Nifty Advice

A couple of things to think about while you travel.

Jet-setting soon? Use these stylist’s packing tips

Written for MyCentralJersey.com on 5/23/17

Summer is almost here, which means the much-coveted time for beach getaways, family vacations and exotic retreats has arrived. However, before you hop on that plane, you need to fly over one final roadblock — packing.

For those of us with a penchant for overpacking, overplanning and overshopping, packing can be a real pain — especially with airline luggage fees continuing to skyrocket. Nevertheless, with some thoughtful preparation, you can open your suitcase upon arrival and actually be happy with what you’ve packed.

Tiffany Pinero, fashion and brand stylist based in Scotch Plains, is known throughout the tristate area for her personal wardrobe styling, personal shopping and ability to help those getting ready to embark on a trip pack their bags with her Pack Light Pack Right service, which stemmed from her own experience as an overpacker.

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Why I will always fly direct

Although in normal life, I like my beds soft, my food hot and my hair clean, in travel, I recognize that these things are not always possible.

Instead, in travel, my mind automatically opens to being more accepting of unpleasant living conditions, dirty clothes and too-late nights. However, there is one thing I never scrimp on – a favorable flight.

I really hate flying. I hate being at the mercy of the airport, the rude flight attendants, bad yet expensive food and early mornings. So, within reason, I make every effort to fly in and out of the airport 20 minutes from my house at a normal hour on a direct flight.

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~File photo

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Tourism goes green in NJ

Written for MyCentralJersey.com on 5/17/16

Would you feel comfortable biking, rather than renting a car, on your vacation?

How would you like it if your hotel asked you if it could change your personal bed sheets only once per week on your extended stay?

Would you be able to solely utilize reusable bottles rather than plastic water bottles on a trip?

In an age in which we are working harder to protect our planet — including those in the tourism industry — this is becoming more of the norm.

“I think that people are planning their trips a lot better and they are thinking about the impact they are having when they’re traveling,” said Nora Wagner, director of strategic planning and programs at Duke Farms in Hillsborough. “In the tourism industry, people are becoming more environmentally conscious.”

Element Ewing Princeton is the only LEED-certified NJ hotel. (Photo: ~Courtesy of Element Ewing Princeton)

Element Ewing Princeton is the only LEED-certified NJ hotel.
(Photo: ~Courtesy of Element Ewing Princeton)

Part of that is because lodgings and points of interest have become more sustainable, setting an example for visitors.

“We do attract a certain amount of people who are environmentally conscious and also those who just want a nice day out but while they are here, there are subtle messages about stewardship, like our carry-in-carry-out trash policy,” Wagner said.

Staff members at Duke Farms considers themselves a model of environmental stewardship, taking advantage of any opportunity — whether it be from land management to building — to be as sustainable as possible. Just a few examples of their environmental efforts include infrastructure that maximizes energy efficiency, community gardens, permeable pathways and more.

At Element Ewing Princeton, the only LEED-certified hotel in New Jersey, meaning it is 100 percent sustainable from floor to ceiling, the staff also works to provide a green environment for its guests, fostering habits that they can hopefully bring home with them.

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The hotel utilizes water-efficient faucets and fixtures, free bike rentals, Energy Star-rated appliances, green cleaning products, the option for once-a-week personal bed linen changing for extended stays, no plastic products and more.

“Our guests definitely appreciate the hotel sustainability aspect,” said Alexis Davison, director of sales of Element Ewing Princeton. “They want to reuse their towels, charge their Apple products off fitness-machine power in our gym and utilize the natural light in our lobby.”

Unfortunately, not all lodgings are so educated in how they can be environmentally conscious. But hopefully, that won’t be the case much longer, thanks to a state program.

Green Travel New Jersey is a voluntary pilot program being developed with the state and operators of hospitality facilities that allows lodgings to earn a New Jersey Green Lodging certification, which ensures that a lodging meets environmentally friendly standards for water conservation, indoor air quality, energy efficiency, minimal waste and more.

The community garden at Duke Farms. (Photo: ~Courtesy of Duke Farms)

The community garden at Duke Farms. (Photo: ~Courtesy of Duke Farms)

To ensure that facilities maintain certification standards, the New Jersey State Green Certification Lodging Program conducts random audits of a selected facility on a regular basis and monitors guest feedback. If deficiencies are noted, the New Jersey Green Lodging Program offers assistance to correct them, and consistent failure to correct deficiencies will result in removal from the program.

Being green isn’t just good for the program, the environment and guests — it’s valuable for a hotel’s wallet, too.

The federal Environmental Protection Agency’s Energy Star program has determined that a 10 percent reduction in energy costs in the hospitality industry results in $2 more in revenue per room for full-service hotels. Across the lodging industry, this would save $745 million per year.

“People are saying to themselves, ‘OK, I need to make sure I have trash bags with me in my backpack,’ when they go out to a park for a day,” said Wagner. “They are learning to be less impactful with their carbon footprint.”

In order to be a more environmentally friendly traveler, Davison suggests that tourists utilize rideshare programs, bicycling and minimize waste by taking only what they are going to consume in food items.

Duke Farms is a model of environmental stewardship. (Photo: ~Courtesy of Duke Farms)

Duke Farms is a model of environmental stewardship. (Photo: ~Courtesy of Duke Farms)

Should you book cruise to Cuba?

Written for MyCentralJersey.com and DailyRecord.com

When President Barack Obama normalized relations with Cuba and loosened restrictions for travelers on March 21, just two days later, cruise giant Carnival was quick to announce the launch of the first cruises from the United States to Cuba in more than 50 years.

The cruises, now on sale, will operate as bi-weekly seven-day trips out of Miami on Carnival’s social impact-focused Fathom brand on their 704-passenger Adonia, the first which will depart on May 1.

Lisa Lee, 18-year travel consultant with Avenue Travel Group, American Express in Bedminster, said that her office has had about 10 people already express interest in booking a Carnival cruise to Cuba. Plus, escorted tours to Cuba have been “selling out like you would not believe.”

The cruises, now on sale, will operate as bi-weekly seven-day cruises out of Miami on Carnival’s social impact-focused Fathom brand on their 704-passenger Adonia ship, the first which will depart on May 1. (Photo: ~File photo)

The cruises, now on sale, will operate as bi-weekly seven-day cruises out of Miami on Carnival’s social impact-focused Fathom brand on their 704-passenger Adonia ship, the first which will depart on May 1.
(Photo: ~File photo)

“Being that Cuba is so close, it’s not that long of a cruise,” said Lee. “Plus, travelers can experience this forbidden Cuban culture that they have never explored.”

In terms of safety, Lee said that she wouldn’t have any more hesitation for clients traveling to Cuba than she would if they were traveling to any other destination.

“In today’s world, you need to be careful anywhere you go,” she said. “Plus, many Cubans live in the United States, so the culture isn’t completely removed and the country is similar to Mexico and South American countries.”

Lee said that Cuba is now much more appealing to the average traveler because Carnival is an American-owned brand and cruising allows tourists a “one-stop shop.”

Arlene and David Kaplan of the Gillette section of Long Hill visited Cuba last month. ~Courtesy of David J. Kaplan

Arlene and David Kaplan of the Gillette section of Long Hill visited Cuba last month. ~Courtesy of David J. Kaplan

However, by no means is the cruise cheap. Fares start at $1,800 per person — excluding Cuban visas, taxes, fees and port expenses and including all onboard meals, onboard experiences and several on-the-ground activities — which Lee said is a bit of a high price, although not uncommon.

Diane Levitz, a Sea Girt resident who has been on 63 cruises, 10 of which were Carnival, said that she would love to go on a cruise to Cuba, even though she also finds the fares to be pricey compared to other seven-day trips offered. She said that she always books a room with a balcony, and on Carnival’s Cuban cruise, that fare ranges from $3,150 to $4,147. The room accommodates two people, and can accommodate up to two more in select rooms with cots.

However, that doesn’t make a Cuban cruise out of the question for her. She is considering going on one in the near future. That she could visit Cuba on a Carnival cruise makes the decision easier for her, though.

“I like to eat on a ship that I’m familiar with. Plus, I have heard from several friends who visited Cuba on tours that they have gotten sick from the local food,” said Levitz. “Also, there are a limited number of hotels in Cuba. I would feel much more secure simply cruising with a familiar cruise line such as Carnival.”

Arlene and David Kaplan of the Gillette section of Long Hill visited Cuba last month. ~Courtesy of David J. Kaplan

Arlene and David Kaplan of the Gillette section of Long Hill visited Cuba last month. ~Courtesy of David J. Kaplan

Arlene Kaplan of the Gillette section of Long Hill visited Cuba on an International Expeditions tour in February for eight days with 38 other travelers. Although she said she enjoyed her time there tremendously and would recommend a visit for the average tourist, Kaplan said that she was surprised by the degree of poverty in the area and that tourists can expect to see the same degree in Cuba that they see on many other Caribbean islands.

Kaplan said that she noticed many half-finished buildings and abandoned supplies, as well as evidence of hunger because food is rationed in Cuba and Cubans only receive 10 pounds of rice a month.

“Visitors need to keep in mind that everything is controlled by the government — even our tour guide was a government employee,” she said. “We weren’t allowed to wander off by ourselves — when we were on land, we were in buses going from Point A to Point B.”

Arlene and David Kaplan of the Gillette section of Long Hill visited Cuba last month. ~Courtesy of David J. Kaplan

Arlene and David Kaplan of the Gillette section of Long Hill visited Cuba last month. ~Courtesy of David J. Kaplan

Kaplan said that despite the government control, she encountered no animosity during the trip, and she found that the Cubans she met couldn’t wait for Americans to visit.

“I think that they think the Americans will open everything up for them,” she said. “That may happen, but not right away.”

Levitz, Kaplan and Lee believe that Carnival’s new cruise offerings are positive for travelers.

“I am very old. I remember when it all fell apart,” Levitz said. “Fifty years have accomplished nothing. We need to get over it.”

What does the Erin Andrews case mean for hotel guests?

Written for MyCentralJersey.com and DailyRecord.com

When Erin Andrews, host of “Dancing With the Stars” and “Fox College Football,” was awarded $55 million in her lawsuit against the owner of the Nashville, Tennessee, Marriott and Michael David Barrett, who filmed her naked in her hotel room in 2008, some people were shocked at the amount awarded, yet others were glad to see justice served.

However, those in the hospitality industry had much more to discuss than Andrews’ court victory.

“I’ve been working in the hospitality industry since the mid-70s and I’ve seen people unruly, drunk or get in fights,” said Mark Giangiulio, chairman of the board of the New Jersey Hotel and Lodging Association and general manager of the Grand Summit Hotel. “But I’ve never seen something like this where one had such a passion for another that they went out of their way to get a hold of them.”

Barrett went to the hotel restaurant and used a house phone to ask to be connected to Andrews’ room. When the hotel connected him, he was able to see her room number displayed on the phone, and after discovering that there was an empty room next to hers, he went to the front desk and was able to book it. He then tampered with her hotel room’s peephole to record a video of her changing.

Sportscaster and television host Erin Andrews testifies in Nashville, Tennessee. Speaking in court, she recalled the day seven years ago when she first heard from a friend that she'd secretly been filmed naked and that the video made it on the Internet. (Photo: ~Courtesy of Mark Humphrey, AP

Sportscaster and television host Erin Andrews testifies in Nashville, Tennessee. Speaking in court, she recalled the day seven years ago when she first heard from a friend that she’d secretly been filmed naked and that the video made it on the Internet.
(Photo: ~Courtesy of Mark Humphrey, AP

Giangiulio isn’t the only one who hasn’t seen a case like this before, where one’s privacy was compromised and they were videotaped in a hotel setting, then it was discovered because of technology. Ronald Goldfarb, law professor at Middlesex County College, couldn’t find any cases in the court system, either.

Goldfarb said that if a case isn’t appealed, it’s nearly impossible to find their records, so similar cases could exist, although it’s unlikely, and if there are any, there aren’t many.

“Due to the uniqueness of this case, the ruling has established a precedent that has determined that hotels have an obligation to protect their guests in privacy from electronic displays,” he said.

However, even though this new precedent involving technology will exist in the courtroom going further, hotels across the nation have always had the obligation to provide an expectation of privacy for their guests.

Sportscaster and television host Erin Andrews, right, stands with attorney Scott Carr as the jury enters the room during her civil trial Thursday, Feb. 25, 2016, in Nashville, Tennessee. Andrews filed and won a $75 million lawsuit against the franchise owner and manager of a luxury hotel and a man who admitted to making secret nude recordings of her in 2008. (Photo: ~Courtesy of Alan Poizner, Alan Poizner, AP)

Sportscaster and television host Erin Andrews, right, stands with attorney Scott Carr as the jury enters the room during her civil trial Thursday, Feb. 25, 2016, in Nashville, Tennessee. Andrews filed and won a $75 million lawsuit against the franchise owner and manager of a luxury hotel and a man who admitted to making secret nude recordings of her in 2008. (Photo: ~Courtesy of Alan Poizner, Alan Poizner, AP)

Giangiulio said that the Grand Summit Hotel, similar to all other hotels that follow basic rules and regulations, do not give out guest room numbers, and if a guest comes to the front desk and asks for a key, they must provide identification. Also, only internal departments’ phones display room numbers. For example, maids’ service phones will display a room number, but a guest’s phone will not.

“We’re not a military base, we are hospitality, but our aim is to provide a safe and secure venue and we follow the rules,” said Giangiulio.

Giangiulio said with his limited understanding of the case, he feels that the hotel mostly followed standard procedure — Barrett simply went out of his way to get to Andrews. However, he said that, in his opinion, hotel staff should have been more wary of him when he requested a room next to Andrews’.

In Giangiulio’s experience, instances in which one is searching for another come up when a disgruntled spouse checks into the hotel and another comes looking for them. However, the Grand Summit Hotel never provides a room number or phone number to the searching spouse, although they cannot stop them from lingering in the restaurant or lobby. They will also connect them to the rooms, but the phones do not display a room number.

Defense attorney Marc Dedman speaks to the jury during his opening statements in the Erin Andrews-Marriott hotels trial before Judge Hamilton Gayden in the Historic Courthouse Feb. 23, in Nashville, Tennessee. (Photo: ~Courtesy of Samuel M. Simpkins/The Tennessean)

Defense attorney Marc Dedman speaks to the jury during his opening statements in the Erin Andrews-Marriott hotels trial before Judge Hamilton Gayden in the Historic Courthouse Feb. 23, in Nashville, Tennessee. (Photo: ~Courtesy of Samuel M. Simpkins/The Tennessean)

Fiona Andrews of Montclair, a 25-year-old frequent traveler who stays in hotel rooms 20 to 50 days in a year, said that booking a hotel room is the least stressful part of her various journeys, yet she tends to “err on the side of paranoia.”

To protect herself, she looks up reviews of the hotel ahead of time, blocks the peephole, posts the ‘do not disturb’ sign, avoids the elevator, keeps the windows shut and curtains drawn, and sometimes manually jams the door shut with a towel or a noisy object so she will hear if it is opened, if she feels a room isn’t secure enough.

“I have definitely stayed in dangerous areas, but usually if I go to a bad area, it’s cheap enough that I can stay at a reasonably clean and safe hotel,” said Fiona Andrews. “But in terms of privacy, I don’t particularly care if people see me as long as they don’t actually try to physically harm me. As a woman traveling alone, I have no expectation of privacy.”

Giangiulio said that he recommends that all guests deadbolt their doors, be aware of their surroundings, and if they see something, they should say something. Plus, he stresses that people be aware of what they post on social media.

Sportscaster and television host Erin Andrews on Monday, March 7, 2016, in Nashville, Tennessee. A jury awarded Andrews $55 million in her lawsuit against a stalker who bought a hotel room next to her and secretly recorded a nude video, finding that the hotel companies and the stalker shared in the blame. (Photo: ~Courtesy of Mark Humphrey, AP)

Sportscaster and television host Erin Andrews on Monday, March 7, 2016, in Nashville, Tennessee. A jury awarded Andrews $55 million in her lawsuit against a stalker who bought a hotel room next to her and secretly recorded a nude video, finding that the hotel companies and the stalker shared in the blame. (Photo: ~Courtesy of Mark Humphrey, AP)

“People take pictures of themselves in the hotel, of what they’re doing and where they’re eating, and if you’re a disgruntled spouse or someone looking for a target, this can make you easy prey,” he said.

So what standard will hotels be held to when it comes to expectation of privacy in the future, especially with new advents in technology?

Goldfarb said that case decisions such as these will continue to change and chip away at court precedents involving the expectation of privacy, much more frequently and incrementally than a new statute would.

“The expectation of privacy has been around for a very long time,” said Goldfarb. “However, very often, the law doesn’t keep up with technology.”

What New Jerseyans need to know about Zika

Written for MyCentralJersey.com and DailyRecord.com 

When the World Health Organization declared the Zika virus, a disease spread to people through the bite of an infected Aedes-specie mosquito, a public health emergency on Feb. 1, we in the blithering cold of New Jersey knew we were mostly safe at home.

Unfortunately for me, I was gearing up for my trip to Mexico on Feb. 20 as well as my trip to Puerto Rico on March 24; both countries have about 120 reported cases of Zika to date.

As I simultaneously packed my luggage and learned everything I could about Zika, I found that the virus itself isn’t very harmful. Only about one in five people who contract Zika actually become ill and experience fever, rash, joint pain, headache and muscle pain for about a week. Most don’t get sick enough to visit a hospital or even realize that they’re infected.

However, the real risk with Zika is the threat it presents to a fetus when a mother is infected, as there have been seemingly correlated cases between the virus and microcephaly, a serious birth defect in the brain which causes a baby’s head to be much smaller than normal.

Studies performed in Brazil strongly support the link between the Zika virus and microcephaly but don’t yet prove it. (Photo: ~File photo)

Studies performed in Brazil strongly support the link between the Zika virus and microcephaly but don’t yet prove it.
(Photo: ~File photo)

I’m not pregnant, and if I was, I probably would have canceled my trip to Mexico and would be doing the same for Puerto Rico. But some of the news reports I muddled through really scared me. If I did contract Zika, how long would it stay in my blood for? Could it cause a birth defect in a child I have five years down the line? Or was Zika really only a threat to men, since the virus exists in semen for much longer than it does in blood?

I couldn’t seem to find any clear answers. And it turns out, this is because they don’t exist yet.

“We still don’t understand the correlation between the Zika virus and microcephaly,” said Tadhgh Rainey, Hunterdon County Mosquito and Vector Control director. “This is currently being actively investigated. You hear a lot about how Zika causes this-and-that, but just because things are highly correlated, that doesn’t mean there is a cause and effect.”

Much of the current information available on Zika and microcephaly is anecdotal and more research is still needed.

There have been seemingly correlated cases between the virus and microcephaly, a serious birth defect in the brain which causes a baby’s head to be much smaller than normal. (Photo: File photo)

There have been seemingly correlated cases between the virus and microcephaly, a serious birth defect in the brain which causes a baby’s head to be much smaller than normal. (Photo: File photo)

“These assumptions may turn out to be true, but I don’t think that people should get overly excited, although they should take precautions,” Rainey said.

Health authorities in Brazil, which has been experiencing a significant outbreak of Zika since May 2015, have been investigating the association with assistance from the Pan American Health Organization, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and other agencies.

Microcephaly can also occur due to genetics, maternal infections and toxins encountered during pregnancy. Studies performed in Brazil strongly support the link between the Zika virus and microcephaly but don’t yet prove it.

The CDC recommends that pregnant women in any trimester should consider postponing travel to any area where Zika is spreading – which currently includes 36 countries, mostly throughout the Americas. To see the complete list of infected countries, visit cdc.gov/zika/geo/active-countries.html.

Renata Cristina da Costa, left, spreads repellent on her daughter Tamires da Costa, 16, who's four months pregnant, at their home in the Parque Sao Bento a shantytown of Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, Jan. 29. (Photo: ~File photo)

Renata Cristina da Costa, left, spreads repellent on her daughter Tamires da Costa, 16, who’s four months pregnant, at their home in the Parque Sao Bento a shantytown of Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, Jan. 29. (Photo: ~File photo)

If you have to travel, the CDC recommends that you take precautions to prevent contracting Zika such as:

  • Wearing long-sleeved shirts and long pants
  • Staying in places with air conditioning or that use window and door screens to keep mosquitoes outside
  • Sleeping under a mosquito bed net if you are overseas or outside and are not able to protect yourself from mosquito bites
  • Use Environmental Protection Agency (EPA)-registered insect repellents
  • Reapply insect repellent as directed, or at least every two hours since sweat will burn it off
  • Using condoms or don’t have sex to prevent sexual transmission of Zika

Rainey recommends that travelers choose a DEET-based repellant, which are extremely effective because once a body part is sprayed, a mosquito can’t land there. A similar natural option would be a repellant that uses eucalyptus.

The yellow fever mosquito, also known as Aedes aegypti, the prime transmitter, can only survive in areas where it’s very warm. (Photo: ~File photo)

The yellow fever mosquito, also known as Aedes aegypti, the prime transmitter, can only survive in areas where it’s very warm. (Photo: ~File photo)

“We always underestimate the ability of repellants to work,” Rainey said. “However, we must be very mindful of mosquito bites. In Central and South America, this is the real deal.”

Zika virus can be transmitted during the first week of infection from an infected person to another through mosquito bites or spread by a man to his sex partners. The virus does remain in semen longer than it does in blood, but researchers have yet to determine for how long.

Another unknown is if Zika could affect us at home in New Jersey or in other parts of the United States.

The yellow fever mosquito, also known as Aedes agypti, the prime transmitter, can only survive in areas where it’s very warm. However, researchers aren’t sure yet if the virus can also be carried by Aedes albopictus, also known as the Asian tiger mosquito, which is very common in New Jersey.

Rainey said that if the Asian tiger mosquito turns out to be a decent transmitter of Zika, then local cases in New Jersey could occur, however, we won’t see the outbreak that Central and South America are seeing since the Aedes agypti mosquito is a much better transmitter, since it takes a bit of blood from a host and then moves quickly to another.

“Zika is a little bit more compatible with the Asian tiger mosquito than chikungunya is, so the potential for cases is more, but I’m not overly concerned,” said Rainey. “So does that mean 10 more cases or 100? It’s the million-dollar question.”

Anthem of the Seas nightmare – a rare occurrence or worry come to fruition?

Passengers on the Royal Caribbean’s Anthem of the Seas, which set sail on Feb. 6 and headed home to Bayonne’s Cape Liberty four days early after being battered by a major storm in the Atlantic Ocean, are probably not running to their travel agent to book their next cruise right now.

But does that mean that you should be turned off by a cruise vacation? How likely is it for a ship to be rocked by 30-foot waves and winds up to 120 miles per hour? Do captains normally have to order passengers to their cabins for 12 hours?

According to local travel agents, not so much.

The third-largest ship in the world, which was carrying more than 4,500 passengers and 1,600 crew members, had planned on a seven-day cruise to the Bahamas. However, a major winter storm had other ideas.

Weary travelers aboard the Anthem of the Seas Royal Caribbean ship that was bound for Florida and the Bahamas and had to return home early after a powerful storm battered their liner with towering waves and high winds depart the ship at the Cape Liberty Cruise Port in Bayonne, New Jersey on Wednesday February 10, 2016. (Photo: MARK R. SULLIVAN)

Weary travelers aboard the Anthem of the Seas Royal Caribbean ship that was bound for Florida and the Bahamas and had to return home early after a powerful storm battered their liner with towering waves and high winds depart the ship at the Cape Liberty Cruise Port in Bayonne, New Jersey on Wednesday February 10, 2016.
(Photo: MARK R. SULLIVAN)

Four passengers reported minor injuries and the ship suffered some damage to its public areas and staterooms as the ship was tossed about, which Royal Caribbean categorized as “superficial” damage. Passengers will get a full refund and a certificate toward 50 percent off a future cruise.

“This isn’t a common occurrence on cruises because these companies are very equipped with modern equipment,” said Chandrakant Panchal, 11-year travel consultant with Ports & Voyages in the Parlin section of Sayreville, who books about 250 cruises a year, about 25 percent of them with Royal Caribbean. “This was just a fluke accident that hit the ship very hard and unexpectedly.”

Panchal pointed out that weather patterns are ever-changing, and in his experience, cruise lines tend to make the right decision on whether or not to sail. Right before superstorm Sandy, he had a group of 26 clients going out on a Norwegian of the Seas cruise, departing at 4 p.m. when the port was scheduled to close at 6 p.m. because of poor weather conditions.

“My clients were incredibly nervous, but they decided to go on the cruise because they wouldn’t get reimbursed unless the cruise line canceled,” said Panchal. “And you know what? Nothing happened. The weather was fantastic and they had a great time.”

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Lisa Lee, 18-year travel consultant with Avenue Travel Group, American Express in Bedminster, said that in her experience, what happened with the Anthem of the Seas is extremely rare, but the Atlantic Ocean can be very unpredictable — in both the summertime during hurricane season and the wintertime during the winter storm season.

“I believe that this was an isolated incident,” said Lee, who books about 200 cruises a year for her clients, with about 45 percent of them traveling on Royal Caribbean. “Royal Caribbean set sail based on what they thought would occur. These situations can happen, but I wouldn’t deter my clients from going on a cruise in the future.”

However, some meteorologists aren’t exactly in agreement.

The 168,666-ton vessel should not have sailed southward into the path of the growing weather system, WeatherBell meteorologist Ryan Maue told USA TODAY.

Weary travelers aboard the Anthem of the Seas Royal Caribbean ship that was bound for Florida and the Bahamas and had to return home early after a powerful storm battered their liner with towering waves and high winds depart the ship at the Cape Liberty Cruise Port in Bayonne, New Jersey on Wednesday February 10, 2016. Here Michelle Verona from Hazlet, New Jersey shows off the tee shirts she had made for her son Anthony Watterson and daughter Mia Watterson that were on the ship.  (Photo: MARK R. SULLIVAN)

Weary travelers aboard the Anthem of the Seas Royal Caribbean ship that was bound for Florida and the Bahamas and had to return home early after a powerful storm battered their liner with towering waves and high winds depart the ship at the Cape Liberty Cruise Port in Bayonne, New Jersey on Wednesday February 10, 2016. Here Michelle Verona from Hazlet, New Jersey shows off the tee shirts she had made for her son Anthony Watterson and daughter Mia Watterson that were on the ship. (Photo: MARK R. SULLIVAN)

The possibility of a large storm in the Atlantic was noted by government weather watchers on Friday. The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s Ocean Prediction Center issued its first alert at 1 p.m. Friday for hurricane-force winds Sunday in the Atlantic, according to NOAA spokeswoman Susan Buchanan.

“Even so, it is our responsibility to eliminate every surprise we possibly can,” the cruise line’s statement said. In a press release, Royal Caribbean said the storm “far exceeded forecasts,” turning a manageable storm into a dangerous one. Another warning came from the Ocean Prediction Center in the offshore waters forecast at 3:34 p.m. Saturday, Buchanan said. The warning predicted hurricane-force winds increasing to 63 to 75 mph, in effect through Sunday night.

The cruise line is strengthening its storm-avoidance policy in the aftermath of the storm, according to the statement.

 

Stay alive while driving in winter weather

Dawn Findlay Linzey’s story is all too common.

When she was 22, the resident of the Kenvil section of Roxbury decided to venture through a nasty January snowstorm to make it to work at her first full-time job. Driving down Route 10, she slowed at a stoplight but quickly realized she had hit black ice.

Linzey slammed on the brakes, but her car collided with the car in front of her while she was going 15 miles per hour. Luckily, she was safe, but her car lost both of its headlights, and the grille and radiator were punctured.

We can’t always avoid traveling in rough winter weather because of jobs, holidays and other functions, but there are plenty of things that we can do to keep safe when snow and ice are afoot.

1One of the most common mistakes that people make — when driving in the wintertime or anytime — is using their cellphones while driving.

“If you put using a cellphone into the mix with rough conditions, the results can be disastrous,” said Robert Gaydosh, north region supervisor of NJ Division of Highway Traffic Safety.

Sue Madden, public affairs specialist at AAA Mid-Atlantic, suggested that people who feel that they cannot ignore their phones turn them off completely because sometimes the urge to answer a ringing phone can be overbearing.

“Think about it this way: If you’re looking at your phone while driving, the person in the car next to you is probably looking at their phone, too,” she said.

2Another common mistake that winter drivers often make is not keeping enough distance between their car and the one in front of it, since extra room needs to be accounted for in case the car slides.

Gaydosh said that in poor weather, drivers should stay between eight to 10 seconds behind the car in front of them as well as keep their speed adjusted to the weather conditions by at or below the posted speed limit.

In order to keep other cars around them safe, drivers also need to be sure that they should completely clear their cars of snow or ice. What some offenders may not realize is that in New Jersey, there is a $75 fine for not clearing your car of snow and ice, and that fine can skyrocket to $200 to $1,000 if the snow or ice causes damage to another vehicle.

Gaydosh also suggests that people be mindful of plow trucks when driving through snow.


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“It used to amaze me what people would do, cutting people off and causing near accidents when the plow trucks were working. Keep in mind that these trucks can’t see who’s coming up behind or around them,” he said.

If you find yourself trapped in a storm that you deem unsafe to be driving in, you should turn your flashers on and remain with your vehicle so that help can find you. Madden said that stranded drivers should also call AAA and move their cars to a safe location.

“You don’t want to be hit by another driver,” said Madden. “Hang something out of your window so that there will be visibility and drivers or plow trucks can see you.”

In the event that you are caught in a storm, Gaydosh and Madden also recommend that drivers keep an ice scraper and brush, a small shovel, a flashlight, a bag of sand or cat litter for traction and water bottles and granola bars because you don’t know how long you will be stranded.

Sometimes, however, we must tackle winter weather when driving, and then things can go awry and we can lose control of our vehicles. Madden said that in this case, drivers should press lightly on their brakes, rather than pumping them, and Gaydosh said that drivers should steer their cars in their direction that the rear of the car is going.

“When I hit black ice and struck another vehicle, I panicked and hit the brakes, which didn’t help,” said Linzey. “There was nothing I could do to prevent the accident since the road looked clear, but now that I’m older, I realize I have a lot to lose and I won’t drive in weather like that.”

What you need to know as an airline passenger

Written for MyCentralJersey.com and DailyRecord.com

Laughing over lunch at the Savannah International Airport with my friend, Dona, after our vacation in Bluffton, South Carolina, my heart suddenly dropped when I checked my email and realized I had received the message that travelers lose sleep over:

“United has changed the departure date, arrival date and arrival time of your flight.”

Scrolling down, I silently prayed that I would only be committed to the tiny airport for a few more hours, but instead, I was rerouted from Savannah to Chicago to Newark — 24 hours later.

Although I get on around 10 flights a year, remarkably, my flights have rarely been delayed or canceled. Which was also why I was left panicking this time around, wondering if I could find another flight, another airline, lodging or compensation.

Unfortunately, many passengers who are left stranded with flight changes find themselves in similar circumstances, even though the Department of Transportation (DOT) provides consumer guidelines at dot.gov/consumer and airlines provide their own on their websites under headlines such as “travel information” “contract of carriage” or “customer service.”

“As a result of DOT initiatives in recent years, more and more passengers are aware of their rights,” Caitlin Harvey, public affairs specialist at the DOT, said. “DOT has improved consumers’ access to information about their rights via the website, enhanced online publications and constant liaison with the news media.”

Maryann Foley of Anchorage, Alaska, and formerly of Long Island, who flies about once a month and has flown over 600,000 miles with Alaska Airlines, says that she now generally understands her rights as a passenger while flying, but she can’t say the same for everyone else.

“I have been on planes where people think they have some rights that they should know they don’t have if they fly regularly,” she said.

If you fly often, it’s important to be aware of DOT standards when it comes to flight cancellations or delays, overbookings and lost luggage so you know what you’re getting into when you step back into that customer service line.

If you fly often, it’s important to be aware of DOT standards when it comes to flight cancellations or delays, overbookings and lost luggage so you know just what you’re getting into when you step back into that customer service line. (Photo: ~File photo)

If you fly often, it’s important to be aware of DOT standards when it comes to flight cancellations or delays, overbookings and lost luggage so you know just what you’re getting into when you step back into that customer service line.
(Photo: ~File photo)

Delayed or canceled flights

According to DOT, 21 percent of flights have failed to arrive on time in the U.S. from January through March of this year. It is these delayed and canceled flights that seem to cause the most confusion among passengers.

Harvey said that one of the most common misconceptions of passengers is that they are entitled to compensation or to be rerouted on another airline if their flight is delayed or canceled. Airlines also will rarely pay passengers for financial losses resulting from a delayed flight.

Even though it’s not required by law, however, many airlines will choose to endorse a passenger’s ticket on another carrier in the event of a delay or cancelation. It’s good practice to do your own research on other carriers to see if they have seats on a similar, on-time flight.

As airline policies differ, passengers can also ask airline staff if the carrier will pay for meals. Some discount airlines may not provide any amenities for delayed passengers and others also may not if the delay is caused by something out of the airline’s control, such as poor weather.

Lost baggage

Although 3.42 out of every 1000 total passengers who did not carry on their baggage lost their bags from January through March of this year, many are found in only a matter of hours and returned to their owners.

In order to ensure that yours are found in the event that they are lost, report your loss to airline personnel before you leave the airport and insist on having a report created as well as a copy made for you to take home.

Unfortunately, you can’t assume that the airline will deliver your bag without a charge when it is found, so make sure that you find out the protocol from the airline while at the airport.

Foley has had her share of airport mishaps, including when her dog, a Husky-German Shepherd mix, got lost in transit from Seattle to New York.

“When I arrived at John F. Kennedy International Airport, the dog wasn’t there, and neither was the luggage of many other passengers. My dog was somewhere over South Dakota and wasn’t scheduled to arrive to J.F.K. until 3 a.m.,” she said.

The airline did not explain to Foley what happened, nor did it provide compensation. In some cases, airlines choose to absorb reasonable expenses incurred as they search for passengers’ missing luggage.

Bumped from an overbooked flight

Although it can be frustrating for passengers, most airlines overbook their flights purposely to compensate for travelers who don’t show up, which can result in some getting “bumped” from a flight.

When passengers are bumped due to overbooking, however, they are usually entitled to compensation, with few exceptions, if no other passengers agree to give up their seats voluntarily in exchange for compensation.

Getting a credit for volunteering your flight seat may seem like a great deal, but be sure to first ask the airline when your seat can be confirmed because if you’re placed on another full flight, you could be stranded once again. You should also inquire if the airline can offer you meals, lodging or transportation to your next flight if needed, or else you could be stuck paying out of your own pocket.

When deciding who will be bumped from a flight, an airline may choose passengers who paid the lowest fare or checked in the latest, even if that check-in met the flight’s deadline.

It is only with the understanding of passenger rights that air travelers can make the best out of bad travel situations, including delayed or canceled flights, lost luggage and overbooked flights.

Tour de Farm rides through Hunterdon

Written for MyCentralJersey.com and DailyRecord.com

As Mitch Morrison, organizer of Tour de Farm New Jersey, knows, Hunterdon County is a breathtaking blend of rolling hills, quiet farms and green landscape.

Having biked across the United States four times and been biking for 52 years, he said, “I can say it and in my heart and soul I believe Northwest Jersey is one of the most gorgeous places to bicycle in the world.”

For the first time this year, Hunterdon County is coming to Tour de Farm New Jersey, a collection of three biking tours across Sussex, Warren and now Hunterdon counties that brings bikers to local farms along the ride.

Hunterdon riders can set off for the 81-mile Extreme Tour with 4,000 feet of elevation at 9 a.m. or the 20-mile Weekend Warrior Tour with 1,200 feet of elevation at 10 a.m. (Photo: Courtesy of Tour de Farm New Jersey)

Hunterdon riders can set off for the 81-mile Extreme Tour with 4,000 feet of elevation at 9 a.m. or the 20-mile Weekend Warrior Tour with 1,200 feet of elevation at 10 a.m.
(Photo: Courtesy of Tour de Farm New Jersey)

However, this tour isn’t just about wandering the countryside. It’s about taking the sunglasses off and showing bicyclists where their food comes from and introducing them to the farmers that create it, following a dramatic trend in how people think about their food.

“People are getting more curious about what’s being put into their bodies,” said Morrison. “The purpose of the tour is to introduce people to the farmers who serve them.”

As Morrison explained, very few people have spoken to a farmer or visited a farm, so with this tour, they get to finally see the produce, animals and what goes on behind grocery walls.

Tour de Farm New Jersey offers a quirky yet logical pairing — bicycling one of the most beautiful regions of the state while sampling some of the healthiest and tastiest food, bringing New Jerseyans to understanding the purpose of buying local products. (Photo: Courtesy of Tour de Farm NJ)

Tour de Farm New Jersey offers a quirky yet logical pairing — bicycling one of the most beautiful regions of the state while sampling some of the healthiest and tastiest food, bringing New Jerseyans to understanding the purpose of buying local products. (Photo: Courtesy of Tour de Farm NJ)

Sparta’s Donna Fell, who participated in the Warren County tour last year and will be registering for this year’s tour, said that she loved learning about each farm and talking to the farmers about how they’re making their living. Plus, she said that she learned there were many more local farms than she thought.

A five-year recreational biker who has done several New York City tours with Transportation Alternatives, Fell said that even though she enjoyed the Weekend Warrior tour very much, it was a hard course.

“I found it challenging because of the hills and I am used to riding in the city, which is flat,” she said.

For the first time this year, Hunterdon County is coming to coming to Tour de Farm New Jersey, a collection of three biking tours across Sussex, Warren and now Hunterdon counties that brings bikers to local farms along the ride. (Photo: Courtesy of Tour de Farm NJ)

For the first time this year, Hunterdon County is coming to coming to Tour de Farm New Jersey, a collection of three biking tours across Sussex, Warren and now Hunterdon counties that brings bikers to local farms along the ride. (Photo: Courtesy of Tour de Farm NJ)

Morrison stresses that although the tour can be challenging, it isn’t just for experienced riders, as 20 miles isn’t a particularly high mileage for biking.

Besides checking out the farm grounds, bicyclists also sample local farm products, such as the short-rib ravioli that Lou Tommaso of LL Pittenger Farm in Andover plans to offer this year in a partnership with Nicola’s Fresca Pasta of Kenilworth at the Sussex County tour. The farm has been raising beef, pork, chicken, turkey, lamb and eggs — most of which are sold directly to the consumer — for the past 12 years.

Tommaso has participated in similar events in the past, but he said that last year’s Tour de Farm, his first, brought him more business than eight to 10 other events that he has done collectively. Plus, he said, “It was the single event that I have done that I have gotten the most recognition from old and new customers following the tour.”

Very few people have spoken to a farmer or visited a farm, so with this tour, they get to finally see the produce, animals and what goes on behind grocery walls. (Photo: Courtesy of Tour de Farm NJ)

Very few people have spoken to a farmer or visited a farm, so with this tour, they get to finally see the produce, animals and what goes on behind grocery walls. (Photo: Courtesy of Tour de Farm NJ)

LL Pittenger Farm wasn’t the only one to have lasting success thanks to Tour de Farm. Another such farm was Bear’s Den Alpacas, which sold wool products at Tour de Farm of Warren County and then had bicyclists come back at Christmastime to purchase gifts.

However, Tour de Farm wasn’t always the popular outdoor event that it is now. Morrison said that there has been a “dramatic expansion,” as there are now three tours in its third year.

“Frankly, we could have done seven tours, but this year we went from one tour to three,” said Morrison.

The year’s Hunterdon County tour will begin with a farm-fresh locally sourced breakfast provided by tour organizers at South Hunterdon Regional High School in West Amwell on Sunday, Aug. 2, from 8 a.m. to 10 a.m. (Photo: Courtesy of Tour de Farm NJ)

The year’s Hunterdon County tour will begin with a farm-fresh locally sourced breakfast provided by tour organizers at South Hunterdon Regional High School in West Amwell on Sunday, Aug. 2, from 8 a.m. to 10 a.m. (Photo: Courtesy of Tour de Farm NJ)

During the first year, about 100 total riders roamed Northwest Jersey on the tour, which then exploded to 650 in the second year with 200 being turned away for logistical purposes. So far, 150 tickets have been sold for Hunterdon’s tour, which Morrison said may be capped at 400.

The year’s Hunterdon County tour will begin with a farm-fresh locally sourced breakfast provided by tour organizers at South Hunterdon Regional High School in West Amwell from 8 a.m. to 10 a.m. Sunday, Aug. 2. Then, Hunterdon riders will set off for the 81-mile Extreme Tour with 4,000 feet of elevation at 9 a.m. or the 20-mile Weekend Warrior Tour with 1,200 feet of elevation at 10 a.m.

Participants are encouraged to bring cash to purchase products at the farm stops, which are Fulper Farms, Woodsedge Wool Farm, Headquarters Farm, Tullamore Farms, Villa Milagro Vineyards, Bobolink Dairy Farm, Philips Farm, Humdinger Alpacas, Fields Without Fences and the Sugar Maple Jerseys Farm. Tour organizers will transport purchases back to South Hunterdon Regional High School in the afternoon for the participants, or they can bring their own backpacks.

The year’s Hunterdon County tour will begin with a farm-fresh locally sourced breakfast provided by tour organizers at South Hunterdon Regional High School in West Amwell on Sunday, Aug. 2, from 8 a.m. to 10 a.m. (Photo: Courtesy of Tour de Farm NJ)

The year’s Hunterdon County tour will begin with a farm-fresh locally sourced breakfast provided by tour organizers at South Hunterdon Regional High School in West Amwell on Sunday, Aug. 2, from 8 a.m. to 10 a.m. (Photo: Courtesy of Tour de Farm NJ)

Until June 1, early-bird registration prices are in effect for $55 for the tour, farm tastings and a T-shirt, which can be purchased on TourdeFarmNJ.com via Eventbrite. After June 1, prices will rise to $65.

Following the tour, a Farm to Fork celebration three-course dinner will take place at Tullamore Farm at 3:30 p.m. and include plated first courses such as New Jersey heirloom tomatoes and grilled peaches, an entrée buffet including world-class grass-fed beef and roasted sweet potato salad with locally smoked bacon, and desserts such as peach and blueberry cobbler with oatmeal streusel and callebaut chocolate brownies.

Fell said, “The Farm to Fork dinner was amazing. They did a great job of feeding everyone health-conscious food in an elegant outdoor setting with wine and white tablecloths.”

Besides checking out the farm grounds, bicyclists also sample local farm products. (Photo: Courtesy of Tour de Farm NJ)

Besides checking out the farm grounds, bicyclists also sample local farm products. (Photo: Courtesy of Tour de Farm NJ)

Farm to Fork tickets are sold separately and can also be found on TourdeFarmNJ.com via Eventbrite for $150.

Tour de Farm New Jersey offers a quirky yet logical pairing — bicycling one of the most beautiful regions of the state while sampling some of the healthiest and tastiest food, bringing New Jerseyans to understand the purpose of buying local products.

“The necessity of buying local is to help support local agriculture,” said Tommaso. “The only way we can stay in business is to sell our products locally.”

Following the tour, a Farm to Fork celebration three-course dinner will take place at Tullamore Farm at 3:30 p.m. and include plated first courses such as New Jersey heirloom tomatoes and grilled peaches, an entrée buffet including world-class grass-fed beef and roasted sweet potato salad with locally smoked bacon, and desserts such as peach and blueberry cobbler with oatmeal streusel and callebaut chocolate brownies. (Photo: Courtesy of Tour de Farm NJ)

Following the tour, a Farm to Fork celebration three-course dinner will take place at Tullamore Farm at 3:30 p.m. and include plated first courses such as New Jersey heirloom tomatoes and grilled peaches, an entrée buffet including world-class grass-fed beef and roasted sweet potato salad with locally smoked bacon, and desserts such as peach and blueberry cobbler with oatmeal streusel and callebaut chocolate brownies. (Photo: Courtesy of Tour de Farm NJ)

TOUR DE FARM NJ – HUNTERDON

When: Sunday, Aug. 2 with breakfast from 8 a.m. to 10 a.m., tours starting at 9 a.m. and 10 a.m.

Where: South Hunterdon Regional High School in West Amwell

Cost: $55 until June 1, then $65

Mileage: Hunterdon riders can set off for the 81-mile Extreme Tour at 4,000 feet elevation or the 20-mile Weekend Warrior Tour at 1,200 feet elevation

Farm to Fork Dinner: Takes place at Tullamore Farm at 3:30 p.m. for $150

Contact: Organizer Mitch Morrison at mitchell.morrison5@mac.com

Website: TourdeFarmNJ.com and sign up here