Travel

Is Virtual Reality the Future of Cruising?

It wasn’t so long ago that the idea of taking a cruise was linked in one’s mind with leisure: “getting away from it all,” sipping cool drinks in deck chairs, and watching tropical sunsets. No longer. As cruise vessels get bigger and bigger (5,000 passengers is now routine) and the focus of activities turn ever inward—to what the ship has to offer rather than what the itinerary and ports of call provide—you’re going to need a lot of experience with technology to get the most out of your cruise. I’m talking about smartphones, apps, virtual reality headsets, and so on. Better bring your grandkids along. Recently, Royal Caribbean Cruises previewed some of the super-high-tech plans it has for “enhancing” the cruise experience of the future, and it’s about as far away as you can get from the “romance” of the old tramp steamer sailing on the high tide for Trinidad…

More on the Wretched 30-Day US Cross-Border Rule

Of all questions that come across my desk from confused readers, the one most difficult to explain, or justify, concerns the US immigration rule that requires vacationing Canadians to count side trips of 30 days or less, be they back home or to Mexico, as part of their allotted 180-day stay in the US. If those trips are over 30 days, they are not added to the 180-day tally, and the return to the US is counted as a separate trip. This becomes more confusing if our Canadian visitors  become entangled in the seemingly contradictory rules governing the B2 visa (which allows most Canadians to stay in the US for up to 180 days per 12 months), and their obligation to file IRS forms (8840) if they spend large chunks of time in the US each year. Different purposes. Different rules. Let’s sort it out—The easiest first Under the…

2018 Travel Tips for Cuba and Mexico—What Happens Now?

Cuba and Mexico, hit by severe natural disasters this fall, would ordinarily welcome more than 2.5 million Canadians between them this coming year, most during the first four months of 2018. But tourism services in both countries—Cuba battered by Hurricane Irma, and Mexico by two massive earthquakes—are on edge, wondering if the anticipated flow of foreign visitors will dry up given the images of mass destruction that were transmitted out of their countries in September. Let’s take them one at a time. Cuba Despite the dramatic pictures of gigantic surf breaking over Havana’s Malecón (the iconic waterfront esplanade), and the flooding along the entire north shore of this tourism-dependent country, most hotels, restaurants, rum and cigar factories, and historic sites are expected to be fully operational and ready for the winter season beginning in December. Though news of Irma forced a spate of hotel cancellations for early 2018, the…

Can an American Hospital Sue a Canadian Patient?

The hospital bill for an emergency appendectomy in St. Petersburg, Florida, arrives at your home in Canada shortly after you return from your vacation: four days, $80,000 USD. Please Pay Now. What do you do? If you had travel insurance, that likely would not happen—although there are exceptions. But if you had no travel insurance, you have to deal with it. This is not a situation you can ignore. You don’t want the hospital to bounce the bill over to an international collection agency—that happens a lot, and it can make your life anywhere from uncomfortable to miserable. Increasingly, U.S. hospitals are diverting all bills for non-US residents to a growing throng of international companies who specialize in cross-border collections so they—the hospitals—don’t have to deal with the complexities of foreign collections, or travel to your province to sue you. But you are not defenseless. Hospitals don’t like to sue…

Florida’s Keys Invite Visitors Back in the Wake of Hurricane Irma

Hardly had the uprooted palms, shattered roofs, overturned mobile homes, and even stranded fishing boats been cleared off the Overseas Highway connecting the Florida Keys to each other and the mainland, and tourism officials were already planning their strategy to bring visitors, foreign and domestic, back to this southern part of Florida—battered by the vicious winds of hurricane Irma in September. For an area where 60 percent of all spending and 54 percent of all jobs are dependent on tourism (a $2.7 billion industry in these parts), bringing visitors back for the 2018 winter season is a challenge that can’t afford to be leisurely or timid. And for Florida’s Canadian visitors, enjoying an 80 cent loonie, this combination of events might mean some truly meaningful bargains for snowbird, Christmas, or spring break visits. Don’t settle for rack rates—they need you back to show they’re still in business. So how do…

Travel Insurance for Snowbird Season, Part 2: What Should You Look For When Shopping For Travel Insurance?

Early bird specials These are plans sold at cheaper summer rates prior to new price increases going into effect. They can allow you some substantial savings, but remember that if your health changes in any way after you buy your plan and before your leave on your trip (e.g., new symptoms, changes in medications, referrals for tests or consultations), you must tell your insurer so your conditions of coverage and/or premium rates can be adjusted. Your coverage contract is based on your health status on the date your coverage comes into effect –not the date you purchased it. Failure to report such changes can invalidate your coverage.   Multi-trip annual plans If your travel plans call for frequent, short-term trips rather than a single extended six-month sojourn, consider an annual multi-trip plan, the fastest growing travel insurance varietal in the marketplace. Multi-trip plans are convenient in that you apply only…

Terror Attack in Spain: How to Stay Aware

Incidents of terrorism swept across Alcanar, Barcelona, and Cambrils taking the lives of 15 people. Residents and visitors experienced great trauma, and the President of Spain declared 3 days of mourning. We stand united with Spain and all countries in the fight against terrorism. And we strongly encourage the return to daily activities, and travels! Add preventative measures to your upcoming trip with the safety checklist below. Purchase travel medical insurance coverage that works for you. Do not be discouraged by a pre-existing conditions, there are options for everyone. And don’t forget to read the fine print. Be aware of the Emergency Assistance feature in your travel medical insurance coverage and how to use it. Register your trip with your government agency, it is free of charge. Ensure your emergency contact information is easily accessible by you, your travel companion, or a Good Samaritan who can help you in the…

Enhanced Electronic Device Screening at U.S. Airports

Travellers to U.S. airports will now be required to remove all electronic equipment bigger than their cell phone from carry-on luggage, and have it inspected when going through TSA security before proceeding to their departure gate. The new requirement will cover tablets, e-readers, handheld game consoles, and laptops, all of which will be put in a bin and passed through an X-ray scanner. Previously, only laptops were subject to these enhanced inspection techniques. The new rules will apply only in standard security lanes. They will not affect travellers in preclearance systems such as Nexus. TSA advises travellers to keep their electronics organized and have all devices ready for inspection so as to keep security lines moving. Acting administrator of the Transportation and Safety Administration Huban Gowadia says, “It is critical for TSA to constantly enhance and adjust security screening procedures to stay ahead of evolving threats and keep passengers safe.…

Canadian Travel to Mexico Breaks Records

Despite lingering concerns about drug cartel violence and occasional reports about Canadian expatriates being burglarized or worse, Mexico continues to be Canada’s most favoured travel leisure destination outside of the United States. According to data released by the Conference Board of Canada (CBoC) and the Secretaría de Turismo de México (STP), Canadians made a record 1.6 million leisure trips to Mexico in 2016, and projections are that the trajectory will continue on the upswing. The data show that Canadians are also spending more of their travel dollars on trips to Latin America—particularly Belize, Costa Rica, Guatemala, and Panama, which together accounted for over 300,000 Canadian arrivals in 2016. Cuba slips At the same time, Canadian arrivals to Cuba slipped in 2016 to 1.25 million, down from a record 1.3 million in 2015. The reduction is attributed largely to hotel room price increases of 15 to 20 per cent, which…

Buying a Retirement Property in Florida

If you’ve been thinking of cashing in on your home in Toronto, Vancouver, or other Canadian real estate hot spots to buy a retirement property in Florida, now may be the time. Though prices for individual homes or condos in Florida have rebounded substantially since the real estate recession and are now selling briskly, there is still a big window of opportunity for closing a single home,  townhouse, or condo at prices close to what they were just before the housing recession hit in 2006. According to official Florida Realtor figures, the average sale price of a single family home this spring was $324,839 USD, 8.3 percent higher than last year.  And the average sale price of a townhouse or condo in this spring was up $261,635 USD, up 8 percent over the comparable month last year. That’s a statewide average, which includes high price areas such as Miami-Dade, Naples,…

Prepare for Storm Season, Snowbirds!

Canadian snowbirds with property in the southern states should heed the wake-up call left by Cindy, a tropical storm that flooded many parts of the Gulf of Mexico states from Texas to the Florida Panhandle. It’s hurricane season, and if you haven’t fully secured your property, you’d best do it now—whether you have a condo, individual family home, mobile or manufactured home. You need to make sure you’re protected against what weather experts predict may be an above-average storm-activity summer and fall. What do you need to do? Make sure you understand your homeowner’s insurance policy. Do not assume that you’re covered for wind, storm or flood damage under that policy. Most homeowner policies require additional supplements for damages caused by wind or floods—and not everything that looks like rising water is considered a flood. If you’re unsure about your coverage, call your agent and make adjustments while there…

US Returns Restrictions on Cuba Tourism. No Problem for Canadians

In a visit to Little Havana in Miami, US President Donald Trump announced a re-imposition of the ban on tourism by individual Americans, as well as tighter controls on commerce with the government of Raul Castro. The restrictions reverse many, but not all, of the embargo sanctions lifted by President Obama in early 2016. The restrictions on individual travel (which under the Obama deal allowed travel by individuals for educational or people-to-people pre-arrangements) will impact the surge of American tourism and US-based airline travel that in 2016 allowed more than 600,000 Americans to visit the island nation as visitors and tourists. Canadians still far outpace that number of visitors, making well over one million trips to Cuba each year. What will this mean for Canadians visiting Cuba? It should mean less congestion when looking for hotel and resort room space—which was getting cramped by increasing numbers of new tourists from…