Flying During COVID: Sue Glover’s take on what it’s like flying today.

Wondering whether it’s like to fly right now? Whether you are up for it?  Here’s my experience on my recent flights so you know what you may face.  

I recently flew from Chicago O’Hare (i.e. a HUGE airport) to a midsize airport on United Airlines and then returned to Chicago Midway on Southwest Airlines.  The experiences on these two airlines were drastically different, and not necessarily in a good way for one of these airlines.  Here are a few thoughts based on my experience:

1. Be flexible and prepared for flight changes.  

My flights were originally booked pre-COVID in February on Southwest Airlines.  Between April and June, the flights were cancelled and/or changed five times.  The closest change to the actual flight took place 8 hours prior to the flight with an email from United stating that they were changing aircraft and that the flight would now be completely full. Other changes included adding a layover to an existing non-stop flight; changing the flight time by a whole day; and cancelling the flight altogether.  The vast majority of these changes took place in the 3 weeks prior to flying. 

2. Be prepared for little to no service on the flight itself.

Southwest Airlines handled inflight service much better than United Airlines in my opinion.  When boarding, flyers were offered disinfectant wipes if they did not have their own.  Water and a snack were offered on the flight. Garbage pickup took place more often that a preCOVID flight. Flight attendants also discussed their safety and cleaning procedures onboard. 

United Airlines offered no service but one garbage pick-up service.  No beverages or snacks were offered, nor were disinfectant wipes. 

3.   Be prepared for limited food and beverage options in the airport.

The three airports I travelled through, Chicago O’Hare, Charleston and Chicago Midway, had very few opportunities to purchase food or drinks. The vast majority of restaurants, sundry stores and snack bars were closed.  

4. Do not assume your flight, or the airport. will be empty.  

Both United and American Airlines have stated they allow their flights to be fully booked.  Southwest and Delta have stated that they will maintain their limited booking policies. Keep this in mind when deciding who to fly with and your comfort level in flying on full flight.  Airports are getting busier too. Both O’Hare and Charleston were relatively empty, However, Midway was bustling and appeared to have normal pre-COVID number of people walking around at 11:00 am on a Wednesday.

5. Masks must be worn and can be hot. Bring extras if you can. 

All airlines are mandating masks to be worn on-board.  All airports require wearing masks inside the airport.  Bring an extra mask or two that you can change out, especially on longer flights. If they are cloth masks, you’ll be glad to be able to wash out your mask once you arrive.

Overall, the flying experience definitely had its ups and downs, but as we return to a “new normal” at least for now, the steps taken by some airlines, over others, were certainly appreciated and apparent when comparing the two experiences.

London At Any Age: The Perfect Blend of the Past and Present

London At Any Age: The Perfect Blend of the Past and Present

As I sit here reflecting on our first day in London, one question keeps popping into my mind-why on Earth did it take me so long to get back here? My first visit to London was too long ago to admit, but let’s say more than one decade was involved. At the time I was 18, just graduated high school and starting a 3-week European adventure with my best friend and her family.  I remember thinking, “well this is nice but it’s just like home. Look there is Pizza Hut and KFC! I thought I was in Europe!” After a few days we moved on to Paris and Italy and I finally felt like I was somewhere new and cool and exotic.

Flash forward to the present, I now have a teenage daughter who loves the Royals and a 10 year old son who likes history so London seemed like the perfect fit, but I admit I was more excited about returning to Paris, my all-time absolute favorite city, during the second half of the trip.  Boy was I wrong not being more enthusiastic about this city.

Yes, it reminds me of the US in many ways. But every time I think that, London throws a curveball. The language is obviously the same but different: lift and lorries; chips are crisps but fries are chips.  It’s the perfect segue into travelling to Europe or anywhere abroad.

While London’s historical significance cannot be downplayed, the city is modern and growing. Everywhere you look, there is building going on. From the top of the London Eye, I counted 14 cranes on the horizon. The population is diverse and expanding (some reports shows 35% of Londoners are foreign born)  and most Londoners are embracing this diversity. One block alone housed Indian, falafel, Italian, burger and sandwich shops, along with the traditional English pub and even a Chipotle.

Yes, Royal London is everywhere for the tourist. Buckingham Palace, Kensington Palace, the Tower of London are all worth seeing, but there is a new modern Royal, arguably started by Diana and carried on through her sons and their families that make the idea seem less antiquated.  The Diana Memorial Fountain near Kensington Palace, where she lived and William and Kate still live, was designed to be splashed in and walked around. It’s full of families splashing, young and old alike. Kensington Palace displays some of Queen Victoria’s jewels, but the gift shop also prominently features the cookbook that Megan Markle spearheaded to benefit the victims of the Grenfell Tower fire.

Diana, Princess of Wales Memorial Fountain

The Tower of London highlights the Crown Jewels, but even a 10-year-old is impressed by the 1000 year history, which includes the beheading of Henry VII’s wives and an impressive display of Medival weapons and torture devices.  The tour led by the Beefeater describing Henry VII’s wives (divorced, beheaded, died, divorced, beheaded, survived) captures everyone’s interest.

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Enjoying an ice cream cone by the London Eye with a view of Big Ben and Parliament across the river

And for those whom the history doesn’t impress, Harry Potter is everywhere in walking tours, studio visits and on stage. A high-speed boat ride down the Thames is pretty cool too.

A few days in London only brushes the surface. A week is easily doable and leaves time for a more relaxed visit, but any time that can be spared is well worth the flight. That’s it for today..done and dusted!

Think your kids are too young for Europe? Think again…

Think your kids are too young for Europe? Think again…

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Olive oil flavoring in Tuscany

For those of you who know me personnally, you know that I am NOT a fan of staying home, or have some have so lovingly stated, I have “ants in my pants”. For years BC (before children) I (and then my husband and I) travelled often both in the US and throughout Europe.  Once the kids came along, I thought my days of travelling, especially to Europe, were over for a long time. Thankfully that was not the case.  A little planning can make travelling to Europe with kids of all ages can be as great as travelling without them.

So how do you do it? Here’s a few tips that can help you have an enjoyable trip with kids of any age.

  • Start small. Pick one location with a lot to do. Kids, especially the little ones, require a lot of “stuff”. Lugging that stuff between several stops for a night or two at a time can be wearing. Focusing on one location, like a big city, will give you the opportunity to see the highlights without having to move around a lot. Almost every big city will also have nearby day trip locations that will allow you escape the big city without having to lug your luggage. If you still want to see more than one city or country, then it is imperative to…
  • Plan ahead. Unfortunately winging it is hard, especially if you are travelling in high season which is during the summer, spring break or any school holiday.  A little research goes along way in making sure your trip is as family-friendly as possible.  Dinner at a 5-star restaurant, probably not, but maybe lunch there is an option with little ones.
  • Decide how you want to travel. Do you want to plan everything yourself or use an organized tour? Travelling independently allows you flexibility but you are also on your own.  Running to catch a train last minute is a lot harder with strollers, suitcases and little ones in tow.  If you go it alone, book your hotels, planes and trains ahead of time and allow plenty of time to get there. Consider family suites or connected rooms to give you more room to spread out. Rail passes are great but book your seats ahead of time so you are all sitting together.

What about a tour or cruise? Gone are the days when tours were only for old people or school groups following sweaty tour guides holding big flags with hordes of tired travelers behind them.  Today, many small-group, family oriented tours offer a great way to see Europe without having to worry about logistics.  Picking your location is as hard as it gets and the tour guides do the rest.  Travelling with family focused tours like Adventures by Disney or Tauck Bridges not only give you easy access to highlights of the top spots, but can, in many cases, give you unparalleled access that you just can’t get travelling on your own.  On a recent Adventures by Disney Viva Italia itinerary, stops not only hit Italian highlights like the Spanish Steps and the Vatican, but arranged for a private Sistine Chapel visit with only members of the tour (think 40 people instead of 1500).  Other irreplaceable highlights included an unscheduled stop at the American Cemetery outside Florence just as it was closing for the day.  Members of the tour then got to participate first-hand in the flag lowering ceremony and hear the cemetery manager describe the battles that led to Tuscany being freed from the Fascists.

Family tours also offer the opportunity for some couple time with organized “kids nights” where kids get some time away from their parents while parents get a few hours to themselves for dinner or a wine tasting.

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Pasta making is fun for everyone!

An organized tour does still require stops at various hotels. If the thought of packing and unpacking three or four times per trip is not for you, a European cruise may be the lowest maintenance form of family travel.  Several cruise lines of various price points, including Disney Cruise Line, Norwegian, and Princess, offer ocean-based cruises which skirt the entire European continent on different itineraries throughout the warmer months.  River cruises, such as Amawaterways, Viking or Avalon, allow families to experience Europe from its rivers making it easier to visit major cities without long bus rides from ocean cruise ports.    Adventures by Disney has even partnered with Amawaterways to create family-focused Danube River cruise itineraries.  These cruises allow you to traverse the Mediterranean, experience the Norwegian fjords and bike through Amsterdam while only unpacking once per cruise.

3.) Relax and go with it.  Travelling with kids can be unpredictable. Ice cream stops are a must and some museums or highlights will be missed, but so what? Will your 7-year-old remember the Louvre? Probably not. Will your 7-year-old remember splashing around in the fountain outside the Louvre? That’s more likely; and it’s certain that you will never forget it.  Kids have a way of making the most curmudgeonly hotel employee smile and offer you an excuse for ordering that dessert or riding the carousel.

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4.) Let someone else do the work.  Use a travel agent!  Yes, you can spend countless hours researching the best price on that hotel or trying to figure out the best way to get from one location to the other, but why?  Your efforts are best spent enjoying the time with your family, not figuring out what to do now that the French rail employees have declared a strike (and they will, especially on Fridays in the Summer!)

As Helen Keller said, “Life is either a daring adventure or nothing.” Travelling with your kids, either near or far, will instill in them a sense of adventure that no other experience can replicate. Let us help you give this gift to your children. Contact your Favorite Place Travel specialist today to get you and your family on the road.

Favorite Place Travel-Georgia Office wins award! Best of Gwinnett 2017!

Favorite Place Travel-Georgia Office wins award! Best of Gwinnett 2017!

We are proud to announce that Favorite Place Travel has been voted Best Travel Agency in Gwinnett County, one of America’s fastest-growing counties for the past 20 years.

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Call your Favorite Place Travel agent to book your vacations!

Stacey Gross, sgross@favoriteplacetravel.com, Georgia office

Susan Glover, sglover@favoriteplacetravel.com, Illinois office