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About Hlitner

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    New Cumberland,PA, USA
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    International travel (77 countries at last count(
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  1. I agree and would even be tougher. For the deniers out there I would mention that there is nothing new to requiring a vaccination to cruise. We recall one long Princess cruise which went to Devil's Island and then crossed the Atlantic to Dakar, Senegal. Senegal has a requirement that folks who had been in countries with Yellow Fever (which included Devils Island/French Guiana) must have a valid Yellow Fever Vaccine certificate or medical documentation that they were not permitted to get that vaccine. So more then 3000 passengers on that Grand Princess cruise had to have that Yellow Fever Vaccination (not easy to get and quite expensive). Of course that particular cruise was not able to stop at Devils Island due to rough seas :). Personally, I would like to see the cruise lines and airlines require multiple vaccinations including MMR and Flu. We could go back to the days of travelers needing to carry "shot records" like in the olden days :). We have been on a couple of long cruises that had outbreaks of the flu (we are talking about the real flu...not just folks with a cold thinking they have the flu) and it was a good situation. While most vaccines (including flu) are not 100% effective, they do substantially reduce the risk for everyone in the vicinity. There is a good reason why most healthcare facilities require employees to be vaccinated. Hank
  2. Nothing more disturbing (to some folks) to put some facts into the discussion. First, lets talk about testing.. The quick tests (that get results within 15 min - 2 hours) have a false negative rate of up to 20%! This means that 1 out of 5 folks tested negative could have COVID! The better PCR tests usually take several days to get results and even they have some false negatives. NO TEST will test positive for somebody who was recently exposed to COVID. In fact, even the best PCR tests may not show-up as positive for several days after exposure. What all this means is that despite any testing program there will inevitably be some cruisers with COVID that will slip through any testing program. Bottom line for cruising is that folks that get exposed to COVID on their travels to the port will likely not test positive on any test....but they may well develop COVID symtoms while on their cruise. As to vaccines we know from polls that more then half the population (in North America) will not even voluntarily get any vaccine! To make matters worse, it does seem that if any of the vaccines currently under Phase 3 testing do ultimately get approved they are going to require multiple shots (likely 2 within a month) and will likely have an effective rate that is something less then 100% (the FDA has suggested they would consider approving a vaccine with as little as a 50% effective rate). If 50% of the population gets a vaccine that is only 50% effective we are still going to have a big COVID problem for many years, Where does this leave us and the cruise industry? Some might say in a world of deep doo doo. Hank
  3. I am going to have a little fun with the OP's question. Although we cruise and travel a lot (over 6 months in most years) we do not ever buy cancellation insurance! However, we do always carry a decent travel medical insurance policy (with coverage in excess of $100,000 and $500,000 of evacuation coverage). We have $10,000 also posted that because of our more then 40 years of extensive cruising we have saved far more then $100,000 by NOT buying (and paying for) cancellation insurance. A few short years ago we had to interrupt a month long cruise trip in Asia when DW severely injured her leg in Viet Nam. This caused a chain of events including extensive medical care on the Golden Princess and urgent outpatient surgery in Osaka, Japan. Keeping in mind that we had not paid a penny for cancellation insurance we eventually received a $10,000 trip interruption payment from Chase because our credit card includes (at no extra cost) both cancellation and interruption insurance. Our excellent medical/evacuation policy also paid 100% of our medical expenses (from the Golden Princess and the surgery in Osaka). In addition, our medical policy paid out more then $10,000 to evacuate DW home from Japan. The reason I mention this is because there are ways to reasonably protect one's self by carefully assessing your needs and obtaining the appropriate insurance. This does not always mean that folks need to shell out 7-10% of trip costs for a trip policy! Getting to the current COVID situation we have had 3 cruises cancelled (this year) by the cruise lines and we have voluntarily rescheduled another cruise. None of these cruises had any trip cancellation insurance. Our out of pocket loses from the 3 cancellations (and the changed reservation) is ZERO. When HAL cancelled our April cruise (for which we had about $17,000 paid for cruise and air) our money was refunded by HAL within 3 days! Our two subsequent Princess cruises (16 days and 28 days) were cancelled prior to final payment and the small deposits quickly restored to our Princess account (where we always keep a few Future Cruise Credits). The cruise we changed was an MSC cruise where MSC quickly refunded our small deposit (and we made a similar deposit to secure a similar cruise next year). We also had 11 days of hotel reservations in Japan (for the HAL) cruise and since we do not make non-refundable hotel reservations there was zero loss. Yes, it does seem easier (and also more expensive) to purchase all kinds of trip insurance for every trip. For many folks this is the best way to go, but for others it is not necessary. One very nice thing about all this COVID stuff and 4 cancelled cruises is that we have not had to deal with a single insurance company :). Hank
  4. I assume that Steve will respond with some good advice. But from my point of view the first thing you need to do is carefully read your policy (including relevant definitions) to determine if it actually covers the set of circumstances that are involved in the cancellations. You might want to take an extra look at the "exclusions" to see if the policy specifically excludes relevant issues such as "pandemics" or "epidemics." I also am a little confused by why you need to seek insurance reimbursement for a cancelled cruise. If your cruise was cancelled by the cruise line the cruise line is obligated to refund what you paid for that cruise. If the cruise line refuses to refund your money (what is more likely is that they will take their time to give you a refund) then you likely have the legal right (under the Fair Credit Billing Act) to seek a chargeback from your credit card company. In fact, in your situation we would immediately contact the credit card company and put the charge(s) for your cruise into "dispute" so you effectively preclude time requirements for filing. When it comes to credit card "charge backs" it can be very important to file that dispute as early as possible to preserve your rights. As to your hotel and other related non-refundable payments, you again need to assess whether your insurance covers those items. If not you can try to appeal directly to the hotel (or hotel company) although you might be out of luck if you did not have coverage and they refuse to issue you a refund. This is why many knowledgeable travelers have been strongly suggesting that folks try to avoid booking anything with non-refundable terms until this COVID issue is distant history. I will also post some personal tips. Make sure you document everything related to the issues including keeping a file with copies of all e-mails, other correspondence, log of phone calls, etc. If all else fails and you are unable to get satisfaction then you might want to contact Christopher Elliott (or his staff) though www.elliott.org. Mr. Elliott runs an excellent consumer travel advocacy organization that can often be very helpful to travel consumers who have been wronged. Hank
  5. I guess we can agree to disagree when it comes to Venice's Marco Polo airport. I strongly dislike the place. The first time we flew into Venice was almost comical. It was on a USAIR flight (which had come from the USA, stopped in Rome (FCO) and then flew on to Venice. As we were landing at Marco Polo the luggage handlers decided to go on a sudden 1/2 day strike (welcome to Italy). It was hell getting our luggage and escaping the airport and a few following flights were diverted to Milan (cruise passengers on those flight had to make their way to Venice via bus). On another trip we were flying out of Venice and were told to be at the airport 3 hours prior to our flight (which was about 9am). We grabbed a taxi from the Pizzale Roma around 5:30 and arrived by 6 to find everything in the terminal closed. We waited at the airline desk (with about 150 others) until one employee showed-up around 8pm. Our flight left more then an hour late because there was no way they could get everyone checked-in and the luggage loaded (I think that might have also been USAIR). I could go on about other incidents in more recent years but it sounds more like a soap opera then anything real. One other quick story. We flew into Marco Polo about 4-5 years ago and had become acquainted with a few other Americans before and during the flight. Those folks had all purchased Venice Cards (a multi-day pass that included transportation from the airport on the bus) and were to exchange their vouchers for their Venice card at a kisok located in the airport not far from the luggage pick-up area. Alas, that kiosk was closed (we tried to help these poor folks) and we found out that the two ladies that staffed that kiosk had gotten angry the previous day and decided to protest by not coming to work. That poor group (and many others) that had vouchers were left scratching their heads and wondering how they could ever pick up their Venice Cards...not to mention they were stuck paying their own way into Venice (which they had already paid for as part of that Venice Card). For those of us who have spent a lot of time in Italy this kind of thing is a big nothing ("Ahhhhh it is Italy) but it is too typical of what happens at Marco Polo Airport. Driving into Venice (and parking at one of the garages at Piazale Roma) is not a big deal for those that know the drill. But if they start to dock big cruise ships at the mainland and use several hundred buses (per day) to move those folks to and from Venice...we think that causeway will become one long parking lot :(. Ahhhh...it is Italy . Hank Hank
  6. I really don't have an answer to the restaurant risk. We have also seen the latest report which does seem to show a legitimate correlation between dining out and COVID. To be very honest, when we were going out in Myrtle Beach (8 restaurants in 7 days) we had one concern which was dealing with a waiter. The social distancing in the restaurants was fine, but we did have to deal with our waiters (who were always masked). Our of respect to the wait staff DW and I did wear our masks when ordering meals but once the drinks and food arrived the mask had to disappear. When we live in Puerto Vallarta (during the winter) we normally eat out more then 70 times over a couple of months. At this point we have no clue how this will all work, but we will certainly use common sense and do our best to minimize the risk. That being said there is risk to just about anything in life and we acknowledge that once you leave the basement your risk does increase. I had to smile at Cruisemom's post as we always suspected she is really a teenager at heart :). I hope we live long enough to someday meet Cruisemom somewhere in Rome or elsewhere in Italy :). We will even buy the wine :). Our health is also good (but we are not as young as Cruisemom) and we sure hope we have a few more good travel years. 2020 has really been an awful travel year (for everyone) and we lost out on a long trip to Asia, two trips to Europe and a Caribbean cruise. We would have replaced the lost cruises with a long trip to Europe (where we simply rent/lease a car and go) but the Europeans made it clear they did not want any Americans :(. Even our Canadian friends made it clear that we are persona non grata which made me very sad since we missed our annual trip to some decent Canadian wineries and a few days at our favorite B&B (which was forced to close because of the lack of tourism). I do believe that travel will return in 2021 although we have our doubts about cruising. If we cannot cruise we will look at other options (if any country will have us). If all else fails we will simply spend some quality time traveling in the USA. Hank
  7. We had been booked on the Meraviglia (14 days) in December. But a few weeks ago we decided to change that reservation to a similar itinerary in Oct 2021. Our best judgement was that the Dec 2020 cruise would likely be cancelled or have so many onboard restrictions as to detract from the cruise. Since we had booked the Yacht Club and wanted to stay in that category we thought it made sense to move now rather then wait for more cancellations. The YC has been booking well and those who wait will unlikely not be able to get any reservations in the YC. Another issue with Nov-Dec cruises is that it is unlikely that many ports will reopen to cruise ships this year. Hank
  8. Guess we are getting a bit off topic, but DW and I have had some long discussions about dining out at restaurants. When we spent a week in Myrtle Beach (where restaurants were permitted to operate at 50% of capacity) we debated whether to simply eat in (we had a condo) or dine out at our favorite restaurants. We made the decision to dine out because it is something we really enjoy and we thought the risk was reasonable (but there was certainly risk). On the way home we stopped in Washington DC where we went out to our favorite French restaurant which only had 9 patrons when we dined. To be honest, we had more fear about running into "peaceful demonstrators" then of COVID. We had decided that whenever we go into a restaurant we would assess the situation and leave if it did "not feel right." So far we have not had to walk out of any restaurant. We also have an upcoming trip where we will be spending some time in a few places within Florida and we will again dine out with some degree of caution. For us, the price of locking down (for what could be years) is too high a price to achieve a higher level of safety. I have been an adventurous traveler for much of my life (you will seldom find us on an excursion or group tour) and dealing with disease is simply one more risk that is part of life. Where we live in Mexico has had its issues with Dengue Fever and some parasites but we choose to roll the dice, take basic precautions, and continue to live in Mexico. To be honest, I do not think DW and I have ever wasted more then a few seconds thinking about the risk of living in Mexico. We only think about how awful it would be if we could not return to a place we love. And it is the same with COVID. We will be cautious, but that does not mean letting this virus completely upend our life. A friend who is even more adventurous then me likes to say that when she is lying on her deathbed she wants to think about all the wonderful things she has done rather then have regrets about the things she did not do. Hank
  9. Steve, Really glad to see you continuing to post here :). We also had noticed the GeoBlue language which I think makes their annual Trekker Plan (beloved in my household) nearly useless. It will be interesting to see if GeoBlue offers (in the future) some kind of modified annual plan that would include COVID and other pandemics. Of course the premiums of such a policy would need to be significantly higher and all of us would need to do the usual risk/benefit analysis, I am really happy that we now have at least two options (Atlas and Geoblue Voyager). It is also going to be fascinating to see how, in the future, the various Trip Insurance policies (including the one's sold by the cruise lines) handle COVID. I sure would not recommend that any of my friends consider taking a cruise or other international trip without having decent medical coverage that includes COVID. Hank
  10. Some of us have chosen to "live" with COVID rather then waste away in our basements. I prefer to call it "living intelligently with COVID" which means staying well informed and using lots of common sense. When I worked as a volunteer first responder (paramedic and firefighter) assuming risk came with the territory and common sense was often the difference between life and death. Over 35 years ago I attended a HIV/AIDs conference where I first heard a young Dr. Tony Fauci speak. Even at that time many of us considered Dr. Fauci an extraordinary physician/scientist. At the time we were all wrestling with a new disease (HIV/AIDs) and when asked a tough question Dr. Fauci responded, "we do not know what we do not know." And that is the current situation with COVID. Although we know a lot more then we did 6 months ago we still do not know what we do not know. And that is frightening to many folks not used to dealing with new diseases. DW and I made a decision back in May to get back to living and accept that we must make some adjustments because of COVID. So, when we spent 2 weeks on vacation in South Carolina (a hot spot at the time) we went out of our way to social distance and chose our restaurants very carefully. When we spend the winter again living in Mexico (another COVID hot spot) we will use a lot of common sense and likely forego some of our normal activities. But what we will not do is spend the next few months, years, or possibly a lifetime hiding in our basement! My only question to those who continue to hide in their basements is "what will you do if COVID is here forever and a safe/effective vaccine is never brought to market?" Folks need to learn to live intelligently with this new disease which does not mean hiding in fear for months, years, or possibly forever. The words of FDR again ring true which is "we have nothing to fear but fear itself." Hank
  11. LOL We agree with all on your trusted list. As to MSC's start-up, the reality is that most on the early cruises are from Italy and the Italians are not very active here on CC. In a related note I noticed that the two Republican Senators from Florida have introduced new proposed legislation (the Set Sail Safety Act) in an attempt to restart cruising from Florida ports....despite the CDC! That proposed legislation will likely die a quick death in the House but what is interesting is that apparently it has the support of the cruise lines. The fact that Senator's Rubio and Scott have introduced such legislation makes me think that there is some industry pessimism on the CDC soon agreeing to allow cruises from US Ports. But in the convoluted world that is US Politics we also wonder if this proposed legislation is simply intended to put more pressure on the CDC to quickly open up our country to cruising. While we acknowledge the eternal optimism of our Swedish friend (posting above) do think that the European cruise start ups (by several cruise lines) are hanging on a thread. It is just a matter of time until a COVID case or cases happens on a ship (or is traced to one of the start up cruises) and then there will likely be more panic and more shut downs. We also wonder about the demand (by passengers) for cruises with such restrictions that we are now seeing in Europe. The positive solution for cruising seems to be dependent on a safe/effective vaccine which may or may not happen in the near future (or ever). Hank
  12. I think for those who need the "handholding" that goes along with a cruise line package...the outrageous cost of the packages is justified. But otherwise, there is much to say for making your own arrangements, especially in a city such as Amsterdam where there are many good options, excellent transportation, and no language barrier. Booking your own hotel can not only save you a lot of money (that would depend on your choice) but also allows you to choose your own location and quality of facility. One other thing. If your cruise is leaving from the Amsterdam cruise terminal (located in the city) it is very easy to grab a taxi to or from any Amsterdam hotel to or from the cruise port. In fact, a taxi will be cheaper then the pricing used by the cruise lines and it lets you head to the port on your own schedule without the waiting around involved with most group transfers. I would just suggest that those who are making their own arrangements make sure to book with fully refundable rates. Hank
  13. Perhaps we could say that the answer depends on the skill of the piano players. Some are "lightweights" others are "deadweights" and a very few are "heavyweights." 🙂 Hank
  14. I am an information junkie and love to read all different viewpoints. I also have a longer memory then many since I remember things like when Dr Fauci said (January 21) that Coronavirus was not a "major threat" to the USA. As to the issue of facemasks (and I will again make it clear I do wear a mask when in public situations) there is were a lot of authorities who talked about the danger of wearing masks. Just to make the point here is a recent story about the opinion of a respected Neurosurgeon: https://www.technocracy.news/blaylock-face-masks-pose-serious-risks-to-the-healthy/ When some folks say "follow the science" what they really mean is "follow the science that supports my own opinion." The truth is that you can find so-called scientific opinions to support just about anything. In my younger days science was about proving, through the scientific method' a theorem. These days you hear terms like "scientific consensus" which is not science at all but merely a popularity contest. Real science is not about "consensus" but about proof! One great medical situation of "consensus vs proof" was that for ages the medical world accepted that gastric ulcers were caused by excess stomach acid. When an Australian physician "scientifically proved" that many stomach ulcers were caused by bacteria (H Pylori) he was met with lots of skepticism within the so-called scientific community who preferred to believe "consensus" rather then real scientific proof. When I worked with HIV/AIDs programs back in the 80s you would not believe the BS I heard that was attributed to "scientific consensus." So what is the truth about masks and COVID? I have no clue but have seen some studies (not peer reviewed) that question the wisdom of using most non-medical masks. N95s and KN95s seem to be helpful but a lot of the non medical stuff seems to be open to real debate. Hank
  15. My DW was in the hospital for a few days last week. When I went to visit (several times a day) I wore one of my trusty N95 masks. Most of the nursing staff were wearing normal surgical masks (not even close to N95s) and the attending physician was wearing a KN95! Go figure. Hank
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