November 9, 2018

Thailand to Waive Visa On Arrival Fee For 21 Countries in December and January

In order to boost tourism, Thailand officials have decided to waive visa on arrival fee for 21 countries that are eligible for the visa on arrival into Thailand.

Between December 1, 2018 and January 31, 2019, tourists from the following 21 countries are exempt from paying the Thai visa on arrival fee, which normally costs 2000 Thai Baht fee (~$60):
  • Andorra
  • Bulgaria
  • Bhutan
  • China
  • Cyprus
  • Ethiopia
  • Fiji
  • India
  • Kazakhstan
  • Latvia
  • Lithuania
  • Maldives
  • Malta
  • Mauritius
  • Papua New Guinea
  • Romania
  • San Marino
  • Saudi Arabia
  • Taiwan
  • Ukraine
  • Uzbekistan
You do not need to do anything special. You still apply for the visa on arrival as you normally do, but you will not have to pay for the visa on arrival fee as long as you are traveling and entering Thailand between December 1, 2018 and January 31, 2019.

Thai Visa On Arrival allows you to stay in Thailand for a maximum of 15 days. These visas are available at more than 40 immigration checkpoints in Thailand. Be sure to check out required documents to apply for this type of visa. For more information on Thai Visa On Arrival, click here.

Source: Nikkei

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October 23, 2018

New Requirement to Register Your Medications In Advance Before Entering the United Arab Emirates

When I travel to a foreign country, I am always mindful and respectful about the country's cultures and laws, just the same as I'd expect others do when they come to the United States of America. One country might have stricter law than another, but it is what it is. The choice is yours whether to visit or not.

If you are traveling to United Arab Emirates such as Dubai, Abu Dhabi, and so on - please be aware that there's a new requirement to register medication in advance online for approval to carry medication into the UAE.

According to the Gulf News:

Dubai: All tourists and residents of UAE will now be required to fill in an electronic form to get approval to carry any kind of medication for personal use, said a top Ministry of Health and Prevention official. The Import of Personal Medication service was launched at Gitex 2018.

United Arab Emirates has their Guidelines for carrying of personal medicines with travelers in to the UAE. They also issue list of controlled drugs that you can check out here.

The process to register your medication online in advance is, you create a profile on the Ministry of Health and Prevention website. Submit all the required documents such as doctor’s prescription, confirmation of a passenger’s duration of stay and passport details among other documents. The documents will then be reviewed and approved within one working day by the ministry.

My 2 Cents
Personally, I don't think everyone has access to the Internet. Some may be ignorant about such new requirement. I bet there are other travelers out there that are not even aware of such law about medications while entering the United Arab Emirates. The way I look at it, this is a convenient way to get your medications approved in advance. If one does not do this, he or she is not going to be denied entry but may be subject to the current procedures such as getting inspections upon arrival at customs and the risk of having medications confiscated.

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September 27, 2018

Reasons Why I Decided Against The Sheraton Vacations Offer $269 For 5-Day 4-Night at Sheraton Vistana Villages in Orlando Florida

Yesterday was the deadline that I am supposed to sign up for the Sheraton Vacations Offer For Sheraton Vistana Villages in Orlando, but I decided against it. Don't get me wrong, the offer is tempting: 5-day and 4-night at the Sheraton Vistana Villages for only $269 with a $100 dinning credit that makes the deal costs only $169. For 4 nights, that's about $42.25 per night. Best of all, no timeshare presentation required (see this post).

After further thoughts on this, I decided against it. Here are some reasons why:
  • For only $42.25 per night in a one bedroom villa is a steal; however, the location of the Sheraton Vistana Villages is not within walking distance to the Disney World. I did some random hotels search with speculative check-in and check-out dates, I found other hotels that are closer to Disney and the nightly rate is around ~$55 per night. It is little bit more than the Sheraton's deal, but it comes with breakfast every morning.
  • If I went with the Sheraton's deal, I have to book the stays by October 2019. The $269 that I paid to sign up for the deal is non-refundable. I don't like to make such commitment when it comes to tentative travel arrangements, especially with hotels.
  • I could have found other decent hotels in the area for either the same price or less. Truthfully, Disney will keep me busy all day long and I don't think I will be able to enjoy the Sheraton resort and all its amenities.
  • This deal clearly is tailored towards family vacation. The deal specifically said that one bedroom villa allows up to 2 adults and 2 children. I can understand that family vacation is not cheap. Hotels typically charge for how many people are in the room and that cost can really add up. Since I don't have any children, I don't think I will get any much money savings from this deal to make me want to make a trip down there since I still have to pay for the airfare and transportation.
  • Last but not least, I am not too sure if Disney World is really the type of place that I want to go back to take advantage of this deal. It's fun and all, but I don't find them "magical" as it used to be. This also applies to Sea World, Universal Studio, theme parks, etc. The only reason that I would go back to Florida is mainly for the sun and beach. The beach is an hour away from Orlando, and driving back and forth does not seem fun while I would have gotten an oceanfront hotel instead. 

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September 22, 2018

Review On Sheraton Vacations Offer For Sheraton Vistana Villages in Orlando - Is Timeshare Presentation Required?

Last year, we went on a timeshare deal offered by the Holiday Inn Club Vacations for a 4-day 3-night getaway. The booking experience was pretty unpleasant to a point that I almost gave up on the money that we already paid for to sign up for the deal. We still went ahead with the booking and although the Surfside Beach Oceanfront Hotel that we stayed at through the deal was wonderful, the experience attending the timeshare presentation was not something that we consider doing again in the future (Full Review Here).

Sheraton Vacations Offer
Recently, I received a similar vacation offer from the Sheraton Vacations. They offer us an opportunity to go to Orlando, Florida and stay at the Sheraton Vistana Villages for 5-day, 4-night for 2 adult guests and up to two children. The room type is a one bedroom villa with king-size bed, a full-size sofa bed and a kitchenette. Unlike the Holiday Inn Club Vacations offer, at least we know which hotel we'd be staying at if we go with the deal. On top of the 5-day and 4-night stay, we would also receive a $100 gift certificate for dinning at the Planet Hollywood Observatory at Disney Springs West Side. All that for only $269 and we have up until September 26 this year to purchase. The stay must be completed by October 31, 2019.

At first glance, the offer does sound like a timeshare deal that you make the purchase to get into the deal and then attend a timeshare presentation when you get there to receive the above mentioned special offer. However, I read every fine print on the offer's letter but nothing indicates anything about the requirement of attending the timeshare presentation. The terms and conditions are pretty straight forward. One of the requirements is that I have to purchase this deal by September 26 with an American Express credit card.

Too Good To Be True?
We were not too sure about the offer. There has got to be some sort of "gotcha!" $269 for a trip down to Orlando where DisneyWorld, Universal Studio and SeaWorld are at and then a $100 dining credit that knocks down the price to only $169 for 4 nights stay? That is too good to be true! So I called up the number indicated on the letter and inquired the agent about terms and conditions, especially whether we will be required to attend any presentation at all when we get there. The agent assured me that there will be no presentation but kept pressuring me to purchase the deal. I don't usually work well under the sales pressure, so I did not want to make a quick decision and told the agent that I would think it over before making a final decision. Later on, I decided to email them also using the email address that's provided on the offer's letter and specifically inquired about whether there's a need to attend any presentation to get the deal. They responded pretty quick and below is what they stated:

Thank you for your email.
When you purchase this package, you are under no obligation to attend a presentation. 

Reservation specialists are available Monday through Friday from 8:00 AM to 10:00 PM ET and Saturday from 9:00 AM to 5:00 PM ET. Please call us at 888-297-1337 at your convenience to take advantage of this amazing opportunity!

We look forward to speaking with you.
-Sheraton Vacations

I am finally convinced now that there will be no any timeshare presentation for this vacations package deal! Moreover, since now that I have this in writing, they can't make us attend any presentation without our agreement. Meanwhile, I also did some research online about other people's experience and they did confirm no presentation but the staff there will try to get you to attend one upon check-in by possibly throwing more offers. My advice is don't buy into that and stand your ground by declining it if timeshare presentation is not for you. Orlando, here we come!

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September 19, 2018

My Experience With When to Check-In and Board Holland America Line MS Eurodam Seattle to Vancouver

I have an upcoming cruise trip with Holland America Line from Seattle to Vancouver, BC. The ship name is MS Eurodam and it's scheduled to depart at 11 PM late at night. As you go through this article, the rule may vary based of your cruise ship company and your scheduled departure. This however should give you a basic concept on WHEN to check-in and embark on time without the risk of being not able to sail.

Getting to Seattle
I don't live in Seattle and therefore I have to position myself to fly into Seattle then Uber to the cruise port from the airport. I have only done one cruise so far with MSC, so this trip with Holland America Line is going to be my second cruise trip. I am still new to the whole check-in process with cruise ship company, but given my cruise ship is not scheduled to depart at 11 P.M. late at night, I booked a flight that gets me into Seattle at 4 P.M. on the same day that I'll be sailing.

Online Check-In
Holland America Line allows online check-in 50 days in advance. This is when you get online and fill out your personal, passport information, credit card etc. Once completed, the system will generate a boarding pass for you to print out. I strongly recommend you perform online check-in before the date that you will be at the port. Print just the page 1 and take it with you to the port. There will still be a check-in at the port to verify you and all the information that's saved in your profile during the online check-in.

When to Check-In and Embark/Board?
Before going into details, it is very important to know that U.S. government security regulations requires cruise line to submit certain guest information to law enforcement authorities at least 60 minutes before departure. To meet that requirement, cruise line must have each guest information on records at least 90 minutes prior to departure. Guest won't be able to sail if they perform check-in after that deadline.

On the printed boarding pass page 1, there's a section that states the "Embark Date/Time" - In my case, it states 1 P.M. in the afternoon. So what does that mean to me if my flight is not going to get in until 4 P.M.? After the completion of the online check-in, you should receive an email from Holland America Line with an attachment. I open up that attachment and scroll down until I see the itinerary section with a notation that says "Check in from 1 P.M. -8 P.M."

Whew! I was relieved, but this is when online research failed me and made me paranoid. According to public cruise forum out there, there's a mandatory safety muster drill that typically happens around 4 P.M but that's 7 hours away from the scheduled departure time. If you are not able to attend that, you need to call up cruise line company for special arrangements. I started to feel anxious because everyone was saying the same thing about not missing the muster drill. Turns out, Holland America Line allows passengers to check-in in person at the port around 11 A.M in the morning. So everyone can queue up to do the check-in and then onto the waiting room until the boarding process begins. Passengers are allowed to get on the ship as early as they want and enjoy the on-board amenities and food. Rooms are usually ready by then as well.

Obviously, I am going to miss the safety muster drill at 4 P.M. I called up Holland America Line. I explained to the agent of what's happening. The agent told me that my flight's arrival is fine to check-in since the ship is not going to depart until 11 P.M. late at night. I went on to ask about the muster drill, she instead transferred me to the ship services. Another nice agent came on the phone and told me there will be two muster drill occasions on that particular ship. One happens around 4 P.M. and another one is on an unknown/tentative schedule for those that could not make it to the first one. She said it typically happens before the departure of the ship and that will be the last one. Once again, she said that I'll be fine to attend the second muster drill. You can reach Holland America Line's ship services department at 800-514-1576.

Summary & Important Things to Know

  • Flight delays/cancellations can happen. If you are worried that you don't have enough time to get to your cruise, you can always fly in one day in advance and stay one night. 
  • Holland America Line allows online check-in 50 days prior to departure. It is recommended that you do online check-in. 
  • Generally, cruise lines are required by the U.S. government to obtain each guest's information at least 90 minutes prior to departure. If any guest misses this deadline to check in, he or she won't be able to sail. Check with your cruise line for the exact time. 
  • Holland America Line opens check-in at the port around 11 A.M even the scheduled departure is later in the evening/night. Guests can get on the ship as soon as the boarding process begins and enjoy on-board food and amenities. Rooms are usually ready by then as well. This is a great way to get your money worth.
  • Expect a very long lines at the port to check-in around 11 A.M. Personally, I'd wait out a little bit into the evening as the line will then be shorter or none. 
  • Mandatory muster drill typically occurs twice before the depature. It is important that you attend it. One happens around 4 P.M. and the last one happens some time before the departure for guests that could not make it to the first one. 

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