The World Awaits

The World Awaits

Travel Beyond the Pandemic

By Susan Hammond: Agency Owner/Luxury Travel Advisor

As I write this article, the state of Colorado is moving towards the Safer At Home phase of this pandemic.  Retailers are opening via curbside, dog groomers can get back to clipping our pets’ nails and trimming the hair out of their eyes, and we all are continuing to keep our hands washed and practicing social distancing.

Throughout the last 6 weeks, we have seen the world go from bad to worse in the travel industry.  I recall getting a phone call at midnight on March 16 from my dear clients traveling in East Africa.  They were just told that the borders in Kenya were getting ready to shut down, and they needed to evacuate immediately.  Trained in crisis management, I instantly sprang into action getting their air rebooked before the airport shut down and thankfully getting them home as safely and quickly as possible.

We have all seen the horror stories coming by way of social and mass media with some online travel agents (OTAs) like Bookit.com ceasing operations and stranding thousands of their passengers all over the world.  Call hold times to OTAs, Costco, cruise lines and tour operators were maxing out 3-4 hours, only to be disconnected.  I and all the travel advisors at Endless Travel spent many hours getting all our clients home safely and either cancelled or rebooked their current vacations that were planned over the next few months.  I was proud of our efforts and that when our clients called, we answered the phone on the first ring.

When the coronavirus releases its grip, and we slowly start to safely emerge from our homes, the world we see will not look the same as we entered a quasi-hibernation in March 2020.  So, I will attempt to speculate what the travel industry will look like on the other side of this mighty virus.

Over the past several weeks, I have been spending many hours reading, participating in industry webinars, and partaking in Zoom meetings with our preferred travel suppliers.  One Zoom meeting recently included executives from Travel Guard, Apple Vacations and Royal Caribbean.   You think I have a tough job right now?  Think again!  The VP of Sales from Royal Caribbean never ever dreamed that she needed to worry about finding a parking lot for 27 cruise ships!

Just like 9/11 forever changed air travel, I think the cruise industry will need to make the biggest changes in order to entice their guests aboard again.  There are reports that buffets will be turned into food courts allowing the crew to serve each passenger with a plexiglass shield acting as a barrier.  Staggering embarkation times, temperature reads, more in-depth health questionnaires and requiring high-risk passengers to have a doctor’s note that they are fit to travel are just some ideas that are currently being discussed by the cruise industry executives.  There is also talk about adding medical staff to ships, and I personally would like for each mid to large size vessel to convert a section of the ship that can easily and quickly be transformed to a quarantine ward protecting all those that are healthy.

Beyond this pandemic, I believe that our world is going to be much cleaner and more sanitized.  I receive an email every business day from our favorite travel supplier located in Livorno, Italy that works with cruise lines and travel advisors offering shore excursions and tailor-made tours all over Italy that never disappoints.   They report that marine life has joyously returned to the lagoon of Venice.  Jellyfish propelling themselves along near the surface, schools of fish swim peacefully by, crustaceans clinging to the city's famous jetties, and seaweed of every colour wafts gently on the current is occurring now due to the murky waters clearing in this beautiful and historic city.  Airplanes will be cleaner too.  Some airlines are already blocking out middle seats on their aircraft and considering loading the planes from the rear first.  JetBlue is now providing masks to be worn onboard, and United is promoting that they are electrostactic spraying all their airplanes.

In the foreseeable future, I am noticing that the travel suppliers are continuing with flexible cancellation and rebooking policies.  I believe that Americans will emerge from a haze of cabin fever eager to explore the world again. We value the freedom to travel more than ever before, but we expect with different priorities and intentions.  Anticipating a trip is a lot like looking forward to a special meal. Both offer the promise of pleasure, a carnival for the senses and a break from our everyday life.

Travel is going to be more complicated going forward, and the benefits of working with a professional Endless Travel advisor cannot be understated, especially now.  In addition to knowing the best travel suppliers (and who may be having special deals), we are well-informed about the solvency of various suppliers and can steer you away from a bad investment, which is key during this tumultuous economic climate. And when it comes to navigating travel insurance, we can also match your circumstances with the right provider and policy.

We are all working at home, available to assist or answer any questions.  We send best wishes to everyone in our community and hope everyone is safe, healthy and staying sane.  We believe that travel really brings people together so see you soon!

The Islands of Tahiti – Pick Your Paradise!

By Alison Barnes

La Orana! As you may or may not remember, I began my Colorado Serenity article about Guatemala with a little history lesson. Well, I have another one to preface my December 2019 trip to The Islands of Tahiti. My desire to visit Tahiti was born of a grade school project in the American Midwest. Tasked with researching an exotic destination, I chose the most faraway, unreachable place I could think of - Tahiti. Now, this was in the days before the Internet and I used the resources at my disposal: the library and “Snail Mail”. I wrote to the Board of Tourism and to my surprise and great delight, I received a hand-written response along with informational materials in return. Right then, I knew I would have to visit Tahiti during my lifetime.

Think French Polynesia is too far, too hard to get to? Think again. The Islands of Tahiti are located equidistant south of the equator as Hawaii is North, and in the same time zone as Hawaii. From Los Angeles International Airport, the flight on Tahiti Nui Air is only two hours longer than Hawaii, at eight hours. I was able to relax on a brand-new Dreamliner aircraft complete with a well-appointed travel kit and reclining seats. A pleasant surprise on my flight also included a lovely flower greeting, Tahitian food, and staff who changed from uniforms to traditional Tahitian dress during the flight.

All flights arrive at Faa’a International Airport (Papeete), located near the city of Papeete on the main island of Tahiti. The airport also serves the domestic airline, Air Tahiti, for further service to the other islands and atolls. Upon arriving in Papeete, I was treated to traditional song and dance and swiftly escorted through the VIP Entrance at customs - must do for anyone because it bypasses the lines!

The Islands of Tahiti are comprised of five main archipelagos: Society Islands, Marquesas Islands, Austral Islands, Gambier Islands, and the Tuamotu Atolls. An archipelago is a sea or stretch of water containing many islands; 118 for Tahiti to be exact. The islands are made of atolls, tiny ring-shaped reef, island or chain of islands formed by coral. The coral rings around the islands form the beautiful, calm lagoons of French Polynesia. The older the island, the flatter it becomes, eventually enclosing the lagoons entirely with coral.

My first (and last) stop was the largest island, Tahiti. It was a quick overnight at Tahiti la Ora Beach Resort by Sofitel in the capital, Papeete. The next morning, the air was crisp and the sky was clear aside from a few clouds catching on the peaks of Moorea as we approached Tahiti’s sister island, Moorea, via the Terevau Ferry. My day was spent touring famous sightseeing points of Le Belvedere overlooking Cook and Opunohu’s Bays, the volcano’s crater and the Plateau de la Bounty. Moorea boasts mountainous landscapes with pineapple farms, vanilla plantations, and a fruit juice factory. Moorea’s claim of “the best pineapple in the world” is no joke - I had a freshly picked sample from the fields that day and it was the sweetest I’ve ever tasted. I dare say it surpasses the pineapples from Hawaii!

My next stop was the Island of Taha’a. As with the Hawaiian Islands, the Islands of Tahiti each have their own personality. Taha’a presents with a more agricultural feel. The island produces 80% of all vanilla exported from the country. In addition to a vanilla plantation tour and demonstration, I visited Iaorana Pearl Farm and learned what is involved in creating some of the most beautiful pearls in the world. One of the atolls of Taha’a is home to Vahine Island Resort & Spa where I toured the boutique property and enjoyed a beach luncheon. It was so quiet, I found myself whispering with my traveling companions so as not to disturb the palm trees and fish! The star of my stay on Taha’a was at Le Taha’a Island Resort & Spa in an overwater bungalow for two nights. A fun fact for you is that The Islands of Tahiti are the birthplace of overwater bungalows! My bungalow included a beautiful deck with access to the lagoon below, floor to ceiling windows and, best of all, a clear, glass coffee table to watch “Polynesian Television”. Beautiful tropical fish are attracted to the lights from the bungalow and I spent quite a bit of time just watching them swim by.

The final island visit was to the famous Bora Bora and it definitely did not disappoint. Bora Bora’s personality is all about taking advantage of the multitude of water activities available. Calm lagoon waters make the perfect setting for snorkeling, scuba diving, kayaking, boating, fishing. I experienced first-hand the breathtaking colors of a coral garden surrounded by black-tipped reef sharks while snorkeling. Most of my time in Bora Bora was spent touring the luxurious resorts and their amenities all designed with the ultimate vacation experience in mind. The Le Meridian operates a turtle sanctuary and has a wonderful family feel, the Intercontinental Thalasso & Spa Resort uses cold waters from the depths of the ocean in their spa treatments and the overwater bungalow at the Conrad Bora Bora Nui Resort & Spa was possibly the softest place to land that evening.

I could continue writing another complete article talking about the fresh cuisine, the people and their culture, the animals, etc., but I guess you’ll just have stop by! After seeing only a portion of what The Islands of Tahiti have to offer and realizing they are not an unattainable destination, I am eager to return and explore more. My next visit’s goals are to spend more time on Bora Bora and discover the Marquesas Islands. I dare you to visit French Polynesia too!

Rose Parade and Rose Bowl Experience

In the late 1800s, Charles Fredrick Holder and Frances F. Rowland of the Pasadena Valley Hunt Club sponsored the Battle of the Flowers to highlight the idyllic climate of Southern California. Holder said, “In New York, people are buried in the snow. Here our flowers are blooming and our oranges are about to bear. Let’s hold a festival to tell the world about our paradise.” The battle itself was an “afternoon of chariot races, jousting, foot races, and tug-of-war” as well as a bicycle race, polo played on burros, and an orange race where “contestants raced down a line of fifty oranges, spaced two feet apart, and put them one by one into a basket.”

Leading up to the tournament, however, was the very first Rose Parade. Horse-drawn carriages, decorated with fresh flowers from Hunt Club members’ gardens traveled down Colorado Boulevard to the Tournament Grounds on January 1, 1890, and that event has been repeated every year since.

The 2020 Rose Parade featured 39 float entries, 17 equestrian groups, 20 marching bands, and 4 cars. That’s right, only 4 cars. The only vehicles allowed in the parade without being covered in living organisms carry the Mayor of Pasadena, the parade’s Grand Marshal(s), the Tournament of Roses President and the Rose Bowl Game Hall of Fame Inductees.

When you mention the Rose Parade, what most people think about are the elaborate floats covered with flowers. Every single one of those floats was created by a team of volunteers who work without pay, to create award-winning spectacles guaranteed to make crowds swoon.

Each year, over 700 thousand people attend the parade, and more than 50 million watch it on television. But, what if you want to do more than just watch?

This past December, we connected with a group so that we could volunteer to help decorate one of the floats. You can find a list of organizations that need volunteers on the Tournament of Roses website if you’re looking for an opportunity to do the same. The warehouses where the floats are assembled are filled with millions of flowers or other natural materials, such as leaves, seeds, spices, pods or bark, since every visible inch of every float must be covered with organic material. The most delicate of the flowers, including the parade’s namesake roses, are each in a small vial of water to keep them alive and fresh for as long as possible.

Once you’ve spent several hours helping to craft a work of floral art, you won’t want to miss your opportunity to see it in its natural habitat. A seat in the grandstands is well worth the price of admission. (If you prefer to sit along the roadway, be aware that people start waiting in line for a seat more than 24 hours in advance.) Make sure to arrive early, as there are a flyover and other special events that lead up to start time. If you will be near the beginning of the parade route, you’ll also have a great opportunity to watch the pre-parade festivities. Regardless of where you end up seated, though, make sure you bring snacks and water (no hard water bottles, and check on-line with parade security beforehand about current regulations). And whatever you do, don’t drive. Parking is next to impossible. Get up early, and take a ride-share to get you where you need to be. Some hotels in the area even offer shuttle service and parade packages. Endless Travel can help you find a worry-free package that will make your parade experience absolutely amazing.

After the parade finishes, you can walk to the Rose Bowl for the football game (or take a shuttle if that’s part of your package). Surprisingly, the first football game associated with the parade wasn’t played until 1902, and football didn’t become a regular event until 1916. In the years since, the game has become a bigger and bigger spectacle, so make sure to get to your seats early for stunts, more flyovers, and all sorts of pre-game excitement that makes up the full fan experience. And don’t get out of your seat at halftime! The university bands that play can be absolutely incredible!

Post-game, you’ll want to have dinner plans well away from the stadium, as everything nearby will be completely packed. Make sure your transportation plans are cemented in advance as traffic control around the stadium afterward prevents ride-share pickups from getting to you.

The Rose Parade fun doesn’t stop just because New Year’s Day is over, either. The next day, the Tournament of Roses Committee presents “A Showcase of Floats.” This will give you a chance to get up close and personal with the floats, so you can see just what seeds, flowers, fruits and other items made each of them possible.

The Rose Parade and Rose Bowl make up the most well-known New Year’s Day celebration in the modern world. When you are ready to be a part of it, make sure you partner with Endless Travel to get your year started off right.