6.29.2015

traveling to Greece? just charge it!

photograph by Mstyslav Chernov, published in Wikimedia Commons

Traveling to Greece in the near future? Currency worries have been on travelers' minds lately, but Brownell travelers in Greece have reported to their travel consultants that everything is fine. Foreign-issued credit and debit cards are freely accepted in hotels and restaurants. Because ATM machines may have run out of cash, bring Euros or dollars with you for tips and small purchases.

If you're into airline miles, charge whenever you can for the points... and be sure to use a No Forex card.

copyright (c) 2015 by David Ourisman LLC. All rights reserved. We provide Virtuoso and other Preferred Partner amenities as an affiliate of Brownell Travel. If you have comments on this column, or questions about booking travel, email me or visit my website.

6.23.2015

connections at CDG



Making a connection in Paris? Be aware that making a tight connection at CDG can be a rushed, anxiety-producing undertaking. I was reminded of CDG's logistical difficulties by a recent email from a client (copied with permission).
Thought you could help me out with this logistical question. We arrive into Paris CDG at 8:25 am. We plan to take a train to Avignon upon arrival, ideally out of CDG. Online I am directed to Rail Europe which shows a 9:58 am departure and a 1:58 pm departure. The 9:58 am seems tight with customs, but if it's at all possible, that would be much more ideal than waiting around for the afternoon departure.... Do you have any views on best options?
A 90 minute air-to-air connection is actually a legal connection at CDG but one fraught with potential difficulties. Here's a short list of things I would get worried about:

1. What if your flight departs late? While there's some wiggle room in schedules, lots of things can lead to a late departure. A late inbound flight. Mechanical difficulty. Holding the flight for late connecting passengers. Delays getting baggage loaded. Delays getting all passengers seated. Delays in the crew getting to the airport. Bad weather. Any of these can make cause a late arrival ... and a missed connection.

2. Seated in the back of the plane? Have you noticed how long it takes to deplane if you're in the last rows of a 737? Double that time if you're in the back of a jumbo jet. And if you're on an Air France 787 (double decks) to CDG, all bets are off.

Tip: flying business class not only gets you a decent night's sleep in a lie-flat seat, you're also first off the plane.

3. Queuing up for immigration. If a large 747 (or two) has landed just before your flight, you can get to immigration and find hundreds of people already in line. Immigration officials can take a minute or longer processing each passport. Multiply that by the number of passengers in queue, divide by the number of agents, and you have the depressing answer.

Tip: Splurge for a VIP airport reception at CDG. You'll be met at the jetway by a personal concierge with your name on a sign, and you'll be fast-tracked through immigration, saving time and aggravation.

4. Do I have to collect my luggage? Where is my next gate? Both confusing questions when you arrive at an unfamiliar airport, thoroughly jet lagged after spending the night on a plane. (If you're taking the train, you definitely have to wait for your luggage).

5. I'm at the gate. Where is my plane? Some of CDG's gates don't have jetways, and you have to crowd onto a bus to take you out to the plane. Boarding actually ends quite a bit before the scheduled departure of your flight, shrinking your 90 minutes even more.

6. If you're taking the train, not a plane, to your next destination, how do you get to the train station to board the train — or purchase or exchange your ticket? Easy if you're intimately familiar with CDG, but when you're unfamilair with an airport, getting from Point A to Point B is a stressful undertaking.


The ultimate tip: Never book separate tickets when connecting at CDG. Make sure all flights are on the same PNR. If you miss a connection, you're protected. Separate tickets and you miss your next flight? You don't want to be in this situation. Ever.

copyright (c) 2015 by David Ourisman LLC. All rights reserved. We provide Virtuoso and other Preferred Partner amenities as an affiliate of Brownell Travel. If you have comments on this column, or questions about booking travel, email me or visit my website.

6.20.2015

the passenger in seat 1A


Wednesday morning found me seated in 3C on a Delta flight from San Francisco to Atlanta. I was on my way to Birmingham, Alabama for a meeting of Brownell Travel's IC Advisory Board. Seated across from me in seat 1A was the America's Cup.

Yes, my traveling companion was none less than the prestigious Cup awarded to the winner of the world's greatest sailing race. Protected inside a traveling case, it was accompanied by a personal security guard (seated in 1B) on the way to their final destination, Frankfurt, Germany. While in the Bay Area, I am told, the Cup is safeguarded in an "undisclosed location" — a building I suspect owned by the Oracle Corporation. But I speculate.

It was not an uneventful flight. After departing a half hour late, the captain came on the PA shortly after take-off. "I'm afraid I have bad news," he informed us. "We're having issues with the landing gear. The lights indicate it has not retracted. We're returning to San Francisco and will be landing in 30 minutes. Crew, prepare the cabin for landing."

Making my connection in Atlanta was the least of my concerns. The primary concern obviously was a safe landing at SFO. And if we didn't? I realized what would be the next day's headline: America's Cup Destroyed in SFO Crash.

Thankfully, the Delta crew flew us safely back to SFO... and then safely to Atlanta two hours late. The arrival gate was at one end of Terminal A. Doing my best OJ imitation racing through the airport, I actually made my connection (at the absolute end of Terminal B) totally out of breath with a couple of minutes to spare.

Hope America's Cup enjoyed the Delta One service to Frankfurt!

copyright (c) 2015 by David Ourisman LLC. All rights reserved. We provide Virtuoso and other Preferred Partner amenities as an affiliate of Brownell Travel. If you have comments on this column, or questions about booking travel, email me or visit my website.

6.12.2015

sunset at Dorado Beach



Swim, rinse, repeat... 

A colleague had asked for advice about anything she shouldn't miss while at Dorado Beach, a Ritz Carlton Reserve. In reply, I sent her a picture of a sunset with these simple instructions: "Swim, rinse, repeat..."

There now in paradise, she just wrote back, "I now fully understand your Dorado Beach instructions."

copyright (c) 2015 by David Ourisman LLC. All rights reserved. We provide Virtuoso and other Preferred Partner amenities as an affiliate of Brownell Travel. If you have comments on this column, or questions about booking travel, email me or visit my website.

6.08.2015

meeting up at Heathrow?


I follow the Europe forum on Fodor's website. It's interesting seeing what different members of the traveling public are wondering about. This morning, I read this question posted by a forum member who will be returning this summer from a trip to Paris and London.

The very day he returns to Atlanta from Heathrow on a 12:50 p.m. flight, a friend he hasn't seen for years will be flying into Heathrow, arriving from New York at 10:10 a.m. He asks about "ideas for a meeting spot.... it just seems like a fun chance to say hello, have a hug and a coffee." He then wonders if it's even possible. And that's the question!

As anyone who has ever traversed Heathrow will surely know, it's a nice idea ... but virtually impossible. Here's what I wrote:
Most likely impossible. In the best case scenario: 
(1) Your friend arrives at the same terminal from which you depart. 
(2) Your friend would have exactly 40 minutes to accomplish all of the following.
a) Ensure that his flight arrives on time (hah!) 
b) Makes it off the plane first; have you noticed how long it takes for all the pax on a jumbo jet to get off the plane?
c) Runs all the way to immigration, weaving his way through crowds. 
d) Doesn't have to wait in line for immigration where, typically, you can wait for 30 - 60 minutes. 
e) Has carry on luggage so he doesn't need to wait for his bag. 
f) Gets from the United (?) arrival area to the the Delta check in area without losing time, again in a busy, confusing airport, where...  
g) You should already be in the check-in line by 10:50 a.m., and...  
h) He actually finds you in one of many long lines in a crowded terminal.In the unlikely event he can accomplish the above in 40 minutes, there would be time for a hug. A cup of coffee? Never.
Was I overly harsh or pessimistic? Or just realistic.

copyright (c) 2015 by David Ourisman LLC. All rights reserved. We provide Virtuoso and other Preferred Partner amenities as an affiliate of Brownell Travel. If you have comments on this column, or questions about booking travel, email me or visit my website.

6.05.2015

looking for the cheapest price?

guests receive valuable amenities at the regular Virtuoso rate at the St. Regis New York

Is cheaper better?

Buying products and services on the internet has a logic of its own: customers often feel compelled to search out the absolute lowest price. Sometimes cheaper is better ... but often the lowest price doesn't make sense.

Flying to Europe this summer? Robert McGarvey published an article on Mainstream.com with thoughts on how to save money flying to Europe this summer. One money-saving strategy: fly into a secondary city. According to a web search I did this morning, you can fly round-trip to Lyon, France instead of Paris and save over $200 round-trip per ticket, over $400 for a couple. Sounds great!

But there's a real downside to booking the cheaper ticket. It involves changing planes in Lisbon instead flying non-stop to Paris. You'll have a long layover in Lisbon, losing the entire first day of your European vacation. Even with a reasonable layover, connecting flights introduce the risk of a missed connection due to delays ... and increase the likelihood of delayed luggage. And then you have to add on the additional time and expense of train tickets to Paris.

The same is true with hotel bookings. That lower rate you found may come with a compulsory non-refundable prepayment (always, always read all of the terms and conditions of a rate). And cheap wholesaler bookings never include Virtuoso or Four Seasons Preferred Partner amenities. These can be worth hundreds of dollars in free breakfasts, hotel credits, and upgrades at the St. Regis New York (pictured above) and a thousand other luxury hotels around the world.

Bottom line: always search out the best value, not the lowest price.

copyright (c) 2015 by David Ourisman LLC. All rights reserved. We provide Virtuoso and other Preferred Partner amenities as an affiliate of Brownell Travel. If you have comments on this column, or questions about booking travel, email me or visit my website.

5.31.2015

Cavallo Point | overlooking the Golden Gate

Golden Gate Bridge, seen from Cavallo Point (c) 2015 by David Ourisman, all rights reserved

Cavallo Point Lodge is an ideal weekend resort for Bay Area residents (as well as Bay Area visitors from elsewhere). We just spent two evenings to celebrate our anniversary (the lodge is just 40 minutes from our home in Berkeley), and my wife has already told me she wants to go back. A fine alternative to the Napa Valley, it's a much shorter drive, just ten miles from downtown San Francisco. The hotel's shuttle makes the route twice daily, and you can also take the Ferry to Sausalito.

Set on the former Fort Baker, established to guard the Golden Gate’s entry into San Francisco Bay from a potential attack that never came, the officers quarters around the field have been renovated and transformed into Cavallo Point's historic rooms and suites. Two buildings that housed the barracks for the enlisted men now house the guest reception center and gift shop and the restaurant and bar. The resort's contemporary rooms are up the hill in new buildings constructed on the footprint of older buildings.

We stayed in a Historic Suite (#106) and very much enjoyed our stay. The suite preserved original architectural details and brought to mind the interior styles of the period, including tin ceilings, wainscoting on the walls, hardwood floors, and extremely large colonial windows that admit lots of natural light to your room. Pocket doors between the spacious bedroom and living room create two distinct spaces. The large living area has a flatscreen TV in an armoire, gas fireplace, sitting chair, and pull-out sofa. The large bedroom has its own gas fireplace, desk (with free WiFi throughout the property), and King bed. The large bathroom is equipped with dual vanities, soaking tub, step-in shower, and WC. We enjoyed a view of San Francisco Bay and the downtown skyline from our living room.

We had the opportunity to inspect a Contemporary Suite during our stay. Using the same pleasant color scheme of muted natural greens and light browns, this room category would be choice of guests who prefer updated styling and the completely up-do-date furnishings only that brand new construction can offer. The contemporary buildings face the Golden Gate with direct views of the famous Golden Gate Bridge; request a second floor room for the best views.

Ideal visitors to Cavallo Point will enjoy hiking, history, and nature. There are numerous hikes from the property, including guided hikes under the Golden Gate Bridge and a historical walking tour of Fort Baker. The cute but touristy town of Sausalito with its shopping and restaurants is two miles away (we walked there and took a taxi back), or it's a quick drive; just remember to feed the parking meters in Sausalito as they are patrolled 24/7. Cavallo Point is ideally situated for a day trip to the Muir Woods (a beautiful redwood grove) or Stinson Beach.

The food was excellent. We had dinner both nights at Murray Circle (the seafood stew, quail, and lamb were all very good, although my halibut was ever-so-slightly overdone). Breakfasts were also very good, especially the omelettes. Virtuoso guests receive daily Full Breakfast for two as well as a $100 resort credit that you'll probably want to use towards a spa treatment.


Added bonus: Cavallo Point is filled with exceptional fine art photography. Make it a point to view the photographs throughout the public places.

copyright (c) 2015 by David Ourisman LLC. All rights reserved. We provide Virtuoso and other Preferred Partner amenities as an affiliate of Brownell Travel. If you have comments on this column, or questions about booking travel, email me or visit my website.