The Washington Post’s travel writers and editors discuss your travel stories, questions, gripes and more. Here are some edited excerpts from a recent discussion:
Q: Passport renewal turnaround time: I wanted to pass along that I had sent my expiring U.S. passport in for renewal on Thursday, Sept. 1, and received my new passport in the mail exactly two weeks later on Thursday, Sept. 15! It was sent for regular processing from central NJ using a pre-addressed Priority Mail envelope that my local P.O. provided. They even packaged it for me. It cost $6.45 to mail. I still had six months left on the old passport and have no immediate foreign travel plans. But I thought it was prudent to renew it now as my younger daughter had just moved to England to live with her British husband. Now I’ll have no worries if I need to (or decide to) visit her over there.
A: That’s really fast. Way to go, State Department!
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Q: Bermuda for a family of four – flight vs. cruise: We are thinking of taking our school-aged kids to Bermuda in early summer. I understand we can get there with a two-hour direct flight from the D.C. area, or else take a week’s cruise from ports in Baltimore, New Jersey, or New York. We’ve never taken a cruise before, and wanted your thoughts on what might be the better way (in terms of experience and cost) to arrange this trip. If we fly, our stay in Bermuda would be longer, but we’d be balancing that against the fun of the cruising experience.
A: I’m fairly certain there are no longer scheduled nonstop flights from Washington to Bermuda. Royal Caribbean’s Grandeur of the Seas cruises to Bermuda from Baltimore, offering five-night trips, but you’ll spend only two days in Bermuda. From New Jersey, there’s a seven-night itinerary to Bermuda on Celebrity. And I believe Norwegian offers seven-night cruises from New York to Bermuda. If you’ve not cruised before, I wouldn’t choose Bermuda as my first destination: Seas can get rough and you’re on the ship for a long time.
Q: Carry-on bags, yet again: Again I have seen cases where the passenger brings on a carry-on bag that so very obviously will barely fit up above, and is so heavy (s)he cannot lift it! Must have had bricks or gold bars in it – why is this OK? I know the plane won’t fall out of the sky with one bag like this, but you’d think if we all tried it, wouldn’t it matter? No one was paying attention to what passengers were taking down the jetway.
A: It’s not OK. Airlines need to enforce their own carry-on rules. It might help if they started including the cost of a checked bag in a ticket, as Southwest Airlines does. If they don’t, everyone will continue to try to bring everything including the kitchen sink on board.
Q: How do travel agents work? I am planning a honeymoon, which we hope to go on in a couple months. I’ve never used a travel agent before, but would like to engage one for this trip since it’s a special trip and because much of my planning time and energy is taken up by our wedding. That said, how do agents get paid? Are the hotels and tours paying the agent a commission? Should I expect to pay a higher price when booking through an agent? Or will I pay the agent a flat fee for his/her assistance? Thanks so much for your insight!
A: Using a travel agent is a great idea. A qualified travel professional can offer personalized advice and find the best deal for you. A good place to find an agent is through the American Society of Travel Agents site.
Agents can get paid in several ways. The most common are through a booking fee, which you pay directly to the agent, and through a commission, which the supplier pays to the agent. I wouldn’t assume the prices will be higher. Agents have access to some deals you won’t find on the large travel sites.