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June 04, 2011

Got a Hankering for an Adriatic Cruise This Summer?

 Kotor_Montenegro_Azamara_ship
An Azamara Club Cruises ship docked in Kotor, Montenegro--where I'll be on August 2. Photo courtesy of Azamara's Flickr photostream

Turned off by cookie-cutter cruises that sail to overbuilt ports and force you to cut your sightseeing short or miss the local nightlife because you must race back to the ship before it sails at 5:00 p.m.?  Me too.  Which is why I'm looking forward to sailing on Azamara Club Cruises this summer. I'll be the guest speaker on its July 30 cruise, which sails from Venice to four fabulous ports of call in Croatia (I can vouch for their fabulousness because I've been to them)--Hvar, Split, Dubrovnik, and Korcula--as well as Kotor, Montenegro, and Trieste, Italy, before returning to Venice. Unlike some cruise lines, Azamara provides ample time ashore. Not only will we hit a new port every day of the week-long cruise, but the ship will linger in Hvar till midnight, and in Dubrovnik and Kotor till 11:00 p.m.  I'm particularly jazzed about Montenegro, as I've never been there before, and am considering spending the Trieste day hopping into and around Slovenia, since I've never been there either. 

So...whatcha doin' July 30? Here's the itinerary and pricing, and here's what I'll be speaking about. Of course, the best part of being a shipboard lecturer is not the formal talks but the impromptu conversations on deck and at dinner. So consider joining me at sea and, if you've got any burning travel questions you'd like me to answer in my talks, just let me know at wperrin@cntraveler.com.

October 23, 2008

OK to Buy Tickets on Low-Fare European Airlines These Days?

Sky_europe_b737_omngb by Wendy Perrin

An excellent question has come in from Reader Descloud. I'm hoping that some of you international road warriors can weigh in on this one:

"We are traveling to Rome, Vilnius, and Prague in March 2009. We have our transatlantic airline tickets but not our air travel from Rome to Vilnius to Prague. Two questions: (1) Booked through Continental, our transatlantic journey includes four carriers (Virgin, Alitalia, KLM, Continental). Do paper tickets still exist, and should we have one for this multi-carrier trip? (2) I am finding the best rates for the FCO-VNO-PRG legs on carriers unknown to us: AirBaltic, SkyEurope, etc. Are these carriers safe and reliable, or should we spend more to book with a carrier such as Lufthansa? Thanks."

First, I see no need for a paper ticket, as long as you carry your record locator number for each flight. (Never leave home without a printed itinerary containing every record locator.) But I'd love to hear from anyone who disagrees.

Second, your decision whether or not to trust AirBaltic (the Latvian national airline), SkyEurope (a low-cost carrier based in Bratislava, Slovakia), and the like should depend on several factors:

Continue reading "OK to Buy Tickets on Low-Fare European Airlines These Days?" »

May 01, 2007

Interactive Vienna, Antwerp, Zurich and Amsterdam

Coolcapitals
The welcome screen at Cool Capitals, which lets you digitally explore European cities.

By Tara Kyle

I just discovered Cool Capitals, a trip-planning site with interactive guides to Amsterdam, Antwerp, Vienna, and Zurich (thanks to Gadling for the Cool Capitals tip). Once you select a destination from the departures board, Cool Capitals lets you explore options in areas such as art, shopping, architecture, and nightlife. There are tips in each section, and you can add sights and events to your "travel bucket" -- a planning resource for the next time your feet actually hit the pavement abroad.

Cool Capitals' design is maybe a little too snazzy for its own good -- I got a bit confused navigating back and forth between sections. And I'm assuming that the animated pedestrians, buses, and cars moving in circles within the maps are meant to convey the bustle of each city, but I couldn't shake a weird sensation that ants were crawling around my screen.

Continue reading "Interactive Vienna, Antwerp, Zurich and Amsterdam" »

April 12, 2007

The Disappearing Berlin Wall

Graffiti of East German Trabant car
East German "Trabbies" are a popular graffiti motif on sections of the Berlin Wall.
Photo: Travel Adventures

By Tara Kyle

Better rush to Berlin if you want to see whatever's left of the Berlin Wall aside from what you'll find at the Checkpoint Charlie Museum.

When I studied abroad in Berlin, a narrow dirt path was the only thing marking where the Wall used to separate my neighborhood, in the former West Berlin, from what used to be East Germany. Clear footprints of the Wall have been hard to find for years now, thanks to commercial development and an interest in downplaying the old signs of division. Last weekend, however, they became even harder to find, reports trusty urban travel guide Gridskipper.  Government workers, in a secret nighttime operation, took down a famous 18-meter stretch of the Wall near Potsdamer Platz!

Continue reading "The Disappearing Berlin Wall" »

January 30, 2007

Best Cruise on the Blue Danube

Old_world_prague_and_the_blue_danube
Old World Prague and the Blue Danube
    Photo: Grand Circle Cruise Line

By Wendy Perrin

"Do you have a favorite Danube cruise?" asks reader Noel Haas. "We'd like to see Prague, Vienna and Budapest, at the least.  We're not cruise people. Normally we rent a car and set our own destinations, and have done so for the last 25 years."

Then I'm not sure why you want to see these cities by cruise ship. There is so much to explore in Prague, Budapest, and especially Vienna that I can't imagine you wouldn't feel frustrated by a cruise ship's short time in these ports and hamstrung by its limited tour offerings. (I know that's how I'd feel.)  Take a look at personal narratives of some of the many opportunities in each of these cities at RealTravel, including author Amelia's descriptions of Vienna's Ringstrasse city center and Friedhofe cemetary.

If you've read my cruise caveats and you're still dead set on a cruise, I recommend the four Danube-plying lines that are the favorites of Conde Nast Traveler readers: Grand Circle Cruise Line, Peter Deilmann, Lindblad Expeditions, and Viking River Cruises.


September 14, 2006

More About Water On Planes

060914_munich
Munich Airport

By Wendy Perrin

The other day I asked readers to share how they're coping with the ban on carrying bottled water onto planes.  Reader joe_kayaker wrote,

On a recent flight from San Francisco to Munich on Lufthansa, along with the usual rack of German and English newspapers by the door of the plane at the end of the jetway, there was a table of 1-liter bottles of water.  You could grab the latest newspaper and a bottle or two of water as you got on board.  And this was the door to the coach section.

Message to Joe:  Thanks for the input.  Given the thirst I felt just trying to get to Orlando, that's enough to make me fly Lufthansa.  By the way, how fabulous is that swank new Munich airportDesigner shopping at sale prices, a Kinderland providing child care while you shop, and those travel agencies selling cheap last-minute vacation packages!  That's why, when I fly to Europe and can't go nonstop, I try to connect in Munich.

September 01, 2006

Renting from Auto Europe

By Wendy Perrin

Of all the items in the Wendy's InBox section of The Perrin Report, my column in Conde Nast Traveler, the one that has sparked the most reader feedback is the one about Auto Europe that ran in the February 2006 issue:

"I plan to rent a car in Italy. Which agency would you recommend, and what hidden charges should I watch out for?
        — Kimberly Kros, Scottsdale, Arizona

Wendy's reply: I often use Auto Europe, a wholesaler that rents vehicles from other companies' fleets, because its rates for cars with automatic transmission can be hundreds of dollars cheaper. In Europe, however, no matter which agency I use, I almost always encounter unexpected charges. I reserved a car through Auto Europe in Florence last fall, paying $710 in advance for an eight-day rental of a four-door Mercedes E280 compact from Europcar. When I returned the car to the lot at the Florence airport, there was no one on hand to provide a final receipt. About a month after I got home, I was billed a refueling fee of $43 for 3.2 gallons of gas--yet I had filled the tank myself just before dropping the car off. (My mother, who rented through Auto Europe at the Pisa airport last fall, had the same problem: Although she'd filled up just before returning the vehicle, she was hit with a $51 refueling charge.) When I called Auto Europe to dispute the charge, its agent said that she would remove it if I could provide my final gas receipt. Alas, I couldn't find it. She acknowledged that other travelers have suffered mystery gas charges, which is why the company's voucher advises keeping copies of gas receipts. 

Postscript: I heard from Kros after her trip and learned that she did indeed rent through Auto Europe. Although she was not billed for gas, she still incurred unexpected fees, which she disputed with American Express. It investigated and refunded the charges. The moral? Keep your final gas receipt, and pay with your AmEx."

After this anecdote was published, several readers wrote to me that the same thing had happened to them. One, however, shared some good news:

"We just came back from a three-week driving trip through Central and Eastern Europe. I booked the rental car through a service that I've used twice now and would recommend to anyone renting in Austria, Germany, or Switzerland: gemut.com. Andy Bestor there promises the best price and the best service. I comparison-shopped among Web sites, and, sure enough, his price was the lowest. We even got a free upgrade. Bestor uses the big-name rental agencies, charges no cancellation or change fees, and will handle any unexpected post-trip charges."
        — Linda Libertucci, Redondo Beach, California

Yesterday I received another interesting e-mail:

"I use Auto Europe 15 to 20 times per year. Since the refueling thing seems to be a regular issue, I always charge the gas and attach the gas receipt to my copy of the rental contract. If an erroneous gas charge shows up on my credit-card statement, I have easy access to the gas receipt that always has the date and time on it, proving that I refilled just before returning the car. To get the gas charge refunded, it also helps to have the rental agent to whom you return the car write "FULL" on the contract.

My biggest recent problem was a tiny 1/4-inch scratch on my rental-car hubcap. I thoroughly check every inch of a car when picking it up but, honestly, I had never checked the hubcaps. Now I do! That unscrupulous agency said I had to replace the whole tire for $700! Fortunately, I took photos of the scratch and contacted AmEx, which removed the $700 charge. So be sure to check your hubcaps when you pick up an Auto Europe car."
— Liz Duffy, St. Thomas

Anyone else have Auto Europe advice to share? Please click on "Comments" and post it here.