When planning a vacation, most people do everything in their power to avoid inclement weather, especially hurricanes. But even the best laid plans can be upset by the unexpected. We experienced this recently in Cabo San Lucas when we went from beautiful weather to full hurricane in 24 hours.
Hurricane and typhoons can occur any time of year, which proves to be challenging when trying to plan a vacation. So here are some tips you can use to minimize the impact unforeseen weather can have on your vacation.
Consider your travel dates and destination
You can minimize the chances of having bad weather impact your vacation. If you don't want to deal with snow or possible blizzards, don't travel to those areas that are likely to get snow during the winter months. Instead of going to New England, Canada, Scandinavian countries, etc. you might consider heading south to Florida, Hawaii, the Caribbean, or even south of the equator where the southern hemisphere is experiencing summer during our winter.
If you want to avoid hurricanes, consider avoiding hurricane-prone areas (the Gulf Coast of the United States, Mexico, Hawaii, and the Caribbean) during hurricane season (June 1st through November 30th).
Buy travel insurance
Travel insurance does more than cover your financial investment in the event that you cancel your trip. Insurance provides additional coverages like trip interruption, trip delay, lost or delayed baggage, emergency medical, medical evacuation, and repatriation of remains.
If a hurricane hits your vacation destination while you are there, you might receive benefits under trip interruption or trip delay. During our recent Cabo experience, my daughter had trip interruption (the airline cancelled her flight) and I had trip delay (my flight was so delayed that I missed my connection). All of our extra expenses were covered by travel insurance.
Register your trip with the US State Department
It may seem like overkill to register a simple trip to an all-inclusive resort in Mexico or the Caribbean. However, if a tourist area is decimated by a hurricane, it is helpful to the local embassies if they know in advance how many of their citizens that they need to account for after a natural disaster.
I would also recommend leaving a copy of your itinerary behind with family and/or a trusted friend.
Once on vacation, how to deal with a hurricane
Once you are at your destination if a tropical storm or hurricane hits, here are some basic tips to follow:
After the hurricane passes
As soon as you can, check in with friends/family back home to let them know you are safe. If you registered your trip with the US State Department, try to contact the local US embassy as well to let them know where you are and how you are doing.
Once the storm passes, how quickly your vacation returns to normal will depend on the storm's severity and the amount of damage at your resort. In Cabo San Lucas, there was little or no damage at our resort. They were able to resume "business as usual" within 24 hours, and everyone vacationed like nothing had ever happened. Of course, had it been a much stronger storm and the resort had experienced significant damage, they may have had to relocate guests to other properties.
If you experience a hurricane, or strong storm, while on vacation and it interferes with your travel plans, keep good notes and all receipts to substantiate any travel insurance claim that you may need to file once you get home.
By the time our daughter was 15 years old she finally caught onto what we'd been doing since she was about 5 years old ... educating her while we were on vacations. The summer after she turned 15 we took her on a 14 night cruise through the Panama Canal. We insisted that she be up at 5:00 AM on the day we entered the canal (letting her go back to sleep after we went through the first set of locks). Her complaint was a simple one: "why do I have to learn anything? I'm not missing any school for this cruise." My answer? "Because we're paying for you to be on this cruise." Since she couldn't afford to reimburse us for her share of the cruise, she grudgingly gave in.
The irony was that in the following school year she had to do a 10 page report and in-class presentation in World History. The topic she drew? Yup. The Panama Canal. At that point she regretted not going to any of the onboard seminars with the Panama Canal expert (she did end up emailing her with questions, a lot).
We have always been firm believers of making vacations fun, interesting, and educational. I blame my parents, who were both teachers. It also helped that when my parents took our daughter on summer RV road trips there was always an element of education involved. My mom had our daughter journaling every day they traveled (dictating before she could write); working on basic English skills, grammar, spelling, sentence structure, writing descriptive prose, etc. (my mom was an English major after all). There was also art and photography lessons involved.
Fun, but Educational
It's not too hard to figure out really. A trip to Carlsbad Caverns could turn into a lesson about geology. A stop a The Alamo in San Antonio, Texas, would be steeped in history about the war with Mexico and how Texas became a state. Even trips to Disney World can be educational, learning about animals at Animal Kingdom, or about different countries at EPCOT. Disney also offers a range of behind the scenes tours that have elements of education hidden throughout.
People have varying opinions about animals kept in captivity (i.e. zoos, Sea World, aquariums, etc.). Your personal views will determine if you visit these places for educational reasons. One of my nephews, while visiting my parents during the summer, volunteered at a bird sanctuary. He's now studying Marine Biology in college.
Education does not simply mean reading text books and taking tests. When planning your family vacations, focus on what is not covered in school these days, as well as reinforcing what is covered. Sciences, history, social sciences, languages, music and the arts can all be addressed during vacation. You can also find ways to reinforce math and English skills.
Doing a road trip? Map reading is a fundamental skill that you can teach your kids, along with reinforcing math skills (determining how many miles left to your next stop, figuring out how long it'll take to get there based on the average speed driven, etc.).
Depending on your kids' ages, have them research the states or countries you'll be visiting, and let them participate in researching and planning where you'll go, what you'll do and see. You can also spur their interest about places you'll visit by having them read books based on the area. For example, if you were planning a trip to Prince Edward Island in Canada, you might have your child read Anne of Green Gables (if it is age appropriate). If you were visiting Monterey and Salinas in central California, books written by John Steinbeck might be appropriate.
Education can be personal history as well. Did a grandfather or great-grandfather land at Normandy in WWII? Did you have an ancestor tried in the Salem Witch Trials? Or an ancestor that immigrated to the United States from Europe? Vacations can be customized around your personal family history.
Education never has to be boring!
Many travelers are oblivious to how easy it is to break into their luggage, without leaving any evidence of a break-in. Here is a brief video that demonstrates how easy it is to breach your luggage – to steal valuables, or worse, to plant something nefarious.
Disturbing, isn’t it? So the standard zippers and locks (as demonstrated in the video) really just keeps out the honest people. If someone is determined to break into your luggage, it can be done, without you ever knowing that it happened.
So what is a traveler to do? To prevent theft, I strongly recommend never packing valuables or letting luggage containing valuables out of your site for even a nanosecond. To prevent having something PUT IN your luggage, again you need to keep your luggage in your possession and line of sight at all times (don’t turn your back or close your eyes for a few minutes).
The best thing that you can do is to get new luggage. Our personal preference is hard sided structured luggage with no zippers. But in researching luggage recently, it appears that no-zipper structured luggage is becoming harder to find. A viable option is zippered luggage with integrated locks (pictures below). With integrated locks it is still possible to break into luggage, but not undetected (as show in the video with standard zippers & lock).
Here are some other luggage related tips that we’ve collected over the years:
Never advertise your home address on or inside the luggage. Either use your destination address or a work address on luggage tags.
Leave the valuables at home (jewelry, tablets, laptops, etc.). If you don’t absolutely NEED it on your trip, leave it at home.
Don’t use expensive looking luggage, but do use structurally sound and sturdy luggage.
Put a copy of your itinerary and contact information inside your luggage (in case it gets lost). Again, do not give your home address or phone number for contact information.
Photograph the contents of your luggage, and keep receipts of anything of value (in the event that you have to file an insurance claim).
It never fails. Someone will find cheap airfare they just can’t pass up. But there are some pitfalls that you need to be aware of before booking the “too good to be true” airfare that you found.
Typically nonstop flights will cost more than a flight that requires stops and/or plane changes. You might think that a slightly longer flight or the inconvenience of having to change planes is worth it. But be careful. Winter flights are a great example. With plane changes in one of many northern airports, you might find yourself stuck half way to your final destination. A flight from Los Angeles to Atlanta might not be a big deal during the winter, except when you change planes in Chicago and ultimately get snowed in and stuck there. Another issue is short plane changes. The airlines will offer you short connections, as short as 30 minutes. If your incoming flight is late by just 10-20 minutes you may miss your connection. And there’s no saying how soon the airline can get you on another flight to your final destination. If that was the last outgoing flight of the day, you won’t get an outbound flight until the next day.
Forget changing planes, how about changing AIRPORTS?
This is an issue in large cities with more than one airport. Two prime examples are New York City and London. You may fly into La Guardia ariport in New York but your departing flight in 2 hours is out of JFK. And you have to get yourself to the next airport, it’s not the airline’s responsibility. A late flight combined with gnarly traffic, and you might miss your connection (but your luggage will probably make it). In London your flight may come into Heathrow airport, but your next flight might depart out of Gatwick. Again, you are responsible for getting yourself to the next airport. And if you aren’t familiar with the city you are in, that can be challenging and/or expensive.
It may look cheap, until you factor in taxes and fuel surcharges.
Recently there have been incredibly cheap flights advertised by some of the airlines. But they are not required to include the taxes or fuel surcharges in the initial price they advertise. So you see a great deal – fly to Europe for $259 per person! Who could pass that up? But once you add in the fuel surcharges and taxes the true per person total is closer to $540 per person. Always ask about taxes and fuel surcharges in order to get the true price, before you provide anyone with your credit card information.
This is a question we get asked a lot when planning Disney World dream trips for our clients. So we decided to do a little experiment on our own recent trip to Disney World this past weekend. We were there for only two nights, so we decided to splurge this time and got the Deluxe Dining Plan, versus the standard dining plan that we typically purchase (be patient with me, I’ll explain the differences between the three dining plans a bit later).
With the Deluxe Dining Plan we got 3 table service meals and 2 snacks per night of stay and a refillable souvenir mug, per person. So for 2 of us staying 2 nights, that was a total of 12 table service meal credits and 8 snack credits on our account. We made dining reservations as follows:
Sunday lunch at Yak & Yeti in Disney’s Animal Kingdom (1 table service credit per person)
Sunday dinner at California Grill at Disney’s Contemporary Resort (2 table service credits per person)
Monday lunch at the Rose & Crown Pub in EPCOT (1 table service credit per person)
Monday dinner at the Yachtsman Steakhouse at Disney’s Yacht Club Resort (2 table service credits per person)
Sunday breakfast was procured before we even arrived at Disney World, and Monday breakfast was paid for with cash (total $19.36 total for the 2 of us) at the quick service restaurant at our resort.
The cost of the Deluxe Dining Plan for 2 adults for 2 nights came to $440.92. When we first booked it, it seemed like a lot to pay for food for 2 days for only 2 people. All the same, we bit the bullet for the sake of research. As for the four table service restaurants where we ate, here is what the meals would have cost if we had paid for them individually:
Yak & Yeti lunch = $91.08 (works out to $45.54 per person)
California Grill dinner = $170.38 (works out to $85.19 per person, or $42.60 per table service credit)
Rose & Crown lunch = $77.99 (works out to $39 per person)
Yachtsman Steakhouse = $184.23 (works out to $92.12 per person, or $46.06 per table service credit)
Our 8 snacks (a pineapple soft serve, and several bottled sodas & water) total value was $23.06, and the value of the refillable mugs was $25.54 total for a 2 night stay. So our grand total “spend” would have been $572.28. By using the Deluxe Dining Plan we actually saved $131.36. So was it worth it? For us, yes. But the bigger question is: would it be worth it for YOU? It truly depends, and this is one of many aspects of planning that we help our clients navigate.
The three dining plan options
I promised I would explain the three different dining plans, so here it is (please note that prices may change at any time):
QUICK SERVE DINING – this includes 2 quick service meal credits and 1 snack credit per person, per night of stay plus a refillable mug The cost of this plan is $41.99 per night per adult (ages 10 and up) and $16.03 per night per child (ages 3-9).
REGULAR DINING – this includes 1 quick service meal credit, 1 table service meal credit, 1 snack credit per person, per night of stay plus a refillable mug. The cost of this plan is $60.04 per night per adult and $19.23 per night per child
DELUXE DINING – this includes 3 table service meal credits and 2 snack credits per person, per night of stay plus a refillable mug. The cost of this plan is $110.23 per night per adult and $29.86 per night per child
None of the dining plans include gratuities.
What qualifies as a quick service meal? It is valid in any quick service restaurant (think fast food style) and includes an entrée (or combo meal, if offered at the restaurant where you’re eating) and non-alcoholic beverage. If you’re eating lunch or dinner, you also get a dessert.
What qualifies as a table service meal? It is valid at any table service restaurant (like going to Outback Steakhouse at home) and includes an entrée, dessert and non-alcoholic beverage per guest. On the Deluxe Dining Plan it also includes an appetizer.
What qualifies as a snack? A lot of things qualify as snacks, including a 20 ounce bottle of soda, a piece of a fruit, an ice cream bar, etc. You can always ask before making a purchase, or check the menu board to see if the dining plan symbol is next to the item in question (designating that it qualifies as a snack credit). Piece of advice: use your snack credits for the more expensive items (like a $4 pineapple soft serve) and pay cash for the lower priced items (like a $2.50 bottle of soda).
What is the refillable mug? Each resort has a self-service soda fountain. Without a dining plan, you can pay for a 12 ounce, insulated mug (cost varies based on your length of stay). You can then have as many complimentary refills of that mug at your resort as you’d like. You can refill it with coke products, tea, coffee and hot chocolate. But it does not work in the parks, only at your resort (not even other resorts).
Questions to ask yourself
Do you enjoy sit down meal services? Or do you prefer grabbing a quick fast-food or cafeteria style meal on the fly? If you don’t want to take time out of your schedule to sit down and be waited on, then the quick serve plan might be your best bet. Also if you don’t want to plan ahead and decide what park you will be in for any particular meal, table service meals may not be a good fit for you either. All table service restaurants take reservations, and for some of the more popular restaurants reservations are a necessity. If you resist planning ahead, or being tied to any kind of schedule, you may chafe under a plan that requires you to plan meals and make reservations.
Are you a “foodie”? Do you like to splurge on great food and get your money’s worth? If money were no object, would you order the 32 ounce Porterhouse for Two? Or the 18 ounce Kansas City Strip Steak? (By the way, that strip steak costs $58, and the Porterhouse for Two is $120). It is vacation after all, you might want to eat out like you wouldn’t normally do at home. If this is the case either the standard or deluxe dining plan might be a good fit for your vacation.
And finally, are character dining meals a must? Many of these qualify as “signature” experiences and require 2 table service credits per person. If you want to maximize your food budget, getting the standard or deluxe dining plan might be a good fit, providing the necessary credits to cover character dining (keeping in mind, you need reservations, so some planning is required).
If you need help assessing which dining plan would best fit your vacation plans, give us a call!
At Ships 'N' Trips Travel we have been providing memorable travel experiences for our clients since 2005.