Thursday, March 29, 2012

Cruising...Big ship, Small Ship, River Cruise. Which is Best For You?

The cruise industry continues to expand with ships of all sizes, as well as with unique itineraries that are created to satisfy most traveler desires.

With no end to its growth in sight today’s consumer can have their pick from are small ships, medium ships, mega vessels, as well as from the many more riverboats that are now sailing up and down the world’s most famous waterways.

Each cruise industry sector will promote their options as the best, often creating consumer confusion, especially for first time cruisers.

Which is best for me? What is the real difference between these choices? These are questions I am frequently asked.

Over this next three weeks I will discuss each separately to try to provide a balanced overview of the comparative advantages of each, and point out why each appeals to some and not to others.

While definitions may vary I will describe the small ship experience relating to those cruises with less than 600 cabins. While there certainly is a mid-range in-between category that could be addressed, there are not many in that category anymore, and they borrow from benefits and disadvantages of each.

I will refer to the big ship category as vessels that carry over 2500 passengers, with about 1300 cabins or more.

River cruises tend to have smaller ships but deserve special attention because of the nature of their necessary construction and dramatically different itineraries that the others cannot duplicate.

Firstly the big ships; what is it that these ever expanding vessels have that attracts the largest majority of cruise passengers?

For the most part these ships are about the quantity of on-board amenities that are offered.

Especially in the new mega-ships the dining and entertainment options seem limitless. From skating rinks, to climbing walls, to water slides the opportunities to keep busy on board are varied and exciting.

So much so that the new strategy for the bigger ships is to down play the port stop itinerary in favour of creating an on-ship resort experience throughout the journey.

While meals are included there is still much more passengers must pay extra for on board. Many of the extra amenities have charges attached to them.

And the costs for alcohol, specialty coffee, and other beverage purchases can add up. Since no cash is exchanged with each purchase, clients are often faced with real sticker shock when they receive their invoice the evening before disembarkation. They add up the chits they have signed for and express astonishment once they confirm that figures are accurate.

There is opulence to the bigger ships that passengers seem to appreciate. With the number of decks available designers are able to create multiple story common areas that create a feeling of luxury and openness. The sense of luxury created by space and uncompromising investment is one of the non-tangible benefits that cruisers will talk about upon returning home.

While the new mega-ships like Royal Caribbean’s new 5000 plus passenger vessels have tried to create a sense of community by creating villages of sorts, the big ship experience can be much less personal, and for a couple travelling alone finding friends can be as challenging as running into someone twice in a week in a small city.

On the other hand the casinos, major revenue producers for cruise lines, can seem as large as those in some Las Vegas properties. They provide a focal point for gathering, and the energy can feel much like that in a major casino.

The exercise room and spa facilities are likely to be as large and comprehensive as you will find anywhere on land.

The primary theatre offers the seat numbers, and with it the quality entertainment you won’t find on cruise lines that operate smaller ships.

On the biggest ships there may be more than one swimming pool, but as at many resorts finding a deck chair during days at sea can be difficult during prime hours.

While the training provided by the cruise lines is professional, the service can often be impersonal since the staff and passengers don’t get the opportunity to interact on- on-one very often. The bigger the ship the more time spent on exploring and participating in the various amenities. In a one week journey it will take some time before passengers settle on their favourite places.

One of the detractions that have occurred as ships have expanded in size is the limitations of getting close to shore at any number of port stops. This can be a significant challenge as passengers’ line up to take their turns to go ashore and then get back to the ship in time for its departure.

The tender process, combined with the additional time on the water, can be slow and cumbersome stealing time from exploring cities or attractions, when the stay at a destination is only a few hours.

In the end one of the biggest attractions is price. The economies of scale truly come in to play in big ships. Prices so far for sailings have been reasonable and given the fact most sailing are sold out consumers may be sharing that view.

If you have travel questions or travel comments forward them to me at

Listen to my radio show Sundays at noon on CDT on CJOB in Winnipeg live or online. IMy weekly Saturday column in the travel section of the Winnipeg Free Press is also online each Saturday.

Previous columns, travel tips, and previous radio shows with commercials removed can all be found on the Journeys Travel & Leisure SuperCentre website If you like us on Facebook you will receive my blogs as they are posted.


posted by That Travel Guy @ 3:23 PM  |  0 Comments

Wednesday, March 28, 2012

Carrying Butane Appliances Across the Border. An Absolute Maybe!

A short time ago I received this email question from a reader. I answered the question in my weekly column in the winnipeg Free Press but after getting more comments on the subject from readers, I thought a wider circulation of the message might be in order.

Question: I have been travelling all over the world and it has never been a problem taking my trusty curling iron fuelled with butane. However, we are going to the states in April and a feel sudden nervousness about this. Americans are rather strange when it comes to “security” and have no compunctions about going through your luggage. Is butane allowed in this circumstance or not?

Answer: From what I have been able to find out, in theory at least, butane tanks are allowed by TSA. They are not specifically banned anywhere I've ever been able to find. But as I review the TSA website there seems to be so many contradictions that I feel there are absolutely no guaranteeing they will be let through.

In a response last year to a traveler inquiry, a TSA email stated, "Passengers may place the curling iron in carry-on or checked baggage. The safety cover must be in place over the heating element. You may not carry any extra butane cartridges in carry-on or checked baggage.”

The email encouraged the questioner to go to the TSA website saying, "The website has information about prohibited and permitted items, the screening process and procedures, and guidance for special considerations that may assist in preparing for air travel. You can find these tips and more under the Our Travelers heading on our website at”

As I reviewed all the information I did not get a comfortable assurance on butane equipment specifically, and to the contrary there is a clear ‘no’ relating to Aerosols beyond personal care or toiletries. The same restriction is applied to any flammable liquid fuel.

In addition airlines have the right to impose additional restrictions they may deem necessary.

Even if the website suggests in some way it is allowed I think you take a risk, since I could not find absolute clarification. Some TSA agents may make their own decisions as they interpret restrictions.

While it appears you may be very well be allowed to take the appliance with you I would personally not be inclined to test the interpretation.

If you have travel questions or travel comments email me at askjourneys@ 

If you are looking for a great cruise holiday in January please consider joining my wife and I on our Seabourn voyage from Santiago Chile to Buenas Aries Argentina. See the information on this hosted that has lots of extras added in on our website. 

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posted by That Travel Guy @ 1:46 PM  |  4 Comments

Tuesday, March 27, 2012

Locks that airport security can open without having to cut them.

Eagle Creek TSA Mini Key Lock  - Travel Lock,  TSA Lock, Cable Lock, Luggage Lock

I received a question from a Canadian reader about locking luggage, one of many I receive on a fairly frequent basis.

I understand there are some kinds of locks that airport security can open, the questioner wrote, without having to chop them off. What are these, he asked?

In this case being Canadian puts us behind technololgy not in step with it. While these locks are widely available and can be used by any number of jurisdictions, Canada so far has not bought into the concept.

The locks, developed in conjunction with the TSA in the United States, are being successfully being deployed by the United States, Great Britain, and a few other nations.

There are two brands, available in North America, which are most widely reconized. The first is called Safe Skies Luggage Locks and the second is branded as Travel Sentry.

Each lock has a specific code which is used by TSA and other security agencies to identify which tool to use to open the lock.

At each location the security people are able to open and then lock the bags again after they have been inspected.

The Travel Sentry website ( points out that an International treaty requires that all luggage must be security screened before being loaded on passenger airplanes.

If security cannot identify objects, they will open the bags but will always leave a note behind informing you they have done so.

Travel Sentry points out that locking your luggage is the smart thing to do and protects your possessions from theft tampering and misuse by smugglers.

Why has Canada not bought into this concept that seems to be working so well in other countries. It is anyones guess. But it is causing a dilemma for Canadian lock or not to lock.

My advice is to buy the branded locks anyway. The price is not much different than the old style lock and locked luggage does help prevent theft of opportunity.

In this way you have locks for other international travel even as Canadian security waits to decide if they want to catch up with the times.

You can look at these locks on line at our website. for a broader range of travel products go to There you will also find travel reviews, travel stories, and other travel tips that started with questions from other readers who forwarded their questions, as you can, to

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posted by That Travel Guy @ 6:47 PM  |  0 Comments

Monday, March 26, 2012

Taking Foodstuffs Across the Border?

A short time back this questiion was posed to me. We now have a son living in the United States and plan to visit him for Easter. I want to take him some of his favorite foods like cakes and pies, along with a few other items.

If I can’t carry them on it’s no use trying to transport them. But I am concerned about what foodstuffs can be carried on and what is restricted. Can you help us?

The answer depends upon which foods and how they are packaged. While this is a common question from those planning to drive over the border, because of the carry-on size restrictions from most airlines it is not as frequent a inquiry from air travelers.

But it seems that many people do like to take favorite foods, or bring back specialty food products they may discover at their destination.

The easiest to isolate are liquids because the rule relating to 100 ml. containers which must fit in only one 1 litre bag has been around a long time now, and most are aware of this.

What many don’t understand is that this includes sauces and spreads, which are at their core mostly liquid. This includes foods like peanut butter, salsas, jams, jellies, and soups. Even the idea of taking a gift of our famous maple syrup can only be take in containers bigger than the 100 ml. size if it is packaged in a checked in bag.

While you can take his favorite cake or pie, you need to know that they may very well be subject to additional screening. Therefore like gifts, don’t overwrap the box you are carrying them in. While not prohibited, there is a chance you will be asked to open the container so security can examine the contents.

I am aware of travellers who have run into serious challenges at the border for simple transgressions of the rules.

Always err on the side of caution.

If you're get set for your travels check out our lines of luggage and travel accessories at

posted by That Travel Guy @ 2:32 PM  |  0 Comments

Thursday, March 15, 2012

Let Me Not Forget Los Cabos!

One of the most enjoyable trips we took this winter was our first journey to Los Cabos.

We stayed at the RIU Palace just utside of Cabo San Lucas. It really is an exceptionally will run resort with excellent food and service in all the venues.
We were able to go back and forth from Cabo easily and even got used to using public transit which picked us up at the gate entrance and dropped us off at the same location.

Cabo itself is worth visiting with a large mall, a attractive marina with loads of yachts, as excellent restaurants and bars running along the Marina.

The view from
The view from the resort was excellent and the property itself has been design really well. It is a 5 star property with the RIU Santa Fe right beside it making the two one huge property. Guests at the Palace have full access to the Santa Fe, which has one of the nicest lobby areas I have seen in some time.                        

The season is almost over but there are some great deals available for travel there and to otther sunspots now. Call 942-5000 to book or 1 800 859-6354 or book on line at find travel products at

I will be writing more about Los Cabos in the future but having had such a wonderful time there I really wanted to draw attention to its advantages.

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posted by That Travel Guy @ 10:47 AM  |  0 Comments

Wednesday, March 14, 2012

Is it Still Safe to Visit Mexico?

There is no single question posed to me on an ongoing basis more than this one: "Is it still safe to travel to Mexico?

It seems like every month we hear about another Canadian who was assaulted in some way while living in or visiting Mexico. Coverage of each of these events is massive, with followup stories occupying pages of newspapers and hours of television coverage.

Official government warnings tell people to avoid visiting a dozen or more states where drug wars have seen hundreds of locals murdered.

It's all enough to frighten even the most fearless of traveller.

A recent headline screamed out the results of a study that reported more than 70 per cent of Canadians expressed hesitancy about visiting those same tourist areas that have drawn thousands of Canadian visitors annually for decades.

But talk with people who have visited Mexico and you will likely find an entirely different reaction.

They will often express their commitment to return, and try to put the publicity and the actual events into, what they consider to be, a reasonable and proper framework.

Is Mexico receiving a bum rap because of all the negative publicity leveled at it? Is the crime against Canadians who visit the country higher than others? Here are some facts:

Last year six Canadians were murdered in all of Mexico, plus about 50 more assaults.

In Winnipeg during the same year we had 39 homicides with assaults too numerous to mention.

In Mexico eighty per cent of homicides can be attributed to organized criminal gangs and take place in fewer than six per cent of the regions.

While it can be argued that the rate of incidents has increased, Mexico statistics for crime against Canadians is actually not that far off those of many other countries we visit.

And according to homicide studies undertaken by the United Nations in 2010, Mexico, in statistics relating to homicides per 100,000 people, fared better than many other popular tourist destinations including the Dominican Republic, Saint Lucia, Panama, Jamaica, and the Bahamas.

All this is not to whitewash Mexico completely, or suggest we should throw caution to the winds as we plan our vacations.

The country needs to do a better job of investigating and communicating when incidents do occur. It needs to step up tourist security in certain areas. But the same can be said about many of those other destinations referenced, where crime is a fact of travel from time to time.

I hold no fervent desire to save Mexican tourism at all costs so travel agents and agencies can continue to prosper.

There is no need to do that.

Should client response indicate increasing aversion to Mexico, it is absolutely certain tour operators will shift to other attractive alternatives in the Caribbean. The demand for sun spot travel will always be strong from a cold-weather province like Manitoba. These companies will always be there to provide travel agents and their customers with the options they desire.

But Mexico is simple too good a vacation destination to pass up. It has a well-developed tourist infrastructure; the people are friendly and appreciate the jobs tourism brings. The resort areas are varied and offer visitors multiple choices year after year.

The weather is stable and the service at most resorts is exemplary.

Notwithstanding some of the legitimate publicity around negative events, there is a sense of excessive 'piling on' by the national media whenever there is a newsworthy occurrence in that country.

A year ago my own daughter was vacationing with her husband and two children at a five-star resort in another country Manitobans visit in high numbers.

Thieves, with guns in hand, entered the expansive lobby area with the intent of holding up the front desk, while dozens of guests, including my family looked on nearby.

This traumatic experience ended with one of the employees being shot in the back.

This event, even though it was at a high-end resort loaded with Canadians, warranted nary a single paragraph in Canadian media. Why not? Because it was a local who was shot, the story had no resonance in Canada.

Yet those who were in the vicinity raced wildly to find a safe haven in a resort that suddenly seemed to have shrunk in size dramatically.

In 2012 it is estimated that more that two million Canadians will have visited Mexico.

This is more than to any other destination by far, with the exception of our U.S. neighbours to the south.

It is natural that some crime will occur. And because we most often travel to countries like Mexico, where poverty is prominent, bad things happen when visitors undertake foolish practices; like ostentatious displays of wealth, or associating themselves with excessive alcohol consumption and late-night carousing. Some have clashed with police and other authority figures while under the influence, leading to serious charges and the occasional beating.

Travellers need to take precautions which otherwise wouldn't be as necessary at home.

Mexico is an exceptional country to visit. It would be too bad if we chose to avoid this favoured nation because of a lack of perspective of its general safety for tourists.

If you have travel questions email me at find great travel products at

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posted by That Travel Guy @ 5:14 PM  |  2 Comments

Sunday, March 11, 2012

What Did My 90 yr. old Aunt's Birthday Last Night Have to do with Travel?

In 1927 a 5 year old young girl moved into the small town of Angusville in Western Manitoba, not knowing anyone.

My grandfather Mike Gallant told that little girl, who would become my mother, to go play with a girl down the street named Pauline Maz.

That first play date would begin a friendship that lasted for the next 74 years until my mother died a few years ago.

In the intervening years my Aunt would first marry my uncle Louis, the only son of my grandparents. Shortly after they were married Louis was off  to Europe to fight in World War II. He never made it back home, and I became the defacto son to my grandparents, with whom I had a relationship that was as close as any family bonds have ever been.

My Aunt Pauline meanwhile with determination tried to carry on her life with the kind of strength that I think has made here the amazing person she still is today.

As time went on she remarried...not, as it turned out to someone unknown or not close, but rather to a younger brother to my grandmother, who was part of a huge family of at least a dozen.

That was my Uncle Mike Senko, an amazing man unto himself, who too would not live the long life he deserved, as he died of Lukemia more than 30 years ago.

Now to the travel part. My mother and my Aunt Pauline would be offered the chance to visit Holland, to the area of Holten where my Uncle, their husband and brother was buried.

They would stay with a Dutch family and come back full of stories of the appreciation these people had for the committment Canadians made to free them.

I always lived under the umbrella of my Uncle Louis knowing I was expected to try and live up to the equally amazing individual he seemed to be.

So a couple of years later, during my hitchhiking expedition to Europe, it would be my primary goal to visit the grave of the man who, in giving his live, created a life long family bond that was at times closer than my parents.

So last night we talked about those experiences, and my wish to go back to Holten to meet with the next generation of Dutch families, to see if they still hold the ties to Canadian sacrifices their parents had.

There were many accolades paid to my Aunt Pauline yesterday. Her son in law referred to her as a Grand Lady.

She is that. She has literally lived through the wars. She has been a pillar to the family. And it was uplifting to share our Europe memories with her last night.

May she have many more birthdays, and with her strength of character and determination there may well be many more.

For travel tips and travel questions and answers check our website at

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posted by That Travel Guy @ 8:54 AM  |  0 Comments

Thursday, March 8, 2012

In Las Vegas I discovered National Geographic's Polar Bears!

This is one of the best known conservation icons in the world. Their magazines are devoured by the millions and often saved for decades.

Their work in bring to light the plight of animals like the Polar Bear is legendary. While they do brand products with their logo for public sale, it is not a wide spread practise.

But their I was in Las Vegas at the annual Travel Goods Association trade show when these two giant Polar Bears stopped me cold.

Quality printed on the face of a set of hard side luggage there they were with the National Geographic brand.

And there were other National Geographic images on other hardsides. Along with a series of high quality rolling duffels and suitcases with the logo proudly displayed.

These will be coming into the Journeys Travel and Leisure SuperCentre store, and onto the Journeystravelgear website as soon as they are ready for mass market.

This will take a few months but by fall they will be here helping fund the work of the National Geographic association.

For more immediate delivery a shipment of Eagle Creek backpacks for the young explorer who may travel to many of the sites motivated by National Geographic will be coming in about a month.

Another interesting show is past and I make ready to return home tonight.

I have had many comments on my recent columns that I write for the Winnipeg Free Press, particularly the report on Mexican safety. You can read it and others on line and you can listen to previous radio shows without the commercials in the travel show section as well.

If you have travel questions or travel comments email them to me at

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posted by That Travel Guy @ 9:11 AM  |  0 Comments

Tuesday, March 6, 2012

Here is the Las Vegas I saw last night...with one great golf tip for you!

On a journey I never ever go anywhere without my camera. So why are there no pictures on this blog report.

It is the fault of golf that goes with the tip in this entry.

I decided not to bring my golf clubs with me on this trip with the limited amount of free time I would have with yesterday being the only possibility.

I woke up early, easy to do with 2 hours time difference here from CST. It promised to be a georgeous day so I went to my frequent search option at

Golfers likely see this company advertised all the time and never used them. I have a number of times and found more last minute bargains on there than anywhere else.

So yesterday morning I searched and there it was, the Legacy golf track in Henderson for only $45 plus their $1.50 fee.

That course normally charges $155 and I ended up golfing with 2 other Canadians from Kamloops and a Minnesotan who also booked with in what was an obvious open time the club wanted to make a few dollars on.

This included the cart and range balls.

It cost me as much to rent clubs as it did to golf.

I used my Blackberry phone camera to take a few shots of this delightful course but have no idea how to transfer them here to show you some scenes from the track.

It was very hot yesterday here in Las Vegas. In my mind I would golf than take in a show somewhere.

I came back to my room at the Rio and felt exhausted. I listed to the Jets beat Buffalo on TSN and concluded to myself 'You ain't goin nowhere.

So I went downstairs, picked up a couple of diet Pepsi, ordered a whopper and fries from their fast food outlet here (just what I needed to lose weight), and was asleep by 10. Las Vegas fun!

In a while I will head over to the convention centre to begin the real work I am here find the unique new travel product would be voyageurs will appreciate.

It's a good show and I am sure I will make a new discovery.

I have had loads of comments on my recent shows talking about Panama. You can listen to them on our site without the commercials.

Also my Winnipeg Free Press column on Mexico safety continues to garner many emails, so far most in approval of my position. You can read it on line as well.

And if you are looking for some of the great travel products we have discovered here in the past you can find them at

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posted by That Travel Guy @ 8:53 AM  |  0 Comments

Friday, March 2, 2012

There He Goes, He's Gone Again!

Having not yet recovered from our very late night arrival from Panama less than two days ago, I am once again packing for yet another journey.

As thattravelguy it would be fair to say I like to be on the road more than most, but this turnaround is not really what I would normally plan to do.

However it is time again for the major luggage buying show in Las Vegas, and for us this is a must do, not a want to do.

The Travel Goods Association brings together the largest number of travel related products of any show in North America. It is here where I often make new discoveries.

It wasat the TGA show where I first saw the Evolution Pillow. This new design pillow that offered 360 degree neck support has caught on like crazy. We sell hundreds of them now both in our Winnipeg store and on line as well.

It is where I found the VinniBag, the ultimate wine and other glass protector for travellers who want to bring home these fragile items safely and securely. They also have seen ever growing popularity.

It is where I first found the BugZip product to help protect people from bringing home bedbugs when they travel. There is only one thing worse than sleeping with these nasty beasts in a hotel room you happen to be in. It is bringing them back home.

A friend who did said it took three months to clear them out and he and his family moved into a hotel for more than a month of the process.

And it was at this show where I first encountered the most amazing travel security I have ever discovered. The PacSafe line is created with security features to foil even the most practised pickpocket and tourist site thief.

It has likely been the most successful of my finds at this show.

What will I find this year? It is always a suprise and even amazement to see the ingenuity of inventors who come up with this stuff. But it is what keeps the industry clicking as consumer frustration is satisfied by a product no one ever thought of unveiling.

It is also the show where I will look at what's coming forth from Travelpro luggage, and Eagle Creek, and Delsey.

These are core lines that are very popular across the nation and each year they too come up with innovation that makes travel more comfortable for all of us.

You will find these products before long instore and online at I will try to continue my blos from Las Vegas as I discover new ideas in travel that may interest you.

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posted by That Travel Guy @ 4:25 PM  |  0 Comments