With the first day of summer officially behind us, even as we enjoy our exceptional Manitoba summer weekends, faraway questions about land, sea and air were the source for this week's column.
QUESTION: I have paid so-called visa fees to enter a number of overseas countries and concluded a long time ago that most of them are nothing more than a hidden tax by the countries in question.
Now I am hearing that we will have to pay a similar fee to enter the United States. Is that correct and when does it come into effect?
ANSWER: For whatever reason, it was an idea proposed some time ago by the United States Department of Homeland Security. Presumably, the goal was to offset part of the billions of dollars being spent on security.
The proposal immediately became a lightning rod for politicians and tourism officials on both sides of the border. They argued that tourism had already suffered with the introduction of passport requirements that affected even short vehicle trips. There's also been a growing perception, fuelled by continued publicity, that some of the methods being used at entry points were building an adverse reaction to visiting the country.
So, before the proposal even came close to life, it was handed a quick death sentence by the U.S. Senate judiciary committee. The borders between Canada and the U.S., as well as between Mexico and the States, which also would have been impacted, will remain free of fees or entry taxes.
It would be good if those other countries around the world you referenced would follow the same pathway.
QUESTION: I have been looking at cruise options for Europe for 2014. Unless the cruise lines have not yet put all their options out, it appears to me that the choices are more limited than this year. What are the facts?
ANSWER: You're right on both points. While not all 2014 itineraries have been released, a number of cruise lines announced last year they were looking at cutting back on European options because of sinking demand.
A few weeks ago, Carnival Cruise lines made an announcement that really reverberated across the travel industry when they said they would be skipping Europe entirely in 2014.
Although two of Carnival's fleet will still serve the Euro market this summer, two circumstances influenced their decision to terminate 2014 cruise programs altogether.
European customers, who represented a significant portion of revenues, are not booking as heavily as in the past because of the economic realities facing many of the nations.
More importantly, most of the European cruise business over the years has come from North America, and Carnival has projected that rising airfares on transatlantic flights will keep North American passengers from booking -- especially since so many Americans, in particular, are opting for some version of a staycation, i.e. visiting their own area or other regions of the U.S..
All of the cruise lines cutting back on Europe still hope this will be only a one-year curtailment, so they may be back to Europe in full force for 2015.
QUESTION: One of the motivating reasons for me to travel with WestJet, beyond their truly excellent service, was the fact I could watch events like the NHL playoffs, a Blue Bombers game or a golf major live on their in-flight television satellite programming.
I read this will soon be a thing of the past with the airline. Is this true? And why would they remove such a popular option?
ANSWER: It is true that WestJet is moving to a pre-recorded version of in-flight entertainment.
The challenge for them was that the system worked well on east-west flights but was not available on all-inclusive flights to Mexico and other sun destinations, a growing market for WestJet.
Why they could not create a broader radius for the service is unknown. Other airlines do have satellite service operating over much of the airspace WestJet flies over. Recently, United Airlines announced that a live-program in-flight service has been added to 200 of its planes, with 100 channels available for on-board guests.
The difference between what WestJet had and what United is offering is price. While WestJet offered the service free to all its passengers, for United it is another ancillary service with a cost to purchase starting at $5.99. That can go up depending on the duration of the flight.
The service will be complementary for United's business-class passengers, who will also have the option of charging their cellphones and laptops through new power outlets being installed in these sections.
United says it's also committed to adding wi-fi, another ancillary revenue source, to all of its mainline fleet as quickly as possible.
Ron Pradinuk is president of Journeys Travel & Leisure SuperCentre and can be heard Sundays at noon on CJOB. Previous columns and tips can be found at www.journeystravelgear.com or read Ron's travel blog at wwwthattravelguy.ca.