LA Times Travel Show, wrap-up

All images by Greg Gross and property of I’m Black and I Travel unless otherwise identified. All rights reserved.

The Los Angeles Times Travel Show is history for 2012. Lots to tell you about.

It’s been a busy January — two major travel trade shows in the Los Angeles area two weeks apart. The second one, the Los Angeles Times Travel Show, wrapped up last Sunday at the Los Angeles Convention Center. The first one, the Los Angeles Travel & Adventure Show, took place in Long Beach two weeks earlier.

More about all that later. There’s a lot to pass on to you from the past weekend.


Don’t look now, but Mexico’s on the comeback. They had one of the larger pavilions on the exhibition floor, presenting both national tourism information and regional info from Baja California, Baja California Sur and elsewhere. All of them were pulling heavy crowds both days, and that was good to see.

It could be that we’re finally starting to lose our hysterical fear about going to Mexico, which has always had a lot to offer the traveler.

(Just FYI, TV chef and professional culinary antihero Tony Bourdain, he of the popular Travel Channel series “Anthony Bourdain: No Reservations,” was down in Baja California last week, checking out the food and drink scene in Tijuana and Ensenada. If his tweets are to be believed, he came away impressed. I’m not surprised.)

Two of the biggest sponsors of this show are a couple of relative underdogs in international tourism that are trying to raise their travel profiles in their respective parts of the world. In the Americas, that’s Ecuador.

They’re pushing a concept they call “conscious tourism,” an amalgam of sustainable tourism, eco-tourism and what they call simply “a good way to live.” Diverse climate, diverse geography, diverse cultures. Being considered the gateway to the famed Galapagos Islands doesn’t hurt, either.

Farther north — much farther, actually — you had the folks from Frontiers North selling polar bear tours on what they call their “Tundra Buggy.”

Think hotel built on an all-terrain-vehicle configured like a train, which allows you to get nice close-up shots of polar bears — without becoming Tourist McNuggets.

Polar bears may be the most beautiful of all the bear species, but why do you have to see them from an armored vehicle when you can see grizzly bears from your car in a place like Yellowstone National Park? Because polar bears are one of the few animals on the planet known for stalking human beings.

The shrinking polar ice cap may be turning polar bears into an endangered species, but when you’re within tooth-and-claw range of one, the endangered species is you. Hence the Tundra Buggy.

This year is the 100th anniversary of the Titanic, and both Ireland and Northern Ireland, where she was actually built, are going all out to commemorate it.

As part of the commemoration, there’s a guesthouse/restaurant in Belfast, North Ireland called Rayanne House that re-creates the dinner served to First Class passengers aboard the Titanic.

They’ve reduced the original 11 courses to nine, but even that sounds ridiculous:

  1. Canapes a’L’Amiral
  2. Cream of Barley Soup, finished with cream and Bushmills Whiskey
  3. Asparagus and Watercress Salad with Champagne–Saffron Vinaigrette, served with Roast Squab
  4. Poached Salmon with Mousseline Sauce garnished with Cucumber and Fresh Dill
  5. Rose Water and Mint Sorbet
  6. The entree — Pan~Seared Filet Mignon topped with Foie Gras and Truffle drizzled with a Cognac, Madeira and Red Wine Reduction served with Potatoes Anna, Creamed Carrots and Zucchini Farci
  7. Spiced Peaches in Chartreuse Jelly and French Vanilla Ice Cream
  8. Cheese and Fruit
  9. Coffee and Petit Fours

Forget the iceberg. That meal alone would’ve been enough to sink me.

The Rayanne House head chef, Conor McClelland, showed how those courses were prepared and passed out samples, describing, as he did so, how men would get themselves “suited and booted” for an evening of dining, drinking and cigars that would start around 6:30 p.m. and last until midnight.

“You have to remember that back then, ships didn’t have all the shows and entertainment that cruise ships have today,” he said. “On the Titanic, your entertainment was the food.”

Turkey was well represented this year at the LA Times show, as they were at the Long Beach show. If you think about it, the country is actually a dual gateway — between the continents of Europe and Asia and also between the Christian and Muslim worlds.

It’s a Muslim nation that wants to be treated as a part of Europe, and that fact alone ought to be enough to make it worth a look. All the history, the glorious architecture, the great food, the modernity and the famously friendly people could just be treated as a bonus.

As usual, the emphasis was on safaris, and the interest level among the show-goers was off the chain. Africa travel providers generally don’t take up the largest amount of space on the exhibition floor, but they definitely were pulling more than their fair share of the crowd.

Regular IBIT readers know that safaris really aren’t my thing, but even I managed to find one that hooked my interest, on two levels.

The outfit is called Rhino Africa Safaris. It organizes trips in part to help raise funds to help African rhinos, which are being devastated by some of the most cruel and vicious poaching you can imagine.

And the trips it organizes include…wait for it…bike tours.

Bike tours, in Africa. If I say that aloud too many times, I want to start packing. Immediately.

Rudy Maxa
Rudy Maxa

PBS’ European travel guru, Rick Steves was here both days of the show and packed the show’s largest meeting hall both days.

If there’s a travel expert who knows more about European travel than Steves, I haven’t seen him. He’s always got some useful insights on how to, in his words, “carbonate your travel experience.”

The bad part: He makes you sit through a seemingly endless string of sales pitches for his books and his tours and his bags to pick up those bits of insight.

This year those bits included:

  1. Get out of your car or off the bus and engage with the locals. Put yourself in the mix. Don’t worry about not speaking the language; he doesn’t, either.
  2. The best way to beat the tourist mobs in popular destinations: Become what IBIT calls a “travel guerrilla.” The tour buses dominate a place during the day? Make it a point to own the night or at least the late afternoon/early evening, after the tour buses have withdrawn and the locals start to reclaim the place. Even better, spend the night, and have both the early morning and the nights there to yourself. If you’re on the bus yourself, wander off the programmed routes and stop and discover the place for yourself.
  3. Castles: Find a ruined one that doesn’t draw tourist buses. You may have it, and its history, all to yourself.
  4. If you’re planning your own itinerary, the cheapest fare may not always be the most efficient. Do what works the best for your trip. If you don’t, your “cheap ticket” could actually end up costing you money.
  5. Don’t be afraid to see Europe on your own. Most big-bus group tours, in Steves’ view, amount to little more than “a self-imposed hostage crisis.”
  6. If you’re visiting several European countries, start with the ones culturally closest to what you’re used to at home and work your way up to the more exotic destinations. As he put it, “Why get diarrhea early?” Also, the more exotic the destination, the cheaper it’s likely to be, so save the bulk of your shopping for last.
  7. Don’t be afraid to go to any country that truly interests you. Statistically, Europe overall is a lot safer than the United States, so don’t be afraid to visit, don’t be afraid to go on your own and don’t give in to what he called “our news hysteria.”
  8. Open-jaw trips, in which you arrive in one destination and return home via another, might make more sense for you than a simple round-trip flight. I’ve done these myself and he’s right.

Another good speaker was veteran travel writer/broadcaster Rudy Maxa, who had to contend with the whirring and screaming from the zipline next-door as he spoke.

He spoke of the new Department of Transportation rules that require airlines to reveal all the costs of a given airfare — including all their taxes and fees — up front.

(Not surprisingly, some of the airlines are chafing against this rule, especially Spirit Airlines. More about that in coming blog posts.)

But in Maxa’s view, the new DOT rule that the mainstream news media have been overlooking is that you now have the right to cancel an air reservation within 24 hours — without penalty. He says that’s huge, and he’s right.

He’s also big on the idea of not paying retail prices for anything when it comes to travel, and he mentioned a few sites on the Web that can help you with that.

He mentioned two sites — Cruise Compete and My Best Fare Finder, that have cruises bidding for your booking instead of the other way around. Kind of a reverse-Priceline, so to speak.

For hotels, he mentioned Jetsetter and a href=”” target=”_blank”>Bloomspot.

However, a third site he named, France’s Voyage Prive, sounds a bit shaky:

“Voyage Privé stopped publishing travel deals on the U.S. website. We sincerely thank you for your continued loyalty and your interest in the offers we secured for you.

We would like to invite you to join our unique partner ideeli to gain exclusive access to luxury hotels and resorts around the world, as well as sought-after brands in fashion home and beauty – all at up to 80% off : JOIN IDEELI NOW >

Despite the closure of the US website, Voyage Privé continues its business in other countries around the world, and we would be delighted to see you join one of our alternative exclusive clubs: United Kingdom | Brasil | France | Spain | Italy

If you have a booking with us, please be assured that your booking will not be cancelled. For any inquiry, please contact us via email at or by phone at +1 877 456 3459.

The team at”

Oh, dear…

As always, there was a lot more at this show than I can bring you in any one blog post, so expect to hear a lot more over the coming months.

The world is traveling in 2012. What are you doing this year? Got passport?

LA Times Travel Show, Day 1
LA Times Travel Show, Day 2

Edited by P.A.Rice


LA Times Travel Show, Day 2

The Los Angeles Times Travel show wraps up today at the LA Convention Center. Check here through the day for a running account of the happenings down on the floor.

Sundays are usually slower than Saturdays at these shows, but if the number of folks who came streaming into the show as late as two hours before closing time yesterday is any indication, today could prove to be an exception.

Rick Steves is on tap for today. Am always curious to see what new he has to say about European travel, and he almost always comes up with something useful.

Am also going to touch base with Jen Leo of the Los Angeles Times. She’ll be talking about her favorite travel apps for you iPhone users out there. (I’ll try to overlook the fact that I’m one of those bitter Blackberry users.)

One of the more intriguing exhibitors I ran into late yesterday touts what they call “British style cruising” around Northern Europe and some Mediterranean ports.

What, you ask, is British style cruising? From what Greg Abbott of Cruises and Maritime Voyages USA told me, it’s what I would call “old-school cruising.”

“Our cruises are very destination-oriented,” he said. “We don’t do mega-ships. No big Broadway shows. no ziplines, no rock climbing walls, no tennis courts, no casinos.”

A typical ship cruising in this style carries a maximum of about 800 passengers. Nowadays, one of those “behemoths of the seas” might have that many passengers on one deck.

We’ll be exploring this in more detail in subsequent blog posts. Right now, it’s time to hit the floor…and hope it doesn’t hit me back!


LA Times Travel Show, Day 1

The Los Angeles Convention Center becomes a vortex of travel knowledge this weekend. Check here through the day for a running account of the happenings down on the floor.

It’s going to be hectic. Day 1 always is. And it starts of with IBIT having to make a critical choice.

The Godfather of Travel, Arthur Frommer, is speaking at 11 a.m. His theme this year: “Thinking Outside the Suitcase — Injecting New Life Into Your Vacation Plans.”
If anyone would know how, he would.

Fifteen minutes after he starts speaking, however, there’s a very high-powered panel that gets underway, featuring Travelzoo senior editor Gabe Saglie, Doug Miller of LivingSocial and John E. DiScala, aka Johnny Jet, who put together one of the world’s most comprehensive travel sites back when the Web was still in its infancy.

Their topic: “More For Your Money: Budget Tips for Savvy Travelers.”

Having yet to master the ability to be in two places at once (my clone’s still at the cloners, you see), I have to make a very tough choice here. Which session would you rather see IBIT cover? Post a comment here or on the IBIT Facebook Page before 11 a.m. with your preference.

The majority decides where I go.

I don’t usually do the culinary demonstrations at travel shows like this, but there’s one this year I may not be able to pass up.

Were you, like most of the world, enthralled with the movie “Titanic?” As part of Tourism Ireland’s presentation, chef Conor McClelland of Rayanne House is going to re-create the dinner prepared for First class passengers on board the doomed liner.

Lisa Ling, currently of Oprah Winfrey’s OWN Network, will be talking later about “The Importance of a Global Perspective,” something we Americans definitely need in 2012.

Okay, time to scout out some breakfast and then take my short four-block walk from the Sheraton Los Angeles Downtown Hotel to the convention center.

Walking…in LA…what a concept!

11:11 a.m.
It’s on, and the crowds are pouring in.

The Africa section of the main floor is already jumping and the reason is clear.

“Everybody’s asking about safaris,” said Michael A. Madison, president of Arbor Travel Associates in Inglewood, CA, who’s working the Africa Travel Association booth, representing the Los Angeles chapter.

“Nobody’s asking about Egypt, nobody’s asking about North Africa. It’s all safaris — East Africa, Kenya, South Africa. Safaris, safaris, safaris.”

I’ve already found the first folks to hook my attention, and they’re in Turkey. Would you fly halfway around the world to spend your vacation in a cave? The thought never crossed my mind — until I came across the Cappadocia Cave Suites. More about them later.

Fallout from the dueling Los Angeles travel shows is already becoming evident. People are walking up to me, asking if certain countries have booths here in the Los Angeles Convention Center. They don’t.

Reason: hey were in Long Beach two weeks ago at the Los Angeles Travel & Adventure Show. It’s an issue and we’ll get into that later.

Okay, off to cover my first session.

2:10 p.m.
This is crazy.

I’m bouncing from one session to another, with half my brain listening to one set of speakers, while the other half anguishes over the 2-3-4 others I’m missing — because they’re all going more or less at the same time.

With great reluctance, I skipped Arthur Frommer’s presentation this year to catch the three-member panel on how to save money on travel. And wat did I learn there?

Something I really don’t like — and I guarantee tta you won’t, either.

You already know how the airlines are raking in billions of dollars with all their add-in fees for everything they can think of, nickel–and–diming consumers for srvices that used to be included with the cost of your ticket.

In industry terms, they call this “unbundling.”

Well, the hotel industry may be looking in this direction, too. There was buzz among the panelists about hotels charging extra for their traditional services. Ten dollars extra per day to get your room made up or to get fresh towels?

Oh, HELL to the no.

I couldn’t find anybody who’d run into this themselves…yet. If you have, or know anyone who has, please:

  • Give me an email shout at
  • Leave me a message on the IBIT Facebook page.
  • Hit me up on Twitter @ImBlacknITravel

Any hotel chain that embraces this idea is guaranteed to get raked over the coals by the traveling public — and I’ve got my rake right here.

One good piece of advice they had for saving money on international travel was to keep track of major events around the world, especially sporting events, with an eye toward visiting that country after the event was over.

Reason: Many countries, especially developing countries, sink a lot of money into huge improvements in infrastructure — stadiums, airports, hotels, highways and the like.

Once the events are over and the throngs have departed, they still have to pay for all that stuff. So they will be in need, perhaps dire need, of tourist revenue for the foreseeable future.

Yet another tip, courtesy of Johnny Jet himself:

When you’re paying for something with a credit during your international travels, and the merchant asks you if you want to pay in the national currency or in dollars, always, ALWAYS pay in the national currency. “When you pay in dollars, (the merchants) take a hefty fee out of that.”

A fee that gets added to your bill after you get home.

I also checked out the presentation on Ecuador, if only to see if they would give any mention at all to that country’s African cultural heritage. To their credit, they did. They didn’t delve into it in any great detail, but hey, any mention is better than none.

Almost every place in the world where the Spanish conquistadores and their accompanying priests set foot, they left behind a legacy of enslaved Africans. That’s why today, you’re hard-pressed to find a country anywhere in Latin America that does not have not only an African heritage, but an African population, blending indigenous, Spanish and African traditions.

That is but one reason for a traveler to take an interest in Ecuador. Not many places on Earth where you can go from an ocean coast (the Pacific) to one of the world’s major mountain ranges (the Andes) and wind up in a tropical river basin (the Amazon) — all on the same trip, on the same day.

The other major presenter I caught was Lisa Ling, currently of Oprah Winfrey’s OWN Network, talking about the need for Americans to have a global perspective. One thing she said really hooked my attention:

“In North Korea, people are prevented from knowing anything about the world. In the United States, we have unlimited access to information — and yet, how many of us actually seek out information about the world?”

It’s a good question, especially when you juxtapose it with something that CBS News travel editor Peter Greenberg told me at the Los Angeles Travel & Adventure Show a couple of weeks back:

“Americans are the most geographically-challenged people on Earth.”

Okay, time to grab a sandwich, then hit the floor and talk to some exhibitors.


LA travel wars, Round 2

LA travel show
2011 LA Travel & Adventure Show | ©IBIT G. Gross

Los Angeles is set to kick off its second major travel trade show in two weeks. They’re gonna make me lose my MIND up in here!

You’ve heard of Star Wars, Storage Wars, Shipping Wars, even Monster Bug Wars. To that semi-illustrious list, you can now add:

Los Angeles Travel Show Wars.

The opening shot was fired two weeks ago at the annual Los Angeles Travel & Adventure Show. Only this “Los Angeles” show was actually held at the Long Beach Convention Center.

This weekend, the Los Angeles Times Travel Show kicks off its debut exhibition at the Los Angeles Convention Center, right next-door to the Staples Center, where Kobe Bryant and the Los Angeles Lakers hang out.

For me, shows like this are an exercise in information overload. It literally takes me months to process and write about all the interesting, important and valuable things I learn from the speakers and exhibitors from just one of them.

Now, Los Angeles is going to hold two, two weeks apart? If you see white smoke in the sky this weekend, it won’t be coming from the Vatican. It’ll be coming out of my ears.


WHAT: The Los Angeles Times Travel Show (see Program Schedule here)
WHERE: Los Angeles Convention Center, 1201 South Figueroa Street, Los Angeles, CA 90015
WHEN: 10 a.m. — 5 p.m., Saturday and Sunday
COST: Tickets $10 ($2 off if you buy early online). Kids 16 & under free.
Parking $15 a day at the convention center lots, no in–and–out privileges.

For the last few years, the Los Angeles Times teamed up with Unicomm LLC to put on the Travel & Adventure Show, one of a series of such shows Unicomm holds around the United States.

For reasons I don’t yet know, the Times decided to break off and start doing their own thing. Unicomm took theirs to Long Beach; the Times opted to stay in LA.

Round 1 took place the weekend of Jan. 14-15. From Unicomm’s standpoint, it appears to have been pretty successful, well-attended both days. Prominent in the crowds were young brothers and sisters, as well as black families with their children in tow, a sight that definitely warmed my heart.

Now, the Times is up to bat with its travel show this Saturday and Sunday. Round 2 coming up.

The highlights of all such shows are the featured speakers, and there’s none bigger than the Godfather of Travel, Arthur Frommer. He never fails to pass on valuable, money-saving advice, but his love and enthusiasm for travel may be worth even more than his tips.

I mean, the man is 80-something years old, he’s been writing travel guides since the end of World War II, and he’s still traveling the globe with the same spirit he did when he was half my age.

Arthur Frommer is who I want to be if I ever decide to grow up. He’ll be speaking on Saturday.

Rick Steves,
the European travel maven of American public television, also will be back. He’s a big one for getting off the beaten path and off the tourist bus, two ideas I heartily endorse. But it’s his sheer love for Europe, more than anything else, that will make you want to start packing.

This being an LA Times show, you know there will have to be some journalists involved. TV’s Lisa Ling will be speaking, as well as some of the Times’ own travel staffers, chief among them my good friend, Christopher Reynolds, who’s been to almost as many places as Arthur Frommer.

In addition to the speakers, there are the exhibitors, hundreds of them, from virtually every corner of this cornerless world.

But for all the presenters who will be in Los Angeles this coming weekend, there are plenty who won’t be. Why? Because they were in Long Beach two weeks ago. A representative of South African Airways broke it down for me.

“A lot of people you see here came all the way from their home countries for this show,” she said. “They can’t afford to hang around for two weeks and put up another booth in Los Angeles.”

Which is why there’s a sizable number of exhibitors whom you won’t be seeing this weekend, including South African Airways.

The flip side, of course, is that there are exhibitors whom you didn’t see in Long Beach whom you will see this weekend in Los Angeles, and all of them will be worth a visit. But there are a few in particular that hold special interest for this traveler.

One is Afro-Brazil Tours, which specializes in tour of Brazil’s Salvador Bahia region, where the heart and soul of Africa still beats in every aspect of the Brazilian culture.

And naturally, I have to hit up the folks at Fulani Travel, a British outfit that offers tours to 13 countries in North, East, West and Central Africa.

Are you surprised that African travel companies will be “in the house” in Los Angeles? They were in Long Beach, too, and for good reason: Southern California sends more travelers to the Mother Continent for recreational travel than any other region of the United States.

I’m also interested in meeting the folks from the Azerbaijan Tourism Association.

Azerbaijan for years was one of those obscure republics under the shadow, if not the heel, of the former Soviet Union. When Ronald Reagan’s Evil Empire went bankrupt and dissolved back in 1991, Azerbaijan was able to step out of that long, red shadow and show its true face to the world.

It’s one with a rich cultural heritage, a portion of which is tied directly to the legendary Silk Road.

Another outfit that interests me: Ceylon Express International, for a couple of reasons. For one, it offers tours not only to Asia destinations, but to Ethiopia. How many Asian travel companies do you suppose include Africa in their offerings?

The other reason: It offers tours to Sri Lanka and Myanmar, two destinations back in the world’s travel sights after years of being “off the grid — Sri Lanka because of a terrible civil war and Myanmar because it was a military dictatorship with human rights “issues.”

Peace has returned to Sri Lanka, and Myanmar — the country we used to know as Burma — appears to have cleaned up its act, to the point that the United States resumed diplomatic relations with Yangon (or as my generation grew up calling it, Rangoon) only last week.

Both countries are awash in tropical beauty and fascinating culture, as well as wrenching poverty.

There will be plenty other Asian travel exhibitors here, too, just as there were at the Long Beach show. Asian nations are pushing hard on their tourism at shows like this, and have been for the last several years.

Taiwan is consistently one of the biggest sponsors of all these shows and it hits you with a mega-presentation literally as you walk through the door. It did it two weeks ago in Long Beach; I fully expect it’ll do it again in LA.

China also will be “in the house,” as will Japan, still struggling to rebuild its tourism after last year’s earthquake/tsunami disaster.

Korea, Guam, India, Singapore, Thailand, Fiji, Malaysia and more — they’ll all be there to “represent.”

For you who want your adrenalin-overdose thrills closer to home, there’s…Extreme Tornado Tours? Oh…uhhhh, okay!

According to Times spokeswoman Hillary Manning, the paper wanted to place a special emphasis at this year’s show on family and kid-friendly travel, so you’ll see exhibitors specifically devoted to that, along with a special kids area. You’ll also see a Cruise Pavilion, dedicated to cruise travel, and a Travel in Style Pavilion, focusing on luxury travel.

If you can’t be in Southern California this weekend, check out IBIT for the reports I file from the convention center as the Los Angeles Times Travel Show makes its debut. Otherwise, I’ll see you on the floor.

And if anybody there asks how you heard about them, be sure to tell them about IBIT!

LA Travel & Adventure Show 2012

Edited by P.A.Rice


Black America: Taking to the skies

On Bessie Coleman’s birthday, in the week that Red Tails is blowing up at the box office, I get to tell that the world’s largest airline has named a black man as one of its chief pilots. Today is a VERY good day.

United Air Lines, which lays claim to being the largest airline in the world, divides the United States into five regions, each containing multiple major airports and served by hundreds, or even thousands of airline pilots.

For the first time in United’s history, one of those regions will be under the command of a black man — Capt. James Simons Jr.

A 22-year veteran of UAL, Simons is now chief pilot for the Northeast region, which gives him charge of 1,450 United pilots at a half-dozen of the largest and busiest airports in the United States:

  • WASHINGTON DC — Reagan National (DCA) and Dulles (IAD)
  • NEW YORK CITY — John F. Kennedy (JFK), LaGuardia and Newark (EWR)
  • BALTIMORE — Baltimore/ Washington Thurgood Marshall (BWI)

This makes Capt. Simons one of United’s top administrators, but it does not make him a desk jockey. He still has to do a certain amount of flying to keep his certifications up to date. He’s currently qualified to fly the Boeing 767 to Europe, Africa, South America and anywhere in the United States.

Not bad for the brother. And not bad for an airline that had to be dragged by the courts — twice — into abandoning its practice of routinely discriminating against minorities and women who wanted to fly for them.

The “friendly skies” just got a wee bit friendlier.

You can read about Capt. Simons in this story by the NorthStar News & Analysis here.

United’s announcement of Capt. Simons’ promotion comes:

  • Just before the month of February, which happens to be Black History Month in the United States.
  • Just before the movie Red Tails, telling the story of the famed Tuskegee Airmen, debuts in theaters across America, and

And I get to share it with you on what happens to be the birthday of Bessie Coleman. How perfect is that?

If you know who Amelia Earhart was, then you need to know who Bessie Coleman was, and for essentially the same reason.

Elizabeth “Bessie” Coleman (1892-1926) was the first black American woman to become a pilot, the first to hold an international pilot’s license.

When no one in America, white OR black, would teach her to fly because of either her race or her gender, she took French classes from Berlitz in Chicago and took herself to Paris — not once, but twice — first to learn the basic skills of flight, then again to become good enough to become a stunt pilot.

Had they known a little more about the woman’s background, they would’ve known that their refusals were unlikely to stop her. This was a woman who walked four miles a day to school and back.

From the age of six.

By the time she returned to the States for good, she was a barnstormer and as much a media sensation as Earhart.

And like Earhart, she died before her time. Flying. Amelia was 39. Bessie was 34.

The vertical trajectory of the career of James Simons Jr., reminds us that black history isn’t strictly an artifact of the past, to be celebrated once a year. It’s something happening — and something that deserves to be recognized — every day.

Something you could make a piece of yourself.

So the next time somebody tries to tell you that black men can’t achieve their dreams, tell them about Captain Simons. And the next time you get discouraged in pursuing your own, remember Bessie Coleman. Above all, remember what we say around here at IBIT:

Small dreams are a waste of sleep.

Edited by P.A. Rice

Charles L. Gittens, Secret Service 1928-2011
Eleanor Joyce Toliver-Williams, 1936-2011
NIGERIA: One BAD brother!


To Splurge or to Scrimp, that is the question

Travel expert Pauline Frommer was in Long Beach for the recent Los Angeles Travel & Adventure Show. What follows is from her public presentation at the show.

If the name Pauline Frommer rings a bell with you, it might be because she’s the daughter of the man I call the Godfather of Travel, Arthur Frommer. However, she’s an accomplished travel writer herself with her own published guidebook series.

In her presentation at the Los Angeles Travel & Adventure Show in Long Beach, she focused on cost-conscious travel, specifically on knowing when to splurge and when to scrimp.

If, like most of us, you’re not blessed with unlimited discretionary funds, you’ll be heartened to hear that she mostly leaned toward scrimping, and she recommended a few Web sites to help you do that.

One of them was Hotels Combined.

“Hotel Combined looks at (other hotel) sites and picks out the best deals,” she said. “They do not sell anything.”

Indeed, that seems to be developing into a theme in the travel industry. Hotels, like airlines, are increasingly looking for ways to get around the Expedias and Travelocitys and Orbitzes to market themselves directly to their online customers.

(Just today, in fact, The Economist magazine reported that six major hotel chains — Choice, Hilton, Hyatt, InterContinental, Marriott and Wyndham — have joined forces to create to sell their rooms.)

“(Hotel) chains no longer want to pay fees to third-party sites,” Ms. Frommer said.

(Nor is it just fees. If you find a lower room rate at, say, a Sheraton on Expedia than you can get from Sheraton’s own Web site, you’ll learn that Sheraton can’t match it, even if you call the hotel yourself. Why? As it was explained to me by the Sheraton reservations clerk, Expedia has bought up and controls its own block of rooms within the hotel. Crazy, huh?)

Another site she recommended for tracking down hotel bargains was Hipmunk, which lets you tailor your hotel search not only by price, but by location and any number of other specific factors you have in mind.

Say you want to track down the best room rates in the section of town closest to the theater district. Hipmunk will map them out for you.

Conversely, if you want to see which hotels are located in the parts of the city you want to avoid, it’ll show you that, too. That feature literally could save your life.

Other hotel sites she recommended included:

She also is a big fan of vacation rentals as an alternative to hotels, along with home stays and home exchanges. Good for saving money, she said, and also for getting a true feel for a place.

“When you rent a home, you get into the parts of the city you want to see,” she said. “You meet the locals. It’s a real cultural experience.”

Her recommended sites include:

When it comes to home exchanges, “go with the companies with lots and lots of members,” she said. “The more members it has, the more opportunities you have to go places.”

She didn’t have much good news when it came to airfares (no one does), but she did point out that the quest for airfare bargains has moved into the realm of social media.

“Airlines are putting limited sales on Facebook and Twitter,” she said. “Sales may last a day, maybe two or three hours. You have to ‘like’ the airline’s page on Facebook.”

No matter where or how you decide to shop for airfares, timing is everything. And the weekend is the worst possible time. You’re better off booking Tuesday or Wednesday.

“Airlines know most people search (for airfares) on the weekends,” Ms. Frommer said. “Prices will be higher then.”

Other airfare tips:

  • Book early, but not TOO early. No more than three or more months ahead. Any earlier and you’ll be paying the highest rates possible.
  • Sometimes, booking a pair of one-way flights may be cheaper than a single round-trip ticket.
  • Likewise, flights with one or more stops are often cheaper than direct or non-stop flights.

The news on car rentals was even worse than airfares. Rates have jumped 30 percent in the last two years.

Your best bet here, she said, is to make use of local car rental companies that offer lower rates than the big boys, even so-called “rent-a-wreck” outfits that rent older cars that have more than a few miles — and maybe a few dents — on them.

Here, too, she had a Web site to recommend. Autoslash finds coupons from car rental firms that you can apply to your rental, even if you’ve already booked your vehicle. Find a coupon that applies, then rebook at the lower price. Sweet.

Like many other travel experts these days, she’s touting Eastern Europe. For 2012, Ms. Frommer is especially fond of Poland, which she described as an “extraordinary destination.”

Krakow has the largest public square in the world. Warsaw was 93 percent destroyed by the Nazis during World War II; it’s been completely rebuilt. The country has churches and cathedrals as beautiful as anything in Western Europe. The food is delicious, fresh fruits, fresh fish. You an buy a good meal for a couple of dollars.

“It’s Western Europe at half the cost.”

Travelers also will benefit from the fact that one of the world’s major annual soccer tournaments, the UEFA Euro2012, is split this year between Poland and Ukraine, she said. The European Union is pouring money into Poland to bring the country’s infrastructure up to western standards ahead of the tourney.

Another destination she liked was Guatemala. Let’s face it, there aren’t that many places in the world where you can toast marshmallows over an active volcano. She’s been there and done that.

“Great poverty, but great, great beauty,” she said of the country.

This was one of the few areas in which she came down on the side of splurging, if only on occasion.

“If you don’t try the great restaurants in the world’s great cities, you’re missing out,” she said. “If you’re going to splurge on anything, splurge on the experience.”

She expanded on that idea — and so will IBIT in a subsequent post.

Edited by P.A.Rice


EXCLUSIVE: Pauline Frommer

Pauline Frommer recently sat down with IBIT in Long Beach for an exclusive, brief but wide-ranging interview. Her father, the famed Arthur Frommer, will be at the Los Angeles Times Travel Show this weekend:

Q. With this being an Olympic year in London, would this be a good year to bypass Western Europe altogether?
A. No, absolutely not. Europe has positives and negatives in terms of its affordability.

The positives are that a lot of it’s in crisis. As you probably know, the debt of a lot of Europe was just downgraded by Standard & Poor, which is going to make it much harder for them to borrow and will really hurt their business travel. So you go to cities like Barcelona, Madrid, Athens and other parts of the so-called PIGS nations, which are Portugal, Ireland, Greece and Spain — the ones that have the most severe crises — and you can stay much less expensively in these recently expensive businessmen hotels than you could before. So there are good deals to be had because of Europe’s financial crises.

There are also, unfortunately, more expenses. Because Europe has just imposed a carbon tax on airfares, airfare to Europe is about to get more expensive. And there also are a lot of little local taxes where governments in desperate need of money are adding on that can badly impact the traveler, so it’s a mixed picture.

To give one example, I was in Northern Ireland this summer and in Ireland, and it was much less expensive than it was five years ago because of their deep recession. Food was less expensive, lodging was less expensive. Overall, it was a cheaper vacation. So I say don’t write off Europe, just do it in a savvy way.

Prague is as expensive as any Western European city because it’s Prague and it’s so, so popular. However, if you go out into Bohemia, if you go into the little towns that make up the Czech Republic, prices drop in half. You’re greeted with open arms. They’re glad to see you because they don’t get that many tourists. And these are often well-preserved medieval enclaves that simply don’t get the tourism they deserve.

Q. What about Turkey?
A. Turkey has seen a hug uptick in the amount of its tourism in the last year, mostly because of (the) Arab Spring. People who used to go to Egypt are going to Turkey. But Turkey can be done affordably and it’s an incredible place to go, with wonderful food, welcoming people.

The only danger is that you’re going to buy a rug. Even if you didn’t expect to buy a rug, you’re going to buy a rug. It’s nearly impossible not to. We have a Turkish rug, which I deeply regret…but it was fun buying it.

Q. Do you ever have trouble getting Americans to grasp the idea that Turkey is actually a part of Europe?

A. Yes. Actually, it’s on the border. It’s half–European and half–Arab. It’s always been the gateway between those two cultures. The culture there is so rich and vibrant. They want to be more a part of Europe.

My daughter goes to a day camp in New York City and one of her best friends there is a Turkish girl whose mother brings her to the US every summer because she was born in the US and she wants to make sure she speaks English. According to this woman, the fundamentalists are taking over in Turkey in terms of who’s getting elected to local governments and the larger government, and she’s very, very worried that Turkey’s taking more of a hard line away from Europe more toward fundamentalist Islamic culture. But that doesn’t mean it won’t be welcoming or wonderful for Americans to go to.

Q. Egypt was one of the first countries caught up in the Arab Spring. Is it now a viable tourist destination again?

A. Egypt is a tough one. Egypt, as we all know, had this extraordinary uprising, where a terrible dictator was finally removed. Unfortunately, it looks like it might’ve been a soft coup by the military and you are having major disruptions and violent occurrences in Tahrir Square, and unfortunately, Tahrir Square is right near the Khan-al Khalili bazaar, right near the Egyptian Museum…it’s the area that tourists are lodged in and go to. On a personal level, I would not go right now. I just think the safety situation is not stable enough. It’s a tinderbox, unfortunately. And it’s a tragedy because one in 10 Egyptians works in the tourist industry. Without that income, the society is going to be destabilized even further.

And it’s a place where you should go, because it’s an extraordinary country to see, the cradle of civilization. But right now, I would not feel uncomfortable recommending that people go.

Q. Are there any destinations in that part of the world you feel comfortable recommending?

A. Israel is amazing. People don’t think of it as being a bucket-list destination, but it should be. To see the places where Mohammad built his mosque, where Jesus walked his last steps, where for centuries Jews have prayed at the Wailing Wall. As a destination, it tells you more about what it means to be a human being than most other places in the world. Just the issues that they’re dealing with and the history there and the richness of the culture. It’s just extraordinary. You’ve got to go.

Q. China seems to be an impossibly cheap destination these days. How are they pulling that off?
A. They can offer such incredible deals because the Chinese currency is so devalued. It really is extraordinary what you get for what you pay.

Q. Panama seems to be turning up increasingly on the travel radar. Why is that?
A. Panama has been very, very smart. They have really raised their profile in the last couple of years. They have that wonderful musician who (was) their minister of tourism (Rubén Blades, 2004-09). He has become the face of Panama. And they are really competing with Costa Rica because they’re cheaper than Costa Rica but they have the same they have that the same natural wonders and they have something Costa Rica doesn’t have, which is the Panama Canal, one of the greatest engineering feats of the 20th century.

My father went and spent a week in Panama City and absolutely loved it. A lot of Americans are retiring there, too. But he thought that just in terms of value for the money, just extraordinary. And the diversity of the cultures, because you have a lots of indigenous peoples there, living in very traditional ways. And you can visit them and see that. You also have extraordinary nature sites, beaches.  I think it’s going to give Costa Rica a real run for the money, if it isn’t already. And it’s safe.

Q. Asia is really pushing hard in the international tourism market, and it looks now as if there’s a new player entering the game: Myanmar.
A. Oh yes, yes. That’s very exciting. I’ve never been because I wouldn’t. Aung San Suu Kyi said don’t come, that it would just feed this horrific regime. And I didn’t want to; I couldn’t in good conscience. But they seem to be making some really good decisions and taking some baby steps toward democracy. Yeah I really want to go, it’s supposed to be extraordinary — colonial cities beautifully preserved, these extraordinary temples, the jungles, pristine beaches, and not that many tourists. (Secretary of State) Hilary (Clinton) just went there.

Edited by P.A. Rice


IBIT Travel Digest

A roundup of the good, the bad and the bizarre from the world’s best travel media

Photo courtesy of Cathay Pacific

According to the UN’s World Tourism Organization, the number of international tourist arrivals worldwide is on pace to hit 1 billion this year. Overall, international tourism was up 4 percent in 2011, coming in at 980 million arrivals.

Europe, Asia, the Americas and Africa all saw their tourist traffic rise last year, with only the Middle East showing a decline, mainly due to the turmoil produced by the Arab Spring.

Not bad for a world supposedly locked in the grip of a recession.

You can check out the details of the UN report here.

President Barack Obama used a visit to Disneyworld in Orlando, FL, last week to announce a new initiative to draw more tourists — and their money — to the United States. Its ultimate aim, he said, was to make America the world’s top tourist destination.

It’s centered around streamlining the visa process and making it easier for visitors from friendly nations to come here. For you who prefer your news direct from the source, here’s the White House announcement of the actual plan.

As you might expect, the U.S. Travel Association is ecstatic over this, and for good reason.

Up to now, Washington had more or else taken US-bound tourism for granted, as if international travelers didn’t have alternatives on where to spend their vacations, and their money. The Travel Promotion Act of 2009, also signed by Obama, was the first time ever that the U.S. government set out to promote this country as a brand in the hyper-competitive international tourism market.

Given how lucrative the travel biz is, you have to wonder why.

Tourism generates nearly $2 trillion worth of revenue and 14 million jobs in this country. Any serious effort from Washington to grow those two numbers is something we all should welcome.

But it won’t be a snap. In an exclusive interview recently with IBIT, CBS News travel editor Peter Greenberg described America as “the most unwelcoming nation in the world.”

That may be an exaggeration, but not by much. Between the steep visa fees imposed on many foreign travelers after the 9/11 attacks — mostly on countries friendly to the United States whose citizens took no part in those attacks — and the shortage of immigration inspectors at the nation’s air, sea and land ports, America the Beautiful doesn’t exactly come across as America the Friendly.

We’ve got work to do.

American Airlines, which recently filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection, could be the next in that long line of US-based airlines of the last two decades or so to be swallowed up in a merger.

According to the Los Angeles Times, both Delta and US Airways are eyeing American as a possible acquisition.

Not sure which of those two I’d prefer to see make that acquisition, but strictly from the consumer’s perspective, it’s hard to see how having fewer national airlines, reduced routes, fewer planes, fewer seats and fewer crews could be viewed as a good thing.

And now, here’s this week’s Digest:


from USA Today
Starting next month, American Airlines offering free beer and wine on most overseas flights.

from USA Today
Hairline cracks turning up in Airbus A380 super jumbo jets. European aviation authority ordering inspections.

from d travels ’round
Words of travel wisdom from someone who travels for a living, a merchant seaman.


from The Daily Meal
East Coast hamburger fanatics, take note: In-N-Out, the Southern California burger chain whose following borders on the religiously fanatical, is planning to expand.

from Rick Steves via Smarter Travel
Lose your bag when you travel? Don’t lose your mind. You will survive this.

from the PlanetD
Can you ride bicycles in Africa and survive? Yes, you can. There will, however, be a few unusual challenges.

from the BBC​
Ways to get around those obscenely high mobile roaming charges when making international calls while you travel. VIDEO


from News24 (South Africa)
The Costa Concordia isn’t the only hit the cruise industry took recently. The South African government, citing safety concerns, bans cruise ships from docking at Cape Town.

from USA Today
The hits just keep on coming for the ill-fated Costa Concordia. Confirmed dead now at 13, but there may have been unregistered passengers on board, which could push the final death toll higher.

from the Daily Nation (Kenya)
Some in Kenya starting to view the caves used by Mau Mau guerrillas to fight British colonialism as potential tourist attractions. But some of the former fighters themselves are uneasy about that.



from the Africa Review
Are bogus Chinese constructions firms doing dirt in Ghana?

from the Zambia Daily Mail
Zambian government, looking to improve all forms of transport in the country, is trying to draw more foreign airlines to Zambia.

from the BBC
Five foreign tourists shot to death in a remote, rugged Ethiopian desert. Ethiopia casts suspicions on neighbor–rival Eritrea.



from the New York Times
If the beach crowds in Rio de Janeiro get to be too much, head for an unspoiled alternative, Praia do Rosa.

from BBC Travel
All you tokers, potheads and other recreational herbalists still have a reason to visit Amsterdam, for now — that new Dutch law that was supposed bar non-Dutch citizens from patronizing the Netherland’s famed ​”coffee shops” has been postponed until May.

from the San Francisco Chronicle
Trains don’t usually come to mind when you think of Hawaii. The Kaua’i Plantation Railway could change that.

from the Guardian (London UK)
Sleep tourism? That’s right, I said it! Grenada may be one of the world’s most beautiful places to learn how to beat insomnia. But it’s not the only one.



from Ready Click and Go
What and where — but mostly how — to eat in China.

from the Guardian (London UK)
And speaking of food in China, the capital of Chinese cuisine may just be Sichuan province, which may have the the most densely packed collection of restaurants and teahouses on Earth.

from The Japan Times
Are your favorite North American and European ski resorts unexpectedly barren of snow this winter? You might want to look to Japan to get your downhill thrills this year.

from The Japan Times
You may have never heard of Nada, Japan, but if you’re a serious lover of sake, it needs to be on your must-visit list.


from the New York Times
In search of real Dutch food in Amsterdam. Even if you don’t find any, you definitely won’t starve.

from the New York Times
How to hit the ground running for a fun weekend in Hamburg, Germany’s second-largest city.

Edited by P.A. Rice


COSTA CONCORDIA: Still more hits

© Lupoalb68 |

Two more bodies found, bringing the death toll to 15. The possible presence of unregistered passengers on board could push the final tally higher. And that’s not all.

Poring through the various news media reports, here’s where things stand with the wrecked cruise ship Costa Concordia:

    Italian navy divers have found two more victims inside the wreck, bringing the number of confirmed dead to 15, but the number of missing is now uncertain. That’s because authorities now believe there were unregistered passengers allowed aboard the ship before she ran aground Jan. 13. The number of dead ultimately could climb as a result.
    A Dutch salvage crew has been given the go-ahead this week to start pumping out the Concordia’s estimated 2,400 tons of heavy fuel and diesel oil before they start leaking into the pristine waters around the island of Giglio, where the ship went aground.
    Surveys show a mixed picture ahead for cruise travel. Veteran cruise travelers remain largely unfazed by the disaster, but prospective first-time cruisers seem less confident.
    Daytrippers are swarming Giglio island by ferry to gawk at the half-capsized Concordia. Tourism officials on the island are aghast.

The tons of fuel sitting in Concordia’s tanks amount to a ticking environmental time bomb. Authorities have to hope that the ship will remain stable on her rocky resting place long enough for the Dutch crew to remove it all, a process expected to take almost a month.

Removing the ship itself, whether whole or cut up, figures to a take a good deal longer. And the longer she lies there, with her innards exposed to the corrosive sea, the more likely she is to contaminate the waters around her.

Meanwhile, those polls showing a large fraction of prospective cruisers being put off by the whole thing is bound to be worrisome to the industry. Their “regulars” show every sign of remaining loyal, but that won’t be nearly enough.

Why? The clue lies in a statistic cited by cruise industry experts: only 20 percent of Americans have ever taken a cruise. To an industry that’s gone “all-in” building newer, larger and ever costlier cruise ships since the 1980s, that has to be just a little scary.

There’s a steady stream of new cruise ships due to come online in the next couple of years— at least 29 between now and 2015, more than a dozen in 2012 alone.

That represents tens of thousands of new cabins that need to be filled, and repeat customers alone won’t fill them, no matter how loyal they are. The cruise lines need fresh faces — and fresh money — in the worst way.

For them, the Costa Concordia disaster could hardly have come at a worse time.


COSTA CONCORDIA: The cruise industry takes a hit


Images courtesy of

The Costa Concordia disaster is proof that stupidity is the most powerful force in the universe.

The body count isn’t even finished yet from the half–sunk, half–capsized Costa Concordia, but the cruise industry is already counting its financial losses, which could be staggering.

By now, you know the story. The Concordia took on water and keeled over after ripping her hull open on a rock.

The ship’s captain, Francesco Schettino, is under house arrest, expected to face charges of manslaughter, causing a shipwreck and abandoning his ship and passengers.

The shipwreck charge alone could get him 12 years in an Italian prison.

Reportedly, authorities want Schettino to take a drug test. To my knowledge, there’s no scientific test to confirm the presence of stupidity in ship captains, but there are traces of it all over this incident.

The ship’s navigational computer had the Concordia on course and on schedule. All Schettino had to do to avoid this tragedy was…nothing. Instead, he chose to show off “his” ship by passing close to a nearby island.

Too close. The rock the ship struck left a 165-foot gash in her hull.

That’s more than half the length of a football field.

Schettino then drove the Concordia aground to keep her from sinking, but it couldn’t keep her from tipping over almost 90 degrees. From there, things only got worse.

The captain left the vessel, leaving his 4,200 passengers and crew in chaos. It took an hour’s worth of browbeating and threats from the Italian coast guard to get him to return — and it’s yet to be confirmed that he actually did.

Schettino has since told investigators that he decided to make the island pass to honor a retired captain and that the course deviation had been authorized in advance, but that he turned too late.

The ship’s owners have already said the course change was unauthorized.

So far, the loss of life stands at 11. The number of missing now stands at 21. Some may simply have found their own way home without being accounted for. The rest, by now, are almost surely dead.

Some are saying that the rest of the Costa Concordia crew was ill-prepared to deal with their emergency. That may prompt some travelers may ask, “How can I protect myself in an emergency at sea?”

First, the good news: Most cruise ships are not captained by idiots. Even so, things can go wrong. What then?

For one thing, don’t just go through the motions when the cruise ship does the required lifeboat drill in the first hour or so after pulling away from the dock. Pay attention.

Once the drill shows you where your muster station is, be aware of it as you walk around, until you know how to get there from any point on the ship.

No time or unable to get back to your cabin to get your life vest? No need. As CBS travel editor Peter Greenberg points out, there are life preservers stowed all around the ship, in clearly marked compartments. Grab one, then head for your muster station.

Meanwhile, the cruise industry is already licking its financial wounds.

Start with the Concordia herself, which cost about $450 million to build. The ship is a write-off, a total loss. Ouch.

Just the process of getting her off the rocks and to a breaker’s yard to be scrapped will take months, and more millions.

Costa has to refund the fares of thousands, possibly tens of thousands, of travelers who had booked the Concordia for cruises this year, with a 30 percent discount on future Costa cruises. Ch-CHINGG, Ch-CHINGG!

But believe me, we’re just getting started here.

You just know that lawyers already are lining up on behalf of the Concordia’s passengers for what promises to be the mother of all maritime lawsuits.

That likelihood is only strengthened by the fact that Costa is owned by an American company with the deepest pockets in the industry, the Florida-based Carnival Cruise Lines.

Reports are now surfacing in the Italian press describing Schettino as a braggart and a tyrant with a track record of bad decisions, like leaving port in a 60-knot wind.

Between the damage and the damages, the losses could hit $1 billion before it’s over.

If you close your eyes and listen carefully, you can probably hear the wagons being circled in Miami even now.

But this episode has the potential to damage far more than just Carnival. Winter is the season that travelers usually start booking cruises for spring and summer. The fear is that people looking to book their first cruise ever will look at this incident and have second thoughts.

That’s a particularly painful prospect to the cruise industry, and not just for this year.

According to a Reuters’ report this week, the mega-corporations that drive this business see cruising as being in its infancy, since only 20 percent of American vacationers have ever taken a cruise.

The fear is that this incident will scare off a large chunk of the remaining 80 percent.

This incident will have folks examining the regulation of the cruise ship industry and its safety practices. Right now, there is no single maritime authority with the power to enforce safety rules globally, and punish those to violate them.

But honestly, I’m not sure anything could’ve been done to prevent this. I mean, really, how do you regulate stupid?

Francesco Schettino may be the most despised man in Italy, if not the entire maritime world, for deserting his mortally wounded ship and his passengers, but he’s hardly the first.

You can find records of such incidents going well back into the 1800s.

In one incident, the sinking of the French vessel Medusa in 1816, the captain fled in a lifeboat with a few crewmembers and First Class passengers. The steerage passengers he left behind ultimately resorted to murder and cannibalism to survive.

More recently, the captain of the cruise ship Yarmouth Castle in 1965 had to be browbeaten to return to his vessel after it caught fire in the Caribbean, 90 people eventually died.

No one was killed when a hull rupture doomed the Greek liner Oceanos in 1991 — but no thanks to its captain, who left his listing ship on the first available helicopter — pushing aside an elderly passenger in the process — as his ship was going down off South Africa in 1991.

Edited by P.A. Rice


CRUISING: Watch your wallet

dawn princess
Cruise ship Dawn Princess in San Diego | ©IBIT G. Gross

I’m not talking about pickpockets, but the extra charges on cruise ships that drive up the cost of your cruise. Travel expert Pauline Frommer has some good advice on how to enjoy cruising — without leaving large parts of your travel budget on the ship.

LONG BEACH — Day One of the Los Angeles Travel & Adventure Show is in the books, and as usual, there’s a lot to share, starting with Pauline Frommer, who has a lot of advice for saving you money when you travel.

We’ll be hearing a lot more from Pauline in subsequent posts, but with folks already starting to book their cruises for 2012, I wanted to get this bit of 4-1-1 out there immediately.

Cruising is not just one of the most popular forms of mass travel in the world today, but also can be one of the most cost-effective. One incredibly low fare covers your transportation, lodging, meals, and entertainment.

Or does it?

Pauline Frommer, author of her own guidebook series and daughter of the Godfather of Travel, Arthur Frommer, would like to administer you a serious dose of reality on that.

As she explains it, your cruise fare doesn’t cover that much of the cost of the cruise, so the cruise companies rely on the extra amenities on board their ships to make up the difference — specialty bars and restaurants, shops, spas, and all that good stuff.

It’s no accident that cruise lines usually will let you buy booze in port, but won’t let you drink it on board. They confiscate it on the gangway and won’t return it to you until the cruise is over.

One of their biggest moneymakers, she warns, is the shipboard casino, so don’t count on hitting it big at the roulette wheel on board The Love Boat.

The spa is another major venue the cruise ships have of massaging the money out of your wallet.

Between them, the casino and the spa can make up 75 percent of the cost of a given cruise, Frommer says.

Another big money gouge on cruise ships: Shore excursions.

As an example, a typical one-week cruise will make anywhere from two to five port calls, and the ship will be selling a range of shore excursions for every one of them, ranging in cost from $20 or $30 to $100 or more — per person, per port call.

It adds up quickly and it adds up in favor of the cruise lines.

Does this mean you should forget about shore excursions entirely and confine your cruise to the ship and the dock? Absolutely not.

It just means you need to be smarter how you go about buying your excursions, and that’s where Pauline Frommer comes to your rescue.

Why, she asks, should you pay $75 to get on a tour bus to a scenic park in Alaska to hear a ranger’s presentation when a local bus will take you to that same park for less than two bucks and you still get that same ranger’s presentation — for free?

And that’s the key, really. When it comes to excursions on shore, the tours offered by the ship will almost always be your most expensive option. There are two options when it comes to saving money on this. One is to think local. The other is to shop in advance for local shore excursions.

When it comes to shore excursions, the cruise lines know they’ve got competition from local tour operators. They try to leverage their passengers with two factors in their favor. One is convenience. The other is fear.

From the moment you settle into your cabin, you’ll find printed material telling you about the shore excursions on offer from the cruise line. And at first look, it does seem more convenient to peruse those offerings at your leisure and then pre-pay for them at the purser’s desk, rather than trying to pick an excursion and pay for it on the dock.

And don’t think for a minute that the cruise lines don’t take advantage of their passengers’ fear factor in dealing with locals in a foreign port.

But here is where Frommer says the Web can help you beat the odds — and the cruise lines.

Just as there are Web sites that can help you shop for bargain cruise fares, there are also sites that can help you shop for shore excursions, which are every bit as good as what the cruise lines offer but can be substantially cheaper.

One of those sites that Frommer recommended is Shore Trips. They’ll let you search for shore excursions according to your destination, the cruise line you’re using, or the specific type of experience you’re looking for.

Two similar sites that she recommended were Port Promotions and Port Compass.

Port Compass is the most text-based of the three, which makes it more difficult to navigate. But it makes a point of telling passengers that it’s a US-based company, which some travelers definitely will find comforting.

You may find similar sites on your own: do a Web search on the term “shore excursions” and see what you find. Keep a special eye out for sites with good references for business ethics and who vet the local tour operators they recommend.

But don’t forget to do your own homework when it comes to shore excursions. Research local attractions before you go and how best to get there via local transportation. You’ll save a ton of money.

One caution if you go local, however, and Pauline Frommer stressed this: Wear a watch in port.

The last thing you want is to get so caught up enjoying your time ashore that you literally miss the boat.

Edited by P.A.Rice


LA Travel & Adventure Show 2012

The 2012 Los Angeles Travel & Adventure Show is underway at the Long Beach Convention Center — and IBIT is in the house.

The first major speaker of the day here is Pauline Frommer, daughter of travel godfather Arthur Frommer and the author of her own line of travel books.

She’ll be talking about spending smartly on travel, when to splurge and when the scrimp, and I’ll be bringing you her right here.

In fact, we’ll be blogging he show in real time as much as possible, throughout the two days of the show.

Okay, time to hit the floor.