NYC Walking Tours with Professional Photographers

I recently discovered this company in NY with a very interesting idea. A walking tour accompanied by a professional photographer. Not only do you get to see the views of the Brooklyn Bridge, but you’ve got a portrait with the skyline as a backdrop. I was very impressed by their New York  image gallery. Seems like they specialize in couples – so definitely a nice idea for  Romantic Getaways In New York.

They are mentioned on tripcart, in the New York City Tourist Attractions section, under Guided Tours in Manhattan. For TLV2JFK, the company was kind enough to provide a description of their service – now I ask my readers to share their experiences.

“PhotoTrek Tours (www.phototrektours.com) offers private walking tours of New York City with your own personal photographer/tour guide. Guests are captured in all their own photos with NYC landmarks such as Central Park, Times Square and the Brooklyn Bridge as backdrops. Our tours have a 4.9 out of 5 star rating with over 400 reviews to date.

Guests will also discover insider’s secrets, off the beaten path places for dining, shopping entertainment and more. Your native New York guide will also show you how to use the New York City subway so you fell completely at home in New York to navigate the rest of your stay.

Guests will receive a CD-ROM delivered within 24 hours with dozens of professional quality photos of themselves in New York City.”

Here are some of their work:

Times Square by PhotoTrek Tours

Central Park by PhotoTrek Tours

 Brooklyn Bridge by PhotoTrek Tours

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Israel Airfare for Passover

TLV2JFK presents the 2010 Pre Pesach Price Planner for those taking the family to the states for Passover. The sooner you start hunting for tickets, the better. Right now ElAl, Delta and Continental are charging around $1500 for non-stop. Adding a stop can get you down to about $1200 and even down to about $1000 if you are ready to spend a night somewhere and trek from one airport to another. Here are some tricks to help in your search:

  • Orbitz is easiest to use for the big picture
  • AA is best for finding alternate dates – but make sure to indicate “All carriers” on search
  • ElAl site often has lower prices than shown elsewhere
  • Children pay about 10% less – usually best to see that on the airline site
  • AlItalia comes up with great deals if you can catch it (was $800 for pesach, last week) – but not on their site! Use Orbitz. And take a day off in Rome or Milan.
  • Prices go down a bit if you can return the week after Pesach
  • Forget about free tickets from Israel, but if you can pay your way to Europe – you may have some luck using that free ticket.

And finally, an idea that most of my readers (and my family) will ignore. Royal Jordanian via Amman.

You can find these flights by “including nearby airports” on Orbitz (not on Kayak). A random search today turned TLV to Amman to JFK (non-stop) and then return to Amman for under $800. Thats a savings of about $400 per person. But, you have to make your way back to Israel from Amman. Its a 4 hour drive to Aquaba and a simple crossing into Israel. Make the trip less painful by spending a day in Petra in Jordan and a day or two in Eilat. It will cost less and the kids get to miss more school. In another post I will discuss Jordan and the option of crossing directly at the Allenby bridge.

A word about passover destinations in the US. If you have to go to the catskills, take a day off for the local attractions,  like the  Kykuit Rockefeller Estate. If you end up in Disney, you can save money at the Prime Outlet Orlando Mall.  LA is a good passover destination – check out the Fun Things to do in Southern California.
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Personal Reflections on Air Travel Changes

Looking back on the previous year I realized that the travel world has changed me.

After decades of showing up 1 hour before my flight (and that’s for international flights, mind you) now I end up showing up so early – I have 2 hours at the gate.

I credit that to ElAl.

A good friend of mine showed up 2+ hours before his flight to Madrid and made it to check in with plenty of time to spare. Unfortunately for him, the flight was overbooked. Rather than bump a happy bumpee, they dug up the fine print and informed my friend that he did not show up on time. Don’t worry – the story has a happy ending.

For ElAl. Not for my friend, who was shipped to Barcelona and had to find his own way to Madrid. Cost – 1/2 day of vacation and at least $500. So, now I get there 3 hours before the flight. I am a changed man.

Second big change was reported in the New York Times.

Not about me, personally, but about the average traveller is ditching the web and booking flights through their travel agent. For the first time, I called a travel agent and had them do all the work. Changed flights ten times, paid later, speak to a human – it was all new for me and quite refreshing. (Kind of like my 8 year old kid discovering the VCR – you just put the tape in and press play. What a great idea! No menu! No scratched disk! No Estonian subtitles! – Just play the movie.) I actually had a good travel agent honest enough to tell me if I could get it cheaper online. But, I must admit that I still enjoy using the Western Union hold from time to time in online bookings.

And of course, if you need to decide where to do your Hannukah shopping on Long Island – at Roosevelt Field Mall or at Smithhaven Mall – you need the web. Or for conditions at Mt Baldy Ski Resort. If you just like reading blogs – try this travel blog and this vacation blog.

I guess this is a good place to introduce my readers to Josh Herst – blogger and Web entrepreneur, founder of TripHub. For our Canadian readers – check out this post with a rabbi’s experiences in the Canadian tundra (that’s a bit north of Hampstead, eh?).
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A New England Fall Foliage Sukkot

It must be getting boring reading this blog, or at least depressing. Service is getting worse,  everything costs extra and prices have not come down to reflect the economy. The airlines have re-written the law of supply and demand. “Don’t supply anything and charge to the hilt when customers demand what they deserve”. All of a sudden a mumified kosher meal sounds tantalizing when compared to the peanut butter and jelly sandwich packed 7 time zones away.

So, I take my East Coast and New England readers back to another time and another place.

Imagines that it is a crisp October day and you are building a Sukkah with your dad.  Maybe even before pre-fabs became popular so you had some collection of wood, screws, canvas and pipes that no one really remembered how to put up from year to year (or where the brackets were hidden).

Now look up at the trees. They are not the palm trees or citrus trees  outside of your Raanana Sukkah. They are Oaks, Elms and Maples  in every shade of yellow, gold and orange imaginable. Yup, those are  Fall Colors and it turns out that New England Fall Foliage is the best in the world.

sukkahpb

So, pack your bags (maybe even a sukkah) and plan to spend the holiday in NY Foliage. Here are some ideas for day trips from Brooklyn or Brookline.  We guarantee that the experience will be very different from Sukkot in Israel.

  • Catskills Fall Foliage – Ever been up in a vintage 1921 biplane?  Stop off at Rhinebeck and admire the New York State Fall Foliage from 3000 feet, with the wind in your goggles.
  • Heading south to Philadelphia or DC? Stop by and enjoy Fall Foliage PA with the Amish. You might even find a Sukka or at least a harvest festival. Sorry kids, Hersheypark is closed for the season.  Next stop –  Maryland Fall Foliage along the banks of the Potomac.
  • Combine  Massachusetts Fall Foliage with some American history and culture at Lexington,  Concord and Walden Pond.
  • Get up earlier in the morning and head north to Maine and catch one of the Fall Foliage Cruises.
  • Brave the crowds and head north to enjoy the New Hampshire Fall Foliage. The show lasts for most of the fall – leaves too green? Go higher or further north. Too brown? Go south.

And an honorable mention of  places more than 5 hours from New York City – Adirondack Fall Foliage, – great for early in the season – they show has started already;  New Mexico Fall Foliage and Fall Foliage in Colorado – very different from the East – Golden Aspens, towering evergreens and of course, ski season around the corner. And no jokes, please – Pittsburgh Fall Foliage.

And if it starts raining – duck into an enclosed mall.

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Jet Blue Unlimited Flight Promotion

Sorry, readers – this promotion is SOLD OUT.
Lots of buzz in the frequent flyer world about JetBlue’s just announced “All You Can Jet” Promotion. For $599 you get a full month (Sept 8 – Oct 8 ) of travel between 50 US cities and a few Caribbean and Central America destinations. The rules are pretty simple and no ElAl-style tricks:

  • Must buy by Aug 21
  • Must book individual flights 3 days in advance
  • “Last Available Seat” – which means all seats on the plane are available. If there is room – you are on.
  • Taxes apply on flights outside of the 50 States (but they apply even if you pay for a ticket)
  • No mileage bonanza – 35 JetBlue points for the whole thing. This is clearly a disappointment to world-class “mileage runners” but not a big deal for most normal people.
  • Penalty for no shows, cancellation fees apply. They don’t want hogging.
  • First bag free

Convinced – now start planning the trip.  I am assuming that you want to spend as little as possible. Here are some pointers:

  • Take advantage of the Redeye – Long Beach to Boston or JFK
  • Take day trips to the beach – 8am JFK to Fort Lauderdale, back in JFK by 10pm.
  • In general – make one of their hubs a base and day trip from there. Their hubs are LA, NY, Fort Lauderdale, Boston, DC.
  • Stick to destinations with good public transportation to/from the airport – such as Seattle, Portland, Las Vegas, Boston, DC, Salt Lake City, Pittsburgh, San Francisco

Now some itinerary suggestions from TripCart –

Most likely, you are starting in NY. Don’t miss the new fun things to do in Manhattan, like the High Line Park and of course the usual NYC entertainment offerings.  Head to the many places to visit in California via Chicago. Consider taking the Van Gelder Bus Lines to visit friends in Madison or Milwaukee. Then back to the see the places to visit in Chicago, before the winter deep freeze sets in. Once you get to the West Coast, use Long Beach Airport as your hub for travels to San Francisco, Portland, Seattle, Salt Lake City and Las Vegas. Leave the West Coast with a trip to Austin, take the bus Houston – Austin and enjoy the places to visit in Houston.

If you are interested in the places to visit in Phoenix, be aware that the only flights are from New York, so most of the day will be on the plane. Similar story for Denver, served only from the East Coast. BUT, given the dates, late September is the ideal time to see the peak fall foliage in Colorado. Start off with the shuttle DEN to COS, then it is up Pikes Peak. Finish up your trip with a flight to Burlington for the world-class Vermont fall foliage, which should be at its peak around Oct 8.

And don’t forget to check out shopping malls along the way.

Finally, for the vast majority (possibly all) of my readers that won’t be taking advantage of this, what this may mean, by my survey of some people really in the know:

  • Other airlines might come out with similar promotions.
  • JetBlue might really lower prices on seats still unsold. This is a traditionally weak time for the airlines

And, expect the unexpected. Air Florida sold a similar package a few years back and then promptly folded. But JetBlue seems quite sound. And definitely recommended by staff of TLV2JFK.

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Travel Protection Insurance – Trip Interruption / Delay

The New York Times “Haggler” column featured an informative and relevant article on travel protection insurance.  Like all insurance – if you didn’t need to file a claim – you are happy.  If, like me, you don’t buy things like earthquake insurance in Ranana and flood insurance in Beersheva – you are also happy.

But what if you were being cautious and bought insurance that covered Trip Interruption, Trip Delay, Trip Cancellation and whatever else you could think of? And what if you actually had to cancel the trip?

The New York Times covers a story of a couple that bought Trip Cancellation Insurance from the travel agent that sold them the trip. The premium was 10% of the cost of the trip (which is high for almost any kind of insurance – even for Bear insurance in Yellowstone). The husband had a heart attack and they cancelled.

The story only gets worse, and I won’t repeat it here. But if you are the type or even have good reason to buy Trip Insurance, bear in mind the following, when reading the fine print that you may get a credit (and only for use with the same travel agent) instead of a refund.  The call center operators seem to be instructed to use every comforting word like “protection” and “guarantee” while never invoking the word “refund”. They will not say refund, but you will hear it. So, read the fine print and insist that the term “full refund” appears somewhere in the agreement. And enjoy your fall foliage cruise to New England.

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US Air Begins Nonstop Tel Aviv to Philadelphia Service

US Air has started daily flights to Israel from Philadelphia.  Prices seem quite low to places other than Philadelphia.  I managed to book a flight on their Israel site to Boston for $875 (via Philadelphia). Interestingly enough, the exact same flight to Philadelphia costs $200 more.

Flights leave TLV at 11:15p and arrive at PHL 5:10a (Oy Vey!).

Flights leave PHL at 9:15p and arrive at TLV 3:30p+ .

Reasons to fly US Air:

  1. You want to go to Philadelphia (or just avoid New York)
  2. Good deals to other US cities
  3. Sully may be your pilot

As far as Frequent Flyer miles are concerned:

  1. Miles may be accrued on the US Air Dividend program or on programs of Star Alliance Partners (most relevant to TLV2JFK readers are Air Canada, United, Austrian, Turkish, Swiss, Lufthansa and Singapore)
  2. 80,000 US Air Dividend miles can get you to the States including Hawaii, Central America and the Caribbean.

With the addition of US Air, the following 4 cities are served non-stop from Israel:

New York, Los Angeles, Atlanta and Philadelphia

Before we get all excited about that – guess which  5 UKRAINIAN cities are served non-stop from Israel.

Give up? They are:

Kiev, Lviv, Odessa, Simferopol and Dnipropertovsk

Lets hope ElAl puts back the non-stop to Miami, so we can tie the Ukrainians.
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