goes bankrupt

> Bad weather forces your cruise ship to miss a port where you had booked a private, nonrefundable tour

> The family members or friends you are visiting fall ill and cannot host you

> A terrorist incident occurs at your destination

Many travel insurance policies reimburse travelers for money lost due to the above causes, but there may be special conditions which must be met. For example, one company requires that insurance be purchased within 21 days of the time the reservation is made for full coverage, otherwise some scenarios such as supplier bankruptcy are not included. The clock starts ticking at the first purchase, so this can adversely impact travelers who buy their airline tickets first, then wait a few weeks to reserve their hotel. So it is important to think about insurance right from the start of travel planning, not add it on as an afterthought.

Travelers certainly can research policies on the internet or call an insurance company’s customer service number to find out what is covered. But the best way to buy insurance is through a travel professional. They undergo training on the various products, receive regular updates on policy changes, and can help explain the myriad of technical terms in the “fine print.” And perhaps most importantly, as insurance claims are not always “black and white,” it is very helpful to have an advocate on your side that has a long-standing relationship with the insurance company.

Also beware of the offer to purchase the travel supplier’s insurance, which often simply requires checking a little box at the end of your reservation. In general, purchasing the insurance offered by your travel supplier is not recommended. Often it not only costs more than third party insurance, but does not provide as much coverage. However there are exceptions, so a travel professional can explain the pros and cons of all options available.

Hopefully now you are convinced you need travel insurance, but you may be worried about how much it costs. Coverage for a $4000 vacation for a family of four (2 adults, 2 children) would start at $76. That is the total for the family policy, not per person. That’s pretty inexpensive for peace of mind!

For more information about travel insurance, or help with planning the family vacation of your dreams, contact Suzette Mack, Family Travel Specialist, at suzette@family-treks.com

July 17, 2009

New York City Through the Eyes of a Child

We recently spent a weekend in New York City, the first time we have taken our children who are 9 and almost 12. This was a great age, as they were very excited about seeing famous landmarks as well as movie sights such as the Trinity Church (National Treasure) and the American Museum of Natural History (Night at the Museum). And they were also old enough to handle the long walks that were required in our jam-packed schedule.

I asked them to tell me in their own words what they liked best. The part written by my son is probably obvious (hint: it’s about the food).

“I liked seeing the Statue of Liberty and going inside the pedestal. I learned that it is actually copper instead of concrete painted green. It was AMAZING! From the Empire State Building I could see for miles from up there! It was so cool! I experienced what it was like to ride on a subway and a train.”
“It was really cool to be just a few feet below the Statue of Liberty. I also really liked the pizza and hot dogs. My favorite part was seeing Manhattan from the 102nd floor of the Empire State Building.”
Since we had a relatively short amount of time, I purchased as many tickets in advance as I could to avoid waiting in lines. This turned out to be a big time savings when visiting the Statue of Liberty and the Empire State Building. On a summer weekend the lines to purchase tickets can be exceptionally long. And we saw several disappointed families who didn’t realize that a limited number of tickets were distributed each day to enter the Statue of Liberty, so if they didn’t get there early enough, they could only walk around the island. We had reserve tickets for the Liberty Island ferry, so we breezed by the crowds! We also visited Grand Central Station and Rockefeller Center, walked across the Brooklyn Bridge at sunset, had dinner at the South Street Seaport, and took a carriage ride in Central Park. That was a lot packed into one weekend, but there is still much more to do and see in New York City, so we plan to go back and enjoy it at a more leisurely pace next time. Maybe take in a Broadway show, and use one of my local connections to visit the actors backstage and get a close-up view of the make-up and costumes!

New York City has several Virtuoso hotels which offer exclusive rates and amenities for my clients.

- Ritz Carlton Central Park offers daily breakfast for two and a $100 food & beverage credit.
- Hotel Plaza Athenee offers continental breakfast daily and choice of afternoon tea or 2 cocktails. Their Pillows & Penguins package includes 50% off a connecting room for children, milk & cookies, a children’s gift bag, and 4 tickets to the Central Park Zoo.
- The Plaza offers daily breakfast for two and $100 hotel credit, and through Sept. 7 the 3rd night is free.
- The St. Regis has a Summer Suite Family Package including 3rd night free, daily continental breakfast for four, afternoon tea, and four tickets to two museums of the family’s choice. Kids receive milk & cookies with St. Regis teddy bears, and enjoy two in-suite movies with a popcorn and ice-cream sundae bar delivered by room service! (Available through Sept. 7)

All these hotels also automatically upgrade clients of Virtuoso agencies, if space is available.

For help with your next family vacation, contact Suzette Mack at suzette@family-treks.com.

July 1, 2009

Yes, the Disney Dining Plan is a Deal!

I always advise my clients to purchase the dining plan when visiting Walt Disney World, as it’s widely known that it is a great value. But I experienced firsthand not only how much a family can save, but some additional benefits as well, when we spent 5 days at the resort for a family reunion.

For a family of four with children ages 9 and 11, the plan cost about $650 (3 adults and 1 child), or $130 per day. The basic plan includes one table service (sit down) meal, one counter service meal, and one snack per person per day. Meals include entrée, beverage, dessert, and taxes, though for breakfast diners get an extra beverage instead of dessert. (Upgrades are available which include additional table service meals and wine.)

If there is only one reason to purchase the dining plan, it’s to save money, and I now have the receipts to prove it. All the restaurants, whether buffet or ala carte, would have cost us at least $100-150 including taxes. Add in a counter service meal for lunch or breakfast, and there’s another $25-40. Snacks vary greatly in cost, from <$2 for fresh fruit or candy to $3-5 for ice cream sundaes and smoothies, so that was another $15-20 per day. Adding it all up, our food bill would have been at least $140 per day without the dining plan, but usually it was closer to $180. So that was a savings of as much as $50 per day!

We sometimes found we had so much food, we couldn’t eat it all. Desserts were often ordered “to go” and kept in our room refrigerator for snacking another time. Unused beverages (20 oz bottles) were also saved for later in the day. If an adult opted for wine or beer at dinner (not included on the plan), then my daughter could order a milkshake or smoothie, which was allowed on the adult plan but not the child’s. On the day of our departure, we had an extra counter service meal to use up, so we got sandwiches to go and took them on the plane.

In addition to saving money, there are other great benefits with the dining plan:

* Less mealtime conflict - When we dine out, two issues almost always come up. The first is whether or not my son can order off the adult menu (“Trust me, the hamburger on the kids’ menu is the same size, it just costs less. I promise I’ll get you more food if you’re still hungry.”) And whether or not the kids can order dessert. With the dining plan, my son had free reign to order whatever he wanted, which turned out to be filet mignon with bleu cheese sauce on the first night. I didn’t cringe a bit when he ordered! And dessert was always included, so no problem there, either.

* Less stress – At some point during our vacations, I start to feel the financial pinch as we eat out meal after meal. I look at prices on the menu rather than ordering what I want, even though I have budgeted for food. I think part of the problem is not knowing exactly how much we have spent, since I am not organized enough to keep a running tally as we go. At Disney World, though I knew the food wasn’t “free,” it was much more relaxing to go into the restaurant knowing it was prepaid, and the amount was set. And I loved receiving a bill which showed a big fat 0 for the total!

* Less junk food – Because we weren’t so concerned about watching our meal expenses, we ate much less fast food than we would have otherwise. So that meant fewer French fries and burgers, and more fresh fish and poultry. Even the buffets offered a variety of healthy choices, and also allowed the kids to try foods that they normally would not have ordered.

For families visiting Walt Disney World this fall, dining is even more affordable, as it’s free! For more information about this offer and other great family vacation values, contact Suzette Mack at suzette@family-treks.com.