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Foreign river cruises are a big travel hit, but are they right for you?

River cruises are the big success of the current travel season. As amazing as it may seem, no fewer than 53 new river cruise ships will be joining an already-large number this year and in early 2015. One company – Viking – will be adding about 24 spectacular and luxurious longboats to its fleet. And so heavy are advance bookings for these 130-passenger vessels that you rarely will find discounts to their prices, in sharp contrast to the frantic bargaining in the ocean cruise-ship business.

Norway is beautiful, but the price of being a tourist isn’t pretty

Although some of the questions put to me may seem rather ordinary at first, they nevertheless reflect widespread concerns about problems in travel. Here are a number of the questions recently submitted to this column by readers, and my answers to them:

New frequent-flier policy bad news for leisure travelers

For many years, leisure travelers have been earning free airline flights by collecting frequent-flier mileage on their various trips. But starting next year, while such mileage awards will be increasingly available to business travelers paying large sums for their air tickets, they will be less and less available for us normal leisure travelers using cheap, discount tickets.

Tourism to Peru’s Machu Picchu has exploded in recent years

In the world of travel, Machu Picchu, the famed “Lost City of the Andes,” occupies an increasingly high position. More than 1 million tourists a year are visiting this enchanting city of the 15th-century Incas. To place that figure in perspective, consider that such outstanding destinations as Australia receive far less than 1 million tourists a year. How many other archaeological sites receive a like number?

Sept. 11 Museum adds a profound experience to New York City

For more than a half century, the Empire State Building was the most heavily visited touristic attraction in New York City, followed by Rockefeller Center, Times Square and the United Nations building. Then, after Sept. 11, 2001, all four attractions were eclipsed in visitor numbers by ground zero.

Arthur Frommer: Learn something new for next vacation

l receive countless inquiries asking me to suggest novel methods of vacationing __ tactics designed to get the listener or reader out of a vacation rut. To my surprise, these questions continue to recur, even though I regard the answers to them to be rather obvious. Here is my take on five suggested tactics for avoiding a "vacation rut":

Arthur Frommer: Airlines trim dates for holiday surcharge

The press is full of reports that most of the major airlines — American, United, Delta among them — have reduced the number of holiday dates to six on which they will be charging surcharges of $20 to $40 each way. So this Thanksgiving and Christmas, it will be only a small number of instances — like the day before Christmas or the day before Thanksgiving, or the day after New Year's — when rates will suddenly skyrocket, as compared with the 12 or so days that saw such surcharges in 2010. Are the airlines frightened that they will be unable to fill their seats if they suddenly charge more on such days?

Arthur Frommer: Dual citizenship is possible for Americans

We live and learn. When a caller to my radio program recently requested information about how to obtain a "European passport" (she meant an Irish passport entitling the bearer to all the privileges of the European Union), I casually responded that this was impossible, it couldn't be; I was certain that an American could not enjoy dual citizenship.

Treasury constricts Cuba travel plans

In January, exceptions to the 50-year-old embargo against travel to Cuba were announced by the Obama administration, raising hopes that this totally counterproductive policy finally would be phased out.

Arthur Frommer: Trans-Atlantic flights are cheap right now

They may be a product of the recent riots in Britain, but autumn airfares across the Atlantic, and particularly to London, are suddenly much cheaper than was recently anticipated.

Arthur Frommer: Cruise from NYC to the tropics in elegance

In the world of cruising, most of the recent attention has gone to the floating amusement parks — the mega-sized Oasis of the Seas, Allure of the Seas and Norwegian Epic. But the real breakthrough in ship design occurred nearly three years ago with the introduction of the 3,000-passenger Celebrity Solstice. It was the product of a graceful new design meant to carry a large number of passengers but in an unusually spacious and traditional cruise-ship setting. On the Solstice, there were no lines or crowds, no bowling alleys or giant water chutes, no carnival-like attractions. It was a dignified cruise ship, and it received unusually favorable reviews and considerable customer loyalty.

Arthur Frommer: Websites help you rent your car to tourists

How big a leap is it from renting a spare room in your apartment to tourists, to renting use of your car to tourists when you don't need it?

Arthur Frommer: Opposing online views befuddling

I was recently curious about a large and long-established resort hotel known as the Melia Varadero on Varadero Beach in Cuba, and so I went to TripAdvisor.com to see how the Canadian public (the majority of its clientele) were reacting to it. What a problem I encountered! Dozens of people liked it, and dozens of people hated it.

Arthur Frommer: Lessons learned from travels in Europe

Heaven knows how many times I've been to Europe (several hundred?), and yet every trip brings either new lessons or emphasizes the worth of old lessons. Here are 10 of those — some painfully obvious but important to repeat.

Arthur Frommer: Low-budget site offers Europe's rivers cheap

Want a rock-bottom-price cruise of the Rhine or the Danube? In a field where companies have boasted about the deluxe nature of their river cruises (and charged accordingly), a celebrated champion of cheap vacations — the long-in-business YMT Vacations — has suddenly made a surprise appearance.

Arthur Frommer: Rebuilding Warsaw a 50-year journey

I have just completed a visit to Warsaw, which is a large and dynamic world capital that few Americans visit. With its 43 theaters with live productions, its 32 museums, its palaces, castles, resplendent squares and countless architectural highlights, it reflects the remarkable cultural heritage and history of Europe.

Arthur Frommer: Earthwatch volunteer trips the real deal

Volunteer vacations are a major vogue in travel, and people who attend travel lectures seem intrigued by the possibility of devoting their leisure time to a worthwhile cause. They soon find that the options are limited.

Irresistible deals on repositioning cruises

"When the going gets tough, the tough get going." That well-known suggestion (in other words, work harder to solve difficult problems) could have been applied to the decision by most cruise lines to offer bargain rates for their summer sailings in the Mediterranean.

Plenty of choices for summer travel spots

Just an hour north of Palm Beach, Fla., by car, the Navy SEALs Museum at Ft. Pierce, once largely unknown, is now awash with visitors. Before embarking on such feats of derring-do as taking out Osama bin Laden, the Navy SEALs were known as Underwater Demolition Teams, and played a key role on D-Day in 1944. The museum tells their story in fascinating detail.

Arthur Frommer: Hotel staggers shifts for early check-ins

We all know the situation — and the dilemma. You've arrived at your airport destination at an ultra-early hour, say 6:30 a.m., after an overnight flight. You then arrive at your hotel at 8 a .m., exhausted, craving to take a fast nap or yearning to shower and change clothes. The hotel advises, reluctantly, that you can't check in until 2 p.m. All the rooms are still occupied, and those that aren't have yet to be cleaned and made ready by the chambermaid staff.

Detailed passport form targets select few

The Internet is aflame with cries of alarm, anguished protests and extreme dismay over an application by the State Department that uses a new biographical questionnaire to be filled out by some people applying for an initial or renewed U.S. passport.

Two small airlines offer cheap Europe fares

This year the most frequently asked question to numerous travel editors is, Where can I get inexpensive trans-Atlantic airfare for a summer vacation in Europe?

Arthur Frommer: Experience Sicily in a welcoming village

Born in Sicily, Carmelina Ricciardello moved at the age of 7 to Australia, where her father could obtain work. But 28 years later, the homesick Carmelina returned to her seaside village of Sant'Ambrogio, and later decided that the right type of tourism could revive the fortunes of her Sicilian hometown. (In the 1990s, young people had deserted Sicily in droves to seek a better life in Rome, Bologna and Milan, and the population of the aptly-named Sant'Ambrogio had dropped from 2,300 to just 500 people. Numerous ancient homes stood empty.)

Arthur Frommer: 'Like-a-local' gives you an insider's experience

Like-a-local (www.like-a-local.com) is one of the most intriguing, most exciting travel websites I've seen in some time. It is somewhat like one of those free-of-charge greeters programs in New York or Chicago, except that this one imposes a modest charge for its services.

Arthur Frommer: People are as much a part of travel as sights

Several years after I began writing guidebooks, I discovered that I was dissatisfied with the traditional forms of vacation travel.

'Single supplement' dropped for some safaris

Several weeks ago, I wrote about the decision of Lion World Travel to charge only $2,199 per person for a one-week Kenya safari leaving from Washington, D.C. (including airfare) throughout March and the first week of April, and $2,299 for the same trip in the latter part of April, the month of May and many dates thereafter. It was obvious to me — as I pointed out in an effort at sarcasm — that the unusual price (several hundreds of dollars less than the competition) was brought about by using Ethiopian Airlines as the carrier from Washington, D.C. I was immediately besieged by numerous angry e-mails from readers who claimed that Ethiopian Airlines is a fine and reliable carrier, and I subsequently issued a full-throated apology.

Battles in travel industry are worth noting

The airlines versus the Internet search engines. The motorcoach tour operators versus the cruise lines. Sometimes it seems as if the entire travel industry is at war, devoting as much attention to attacking their colleagues as to selling travel.

Arthur Frommer: Egyptian tourism operators are gearing up

Although the formal warnings of the U.S. State Department remain in effect, advising you that the situation in Egypt is still too unsettled to make tourism entirely safe, most tour operators to Egypt are gearing up for an imminent restart of their programs. I recently spoke by phone with Elie Sidawi, chairman of Sunny-land Tours (www. sunnylandtours.com), which undoubtedly operates the most extensive list of trips to Egypt. He told me emphatically, and a bit triumphantly, that he will restart his key tours to Cairo and Upper Egypt this month, and is cutting the price in half to assure that every seat on his flights will be full.

Arthur Frommer: $68,950 safari: An immoral indulgence?

The 20-page booklet, which recently arrived in my home by mail, is a handsome production of stunning color photographs and elegant typography, all of it promoting a single 21-day tour of Africa leaving the U.S. Jan. 9, 2012, and costing $68,950 per person, double occupancy (not including round-trip airfare to London, from where the tour departs). In other words, a couple traveling tog ether will spend a total of $137,900 to buy the tour arrangements detailed in the booklet, plus airfare for two people round-trip to London. Single people traveling alone pay a surcharge of $9,450, for a total of $78,400, again not including round-trip airfare from the U.S. to London.

'Cultural' travel to Cuba to be permitted

Although specific rules won't be issued for another several weeks, it appears that the new policy of the Obama administration respecting travel to Cuba is somewhat broader than earlier reported in permitting such travel to occur. A study of the announcement indicates that "cultural" travel, in addition to religious or educational travel, will be permitted, encouraging a great many organizations to request permission to operate such trips.

Arthur Frommer: Beware of credit card conversion charges

In the ever-evolving world of travel, two recent news events deserve to be studied:

American Airlines upends online ticketing

Nearly nine years ago, in March 2002, the airlines stopped paying commissions to retail travel agents — and dealt a mortal blow to what was once a thriving segment of the travel industry. More than 20,000 travel agencies proceeded to go out of business, and travel's retail sector hasn't been the same since.

Arthur Frommer: Use Twitter to find ticket-price bargains

On several recent Tuesdays, JetBlue Airlines has published news of one-day sales over various routes that it flies in the U.S. Going in the morning to www.twitter.com/jetblue, on a Tuesday, you would find announcements of tickets for $19 on some of the airline's shorter itineraries. Later in the day, there would also be a flash announcement — valid for only a couple of hours — of transcontinental flights available for more than $19 but for far less than $99. The practice is not limited to JetBlue, and it's worth following the activities of other airlines on Twitter. Simply type www.twitter.com/ and then place the name of the airline (as a single word) following the slash line.

Arthur Frommer: On fake villages, high oil prices and a stronger dollar

Because the fake village at Falmouth, Jamaica, will not be completed until April 2011, Royal Caribbean Cruiseline has substituted the fake village of Costa Maya in Mexico (not a real town but an artificial, recently constructed shopping mall) for what would have been a stop at the fake village of Falmouth in February and March by Royal Caribbean's much-touted Oasis of the Seas cruiseship and its new sister vessel, the Allure of the Seas.

New year, new opportunities for travel

Though commercial life may slow down at the end of one year and the beginning of another, the world of travel remains full of recent events and new products that might affect your vacation plans.

Arthur Frommer: Iceland Express offers deals to Europe

We tend to forget that a feisty, cost-cutting carrier called Iceland Express (not to be confused with the larger and long-established Icelandair) is now crossing the Atlantic (via Reykjavik, Iceland) throughout the year, and offering the world's best prices for those flights. If you go to www.icelandexpress.com, you'll find that the relatively new airline is currently charging a total of $469, including all taxes and fees, for that round-trip flight from New York, on twice-weekly dates between Jan. 7 and March 28. Considering the inclusion of hefty, British-determined fees and taxes, its price is the lowest for that route in travel today.

Arthur Frommer: Low-cost hotel rooms a window to future?

They are called Tune hotels, boasting "five-star beds for one-star prices." Their owner is a wealthy airline magnate of the Far East (Tony Fernandes of AirAsia), and he has just opened the first European example of this new breed of economically priced hotels charging about 50 British pounds ($78) for a double room with private facilities in high season (but as little as 35 pounds, or $55, when demand is low). Fifteen more such hotels — and that's no misprint — will soon sprout at other central locations in London, or so he claims. Nine other Tune hotels are already operating in various Asian locations (all, thus far, in Malaysia and Indonesia).

Small, cheap lodgings on tropical islands

Savvy travelers have known for years that the various websites dealing with hostels actually are much broader in their listings. Go to London, in one such site, and you'll find countless cheap hotels that aren't hostels by a long shot — they are simply unpretentious bed-and-breakfasts hoping to attract ultra cost-conscious travelers.

Skip tropics, go to London for the holidays

"Nightmarish" is the only word to describe the job of booking a holiday week in the tropics for your Christmas vacation. The planes to the Caribbean and Hawaii are largely full at that time, their prices astronomic (JetBlue is charging $1,400 round-trip between New York and Aruba), and the hotels all chock-a-block despite charging their top rates of the year.

Cruise on Queen Mary for $54 a night

Following its last trans-Atlantic crossing in early to mid-November, the elegant ocean liner the Queen Mary II will return to New York for a series of 11-night cruises to the Caribbean at a price so low as to be news. The giant, glamorous ship will sail round-trip from and back to New York on Nov. 27 and Dec. 8, charging as little as $599 per person in inside cabins for those 11 nights at sea (an unprecedented $54.45 per day). It will stop during those lengthy, almost two-week-long sailings, at such interesting ports as St. Lucia, Grenada, Barbados and Grand Turk.

Airlines' extra stand-by fee inexplicable

Remember the days when you could fly "stand-by" to your destination, leaving on an earlier flight than the one you had booked in advance? Nowadays, that simple, sensible act requires that you remember to pay a fee at the very time when, from home, you first make your airline reservation by phone or computer.

Maho Bay Camps get 2- season reprieve

Good news in travel was recently supplied by the three families that own the land on which Maho Bay Camps (www.maho.org) are located on the island of St. John in the U.S. Virgin Islands. Although Maho's lease is scheduled to end after the upcoming winter season, the landowners have agreed to extend the lease period for still another full winter season — in fact, until the summer of 2012. And there are hints — only hints, not guarantees — that a further extension may be granted after completion of the winter season in 2012.

Turkish Delight tour prices are a delight

We are a mere day away from the time — Oct. 25 is the usual date — when package operators to European capitals reduce their prices to less-costly winter levels. The price leader, Go-today.com (www.go-today.com), lowers the rate for its six-night stay in London (round-trip air from New York, and six nights of hotel accommodations with daily continental breakfast) to $699 per person, and remains at that figure until Dec. 15, then spikes upward for the holiday period, but reduces again to an even-lower winter floor of $649 starting Jan. 10 and continuing until the end of February. Prices from other U.S. cities are only slightly higher.

See China, Egypt on budget- priced tours

Pacific Delight Tours (operating trips to Asia) and SunnyLand Tours (operating trips to Egypt and elsewhere) aren't known for their bargain packages. Yet recently, in these times of economic uncertainty, both companies suddenly have added budget-price packages to their standard lists. Nothing could better reflect the current condition of international travel and the decision by travel companies to overcome the current cautious spending habits of the American public — with bargains.

Arthur Frommer: Growth brings good, bad news in travel

The news in travel is of growth. Southwest Airlines has agreed to acquire AirTran, which gives it a major presence in Atlanta; the city of Las Vegas is about to acquire a new (and totally unnecessary) 3,000-room hotel; and airfares for Thanksgiving and Christmas periods are zooming out of sight.

Barefoot Windjammers cruise brought back

The good news first: For many years, a fleet of six authentic sailing ships, serviced by a supply ship, went cruising the smaller islands of the Caribbean in a manner that was pure magic to its loyal followers. Created by the colorful Capt. Mike Burke, their crews were an insouciant but lovable group who joked with passengers, drank with them, accompanied them on island excursions and snorkeling, served them excellent food, and maintained a sailing tradition that featured informality both in dress and socializing, youthful, fun camaraderie, and a general atmosphere befitting the name "Barefoot Windjammers."

Beware of e-mail scams from abroad

We hear of it happening to friends, and never dream it could one day be directed at ourselves. Several weeks ago, a friend of mine received an e-mail from Europe purporting to describe a misfortune suffered by a colleague on vacation. The colleague, it said, had been robbed of his travel cash and credit cards, and urgently needed $2,000.

Edinburgh Festival features 2,400 shows

Though half of my recent visit to Britain was spent in London, the main reason for it was to attend the Edinburgh Festival, which takes place throughout August. What an exhausting and exhilarating introduction to Scotland!

Barcelona is rich in tourist attractions

If you're planning a fairly short trip to Spain, and haven't the time to go everywhere, then you'll have to answer the question: Madrid or Barcelona? I tend to respond: Barcelona.

Celebrity Solstice cabins reduced further

I have several times expressed my wonderment that verandah (i.e., "balcony") cabins aboard the Celebrity Solstice, one the most comfortable, high-quality ships afloat, are presently being sold for as little as $699 per person for a one-week cruise, round-trip from Fort Lauderdale, September through mid-December. Imagine my surprise to learn more recently that such cabins have been discounted down to $649 per person by OnlineVacationCenter.com (phone 800-329-9002) for the sailings of Sept. 5, 12, 19 and 26, 2010. The cautious Online Vacation Center claims this is a price charged only to "seniors" (defined as 55 years of age or older), but younger would-be passengers might try for the same price by dialing the number above.

Times on the nose with search engine pick

The Sunday London Times has just completed what it claims to be a serious study of the main airfare search engines, and has named Momondo.com as the best of them. It bases that decision on Momondo's "great coverage searching more airlines than all the others, and featuring no-frills and smaller, niche carriers . . . Over multiple searches, it . . . gave the best prices for long haul." For more details, see the upcoming London Times Travel Supplement for September 2010.

Let's hope this airline comes to its senses

To the surprise of many, they actually did it. The brash and aggressive Spirit Airlines has recently put into effect a fee of from $30 to $45 for luggage brought into a plane and placed in the overhead rack. And a great many passengers are unhappy. Though it's hard to believe, a number of people on the first Spirit departures to charge the penalty seem not to have heard of the new policy in advance (according to several tabloids that covered the event). "If I had known," said one passenger, "I would have flown on JetBlue." And indeed, the new charge sometimes wipes out the price advantage that Spirit frequently enjoys over other airlines, like JetBlue.

New law means higher NYC hotel rates

To the dismay of everyone in the travel industry other than hotel executives, Gov. David Paterson of New York has signed legislation outlawing the rental of apartments in New York (which means primarily New York City) for periods of less than 30 days. A large pro-tourism industry has just received a staggering blow, and tens of thousands of tourists will have to pay expensive hotel rates for their stays in New York City. Manhattan, in particular, has just joined the island of Maui and the city of Paris, France, as a place where tourists can no longer enjoy a far more spacious, far more pleasant, form of accommodation for much less than most hotels charge.

Cheap August rates at deluxe Vegas hotel

The cheapest rates ever at the ultra-deluxe Aria Hotel in Las Vegas (centerpiece of the new, sleek City Center complex) —an almost unbelievable $109 a room — have just gone into effect for a large part of August. The dates on which $109 will pay for an elegant room at the Aria are: Aug. 1, 2, 3, 4 and 5; 8, 9, 10, 11 and 12; 15, 16, 17, 18 and 19, after which they return to normally discounted levels ($159, $229 and $259). To book, go to MGM's Aria website (www.arialasvegas.com) and click away.

Miami, Miami Beach full of attractions

Everyone has heard of Miami and Miami Beach; television took care of that. But most Americans, and especially those who have never been, would be hard-pressed to schedule their time. Apart from renting a room on the beach and lolling on the sand, what is there to do or see in this subtropical South Florida playground?

For this cruise, leave your mind at home

Last week, on a Sunday morning, I returned home to the peace and quiet of New York City, from the clangorous, frenetic atmosphere of the 150,000-ton Norwegian Epic. I need a rest.

Go to China before its currency goes up

Recent weeks have seen important newspaper headlines that have a direct bearing on travel. Of most significance was an announce-ment by the central bank of China that it would reverse course and permit that nation's currency — the Yuan — to gradually increase in value. Although, a day later, it issued a supplementary statement that the increase would be modest and over a long period of time, it was nonetheless obvious that China was at last giving in to pressure from the world community to no longer maintain an artificially low exchange rate.

Chip-and-pin credit cards problem for tourists

It's worrisome to receive reports from North American tourists (both U.S. and Canadians) that they are having difficulty in Europe when they attempt to use their credit cards. For this to happen just when other conditions for such tourism have improved (the euro and the British pound have declined substantially in value) is particularly galling.

Organizations offer hospitality lodging

Most of us have a spare and unused room, or a spare cot. Why not make them available — for no charge or a nominal charge — to responsible travelers as they pass through our home cities? Why not provide such hospitality out of either idealism or a desire to meet people from other countries or places — but also to obtain hospitality for ourselves on our own future travels?

10 websites are kingpins of saving you money

Travel websites come and go — hundreds of new ones emerge each year — but 10 remain unchallenged, in my view, for their ability to save you large sums of money on nearly any vacation trip:

Fort Lauderdale has come a long way

If you had gone to Fort Lauderdale, Fla., in the 1970s, you would have found a pleasant, fairly nondescript South Florida city with some impressive waterways, a good beach and a rowdy, alcohol-soaked spring-break bacchanalia. That last element might have put it off-limits for you.

Ten tips to make summer travel easier

Ten stray thoughts about the upcoming summer travel season: 1. The most delightful new travel product is Italy's recently announced "Home Food" network, a system for publicizing the meals served in private homes by talented amateur cooks. You learn about their willingness to feed you from a website called HomeFood.it (www.homefood.it), listing scores of towns and villages whose home chefs charge 3 euros for registration and then 35 euros (around $45) for a several-course meal (with local wine) prepared by, say, a grandmother, from recipes more than a hundred years old. What a fine alternative to standard evening activities.

Sit down for an authentic Italian dinner

I am indebted to travel writer Matt Gross for discovering a unique new way to enliven and expand your appreciation of Italy by arranging to have an authentic multicourse dinner with an Italian family in their home. It costs a registration fee of 3 euros, then 35 euros for the magnificent feast itself (including wine), which leaves you so bloated with satisfaction that you can scarcely walk out the door when the evening ends. We can only hope that other countries will create similar programs for their own homegrown family chefs, and thus add another dimension to the rewards of international travel.

Why are these two airlines so desperate?

Travelers all throughout the nation have been protesting the plan of Spirit Airlines to begin charging fees (up to $45 per bag) for carry-on luggage that is placed in the overhead racks of its planes. Complaints in large numbers have been received by the Department of Transportation, and at least four U.S. senators have introduced legislation to thwart Spirit's new policy (which is to go into effect Aug. 1).

60,000 berths mean deals for cruisers

It hasn't yet been noticed by most commentators, but the cruise lines have scheduled what I estimate to be as many as 60,000 berths a week leaving from Miami, Fort Lauder-dale and other ports of Florida this coming summer.

A gift that would boost foreign tourism

I know a way to make headlines — positive, approving headlines — for tourism to the U.S. It involves announcing a major gift to foreign visitors that would dramatically display our regard for them. It would cost nothing, require only a small amount of effort on the part of public officials and would be infinitely more effective than all of the overseas advertisements and TV commercials to be funded by the new Tourism Promotion Act recently passed by Congress.

Cruise used to be a 'travel experience'

In a recent press release describing all the bells and whistles, toys and games added to the island called Great Stirrup Cay in the Bahamas, where each of its giant ships spends one day a week, Norwegian Cruise Line has candidly admitted that "Norwegian has owned the island since 1977 when it became the first cruise line to offer an uninhabited tropical island experience exclusively for its guests."

Be wary of extra car-rental charges

An important recent analysis in the New York Times (March 16) has served to remind us of what we subconsciously knew: that the car-rental industry has gone way over the line in a current stampede to add multiple extra fees to your eventual bill — fees that no reasonable person could have anticipated.

Zap housing cost from vacation budget

When Ed Kushins agreed four years ago to have his company, HomeExchange.com, featured in the Hollywood film "The Holiday," he didn't fully foresee the transformation which that lucky break would bring about in his life. A big movie hit, that featured Kate Winslet and Cameron Diaz exchanging homes and finding love as a result, the film brought an avalanche of new members to HomeExchange.com, making it undoubtedly the single largest U.S. company in the field.

Spring and summer bring travel bargains

As we enter the spring/summer season for vacation travel, what are the top travel bargains? I find they are six basic areas or modes of travel:

It's tough to filter out fake hotel assessments

Unlike their U.S. counterparts, the British consumer press has been unusually harsh in dealing with accusations against TripAdvisor (www.tripadvisor.com). Newspapers ranging in size from those in small countryside hamlets all the way up to the London Times have headlined various reports claiming that a substantial number of the hotel assessments appearing in TripAdvisor are fraudulent.

What's Orlando without Harry Potter?

When Universal Studios opened the second of its big attractions in Orlando, Fla., the one called "Islands of Adventure," it hoped that by jamming super-scary roller coasters, Jurassic Park, Spider- man and Dr. Seuss into one fun park, it would at last pose formidable competition to Walt Disney World, which is a few miles away.

Panama can be low-cost vacation option

Looking for an alternative to pricey Europe for your summer vacation? Consider Panama, where round-trip airfares can be as low as $300 from many U.S. cities.

U.S. railway system must be restored

As recently as the 1940s, America had the world's finest system of passenger trains. Brought down in later years by our obsession with the automobile and the airplane, and by government neglect, America's railways are today on a par with those of Bulgaria.

Luggage Web site can cut through clutter

What's the next big thing in travel services on the Internet? A Connecticut boarding-school math teacher named Luke Dudley thinks it's LuggageLimits.com, which he created to keep people from incurring ruinous luggage fees (an increasing problem) or extra airline charges because they have exceeded various luggage limits. To me, the new Web site seems ultra-timely and valuable now that luggage has become such a bone of contention, with airlines charging increasing amounts for checked luggage, limiting the size of carry-ons and causing other hangups and pitfalls for the innocent passenger.

Honduras set to welcome back tourists

If you're the kind of person who follows political events in Latin America, you're of course aware of the beating that poor little Honduras (a tiny nation of Central America) endured through most of the second half of 2009. Its popular president (Manuel Zelaya) ousted by a military coup; the political uproar that followed; the economy and tourism falling off a cliff; a later attempted intervention by the U.N. and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton; Zelaya's effort to regain his office; the cessation of protests by Zelaya's political party; new elections and finally, the Jan. 27 inauguration of the new President Porfirio Lobo.

Low fares make March fine time to travel

February, with its Presidents' Week commemorations, is a popular month for travel; March is less so. I regard six different travel opportunities in March as remarkable bargain opportunities:

New Year a time to celebrate good in travel

Because "hope springs eternal," I'm going to inaugurate the New Year with a recitation of promising developments over the past decade in travel — a list split into two successive columns in which I sing about the "good" in travel. Here are six promising developments that have greatly improved matters in the world of travel and vacations:

Save money by renting condo timeshare

One discovers travel bargains in the oddest places. Here are three highly practical but rather unusual suggestions for your upcoming trips:

Don't expect Alaskan cruise prices to drop

A cruel blow was struck several weeks ago when the two pioneers in mass-volume Alaskan cruising — Holland America and Princess Cruises — announced that they were withdrawing another two ships from the once-popular summertime (May through Septem-ber) season for exploring a dramatic maritime wilderness — the ocean shores of Alaska.

British operator is offering cheap trips

The fastest-growing tour operator in Great Britain is undoubtedly a company called (appealingly enough) Low-Cost Travel, whose Web site is www.lowcostholidays.com. Last year, it sold vacations in the tropics to 1.2 million Brits, a number that was double the level of business it enjoyed the year before.

Use the telephone, tour operators advise

Two separate tour operators — one specializing in Hawaii, the other in the Caribbean — have both advised me in recent days that people hoping to book bargain offers should contact them by phone, and not over the Internet. That's because the airlines are continually raising and lowering their airfares on particular dates and for particular flights, creating a bewildering jungle of prices. The people who insert various dates for the air-and-land packages they desire will too often be disappointed in the results, and will need to spend a large amount of time trying other dates and times of day.

China travel bargains may disappear

For the past several years, White House officials of both parties and U.S. Secretaries of the Treasury have sought to pressure China into raising the value of its currency. Although they have succeeded in part — the Chinese yuan, once exchanged at a rate of nearly 8 to the U.S. dollar, is now selling for 6.82 — they have never achieved the realistic exchange value that a unit of Chinese currency should have: around 5 to the dollar.

Cheap tours to Turkey are often a delight

In November and December, all the major tour operators to Turkey offer 12-night tours of that country's main sights for as little as $1,063, not including airfare. That sum comes to $88.58 per person per night, including excellent accommodations, three meals and all escorted sightseeing.

Repositioning cruises offer sweet deals

In October and throughout November, dozens of cruise ships in European waters are moved from their now-chilly locations and sent on long, trans-Atlantic sailings to the Caribbean or South American waters. Because, when they cross the Atlantic, they are solely at sea for at least five, six or seven days and make no port stops during that time, they are unpopular with the public; passengers with short attention spans can't stand the thought of being aboard a ship that isn't making daily visits to land. And many members of the public can't devote the two-or-so weeks that most repositioning cruises require (several port stops in the Mediterranean before reaching the open sea of the Atlantic, then the crossing, then several port stops on the way to the ultimate destination in Florida or elsewhere).

Fees may turn us all into backpackers

Why does it matter? Why should a fee affecting flights within the U.K. and Europe be of significance to readers on my side of the Atlantic? It's because decisions by the U.K.' s leading low-cost airline have a disturbing tendency to influence later decisions by U.S. airlines flying domestically. Ryanair was the first to institute a la carte pricing in air travel, and the system it inaugurated has since been copied — triumphantly, enthusiastically, wholeheartedly — by American carriers.

Some Tweets about travel developments

Twitter scored a major success by persuading users to confine their "tweets" to 140 characters or fewer (including spaces and periods). Let me see if I can do the same thing in print for 10 major new travel developments:

Good news today on the travel front

A famous radio announcer used to start his broadcasts by shouting, "There's good news tonight!" In these days of economic slowdown, there are a great many instances of good travel news, born out of the urgent needs of travel suppliers to increase their business:

Support bill for airline passenger rights

In the world of travel, no news event has had a greater impact on public attitudes than a recent drama on board a Continental Express plane stuck on the tarmac in Rochester, Minn., for nine hours.

Shanghai's the place to be for Expo 2010

Judging from the almost complete lack of U.S. advertising for it, you'd never know there was an important World's Fair (called the World Expo) scheduled to take place in Shanghai, China, from May through October of 2010. Yet all throughout the world, it appears, excitement is rising over an event in which nearly 200 countries and 48 world organizations will maintain breathtaking pavilions containing important, instructive exhibits about the future. These have been heavily featured in European and Asian publications, and some of the more unusual designs make architectural history.

U.S. aviation is showing positive signs

Though everyone's crying gloom and doom about U.S. aviation, there are several positive recent developments to report.

Cancun prices will make you rub your eyes

People in travel are talking about Mexico. The combination of the outbreak of swine flu several months ago and reports of drug-related violence served to decimate tourist traffic to Mexico this past winter and spring, and the downturn continues in summer. In those non-holiday weeks when there isn't a large amount of local, Mexican traffic, many hotels have been reporting occupancy rates so low as to defy credulity. The response of those properties — especially the deluxe hotels — are pricing lures never before seen.

Stay, eat in Las Vegas at incredible prices

No tourist destination in America has been hit harder than Las Vegas. The current prices there for rooms and meals are so low that they can't be grasped in the abstract; they have to be set forth dollar-by-dollar to be believed.

Traveling? Cut every corner possible

It has become chic to be cheap. It is dumb to spend recklessly. It has never been more important to economize: using public transportation, hostels, apartments and guesthouses, inside cabins, sightseeing passes, cut-rate carriers and all the other devices of cost-conscious, sensible vacations.

Take ownership of cruise shore excursions

No matter how many times I answer the question (and I always do so with a resounding no), the listeners to my weekly radio program persist in posing the challenge again and again: "Should we sign up for shore excursions in advance of our cruise?"

Travel teaches us how to live with Muslims

Jet-lagged and unable to sleep, I awake a few minutes before 5 a.m. and step onto the balcony of my room overlooking Istanbul. Suddenly the colored lights atop minarets all over the city go on, and the voices of a dozen muezzins are heard from loudspeakers resounding all about me. It is the morning call to prayer, a strangely beautiful sound, repeated at four other times throughout the day.

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