!Cuba is hot this week!

Two major announcements this month regarding my home away from home, Havana, Cuba. As many of you know, I first fell in love with Havana on an MCLE continuing legal education program I attended in Havana, Cuba. The program was offered through Burlington College, in Burlington, Vermont in October, 2013. Through that program, I became acquainted with legal principles on the subjects of the U.S. Embargo on Cuba, Comparitave Cuban Criminal Law, Comparative Cuban Family Law, Comparative Cuban Real Estate Law, Humanitarian issues and violations, the Cuban economy, the Cuban dual currency system, the Cuban food rationing system, the Cuban healthcare system, Cuban LGBT rights and violations, the fall of Bautista and rise of Castro and Guevara, The Cuban Five, American prisoner Alan Gross, and many other topics that have now become part of my every-day lexicon. Cuba became the focus of my life for the next few years, and the inspiration for my becoming a travel professional.

I had to find a way to get back to Havana safely, legally and often, and I did. I became familiar with OFAC, the Office of Foreign Asset Control, the U.S. Agency that controls everything that has to do with Cuba, and began to familiarize myself with its regulations. I affiliated with an agency that had a license issued by OFAC to do business in Cuba and entered into a partnership with them to begin taking groups to Havana. I started my Cuba travel business in 2014, only 3 months after returning from my first trip to Havana. My first group landed at Jose International Airport in May of 2015, with a focus on Art, Architecture, Design, Food, Dance and Culture. I have since expanded my focus to individual itineraries, as well as group itineraries, creating custom programs that my clients help to design, based upon their particular interests. And my travel business now includes destinations other than Cuba. But…back to the news of the day.

The big news is this: American Airlines will begin nonstop commercial airline flights from Los Angeles on December 12, 2016. According to American Airlines spokesperson, Matt Miller, AA is excited to be the first carrier to begin direct service to the island nation from Los Angeles. http://www.travelandleisure.com/articles/americanairlines-new-cuba-route-los-angeles-havana. This is big news for everyone on the west coast, since it has been a real challenge for us to get to Havana without an overnight stop in either Mexico City, Cancun or Miami, up until now. Suffice it to say, we are very excited with this new announcement. Alaska Airlines begins its nonstop service from Los Angeles on January 1, 2017. I have lots of happy clients!!

“Price is what you pay. Value is what you get.” – Warren Buffett

The other big announcement came on October 14th, when President Obama lifted the Embargo on the amount of money that can be spent on Cuban cigars and rum and legally brought back with American travelers into the United States.

Prior to October 14th, one could only legally return to the United States from Cuba with $100.00 in combination of Cuban rum and cigars. If U.S. Customs and Border Control Agents (trained to know the cost of these items) determined that you had exceeded that amount, the items would be forfeited at your point of entry into the United States. That limit has now been removed by President Obama, with the caveat that the rum and cigars you bring home are for ‘personal use’ only. Where have I heard that term before? Hmmmm….

In other news, TripAdvisor just announced on Friday, October 28th, that it will allow direct bookings to Cuba (hotels and tours) from its website. That’s good news for American travelers. However, I still caution against booking on your own. Cuba is a challenging country to navigate without an experienced advisor and handler on the ground. I am, and always will be available to assist with your bookings and to ensure you are receiving a quality product.

TALES FROM THE ROAD:

As always, it pays to have a travel advisor…I have a few clients on the road this week. I heard from one happy couple who reported that they were so happy with the anniversary trip I planned for them to Paso Robles. They wanted to do some wine tasting to celebrate 10 years of marriage. They loved the hotel I selected, especially the s’mores cart that was wheeled by the outdoor fireplaces at night. An attendant came by as they were sipping that last glass of wine and asked them which type of homemade marshmallow they wanted (a choice of 5) which type of chocolate they would like (a choice of 4) and which chocolate sauce (OMG!!) they would like drizzled over the top of their s’more. The attendant then toasted their marshmallows over the fire, put it together and handed it to them…along with a ‘wet-wipe.’ Yes, you can have seconds!!! They also liked the wine map I created for their journey. I was able to provide them with the telephone numbers of several winemakers that I am dear friends with, who they were able to contact directly to set up private tastings. I was able to direct them to specific locations to find the types of wines they were into, so that they did not waste their limited time on wines or wineries that didn’t suit their interest.

Because I travel to many wine regions frequently and am a wine collector, I have contacts in the wine industry. I know which wines or wineries are good, where the wineries are, and how to get my clients from point A to point B. I can arrange a car and driver. I can recommend the best restaurants in the area for your particular tastes. And yet another happy client just returned from Havana last week and reported that her trip was incredible. She (an Orange County Public Defender) and her husband couldn’t say enough about their trip to Cuba. In her own words, this was the response I received:

“Dear Janice,

Just wanted to say thank you so much for arranging our amazing trip to Cuba!! We had the best time and really enjoyed getting to see and know what Cuba is all about!! Also, Leonel and Enrique were awesome, Leonel was so informative and Enrique was a great driver!! We will definitely be telling our friends about this trip and recommending you to them for their Cuba needs!! Hope all is well with you and that you are having a great weekend!”

When people ask what a travel advisor does, this is what we do. We know things. We have experience. It really pays to have a travel advisor. I won’t get you the cheapest vacation. That I will promise you. I won’t shop for the cheapest hotel. That’s not my goal. What I promise you is that I will get you the best value for your money. That doesn’t mean only 5 star hotels, by any means. It means quality hotels and quality tours. If you’re looking for a bargain, I’m probably not your best choice.

If you want quality, value and personal service, I can do that for you. Let me plan your next trip. Don’t leave your next trip to chance or to an inexperienced advisor. I have traveled the world for over 35 years. I have been to over 30 countries on 6 continents. I have a photo-journalism undergraduate degree with an art history minor. I have studied both art and photography in Europe and I’ve never stopped traveling since. Let my knowledge, experience and wisdom work for you.